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OT35: Boston Comment

This is my attempt to get away without writing posts because I’m still on vacation the weekly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. The subreddit is still around and will host parallel open threads. Those of you who don’t like the commenting system here can go there and either post on the open thread or start a new topic.

2. Comment of the week is Sarah explaining the gift horse thing better than I could. I may have to ban myself from giving Sarah comment-of-the-week status too often because that’s too easy.

3. Thanks to everyone who attended the Boston meetup and my talks in the Northeast. Everyone was super nice and I’m really happy with how it all went and with all the great people I met. Some kind of video or transcript of talk possibly to become available later, maybe.

4. MealSquares (the Soylent-esque food substitute company that advertises in the sidebar here, as seen in Business Insider magazine) is looking for a formally trained nutrition expert who’s good at parsing and understanding studies in the field to serve as an advisor in exchange for equity in their company. If that sounds like you, you can contact them here.

5. Nathan Robinson, whose blog Navel Observatory is on the other sidebar here and whose work I’ve previously linked to, is starting a “new print magazine of political analysis, satire, and entertainment” and seeking donations/subscriptions on Kickstarter. Take a look.

6. Please use the “Report” button responsibly. If you don’t like someone, finding and reporting every single one of their posts doesn’t get them banned. It just means every single one of my posts appears on my reported comments list, and I have to manually clear all of them after I see they’re not bad. It doesn’t punish them, it just punishes me.

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890 Responses to OT35: Boston Comment

  1. Carinthium says:

    Quick question. How much truth is there to the claim that science has demonstrated women find men in red more attractive? I’ve seen claims, but I want to know if it actually worked out.

  2. keranih says:

    Related to the above comment on the racial nature of police killings –

    Chicago Homicide Watch appears to be doing good works, in much the same way as Jill Leovy (author of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder In America ) (NPR interview) did in the column “Homicide Report” for the LA Times.

    Each of these deaths is still a singular event, and case reports are not RCT. But the effort these reporters are going to, to ensure that each person’s death gets noted, instead of spending an equal amount of space on the latest sugar study or snark about Trump or an update on the Kardasians, seems important to me.

    (Of course, this does open the question about what deaths we should pay the most attention to, which I would hope the rationalist community has tackled at some point…)

  3. Troy says:

    This article on racial bias in police shootings has been making the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed lately: http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0141854&representation=PDF

    The author claims (p. 8) that in their data, “there is no consistent relationship between the race-specific crime proxies (neither assault-related nor weapons-related arrest rates) and racial bias in police shootings.” They later write (p. 14) “Under the assumptions that police express no racial bias in use of force upon encountering suspects/civilians, and also engage in interactions with suspects/civilians in direct proportion to race/ethnicity-specific crime rates (where crime rates covary with race/ethnicity), one would expect to see an association between racial bias in police shootings and race-specific crime rates—an association that is not found in these results. As such, the results of this study provide evidence that there is racial bias in police shootings that is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.”

    I haven’t wholly processed this (nor did I read the whole article), but I am skeptical that black-white crime rate differences are not a significant cause of racial differences in police shootings. Here are a few quick thoughts:

    – Testing for correlations between racial differences in shootings and absolute black/white crime rates seems strange. It seems that the relative number of shootings of different races would be driven by the relative rates of crime of different races, not their absolute crime rates.

    – The author seems to not distinguish between racial differences in police shootings being caused by national black-white crime differences and local black-white crime differences. Police may be aware of and influenced by general racial trends in crime without being (as) influenced by local differences. To be sure it would not be encouraging if police were blind to the specifics of their area, but police could be reacting to a general crime difference without then appropriately tailoring their policing to the specific size of that difference in their area.

    – The author’s proxy for crime rates, assault-related arrests and weapons-related arrests, seem subject to confounders, such as differing legislation in these areas (e.g., how restrictive are gun laws in the area?). Wouldn’t it be more reliable to look at homicide data?

    Do others have thoughts on this study?

    • keranih says:

      I got to the point where the study said that the USPSD was better than the FBI db (which absolutely has issues) because the FBI didn’t include the names of the officers, and wasn’t “independently verified” and nearly flung the comp across the room.

      In the discussion, the authors point out that in many places, the people who were shot were more likely to be unarmed blacks than armed whites. They then say While this pattern could be explained by reduced levels of
      crime being committed by armed white individuals, it still raises a question as to why there
      exists such a high rate of police shooting of unarmed black individuals.
      – as if the unequal distribution of crime rates across races was entirely unknown to the authors.

      The authors also attempt to use assault and weapons related arrests as the metric for “committing crime” – this is different than all the other crime rate studies which I have read, which rely on (heavily but not exclusively) homicide rates – which are more resistant to definition fudging and reporting issues than any other crime statistic.

      Finally, there were huge sections of the map which were devoid of data – in particular, in the crime rate map, the whole state of Florida (name checked in the paper’s intro as the worst state for racially biased shootings) was blank.

      I did not dig into the stats. Given the way the paper was set up, I’m not interested in doing so.

      This, brothers and sisters, is why we can’t have good science.

      • 27chaos says:

        The data collection method might not be good enough. They ask volunteers to trawl through the first 10 pages of Google search for police shootings on each specific day for the past few years. If volunteers are biased, news reports are biased, Google’s algorithms are biased, or the cutoff is misleading, then that would distort results. But, I wouldn’t expect the bias from all that to be very large, nor do I have any strong feelings about which direction the bias would point to. Overall, I think the crowdsourced data is flawed but likely better than the government data, although I would certainly like someone to figure out a way to verify how accurate the crowdsourced data is. It might be informative to compare the crowdsourced data to the government data directly, or to compare one crowdsourcing project’s findings with another one’s.

        The use of Google search terms as a proxy for local racism seems pretty questionable to me. I’d like to know more about which terms were used and how they know how to interpret those terms. It’s possible that they’re picking up on black people searching for rap music, or other ridiculous confounders, rather than actual racism. I am going to ignore this claim of the paper because there are probably better ways of estimating the strength of regions’ racism.

        I agree that using homicides data rather than assaults weapons crimes in 2012 to estimate racial crime rates would have been a much better decision. If the same analysis were rerun with homicides and didn’t show anything, I’d conclude the paper was bunk. I hope someone does this. I’m not sure why the author didn’t do this in the first place.

        The paper seems mostly fine to me, other than the fact that it didn’t use homicide data. It offers a straightforward way for me to reconcile the fact that many people believe the police are racist with the difficulty of proving racism based on police-reported data. I am significantly inclined to believe this paper’s overall point, even though we could probably quibble about the specifics.

        “– Testing for correlations between racial differences in shootings and absolute black/white crime rates seems strange. It seems that the relative number of shootings of different races would be driven by the relative rates of crime of different races, not their absolute crime rates.”

        I don’t think they did this? What part of the paper are you interpreting as saying they did this?

        • keranih says:

          The use of Google search terms as a proxy for local racism seems pretty questionable to me. I’d like to know more about which terms were used and how they know how to interpret those terms. It’s possible that they’re picking up on black people searching for rap music, or other ridiculous confounders, rather than actual racism. I am going to ignore this claim of the paper because there are probably better ways of estimating the strength of regions’ racism.

          *drumms fingers on the table* I am…of part minds about this. Firstly, I think it’s reasonable to try to test for the effect of local hostility on shooting rates. Secondly, I’m not convinced that measuring the community hostility of Caucasians against African-Americans (which is what the racism index seems to measure) *in isolation from other animosities* is all that useful (ie, if the anti-AA feeling is less than, say, the anti-Easterner feeling, is the anti-AA feeling still important?) Thirdly – the assumption that community average racism is a good match for police-average racism doesn’t seem to be a good assumption to me. Fourth – the measure being looked at is only Caucasian vs Other, and does not measure, say, the racism of African-Americans towards Caucasians/police officers, which I would expect would have an impact on the sort of behaviors which – on the margins, which all police shootings are – would impact police shootings.

          All of this, for me, pales in light of how uselessly nongranular the racism map was. I would not have used that confounder.

        • Troy says:

          @27chaos:

          “– Testing for correlations between racial differences in shootings and absolute black/white crime rates seems strange. It seems that the relative number of shootings of different races would be driven by the relative rates of crime of different races, not their absolute crime rates.”

          I don’t think they did this? What part of the paper are you interpreting as saying they did this?

          The language in the quotes in my initial comments, and their tables at the end of the article. On reskimming, there’s another relevant section in which they first say that yes, they used the method I was saying they did, but that they also looked at crime rate differences. Here it is (pp. 8-9):

          “In each model that considers them, race-specific crime rates are always entered as simultaneous predictors (see Tables 1 and 2). This model parameterization allows us to examine the effects of race-specific crime rates on racial bias in police shootings. However, there are questions that this model parameterization precludes. Most importantly, having an aggregated measure of crime rate would allow one to test the questions: 1) does racial bias in police shooting increase in areas where crime is generally more prevalent? And, 2) as the difference of black crime rate minus white crime rate increases, does racial bias in police shootings also increase?

          As a robustness check, the results from two alternative model parameterizations in predicting the relative risk of being {unarmed, black, and shot by police} to being {unarmed, white, and shot by police} are presented. These models are based on including the sum and difference of race-specific crime rates in the regression; see Appendix.pdf in S1 File. The results of these supplementary models are qualitatively the same as those of the main models; racial bias in police shooting is not reliably associated with crime rate and not related to the difference in race-specific crime rates.”

          It looks like they did anticipate my critique to some extent; but I’m not sure I entirely understand what they’re saying here. What does ‘qualitatively the same’ mean? Also, wouldn’t it be better to look at the ratio than the difference? The quantity they’re measuring w/r/t police shootings is a ratio.

          • 27chaos says:

            Okay, good point. I still find those quotes ambiguous, but I’m a bit tired. The “robustness check” section makes it clearer to me that your interpretation is correct. I’d be curious how they justify that, then. Does seem potentially shady.

  4. Crazy political idea: Allow noncitizens to vote. No, I do not mean expanding the franchise of a country to all residents of the country. I mean expanding it to everybody.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I seem to recall something like this proposal arising in a discussion of the democratic boundary problem; the position being that a global franchise is the only solution to the aforementioned problem that doesn’t ultimately legitimate non-democratic decision methods.

    • keranih says:

      Interesting. Do you propose that elections for a city’s mayor and council should also be expanded to the global population?

      If no, why?

    • Nornagest says:

      This strikes me as a little alarmist, if I’m parsing it right. The rights-of-small-polities-versus-large-polities thing is so old and so central to the development of democracy that one stupid excursion deep into the large-polities end isn’t going to sink the whole project.

      It’s still a stupid idea, but that just means it won’t fly, not that it’ll instantly destroy society and kick us all back (or forward) into warring tribes led by Lord Humongous and Immortan Joe.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        Err no.

        The idea of “the will of the people” is so central to democracy that without it there is no democracy.

        Simply put, people abide by the results of an election because they have a reasonable belief that A: the result was the will of the people and B: the fear of government retribution.

        Remove those and what do you have?

        Absolute best case scenario is that the central government is too weak and ineffectual to accomplish anything and local strongmen or some variation of the Cosa Nostra takes over the roll of providing law and order.

        Worst case scenario, is a toss up between murderous police state and Mark getting to say “I told you so”.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think a more realistic best-case scenario (and a more realistic scenario, period) is devolution of most powers down one level from whatever entity implements “anyone can vote”. So if we allow non-citizens some easy way of voting at the federal level in the US (which is absurd, but so is the whole concept), state governments take over all the real power.

          That would have some pretty serious consequences, starting with a crisis of federalism the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1861 and very possibly leading to another civil war, but it would not destroy democracy.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          Why are you assuming that the state governments would be unaffected?

          With smaller “native” populations the state level elections would be even easier for non-residents to game than the federal ones. Afterall, how many voters can you poll before getting a positive ID on each and every one becomes impractical?

          My guess is that “real power” would devolve to the municipal level if not lower. That is until someone decides to declare themselves the “Margrave of the Indignant territories” or some such, and a bunch of the locals go along with it because they’ve got the resources and/or charisma to make it stick.

        • Nornagest says:

          Why are you assuming that the state governments would be unaffected?

          I’m not, that’s why I said “whatever entity”, not “the feds”. The rest of my comment assumed for the sake of example that this was implemented at the federal level, but it seems uncharitable to assume the craziest version of an already crazy proposal — particularly since the federal level is the only level of the US government that non-citizens plausibly have a stake in.

  5. The Do-Operator says:

    Scott, are you planning to do a Less Wrong Census/Survey for 2015? It would certainly be understandable if work gets in the way, but if so, perhaps someone else could do it this year?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Right now I’m thinking yes, but it might be a few months late while I finish up some other things first.

      Also, still not sure how I’ll handle the LW vs. SSC issue.

  6. Deiseach says:

    Sometimes you need multiple links to show that you’re not simply taking one example or one particular loudmouth shooting off his mouth and generalising from that.

    So a strict “one link only” policy could lead to “Yeah, but that’s only A saying that. How can you then go on to say that B, C, D and E also share those views?” which would involve multiple comments for each link demonstrating that B, C, D and E do share those views, or “Well, my single example here contradicts that single example there!” duelling.

  7. 27chaos says:

    I grew up with conservative parents, but don’t agree with them on much anymore politically. I am instead somewhere between libertarianism and liberalism, significantly further left than I started. Despite this, I have recently started feeling a bit worried that I might be too “red tribe” in my biases. When I see someone in the red tribe make a mistake I am inclined to not care very much due to low expectations, but when I see someone in the blue tribe make a mistake it irritates me a lot. I also feel that my values have remained mainly conservative even though my intellectual beliefs have moved to the left. But when I expose myself to reading material arguing for liberal values in an attempt to fix this, an awful lot of it feels superficial to me, like bad propaganda, and although I frequently tell myself I should tolerate all mediocre arguments equally I can’t seem to help but do otherwise.

    Because of all this, I would like some reading recommendations that might help me to have more respect for blue tribe values, and more appreciation for common flawed but useful blue tribe heuristics. I don’t want to experience yet another backfire, so this should hopefully be rather high quality stuff if possible. Books, research papers, anything? Thanks all.

    • anon says:

      Not sure if it’s exactly what you’re looking for, but one of the best and most coherent articulations of liberalism in the blue tribe sense of the word is probably John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice

    • “but one of the best and most coherent articulations of liberalism in the blue tribe sense of the word is probably John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice”

      Provided you are willing to take it on faith that, when facing a gamble with unknown probabilities, it is rational to be infinitely pessimistic–to make your choices on the assumption that you are certain to get the worst outcome.

      Without that assumption, the argument collapses. Harsanyi did the veil of ignorance first, and got it right. The implication is not maximize the welfare of the worse off. It’s simple (Von Neumann Morgenstern) utilitarianism.

      • anon says:

        That may be true, but I think Rawls is much more influential among the left, and therefore a lot more useful for someone trying to get a better understanding of the blue tribe (which if I understand correctly is the goal here). “maximize the welfare of the worse off” sounds much closer to median blue tribe values/flawed but useful heuristics to me than “simple (Von Neumann Morgenstern) utilitarianism”

      • walpolo says:

        You would get a similar result if you replaced Rawls’s “maximin” principle with some degree of risk-aversion on the part of the people behind the veil of ignorance. Since risk aversion is a reasonable preference structure to have, and is not capturable by ordinary expected utility theory as shown in Buchak’s recent book Risk and Rationality, Rawls can provide a reasonable alternative to utilitarianism if supplemented in this way.

      • Frank McPike says:

        I don’t think that’s accurate, or at least it fails to address Rawls’ final and strongest version of his argument in Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Rawls agrees with Harsanyi that it would be irrational to treat a maximin rule as the best decision mechanism in all cases of serious uncertainty over probabilities (see the footnote on page 97 of Justice as Fairness: A Restatement where he addresses this directly). Rawls argues that the maximin rule becomes rational when two additional conditions are met, specifically that (i) the best worst option (i.e. that chosen by the maximin rule) is at least satisfactory and (ii) that worst outcomes from alternative choices would be intolerable. This isn’t beyond criticism, but it’s also worth noting that Rawls doesn’t believe this is anything more than a heuristic, and his overall argument does not fall apart if you reject it (he has at least a couple other grounds for arguing that his principles of justice would be preferred to utilitarianism in the original position).

        I’d also note that Rawls’ arguments about justice are hardly his only contribution to political philosophy, and he would be well worth reading even if he was completely wrong on that point, though that is the argument most central to why he’s being recommended here.

        (If you are going to start reading Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement is definitely the right place to begin. A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism are more in-depth treatments of their respective topics, but the restatement is a lot shorter and gives a clearer picture of Rawls’ beliefs in full, as well as his responses to his major critics. Don’t read The Law of Peoples.)

        • “I’d also note that Rawls’ arguments about justice are hardly his only contribution to political philosophy, and he would be well worth reading even if he was completely wrong on that point”

          It could be true. But after I read one book in which someone makes an utterly indefensible argument, and know that those who like the conclusion praise him for that book as a great thinker, my incentive to spend more time and effort reading the revised versions is low.

        • Theo Jones says:

          Rawls is memorable for the whole original position thought experiment, which is probably a good way to think about meta-ethical issues. But I don’t like the max-min rule either. I could see some preference for acceptable outcomes over unacceptable outcomes under conditions of uncertainty, but max-min goes way too far. Ie. If I could triple my expected utility at the expense of a one percent chance of a very negative outcome, I’d do it. But I would say that utilitarianism is naturally fairly egalitarian when it comes to material goods.
          1. You have the diminishing returns issue. People tend to think in terms of material goods (money,etc). But material goods are not utility. I think that this is where a lot of the tendency for max-mining comes. If we were talking about material goods strong risk aversion or even max-min would make a lot more sense. Having $1 million over $2 million is not that bad. Being poor versus having $50,000/year is a fairly big loss. So, in terms of the distribution of material goods, utilitarianism would tend to favor egalitarian distributions (in the absence of overriding circumstances such as extreme economic inefficiences).
          2. In utilitarianism things like ‘deserving’ the money, or property rights are not terminal goals of the model. They are emergent properties of it. And therefore, in an utilitarian model efficiency is about the only economic justification for inequality.

    • John Sidles says:

      27chaos requests  “reading recommendations that might help me to have more respect for blue tribe values.”

      The following reading list, arranged roughly in order of increasing Flesch-Kincaid reading difficulty — which turns out to be near-perfectly correlated with decreasing empathy, what the hey? — is predominantly blue, albeit with considerable red overtones.

      • Kid stuff  Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember (2003). Also, hundreds of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” videos are available; these are deliberately crafted so as to be watchable by adults.
      • Go ape, young people  Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope: a Spiritual Journey, (2002). Also, YouTube hosts dozens of ape-empathic young-adult-friendly Goodall lectures.
      • Faith & practice  Howard H. Brinton and Margaret Hope Bacon, Friends for 350 Years (2002). The appendix to this second edition presents an accessible, Friendly survey of post-WWII progressive ideals, achievements, and ambitions. These progressive folks (who got slavery abolished, for example) plan for the very long-term; it’s best not to underestimate them.
      • The left hand of enlightenment  Ursula LeGuin’s speech “National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” (2014). (video available on-line).
      • Tell it to the Marines  Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn: a Novel of the Vietnam War (2009). The USMC Commandant’s personal choice. Empathic blue internalities amid pragmatic red externalities; adult themes; “women and children not admitted”.
      • Another turn of the crank  Wendell Berry, “It All Turns On Affection” (2012). The NEH Jefferson Lecture (video available on-line).
      • The Blue and the Red  Leszek Kolakowski, “Dutch seventeenth-century non-denominationalism and Religio Rationalis” (1997). `Cuz no true-blue meal is complete without a tasty side-dish of red meat.
      • How much history does a person need?  Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity (2001). First of a four-volume series. Hopefully, Israel’s immense opus has not used-up all the words.

      Ted Chiang’s entire body of work (1990-2015) too is worth reading, for thoughtfully depicting the problematic immersion of empathic (blue) cognition within an unempathic (red) universe.

      Is there a single reference that reasonably summarizes blue ideals and progressive agendas? The simple answer is “no” … 21st century progressivism is evolving too rapidly for that.

      So maybe it’s better to ask, if there is a Singularity coming, is it destined to be a progressive and empathic Singularity? Based on the evidence, the smart money is wagering “yes”.

      • Anonymous says:

        Aren’t you banned from using bold face?

      • Deiseach says:

        Unfortunately, I find much of anything related to the great apes/other non-human primates unreadable/unwatchable, as it tends to be wildly over-anthropomorphic.

        I don’t mind pointing out similar behaviours. I do mind being told (a) this is why humans do the stuff they do! (b) they are just the same as humans or – more often – superior because they don’t have nasty human behaviours! (until it turns out they do)

        I refuse to join in when invited to weep over chimpanzee mother and dead baby, because I don’t know that the chimp feels exactly the same emotions in exactly the same degree as a human would.

        I think it does a great disservice to animals to present them as humans in fur suits, which is what most of this is.

        • John Sidles says:

          Deiseach, it may be that Frans de Waal’s science-grounded (and Goodall-compatible) TED-ED talk Moral behavior in animals is more to your taste. This lecture is a nice introduction to more heavy-duty works like de Waal’s The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, and Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, and The Bonobo and the Atheist, extending several decades back to de Waal’s early work Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes.

          Needless to say, the cognitive traits that de Wall (and Goodall) describe so carefully, are vividly in evidence … even (especially?) among the rationalists here on SSC. 🙂

          Books being dry, SSC readers who are so fortunate as to live in cities whose zoos host apes in naturalistic setting, will find that it is a wonderfully illuminating exercise to spend an entire day sitting with the docents who watch and record the ape behaviors … ape-centric politics and social gossip being markedly similar to human-centric politics and social gossip.

          `Cuz “seeing is believing”! 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            See, that right there is what sets my teeth on edge: “Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society”.

            I know you have to sell books and the publisher decides what is a catchy title, and I don’t know the material or the treatment, but it’s this notion that we cannot seem to shake off of the Golden Age when we could talk to the animals (being animals still ourselves) and if we only copy our fuzzy brethren we’d be so happy.

            I think we have a lot to learn from other primates, especially when it comes to groups and socialisation and the rest of it.

            But we’re humans, not chimpanzees, bonobos or gorillas. And I think people forget that (or want to forget that, eh, Bonobo Rationalists?)

          • John Sidles says:

            Deiseach says: “See, that [title] right there is what sets my teeth on edge: ‘Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society‘.”

            Lol … my innate primate empathy is telling me — what maybe your (metaphorical?) “edgy teeth” are telling you too — that you’d likely become even more unhappy (temporarily, one hopes), if you actually studied de Waal’s works, or watched living apes for a while at the zoo, Goodall-style! 😉

        • Much as it irks me to agree with John Sidles on anything …

          _Chimpanzee Politics_ is an interesting and persuasive account. The Chimpanzees, judged by their behavior, look more like people than like animals.

          • JDG1980 says:

            Mark, what you’re saying here sounds a lot like postmodernism: history is a “text” and it doesn’t have any meaning in itself, only how we read it. That is a remarkably cynical point of view and I can’t bring myself to go that far. Are there lots of biased history books that use history to try to make political points? Sure. But not all are like that; there really are historians, even those who write for a popular audience, who try to present the actual truth as it is best known and understood.

          • John Sidles says:

            Mark Atwood asserts (without providing reasons or evidence)  “The vast majority of popular to-be-read-by-smart-laymen books about mathematics from the 21C are generally inferior to books of the same genre from 19C and early-to-mid 20C.”

            Is anyone interested in verifiable data? An Amazon search for “Books: Science & Math: Mathematics: History”, yields the bollowing top-ten list (sorted in descending order of sales-rank):

            • Ivan Moscovich, The Puzzle Universe: A History of Mathematics in 315 Puzzles
            • Arthur Benjamin, The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring Out Why
            • Frank Wilczek, A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design
            • Miranda Lundy and Anthony Ashton, Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology
            • Michael Harris, Mathematics without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation
            • Andrew Hodges and Douglas Hofstadter, Alan Turing, the Enigma
            • Euclid and Dana Densmore, Euclid’s Elements
            • Lynn Gamwell and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History
            • William Dunham, Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
            • Simon Singh and John Lynch, Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem

            As it seems to me, it’s pretty implausible that the top-ten bestselling books of previous decade in the entire history of humanity could exceed the above list of “popular to-be-read-by-smart-laymen books about mathematics”. In particular, Harris, Wilczek, and Hofstadter all are outstanding mathematicians in their own right … and Harris’ weblog is outstanding too!

            This is to say nothing of the never-ending tidal wave of outstandingly accessible student-level “yellow books” on mathematics, as well as fantastic on-line mathematical history resources

            This resource survey indicates that we are all of us living in a golden era of accessible mathematics. Which is good! 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            The Chimpanzees, judged by their behavior, look more like people than like animals.

            Yes, they do, which is what makes such behaviour fascinating. I remember years back watching a documentary with my father where a lower-status chimpanzee, approaching a higher-status one, kissed its hand.

            This is human-type behaviour and can very easily be interpreted though a human lens (and probably in such an instance not too far afield; this is a lesser showing deference to a superior in order to gain favour and avoid censure or punishment).

            But while we can see the roots of human behaviour in such actions – and I’m not denying we are primates, or animals*, too – it’s going too far to say “chimps behave like humans, humans behave like chimps or in ways identifiable as arising out of chimp behaviours, ergo chimps are just like and equal to humans in every way”.

            *Merely animals, I do deny, but let’s not drag religion into this yet 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Lynn Gamwell and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History

            My problem here is I cannot stand deGrasse Tyson’s self-satisfied smirking public persona. So is he any good as a writer or does he just drop in a few “I’m dumbing this down for you simpletons” maths facts* while Ms Gamwell does all the heavy lifting about art?

            *And don’t spend six chapters telling me about the Golden Ratio as if this is something strange, new or startling; I know that, already!

            EDIT: Ah, I see he only provided the foreword (again, the usual publisher trick of maximising on popularity by making it look like he’s a co-author, I see). Phew!

            Though years back I read a SF story about art being replaced by mathematical modelling which may say much the same thing as this book in shorter form? At least, the idea is that by observing a sculptor and reducing what he does to mathematical formulae which are then refined by computer, ‘masterpieces’ of art can now be created without the need for inspiration or human involvement.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        John Sidles banned for violating my prescription not to use bold or topic-comment sentence structure any more

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Wait, seriously? For how long?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Scott Alexander
          John Sidles banned for violating my prescription not to use bold or topic-comment sentence structure any more

          If topic-comment sentence structure means what I thought it meant, then that wasn’t it. That was a reading list on a single topic, as part of a conversational reply to a request for suggested reading. It wasn’t just jumping around from one thing to another. I haven’t seen Sidles do the jumping around thing at all, since your warning.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Wait, are we basically not allowed to use the [B] and [UL] tags, or is there more to it ? I don’t use [B] all that much, but I do like [UL], so I want to make sure…

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, you can’t use <ul>. WordPress just strips it out. Sidles used a unicode •, not a list.
            As for bold, I think it’s OK as long as don’t abuse it.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s okay so long as you are not John Sidles.

        • 27chaos says:

          FWIW, I was happy to get the recommendations. I understand you need to enforce your rules, though, and that other people’s desires than my own matter here.

        • Cord Shirt says:

          I always skipped over everything John Sidles wrote, but…well, I’d say that in context, the comment doesn’t violate the spirit of the rule, except that I…don’t understand the rule.

          All I know is that it’s a list and he was replying to a *request* for a list, so it looks like a perfectly normal comment to me.

          But I’ve never understood what you meant by “topic-comment sentence structure.” “Topic-comment sentence structure” is a phrase from which I honestly can extract *no* meaning.

          So seeing someone freaking *banned* for it…becomes a little scary.

          Last time you did a scary thing, FullMeta_Rationalist said it so I thought I didn’t have to:

          warnings are meant to assuage the average commenter that Scott will never ban them unexpectedly. It’s not about B.F. Skinner-ing the stubborn shitposters. It’s about Scott promising the pure and earnest that he’ll rattle before he bites….

          If Scott just bans people out of the blue, the earnest commentators will get nervous. “What if I’m next? Better play it safe.” And then the “safe-space for weird ideas” becomes a “space without weird ideas”. And that’s why Scott needs to set some type of precedent regarding the mitigation of surprise.

          In this case, at least there *was* a warning, but…

          * The comments page assures commenters they can trust that there will be two warnings.
          * Sorry to repeat myself, but the warning was extremely unclear. I still have *no* idea what you meant by it. “Topic-comment sentence structure” is just a nonsense phrase to me.

          …earlier I wrote something about one of my two mobbings and what led to it. Didn’t post it then because it’s kind of personal and was kind of off-topic then but…here goes:

          (Samuel:) “he thought he was allowed to write the material, the outside situation changed and…you have free speech up until the moment the [administration] decides you don’t and they come down hard on you to show [something] to other[s]…”

          Only online, not in the real world, so not in any world an outsider would think important or should matter to me…but that is basically what happened to me (in kind, not degree obviously).

          The fannish discussion board I was on had a mod, but it officially had “no rules” on what to post. One day someone who had a grudge against me about an unrelated previous argument–and who (I later learned) had moved to another board that had been set up specifically for people to discuss their hatred toward ours–pulled part of a post of mine out of context and sent it to the mod with a complaint about how -ist it was.

          The mod went “Yikes! We’re looking bad!” and didn’t bother investigating the full post, but just used me as the “See? I’m not bad, SJWs! I punish bad people!” example. They did this by reposting, as a new top post, *just the out of context excerpt* along with a claim that “the trolls are usually wrong, but this time they’re right.”

          So now SJWs had a really convenient post, one which both had the context pre-removed and also had an “even the liberal New Republic” modly disapproval, to pass around far and wide.

          I wrote a response which followed Ampersand’s advice on how to respond to a callout. (He had such a post up, then. I googled for it just now but couldn’t find it; he may have taken it down, or I may not have put in the right keywords.) I felt bad for the people who’d been led to believe, by the deliberate removal of context, that hiding in their community had been someone who hated them for something they couldn’t help. I knew the mod was trying to defend the community, but I hoped that by just apologizing, and not emphasizing any blame toward those who’d taken the post out of context, I could defend the community *and* myself both–and, of course, help those who’d been hurt by my out of context words.

          I’ll never know if Ampersand’s advice was good or if people really would have felt better, because the mod replaced that post with a modly comment to the effect that “trying to justify what you said” never helps. Since the mod took down my actual apology post, no one could judge for themselves whether it had been a sincere apology or an insincere “justification.” They only had the mod’s “even the liberal New Republic” opinion that it had been the latter.

          [Scott, thank you for not deleting the posts of the banned!]

          Both of these posts were disseminated far and wide, including to many people I didn’t know, even in other fandoms I’d never heard of. I got a lot of rape and death threats, and I was also completely “discredited” as Sniffnoy put it within that community and even, I tend to think, online fandom in general:

          Now you discuss bullying and harassment, and of course there’s the issue of them trying to get people fired, but for me the real threat has always been a different one: exile.

          The SJers have warped the norms of discourse so that they can discredit anyone they choose to. Nobody will listen to such a person again — not on race, not on gender, not on anything.

          I’m just glad I was using a pseudonym, because I run my own business…even so, that was my fannish community, my online home.

          The threats were intense enough that my family and I feared the possibility of something like a Molotov cocktail through the window.

          But we didn’t go to the police. What would we say? “I was -ist on the internet and now people are after me”? The police (around here, anyway; we thought, anyway) would laugh and say we had it coming. “I wasn’t really -ist but some people on the internet thought so but they were wrong and now they’re after me so protect me from this misunderstanding!!!1111!!!” Yeah, no. We just sat tight and really really hoped my anonymity held.

          Looking back on it from the distance of a few years, I can see that the accusation was complete BS and the person was just motivated by their grudge. But this type of accusation usually has enough surface plausibility that both the target and the audience can think, “I know it was a misinterpretation, but I can see how they could have interpreted it that way and been genuinely hurt/angered.” Especially if you actually care about not being -ist and trying not to hurt people with any apparent or accidental -ism.

          Audiences who want to believe it won’t ever happen to them are encouraged to think, and often do say, that “What [target] said was stupid. They should have known better than to say something like that. [I’d never say something so stupid, so it’ll never happen to me.]” Again, looking back on it now, that’s really only true-ish in *hindsight*. It really is like you said, Samuel: it’s always something that is OK to say until the culture suddenly changes–or, often, *uses a mobbing to disseminate its change*–and redefines something as unacceptable that never had been before.

          And that’s why we didn’t call the police. When you’d been part of the community doing the attacking, when you care about the things you’re being attacked for, when you weren’t expecting a mobbing…you start by assuming it really is a misunderstanding and you try to repair it, and you blame yourself…even when in retrospect you really shouldn’t have.

          (That’s also why all these college admins are “folding.” They keep thinking it really is a misunderstanding…)

          Will Shetterly, another who’s been thoroughly “discredited” in SJish fannish communities (and, unlike me, under his own name and affecting his IRL business), has written that this type of experience has a much stronger effect on people than others realize. Or than they themselves expect it to, before it happens. He’s right. (I wish it’d been Will’s advice I’d been looking at back when I was mobbed.) (Even though I do think he is a little bit unintentionally sexist, just due to inferential distance. But his past mobbing means it’d now be basically impossible to even try to broach the subject with him. Oh well…he remains a decent person regardless.)

          I was extremely lucky my experience wasn’t worse.

          I mentioned it’s been a few years. I’m obviously still not completely over it. That’s not because I’m an unusually bitter person. It’s because this kind of thing has a surprisingly strong effect on people. And I’m normally so relentlessly positive that my family calls me “Pollyanna!” I’m not trying to complain; others have experienced much worse versions of this phenomenon. I’m just trying to make clear that it really does have a very strong effect on people.

          (Out of context quote from the above: “Cord Shirt says, ‘I’m an unusually bitter person.’ Direct quote! LOL they admit it now!”)

          I now dislike that mod; my emotions have labeled them a terrible person. That’s only human, I think. Intellectually, though, I know that *any* human being could be manipulated in that way. Especially if they were unprepared for it, as that mod was.

          Scott…you’ve already held up “I ban people who are nasty to women” as a “self-defense” to Ampersand on tumblr…and FullMeta_Rationalist’s comment also applies here. I hope you’ll consider ending the Reign of Terror and returning to rules you strictly adhere to, because rules help you avoid the kind of panicked overreach that other mod engaged in. They help you continue to be a good mod even in moments of high emotion.

          Postscript: That mod chose to step down shortly thereafter. Shortly after that, the hate community imploded, turning into two camps hurling accusations of -ism at one another. My former community, even under its new leadership, never returned to having the kind of freewheeling discussions with many participants that it had once had. It never had, and never gained, any official moderation/posting rules. It still exists, but almost nobody posts there anymore.

          I’m not a central member of this community, but I’m emotionally attached to it now. I don’t want it to be harmed. (And I don’t have an e-mail address that can’t be linked to my IRL identity, so I can’t just say this privately.) It’s in that spirit that I feel a responsibility to say the following:

          When your behavior is raising red flags for (or, perhaps, in an extremely mild way “triggering PTSD” in) people who’ve previously been attacked for having said something they had no idea was wrong…you…might be going too far.

          “Someone did it to me, so I would never do it to anyone else,” is a known failure mode.

          I’m afraid of being banned for saying this. Scott, I’m honestly uncertain whether you’ll think it’s obvious I should be, or whether you’ll be dismayed to find that anyone would fear banning for posting something like this.

    • walpolo says:

      If you think fiction would work to inspire blue-tribe feelings, David Brin’s novel Earth is a good bet.

      Speaking as a blue tribe member who can get disaffected from time to time, the most reliable way to inspire tribal pride in myself is to watch good documentaries about the civil rights movement.

      • keranih says:

        I’m red tribe, yet I also find positive-spin, we-shall-over-come, right-side-of-history civil rights movement documentaries inspiring.

        (They have to be, right? The good guys won. The bad people were made to accept their wrongness, and all became *better*.)

        I just have to convince myself to not take the extra step of imagining the same process – this time including the warts that the documentaries don’t show – being applied to, oh, animal rights. And owning six acres. Or driving an SUV. Or being openly religious.

      • walpolo says:

        [shrug] Brin’s blog can be very silly, verging on mindless, but I thought that novel was excellent and very inspiring.

      • Anonymouse says:

        (Assorted internet-mediated interactions with Brin burned out even more…)

        Speaking of, a few years back I remember him having a dust-up with Moldbug. Putting aside the hilarious bit where Brin literally threw down the gauntlet to duel he kept saying really odd stuff about the super-rich shopping around for ideologies to roll back science democracy and capitalism. Does anyone know if that’s something that he really believed or just nonsense said in anger?

  8. Seth says:

    Remembering back to the post a little while ago about psychiatry and what’s a mental illness, I recently came across this 2002 article, which is interesting:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071634/

    “Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness?
    Yes
    It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders”

    “The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association’s officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.”

    That’s a very stark statement of the issue of deciding illness by a norm-based standard. There’s places in the world where a large part of the population has (or maybe had) a physical illness, but it’s still an illness.

    The article ends:

    “It is time for the American Psychiatric Association to designate extreme racism as a mental health problem by recognizing it as a delusional psychotic symptom. Persons afflicted with such psychopathology represent an immediate danger to themselves and others. Clinicians need guidelines for recognizing delusional racism in all its forms so that they can provide appropriate treatment. Otherwise, extreme delusional racists will continue to fall through the cracks of the mental health system, and we can expect more of them to explode and act out their deadly delusions.”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Obviously pathologizing political variation is bad, but I can’t deny that one common expression of psychosis is getting really weirdly racist. It’s just a common end of the psychotic pathway, the same as thinking you’re Jesus or believing in the Illuminati. The best kind is when black people get psychotically convinced they’re white and then becoming more (anti-black) racist than any real white person you’ve ever seen.

      • Seth says:

        When “black people get psychotically convinced they’re white” do they say their skin is in fact not darkly colored, contrary to reality? Or is this more like transgender, where they assert that they have an inner identity which is not correctly expressed by their body? There’s a long history of trying to look “white”, with Michael Jackson being the most obvious example.

        It seems pretty easy for someone to go down a path of accepting a negative stereotype of a physical property, but note they are a good person and don’t match the negative stereotype – hence rationalizing they themselves don’t have that property and it’s somehow not quite trivially physical.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          I’m going to pre call this out as noncentral fallacy because this is really just an annoyance, I’m sure there’s some other example you could come up with.

          Michael Jackson had a skin disease. He didn’t choose to look white rather than black, he chose to look white rather than have skin that was white in some parts and black in others.

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    Don’t make up complicated solutions to simple problems.

  10. Wrong Species says:

    Just a reminder that the next open thread I’m doing a book discussion on the latest book, Hivemind by Garret Jones.

  11. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I oppose. For things that need backing up with sources, its hard for me to find a single source that does the job.

  12. onyomi says:

    DNC releases a new catechism to inoculate you against any scary red tribe family members you may be forced to interact with this holiday season: http://www.yourrepublicanuncle.com/

    • Deiseach says:

      The snarky part of me immediately asks “And where is the handy list of rebuttal points for Your Democrat Niece/Nephew”?

      Because that is plain “Our tribe is reasonable and nice and right, their tribe is crazy people with bad views”.

      If you can’t consider that your side also has its favourite pundits and shibboleths and unthinking acceptance of “this is the real deal”, then don’t talk politics.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Mark Atwood:
        Good Lord, you are practically a case study in pot calling the kettle black.

        There is a reply that I half expect to hear, but I hope I don’t.

        • Deiseach says:

          Part of becoming a functioning adult is recognising that there will always be the annoying uncle or aunt or other family member with aggravating or plain crazy opinions. And that getting into an argument with them will only keep the fight going for longer rather than shutting up and letting them run out of steam.

          If you can’t stand keeping your mouth shut and/or listening to them, then don’t go to the event. Nobody, once you’re over the age of 16 or so, is going to drag you to Uncle Jim’s birthday or Cousin Susie’s wedding.

          The other part of becoming a functioning adult is realising when you are the crazy uncle or aunt with the aggravating opinions. Yes, even if you’re only talking about how the imposition of socially-constructed binary gender is so oppressive which is a perfectly obvious and self-evidently correct and neutral topic. Shut it 🙂

          Oh, and whatever else about that linked post, I’m pretty sure I did see something of this nature quoted approvingly on Tumblr or somewhere 🙂

          “I forget which scientist said it, maybe Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but it’s worth repeating: ‘Wars of religion always make me laugh because basically you’re fighting over who has the best imaginary friend.'”

          Honestly, if I had a euro for every time I’ve seen a photoset of Bill Nye or whomever making such “profound” remarks about religion, I could pay for this year’s Christmas!

      • onyomi says:

        What really rubs me the wrong way about this sort of thing is not so much that the theoretical Republican is, of course, older, male, and always frowning, but rather the bald acceptance (on both sides) of the fact that political discussions are low-level tribal warfare.

        The subtext of the site is: “we here at blue tribe headquarters are glad you’ve decided to identify with us. Your identity may come under attack if you meet someone with different views, so here’s how to avoid having to actually form your own opinions.” This is why I used the term “catechism”: as I understand it, catechisms were basically memorized answers to common theological questions used to ward off the need to think about them yourself.

        I mean, can we at least pretend we come to our views on the merits of arguments about particular issues rather than getting them pre-packaged from our tribal leaders? What’s scary is that presumably some people (and again, on both sides) don’t see anything wrong with this.

        Now I understand there’s nothing wrong with actually looking for evidence and/or better arguments for opinions you already hold (though I’m pretty sure almost everyone, myself included, spends too much comfortable time doing that and not enough uncomfortable time researching counter arguments), but that is not how this presents itself. This is your handy dandy guide to not having to actually understand any issue on a deeper level.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @onyomi:

          I think these kinds of articles, sites, etc. started becoming prevalent in the wake of the rise of explicitly conservative media in the 90s. You would be having your normal family filled Thanksgiving and a (self described! ) Rush Limbaugh “ditto-head” would say “Well Bill and Hillary had Vince Foster murdered!”

          The average person would.be completely flummoxed. How do you answer that? It’s was a going story in that media, but nowhere else, because it was completely made up. And the ditto-head would then proceed to Gish Gallop all over the afternoon, with one ludicrous story after another.

          So, this naturally engendered a response on the part of some to be prepared for the topics that were likely to be brought up.

          Now, this particular site doesn’t map that way, but I fail to see, on very brief perusal what you find objectionable. I mean, permanent 4% economic growth really is a fantastical promise.

          In fact, the broad model seems to be to try and counter relatively fact-free bromides with actual positions, which would seem like what you would want.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not complaining about the correctness of the object-level questions. It’s about the epistemology of the tribal mode of thinking.

            And sure, I don’t like hearing regurgitated talking points from anyone, be they Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow, but my point is that creating a “playbook” to “prepare” for this sort of thing reveals precisely what’s wrong with political discussion: it’s a game, a competition, a tribal warfare; it pisses you off if your relative makes some claim which implies something nasty about your tribe and you don’t have a good response off the top of your head. I understand, it pisses me off too, but I think we need to fight against this sort of impulse, not embrace it with catechisms and playbooks and talking points of our own.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I fail to see, on very brief perusal what you find objectionable.

            On climate, their answer promulgates the “97% of climate scientists” myth.

            On the economy, they decide to answer an exceedingly vague claim (“Democrats don’t understand the economy like Republicans do”) because they have a single factoid to present that makes their side look good. To wit, they compare the number of “jobs added” during the last two administrations from each party. They say 31.6 million jobs were “added” under Clinton and Obama, versus an anemic 3.9 million “added” under “the last two Republican presidents”. Weirdly, they forgot to mention that one of these Republican presidents only served one term so they’re comparing 16 years of Democrat job growth to 12 years of Republican job growth. They also don’t adjust for population, which would tend to make the most recent numbers look better. And they ignore that nearly all that “Democrat” job gain was “under” Clinton not Obama and ignore that if they’d gone back one more term to make the years equal they would have picked up Reagan’s best term by their metric, thereby making it a substantially closer call. So, just as with the climate question, they could have said something actually true to make their case but chose instead to stack the deck to make a claim much stronger than the evidence supports.

            (…and so on…)

          • Glen Raphael says:

            BTW, my own preferred reading of that “jobs growth” data is that to whatever degree we can credit government at all, for the last couple decades or so the country has done best at jobs growth (and also deficit reduction) whenever Republicans control the House of Representatives AND are facing a Democratic president. That is to say: gridlock works! Praise gridlock!

            The government shutdown worked and the sequester worked, in that the government did slightly less economic damage than if it had been able to get more stuff done!

            (Weirdly, they list the 2013 government shutdown as a reason to vote against Ted Cruz…)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Isn’t the OP then just a case of selective call for rigor?

            If you accept my case for the history of this type of column, site, etc. then you should clearly see that this is a “both sides” problem.

          • onyomi says:

            As I said, I’m not claiming this is unique to the blue tribe. Someone even linked a page full of right wing zingers to respond to your left wing relatives at Thanksgiving. I just don’t like the attitude towards political stances it evinces: political discussion is tribal war and arguments are soldiers, basically.

      • anon says:

        The young liberal/leftist/whatever arguing with older and more conservative members of their extended family on Thanksgiving is a cultural touchstone, but I do wonder if any rationalists ever have the reverse occur.

        DE people trying to explain HBD and neocameralism to their progressive cousins, Hansonians attempting to tell their grandparents about Futarchy, the list goes on

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m very impressed with the rejoinders about Cruz and Rubio:

        (a) Ted Cruz led the 2013 government shutdown that cost the US economy $24 billion. And he thought that turned out so well that he wanted to do it again over Planned Parenthood funding this year.

        That only works on people who think Planned Parenthood are a wunnerful, wunnerful charidee.

        (b) Rubio is a Republican so he has Republican policies, oh no, who knew! Well, how deceitful of the man!

        • anonymous says:

          There’s a lot of ground between thinking PP is fantastic (onyomi will be along shortly to chide your spelling) and thinking that trying, and likely failing, to defund them is worth costing the economy tens of billions of dollars.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @anonymous
          The claim that the shutdown cost the economy “tens of billions” is probably an example of the broken window fallacy – adding up costs you can see while ignoring offsetting benefits you can’t see. Two examples:
          (1) yes, the government spent less money during the shutdown, but it didn’t change any department budgets so they still spent their full budget by the end of the fiscal year. So that part of the spending was postponed, not lost.

          (2) Yes, less money was spent visiting the national parks when they were closed…but that just means people spent their money elsewhere in ways that were harder to see and measure. (extra visits to private recreational parks, going out to movies…)

          If you believe that government spends too much and does too much – that we’re past the point of diminishing returns on effort spent legislating – then having the government spend less for a while means fewer resources are diverted from the private sector which could use them better. The unexpected churn part is bad, but the spending less part might be on-net good.

          More here.

        • I think I missed the $24 billion claim. U.S. GNP was around sixteen trillion. Anyone who thinks we know the net effect of a bunch of changes in what people were doing to an accuracy of a tenth of a percent of national income has a weak hold on reality.

          It isn’t as if there is a dial up in the sky that reads out total value of goods and services produced each day. I take any such claim–positive or negative–as advertising puffery by one side or another of the dispute.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      Whatever happened to “no politics at the dinner table”? There’s a reason that social norm exists! 95% of political discussions are just social friction with no one changing anyone else’s mind!

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        I assume its for people who are both prone to getting drunk and political. Thankfully I only have family members who are one or the other.

  13. onyomi says:

    The title of this OT reminded me of something which I am surprised to see has not, so far, as far as I can tell, provided the title of an OT, though I could imagine it might be interpreted as a wry meta-commentary on the frequency of commenting on SSC:

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c3/Constant_Comment_tea.JPG

    Or is this actually what this title is referencing, in addition to the fact that Scott is (was?) in Boston?

  14. anonymous says:

    Not a great set of subthreads this week.
    Men are awesome!
    STEM rules!
    Keep those Mooslems away from me!
    Feminists & Social Justice Warriors: even worse than Mooslems.

  15. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    Scott, you have great taste in leftist bloggers. (And tbh, I think Alas deserved the chopping block a while ago. He’s so close to being one of the rare nonshitty feminists, but not quite close enough.)

    • BBA says:

      There are a few lefty group blogs where I read half the writers for good, interesting information. The other half I hateread for the content-free snark, inflammatory ranting, and incredulity at how anyone could possibly disagree with their obviously true views.

      The latter is an increasingly large chunk of the left, and I’m starting to get the feeling that, to paraphrase a few party-switching pols, “I didn’t leave the movement, the movement left me.”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Any other recommendations?

  16. Mark says:

    Could there be
    a more beautiful thing,
    than a man,
    wishing to be a woman,
    wishing to be a man,
    and
    the means to realize
    this interminable desire is
    rejecting all that God has made?

  17. onyomi says:

    Related to the weird phenomenon of electing a black president and massively increasing support for race and gender studies somehow making race and gender relations much more acrimonious, but also applicable to other areas:

    Are there any thoughts on the seemingly unfortunate tendency in politics and thought to “take a mile” whenever “given an inch”?

    Like in discussions of the NRA and gun control I’ve seen here: posters have pointed out that the NRA will not give in to any seemingly innocuous demands for slightly stronger gun control because they know their opponents will not be appeased until no one has any guns at all.

    Is this just about people having short-term goals and more extreme long-term goals, or is there something psychologically deeper at work? It seems a major obstacle to productive compromise, since, if the only reaction to concessions is ever more extreme demands then, well, obviously the incentive is to never give ground.

    • Anonymous says:

      Isn’t this just a classic example of the Overton window shifting? Which itself is perhaps caused by status quo bias – people can’t imagine having a certain law, until they do, at which point they can’t imagine not having it.

      • onyomi says:

        I think it’s more related to the “arguments as war” phenomenon: theoretically, if you are pushing for x, and the other side gives you .5x, you should then start working on achieving the remaining .5x. But incentive seems to be to then up your game to push for 2x.

    • John Sidles says:

      What is your evidence for “massively increasing support for race and gender studies”? Do you mean “massively increasing demand for race and gender studies“? Or do you mean “massively increasing span of race and gender studies“? Or do you mean “massively increasing sophistication of race and gender studies“? The latter three factors would provide natural causal explanations of the first, needless to say.

    • Murphy says:

      I think the NRA and free-speech campaigners use the same approach. They’ve got their Schelling Fence on the slippery slope and they’re going to fight every attempt to move it because in both cases, it is a slippery slope. A very very slippery slope.

      Given how long term the game is and the number of players a position of “fuck you, I’m not moving, no, not even a little” is the correct one in many many cases.

    • JDG1980 says:

      Are there any thoughts on the seemingly unfortunate tendency in politics and thought to “take a mile” whenever “given an inch”?

      Like in discussions of the NRA and gun control I’ve seen here: posters have pointed out that the NRA will not give in to any seemingly innocuous demands for slightly stronger gun control because they know their opponents will not be appeased until no one has any guns at all.

      It’s a serious problem and a major contributor to gridlock in American politics. The underlying issue is that short of amending the Constitution, there is no clear way for the U.S. government (or indeed any other government in a representative democracy) to make binding long-term commitments to the populace. And no one wants to make a compromise if that compromise is only going to be the first step in the complete defeat of their side.

  18. The original Mr. X says:

    We often hear from feminists that every human society, more or less, is oppressive and unfair towards women. We also hear that women are just as smart, capable, etc. as men.

    Basically, my question is: is there not a contradiction between those two beliefs? If men are no more capable than women, how come they’ve been able to so consistently dominate and oppress them?

    • Anonymous says:

      Magic.

    • Jeremy says:

      Pregnancy.

    • Murphy says:

      A perfectly average man is physically stronger than >95% of women.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        But this is exactly one of the things feminists deny when they claim that females are just as capable as men. If you’re lucky, they may intellectually admit it when pressed hard enough with the evidence, but that’s the motte. The bailey is pushing for female firefighters and female cops and females in combat and 90-pound “strong female characters” that can somehow kick a 200-pound man’s ass.

        • John Sidles says:

          The redoubtable DuffelBlog‘s article “Third Female Ranger School Grad Still Awaiting Fame” provides much-needed elements of perspective and humor to this discourse. Note: the kernel of the DuffelBlog story is entirely factual. And no, these pioneering women aren’t going away anytime soon.

        • Murphy says:

          While, yes, I have encountered exactly these people physical strength and height are things that even most of the hardliners will admit are not equally distributed across the genders.

          (I have encountered a couple of nutbags who insist that it’s all down to women being starved in adolescence and not being encouraged to do weights but they’re not representative)

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          >But this is exactly one of the things feminists deny when they claim that females are just as capable as men.

          Can you find at least three reasonable examples of this position?

          For “reasonable example” I mean either a popular blogger (is “at least as popular as scott” a high enough standard? is it too high?) or an article in an at least internet-mainstream publication. With “this position” I mean preferably “women are/could be as strong as men” or at least “women are capable of performing physically intesive jobs as well as men”.

          • John Sidles says:

            This is a good question to ask. Quite a few comments read plausibly as water-testing queries: “Does the SSC readership welcome misogynistic rhetoric that is grounded in social angst?”

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I’m not very certain about what you mean, but I’m pretty sure I disagree with it.

          • Anonymous says:

            @WHTA

            I think he’s saying, “I think your comment section is full of wicked people.”

          • keranih says:

            @ John Sidles –

            DB is hysterical. You, however, are less so, although I am sure you mean the best.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Can you find at least three reasonable examples of this position?

            The first clear example of “women can be just as strong as men” that Google finds for me is here. (“Are men really physically stronger than women? The answer is “no” but some explanation is required…”) The author is an alias (“Factorwoman”) but Feministing.com has a higher alexa ranking than slatestarcodex.com so that counts, right? Now we just need two more!

          • Anonymous says:

            Another example is here: “The age-old myth of women having less muscular strength than men do is just that—a myth.” This blog entry has 59 comments, so it’s not as if nobody reads it.

            Two thirds of the Debate.org participants in this topic certainly seem to think that women aren’t weaker. The site seems popular, overall.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Glen & Anonymous

            All of those arguments seem rather short on actual metrics or hard data.

            Olympic weight lifting records skew heavily towards men, as does pretty much every track and field event.

            Hell, when I still had to do a PFA each year my 90 crunches, 40 push-ups, 10 pull-ups, and 8 minute mile were decidedly mediocre, But would have put me in the 99th percentile for my age group had I been female.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Hlynka

            Yes, that’s the point. WHTA asked for opinions backing up JA2K’s anecdote. The perceptible, obvious truth is that women are weaker than men, to the effect of having half as much strength on average.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        That’s what I thought would be the answer, but then, wouldn’t it also throw doubt on a lot of the example people tend to use of oppressive societies? E.g., the fact that a lot of societies have/had quite clear concepts of “men’s/women’s work” seems less oppressive when you remember that the men’s work was mostly physically demanding (agricultural labour, mining, etc.), and for these jobs it makes sense to have physically stronger men do them. Or again, back in the days before we as a society had enough wealth to spend on social security and the like, the main task of governments was to defend the tribe or nation from its enemies; and, since men are much more physically capable of withstanding the rigours of campaign, of course they’re going to be the ones in charge of the government.

        Now, sure, these considerations don’t apply so much now that labour is generally less physically demanding and the government is more than just the soldiers and the people co-ordinating them. But “This way of doing things, whilst it made sense in the past, is no longer necessary and should be changed,” although a more plausible claim than “Every society in history is misogynistic and run solely for the benefit of men”, is also a much weaker one, and doesn’t seem to be made nearly as often.

        • I think Shulamith Firestone, at least, would agree that the material conditions of the past made gender-based oppression more or less inevitable. Although she attributes it more to the nature of human reproduction than to strength differences.

          This passage seems relevant in understanding her view on the need for feminism:

          The problem becomes political, demanding more than a comprehensive historical analysis, when one realizes that, though man is increasingly capable of freeing himself from the biological conditions that created his tyranny over women and children, he has little reason to want to give this tyranny up. (The Dialectic of Sex, p. 11)

          (I don’t know how far most feminists would agree with Firestone on this exact point, but she is supposed to have been quite influential in general.)

        • Seth says:

          It’s really important to remember that for the vast majority of human history, people lived a vastly different type of life. Many children died at birth or soon after. Many women died in childbirth. The average family needed to at least try to have many children, since there was a significant chance that all the kids would die before reaching adulthood. Women were pregnant AND/OR taking care of young children for a huge part of their lives. That has a profound effect on what people do. Any tribe needs to protect childbearing women first and foremost, otherwise it can’t physically survive.

          Now, you can ask why e.g. this doesn’t product a matriarchy where the council of grandmothers rules, and the ideology is that men are too violent to properly run a government. But it’s not a matter of gender strength or IQ distribution.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Seems kind of obvious to me.

            Males are disposable, and are thus better positioned to bet their life on a long shot. Likewise, if the leader of a successful war-band declares himself “king” who’s going to stop him?

          • Seth says:

            Who’s going to stop him? Why not the matriarch with a dozen sons who all stand to lose out under the new “king”? Or for the same reason, whatever it is, that the Western world does not live under military juntas. As in, a less-obvious issue in reply is that given humans are extremely good at coming up with weird beliefs in their social structure, why doesn’t it ever work out that the response is: “King? That just shows the testosterone-poisoned dementia which proves men are emotionally unstable to be rulers. It proves that the Great Goddess incarnated wisdom in women, with men only fit to be physical labor.”.

            There’s got to be something more than the completely obvious war-band leader winning, since it doesn’t take too long before he’s figuring out how not to be deposed by the younger, up-and-coming, war-band leader.

          • Anonymous says:

            And who’s going to stop the sons when they decide that grandmother needs to take a back seat and let them do the decision-making, since they’re obviously the reason that she’s even still in power?

            Power naturally gravitates to those who can enforce it.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Seth
            In addition to what Anonymous said, you seem to be forgetting that the Western world did live under military Juntas for much of it’s history. Women like Eleanor D’Aquitaine or Catherine the Great are notable specifically because they were exceptions to the rule.

            @ Anonymous.

            Get out of my head. 😉

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        A perfectly average elephant is physically stronger than approximately 100% of human beings, yet I’ve never seen elephants running a zoo with penned-up human specimens.

  19. The Smoke says:

    Did anybody here ever have to deal with a “personal statement” for graduate admissions, as required e.g. by the University of Berkeley? One is supposed to describe the challenges one had to overcome in ones academic career or in what way one has supported underrepresented groups like women and racial minorities.

    Since I didn’t face any noteworthy challenges and additionally have been studying math in a country where by far the biggest obstacle in pursuing a mathematical degree for most women is that they can have more fun and free time doing something else, I am at a total loss what I should tell them…

    • Anonymous says:

      How about the truth?

      • The Smoke says:

        So you think it is a test, where they explicitly ask you to state those experiences in order to see if you are bold enough to just wave it off?
        One of the reason why I study math is that you don’t have to bother with politics but you can work together with different people on a technical level.
        To me what they want is comparable to when I hypothetically would be applying to a chinese university and they asked me what I have done throughout my career to support communism. Obviously the right answer would not be to state clearly that I don’t particularly care…

        • Anonymous says:

          OTOH, do you really want to study at a university that requires you to show off your Bolshevik credentials before you even get in?

          You could take the lulz option, and just write what you have done through your career to support communism. If they object, claim that what they require is essentially the same as requiring a communism-support declaration, so you submitted the communism-support declaration instead.

          • Murphy says:

            Great if he really doesn’t want the job.

            They’re not going to see the paralell because they know that what they believe is right and true and that what the communists believe to be right and true isn’t hence there is no parallel between the two.

        • The Smoke says:

          If they have a good math department and I suspect it will be relatively pleasant to spend time there, I want to go there regardless of the political opinion of the university administration (as long as it is safe to assume they won’t mess to much with everyday life).
          There is probably an adequate line between being honest and showing cooperativeness that one has to find as an ideologically neutral white (etc.) male.

    • Jeremy says:

      Talk about your social disability in a way that reifies it.

    • Anon says:

      The personal statement is pretty much irrelevant for graduate admissions to technical fields at good universities. Berkeley, in particular, requires it for all grad applicants, but the people with almost all of the power to decide your admission are the department faculty, who don’t give a damn.

      Just write something perfunctory, and focus on the rest of your resume.

      • Anon says:

        For kicks, you could claim that your study of Noetherian modules amounts to support of women in mathematics. (Not having studied Noetherian modules is a.) somewhat of a failing of your education and b.) correctable with ten minutes and Wikipedia.)

      • The Smoke says:

        Thanks, that is reassuring. It should be clear that something like this doesn’t contribute much to the application but I tend to freak out anyway.
        Regarding Noether and her legacy: Now that you mention it, there might be an incredibly good pun involving her and the ideals she represents.

        • John Sidles says:

          It is no bad thing for a personal statement to show thorough familiarity with the mathematical and personal ideals of Emmy Noether:

          Funeral Oration for Emmy Noether
          by Hermann Weyl
          April 18, 1935

          Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
          Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
          Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
          I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
              — Edna St. Vincent Millay

          The hour has come, Emmy Noether, in which we must forever take our leave of you. Many will be deeply moved by your passing, none more so than your beloved brother Fritz, who, separated from you by half the globe, was unable to be here, and who must speak his last farewell to you through my mouth.

          His are the flowers I lay on your coffin. […]

          She was not clay, pressed by the hands of God into a harmonious form, but rather a chunk of human primary rock into which he had blown his creative breath of life. Her heart knew no malice: she did not believe in evil—indeed it never entered her mind that it could play a role among men.

          Note  Emmy Noether’s “beloved brother Fritz”, to whom Hermann Weyl’s oration refers, was subsequently executed, on September 10 1941, by the murderous Stalinists, from whom Fritz had sought refuge from the murderous Nazis.

          Apologies are extended, to all those among SSC‘s readership, who are offended by transgressive scholarly encomia like the above.

  20. Unaussprechlichen says:

    http://thehsi.org/2015/09/10/animal-rights-gone-wrong/

    I wonder what SSCers think about the whole “should we keep the lions around” debate.
    The position of abolitionists certainly does not align with my values, which have a place for naturally-evolved biodiversity.
    It seems that “eliminate suffering to all costs” is the kind of simplistic morality we want to avoid in AIs, so why adopt it as humans?
    Even if you are a strict hedonist, exterminating predators right now, when we don’t have an army of drones to perform abortions on prey animals, is unlikely to reduce their suffering.

    But the argument that conservationist types like to use against abolitionists is that they “applying human values on non-human animals”. This doesn’t make sense to me. Isn’t conservation also forcing human values on nature? I mean, mass extinctions already happened, what’s wrong with another one? It’s the circle of life.
    Can someone steelman it?

    • Mitochondrius says:

      Isn’t conservation also forcing human values on nature?

      Yes, of course it is. It’s like the moral relativist who acts as though moralizing is immoral.

      Remember, very little morality is even logically consistent, and when it is, the implications are rejected by a vast majority of people. This is also why “friendly AI” will never happen. The next best thing is an AI that behaves for a while in a way that doesn’t upset too many people.

      ETA: As for your first question, I don’t care either way. I wouldn’t pay $1 for conservation, but neither for reducing animal suffering. I’d say use the resources optimally for your wellbeing.

      • P. George Stewart says:

        Aren’t you equivocating between “morality” as “stuff people believe is moral” and “morality” as “ideal set of internally consistent moral rules”?

        It’s always been tempting to look at the inconsistencies between what people profess (within and between cultures) as an argument against objective morality or for moral nihilism or relativism. But that could be just a non-sequitur.

        What if it’s like this: everyone’s searching for objective morality, and objective morality is something that’s discovered in the course of that search process (down generations, across cultures, etc.)?

        IOW, given human nature and the nature of the world, and given some over-arching ultimate goal, then necessarily, somewhere out there in possibility space, there’s an ideal set of internally consistent rules that we OUGHT (instrumentally) to live by. Societies and cultures are search processes for ideal rulesets (depending on ultimate goals). In the course of searching, they come up with ideas that are inconsistent. But over time, only the consistent sets win out; and further, over time, the ultimate goals themselves compete. Until nowadays, most people would agree on ultimate goals that fall into a kind of basket of closely-related ultimate goals (human flourishing, maximizing “happiness”, maximizing some kind of Pareto-optimal outcome, etc., etc.)

        Moral ideas and systems can be criticized and sifted for consistency in relation to any of those ultimate goals. (And I would say that the ultimate goals have to be sifted from the point of view of the individual and his or her own nested goals and ultimate goals; then you get an aggregate pattern of accepted values, analogous to prices in economics strictly so-called.)

        IOW, just as what’s utile is discovered by the catallactic process of the market, so what’s true is discovered by the catallactic processes of free speech and scientific method, and what’s good or of ultimate value is discovered by an analogous catallactic process, involving things like religion and politics. It’s all about the discovery of objective fact. Just because people can be wrong or inconsistent in any given instance about what’s good, is no argument against the ultimate objectivity of what’s actually good, any more than buying something that doesn’t work is an argument against the objectivity of what’s utile (for you given your preferences) or scientists being wrong or inconsistent about things is an argument against the objectivity of truth.

        • Anonymous says:

          and what’s good or of ultimate value is discovered by an analogous catallactic process, involving things like religion and politics.

          How do we know when we have come across a correct moral value, according to the tools of religion and politics? How do we know when lots of people agreeing that something is good means it is a correct moral value, versus it just being a popular preference?

          • P. George Stewart says:

            Sadly, we don’t, any more than we know that the current state of consensus on a scientific matter is correct at the time.

            But it’s still the only process we actually have.

            But this is just an argument for a certain degree of … delicacy, looseness, tolerance, non-fanaticism? Not that you can’t be a passionate advocate, but there’s got to be a twinkle in the eye that reveals awareness of the meta.

          • Anonymous says:

            We don’t ever know for certain that we are right on a scientific matter, that’s true – although we can be very confident that we are. I’m not sure what the equivalent of the scientific method is supposed to be with moral values, though. Again – how do we know when something is popular because it’s a correct moral value, versus it being popular because it’s just a common preference? Not how can we know for certain, but how can we be reasonably confident, or even kind of confident? Can you describe the approach you would take using religion and politics as your tools of inquiry?

    • Anonymous says:

      Surely it depends on whether the lives of wild animals are net positive or negative utility. Someone who was particularly squicky about pain would probably say negative, because the cost of a horrible death outweighs the enjoyment deer get from bouncing through the meadows, and lion cubs get from playfighting, and whatever else. Someone who thought that the disutility of pain was generally exaggerated considering that the overwhelming majority of life, even the life of wild animals, is spent not in pain, would probably say positive.

      Personally I have no idea, and I’m not really sure how anyone can know.

      • Jiro says:

        The biggest contribution to the sum total of wild animal suffering (if you believe in such things) is small animals who have much shorter lifespans than deer but the same number of painful deaths per lifespan (1). Think of thousands of spawning tadpoles who mostly get eaten fast, not deer.

        • Anonymous says:

          Perhaps tadpoles are a bad example, because someone might plausibly argue that they are less sentient therefore have less moral worth. Maybe rabbits would be better.

          I agree that if there is a fixed-size negative utile value per life then fewer, longer lives entail more utiles than more, shorter lives. But it might work the other way – perhaps there is a fixed-size positive utile value per life.

          Being a human child has some level of magic and wonder, that seems to run out as you get older. Maybe the same is true for animals – that they’re happier as cubs and kittens and whatnot than as adults. Or, maybe there are extra utiles to be had from your first time doing any number of enjoyable things, with the second time and beyond no longer as exciting.

          Both of these factors, as well as other similar ones that might exist, could push the net value of the fixed utiles per life into positive figures, meaning more, shorter lives would be preferable from an aggregate utility standpoint.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous
            [Maybe animals are] happier as cubs and kittens and whatnot than as adults.

            + Very likely, for many obvious reasons. Plus, the younger the animal the less trauma while being eaten, and the sooner eaten by predators if in trouble.

          • Jiro says:

            Maybe the same is true for animals – that they’re happier as cubs and kittens and whatnot than as adults.

            I would think that most animals with short lifespans also have short cub lifespans (unless you’re talking about certain insects), so that doesn’t really help you.

            Or, maybe there are extra utiles to be had from your first time doing any number of enjoyable things, with the second time and beyond no longer as exciting

            That argument doesn’t really work unless the shorter lived animal still lives long enough that it manages to do as many first-time-things as the longer lived animal, which would imply that all the first time things are crammed into a ridiculously small percentage of a longer-lived animal’s life.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jiro

            That argument doesn’t really work unless the shorter lived animal still lives long enough that it manages to do as many first-time-things as the longer lived animal, which would imply that all the first time things are crammed into a ridiculously small percentage of a longer-lived animal’s life.

            That’s not right – it depends entirely on the number of short lived animals. For example, in a choice between ten short lived animals that each experience two first-times, versus one long lived animal that experiences ten first-times, the first option entails twice as many utiles (assuming utiles per first-time is equal for all first-times). And the options being between many short lives and few long lives was, I thought, what we were talking about to begin with – you brought up the issue of the guaranteed negative utility event (death) that comes with each life.

    • Unaussprechlichen says:

      I think a part of this “human values” argument is based on erroneously ascribing to abolitionists a kind of vegan virtue ethics, where predators are vile and cruel, and thus deserve to be punished; while in actuality they are utilitarians.

      http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2009/08/28/predatory-animals-are-bad/
      An old discussion on that topic. Most of it is ad hominems, but there are intersting bits. Shows that the coservationist side could benefit from learning to think clearly. Which is disheartening, because I’m on that side.

      Also, a lot of the people who are very concerned about wildlife conservation are those who study wildlife and know a lot about it. The same goes for linguists who study endangered languages. But this doesn’t generalize well — what if instead of animals or laguages they were fascinated by wars or diseases? Would they want to keep them?

      But I think your average military history nerd wouldn’t be to keen on that after witnessing firsthand the flying projectiles and dismembered bodies. The same thing doesn’t happen with people who witnes the cruelty in nature, so these case may be not entirely symmetrical. Perhaps there’s an evolutionary-psychological reason for being fascinated with nature?

    • I am on the conservation side of this argument and will provide my own perspective.

      I mean, mass extinctions already happened, what’s wrong with another one? It’s the circle of life.
      This logic would appear to support murder and/or death, given the fact that many human deaths have also “already happened”. You could loosely apply an analogy that cancer is a natural human condition but bad for humans, and extinction is natural in the biosphere but bad for the biosphere. Obviously this is just a simplistic analogy but it captures the basic problem with the “extinction is natural” argument – conflating biological life (nature) with the challenges that shaped it. Good people are for the first and against the latter.

      But the argument that conservationist types like to use against abolitionists is that they “applying human values on non-human animals”.

      I cannot steelman steelman this without fundamental changes. I think “applying human values on non-humans” actually suggests applying human *standards* on non-humans, which isn’t actual morality, because our (terminal) values are only our values if they are applied consistently. Otherwise they are probably just instrumental values. Serial killers might be fine with what they do but we had better “impose our values” to stop them. Or to put it another way, its the cultural relativism argument in broader form. So for me it’s not salvagable.

      I think the problem is that a hedonistic-altruism utility function is not a sensible function. Pleasure/pain is more reasonably thought of as an indirect proxy for utility. A better utility function is to consider *survival* as primary, and to consider suffering and pleasure as secondary values to be considered mainly when they don’t conflict with the central goal. Our primary concern with other species ought to be that they survive. If we are able to alleviate suffering, we can do so, but only where it does not threaten the survival of the species. Suffering aversion is a good psychological baseline (in practice consequentialism needs to be softened with virtue ethics), but basically sometimes we need to push through pain as a secondary consideration not unlike going for run in order to stay healthy. By this way of thinking, eliminating species to eliminate suffering is an awful trade-off. You can see a detailed, more formal justifcation of this way of thinking on my blog in the philosophy section if you are interested.

      • Mitochondrius says:

        Our primary concern with other species ought to be that they survive.

        Nice attempt at grabbing the utility function there, buddy.

        Survival is about individuals, not species. Species are just fuzzy sets of biologically related individuals. Even if we accept your utility grab about survival being primary – you say it’s more reasonable, but you don’t provide any actual reasons – survival is still about individuals. Which means, as I am the individual who decides my own values, survival only has value if it’s my survival.

        Sure, I could reproduce, but reproduction isn’t even survival, it’s death + replacement with something related. And the lions don’t even help with that.

        On top of all that, I don’t agree that survival is primary. My survival is merely an instrument to get to more pleasure. At least the biophilic hedonist can say he likes the lions because they bring him pleasure. Maybe then you can have an argument for eco-tourism or something like that.

        • Species are just fuzzy sets of biologically related individuals.

          If we accepted this reductionist argument, then you must also agree you’re not a single entity, you’re just a collection of separate cells with common interests and a unifed strategy. Or to put it another way, sometimes things are made of smaller things – why should this change anything so long as they are coherent? As you may be aware, genes are now commonly considered to be the basic unit in evolution, not organisms. However, even the major figure that popularised gene-centred view of evolution, Dawkins, agrees that larger units of analysis are relevant to explain evolutionary forces and their outcomes. This includes group selection which Dawkins accepted as a consideration, after some debate with collegues.

          Nice attempt at grabbing the utility function there, buddy.

          I don’t see what this means. I stated that I thought a utility function wasn’t sensible (if you pursue the experience of pleasure why would you pursue animal pleasure when you can’t experience it, putting aside empathy for now), and suggested an alternative I think its more logically consistent.

          survival is still about individuals.
          You may be interested to read about kin-selection and group-selection, both of which falsify the idea that organisms only pursue their own existence, which is what I think you are suggesting?

          My survival is merely an instrument to get to more pleasure

          This requires fallaciously conflating “wanting stuff” and “pursuing pleasure”. Most people want to live even when they know they will have more pain in their life than pleasure (example chronic illness), and also some people try to suicide even knowing they will have little but greater than 0 pleasure in their life. So regardless if you consider pleasure on its own, or with more complexity in an interaction with pain, there is no identifiable pattern of human behaviour where humans can plausibly thought of as pleasure maximisers. It also doesn’t fit with evolution – pleasure pursuit is hardly a good evolutionary strategy.

          Things humans want is perhaps not perfectly aligned, but is *very* suspiciously correlated with a goal of survival of ourselves and others. I’d say we look a lot more like survival machines than pleasure maximisers. The philosohical arguments turning either of those into “oughts” is much more complex, but remember egoism doesn’t get to be an uncritical default – in moral philosophy you must justify why someone “ought” to be selfish as much as you must justify why someone “ought” to be altruistic.

          • Mitochondrius says:

            You’re using phases like “more reasonable”, “sensible” and “logically consistent” without actually arguing why conservation is more valuable than suffering reduction, or personal survival/pleasure for that matter.

            You do try to tie it to evolutionary arguments, but you clearly have not understood the difference between ethical values and evolutionary theory. You make a token effort about pointing out how complex it is to tie the two together in a normative sense, but you’re not actually succeeding in that and yet you use language that implies you have the more rational value set. That’s what I call an undeserved status grab, and I resent that.

            If you had merely framed it as a personal taste, I would not have much to argue against.

            As for individualism, yes we’re made of cells, but their structure is more coherent and unified – to the point of implementing personhood! – than a mere set of similar cells. Species are more like the latter rather than the former.

            You’re right that egoism is not a philosophical default, but compared to giving up my wellbeing for the mere existence of lions, it looks pretty damn good to me.

            As for survival vs. pleasure as a human tendency, suicide is not the best test case. A better test case is what risks people are willing to take in order to feel better, how much pain they are willing to go through to survive, how much money they would pay for cryonics if they thought it really worked, and so on. Remember that survival is the biological default, not suicide, and people often go with the default just because it’s the default. If we had a world where we all have a 1% chance each night to die in our sleep, and only great extra pain and effort each day could reduce it to 0%, I predict people would die a lot younger. Just look at the revealed preference of “cheeseburger vs. life expectancy” and you see what I mean.

            You are right of course that personal hedonism doesn’t mean we have to care for the suffering of lions, but neither does it mean we have to care for their mere existence. I certainly don’t and you have provided me no reason to.

            Good discussion anyway.

          • but you’re not actually succeeding in that and yet you use language that implies you have the more rational value set. That’s what I call an undeserved status grab, and I resent that.

            I put forward my opinion and try to explain the reasons why I think what I do, and have tried to disagree by only addressing the argument and not attacking the person. If we disallow that by saying its a status-thing, how can we have a discussion? You and I are just names on the internet, so we can safely exchange ideas without worrying that our real life status will be effected.

            You’re right that egoism is not a philosophical default, but compared to giving up my wellbeing for the mere existence of lions, it looks pretty damn good to me.

            I don’t agree with your arguments either, and I sense we’re having difficulty finding common ground to get our discussion rolling, so I’m happy to “agree to disagree”. Thanks for the discussion.

          • Mitochondrius says:

            I wasn’t talking about the status of the person, but the status of the value framework. If I declare my preferences “more reasonable”, “logically consistent”, and so on, than those of others, I can be expected to actually provide superior logical consistency and reasoning, or at least point out inconsistencies and bad reasoning in the view I reject.

            Merely poiting to evolutionary theory doesn’t do that.

            You’re right we’re obviously not going to agree on the object level.

          • I did point out exact problems, and I linked to an exact proposal linking between the two, but for whatever reason, you still accuse me of vagueness. Ok.

  21. Linch says:

    Yes, I can finally talk here again! I categorically refused to start a reddit account because I already have two primary social networking sites (Facebook and Quora), not to mention LinkedIn, Goodreads, here…

    I’m *such* a special snowflake.

    By the way, I’m thinking of restarting the Effective Altruism Book Club on Goodreads. Would people be interested? We’ll meet monthly and discuss EA related books (We’ll probably discuss MacAskill and Singer before branching out to other books).

  22. onyomi says:

    Related to my comment above about students maybe selecting “easier” majors like “gender studies” over “harder” courses in STEM fields, but different enough to warrant a new comment:

    At what point did we accept that liberal arts are just supposed to be “easier” than STEM courses (or have they always been)?

    As a liberal arts major, and now as a liberal arts professor, I was always frustrated that the expectations students and professors both had about STEM subjects was always much greater; furthermore, while there were challenging courses in STEM fields for majors and easy courses for non-majors to fulfill requirements, there were no equivalent “challenge” courses for liberal arts majors. We took the same language, literature, and history courses as the physics majors. And I think they all were considered “easy” as compared to physics.

    Now, there’s nothing inherently “easier” about liberal arts than math. If an English course in which you read and analyze 5 books and write a ten-page paper is easier than a given math course, well then, I can design an English course in which you read and analyze 8 books and write a twenty-page paper, or a course in which the demands for rigor of the analysis would be higher, such that that course would be harder than said math course.

    My best explanation is that STEM are viewed as being for specialists, but not essential to daily life, while liberal arts are simultaneously aided and hobbled by romantic notions about the well-informed citizen, Renaissance man, etc. And also by college-as-finishing-school/networking club for young adults who need to be able to display the marks of their class: you can get by in the upper classes without doing trigonometry, but you should at least be able to pretend to have a conversation about Shakespeare should the topic come up.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are many difference ways in which one class may be harder than another. STEM classes are generally harder on all of these axes, but it is worth separating them.

      It is a well-known historical fact that grade inflation has been larger in humanities than STEM. So if “easy” refers to ease of obtaining an A, humanities classes have become easier faster than STEM classes, although that does not answer whether they started at the same place.

      The humanities are not homogeneous. It is widely accepted that Philosophy is harder than English, which is harder than Gender Studies. Since Gender Studies is new, the humanities, as a whole, has become easier. However, very few people major in Gender Studies, so I don’t think this is important (its mere existence may exert competitive pressure, but I doubt it). But it is worth contemplating what people mean when they say Philosophy is harder than English.

    • My personal experience is that in non-STEM I often got away with just bullshitting. Well, I went to a business school, so it was neither, but in the somewhat stemmy statistics class I had to get it exactly right, while in the nonstemmy environmentalism or business ethics class I could make up bullshit. They were more about signalling ideological conformity or being smart and a smooth talker than anything else. Liberal arts are simply easily hijacked by ideology where you basically get a passing grade for saying how Shakespeare oppressed women or something. It is all about the teachers, the environment and so on. It could be hard, it just empirically isn’t usually because the teachers care more about conformity.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is it. Put simply, the cost of making a mistake is much higher in STEM because when there’s a definite and calculable right answer, it’s so much easier to verify that you have, in fact, made a mistake.

        • keranih says:

          Yes. Having a discrete objective answer is different than having a position that can be supported to some relatively arbitrary degree of rigor.

          The arbitrary degree of rigor also draws the students toward taking stances that agree with the instructor, as it takes some level of effort to ensure that one is treating the stances one disagrees with just the same as the stances one disagrees with.

          (To be fair – this is not an absolute. I had one class where there was an obvious “right” answer (ie ‘The US healthcare system stinks and the ACA will fix it”) to the biweekly papers we had to submit. (There was a degree of objectivity also, in that we had to identify dates and Acts and agencies involved.) The course had me grinding my teeth with the shallow assumptions made by my classmates, so I took out my frustrations on the keyboard and ended up writing fairly well-sourced, tightly-phrased critiques of the ACA and the process leading up to it. Aced the course, and the instructor emailed me at the end to tell me she had gotten into the habit of saving my papers to read last, as she enjoyed them so much.)

        • onyomi says:

          Well, on the one hand, I want to say that the level at which it gets subjective is, ironically, higher up: there are objectively correct answers to questions like “who killed Mercutio?” and “how do you conjugate this verb?” but seemingly less so to questions like “evaluate the function of homoerotic desire in Romeo and Juliet,” (though even there, I think there are actually are good and bad answers).

          Part of it may be that it’s not widely understood that there are good and bad answers to questions like the last. If you ask the student to write a 3,000-word essay analyzing desire in Rome and Juliet and they produce 3,000 words arguing something totally crazy, one can give them a B-, but it is very hard to give them an F, because they’ll feel aggrieved–“that’s just your opinion,” and “I fulfilled the requirements,” etc. Whereas if you get all the answers wrong on your physics final, “I put in a lot of work” doesn’t really help.

          This relates to my very strong impression that professors, at least in the liberal arts, tend to become, on average, less demanding the older they get. And this is not an intergenerational thing, I don’t think, because I have stories of the same professor who used to be tough and now is easy. I think this is because being a very demanding professor is stressful and feels like a battle. Being an easy grader and giver of undemanding assignments makes students like you. Thus, there is a strong pressure over time to relax demands.

          In STEM, I think there is more of a counter-pressure: if your 200-level physics students can’t do 200-level physics problems because their last professor was a pushover then the problem is obvious. If my 200-level literature students can’t write a 200-level essay, it’s a lot harder to pinpoint the problem.

          • onyomi says:

            One other thing about the pressure to become less demanding over time: I *do* think the net result of this, over time, is a push towards more uniformity–fewer Fs, but fewer examples of really outstanding work.

            Example: I don’t give my literature students topics for their final papers. I make them think of things they’d like to work on and come to me with proposals. Then I help them shape the proposals into paper topics. I do this because I think thinking of a good topic is at least half the battle. But doing this is a lot of work for me, and while it occasionally results in students really surprising me with their originality, it also sometimes results in students who just can’t get it together and produce a decent paper.

            I have had literature professors in the past who said “here are five possible topics for the final paper: pick one,” and I can certainly imagine doing so myself, potentially, as it would make things easier on me and the students. But in exchange for getting fewer really awful papers, I imagine this would also result in me reading fewer really surprising or exceptional papers as well.

          • Nornagest says:

            I have a STEM degree, but my college required a large number of humanities courses, and within those I usually did better when I was arguing something crazy than when I was grinding away at the obvious right answer.

            I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that when you’re grading papers for a breadth requirements class that 75% of the students don’t want to be taking, you see a lot of boring correct answers and getting something totally off the wall stands out. The second is that I was having more fun.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Nornagest: That reminds me of my two favorite pieces of advice for writing papers.

            From “Choosing a College Major”:

            Here is a tip on how to get good grades on your English papers. Never say anything about a book that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand of times. So in your paper, you say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland. Your professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and never liked Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are enormously creative.

            And from “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words”:

            If you are to choose among “The Value of Fraternities” and “My Favorite High School Teacher” and “What I Think About Beetles,” by all means plump for the beetles. By the time the instructor gets to your paper, he will be up to his ears in tedious tales about a French teacher at Bloombury High and assertions about how fraternities build character and prepare one for life. Your views on beetles, whatever they are, are bound to be a refreshing change.

          • Troy says:

            when you’re grading papers for a breadth requirements class that 75% of the students don’t want to be taking, you see a lot of boring correct answers and getting something totally off the wall stands out.

            College teacher, can confirm.

            I now tend to avoid assigning anything longer than very short (~150-word) reading responses on the same topic. For longer essays I have students pick a topic (usually with some guidance from me); essays are much more interesting to read that way.

      • Vaniver says:

        My personal experience is that in non-STEM I often got away with just bullshitting.

        Yes, but the point of training in non-STEM is being able to bullshit well on demand. I imagine on the other side it’s very easy to see difference in bullshitting ability between students.

        The question of whether people get any better at bullshitting, or if they just acculturate to particular varieties of bullshitting, is an interesting one.

    • Chalid says:

      What are you a professor of?

      I don’t think right answers in STEM/BS in humanities is a whole explanation. For the first few years of classes, economics classes have right answers just as much as physics classes (in the sense that you will be marked wrong if you don’t write down exactly what the professor thinks the answer is) but I think it’s generally seen as a fairly easy major.

      Any school needs some easy majors, for the people who aren’t primarily there to do academics but instead to play on the football team/network for their budding political career/ensure that their parents donate lots of money/drink/etc. And I’d guess that that sort of person is more interested in non-STEM types of majors? Not the whole explanation either obviously.

    • Murphy says:

      As always there’s a relevant xkcd:

      https://xkcd.com/451/

      I think there’s a certain amount of “all or nothing” in STEM. Either your code works or it doesn’t. Either your circuit board releases all the magic blue smoke when you power it up or it does not.

      A lot of humanities have n shaped grading results. Not many people failing totally but almost nobody getting very good marks. Graphing the marks would give you an n shape. Mediocrity is enough. Little reward for working really really hard little punishment for merely working just hard enough.

      A lot of STEM modules have U shaped curves. People either obviously don’t know it or they obviously do. My course had a 50% failure rate in first year and another 50% failure rate in second year. If you put in the work and really know your subject 95% is not so hard to get in many STEM exams. If you don’t know your stuff a fail is also pretty easy to get.

      You could load more work on your students, you could make your course tougher but that wouldn’t really change much.

      My philosophy was that whenever I had 2 choices that I didn’t feel strongly about I went for whichever one people said “oh, that’s really hard” because it tended to end up being easier. I noticed it with my friends in the humanities. The more wishy-washy the subject the more desperate the professor was to prove that what they were teaching was a “real” degree and the more they got loaded on them. The difficulty curve didn’t really change but the workload would be ramped up until people failed at a satisfactory rate due to simply not being able to read and write that quantity in the time they had.

      Meanwhile in the modules with words like “theoretical”, “quantum”, “discrete” or “advanced” in their names which struggled to fill classes because everyone considered them “hard” the professors weren’t remotely worried about not being taken seriously and so would put a lot more effort into helping struggling students because god knows, there’s only 10 of them and they don’t want to lose any more.

      I had classes where the total product of 6 hours of work could be 3 lines of code and the professor would be delighted because it ran more efficiently than the reference solution which he’d created and I’d get 100%.

      Meanwhile my friends in humanities would get lumped with a half dozen long SA’s for which you could get about 60% by writing 4000 words of boilerplate with your brain turned off or get about 70% for putting a supreme effort and many days of work in.

      • Anonymous says:

        That was my experience too. To get 100% in a technical module all you need to do is know and understand all the content from that module (and not make any dumb mistakes). To get 100% in a wishy-washy essay, you have to… I have no idea. Totally reinvent the field?

      • dndnrsn says:

        This seems about right. I never took a real science course, but I did take language courses. In the language courses I took after I figured out that hard work actually matters, I was confident of doing well as long as I put in the time and knew my stuff. In essay based courses, there was often very little correlation between my efforts and my marks: as far as I could tell, getting marked by a prof instead of a TA, and being in a smaller course, were far more decisive factors.

        Conversely, I could not slack off in language courses (the one I took before I got a work ethic, I did quite poorly), whereas passing grades were possible with minimal effort in essay-based courses. Someone in university to drink and socialize could easily manage a C- to B- range grade in humanities or social sciences without ever working remotely hard.

        There were definitely humanities/social sciences courses where the way to get by was to go along with the political bias of the instructor.

        I would say that humanities and social sciences are not necessarily easier, or home to fewer really smart and/or hard-working people, than the hard sciences. However, because it’s easier to scrape along doing minimal work and getting low passing grades, there are much more people of average to slightly above average intelligence and/or diligence (or smart lazy people) in the humanities and social sciences, and disproportionately in some parts of the humanities and social sciences.

        This is probably the end result of bachelor’s degrees becoming a way of showing that a person is competent enough to get a bachelor’s degree.

    • John Sidles says:

      onyomi wonders “At what point did we accept that liberal arts are just supposed to be “easier” than STEM courses.”

      Student deserve 200% credit who attempt a deconstruction of discipline-spanning STEAM-centric works like (to name a few personal favorites):

      • François Le Lionnais’ Painting at Dora (1945)
      • Bill Thurston’s “On proof and progress in mathematics” (1994)
      • Karen Smith’s An Invitation to Algebraic Geometry (2000)
      • Colin McLarty’s “The rising sea: Grothendieck on simplicity and generality” (2007)
      • Jacques Roubaud’s Mathematics (a Novel) (2012)
      • Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: in Praise of Potential Literature (2012)
      • Michael Harris’ Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation (2015)

      Many more recent pioneering STEAM-works could be cited … whose impact will be multiplied as their implications and capabilities diffuse into medical practice (for example). To adapt a passage from Feynman

      “We are lucky to live in an age in which we are still making [STEAM] discoveries. It is like the discovery of America — you only discover it once. The age in which we live is the one in which we are   discovering the fundamental laws of nature   constructing enlightened foundations for STEAM-culture (including medical practice),  and that day will never come again.

      The point is, that there’s no natural lower-bound to the quality or quantity of 21st century STEAM-culture challenges, provided only that we are sufficiently ambitious (and hard-working) as to regard “education” as more than “certificate-getting”.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Now, there’s nothing inherently “easier” about liberal arts than math. If an English course in which you read and analyze 5 books and write a ten-page paper is easier than a given math course, well then, I can design an English course in which you read and analyze 8 books and write a twenty-page paper, or a course in which the demands for rigor of the analysis would be higher, such that that course would be harder than said math course.

      But this would be “fake” difficulty (warning: TV Tropes link, Not Safe For Productivity).

      You can always increase the difficulty of an assignment by increasing the workload or penalizing more harshly minute imperfections, but this will not make the task fundamentally more complex or intellectually challenging, it will make it just more annoying.

      • onyomi says:

        I can see how just reading and writing more would be “fake difficulty,” but, as I mentioned, I could also be more demanding about my standards for literary analysis. I could ask more difficult questions which yet have objective right and wrong answers. And I could also assign not more reading, but more challenging reading: 20 pages of Harold Bloom is not 20 pages of Paul de Man.

    • Jaskologist says:

      My instinct is to blame the de-emphasis of the western canon in favor of cultural marxism/*-studies, but I don’t actually know if that is the case. How well does my stereotype match the reality?

      (The fact that “evaluate the function of homoerotic desire in Romeo and Juliet” would even be mooted as a possible topic makes me think that I’m not far off.)

    • John Sidles says:

      Resolved for purposes of SSC debate: The essential elements of modern mathematical maturity are the essential elements of modern literary maturity … and modern medical maturity too.

      From Ken Suman’s website:

      What is mathematical maturity?

      An ability to:

      • make and use connections with other problems and other disciplines,
      • fill in missing details,
      • spot, correct and learn from mistakes,
      • winnow the chaff from the wheat, get to the crux, identify intent,
      • recognize and appreciate elegance,
      • think abstractly,
      • read, write and critique formal proofs,
      • draw a line between what you know and what you don’t know,
      • recognize patterns, themes, currents and eddies,
      • apply what you know in creative ways,
      • approximate appropriately,
      • teach yourself,
      • generalize,
      • remain focused, and
      • bring instinct and intuition to bear when needed.

      To gain mathematical maturity, a student must be prepared to reflect deeply on mathematics for an extended length of time, to muse mathematics. To gain mathematical maturity, a student must develop a guiding mathematical spirit, their own mathematical muse.

      For further discussion, see Terry Tao’s “There’s more to mathematics than rigour and proofs” (and references therein, particularly the link to Bill Thurston’s celebrated essay “On proof and progress in mathematics” ).

      What postulate is suggested?  Perhaps that no four-year STEAM program — whether in mathematics, science, engineering, medicine, history, literature, art (or any other discipline) — suffices to convey any very substantial degree of professional maturity.

      Any other postulate?  Perhaps that at higher levels of professional maturity, STEAM professionals (including physicians) grow to resemble one another cognitively, much more than at lower levels.

      This would explain the accelerating math-literature convergence of recent decades (op. cit.), which if sustained in coming decades, promises abundant creative, career, and enterprise opportunities for young STEAM students. Which is good news! 🙂

      • Publius Varinius says:

        “The essential elements of modern mathematical maturity are the essential elements of modern literary maturity … and modern medical maturity too.”

        “This would explain the accelerating math-literature convergence of recent decades (op. cit.)”

        I fail to see how Tao’s blog plost (which is very down to earth) or Thurston’s article support your positions.

        At first I thought that I did not read them carefully enough, but then I found out that a long time ago, Scott Aaronson banned you for

        Wild misreadings of unrelated texts to suggest that various authorities (John von Neumann, David Deutsch, etc.) endorse […] idiosyncratic opinions on subjects about which the authorities never expressed any opinion at all

        and now I’m having doubts. Could you please point me to the sections relevant to this supposed convergence?

    • Deiseach says:

      It may be that mathematical talent is rarer than talent for the humanities, and so the courses which rely heavily on it are seen as more difficult due to scarcity of those who can handle that level of cogitation.

      It’d be interesting to see if anyone has written anything on the possibly evolutionary reason why being able to communicate fluently was a more valuable survival skill than being able to work out equations while we (or our proto-human ancestors) were wandering the savannah 🙂

    • Psmith says:

      “there were no equivalent “challenge” courses for liberal arts majors. We took the same language, literature, and history courses as the physics majors.”

      For what it’s worth, this was not my experience. There was definitely a distinction between the peripheral breadth-requirement humanities classes and the core humanities major requirement classes (that generally had some continuity–so, 123 with prerequisites 121 and 122) at my school. Particularly noticeable in philosophy.

      In re older professors being easier, I think this is an instance of the general phenomenon whereby old people give fewer shits than younger people.

      • Yes I agree I think when taught properly core philosophy is on a level with the most challenging STEM topics in a way that most economics, psychology, social science etc. courses are not. To get to the challenging stuff in those fields (esp economics/social science) you have to dig down to original texts in ways the courses don’t usually cover in detail.

        • John Schilling says:

          Why is that?

          In pretty much every other field of study, it is accepted that the first person to think of an idea is not necessarily the best person in all of time and space at expressing that idea. So that, e.g., while we greatly respect Isaac Newton for his contributions to physics we have better ways of teaching classical mechanics than having everyone read the Principia. There’s usually no point, other than historical interest, in ever reading old scientific texts.

          With history, you probably have to read original sources to do original work. With literature, the original works are the actual objects of study. What’s the deal with academic philosphy, that reading e.g. Heidegger is considered essential and reading a more skilled writer who has translated Heidegger into a more modern context is inadequate?

          • rsq says:

            Perhaps there is a fear that the translator will miss key points, which is less common in mathematically-inclined fields. While few text book writers would get classical mechanics wrong, with philosophy this could very easily happen. It’s up to the student to make sure they understand the original thinker.

            Saul Kripke famously understood Ludwig Wittgenstein very differently from everyone else: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wittgenstein_on_Rules_and_Private_Language

          • John Schilling says:

            But the translator isn’t going to be working in isolation. If he misses something, presumably hundreds of other philosophers will point that out and either that text will be quickly forgotten or the second edition will have the missing bits. If there’s some point that they all somehow miss at the same time, then the next generation of philosophers still get 99% of the Profound Truth and/or Clever Idea through the translation and, being clever thinkers of profound thoughts, will presumably rediscover the missing 1%.

            And if that’s not good enough, if it’s necessary that I understand as close to 100% of Heidegger’s original work as possible, you really think the best way for me to do that is to read Heidegger? Notwithstanding my name, my German is pretty weak, and I know Heidegger wasn’t fluent in 21st century colloquial American English. Add in the vast cultural differences, the body of knowledge I’m going to need to integrate my Heidegger with and which didn’t exist when he was writing – a competent intermediary, even if he makes mistakes, is going to result in better overall transmission accuracy.

            It’s up to the student to make sure they understand the original thinker

            Again, why? Understand the thought yes, but why the original thinker specifically? If I understand the consensus of a body of people who understand the original thinker and have had opportunity to add to his work, isn’t that better than understanding the original? Again, if there are bits that get lost along the way, they will be rediscovered soon enough. And in the meantime, other good stuff will be added as well. That’s certainly how it works in almost every other field of inquiry.

            This really seems to be Golden Age thinking, where the superlative geniuses of the past thought up great thoughts that no mere mortal of this lesser age could ever improve on, the best we can ever hope for is to postpone the inevitable forgetting of past greatness. I call BS on that. One can understand physics better than Newton or even Einstein ever did, without reading one word they ever wrote. I did understand rocketry better than Goddard or Von Braun, before I ever had cause to read any of their works (for purely historical interest). Why does this not work for philosophy?

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think studying philosophy may be a lot closer to studying history than it seems at first blush.

            After all, why do we need to read original documents? Even in the best of cases, our popularizers necessarily leave a lot on the cutting room floor. More often, distortions find their way in. Consider the Scopes trial. I was taught about that multiple times in my public school career before they ever got around to telling us it was basically a publicity stunt by the town. In some schools, the teacher just shows Inherit the Wind, which throws historical accuracy out the window. And you’ll never hear about the rank racism in the excluded textbook at all unless you talk to Creationists for a while.

            I’ve found the same pattern operative for pretty much everything in history I’ve tried to track down to primary sources. It’s enlightening to learn that we believe Y because that’s what Plutarch said happened, that X is a tradition that we find no trace of until 100 years after the event, and that Z may well have happened like you heard, but Z2 is more likely.

            That is all with more or less factual matters. Philosophy deals with contentious matters. So take all the standard issues people have with filtering information and ideas through their own frames, and add in the university system’s inclination towards ideological conformity and censorship of bad history. To get to the straight story, you pretty much *have* to read the originals (although I find guides very helpful; they often pull out a lot of things I didn’t notice).

            Plus, I think a big part of philosophy is just recognizing that there are a lot of other viable frames of mind out there, and that the one we take for granted is historically very weird. You definitely can’t get that from modern summations.

          • John Schilling says:

            To get to the straight story, you pretty much *have* to read the originals

            Again, I need an explanation of why this is. As far as I can tell, you are saying that “the straight story” and “the original story” are the same thing. That’s true in history, at least to the extent that history is supposed to be about what actually happened. I don’t see why it is true in any other field.

            Are there parts of the “straight story” that subsequent writers never write down? I suppose that’s possible in a field so besotted by golden-age thinking that nobody dares tread on the sacred ground of the old masters, but that’s not exactly a selling point.

            Is the original creator of the “straight story” also the best communicator of that story? Seems unlikely; even before we get to the linguistic and generational translation issues there’s the bit that doing original research and being an effective communicator are two different skill sets.

            I get that you’re afraid that something might get lost in translation, but isn’t it likely that more will be gained? Not even the greatest thinkers in your field (or any other) ever came up with 100.00% of the “straight story” at the outset. If we optimistically assume that Plato came up with 80% of all the true, clever, or insightful thoughts in Platonism, that still leaves room for one of his students to have understood 90% of what Plato wrote and add another 10% of Platonic Truth on his own account. I want to read that guy’s book; he’s got 82% of the true/clever/insightful thoughts in Platonism. And the guy after him will almost certainly have rediscovered parts of what the first student lost while adding still more on his own.

            And I get that there’s controversies in philosophy. There are controversies in every field, and that means you need to read a body of work by writers from every side of the controversy. Nowhere else does it mean that the original works are essential to understanding the controversy – do I need to actually read “Origin of the Species” to make up my mind on evolution vs. creation science, or Wegener in the original German to decide whether continental drift is for real?

            What is it about philosophy that makes it different from almost every other field of study in this regard?

          • brad says:

            @Jaskologist
            I’m not sure I get your point re: history. Of course if you are a historian you need to go read e.g. Herodotus , but if you want to find out what happened that’s a terrible place to start. The historical documents taken at face value are worse than useless they are guaranteed to lead you astray. It is only after you have a wealth of knowledge to put the document in context does it become edifying to read it.

            A good history professor will have students read and analyze primary sources because his job is to teach students how to do history rather than imparting history to them (i.e. telling them what happened), but if he were trying to do the latter secondary sources would be much better.

          • For experience from my field …

            If you read a random text on the history of economic thought, much that you learn will not be true–for example that David Ricardo had a labor theory of value. Possibly that Adam Smith was in favor of antitrust law, a progressive income tax and public schooling.

            Reading the best book on the subject may be a more efficient way of learning than reading the original works, although probably less fun. But the random textbook is written to be adopted, so the author has an incentive to say things that are easy to understand and simple, whether or not true. The original work of a major thinker in a field is not likely to be easy to understand and simple. And the person who created that work is likely to be a good deal smarter than the author of the random textbook.

            Which is why, when I used to teach history of thought, it was from a small number of primary sources, typically Smith, Ricardo, and Marshall.

          • @John Schilling

            I think in part its because the field, more than any other, does not rely on a body of empirical knowledge that is getting better over time. So, it makes sense to search all texts for the most eloquent and intelligent thoughts and people, rather than looking for the most up-to-date content. As others have said, secondary sources are a least a little bit risky because of the ease in which such complex arguments can be re/misinterpreted. I personally think there can be value in casting a wide net in philosophy by glancing at some secondary sources and summaries however, because I’ve noticed most philosophical systems look correct from the inside and it helps to be aware of alternative views to read more critically.

          • Troy says:

            And I get that there’s controversies in philosophy. There are controversies in every field, and that means you need to read a body of work by writers from every side of the controversy. Nowhere else does it mean that the original works are essential to understanding the controversy – do I need to actually read “Origin of the Species” to make up my mind on evolution vs. creation science, or Wegener in the original German to decide whether continental drift is for real?

            I think it usually is worth reading the original great thinkers in various scientific fields, especially ones (like biology and physics) where there are a lot of philosophical questions to ask about the concepts involved (e.g., species, random drift, force, spacetime). Contemporary biologists/physicists/philosophers are working in an intellectual tradition in which certain terms or concepts are taken for granted. Knowing the origins of those concepts is often illuminating for understanding their use (and misuse) today. Similar remarks go for understanding scientific methodologies in various fields.

        • LTP says:

          This had been my experience with philosophy as well. Having harder classes for majors was true for English and history as well. I can tell speak to the hose classes’ difficulty though.

          As a senior double majoring I’m philosophy and math, while lower division math was much harder than lower division philosophy, upper division philosophy classes for philosophy majors were as hard, somerimes harder, than the upper division math (and I am somebody with a greater aptitude for philosophy than math).

    • zz says:

      To add to the above, there’s a phenomenon wherein professors and students sign a sort of implicit contract wherein professors offer easy classes in return for good student evaluations. The reason you, or any liberal arts professor, won’t offer classes as hard as STEM ones (even though it’s within your power) is you’ll get panned in the student evaluations and then nobody will take your class.

      We don’t see this phenomenon in STEM because engineers actually need to be good at calculus, because otherwise their bridges fall down and they never work again (a similar argument applies to any job requiring a STEM degree); STEM students want *not* to sign this contract, since easy STEM class translates to “you can’t do your job” in ways easy liberal arts classes just don’t. This is why, I think, we see courses at MIT such as 18.014/18.024 and 8.012/8.022, which are just (significantly) harder counterparts to 18.01/18.02 and 8.01/8.02 but don’t (to my knowledge) offer any benefit to the student, while also observing (to my knowledge) a complete lack of extra-hard-because-students-desire-extra-hard-courses analogues in the liberal arts.

  23. grort says:

    I was alarmed by this opinion piece. It argues that lower-income areas are voting Republican because the people who aren’t on welfare are offended by the people who are. It argues that the people who are on welfare are not voting at all.

    What should we make of this? Does it mean the Republicans have successfully carried out some sort of plot (like the DMV closings in Alabama) to prevent poor people from voting? Does it mean people on welfare have too much to do to pay attention to politics? Does it mean that putting people on welfare causes them to disengage somehow? Or does it mean that this particular article has a weird Republican slant and it’s misinterpreting facts?

    (I realized I was confused by the term “on welfare”; I looked at the examples and there were some about free medical care, but others referred to people being “on the draw” — is that unemployment benefits?)

    I still think everyone should get basic medical care, whether it’s called Obamacare or something else. But I feel like it would be easier to support if if the recipients were also supporting it.

    • Tarrou says:

      There’s a lot of things that play into this, but here’s a short and incomplete list:

      1: The Democratic party’s blatant hatred of whites and men. People will gladly vote against their economic interest if it is in the interest of their tribe. And poor white men are NOT the Democratic tribe.

      2: Ditto for religious people. The hatred and scorn Dems have for the devoutly christian is risible even to me, and I’m an atheist. And the poor skew religious.

      3: Ditto the patriotic. For better or worse, Dems have set themselves up as the party of blaming the US for everything. They’re right half the time, but that doesn’t make it less of a pill to swallow for those who really do think their country is awesome. For those people, Obama never came back from his wife claiming the first time she was ever proud of her country was when it elected her husband. That sort of statement is a killer in the middle of the country.

      4: What a NY Times columnist thinks is the economic interest of poor rural people and what is actually in their interest might wildly differ.

      5: The importance of small differences. When people are poor, the shades of poverty can become quite important. The guy on unemployment looks down on those on WIC, and they look down on Section 8 and so on. Everyone thinks they deserve their benefits, and the other guy doesn’t deserve his. Basic bias. Democrats think poor people hate rich people, but they don’t. They hate other poor people. Upper-upper-middle class journalists hate rich people. Everyone hates the people they have to deal with.

    • onyomi says:

      “Does it mean people on welfare have too much to do to pay attention to politics?”

      I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it.

      To be less flippant, I think a big part of the supposed mystery about poor people voting against programs purporting to help poor people is that tribal affiliation and signalling actually trump bald self-interest when it comes to voting (though I also find it an annoying case of Bulverism to assume that we know what is in poor peoples’ best interests and to thereby proceed directly to examining why they won’t vote for it). Poor people live in rural areas. Rural areas are conservative. Conservatives are red tribe. Red tribe is culturally opposed to welfare due to their tribal narratives about community, self-sufficiency, the importance of working for what you get, etc.

      • Chalid says:

        Did you read the article? The claim is that the people receiving benefits don’t vote at all, and it is those who are *not* receiving benefits in poor regions who overwhelmingly vote Republican.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, but the article frames the question in terms of the supposed mystery of poor people failing to vote in their own self interest while their neighbors vote against it.

          As for why anyone doesn’t vote, the number one reason is probably pure apathy. And while it’s not pc to say so, I’d certainly wager that welfare recipients are more apathetic, on average, in general: both because apathetic people are more likely to need welfare and because being on welfare makes you apathetic.

          As for why the welfare recipients vote against their neighbors’ welfare, I do think there is a sense of fairness at play: sort of like how, a little while back, I described what I considered to be a bad reason for supporting what I consider to be the correct position of opposing increases to the minimum wage. The bad reason many people hold this good position is they think “I’ll be damned that high school dropout can make $15 working at McDonalds when it took me a BA and ten years’ experience just to get up to $15 at my job.”

          In the case of welfare, however, I think the case is a little more justified: welfare recipients are living at the expense of taxpayers. If you are a taxpayer and your neighbor is a welfare recipient and you think s/he doesn’t need/deserve it, then you seem justified in opposing it, even if your personal contribution to the funding of such programs is negligible.

          • Eli says:

            But again: the point of the article is that the welfare recipients don’t vote. So the people voting are mostly not recipients, voting Republican out of resentment for people who aren’t voting at all.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Chalid
          “Did you read the article? The claim is that the people receiving benefits don’t vote at all, and it is those who are *not* receiving benefits in poor regions who overwhelmingly vote Republican.”

          Being on welfare does not free a person from other demands, such as childcare, housekeeping, errands, taking family to doctors, etc. It may restrict the quality of car you are allowed to own and other resources, which restricts travel time. (Try getting to a polling place and standing in line when you are getting around on the bus with three sneezing toddlers and other must-do things on voting day.) It does not pay the expenses of getting a ‘free ID’.

          Equally low-income people who are not on welfare? If working, that’s fewer hours left to vote etc. But people on welfare tend to have reasons why they’re on wellfare, such as disability and old age.

          Pehaps the source in question here covers all these factors, as well as having verified counts of which voters were and were not on welfare, and how each of them voted, on which measures, and what other factors affected voter turnout, etc. Perhaps.

          • keranih says:

            Being on welfare does not free a person from other demands, such as childcare, housekeeping, errands, taking family to doctors, etc.

            It does mean that they don’t have a paying job to schedule around those other time concerns, which frees up a great deal of other time. In comparison to other groups, the lowest quartile has far more free time.

            But people on welfare tend to have reasons why they’re on wellfare, such as disability and old age.

            Not old age. Elderly are among the wealthiest in the country, and being on SS is generally not counted in “welfare” stats. Plus, voting patterns are age-adjusted.

    • Chalid says:

      The obvious question is whether receiving benefits actually makes you less likely to vote once you control for demographics and the like. I doubt it.

      For why the working class votes Republican – most people only really care about nearby, concrete injustices. An defense contractor wasting billions of dollars on a system that doesn’t work, they shrug at. But the guy down the street who’s getting disability payments even though he looks healthy really pisses them off.

      • onyomi says:

        I have a few close friends and relatives on disability. They all have a very jaded attitude about politics and don’t vote.

        I have a theory that getting something basically for free but which requires you to jump through a lot of annoying bureaucratic hoops ironically ends up making you resent the system which supports you. But one also feels hypocritical voting against the very benefits one is receiving. And being unemployed makes you depressed and apathetic and jaded about life in general. So you don’t vote at all.

    • >I still think everyone should get basic medical care

      Then support deregulating it first. Jim (that one) had a great insight about it. In free markets businesses _advertise_ prices, and they certainly advertise healthcare prices in Singapore. In the US according to Jim even getting a _quote_ is difficult, often it is more like nevermind dude we will bill your insurer whatever. What does that suggest about the US healthcare being a free market? It suggest it isn’t anything even remotely like that. And your poor Republicans would probably support the kind of deregulation in order to restore price signals into the system.

      • Murphy says:

        Funnily enough it’s really quite easy to look up NHS costings for various things, always fun to compare to American healthcare prices for the same thing.

        They also run internal markets within the NHS where trusts bid.

        There’s also a private healthcare market which is probably more free to run it’s own affairs than US hospitals.

        So another solution is to implement an NHS-like system with internal markets as a provider of last resort(ie, any citizen is guaranteed to be able to get necessary healthcare) then significantly deregulate the private sector because what’s the harm? Even if they screw up everyone still has the provider of last resort.

        • The NHS is the most communist healthcare system in Europe. Why would one go from one extreme to another? It is a relic of the centralization mania of the postwar period. As a contrast, France makes patients pay up front in cash and the reimburses whatever the gov feels like. Good incentive against overuse.

          • Murphy says:

            Why would it matter that the method involves something you’re ideologically opposed to? it demonstrably works very well.

            rejecting things which work just because you don’t like their similarity to ideologies you don’t like would be as stupid as the soviet union rejecting the use of internal markets because they feel too capitalist.

            If something actually works quite well in the real world then rejecting it and rejecting learning from it because it doesn’t conform to your favorite “ist” is not sound judgement. It’s being mind-killed.

            Having to pay upfront has a major downside if you’ve not got the cash to pay upfront and you need medical care.

          • By real world outcomes, you mean statistics? Do you trust the people who make them? Well, I don’t, but if you do, Singapore > UK > US,

            http://www.sochealth.co.uk/2015/01/18/international-comparisons-say-nhs/

            http://www.bloomberg.com/infographics/2014-09-15/most-efficient-health-care-around-the-world.html

            , which corresponds to properly market based > communist > screwed up market based.

            It would be very difficult to move from communist to properly market based. But moving from screwed up market based to properly market based and getting a better result than the communist option? Give it a thought.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Singapore has massive price controls and a large number of other features, including state ownership of 90% (IIRC) of the healthcare system. HCA style Insurance is mandatory and and costs of care are subsidised.

            It uses market mechanisms to do some discouraging of use, but it actually also encourages use by setting aside salary specifically for healthcare.

            It’s a far more complex story than just “the market works”.

    • JBeshir says:

      An old piece on the topic of welfare support by recipients that I found interesting was “Who takes the harshest anti-welfare line? Those on state benefits” at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/12/anti-welfare-rhetoric-families, which describes an interesting dynamic where in order to separate themselves from the popular image of the low-status welfare mooch, people on welfare become extremely opposed to “abuse” of welfare and often echo the narrative that it’s common.

      On the poor voting less, it isn’t just an American phenomenon; it’s in the UK, too. I think this suggests it is probably not any particular kind of plot, and more likely one of the other things.

      • This is why criticizing democracy is valid. If voters are sovereign, they have a friggin’ _job_. The job is to figure out the best policy and vote for it. If they simply vote for whatever makes them look/feel good/high status, they are not doing their job and should be booted from the job i.e. disenfranchised.

        Note that I agree with a hardliner take on welfare, just that they are doing it for extremely wrong reasons. And it is other people’s status-signalling that creates most of welfare spending anyway.

        Seriously, ponder this on a deep level. Democracy rests on the assumption that when you ask people what will be the best policy, they make a serious attempt to answer it honestly. If they just use it as a social fashion game, they treat their votes pretty much the same way as they treat their money like amongst the poor wearing gold is cool and the middle class not cool, at least admit they suck at the job and look at for ways to either make them do their job or resign it.

        • dndnrsn says:

          But everybody plays social status games. How do you find people who don’t, and how do you restrict power to them?

          Rule by one person can succumb to social status games as much as rule by all people. Example: Mussolini’s motivation for invading Greece included feeling disrespected by Hitler not consulting him before making various moves, and wanting to show that he too could act decisively.

        • Chalid says:

          All you really need to make democracy work is accountability. If people vote for the incumbents when they are happy and vote against when they are unhappy, then politicians will generally have a correct incentive to keep people happy. (In the US separation of powers screws this up, unfortunately.)

          • onyomi says:

            How does separation of powers screw this up?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Because it means that it isn’t clear who is responsible for each decision.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What Samuel Skinner said.

            “Green Lanternism” is a term applied to the idea that generally ascribes magical powers to the presidency to enact their agenda via will power, a.k.a. “leadership”.

            See as an applied example of this the Republican strategy for dealing with the Obama presidency, which is documented to have been all out opposition at every turn, on every issue, starting in December 2008.

          • onyomi says:

            So let’s put one guy in charge of every aspect of the economy and society, so that way if things get better or worse we’ll know exactly whom to credit or blame?

            Short of that, anyone, even an autocrat, can always find ways to take credit for good things that would have happened without him and/or to find scapegoats for any problems. Look at North Korea.

          • JDG1980 says:

            An elected dictator seems like an unnecessarily dangerous way to accomplish concentration of responsibility. A unicameral parliamentary system has been shown to work reasonably well in various western European nations, and eliminates the kind of gridlock we see between the President and Congress in the U.S. The majority party (or majority coalition) gets to pass its agenda; if the people like the results then they get re-elected, if not then they don’t.

    • keranih says:

      Or does it mean that this particular article has a weird Republican slant and it’s misinterpreting facts?

      It’s in the NYT, the author lists liberal media in the byline. I think you can safely discount the idea that this has a Republican slant, weird or not.

      I don’t have exact answers to your questions, and would appreciate more studies that show correlations.

      Does it mean the Republicans have successfully carried out some sort of plot (like the DMV closings in Alabama) to prevent poor people from voting?

      …To be on welfare generally means some degree of registering for benefits, which means keeping an address and ID up to date. Plus, you’re attributing to malice (on the part of the GOP) something that could be more easily explained by incompetence (on the part of the voting population.)

      Does it mean people on welfare have too much to do to pay attention to politics?

      As I said below, people on welfare have more leisure time than do the working poor. They also consume more TV. A time crunch does not easily explain the disparity.

      Does it mean that putting people on welfare causes them to disengage somehow?

      I am not sure of the cause/effect at play here. Certainly having a job and responsibilities is important to maintaining mental health and social skills. OTOH, to what degree does “being on welfare” indicate a lack of social and community engagement? I could see a complex push-pull effect being at work here.

      (I realized I was confused by the term “on welfare”; I looked at the examples and there were some about free medical care, but others referred to people being “on the draw” — is that unemployment benefits?)

      American “welfare” is funded at various state, municipal and federal levels, with different requirements for each service and each funding/approval level. (Many have gone to using one of the federal programs as an automatic qualifier, which does cut down on time and money wasting red tape.) These programs include food stamps, supplemental income, housing assistance, and a number of other programs.

  24. Rose says:

    Very good article by haidt on campus illiberal ism at heterodox academy.org

    http://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/11/24/the-yale-problem-begins-in-high-school/

    Sorry if this is repeating something already posted. Others may have missed it also

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      “The Yale Problem Begins In Elite Private High Schools” may be a more accurate title. The kind of high school students who go on to Yale are like the kind of college students who attend Yale. Duh.

      Not that I think this level of ideological conformity is a good thing, of course. But it’s more than a little ridiculous to assume one’s experience at an elite private high school generalizes to high schools in general.

      • Nornagest says:

        I think we have some high school students (or teachers) here. Can any of them speak on how well it applies today?

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          I’m a high school history teacher from a public high school in the Midwest here, so I’ll do my best for you (I realize the thread is 3 days old now, an eternity, but I never have the time to keep up with these things as they happen!)

          Honestly, though, it’s tough to say. From my experience, I never noticed a reluctance to tackle controversial subjects in my classroom. Students were quite happy to debate and discuss issues of gender and race as they came up in the classroom, usually. Indeed, there was a minor flap throughout the district as a transgender student was once asked to change into more school appropriate clothing, prompting the predictable #ClothingHasNoGender hashtag campaign, but also students defending the schools’ actions (including the president of the local Gay/Straight Alliance chapter).

          However, the point of the talk suggests to me that ideological conformity is tough to notice unless you’re specifically looking for it, and I never particularly was. I consider myself right-wing, but as a teacher I do my best to never let politics creep into my lectures. Is that because I’m afraid to speak out? Not really – I just think there’s a time and a place, and I trust my students to draw the best conclusions possible based on the historical evidence.

          On the whole, though, I DO think that my high school is a much more open place to debate than Centreville High. We certainly have nothing like the “diversity police” (the referenced multicultural center), students never hesitated to express distaste or support for political candidates of both major parties, and ‘social justice’ other the clothing hashtag never really reared its head where I could see. So I would conclude that this article is /not/ representative of the majority of American high schools today.

    • Anonymous says:

      What seems to me to be the most crucial argument is buried in the middle somewhere and sort of glanced over without much thought:

      And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another.

      If the world is not actually neatly divided up into one group of oppressors and one group of the oppressed, then equality corrections need to be carefully examined for whether they cost more to those who they’re taking from than they benefit who they’re given to. If they do, then doing lots of them for all avenues of oppression is not going to close the gap between the oppressors and the oppressed, but will make most people a little bit better off and a lot worse off, and so be roughly a net loss for almost everyone.

      I think the concept of intersectionality is interesting, because its purpose seems to be to expand the pool of people who can consider themselves part of the oppressed, but at the same time it brands some people who were previously just oppressed as partly oppressors. Keep doing this for long enough and the whole social justice model of two neat classes, oppressors and oppressed, falls apart, and we’re back to good old fashioned ad-hoc bleeding heart liberalism.

      • Tarrou says:

        Intersectionality is just a band-aid on the spewing gut-wound that is the logical structure of the Oppression Olympics.

        “Not all men benefit from the supposed patriarchy!”

        “Well, intersectionality!”

        “Affirmative action means the daughters of the president of the US get preferential treatment to a poor kid from rural Idaho”

        “Intersectionality!”

        Basically, whenever you see that term, someone has found yet another case in which reality does not conform to theory, so they’ve had to make up a word for that.

      • Theo Jones says:

        In kind of agreement with Tarrou:

        The fundamental issue here is that social justice activism starts with a model of what an ideal society would look like and tries to work backwards into deciding what policies are a good idea. The activists note that in an ideal world the amount of inequality based on race/gender/sexual orientation/whatever would be effectively zero. The the real world the level of such inequality is decidedly not zero. Therefore, privilege exists.

        The problem here is that knowing what an ideal world would look like is not very useful in deciding between policy choices in this imperfect world. Social justice activists have a model of a perfect world — one that is not easily obtainable. What they don’t have is a decision rule to decide between which policy tradeoffs are the best.

        The resolve that problem by deciding that a good policy is one that moves the real world distribution closer to the ideal one. This is where the breakage inherent in this world view starts.

        The first problem is that there are nesarrily multiple oppressed groups in the world. Sometimes a policy that makes the distribution better for one type of oppression makes things worse for another. Their political model has no clear way to resolve this type of conflict. Intersectionality is how the activists hand-wave this away. This concept allows them to at once acknowledge this problem, but also to pretend it does not matter.

        Additionally, the whole intersectionality mess creates another issue. The number of oppressed groups under consideration must be kept to a minimum. Or the whole system breaks down. As the number of possible group conflicts increase the intersectionality handwave becomes less convincing. This is why social justice activists are very interested in delineating what is “systemic” oppression (ie. the oppression that is worth consideration).

        Also, this whole model leaves out other policy goals. This is why you see the hostility to civil liberties and free speech.

        Finally, a group under consideration can not be at once oppressor and oppressed. The model has no good way to handle this. This (among other things) makes it very hard for the social justice model to handle religion coherently.

    • onyomi says:

      Recently read an article which I’m having trouble finding again now, but it argued that racial preferences in admissions worsen campus grievance culture not because of a larger total number of minority students, but because the “mismatch” effect (minority students qualified to go to Duke will get into Harvard, making Duke have to accept minority students qualified to get into Penn State, making Penn State…) pushes minority students into “easier” majors like, well, gender and race studies (so instead of majoring in chemistry at Penn State you major in women’s studies at Harvard). Further, it creates in them an additional sense of not not belonging on top of whatever latent racism may actually exist.

      Don’t know whether I buy it, but thought it was an interesting factor which might, at least, contribute.

    • onyomi says:

      One of the most important lines for me is:

      “The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment.”

      I think this helps explain the fact that, several years after electing and re-electing the first black president, race relations are about as bad as they’ve ever been in my lifetime. Not that any black president would have had the same result–rather that his election was, in some sense, a result, rather than a cause, of underlying trends, and also that his particular style of presidenting has given much aid and comfort to the victimhood culture.

      This relates also to my comment about Woodrow Wilson below: my point is not that Woodrow Wilson *must* be reevaluated, though I personally tend to think he left a very bad legacy, but rather that, of all the things for which one might reevaluate Woodrow Wilson, it is bizarre to me that his stance on racial issues would be the one. This myopic focus is a symptom of the victimhood religion reaching witch hunt levels of hysteria.

      • Troy says:

        Not that any black president would have had the same result–rather that his election was, in some sense, a result, rather than a cause, of underlying trends, and also that his particular style of presidenting has given much aid and comfort to the victimhood culture.

        Is this really right? I frequently hear people on the right criticizing Obama on race relations, but it seems to me like he’s much less identity politics-y than most of the left. He doesn’t make as big a deal of his race as Hilary does of her gender, for instance, something I noticed already back in the 2008 presidential primaries.

        • onyomi says:

          Well, that’s why I included the “result” aspect, as well as the “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” aspect (below). I think it is a good thing, of course, that we reached a level of non-racism wherein a majority-white nation could elect a (half) black president. On the other, it may reflect an underlying reality in terms of thinking on the left–that a black (or female) candidate is now, in fact, superior to an equally qualified white (or male) candidate (on both sides, actually).

          As for the “give them an inch and they take a mile aspect”: one might have hoped that the grievance police would have been somewhat mollified by the election of a black president, but that is not, of course, what happened: instead, it was more like “the enemy is showing weakness–time to press the advantage!”

          To some extent this might have happened with any black president (though probably much less so had he been a Republican, since I think being a member of the wrong tribe trumps race and gender for many), but I do also think Obama has subtly done things to encourage it: inviting that kid to the White House twice because he put a clock in a suitcase that looked kind of like a bomb, for example. The message is: be a victim of racism or xenophobia and you get to hang out with the president.

        • walpolo says:

          “I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it had language that is offensive to African Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either — that you when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”

          -Obama

          • onyomi says:

            Now if only they’d listen to him! (or reporters would report it when he says something they don’t really feel like hearing from him).

          • nonymous says:

            You’re losing track of what’s real and what is dogmatically convenient to believe.

    • onyomi says:

      Noticed a good comment on the article:

      The students who make college an “eggshell” environment may form their thinking in high school and earlier, but the universities are still the font from which thought trends “trickle down.” High school teachers are often using textbooks written by people with PhDs, and tend to follow the major intellectual trends set by people at big research universities. So to the extent university professors don’t like the crop of students they are getting today, they should probably blame themselves, or whoever was publishing research and textbooks 10 or 20 years ago.

  25. Nicholas says:

    Can I get either a general rebuttal of Diminishing Returns as it applies to AGI, or an explanation of why it’s not a practical limitation?

    • Nornagest says:

      We know diminishing returns can’t sink AGI, because literal navel-gazing shows us an NGI that it doesn’t prevent. On the other hand, it’s potentially a very serious obstacle to superintelligence as strong as EY and his friends like to talk about.

      We don’t know how serious it is until we have a good computational model of general intelligence, though, and all we’ve got in that department right now is really clunky high-level stuff that would take hardware the size of a planet to produce the intelligence of a gnat. We have reason to suspect that humans don’t approach computational limits — the smartest humans don’t run a temperature of a hundred and six or have braincases the size of watermelons, and it sure looks like their intelligence is more than trivially better than their peers’ — but there are any number of reasons why that might not be a good guide. I reckon Eliezer’s probably thinking along precautionary lines, but I don’t recall him or any other rationalist discussing the issue in detail.

  26. Waiting times for Surgery:

    About four years ago, I was diagnosed with a meningioma, a non-cancerous tumor inside my skull but (fortunately) outside my brain. The physician who diagnosed it had a very good reputation for surgery to deal with it–I was told that he taught the operation at Stanford. He ended up doing the surgery (successfully), but I had to wait for a considerable while first. Pretty clearly the waiting was at least mildly undesirable from a medical standpoint (I was on various drugs to prevent negative consequences) but a result of scheduling constraints.

    I currently am in a similar situation for a different medical issue (prostate surgery), with a total wait time of a bit over a month. Again the reason is scheduling.

    Which makes me, as an economist, wonder. Most goods and services you can just buy, you don’t have to wait a long time until someone is free to sell them to you. Why is surgery different?

    Two possibilities occur to me—there are probably others that haven’t.

    1. The demand for surgeons’ services is sufficiently irregular so that enough surgeons to get the waiting line close to zero would mean that surgeons often spent time not doing surgery. In the analogous restaurant case, this can be described as warehousing customers–keeping a sufficient supply in the line so that there are never empty tables.

    2. Surgeons vary in quality, or at least reputation. There are constraints in law or custom that prevent adequate rationing by price, so you get rationing by waiting time instead. My memory of the meningioma case is that I could have had the surgery done sooner by the partner of the surgeon who ended up doing it–who I presume was competent but not, so far as I could tell, expert. I don’t know if something similar is the case in my present situation or not–certainly the surgeon I am waiting for seems well qualified.

    Questions:

    Does anyone have evidence as between my explanations?

    Does anyone have alternative explanations?

    Can anyone offer other examples of goods or services that show a similar pattern, ideally ones that might help explain why some do and some don’t?

    • vV_Vv says:

      IIUC doctors in the US have artificial scarcity due to unusually high (by Western standards) legal barriers to entry. This allows them to command unusually high wages, imposing on the patients a cost of long waiting times.

      • The puzzle, in this as in other cases of lines, is why they impose the additional cost in waiting times, which doesn’t do anything for them, instead of in money.

        Query for those better informed than I am. Suppose my insurance is willing to pay $X for the surgery, the same amount for any surgeon, since they are not easily able to distinguish quality. Would it be legal for the surgeon to offer to operate for $X paid by the insurance company plus $Y paid by me?

        So far as wasting the insurance company’s money. It might be true so far as saving waiting time, although on the other hand there might be additional medical costs during the wait. But getting the higher quality surgeon is of value to the insurance company as well as to me, since it reduces the chance of complications that might require further treatment.

        • science says:

          That’s called balance billing. Generally it is forbidden by “in network” contracts between the insurance company and the doctor. fFor out of network doctors, there’s no federal rule against it but some states regulate it. It is forbidden by Medicare.

        • The way I would solve it is that I would find a friend’s friend link to a doctor of good reputation, not the best, which would generate enough trust in him towards me to accept a bribe for putting me ahead of the list. Not sure why this solution is unpopular in the US, maybe the sheer size of the country makes it harder to find such links or the lists are very public and the doctor could very easily get sued/licence revoked.

          I wonder if a too well functioning legal system has also drawbacks as well, you don’t get to avoid bureacratic costs by breaking some laws? As bribery in less well functioning legal systems is practically a free market simulation. This process works in many countries with less precise legal systems, because the other irate patient if trying to sue, must look forward to a 5 years long lawsuit with many very murky hearings and expert witnesses usually covering the docs back and so on which just does not worth it. I mean, “rule of law” may not only be such a good thing if the laws themselves are not very good, maybe if the laws are not so good then lax enforcement of them is better.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Isn’t the issue insurance? If a surgeon tried to raise their prices to get people seen more quickly, normal insurances wouldn’t pay, because you don’t need to be seen more quickly, all they’ve promised is to give you what you need, and from their perspective they’re wasting their money.

      In theory it should be possible to sell a better insurance that charges more money in exchange for giving you quicker surgeries, but nobody thinks about this when buying insurance, and most insurance comes through companies or state exchanges anyway, and the rich people who will always get what they want probably bypass the system entirely.

    • US says:

      “Does anyone have evidence as between my explanations?”

      The brief Springer publication Appointment Planning in Outpatient Clinics and Diagnostic Facilities has some basic stuff about operations research and queueing theory which is useful for making sense of resource allocation decisions made in the medical sector – you can take that publication as a ‘you can bet that people in this area are taking both capacity/utilization tradeoffs [your point 1] into account, as well as input heterogeneities [point 2]. I think this is the kind of stuff you’ll want to have a look at if you want to understand these things better.

      There are many variables which are important here and which may help explain why waiting lists are common in the health care sector (it’s not just surgery). The quotes below are from the book:

      “In a walk-in system, patients are seen without an appointment. […] The main advantage of walk-in systems is that access time is reduced to zero. […] A huge disadvantage of patients walking in, however, is that the usually strong fluctuating arrival stream can result in an overcrowded clinic, leading to long waiting times, high peaks in care provider’s working pressure, and patients leaving without treatment (blocking). On other moments of time the waiting room will be practically empty […] In regular appointment systems workload can be dispersed, although appointment planning is usually time consuming. A walk-in system is most suitable for clinics with short service times and multiple care providers, such as blood withdrawal facilities and pre-anesthesia check-ups for non-complex patients. If the service times are longer or the number of care providers is limited, the probability that patients experience a long waiting time becomes too high, and a regular appointment system would be justified […] Sometimes it is impossible to provide walk-in service for all patients, for example when specific patients need to be prepared for their consultation, or if specific care providers are required, such as anesthesiologists [these remarks seem highly relevant for the surgery context]. Also, walk-in patients who experience a full waiting room upon arrival may choose to come back at a later point in time. To make sure that they do have access at that point, clinics usually give these patients an appointment. This combination of walk-in and appointment patients requires a specific appointment system that satisfies the following requirements:
      1. The access time for appointment patients is below a certain threshold
      2. The waiting time for walk-in patients is below a certain threshold
      3. The number of walk-in patients who are sent away due to crowding is minimized
      To satisfy these requirements, an appointment system should be developed to determine the optimal scheduling of appointments, not only on a day level but also on a week level. Developing such an appointment system is challenging from a mathematical perspective. […] Due to the high variability that is usually observed in healthcare settings, introducing stochasticity in the modeling process is very important to obtain valuable and reasonable results.”

      “Most elective patients will ultimately evolve into semi-urgent or even urgent patients if treatment is extensively prolonged.”

      “Some planners tend to maintain separate waiting lists for each patient group. However, if capacity is shared among these groups, the waiting list should be considered as a whole as well. Allocating capacity per patient group usually results in inflexibility and poor performance”.

      “mean waiting time increases with the load. When the load is low, a small increase therein has a minimal effect on the mean waiting time. However, when the load is high, a small increase has a tremendous effect on the mean waiting time. For instance, […] increasing the load from 50 to 55 % increases the waiting time by 10 %, but increasing the load from 90 to 95 % increases the waiting time by 100 % […] This explains why a minor change (for example, a small increase in the number of patients, a patient arriving in a bed or a wheelchair) can result in a major increase in waiting times as sometimes seen in outpatient clinics.”

      “One of the most important goals of this chapter is to show that it is impossible to use all capacity and at the same time maintain a short, manageable waiting list. A common mistake is to reason as follows:

      Suppose total capacity is 100 appointments. Unused capacity is commonly used for urgent and inpatients, that can be called in last minute. 83 % of capacity is used, so there is on average 17 % of capacity available for urgent and inpatients. The urgent/inpatient demand is on average 20 appointments per day. Since 17 appointments are on average not used for elective patients, a surplus capacity of only three appointments is required to satisfy all patient demand.

      Even though this is true on average, more urgent and inpatient capacity is required. This is due to the variation in the process; on certain days 100 % of capacity is required to satisfy elective patient demand, thus leaving no room for any other patients. Furthermore, since 17 slots are dedicated to urgent and inpatients, only 83 slots are available for elective patients, which means that ρ is again equal to 1, resulting in an uncontrollable waiting list.”

      I think one way to think about the question of whether it makes sense to have a waiting list or whether you can ‘just use the price variable’ is that if it is possible for you as a provider to optimize over both the waiting time variable and the price variable (i.e., people demanding the service find some positive waiting time to be acceptable when it is combined with a non-zero price reduction), the result you’re going to get is always going to be at least as good as an option where you only have the option of optimizing over price – not including waiting time in the implicit pricing mechanism can be thought of as in a sense a weakly dominated strategy.

      A lot of the planning stuff relates to your point 1, and one way to think about it is probably to think of point two as one of many parameters which may be important in terms of how to deal with variable demand; surgeons aren’t perfect substitutes. Perhaps neither are nurses, or different hospitals (relevant if you’re higher up in the decision making hierarchy). An important aspect not alluded to in your comment is also the question of whether a surgeon might be doing other stuff instead of surgery during down-periods, and what might be the value of that other stuff he might be doing instead. Not only is demand variable over time, there are also issues such as that many different inputs need to be coordinated; you need a surgeon *and* a scrub nurse *and* an anesthesiologist. Etc.

      I think the potential gains in terms of capacity utilization, risk reduction and increased flexibility to be derived from implementing waiting schemes of some kind in this context would mediate strongly against a model without waiting lists.

      Scott’s comment about the incentives of insurance providers is probably sort of true; they don’t want to pay for it if you don’t need the surgery ‘that badly’ (/’you can wait’) because that would be wasteful. But if you don’t want to pay for insurance which makes sure that you get immediate access then you’re not willing to pay for that either. In my opinion it would make good sense if people who want immediate access were to get this by employing mechanisms bypassing the ‘traditional’ insurance system.

  27. 27chaos says:

    Comment of the week should go to this guy: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2537#comment-920686

    It’s not technically on your blog, but close enough.

  28. Sniffnoy says:

    Weird psychological case: The blind woman who switched personalities and could suddenly see (got this from Hacker News)

    Basically, person with DID, some personalities are blind but not others. The obvious explanation, that the person is making this up, is unlikely due to EEG evidence. (Original paper here.)

    • Tarrou says:

      DID isn’t universally accepted as a real thing. Better than half my psych professors at the undergrad level (and all the statistics/technical profs) thought it was a load of horseshit. I’m inclined to agree, with the caveat that the human brain is pretty incredible and at some level “made up” and “psychosomatic” become indistinguishable.

  29. vV_Vv says:

    What is the reason to use Reddit instead of LessWrong as an alternate platform for comments, given that being based on Reddit, LessWrong has essentially the same commenting system?

    • Alternate commenting threads on LW were tried a year ago and fizzled out. With more readers from non-LWsphere blogs like MR, it’s more likely now that a random SSC user will have a Reddit account than a LessWrong account. Plus, LW is less active now, and if every Scott post was posted, it would flood the site. Also talking about politics is taboo there.

  30. Eric says:

    Last open thread I asked if any one had a survey they wished could be run. Gwern had a question about the prevalence of catnip sensitivity. I have collected the data: Prevalence of catnip susceptibility in cats. About 15% of cats are reported to be insensitive to catnip.

    Let’s go again, if you could get a short survey distributed to thousands of people, what research question would you be interested in getting answered?

  31. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I think I remember Scott saying (on Tumblr? can’t find it now) that he sometimes goes on certain blogs (Xenosystems?) to express disagreement. I suspect these comments contain a lot of valuable thought and insights–anyone care to compile links to good ones?

  32. AlexL says:

    Anybody have any thought or experience with or about Optune (http://www.optune.com/) – a newish Glioblastoma therapy.

    A good friend of mine is considering it and going through the usual “deal with insurance” stuff; and while the treatment is FDA approved I’m wary about it’s claims (both the mechanism and the studies), worried about how approval was obtained (lots of pressure from the “public” at the FDA hearing) and reeling at the cost (~20k per month). My friend’s parents have offered to help with costs if insurance refuses to cover it and I would like to

    a.) be able to talk to them with real/better-than-marketing-brochures information, and
    b.) figure how to bring this up in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m trying to kill my friend.

    Right now I’m more concerned about “a”. Thanks!

  33. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I’m amused the Less Wrong is one of the embalmed ones.

    • Nornagest says:

      I can’t remember who said that LW‘s current regulars are the unquiet spirits who took over the ruins of the place after its builders all fled, but it seems fairly accurate.

      • anon says:

        “This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.”

  34. suntzuanime says:

    I think the point of mass-reporting someone’s comments is to punish you for failing to punish them, as a second-best alternative to punishing them directly.

    • suntzuanime says:

      And that’s bad, because god forbid I should describe a dynamic without ascribing moral valance to it.

      • keranih says:

        I was going to say that this sounds remarkably like some of the behavior I’ve (objectively, rationally, dispassionately) observed at festival meals in my extended kingroup.

  35. Sniffnoy says:

    So here’s a cognitive bias I don’t recall ever seeing mentioned on LW: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9569648

    Person A ascribes some trait to some other person B; other people listening then ascribe that trait to person A.

    Not something you’d expect and maybe worth taking account of!

    • I think there’s a bias (or mental glitch?) of forgetting the source of an idea. This would be an especially extreme case, possibly combined with availability heuristic.

      • Deiseach says:

        Transference? What the listener takes away is “Wow, A sure is angry about canetoads!” when A was describing at length how “All B ever talks about is canetoads!” and that easily gets turned into “A certainly cares a lot about canetoads” and then “All A ever talks about is canetoads!”

      • James says:

        Usually called “source amnesia”.

    • Linch says:

      Note to self: Update even further in the direction of always praising others to third parties.

    • Jiro says:

      You know, I’ve accused Nazis of wanting to burn people in ovens. And I think Nazis count as others.

      (Note: I don’t believe in Godwin’s law, and I am using the reference to make a legitimate point.)

      • Jiro says:

        By your original reasoning, if I consistently accuse *any* group of wanting to burn people in ovens, that means I really want to do it myself. There’s no exception that permits me to use it against targets for which it is actually true.

        And adding such an exception doesn’t work, either. Everyone believes their own beliefs to be true.

        Also, I find it a hard to swallow idea even when it’s false. I really doubt that the people who accused Obama of being a Muslim secretly desired to be Muslims themselves.

  36. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    “Because 7 ate 9” said Tom in jest.

    • DrBeat says:

      I’ve been saying this for years. There’s a certain segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions. Getting death threats (or “I hope you die” or “I would not be upset if you died” messages, which for some reason people count as death threats even though they are not) from these people means nothing.

      There are certain causes and movements that create more “death threats” than others, and we can look at why that happens, and also it is invariably the ones that talk the most about the death threats they receive proving their virtue. But even when and if we do so, we shouldn’t act as though that makes the other side virtuous.

      Every side that is a non-exclusive group is going to have some people who have no sense of scale and no control over their emotions, so saying “A random faceless someone from the other side has no sense of scale and no control over their emotions and sent me death threats!” doesn’t mean shit. Does that group have any ability to expel or condemn the threatener? Do they use that ability or do they not? Does that side have ideological unity that we could reasonably say that their ideas are influencing the behavior of some of their members to act this way? Does that side claim that their receiving of death threats makes them virtuous? Are the death threateners popular or powerful within that side, or are the random, nameless, faceless assholes?

      the worst example of this has nothing to do with feminism or social justice; it was when Hideaki Anno received death threats over the ending to “Evangelion” and people said that proved anime fans were awful, depraved, and should be discarded. What the fuck kind of ideological unity was supposed to have created death threateners among anime fans? What the fuck were the other anime fans supposed to do about it to escape your scorn?

      • Emily says:

        You mention lack of ability to expel or condemn the threatener. OK, So if you knew someone from your side who was sending death threats, what do you think an appropriate response would be, if you did have some ability to expel or condemn them? Not spending time with them? Not going to their website, if they have one? Not participating in online conversations with them? Removing them from leadership positions in the community? Not inviting them to presents at conventions/conferences, or disinviting them entirely?

        • DrBeat says:

          Not spending time with them, not offering support to them, opposing their efforts to gain support from the community we are in, not offering them positions of power, not allowing them the use of power in the community, and telling them “stop fucking doing that” every time I see them until they stop doing it and express some kind of apology. Arguing against them every time I see it brought up. Acting like a person who does not support it.

          You go into a much murkier area when you talk about removing or disinviting them, because that’s “no platform”-ing, which is abused constantly. If it’s acceptable to no-platform someone for this thing, then this thing will just become the thing you lie about in order to no-platform someone for hurting your feelings. Coercion should not be leveraged or directed at third parties, nor demands made of them, just inform them of the conduct of the person and then let them do with that as they will. Making it acceptable to go beyond that opens up way too much abuse. If an EVA death-threatener is speaking at Anime Expo or whatever, inform people what the guy did, and argue against him or her if he or she is saying that is acceptable, but don’t tell Anime Expo they must no-platform the guy or you will punish them.

          • JBeshir says:

            This seems like a balanced approach. It’s nice to see someone putting thought into the tradeoffs and difficulties involved in handling these things.

            The big problem that free speech stuff needs to contend with is that norms are prohibitions or obligations, always; you can’t directly have a norm of “everyone can engage in civil discourse freely without intimidation”, you have to resolve that goal into norms which prohibit interfering with/being intimidating to civil discourse. And then those norms need enforcement mechanisms.

            As far as preventing interference from law goes, that’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to preventing interference/intimidation from speech (e.g. death threats, mass abuse-throwing campaigns, mass calls for punishment, “no platforming”, etc) things get a great deal hairier and you run into unpleasant tradeoffs where any single simple absolute answer has unacceptable costs, e.g. ability to criticise vs not being subject to mass demonisation for saying unpopular things.

            I think letting platform-owners and hosts do what they will with their platforms, on the basis of what ideas about what should be bad behaviour they find compelling, combined with a strong rejection of coercion/demand campaigns, makes sense. Without pressure campaigns, you can lean on the market in platforms to deal with platform owners who make bad decisions.

            This also lets platform holders deal with other concerns they think are important, like dishonesty or calls for tyranny of the majority-based actions, emotive efforts to alter people’s values to lower the priority assigned to minority groups, etc, rather than prohibiting all efforts to select against things.

            I guess the main concern is whether we can actually reduce/limit pressure campaigns. If not, that’ll be a problem.

            I think it is worth considering exceptions for really big platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit. They probably should not feel morally okay doing “whatever they think is right”. While the market will adjust, it will only do so if “whatever they think is right” is so awful it overcomes network effects, which gives a lot of room to get really bad.

      • NN says:

        I’ve been saying this for years. There’s a certain segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions.

        There is also a certain segment of the population who enjoy insulting or threatening people online simply because they find the reactions to this amusing. These people, who used to be referred to as “trolls” before that became another word for “person I disagree with,” will send threats to both sides of an online dispute, each time claiming to be from the opposite side, and then sit back and laugh at the resulting chaos. The troll segment of the population is probably smaller than the segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions, but their per-capita death threat output is undoubtedly much larger.

      • JBeshir says:

        Usually the reply I see to these kind of objections is “Yes, of course the other group has quite a lot of ideological unity and the members are being led to act that way because of its ideas, and of course no, that’s not true for us.”

        It’s almost always kind of true- the abusive behaviour is usually a ‘punishment’ grounded in some moral theory that justifies such punishment, and that moral theory derived by taking ideas about what is good and what is bad from the rest of the group and running with them.

        Even in the anime fans case, you can still see this to some extent; there’s collective ideas about what is good or bad in an anime, and the bad actors went and ran with this myopically without looking at other concerns, derived a moral theory that it was right to punish people for making bad things, and did so.

        So it becomes a question of degree, the extent to which the group is defined by having particular concerns and the extent to which those concerns lend themselves to dangerous myopia/absolutism. In the presence of outgroup homogeneity bias and it being very convenient to believe that the degree is high for the Other and low for you, the predictable thing happens and people hate the Other but view themselves as fine.

        • DrBeat says:

          Well, I’m one of the ones saying that the other guys are being led to act out by ideological unity, and I think it’s not as simple as outgroup homogeneity bias. When the outgroup is the social justice movement, impartial observers can indeed see that there is more homogeneity because the movement enforces ideological homogeneity in ways that its contemporaries really don’t. And when I say their beliefs lead them to this wort of behavior more often, I think it is an actual factual concern that I can point to, not just “they’re bad unlike my guys who are good”, because of the repeated insistence that some people Have Power and cannot be harmed, and some people Have No Power and cannot cause harm, actively encourages this kind of behavior because the threateners Have No Power and the threatened Have Power so obviously you never, ever need to restrain your emotions when dealing with them and saying you should is victim-blaming.

          I mean, there are other groups of people or causes I dislike that I dnot believe this about, and it’s always stupid when someone claims “a group I dislike did a bad thing like every other group, the fact that they were in a group I dislike caused it”, but I think there are situations where the argument has merit and this is one of them.

          • JBeshir says:

            The degree *does* vary, and I think it’s a meaningful thing to talk about, yeah.

            I think you’re right that that group is definitely more at risk of bad actors/problematic myopia from its ideas than others, because it has a lot of moral theorising going on, and anyone involved in it is going to have at least one concern they can be tempted to think is more important than anything which is a lot more plausible-sounding than “making anime wrong”.

            I think you overestimate the degree of ideological conformity quite a lot, though. My impression of the overall structure of social justice campaigning is that of a loose coalition of lots of concerns, with individuals usually dedicated to 2-3 concerns each, who have found that by allying together and agreeing to support each other they can get greater reach and maybe get some actual consideration.

            The theorising about privilege in abstract, oppressor/oppressed, etc, seems to be ongoing effort to build solidarity, find common arguments shared between all the concerns in the coalition, and establish norms for dealing with internal trade-offs, and it’s an inconsistent mess within people, let alone between them, in the way that post-hoc justifications mostly formulated in pieces on the Internet tend to be.

            Which is kind of a pity, because effort put into social system modelling and theory ala http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/04/seeing-around-corners/302471/ seems like it could be really promising in terms of finding ways to improve things if it were actually done well.

    • Emily says:

      Those examples are the lowest level of death threats because they’re totally non-specific as far as time, location, any other personal information. The more specific/plausible threat, the scarier it is. I think many people who get these more-specific threats are indeed scared, and this is not unreasonable. Sure, it’s probably nothing. But it might be something, and if someone is really after you and determined to do physical violence to you, your options are not great.

      Giving those minor examples of death threats but then mentioning contexts in which the threats have been more specific does not seem entirely honest to me.

  37. onyomi says:

    Looking only at the headlines, I was briefly encouraged to see Princeton reconsidering the legacy of Woodrow Wilson…until I realized what the problem was:

    Getting the US unnecessarily involved in the most horrific and arguably pointless war in history up to that point resulting in millions of lives lost and indirectly helping to cause Hitler and the Russian Revolution? And after running on a platform of keeping us out of said war? Oh, all that’s totally fine. In fact, it kind of makes you a “great man.”

    Being a racist who may have cost some black people advancement in some government jobs? Oh, now that we just can’t accept.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have always been baffled by WWI Woodrow Wilson hate.

      Yeah, he got us involved in war. But his thing seemed to be having an equitable resolution without punishing the Germans and a strong international governing body.

      Well, everyone ignored him and punished the Germans anyway, and we ended up with Weimar and Hitler. And everyone ignored him about the strong governing body, so we ended up with a League of Nations too weak to do anything about them.

      I feel like if more people had listened to Woodrow Wilson the world would be a much better place. And anticipating/trying to prevent Hitler is a big enough deal that it excuses a lot of other stuff.

      • brad says:

        I guess it depends on what you think the most like counter-factual is if the US stayed out of the war. If you think it is continued stalemate until the two sides are forced to settle their differences at the negotiating table or if you think the British and French win anyway and impose Versailles (or even worse) or if you think the Central Powers win decisively and go on to build a empire extending the age of monarchs and colonialism well into the future — you’ll end up in different places on the US entry.

      • John Schilling says:

        Isn’t that kind of like being baffled by Bush the Younger hate?

        Yeah, he got us into the interminable Iraq war, but his thing seemed to be having a quick and relatively bloodless victory followed by all the Iraqis not named “Saddam Hussein” getting together to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable country. I feel like if more people, especially Iraqi people, had listened to George W. Bush the world would be a much better place. And trying to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Iraq is a big enough deal that it excuses a lot of other stuff.

        If your plan is “Fight a huge war, but not too many people will get killed and then everybody lives happily ever after”, one part of that plan is very likely to happen and the other part is even more likely to not happen. If you want to not be hated, you have to actually pull off the “everybody lives happily ever” part, not just aspire to it.

        • DrBeat says:

          Well, the difference is that in situations like this, the actions of a country’s leadership are centralized enough that they can be considered moral agents, but the actions of a country’s populace are so diffuse and hard to influence they don’t have moral agency.

          Wilson’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it (and I think they agreed to do so? but may be remembering wrong). Those others who could have went along with it were moral agents, so fault can attach to their actions, and thus it is their fault things went badly — they were presented with the solution but instead opted to fuck things up.

          Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan. Said people were the populace and general opinion of an entire country, who cannot be assigned moral agency because they cannot make unified decisions on plans like that and have all sorts of negative externalities imposed on them. Since the entity that could, in theory, have made the plan work does not have moral agency, the fault attaches to Bush for not being able to predict the outcome of the non-agentic process.

          You can fault someone in a group of five or ten or twenty people for defecting, and say “the solution is to stop doing that”. But it’s different in a nation of millions, where you know that someone will inevitably defect, and now everyone else has to act with that in mind.

          • John Schilling says:

            So actual human beings (the populace of a country) are not moral agents, but impersonal institution (the leadership of non-autocratic nations) are? That’s an interesting position.

            But largely moot, I think. The instability of postwar Iraq was not the result of each individual Iraqi deciding to start a civil war; a relatively small core of religious and secular leaders had disproportionate influence on that one. And at the other end, the nations of post-WWI Europe were democracies whose nominal heads of state and/or government couldn’t arbitrarily set policy for decades to come.

            And ultimately, who cares? If it was predictable that the leadership of post-WWI Europe wasn’t going to go along with Woodrow Wilson’s plan (and it was), and if it was predictable that the populace of postwar Iraq wasn’t going to go along with Bush the Younger’s plan (and it was), then they’re both whining children who knew or ought to have known perfectly well that they were breaking valuable stuff to no good end and saying “but it’s not my fault!”

            Yes, it damn well is your fault. And other people’s fault as well, but there’s no law that says we have to blame just one person.

          • Nornagest says:

            Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan.

            Wilson didn’t exactly have a lot of moral high ground to play from, either. The US was a latecomer and a relative bit player in WWI; I’m not an expert in this part of history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the European powers weren’t too keen on taking orders from these overseas upstarts who’d spent much less in blood and treasure than they had.

          • keranih says:

            I’m not an expert in this part of history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the European powers weren’t too keen on taking orders from these overseas upstarts

            Yeap. And it had far less to do with any level of assistance than upstarts. It was the great, logical, high-moral-ground rational theory, of mofo, you ain’t th’ boss a’ME!.

            (Plus, a helping of Just look at them! They don’t even have a KING!!)

            It’s also important to remember that Europe hadn’t seen much of any actual fighting for most of a century, and in fact there was a lot of philosophy that this made Europe/Europeans morally superior to other places. (Americans even then had a rep for easy violence, esp after the ACW.) So after WWI, there was both grief over the losses and anger over the fact that there was a war at all. Which meant that Someone Must Pay. So This Never Happens Again.

            It’s not *rational* that WWII followed, but it is *predictable*.

            And Wilson suggested the League of Nations mostly on the strength that this was Not American’s Fault, plus Democracy for Everyone Is Best, Because I Am Wise Now Shut Up.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Europe hadn’t seen much of any actual fighting for most of a century, and in fact there was a lot of philosophy that this made Europe/Europeans morally superior to other places.

            Apart from the Franco-Prussian War, the Crimean War, the Wars of Italian Unification, the Carlist Wars, the assorted Balkan Wars…

            To clarify- most of those did not take place in Northern/Western Europe, and the Balkans were certainly seen as foreign/violent/not-really-European by people in those places. The Franco-Prussian War, however, most certainly did and had a major impact on the culture and politics of both belligerents.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan. Said people were the populace and general opinion of an entire country…

            So we are glossing over the regional balance of power proxy war thing?

          • DrBeat says:

            So actual human beings (the populace of a country) are not moral agents, but impersonal institution (the leadership of non-autocratic nations) are? That’s an interesting position.

            I don’t see how it’s controversial at all. Moral agency means you make decisions and can be held responsible for them. Holding a governing institution with a defined decision-making process responsible for its decisions obviously makes sense; holding a national or ethnic population responsible for things its members did obviously doesn’t make sense.

        • Benjamin Finkel says:

          I feel like the difference between the Wilson argument and the Bush argument is that the Wilson one is about particular policies (non-punitive WWI treaty, stronger international governing body) and the Bush one is about ideal consequences (bloodless victory, joyous effort to westernize Iraq).

      • keranih says:

        Good intentions count, but not *that* much.

        (I was always annoyed by Wilson’s arrogance and hypocrisy, same as with Thomas Jefferson. I will admit their individual greatness and accomplishments, but don’t see why other people think they were each all that and a bag’a chips.)

        (Which is to say, I didn’t think much of Wilson before he became another reason to point and laugh at CampusSturm.)

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        It’s the entirely two faced nature of him getting us involved in war that makes me hate him. At the pulpit he’s talking peace without victory and campaigning on staying out of war. But then he turns around and demands that the US be able to sell matériel to the allies, becoming an accessory to war crimes (human shielding, carried out both by arming merchant ships preventing capture rather than kill tactics and carrying matériel on passenger ships) in the process. Meanwhile he ignores the British blockade, essentially giving up neutrality, despite THAT blockade killing hundreds of thousands of civilians by refusing to let food through.

        A jingoistic warhawk I could respect, even if I disagree, but Wilson seems to have carefully calculated his actions to create profit while pretending to want peace, then gone to war to protect those profits.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      How can you blame American involvement in WWI, even indirectly, for the Russian Revolution? America entered the war after the February Revolution, even after Lenin’s return. Did its entry contribute to the October Revolution, seven months later? How?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes to Hitler, no to the Russian Revolution. That was already on the boil, and if your argument is that Russia staying out of the First World War would have meant the internal strength to squash dissidents, I think you’re mistaken. They had centuries of squashing dissidents, that was part of what was creating the dissension in the first place!

      The First World War was going to happen in some shape or form; there was too much dealing and counter-dealing and the “scramble for Africa” and secret treaties that back-stabbed your allies and influence-peddling going on.

      Russia got pulled in precisely because of imperial ambition; it encouraged “pan-Slavism” in the Central/Eastern European States and positioned itself as the natural leader of the Slavs. This of course did nothing to encourage the non-Slavs in the region, who didn’t much fancy being under the control of the Tsar. The Ottoman Empire was slowly crumbling and was too tempting a prize for the various European powers to resist, and naturally since it too was involved on the periphery of the Balkans, anything that weakened its influence there (and so weakened it overall) was seen as a good thing.

      Hence all the meddling.

      Even Italy had imperial ambitions (consider the nibbling away at Ethiopia, which eventually bore fruit in the renewed expansion of Italian possessions in Africa under Mussolini in the mid-1930s). Had the assassination of Franz Ferdinand not given an excuse, something else would have done so. Possibly the weakening of Russia during the Revolution; the Germans would have been very tempted to push to the East and see what they could carve out there.

      Also consider: yes, the vindictive and punitive treatment of post-war Germany certainly set the seeds for the Second World War. But without the First World War, would the social upheaval and change have happened? The collapse of empires, the complete turn-around in confidence and the traditional social order – all the new ‘decadence’ in the arts, from jazz (which was a scandalous thing, it was considered literally “jungle music”) to the Cubists and Futurists, the attempts born out of a desire to heal the psychic shock of a generation to build the new, gleaming future which led to so much change in art, architecture, science, everything!

      Pre-war European society was stifling – Vienna with its hysteria and clandestine sexuality gave Freud a rich harvest of repression to reap – and something had to give.

      America too had imperial ambitions, though it might not have called them such (the annexation of Hawaii and the adventures in Cuba and the Philippines were the expansionist element). The post-war power vacuum let America step up and enjoy influence and power; what would the world be like if instead the European states had retained their strength and America remained isolationist? I think you would have definitely turned eastward, and I think eventually China would have become a bone of contention, with the added fear of American influence seeking to move towards Eurasia and India.

      In a world without the First World War we know, we might still be discussing such, only this time one between the USA and the European powers 🙂

      • Jiro says:

        Also consider: yes, the vindictive and punitive treatment of post-war Germany certainly set the seeds for the Second World War. But without the First World War, would the social upheaval and change have happened?

        If you try to justify bad thing X on the grounds that it had good result Y, that immediately raises the issue that it’s pretty unlikely you’re at the exact optimum level, so you would have to justify *more* of X. In other words, if the war was really a net positive, wouldn’t more war have been even better?

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not saying the war was a good thing. I am saying that things we think of as good can come out of bad situations, and we don’t know all the consequences of actions.

          So saying “If Wilson had kept America out of the war, all these bad things would not have happened” might be true. But what about other things that might not have happened, things you might want to happen?

          • Jiro says:

            That’s subject to basically the same objection: if keeping the US out of the war would have prevented things that you want to happen, maybe failure to have more war also prevented things you would have wanted to happen. So we would have been overall better off with more war.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        Russia post February revolution (which the US entered after) had no need to squash dissidents, they were already in transition to democracy. They needed the aid to feed people without also needing to fight a war. Without that it left things open to somebody crazy enough to think they could forgo the allied aid that was dependent on staying in the war.

    • onyomi says:

      I just want to note that while I am interested in the legacy of Woodrow Wilson and US involvement in WWI, and I may engage further with that discussion below, my point was rather to focus not on the object level issue of Wilson’s goodness or badness, but rather on the fact that seemingly the only reason a historical figure seems to get seriously reexamined nowadays (as in, monuments taken down, schools renamed) is if he turns out to have somehow been racist (though I am surprised they’re planning to replace Hamilton, rather than Jackson on the money).

      Scott has persuasively argued against calling everything “a religion,” but I think anti-racism really has risen to that level of late. Anything racist, however far back in history, must be obsessively rooted out like a heresy, and often with a fervor one does not observe when trying to discredit someone as, say, a mass murderer. Why do we care more if our school is named after a racist than if it’s named after a mass murderer? It feels like overcompensation for a kind of quasi-religious guilt/sin.

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you read Paul Graham’s essay on this kind of phenomenon?

        • onyomi says:

          I think I had seen it before, though I had forgotten about it; it’s still a good read. But yes, this is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Racism” has become a parrot cry. People know Racism Is Bad, because they’ve learned this in school, and so when they want to accuse someone of being a bad person they throw accusations of it around (the same as with “fascist”).

        This is not to deny that real racism exists, but when you’ve seen white English-born children of Irish parents returned to live in Ireland people accusing your line manager of “Racism! You’re racist against me because I’m English!” for not immediately supplying them with social housing upon application*, it gets difficult to take the language about racism seriously.

        *You’re going on a waiting list and the people who have been on the list for years are ahead of you and no, claiming you are homeless won’t get you a house. Things were so bad, homeless services in The City were handing out sleeping bags and tents to people turning up presenting as homeless at one stage. No, we haven’t got accommodation for you because the hostels are all full but if you’re sleeping rough, here’s a sleeping bag. Yes, really.

    • BBA says:

      Wilson set out to replace the European balance of power with a League of Nations that would peaceably resolve all conflicts. This was a miserable failure.

      He also set out to impose Jim Crow upon the federal civil service. This was a resounding “success.”

      It’s high time we started taking him to task for what he did as opposed to what he didn’t do.

  38. I have a notion that nations are going to have to become different under the pressure of migration. A government can maintain a pretty good monopoly on the use of force without keeping track of every person in its territory, and I think that’s what the future is going to look like. Thoughts?

    • Anonymous says:

      So you’re saying the future is feudal?

      I’m not sure that’s likely. The government tends to assume a policy of maximum centralization possible while keeping peer competitiveness.

    • Vaniver says:

      Monopolies on force are maintained mostly through deterrence. If someone wanted to do their own violence, the only way for them to be stopped is A) the government has the ability to win any shootout anywhere at anytime or B) that someone has something to lose that the government can take from them in retaliation.

      Plan B is easier the more closely the government is tracking people and things, and Plan A also benefits from tracking people and things (so that the government can know what it’s up against and reallocate defenses as necessary).

  39. Troy says:

    Okay, SSC readers, tell me what to think about the refugee crisis. My Facebook feed is mostly full of people talking about how stupid the Republicans are to try to block refugee resettlement in the U.S., and, while I’m inclined to agree, I’d like to take seriously the best anti-refugee arguments. Also, I don’t know what to say about Europe, which the refugee situation seems much more difficult to me and much less straightforward than in the U.S.

    Arguments in favor of resettling refugees in the U.S.:

    – Our existing screening process is already very thorough, and it makes no sense for would-be terrorists to go through the long arduous process of getting a refugee visa when there are much easier ways to get in the country (e.g., tourist visas, student visas). Moreover, we know of virtually no past refugees who went on to attempt terrorist attacks. (Examples that Steve Sailer and other alt-right commentators give of refugee terrorists seem to mostly be asylees, who come to the U.S. by some other means, and then, while already here apply for asylum status. This is an easier system to game than the refugee system.)

    – The U.S., which is not being inundated with refugees like Europe, can easily afford to take in ~10,000 refugees. Moreover, doing so will make those who enter the U.S. less radicalizable than if they stayed in refugee camps in Syria. (http://www.cato.org/blog/syrian-refugees-dont-pose-serious-security-threat)

    Arguments against:

    – The national security threat comes not from refugees themselves, but from their children. Most Islamic terrorists in the West are “homegrown,” but this just means that they are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. By resettling Muslims from parts of the world like Syria and Iraq into the U.S., we are planting the seeds of the homegrown terrorists of the next generation.

    – The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

    – Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. can afford to take in many more immigrants than they have. Given that they are culturally and geographically closer to the refugees, the United States (and other Western countries) should put pressure on them to accept refugees before accepting more ourselves.

    • Emily says:

      Other arguments I have seen:

      -Refugees are a liability economically. They will cost money upfront in the form of taxpayer dollars and, because they’re poorly-educated, are likely to stay poor (and receiving subsidies). Their children are also unlikely to assimilate economically.

      -Many refugees are not actually refugees but rather economic migrants: people who aren’t in any kind of danger, but who are coming to the U.S. because it’s a more prosperous country. To the extent that we have some obligation to take in refugees, it does not extend to this other group.

      But I think the big difference between the pro-refugee and anti-refugee sides isn’t assessments of these arguments, but rather between to what extent they think American immigration policy should value the interests of Americans vs. non-Americans.

      • Troy says:

        -Many refugees are not actually refugees but rather economic migrants: people who aren’t in any kind of danger, but who are coming to the U.S. because it’s a more prosperous country. To the extent that we have some obligation to take in refugees, it does not extend to this other group.

        From what I understand of the screening process, I don’t think this is the case with Syrians in refugee camps who are resettled in the U.S. They do not choose where they go; instead they are resettled in a country that the U.N. chooses, in consultation with the host country. Moreover, refugees have to offer compelling evidence of being in physical danger before they are resettled; and at any rate, refugee camps aren’t a fun place to live for years if you’re just trying to go somewhere to live a better life economically.

        I don’t doubt, though, that many of the migrants in Europe are economic migrants who are taking advantage of the current mass chaos to make their way to Europe.

        • Emily says:

          What can I read about the “compelling evidence of being in physical danger” part? How good are we at assessing this?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s pretty easy – you check if they could have stopped somewhere not afflicted by armed conflict on their way wherever here is. If they could, they’re not in danger. If this is the first country they’ve reached that isn’t war-torn, then it’s good evidence that they’re fleeing violence.

            Problem is not recognizing this – but rather that nobody enforces this.

          • Troy says:

            What can I read about the “compelling evidence of being in physical danger” part? How good are we at assessing this?

            This Facebook post has been making the rounds: https://www.facebook.com/BryanScottHicks/posts/1187326084630475?pnref=story Here’s what he says:

            “Before being allowed to come to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled (a legal term of art that would be a separate article). Just because one falls into the three priorities above does not guarantee admission to the United States.

            The Immigration laws require that the individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear,” (another legal term which would be a book.) This fear must be proved regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on discrepancies. I had a client who was not telling the truth on her age and the agency challenged her on it. Refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the INA. These grounds include serious health matters, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. In addition, they can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations. Under some circumstances, the person may be eligible to have the ground waived.”

          • John Schilling says:

            This sounds like a process where an honest man working from natural memory will be at a disadvantage compared to someone who has rehearsed a script written by a lawyer who knows refugee law and has crafted a story that checks all the right boxes. It’s not like the Refugee Coordinator is going to be able to fax Damascus with a request to look over this refugee visa application for misrepresentation of facts as compared to Syrian government records.

            It’s still not going to be an easy or reliable process for getting ISIS agents into the United States, but it is an area of legitimate concern I think.

          • brad says:

            I as understand it fraud by and large it isn’t a problem in US refugee programs. Mostly refugees come through UNHCR recommendations, take a long time to process, and involve a great deal of uncertainty. Not terribly gameable.

            Asylum, which has the same requirements but is for people already physically present in the US, on the other hand has exactly the reputation you describe. By far the largest country of nationality for asylee grants is China, while for refugees number one was Iraq and number two was Burma.

          • NN says:

            I agree with brad. From what I’ve read, even if everything goes well a refugee application would typically take at least 18 months to get approved, and could potentially take much longer. The duration alone makes it a far worse terrorist infiltration strategy than hiring people smugglers to take you to Latin America and then trying to sneak across the Mexico-US border.

          • John Schilling says:

            How long does it take to learn Spanish well enough that the smugglers who work the US-Mexican border would trust an ISIS agent? That sort of thing really does matter, and it isn’t trivial.

            So, cases for and against both routes, and all the others, and don’t trust anyone who suggests there is no concern with refugees being terrorists because there are other ways for terrorists to get in.

          • Troy says:

            This sounds like a process where an honest man working from natural memory will be at a disadvantage compared to someone who has rehearsed a script written by a lawyer who knows refugee law and has crafted a story that checks all the right boxes.

            Well, it’s hard to keep a story straight for 18 months, especially when you’re being questioned by multiple people about multiple different topics.

            That said, it seems very likely that the process does tend to favor people who have things somewhat together over the worst off of the worst off. On the other hand it’s not clear that that’s a totally bad thing, as the former will likely integrate better into U.S. society.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The process is about what one would expect from a government agency; it may or may not provide the security desired, but it definitely provides lots of inconvenient hurdles to jump over, so at least we feel like we’re doing something.

          Refugees have a number of tests they undergo. This includes medical screens, in-person interviews, fingerprinting, and some other security and case reviews. I don’t know how effective the security reviews actually are, especially since you’re usually dealing with cases where there is no government office you can confer with for corroborating paperwork, or any documentation at all.

          Every member of the family must do these, and they all have their own expiration dates attached. There was one family whose whole application was done, until they had a baby, who now needed to go through the whole process as well, including the interview.

      • Sastan says:

        The economic migrant thing is real, but in Europe, not the US. The refugees coming to the US come straight from refugee centers in Jordan, mostly. The people boating over to Italy are economic migrants.

    • Vaniver says:

      Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. can afford to take in many more immigrants than they have.

      Note that there are questions about how many refugees the Gulf States have taken in; it would seem that they don’t get counted by the UN, and so there’s the question of how comparable the Saudi Arabian govt. numbers are to the UN numbers.

      I agree with you that the ‘second generation terror’ arguments are the ones worth taking seriously, at least compared to first generation terror arguments. In general I am pessimistic on the value on taking on refugees, and would prefer they be housed as close to their original homes as possible (which means Turkey and the Gulf States).

      • Troy says:

        Note that there are questions about how many refugees the Gulf States have taken in; it would seem that they don’t get counted by the UN, and so there’s the question of how comparable the Saudi Arabian govt. numbers are to the UN numbers.

        Thanks.

        I agree with you that the ‘second generation terror’ arguments are the ones worth taking seriously, at least compared to first generation terror arguments. In general I am pessimistic on the value on taking on refugees, and would prefer they be housed as close to their original homes as possible (which means Turkey and the Gulf States).

        I do think it’s generally best to resettle refugees as close to home as possible. On the other hand, I think there is value in our making even a small contribution to solving the larger problem. Moreover, I suspect that for numerous reasons the next generation of Syrians (Iraqis, etc.) in America are less likely to be radicalized than the next generation of Syrians (Iraqis, etc.) resettling in Europe. The former are smaller in absolute number and don’t form the same kinds of ethnic enclaves as in Europe; and America seems to generally do better in Europe in assimilating Muslim immigrants.

        both because of numbers,

        • Jaskologist says:

          I don’t know where I first saw this, but I think that from an EA standpoint, it’s much more cost-effective to send money to resettle them somewhere over there rather than here.

          • Troy says:

            That’s probably true to the extent that we are able to resettle them over there. Still, it’s not like Western countries can just move in and put refugees where they want; and local organizations to whom we can send money may or may not be successful in resettling refugees themselves. As I say above, I’m in favor of local (or local-er) resettlement where possible, but I’m not sure it’s always possible.

            Also, if the U.S. government doesn’t resettle refugees here, I doubt the money they would have spent on that will go to resettling refugees elsewhere. More likely it will go to other wasteful/pointless projects.

          • keranih says:

            This is largely my stance – we *should* help those in need get back on their feet. (But not for forever, for a variety of reasons.)

            We do not have endless pots of money to spend on refugees, and we have competing priorities. Helping refugees settle elsewhere allows us to help more people.

            (And again, I would like our immigration system to be fixed so that we can bring in more people legally. But not all the world.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      I was disgusted enough by all the Facebook posers to actually write up a blog post on the subject, which I will shamelessly promote now. It is certainly not as charitable as Scott would be, but perhaps roughly as meta.

      • Troy says:

        I have also been irritated by the uncharitability towards conservatives displayed by my Facebook friends. On the other hand, I do have several local friends who both posted pro-refugee stuff on Facebook and are involved in efforts to help local refugees. But maybe I just have better friends than you. 🙂

        I liked this Social Justice Bible quote, and may steal it: “For I was hungry and you told someone else to give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you told someone else to give me something to drink, I was a stranger and you told someone else to invite me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you told someone else to do, you did for me.”

        Also, I’m sorry to hear about your wife and I hope that she is doing okay.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Your friends may well be better than mine.

          I can divide the people I know who posted about Syrian refugees pretty cleanly into two groups. Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians). On the left, the articles all read to me like “Conservatives are evil, and I am good because I care about Syrians.” They looked to me to be entirely about signalling virtue.

          Part of the reason I think this is because not a single one of them had shown any interest in Syria or ISIS prior to this point, while those on my right have been doing so for years.

          • Chalid says:

            I think the left’s pro-refugee tilt derives largely from the left’s general pro-immigration tilt (which partly comes from wanting to help those in need). No interest in IS required.

          • NN says:

            I can divide the people I know who posted about Syrian refugees pretty cleanly into two groups. Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians). On the left, the articles all read to me like “Conservatives are evil, and I am good because I care about Syrians.” They looked to me to be entirely about signalling virtue.

            Do you include in “reactions from the right” all those governors signing executive orders to block resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, despite the fact that A) governors don’t have the legal authority to do that, and B) even if they did, it would be pointless, since state borders don’t have fences or checkpoints? Because if that wasn’t pure virtue signalling, then nothing is.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Governors do have control over state level funds though and can refuse to provide them, effectively preventing refugees reliant on subsidies from living there.

          • NN says:

            Governors do have control over state level funds though and can refuse to provide them, effectively preventing refugees reliant on subsidies from living there.

            1) I haven’t looked into it to be sure, but I would bet that assistance for refugees primarily or entirely comes from the federal government.

            2) Again, if any refugees really are a security threat, then what state they live in doesn’t matter. You can easily drive from one coast to the other in less than a week. If someone has legally entered the US and isn’t the target of an arrest warrant, then keeping them out of any of the lower 48 states is effectively impossible.

            Any way you slice it, the posturing by those governors had nothing to do with real policy and everything to do with signaling to their constituencies that they are Tough on Terror.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “1) I haven’t looked into it to be sure, but I would bet that assistance for refugees primarily or entirely comes from the federal government.”

            And states can (and are currently) ignoring federal law and mandates (Sanctuary cities, drug laws). The biggest effect appears to be telling the Republicans in congress that the states support them so that congress acts.

            “2) Again, if any refugees really are a security threat, then what state they live in doesn’t matter. You can easily drive from one coast to the other in less than a week. If someone has legally entered the US and isn’t the target of an arrest warrant, then keeping them out of any of the lower 48 states is effectively impossible.”

            Unless the government keeps track of refugees through their aid programs in which case they are limited to the locale they are sent to.

            “Any way you slice it, ”
            “I haven’t looked into it to be sure,”

          • brad says:

            Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians)

            The only anti-refugee post I got on my wall (not sure how it got there) was a picture of a guy in fatigues with a dog sitting on a sidewalk and meme style overlay text that said:
            “OBAMA IS BRINGING 100,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES TO AMERICA

            SHARE IF YOU AGREE WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF OUR NEARLY 60,000 HOMELESS VETERANS FIRST
            © One Nation Under God”

            I suppose that’s “focused on trade-offs” in some sense, but not exactly what you seem to be describing.

      • Troy says:

        I will say that, while I understand the concerns towards resettling refugees (even if I think many of them are misguided), I am quite irritated by all the governors refusing to settle refugees in their state. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t think we should bring refugees in in the first place,” it’s another to say to them, once we’ve brought them in, “You’re not welcome here.” Once they’re here we should be as welcoming as we can be and seek to integrate them into our society, not drive them away and make them feel isolated.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Troy
          “all the governors refusing to settle refugees in their state”

          Perhaps they might take advice from the people who say ‘doubling the world population another time or two is not a problem, look at all the open space left for new US cities’.

      • blacktrance says:

        There’s an assumption in your post (which, to be fair, is probably applicable to many people) that wanting to let refugees in is out of concern (or a desire to signal concern) for their welfare. That works against people who aspire to utilitarianism or something similar – but there’s also a consistent position that says that favoring your family is permissible while not letting refugees in is not. It is the position that you may favor whomever you like, but you’re also constrained in what you may do to others, that it’s perfectly okay not to give a cent to refugees, but not okay to forcibly prevent them from coming in. People with low-skilled jobs are under no obligation to help refugees by sacrificing their own jobs, even if it would result in a utilitarian benefit – but they may also not prevent refugees from competing for their jobs any more than they may slash the tires of rival applicants for their jobs.

      • Haltingthoughts says:

        That sounds like very selective rigour. Are you doing all you can to mitigate your concerns with refugees?

        The actual question is whether allowing more refugees is a good idea. Given that more immigration is a good idea, I’d be very surprised if this was a bad idea. If it is please show your work.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Then that boils down to ‘are Mexicans a better bet than Syrian refugees’. Given Mexicans are a net cash positive and Syrian refugees aren’t, that isn’t hard to answer.

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Not sure what you mean by mexicans are a net cash positive. I assume you are only considering native concerns which only makes sense when considering negotiation issues. If that is the case then you are right but I question why only natives are relevant.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Because if your position is ‘screw the natives’ why should the natives agree with anything you say?

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Because they are reasonable human being who care about others, why else would you vote?

            More precisely, I expect that social demands will expand to treat all humans as equals and anyone who doesn’t support this without good reason will be considered equivalent to the old racists for the same reasons.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Haltingthoughts

            That sounds like a rather naive viewpoint considering the circumstances.

            The objections to immigration generally boil down to no migration without assimilation. This seems like a fair request given the troubles we’ve seen in Europe with Muslim migrants and their children so what’s the counter?

    • Anonymous says:

      The migrants are Rational Economic Men. They see that:
      – the west is prosperous, comparatively very peaceful, and hands out money to people for essentially nothing,
      – the rulers of the west are weak against appeals to pity, no matter how deceitful those appeals may be.

      It comes naturally to conclude that if they can pretend to hail from Syria (and they can, thanks to Turkish passport forgers) and get to a western country that routinely takes them (like Sweden or Germany), they can be set for life. A little investment into paying off a smuggler and a fake passport claiming they’re born on 01-01-1995, and off they go.

      There is without a doubt a small minority of actual refugees, but the actual refugees tend to stop in the nearest country that isn’t afflicted by war. Those who are there for the benefits go all the way, disregarding EU regulations that mandate that they should register in the country of entry, and be processed there.

      Then there’s the actual enemy insurgents, backed by ISIS (who outright said they’d send them), melting into the crowd with aim of causing trouble behind enemy lines.

      • Vaniver says:

        fake passport claiming they’re born on 01-01-1995

        I think you mean 1998; the fraud appears to be mostly claiming to be 17 (and thus a “child”) to increase one’s likelihood of getting in. Yet another problem caused by not differentiating between children and teens.

        • Neurno says:

          Yes! There should definitely be more differentiation between the laws for protecting children versus teenagers. There’s a huge difference between 8 year olds needing asylum and 16 year olds!

    • John Schilling says:

      Taking in ten thousand refugees out of four million Syrian or eleven million total refugees worldwide, is pure signaling. Domestically, it’s an easy way to indicate your blue- or gray-tribe loyalty, and maybe for politicians in some districts to win votes. Internationally, I think taking in so few sends a mixed message of little effect, but I haven’t studied the issue and maybe someone somewhere is looking to see if the US takes in any at all. I doubt it.

      It helps those ten thousand Syrians, probably costs ten thousand Mexican immigrants their jobs, and is otherwise mostly harmless. Mexico being a better place to live than Syria and/or a refugee camp in Turkey, that’s probably a net gain. But it’s not effectively altruistic, or at least not efficiently altruistic – if helping the largest possible number out of a vastly larger pool of suffering humanity is your goal, think mosquito nets rather than transatlantic resettlement of refugees.

      More generally, the problem with resettling refugees on more than a temporary and local basis is that doing so at more than a token-signaling level results in ceding the disputed territory to the sort of people who caused the refugee crisis in the first place. Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat. The end state of that plan is about six billion people crowded into North America and Western Europe, and the rest of Earth given over to city-states ruled by tyrants and run by slaves who can’t or won’t escape, the spaces in between populated by tribes of barbarians who like living like Comanches but have AK-47s.

      This is intolerable, and won’t be tolerated. Long before such an outcome is reached, Western civilization will rediscover colonialism and go out with drones and nukes to reclaim the savage lands, or if it is no longer willing to get its hands dirty with that sort of thing, build walls and keep the outsiders firmly out. And if that’s the end state, then why bother with the intermediate state where we try to crowd non-token numbers of foreign refugees into your cities? Figure out whether you’re going ultimately to build walls or fight the savages, and have at it. If you’re going to fight the savages, it would be best to do it when the proto-refugees are still at home where they can help you build a civilized nation in place.

      W/re Syria, we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2011 and we didn’t, and we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2013 and we didn’t, and it would be vastly harder to do it now. So I’m guessing we’ll make token gestures at fighting ISIS and Assad, and token gestures at resettling refugees, and ultimately settle down to build walls. The Turks and the Europeans will do most of the actual wall-building, of course. If you want to talk about resettling ten thousand Syrians to the United States before the walls go up, go ahead and do so, but the largest number that will plausibly be accepted will do no harm worth mentioning and no good worth mentioning, except to make some Americans feel virtuous and other Americans feel afraid.

      • NN says:

        Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat.

        Are you sure about that? Because that doesn’t seem to be the case in the situation in question. Daesh has made extensive efforts to attempt to prevent refugees from fleeing its territory. Maybe that’s a strategic mistake, but I can think of some obvious motivations. For one, anyone living and working in Daesh’s territory provides it with tax revenue/protection money even if they don’t enlist. War is expensive, and if you drive out all of the productive people you will eventually find yourself unable to support your army.

        See also the Berlin Wall. That wasn’t what we typically think of as a war situation, but the principle is the same.

        As far as I can tell, the one time creating refugees might be an advantage would be if it was an ethnic conflict and the refugees were part of an enemy ethnic group, but in that case most of the refugees would probably flee to nearby territories controlled by their own group rather than attempting to flee the war zone entirely. So that seems like a separate issue.

        • John Schilling says:

          But see also the Mariel Boatlift, the Highland Clearances, the Expulsion of the Jews from half of Europe, and many other examples.

          Getting rid of dubiously loyal subjects makes a state absolutely weaker but relatively stronger. In the rare cases where a state faces an existential threat from the outside, it may want to hang on to (and forcefully oppress) such malcontents, but most threats to national security are internal rather than external. In those cases, the rational course of action is to encourage the unwanted minorities to leave if you can’t keep them solidly under control.

          And the Syrian Civil War is a largely ethnic conflict where the refugees are coming mostly from the ethnic groups on the losing sides. An awful lot of them are nonetheless trying to leave the war zone entirely.

      • Troy says:

        More generally, the problem with resettling refugees on more than a temporary and local basis is that doing so at more than a token-signaling level results in ceding the disputed territory to the sort of people who caused the refugee crisis in the first place. Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat.

        I agree that this is a concern. It seems that there is a conflict between short-term and long-term considerations here: in the short term it’s obviously better for the refugees to go to a safer place, in the long term it’s better for there to be people in a position to oppose and overthrow tyrannical governments.

        I suspect that the best course of action depends on the precise case. If a group is hellbent on genocide, it seems better to let the people being slaughtered take refuge elsewhere. If, however, a group is simply bent on conquest and dominance, then it may be better to leave the people they are oppressing there so that they can fight them.

        What this means for ISIS I don’t know: I don’t think their goal is genocide per se, but they are certainly much more willing and eager to use violence and killing on their political opponents than many tyrannical governments of the past.

      • multiheaded says:

        W/re Syria, we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2011 and we didn’t, and we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2013 and we didn’t

        http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/11/15/but-whos-counting/

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

      That sounds like a great reason to take in more refugees. Unless the argument is specifically about Muslim refugees, where taking in more christians would reduce the amount of muslims harbored.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The argument is specifically about Muslims, but we’re not allowed to say so. Honestly, I think that as long as the left persists in treating criticism of Islam as haram, it
        is pretty rational to respond with “ok, if we can’t address the root of the problem, we’ll just have to avoid the problem altogether. Keep Muslims out.” All the more nuanced approaches are already cut off.

        • NN says:

          The obvious problem with that is that there is no way to determine whether a refugee who claims to be a Christian is telling the truth or not. It’s not like Christians and Muslims have different blood types.

          • Emily says:

            Is it easier to determine who is legitimately in danger? These both rely on examining records and asking questions.

          • NN says:

            It seems like it is significantly easier to end up with no records available to prove your religion than it is to end up with no records available to prove that you are legitimately in danger.

            The only way to accurately verify someone’s religion would be to ask for records or testimony of church/mosque attendance or the like, and if you can’t contact the alleged place of worship due to, say, it being in the middle of a warzone, then there isn’t much you can do. And if the person in question is non-practicing or a recent convert, then all that person has is their word.

            There are presumably more ways to prove that you are legitimately in danger, though in a situation like Syria it is probably pretty easy to end up with no way of proving that either.

          • John Schilling says:

            Christianity involves a large and relatively cohesive body of shared knowledge; I am fairly certain a list of shibboleths could be compiled to provide fairly accurate discrimination over the course of an interview. You’d want to rotate through a large list with multiple questions per applicant, of course.

            Purely for the snark value, one of the shibboleths should be “do you know what a shibboleth is?” 🙂

            Edit for clarification: This is a thing that we can do with a moderate degree of success, not necessarily a thing that we should do. Neither the case for nor against are trivial.

          • Emily says:

            There are definitely other things that can give you information about what someone’s religion is – which in this case, is more about community and ethnic group, not personal beliefs or observance. Their name and where they are from (which you should have records for, or else you have bigger problems), what language they speak, and what information they have about their religious practices all are likely to carry some information. None of these are perfect, but they’re something. Israel has some expertise in this, including not just for screening people for citizenry, but also screening visitors (who they will have fewer records for.)

          • NN says:

            I have no doubt that you could devise a test that Christians would be more likely to pass than Muslims. I don’t see any possible way of devising a test that could reliably screen out determined fakers (which any terrorist infiltrators would be) and wouldn’t also keep out lots of real but not particularly knowledgeable Christians.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Many Muslim countries have citizens register their religion. I’m not sure if Syria is one, but it looks probable.

            Either way, we already routinely collect information on the religious background of refugees; it’s often highly relevant to determining whether or not they are actually under threat.

          • Troy says:

            The obvious problem with that is that there is no way to determine whether a refugee who claims to be a Christian is telling the truth or not.

            Offer them pork?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see any possible way of devising a test that could reliably screen out determined fakers (which any terrorist infiltrators would be)

            Determined, yes, but for this you also need skill. And convincingly faking membership in an alien culture is a skill most people don’t have and aren’t going to learn any time soon.

            Being able to teach other people this skill, is even rarer and it’s not clear that ISIS has a whole lot of qualified instructors.

            and wouldn’t also keep out lots of real but not particularly knowledgeable Christians.

            If we’re talking about accepting only 10,000 Syrian refugees, that’s not a problem. We can have a 90% false positive rate and still fill that quota. And keep in mind, we aren’t talking about academic knowledge here, but the actual practice of Christianity by lay Christians in the field. Academic knowledge would be too easy to fake.

          • NN says:

            Determined, yes, but for this you also need skill. And convincingly faking membership in an alien culture is a skill most people don’t have and aren’t going to learn any time soon.

            Being able to teach other people this skill, is even rarer and it’s not clear that ISIS has a whole lot of qualified instructors.

            —-

            And keep in mind, we aren’t talking about academic knowledge here, but the actual practice of Christianity by lay Christians in the field. Academic knowledge would be too easy to fake.

            To me, it seems likely that Syrian Muslims, who have lived in Syria all their lives and may well have had frequent interactions with local Christians before the war, would have a much better grasp on the finer points of Syrian Eastern Orthodox Christian culture than anyone the US government could find to devise and run a test like this.

            As an analogy, imagine that a second Civil War happened in America and for some reason China decided to start a refugee program that would only let in Jewish refugees. Because the circumstances left many refugees without access to records that could prove their religion, this program would require the Chinese government to develop a test that could reliably tell apart American Jews and American Gentiles pretending to be American Jews. How good a job would you expect them to do?

            For the record, there are about 800,000 Orthodox Christians who at least semi-regularly attend services in the US, 480,000 of those are Greek, and most of the rest are from other Eastern European countries. Only about 75,000 of them are members of the Antioch church, and I would guess that most of those are Lebanese. With a population that small, I wouldn’t be confident in being able to find someone who is both qualified and willing to help the US government design a test like this.

            This isn’t even touching the issue of what to do with someone who claims to be a recent convert.

          • John Schilling says:

            @NN: Do you believe you could talk your way to birthright Israeli citizenship on the grounds that you have friends who are Jews and live in a country with a non-trivial minority of Jews such that there is no way a government thousands of miles away could understand American Judaism[*] better than you do?

            There’s too much tacit knowledge that you really only get by actually participating in the culture of a religion, inside the walls of its churches or synagogues or whatever. Stuff that isn’t written down in scripture or catechism, and doesn’t come up in conversation with outsiders – not because anyone is trying to keep it secret, but because everyone knows that only insiders have the cultural context to understand or care. And there are 80,000 or so Syrian Orthodox Christians living in the United States, many of them first-generation immigrants, that we can ask about this sort of thing if we care to do so. Even hire some of them to do the final screening if we like.

            [*] I’m guessing you are a Non-Jewish American, but if not we can tweak the analogy appropriately.

      • ydirbut says:

        Isn’t that (only accepting christian refugees) a thing?

        • HlynkaCG says:

          Accepting Christian refugees over Muslims is not an option due to the risk of being branded racist / ismaliphobic.

    • Sastan says:

      There have been a range of Republican actions and statements, most of them of course grossly misrepresented by the media and the president.

      My governor is a Republican with a very pro-immigrant record, who ordered a pause in refugee resettlement until the federal government could provide some information about how they were vetting the refugees. The feds told him to fuck himself, they don’t have to explain shit to nobody, and then the president went on TV and called him a xenophobe and a coward. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request, but that’s probably my rampant misogyny.

      As to the refugees themselves, I’m not terribly worried about the first generation. The vetting process will probably screen most of the obvious threats out. The real problem is what happens with the second and third generations. With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

      • Troy says:

        My governor is a Republican with a very pro-immigrant record, who ordered a pause in refugee resettlement until the federal government could provide some information about how they were vetting the refugees. The feds told him to fuck himself, they don’t have to explain shit to nobody, and then the president went on TV and called him a xenophobe and a coward.

        I don’t doubt that the media have misrepresented what’s gone on, but this doesn’t exactly read like an unbiased description itself.

        If I were to play Obama’s advocate, I might point out that information on the refugee screening process is publicly available, and that that information makes clear that the screening process is already quite intensive. It’s thus not clear what a request for information is supposed to achieve (unless the governor had questions about particular points not publicly available).

        As to the refugees themselves, I’m not terribly worried about the first generation. The vetting process will probably screen most of the obvious threats out. The real problem is what happens with the second and third generations. With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

        I agree that this is a concern. I don’t know all the reasons that the Somalis in Minnesota have been particularly bad, but if I were to bet I’d bet on Syrian refugees integrating more like the Lebanese than the Somalis. They are much closer, genetically and culturally, both to white Americans and to groups that have successfully integrated in the past.

        I wonder if Somalis have integrated so poorly in Minnesota partly because of progressive policies there affecting, e.g., the ability of teachers to discipline schoolchildren, but that is basically just pure speculation on my part.

      • Haltingthoughts says:

        You are looking at a value of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to the average immigrant. I’d be very surprised if damages from radicalized Somalis is anywhere close to that value even not accounting for the likelihood of them being radicalized in Somalia.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          That still makes immigrants from countries we don’t have to worry about radicalization better bets; anyone up for half a million Congolese?

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            No it doesnt. I just said radicalization was negligible. In that case the most relevant concern is which immigrants benefit the most. Syrian refugees seem like a good candidate for that distinction.

          • Samuel Skinner says:


            The Second Congo war killed 5.4 million people. I’m not sure how ‘worst war since World War 2’ can be beaten for ‘refugees that can benefit the most’.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Samuel Skinner

            My thoughts exactly.

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Whoops, didn’t do my research. Well then yes, that would be entirely reasonable.

            The main point is that people in favor or refugees are in favor of more refugees and more immigrants in general and are seizing the topical nature of the Syrian refugees to do so. You’re being demanding way too much rigor to demand that they select the most deserving immigrants.

      • NN says:

        With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

        I would put money on Syrians turning out more like the Lebanese than the Somalis. Not only are Syrians much closer culturally to Lebanese than to Somalis, but many Lebanese immigrants were themselves refugees fleeing from a bloody sectarian civil war.

    • NN says:

      – The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

      Most Syrian refugees are fleeing the Assad regime, not ISIS. Assad has a much more powerful military than ISIS, so one could argue that it is actually Sunni Muslims who are most in need of help.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Most Syrian refugees are fleeing the Assad regime, not ISIS.

        If true, that’s all the more reason not to let them in; Assad is about the only real bulwark against ISIS in Syria. If Assad wants them dead, then there’s a good chance they are ISIS, or at least ISIS sympathizers. Of course, Assad is a dictator so it’s possible they did something else unrelated to piss him off, but I don’t think we should be taking that chance with Western lives.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          ISIS wasn’t one of the original factions against Assad. They only entered after the civil war started. The odds that a refugee is an ISIS sympathizer is low (since they can simply escape east to join ISIS).

          • John Schilling says:

            The legitimate concerns are not with ISIS “sympathizers” among the actual refugees.

            The short-term legitimate concern is with actual ISIS agents pretending to be refugees as a way to gain access to soft targets in the West. Take a six-month training course in urban terrorism with a western culture minor, show up in Europe saying “help, help, I’m being repressed!”, and use your shiny new residency papers and government stipend to set up the next Paris attack. Yes, these people could simply escape to the East and join ISIS. Maybe they did that six months ago. Now ISIS wants them in Paris.

            The long-term legitimate concern is that non-ISIS-sympathizing Syrian refugees make their way to Europe or America, can’t manage to fit in, and form an isolated and impoverished ethnic subculture whose sons will be ready to sympathize with whoever offers them a life with more meaning than “guy who starves in the gutters of paradise”. ISIS will probably be gone by then, but will have successors.

            Both of these are I think small but significant threats in Europe, and trivial in the United States. Europe, ISIS agents can walk to and once they are across the border with any reasonably-plausible story of repression pretty much can’t be evicted. To reach the United States as refugees, they have to convince skeptical US government officials of their sincerity before they’re allowed on the plane. And if they do make it to the US, they’ll be joining a well-established Syrian-American community substantially larger than any refugee population we are likely to admit, which should help with the assimilation.

          • @John Schilling:

            Wouldn’t it be a lot less trouble for your hypothetical terrorist, after his training course, to be provided with a forged or stolen passport from some reputable western country and to show up in Europe (or the U.S.) as a tourist? Why go to all the trouble of pretending to be a refugee?

          • John Schilling says:

            Wouldn’t it be a lot less trouble for your hypothetical terrorist … to be provided with a forged or stolen passport from some reputable western country?

            The Twentieth Century is over. Obtaining fraudulent passports from first-world nations that will pass first-world border checkpoints is now difficult enough that even national intelligence agencies are having problems with it. Israel, for example, has to ask sympathetic Jews in foreign countries if it can borrow their passports for a while so that Mossad agents can pretend to be foreigners. And with biometric data now both encoded in the passport and linked to a central database, even that’s not exactly easy.

            If there’s a mechanism where telling a sob story at a refugee camp gets you a passport-equivalent document, or where freshly-issued Syrian passports are accepted for travel to the United States even though nobody can check with the Syrian government to verify the data, it gets quite a bit easier. The refugee path isn’t the only way by which ISIS and company can infiltrate Western nations, but there isn’t any alternative so compellingly superior that we can discount this one as a significant added threat. The days when a few hundred francs to Mr. Ugarte over at Rick’s Place would get you letters of transit to America, are over and done.

          • @John Schilling:

            A quick google found some data on the cost of stolen passports. The most expensive is Danish, for a bit over four thousand dollars.

            “The top price for a U.S. passport is $2,057, making it the 13th most expensive. The low-ball price for a U.S. passport is one of the least expensive at $938.”

            Do you think that represents a significant barrier to a terrorist organization?

            http://www.vocativ.com/news/241487/fake-passport-prices-black-market/

            Do you have a different source showing a much higher price?

          • John Schilling says:

            The cost of the stolen Danish passport is a minor problem. The part where the fingerprints of the terrorist carrying the passport don’t match the fingerprints encoded on the passport is a bigger problem. The part where, when the passport is scanned at any first-world border crossing, a flashing red warning screen alerts the customs official that the passport was reported stolen last week (and/or that the holder was reported killed in a back alley in Istanbul), is a huge problem. And even if you’re quick enough to beat the theft report, the police are still going to start looking for you (with your photo, fingerprints, port of entry and last known alias) as soon as the theft report enters the database.

            Stolen passports are for entering less developed or security-conscious countries, or for checking into hotels etc in first-world countries. They are no longer a reliable way of entering first-world countries.

            Fraudulent passports that have been properly entered into the databases, e.g. by suborned government officials, work better, but those start in the five figures if you can find them at all. And if no fraudulent passport from that source has yet been compromised. The few organized criminal groups that can procure them, have obvious reasons not to sell to terrorists. The many people in the forged- or stolen-passport business, have obvious reasons to misrepresent their wares as the really good stuff.

            There are other options, but since 9/11 none of them have been cheap, easy, and reliable. Again, the CIA is having trouble securing reliable paper for its NOC agents. Mossad is having trouble with this. I’m not sure this is a good thing – where you favor open borders I’d prefer semi-permeable ones – but it is a thing. First-world governments are now capable of closing borders quite effectively when they want to.

        • NN says:

          Also, while Assad is unquestionably far less of a threat to the West than ISIS, it is inaccurate to say that he is Syria’s only bulwark against ISIS.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Regarding the ‘children of refugees’ question, blocking refugees would be useless unless you also block all Sunni Muslims if that’s true. A Syrian refugee’s kid isn’t more a risk than a Saudi economic migrant’s.

      • Troy says:

        A Syrian refugee’s kid isn’t more a risk than a Saudi economic migrant’s.

        There are likely correlations between, e.g., socioeconomic class and radicalization. In general refugees will be poorer than other immigrants.

        • keranih says:

          I’m not sure this follows…economic migrants are the people who are not doing well in their home country. Political refugees are those who can command enough money to move.

          Which would be more likely to become disaffected and commit violence is less easily answered, I think.

          • Troy says:

            It likely depends on the destination country and country of origin. I was thinking of immigrants to America; Saudis aren’t flocking over our border illegally like Mexicans are. If they want to come here to seek a better life they have to be reasonably well off to begin with in order to get over here.

            Point taken, however, with respect to Middle Eastern economic migrants flocking into Europe.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There may be a correlation between socioeconomic class and violent crime, but is there a correlation between socioeconomic class and radicalization? There are plenty of middle- and upper-class terrorists.

  40. Neurno says:

    Orthogonal political orientations: Towards a development of a Rationality Party Platform
    (note: please taboo all extant political parties/figures/platforms and discuss only specific issues and their merits. The point is to develop well-founded empirical evidence-based opinions on under-discussed issues.)

    Plank 1: More public funding for fission research.
    -Focusing on reducing externalities (cost of structures, risks, danger and quantity of waste produced, cost of storing/disposing of waste, inefficiency of delivery)
    Premise: Although it is theoretically possible to substantially redesign fission reactors to have decreased externalities and possibly to harness fuels like thorium, relatively little public research has been done on this issue.
    Premise: Fossil fuels are limited and have many pollution issues (esp. air pollution leading to lung cancer downwind, and global warming contributions), and have better uses to which they can be put (e.g. synthesizing plastic)
    Premise: much funding and scientific effort has gone into Fusion research with no pay off so far, making it seem like a dead-end for at least the near future (until some significant breakthrough in physics, or development of large expensive space-based facilities).
    Premise: Wind and solar have drawbacks and do not seem to offer a sufficient supply of power for humanity given costs of production, rare elements required that are in limited supply, etc. and given the assumption of substantially growing power-needs in a well-developed future world (e.g. all nations being 1st world nations).

    Plank 2: Pre-registration of all publicly funded scientific studies
    Premise: The scientific benefits would be huge: p-hacking is currently a really problematic issue in the life sciences (biology/neuroscience/psychology) and can most effectively be addressed by requiring scientists to preregister planned experiments (with and report their findings whether positive or negative instead of only when positive. Negative reports could be shorter in length, and need not be published in a specific journal, but must be publically available, precisely describe methods used, and be web-searchable so that meta-analyses may use them.
    Premise: The additional costs of this policy would be small, as would the additional burden on scientists.

    Plank 3: More public funding (direct support and medical research emphasis) for early-development humans (pre-conception to age 4 or 5).
    Premise: Average IQ and average mental health are very important factors for the well-being / success of a society.
    Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own
    by Garett Jones Link: http://amzn.com/B015PS7DBK
    Premise: Based on the current scientific understanding of human brain development, factors such as the health of the originating eggs and sperm, the womb environment, and the social/physical environment early developmental years are vastly disproportionately important for the eventual maximization of IQ and mental health potential of the resulting human (within the potentials/limitations of their genes).
    Premise: Funding for improvement of health/intelligence/well-being of people in society should be distributed where it can be expected to have maximal effect, and thus the bulk of the research and monetary focus should be on at-risk fetuses and infants rather than elementary-school-age children, teenagers, or adults.

    Plank 4: All political debates should have politically-neutral subtitles describing argumentative fallacies and fact-checking all factual statements (expressed or implied). For example: Clearer thinking’s subtitling of the debates. http://www.clearerthinking.org/#!the-2016-presidential-debates–subtitled/wt7g0

    • Vaniver says:

      Plank 1: More public funding for fission research.

      Fission research? What we really need is the moral / legal authority to incentivize fission plants correctly relative to coal plants (i.e. tax coal plants correctly for their exhaust, and I’m not talking about the carbon component). Right now fission’s externalities are correctly priced but other power production isn’t (and thus is implicitly subsidized).

      That is, yes, we could have even nicer fission plants. But we could also have even nicer coal plants. We need to cut at the root of the problem and correct distortions that make coal look better than fission, at which point research into superior fission will happen naturally.

      Plank 4: All political debates should have politically-neutral subtitles describing argumentative fallacies and fact-checking all factual statements (expressed or implied).

      This does not seem safe to trust the government to do.

      • Murphy says:

        “at which point research into superior fission will happen naturally.”

        Debatable. Similar to fusion the costs are so massive to build test reactors that few companies are going to be willing to invest the billions needed because any one company cannot really eat that kind of risk.

        • Vaniver says:

          Debatable. Similar to fusion the costs are so massive to build test reactors that few companies are going to be willing to invest the billions needed because any one company cannot really eat that kind of risk.

          This works in the semiconductor industry, with a similar cost profile and (I would argue) more risk. If companies decide that they can’t shoulder the risk alone, they make consortiums, like Sematech. (When companies don’t make such consortiums, it’s typically because of antitrust regulation concerns.)

          The trouble with tokamak fusion designs are that we know they won’t work, but they’re maddeningly close to maybe able to work, if you have hope and squint. They’re also why I’m very pessimistic about government funding into nuclear research: it’s done a miserable job over the last thirty years.

          I’m moderately surprised no Musk-esque figure has funded the Polywell yet.

          • Murphy says:

            Semiconductor research takes cash but it tends to involve lots of small projects and less monolithic ones. Funding a half dozen phd’s in materials science can have a very reasonable incremental payoff in semiconductors.

            In fusion you don’t get any notable payoff until there’s a working fusion reactor.

            I remember a while back seeing an interesting analysis in reference to predictions scientists made in the 70’s about fusion. All those “50 years away” quotes people like to mock.

            but they made the very good point that if you treat it as a statement of “50 years away at current funding levels” then look at the real timeline adjusted to billions of dollars spend then a lot of the predictions of the 70’s were remarkable accurate.

            So I wonder if to some extent, when it comes to research like this, as long as somebody ponies up the billions the research will happen at a rate largely controlled by the flow of cash rather than passage of time.

          • Vaniver says:

            Murphy, ITER cost $14B total. That’s actually about the same amount spent on EUV development, a similar future tech that has turned out to not work as well as expected (and which has had loud and prescient detractors). It’s about 6 months of R&D spending by the top 10 semiconductor manufacturers, and 3 months of all semiconductor.

            Semiconductor projects are not less monolithic; everything has to work with everything else, and if you build to a spec that people don’t use, your work is useless, even if your lab only had half a dozen PhDs working in it.

          • Murphy says:

            Yes but even if EUV development isn’t 100% successful the research still yields useful info which gives companies involved some market advantages. You may not get to go to 10nm when you wanted to but the knowledge yielded can still make your next generation of chips slightly more competitive. Returns can be incremental and getting less of a return than you expected isn’t so bad vs getting no return at all.

            Fusion research on the other hand rarely really helps energy companies run their existing fission and coal plants better.

            That 14 billion is only a tiny fraction of total fusion research spending and until they get all the way to being able to build a working plant there’s little in the way of payoffs. Even worse, the payoff can be more than 20 years away meaning that any patents involved will have expired so whoever invested the money gets no returns.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @murphy But in fission research, which is the actual topic, funding a half dozen PhDs can get you notable results in the same manner. Moreso going off what Vaniver is saying. I mean, if your goal is moving straight to production molten thorium reactors we’re a long way away from that. but we don’t need it right now either (except maybe as something to give people we don’t want having uranium enrichment facilities). There’s ton’s of incremental progress to be made figuring out if a new material is nuclear suitable or if x process can be replaced with y process safely (and for 1/10th the cost). Looking up the budget breakdown for Sandia National Labs 20m goes directly to nuclear and another 45m to energy efficiency projects that are sometimes nuclear, and they get usable results all the time.

            @Vanivier the Polywell, at least in forms that could reasonably be funded right now, isn’t actually a solution. Most of the cost of the fission plants we have now is in the power converter, thermal fusion will require an even more expensive power converter. Direct conversion options are a different story, but nobody has as far as I know laid down a realistic plan to get He3-He3 or proton-boron11 reactors going even at the garage scale. Musk types presumably have at some point been confronted with this aspect of nuclear economics.

      • science says:

        The situation around insurance for fission plants makes me quibble with your externalities are priced correctly point. Ditto for waste disposal and decommissioning generally.

        Agreed though that the situation with coal is far worse.

      • Neurno says:

        I’m in agreement that changing the unfair coal/gas incentives to make nuclear be less unequally persecuted would also be a good solution. I just thought that that would be harder to get past the fossil fuel private interest groups. I figured public funding for fission research would be less controversial because it lowers barriers to nuclear development (i.e. the research has been done to reduce the externalities) without triggering the NIMBY backlash that has been such a problem for nuclear power (because nonspecific to location) or triggering significant opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

        As to plank 4: good point. Still, it might be possible to have some different branch of government oversee it?

    • Neurno says:

      Thanks for contributing! I think in a throwing-around-ideas context like this there’s no reason to censor oneself based on imagined political feasibility of good ideas. I’m now going to research the concepts you’ve referenced that I don’t understand yet to see if I agree.

      Planks 6,6a,9: I’ve had similar thoughts and I’m in agreement!
      Plank 9a: nice addition to 9! Hadn’t occurred to me before, but I like it. And seems a fitting general principle for dealing with assumably-deliberate false accusations of fine-worthy crimes.

    • Deiseach says:

      Plank 6a: the only legal records retention policy for a corporations/501cXs is “all records must be retained. forever.” Storage is cheap.

      Not when it’s “typed out on a manual typewriter and carbon copy with actual carbon paper” from thirty-forty years ago, it isn’t. Our council archivist is currently tearing out her hair because of all the files shoved into boxes and landed in to her for archiving after the amalgamation and musical chairs type change of departments and bodies in the council.

      We have a lot of stuff on paper in physical files and if by “storage is cheap”, you mean something like “everything digitised and in the cloud” then some poor bugger is going to have to sit down and digitise forty years’ worth of records, which is not going to be fast, cheap or easy.

      Even today not everything is done online, though that will change in future (even a dinosaur like myself can recognise that).

      A new startup that is only in existence six months? Yeah, everything is digital.

      A long-established law firm, bank or other entity? Decades’ worth of paper that you can’t just dump because there’s deeds, wills, contracts, etc. there.

      Plank 9: “Orphan works” shall enter the public domain. Copyright can only be maintained by someone other than the original creator only by paying an annual filing fee, which increases by 50% each year.

      What about if the original creator wants to sign over one of their works to another party for charitable purposes, like J.M. Barry did with Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital?

      Under Plank 9, I could see all the profits being eaten up by filing fees instead of going to charitable purposes.

      And of course, that would mean no barrier to making “Tinkerbell Does Neverland” type movies and books (though that probably isn’t a barrier now either) 🙂

    • The Nybbler says:

      To plank 6a: Storage is cheap. Lawsuits aren’t. Someone — an actual person or persons — is going to have to go through all those records to see if they are relevant during the discovery phase of every lawsuit. That gets real expensive real fast, and is one of the reasons for retention policies.

    • Chalid says:

      6 would mean disclosing all kinds of proprietary/competitive data and would put any such corporation at a big disadvantage.

    • Haltingthoughts says:

      Excellent proposals.

      There was a PDF from a retired judge had a very good treatment of issues with criminal justice, not sure where it went.

      Plank 8b: in lieu of a improper prosecution suit or a lack of one there is a private right of criminal charges.

      Plank 8c: experts providing instruction relevant to interpretation of evidence shall be permitted. (Oftentimes calling experts on Bayesian reasoning for evidence are not allowed)

      Plank 8d: what can be done about sovereign immunity?

      Plank 8e: relax standing requirements for at least constitutional challenges if not more.

      Plank 8f: require discovery of all evidence and prosecute those not adhering to it.

      Plank 8g: require courts to decide all required questions. (It is crazy that sexual orientation has not been clearly defined as a suspect class yet).

    • Chalid says:

      Most of the standard boring good-government checklist ought to apply here. Tax reform and simplification, more high-skill immigration, reform social programs to minimize disincentives, reduce corporate/agricultural subsidies including tax expenditures, roll back the drug war’s worst excesses, patent reform, etc.

      More rationality-oriented additions might be issuing prizes instead of patents, encouragement of predictions markets, and increased funding for basic research.

      • Neurno says:

        Yes, those seem like worthy but boring additions. I guiltily confess I was hoping for more new/weird/exciting ideas.
        I like the prizes instead of parents idea. I’d heard of it in context of chasing specific scientific or engineering goals, but not yet heard of it suggested as a complete replacement for the faulty patent system.

        I had also wanted to say something about encouragement of prediction markets and/or their incorporation into political governance, but found myself stumbling over the details every time I tried to imagine the specifics.

        • Psmith says:

          “I guiltily confess I was hoping for more new/weird/exciting ideas.”

          Vote on values, bet on beliefs!

        • Chalid says:

          I don’t really know how it would work either but trying them in small limited contexts on an experimental basis seems like a worthy first step. You could forecast demand for a particular program and compare it to whatever the usual predictive procedure is.

    • Murphy says:

      Hmm. My problem with 6a is that it get’s more and more expensive over time and storage is only cheap on the small scale. Your little 4 TB drive is cheap. A multi-petabyte array in a datacentre is not cheap at all.

      There are companies that are hundreds of years old. They get put at a significant competitive disadvantage.

      What about file formats and readers? There’s archive material from the 70’s which is incredibly hard to read nowadays because the machines to read it are mostly gone. Does a company have to spend a fortune every 15 years on copying all their backup tapes to newer formats?

      What about backups? If a company has 2 copies of tapes from 70 years ago archived in separate locations and one burns down do they then have to spend a fortune reading and copying all that old archive data to make a new second backup location.

      I agree that the current 7 years or similar is far too short for many things but I’m not sure “forever” is practical either.

      • Neurno says:

        Hmm, but if the data is properly compressed/simplified (i.e. text files not PDFs), then storage of data of the same scope as pre-digital data shouldn’t be a problem. I mean, there’s room for entire libraries worth of compressed text data on the little 8gb flash memory chip I carry on my keychain…. I think you may be getting thrown off by the fact that digital data has allowed companies to store far more total information than they ever did on dead tree media.

    • Neurno says:

      Made a google doc for further elaboration if anyone is interested. Maybe a wiki of some sort would be fun?
      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_S0USdcHH4uOP5UVmznp8Ntk5m_eJVRHQScDeOVpyVk/edit?usp=sharing

  41. Jiro says:

    1. The subreddit is still around and will host parallel open threads. Those of you who don’t like the commenting system here can go there and either post on the open thread or start a new topic.

    The problem, or at least one problem, with the subreddit is that it’s really hard to find new comments in it. You can sort by date which will give you new top-level comments, but there’s no way to get new comments including replies. One person comments that reddit gold will highlight them green, but reddit gold is a pay service (and even then, you couldn’t search on green like you can search on ~new here.)

    • Emily says:

      You might like the Reddit Enhancement Suite.

    • jnicholas says:

      Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Reddit New Comment Highlighter extension for Chrome are the best response I know of for this real drawback. It won’t let you navigate by new comments, but it will highlight new comments in a thread in the way that Reddit Gold does.

  42. Murphy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this article a little:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/nc/newcombs_problem_and_regret_of_rationality/

    The idea that it should be possible to construct a decision theory which wins in all cases.

    But to me it seems obvious that it’s equivalent to the halting problem.

    Sketching some rough thoughts.

    Consider your particular decision theory as a black box function or set of rules F which take the description of a situation P and outputs a 1 or a zero, yes or no and one of those answers wins, the other loses.

    F(P)

    You want a decision theory, some set of rules to follow F which wins in all situation.

    But for all F it’s possible to construct a situation P “The winning situation is !F(P)”, feeding F into itself. (or a simplified equivalent)

    No matter what set of rules you include in your decision theory it cannot win in all cases. Ever.

    So why all the fuss about it on lesswrong?

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      Win in all reasonable cases. If the game is set up so you can’t win, then so be it.

      • Murphy says:

        To a great extent Newcomb’s problem and some of the variants which include any form of agent who can predict you or plays a “what you would have done” game are simply disguised self references to your “program” and TDT simply handles a single level of self reference slightly better in some cases.

        Counterfactual mugging dressed the self reference to your “program” up as a [would give you x if your program P chooses to lose in some subset of scenarios]

        http://lesswrong.com/lw/3l/counterfactual_mugging/

        But then saying “we only win in reasonable cases” harks back to EY’s “Don’t lose reasonably, WIN.”

        Though I’m saying that it’s simply literally impossible to come up with a set of rules which satisfy EY’s “Don’t lose reasonably, WIN.”

        Nobody seems to have mentioned this impossibility on lesswrong despite spilling much ink so I’m wondering if I should submit a short discussion article.

        • rsq says:

          I think this is a key insight. There is probably a formulation of Newcomb’s problem’s that is halting-hard; its reference to something that perfectly understands you feels so Rice’s Theorem-y.

        • Jiro says:

          Nobody seems to have mentioned this impossibility on lesswrong despite spilling much ink so I’m wondering if I should submit a short discussion article.

          I have mentioned it at times.

          I seem to be the only one, however. Having a particular answer to Newcomb’s problem seems to have become LW dogma just like many worlds, genielike unfriendly AI, and effective altruism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m not following the last two; genie is one of the unfriendly outcomes they list and effective altruism just means ‘spend money the most efficient way possible. The actual meat of the EA may veer into dogma, but I’m not seeing how the idea itself is.

          • Jiro says:

            For AI I was referring to the LW idea that if you create an AI and program it to do X, it is highly likely to interpret X in a literal way. Not everyone actually believes this!

            As for EA, it seems to me that although EA itself did arise independently of LW, LW support for EA grew from AI risk prevention. LW tries to sell the idea that you should donate lots of money to maximize utility, and you can best maximize utility by preventing rogue AI. If you spread that idea, you’ll get some people who believe the whole thing, and some people who just believe the maximize utility part, so selling AI risk prevention will have the side effect of spreading EA.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “For AI I was referring to the LW idea that if you create an AI and program it to do X, it is highly likely to interpret X in a literal way. Not everyone actually believes this!”

            That isn’t the genie. The genie is when an AI knows your preferences, but doesn’t care.

            EA doesn’t fit since it relies on reproducible results to compare charities; less wrong doesn’t get on their tables.

          • Jiro says:

            The genie is when an AI knows your preferences, but doesn’t care.

            It counts as LW dogma because pretty much the only people who believe it’s a threat are on LW or spun off from LW.

            EA doesn’t fit since it relies on reproducible results to compare charities; less wrong doesn’t get on their tables.

            It’s a side effect. LW tries to get people to donate huge amounts to stop AI risks. The arguments for donating to EA (shut up and calculate, maximize utility) are basically the same as the arguments for donating to stop AI risk, except without the AI-. So pressing people to donate to SI has the side effect that people who only believe 95% of what you’re saying will donate to EA instead.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “It counts as LW dogma because pretty much the only people who believe it’s a threat are on LW or spun off from LW.”

            I’m not parsing your statement. Are you saying a genie AI wouldn’t be dangerous? Or are you saying that only Less Wrong thinks it is possible to make a genie AI?

            I’m also not sure how you can say ‘the only people’; do you mean to say no one has ever believed that an individual could know what you want and not care?

            “It’s a side effect. LW tries to get people to donate huge amounts to stop AI risks. The arguments for donating to EA (shut up and calculate, maximize utility) are basically the same as the arguments for donating to stop AI risk, except without the AI-. So pressing people to donate to SI has the side effect that people who only believe 95% of what you’re saying will donate to EA instead.”

            Not the same at all. EA depends on measurable results- without them there is no calculation. People on less wrong believe 1) AI is a dangerous issue, but they also need to believe 2) the SI institute can help solve it, 3) the SI institute is uniquely capable of solving it and 4) this is a problem that gets easier with additional people. Otherwise simply donating to Google’s AI department is a better choice.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m not parsing your statement.

            I am saying that the belief in genielike AI as a serious existential threat is pretty much limited to LW and people surrounding LW. Professionals in the field (and most nonprofessionals) do not consider such a thing a serious threat.

            People on less wrong believe 1) AI is a dangerous issue, but they also need to believe…

            People on LW who believe the arguments given for donation in general, but not the arguments specifically about AI, would end up becoming EAs instead. If your point is that the arguments for donation in general are less than 95% of the whole thing, then sure–“95%” is a figure of speech, not a literal percentage.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I am saying that the belief in genielike AI as a serious existential threat is pretty much limited to LW and people surrounding LW. Professionals in the field (and most nonprofessionals) do not consider such a thing a serious threat.”

            — Are you saying a genie AI wouldn’t be dangerous? Or are you saying that only Less Wrong thinks it is possible to make a genie AI?—

            Answer the question. Your statement is impossible to parse because you are being incredibly unclear; I already pointed out how broad the term genie AI is.

            “People on LW who believe the arguments given for donation in general, but not the arguments specifically about AI, would end up becoming EAs instead.”

            Because Less Wrong requires you to give them money to be a member?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yes, it seems likely there’s some sort of no-free-lunch-style theorem in decision theory. But no-free-lunch theorems are often not great guides to the real world, where McDonalds has a dollar menu and you can get your lunch cheap enough if you know where to look.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ suntzuanime
        “But no-free-lunch theorems are often not great guides to the real world”

        Especially if ‘no free riders’ is used interchaneably with ‘no free lunch’.

        A ‘free lunch’ costs someone, and usually the eater pays in some worse way (what you save in lunch you lose in the slot machine). A ‘free rider’ is a hobo hiding on a freight train, which effectively costs nobody anything.

        Focusing on keeping the hobo off is a waste of money, to say the least.

    • SextimusSeverus says:

      You can modify the Newcomb’s problem so that TDT loses to standard decision theory. You only need to have Omega fill the second box iff TDT mandates only taking the second box.

      Such game is equivalent to original Newcomb for TDT players, so they one-box and get 1M$. SDT players will two-box and net an extra thousand dollars. If you are so smart, why are you slightly less rich than me?

      The TDT-buster Omega doesn’t even have to read minds or predict future. He only has to be able to implement Timeless Decision Theory. This game can be run right now, w/o anyone having to construct any cyber-gods.

  43. Julie K says:

    Any recommendations for an online coding school/bootcamp?
    In particular, one that would be suitable for someone who may have ADD?

  44. Shit for Brians says:

    I have a problem with Reddit comments, and I haven’t seen anyone else articulate this. I’m not sure if it’s just me or that nobody has thought about it:

    To comment on Reddit you have to sign up. OK, we all know that. But the problem with signing up isn’t that it’s inconvenient, it’s that once you have a Reddit account you become addicted to Reddit. (Or at least a lot of people do. I do, anyway.)

    I had a Reddit account twice (two non-consecutive times) and both times I decided to cancel my account after I realized I was spending WAY too much time there. Reddit has threads on just about every damn subject. After a while you discover yourself thinking about what threads are out there that you could read or post on. You do this even when you’re nowhere near a computer. (Or at least I do.) At that point, Reddit has rewired your brain in a way you never asked it to.

    I don’t want a Redditor’s brain.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I have articulated this problem also.

      Years ago, I decided to keep several internet identities instead of just one. FMR is a handle I only use on SSC. As we both know, scott moved the OT comments to reddit last week. I decided to give in and reregister an account, despite the dangers of the siren that is Reddit. But instead of subscribing to all the interesting subs again, I only subbed to SSC for the OT’s. And I recycled the FMR handle. So in the future, if I want to sub to all the interesting subs, I can make a second account under a different handle. And in the meantime, the FMR handle will remain dedicated to SSC OT’s.

      Maybe this doesn’t mute the effect for you. But personally, I don’t feel compelled to check Reddit every 5 seconds given my front page only contains links from a single sub.

      Relevent Matt Might post: productivity hack: cripple your technology.

  45. Vaniver says:

    Speaking of Boston, how about that Fallout 4?

    • It captures the feel of the city/area very well, though the geography is pretty compressed.

    • DrBeat says:

      Hot damn, son! It’s better than I could have hoped. I, like most everyone, was apprehensive about removing skills meaning it wouldn’t be an RPG any more, but I was wrong. I’m always an advocate of “know what you are doing, and build it to be good at doing that”, and the new system does that much better than any previous Fallout title.

      The amount of detail put into the world is amazing, the number of things my companions will comment on just blows my goddamn mind. Not only do the companions have a huge number of unique lines for different areas, but the way they interact with NPCs and the world is amazing. NPCs in FO3 and NV would stop you and give you rewards for having high or low karma — in this game, they do that to Preston, thanking him for all the work the Minutemen do. Piper will excuse herself in major settlements to go perform interviews with people. There’s (allegedly, I didn’t see this one) some raiders who will stop attacking you when they see you have Nick Valentine and talk about how what he does is too important for them to try and kill him. Learning your companions’ story is just as much of a reward for adventuring with them as the unique loyalty perks you unlock, though I wish when you got max loyalty they unlocked something for their own performance, so you felt less like you were missing out by continuing to run with them after you got their perk.

      It pulls off “morally grey factions” much better than New Vegas did, because the evil side can present a compelling and coherent argument for their worldview. And there are some great moments in the dialogue as the main quest nears its end, highly emotional decisions for your character. Unfortunately, the rest of the game leading up to that is sort of lacking in meaningful dialogue choices, and the conversation-wheel approach of summarizing everything to the type of statement it is makes it feel even more samey. You can’t define your character the same way you could in New Vegas or FO3, even as they give you better and more well-defined reasons and means of siding with the antagonists. And settlement building is fun but gets super frustrating very quickly as you can’t track what settlers are doing what job, and there’s no snap-to building grid for almost anything so you will end up with EVERYTHING in your towns at misaligned angles.

      Overall, there are some things New Vegas did better than FO4, some thing that NV put more effort and detail into — but that’s just because FO4 put an astonishing amount of effort and detail into other things. I think it’s the best Fallout game yet and I’m going to enjoy dumping hundreds of hours into it, but I’m also looking forward to what Obsidian does with the setting next with the vastly-improved model they’ve now been given by Bethesda.

      • Vaniver says:

        I, like most everyone, was apprehensive about removing skills meaning it wouldn’t be an RPG any more, but I was wrong.

        I had paid very little attention to the game before release, and was caught by surprise with that; I was going through character creation and thinking “when am I going to pick my tag skills?” until I realized that the perks were it. But once I realized what happened, yeah, it was obviously the right move.

        It pulls off “morally grey factions” much better than New Vegas did, because the evil side can present a compelling and coherent argument for their worldview.

        Assuming that the “evil side” in New Vegas was Caesar’s Legion? Yeah, basically the only thing they had going for them was acceptance of gays, but that doesn’t really make them better than either House or Yes Man.

        I’m bothered by the level of ‘pointless’ stupidity that I see with The Institute–at some point I should write a long comparison to Vault City in Fallout 2–but yeah, it’s good that there are three grey factions that each make a compelling case but aren’t perfect.

        And settlement building is fun but gets super frustrating very quickly as you can’t track what settlers are doing what job

        If you hover over the settler, the things they’re assigned to (like the bed and crops) will also be highlighted, which is not nearly as good a UI as I’d like.

    • multiheaded says:

      Copypasting from my tumblr because lazy

      Good things about F4:

      – the exploring
      – the scavenging
      – much of the improved combat (although issues/cheesy moments/etc remain, especially with the abuse of immortal companions, quickly accumulating chems, oh and powerful explosive spam from both sides; also, charging up on-demand crits with VATS attacks only is a horrible, pointless system)
      – settlement building really feels satisfying on a basic/deep level
      – many of the setting and narrative elements, especially what we see of the pre-war world, get that Future 50s Dystopia / early Philip K. Dick stories mood. Android body snatchers; paranoia, government oppression, the union of state and corporations; the average citizen is a heavily medicated drone behind the cheerful facade…
      – some locations are okay; Diamond City is definitely the best major settlement on this engine so far (although a low bar to clear; it’s quite lovely, shows some Metro 2033 inspiration)
      – stylish clothes
      – equipment upgrade system
      – excellent feel of the power armor, good customizability. Currently the game is too generous with the power cores, IMO? Also, needs a way to put all your numerous surplus frames to *some* use, beyond giving them to companions. Like, at least for settlement defense.
      – some companions are rather fun and appealing (Nick, Piper… haven’t met many others yet)

      Bad/stupid things about F4:

      – not a Fallout game in any way beyond a few superficial attempts to imitate one. Too many points to list. (Factions done about right: the raiders and the BoS; everything else about the world is pretty off.)
      – throws away most of what New Vegas has improved on
      – very mediocre writing, incredibly restrictive and obtuse dialogue system
      – invisible narrative rails everywhere; in F1 and F2 you could, if you knew what you were doing, go where you need and obtain what you want almost from the start; much of the main quest really WAS gathering information and knowledge and strength, not stepping on plot triggers as in here
      – scrapping the (fairly narrow and dysfunctional, okay) RPG system threw the baby out with the bathwater; hell, there are NO dialogue/interaction checks for S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats outside of charisma. That’s right, NONE. You can’t scrutinize a person’s manner with Per or catch them in an inconsistent lie with Int. It is fitting that Intelligence is the absolute most useless stat beyond serving as a perk gate right now. Hehe.
      – seriously, the “RPG mechanics” are closer to Far Cry than even Skyrim.
      – a lesser thing: Bethesda could have at least handled gender *some* way in the game while forcing a het marriage + child backstory upon the PC. Was it even like the real-world patriarchal 50s US? like an idealized version? There is/was a repressive, rabidly anti-communist far-right regime in power, and it’s not going to reinforce patriarchal gender roles and sexual repression and such? If nothing else, that’s a missed opportunity to score SJ points.
      – settlement management too fiddly. Seriously, not showing what job a settler has? No central menu/terminal to manage population? Which items are an extra happiness boost? No pop-up for scavenging results since your last visit? No cleaning shit up from the ground, like, y’know, SKELETONS and shit? No cleaner/higher-end structures to build alongside your marketplace and laser turrets and nuclear generators?
      – graphics suck on low setting and the overall optimization is just awful compared to some recent titles like MGS5 or Mad Max
      – companions are as annoying to manage as ever in this horrible engine; at least they are less of a hindrance in combat, though (although IIRC they were better in New Vegas). No, Piper, you’re awfully sweet but I don’t want a nuka-cola; I’d rather you could scavenge for some goddamn ammo if I give you a better gun!
      – time to take this goddamn engine out behind the barn and shoot it
      – again: not a real Fallout game. Width is not enough; you need depth and flexibility.

      ps the game made me read up on the abolitionist history of the city, so that’s a plus, I guess.

      • Vaniver says:

        Agreed that Settlement management is both deeply satisfying and getting that satisfaction mostly from the player’s desire to do it, not the engine making it fun/rewarding. I can see the argument for keeping the management system primitive–it’s not like everyone has PDAs or the settlement has a terminal or bulletin board or so on, and so having to physically find someone to tell them their job makes sense.

        But it also seems like you should be able to add a bulletin board to your settlements, which gives them that sort of management ability, so you can see how many people are devoted to farming / defense / shopkeeping / scavenging. And it’s kind of weird how easy the settlements are to support? A full farm with 20 people has food to spare if only 4 of them are farming, and then what the heck do you do with all the others? Water, power, and defense are all provided better by objects than people, so maybe I should just be making lots of rows of scavenging stations.

        scrapping the (fairly narrow and dysfunctional, okay) RPG system threw the baby out with the bathwater; hell, there are NO dialogue/interaction checks for S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats outside of charisma. That’s right, NONE. You can’t scrutinize a person’s manner with Per or catch them in an inconsistent lie with Int. It is fitting that Intelligence is the absolute most useless stat beyond serving as a perk gate right now. Hehe.

        In the USS Constitution quest, you can get some junk (and avoid a detour) if you repair things with Int instead of spare parts. I haven’t seen much else that it’s useful for directly (but maybe it determined my Railroad callsign options?).

        I actually still like Intelligence as a stat, since it basically determines your perk rate, which is the closest analog of what it did before (determining your skill rate). Sure, you could argue that a high-int char in FO3 had more skills for dealing with same-level monsters than a low-int char, but it’s not that obvious that was superior than the extra SPECIAL points, given how quickly one could max out their weapon skill. (That is, int helps you at low levels more than it helps you at high levels).

        Overall, I think I prefer the current system because it doesn’t limit choices when it comes to things like weapons. Having to choose between small guns and energy weapons always felt weird to me, and now I don’t have to; you can put any weapon in my hand and all that matters is whether I have perks that help with it (and the boundaries there are mostly determined by playstyle, which is sensible). And doing lockpicking and hacking through perks instead of skills just seems obviously better, because save/reload meant you were only gated by the skill level category anyway. “Am I good enough to attempt this lock? Yes? Then consider it open.”

        I also enjoy immensely that 10 is no longer the max for any SPECIAL stat (though it remains the ‘natural’ max, which is how it should be).

        No, Piper, you’re awfully sweet but I don’t want a nuka-cola; I’d rather you could scavenge for some goddamn ammo if I give you a better gun!

        What each NPC provices when you talk to them varies; if you want to get ammo, talk to MacCready.

  46. Jacobian says:

    I’d love to run a quick poll: do you vote?

    If you do, is it mainly because you think it’s impactful, it’s a duty, or it’s pleasant?

    If you don’t, do you think that you should (but can’t be bothered) or that you shouldn’t?

    • Vaniver says:

      If anyone you know claims they vote for the sticker, send them this link.

      • Jiro says:

        A sticker obtained this way has a different history than a sticker obtained through voting, and therefore doesn’t count as the same thing.

        • Vaniver says:

          Do you think that other people can tell?

          (If someone is truly voting for the sticker, this does actually satisfy their values better, and teaches a valuable lesson about munchkinism and motivation. If someone is voting because they are more satisfied with themselves for voting, there’s still a useful message about acknowledging that directly.)

    • John Sidles says:

      Not only do my wife and I vote, she has twice run for public office (once winning, once losing). She ran because it was impactful, and from a sense of duty.

      As it turns out, a sense of humor is just as helpful as a sense of duty.

      • Deiseach says:

        I would also recommend an industrial-strength and finely-calibrated bullshit detector, because if someone is engaging in public office from a sense of duty and hoping to have an impact, every lame dog (and the crackpots, God love ’em, are not the worst) and scam artists will be on to them to get things done for them.

        I don’t know how American politics works, but it does no harm to remember that Mr Jones or Mrs Smith will also be asking every other local politican/council member/state representative to intervene for them, so don’t develop any swelled head about being “the guy (or gal) that people know is the one who gets things done” 🙂

        • John Sidles says:

          Deiseach comments resorts to stereotypical reactionary rhetoric: “bullshit”, “lame dog”, “crackpot”, “scam artist”, “swelled head”

          These are not the words my wife uses to describe her (unpaid) service on Seattle School Board. The great majority of the citizens (mostly parents) coming to the Board’s monthly meetings were neither “lame dogs”, “crackpots”, or “scam artists”. Neither did these parents speak “bullshit” or have “swelled heads.” Disciplinary hearings, especially, posed profoundly difficult moral, practical, and legal issues.

          A brief conversation with Ed Witten
              EW  My wife serves on the local school board.
              JS  So does my wife.
              EW  It’s harder than quantum physics, eh?
              JS  Much harder.

          • John Sidles says:

            LOL … the *other* good thing (for me maritally) is that my wife isn’t on the Seattle School Board any more. Because the the rewards are nonexistent and the headaches are *epic* …

            Wife  Am I in the newspaper today?
            Me  Hmmm … it seems not.
            Wife  Then it’s a good day!

            Have you considered running, Mark? `Cuz experience is the great teacher, yah know! 😉

          • Deiseach says:

            Your wife is definitely not a politician, then. Because any day they don’t get their name and photo in the paper is a wasted day! 😉

            Having seen how the sausage is made, as it were, it often makes me laugh to read/listen to the local news reports about “Councillor/TD/Minister So-and-So reveals X amount in new funding or new roads/building/jobs”.

            Councillor, TD or Minister may have had damn-all to do with getting new roads, building projects or jobs, but by God will they get their name and press release into the media first to announce the good news!

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach comments resorts to stereotypical reactionary rhetoric: “bullshit”, “lame dog”, “crackpot”, “scam artist”, “swelled head”

            Well, since I am flinging bouquets and honeyed words around…

            The great majority of the citizens (mostly parents) coming to the Board’s monthly meetings were neither “lame dogs”, “crackpots”, or “scam artists”.

            Then your wife was fortunate. She never had experience of parents who were disengaged with their children and the school and more or less turned over child-raising duties to the teachers and principal? Or who turned up screaming (literally) at the school secretary’s office, demanding the head of a particular teacher? Or who threatened to sue anyone and everyone for unspecified reasons?

            Or the revolving door approach of social workers, where as soon as one finally got up to speed on the case of a particular pupil they were replaced and a new one came along and had to be brought up to speed on the details all over again?

            Or coping with death by misadventure (usually drugs) of pupils and suicidal 13 year olds who were on special watch? Or seeing kids that you can forecast are getting on the wrong track but there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can or will step in and intervene (and I’m very sorry to say, ten years later, these are the same names I recognise turning up in the court report pages – one of them is currently serving a six month prison sentence for violent assault while her grandmother has custody of her one year old child).

            There are a lot of very sad and very hard cases out there.

            But there are also people who have bees in their bonnet and will ring up and call in to the local authority to complain about people, things and places at great length for no reason.

            And people who will try to scam, lie, and evade, e.g. we’re dealing with someone living and working in Britain and Ireland for thirty years but who suddenly can’t speak English when asked sticky questions. Or people who claim to be split up with their partners when they’re posting on Facebook about their engagement (complete with photos of the ring). Or going to local councillors and the newspaper about being homeless when the real truth is that – but this is a confidential case that I can’t discuss on here.

            I’m glad your wife had good experiences overall. But I stand by it: there are crackpots out there, and I’m not sneering at them, because their mental problems hurt themselves more than others. And there are people out there gaming the system – not just the clients; there are plenty of guys with several properties charging full market rents and not declaring their income to the tax authorities, and we can’t inform on them because we’re bound by regulations.

            You get cynical very fast where I’m working because you do get burned with the hard-luck stories and hard cases who turn out to be feeding you a line of bullshit. You don’t take anything on trust or on faith, even if the Archangel Gabriel himself came down and announced it to you.

            The swelled head remark was more for local politicos (and your wife does not seem to be one of the breed); we had three different enquiries from three different local politicians for the same client on the same day – obviously the client was going on the principle of “if one doesn’t work, another one might” and equally obviously each politician thought they were the only one working on the case.

            I’m not sneering from a vantage point of superiority here, I don’t know if I’m neo-reactionary or what that even entails. But I come out of the same class as our clients and I know the score. Like Javert, “I am from the gutter too/I was born with scum like you”.

            Everyone isn’t scum. Most of the people are doing their best and we want to help them. But there are chancers and petty criminals out there, too.

          • John Sidles says:

            My wife had plenty of experience of all the difficulties that the above comment mentions. And she responded humanely and fairly to each difficulty, “with firmness in the right as God gave her to see the right”.

            Which capability is why I am very glad (and fortunate) to be married to her. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Voting is obligatory around here. Of course, the times where there were heavy inconveniences for my voting (being out of the country), I didn’t take the proper measures to do so. So I guess I’m not particularly inclined to do so.

    • keranih says:

      I vote because I think it justifies my loud and continuous bitching thereafter. Either I voted for the sumbitch, and he *lied* to me, or everyone else ignored me and voted for some other sumbitch, when they obviously should not have.

      • Deiseach says:

        They always lie. First rule of politics: say whatever will get you elected 🙂

        What’s worse is the ones who make themselves available to the public. This means everyone with a hobby horse to ride will unburden themselves and the representative will then get on to you to do something about it, or the ones who are gaming the system will go crying to the representative about how unjustly they’re being treated and ditto.

        You then have to find some tactful way (that won’t get you or the organisation sued) to inform the representative that their constituent is a lying liar who is lying to them and the reason they’re not getting what they want is that they’re damn well not entitled to it.

    • ddreytes says:

      I vote from a sense of duty, primarily. I don’t think it’s at all impactful, but it is Something One Ought To Do.

    • Deiseach says:

      Vote out of sense of civic duty.

      Also, having had close-ish contact in two jobs with public officials (from local councillors up to national representatives and ministers), I feel that if I want the bastards out of office, I had better go and vote ’em out to make sure 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      No.

      Voting is haram.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Having a poll about whether people vote might be the most perfect example of selection bias I have ever seen.

      • jnicholas says:

        Mm. I wasn’t going to vote in this poll, because what would it actually change? But, well, here:

        I don’t vote, because I don’t believe it will actually change anything.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I don’t vote. I consider voting vaguely disreputable and best avoided, so I would feel a little guilty if I did vote.

      “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

    • brad says:

      I vote in Presidential elections and sometimes in midterm years. I rarely vote in local elections. Rationally I don’t think voting makes much sense, and where it makes the most sense is in the smallest elections. But I’m okay with behaving irrationally sometimes.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Yes, I vote.

      The reason is a bit harder to pin down. Duty is definitely a part of it. Individually I realize that my vote doesn’t have much if any of an impact, but I genuinely despise the sort of “slack-tivism” I see from so many people. I don’t see how someone could claim to care about politics and not try to do their part influence the outcome. I honestly have more respect for apathy than I do for those who complain about x and y without doing anything to change them.

    • robmobz says:

      I vote because of a sense of duty and because that way I feel I can complain about the victor. I don’t feel my vote has much value since I knew the winner in my constituency going in and so almost voted Monster Raving loony (for those of you not in the UK they are pretty much the vote of no confidence party).

      • Deiseach says:

        Ireland is slightly different in that we have Proportional Representation via Single Transferable Vote.

        So often enough, you know who the TDs (representatives to the national party) will very likely be going in before you vote (because they’ve been the ones winning for the past twenty years and have such an efficient machine in place, they’re good for the next twenty years) but there is enough wiggle room to give Independents and “vote of no confidence” parties a chance.

        And if the public is angry enough, large-scale change happens. In the last general election, Fianna Fáil got slaughtered. They’re unlikely to make it up in the next one, even though most people aren’t much happier with the current coalition government. Most forecasts are that Labour, as the minority party, will bear the brunt of voters’ displeasure and lose heavily (due to them rolling over and wagging their tails to every proposal the majority party made, regarding the blue-collar vote – their traditional base – as lost to Sinn Féin and so instead repositioning themselves to appeal to the middle-classes).

        So though you can forecast more or less who is going to get returned to the Dáil for individual constituencies in the next election, there is enough doubt out there not to be able to say who is going to form the next government. That’s the fun of post-election vote counting, to see who is going to get the chop and who is getting in and what this means for who is going to form the next government.

        “First past the post”, as in England, is a lot more boring by comparison 🙂 We do have safe seats here as well, of course, and the same resentment about candidates being parachuted in when head office thinks the Bright Young Thing deserves to get elected as the next step on their path of ambition (and never mind the constituency’s needs).

    • suntzuanime says:

      I voted once, several years ago, to place a protest vote against my state’s corrupt governor. (I voted Green Party, since he was a Democrat but, like, Republicans, ew.) I have not been able to work up a level of hatred that would motivate me to go through such a pointless waste of time since he was arrested.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        So you’re not voting for Trump?

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        If you read the local pages of the NYT, there is some fun brewing in the federal courthouses. NY State politics are ruled by an iron fist by the “three men in a room:” the governor, and the leader of each house. Two out of the three are currently on trial. There is a certain amount of speculation that the governor would have gotten a visit by the feds, too, if he hadn’t very suddenly disbanded the ethics commission. There are reports that he was quashing subpoenas, too.

        Either everyone was surprised the commission did what they were supposed to, or it was a masterful coup to consolidate power. I can’t actually tell. But between the obvious and mind numbing corruption, and the grossly uncompetitive elections (half of legislative seats are uncontested, 90% of races have incumbents, control of the legislature hadn’t turned over in 50 years)… I see no point in voting.

    • AlexL says:

      No, because I don’t reside in my country of citizenship and remote voting is not allowed. I’d love to vote in my place of residence, but I’m not a citizen and thus not allowed; but I do get involved in politics in other ways.

    • I sometimes vote, as a symbolic/consumption activity, usually for the LP candidate. When the LP nominated a non-libertarian a few elections back I didn’t vote.

      Many years ago, I got a flier from the local Democratic congressional candidate describing all the horrible things her Republican opponent was in favor of. I was in favor of all of them, so felt obliged to vote for him.

    • Nathan says:

      I vote. Partly because in Australia, it’s compulsory. Partly because I’m a political nerd and it would feel weird not to. Partly because in the Senate at least there is a heightened (though still low) chance of a single vote affecting the outcome.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I might vote if someone I liked ran for office. But I generally dislike the Democrats and Republicans (I live in the US). Voting for a third party is kind of a waste of time. And voting for a Democrat or a Republican just solidifies their perception of support for the two incumbent parties. (At least that’s the rationalization I tell myself. The real reason is because I’m lazy.)

      Sometimes people tell me it’s my duty to vote. I point out that the idea of a “duty” is an Athenian concept which I believe never made sense to begin with. And then I ask them if they also believe we should replace our electoral colleges with a direct democracy, just like Athens. They usually get confused. (I know my appeal to absurdity Athens isn’t a coherent argument; I just do it to spite people.)

    • I’d love to run a quick poll: do you vote?

      If you do, is it mainly because you think it’s impactful, it’s a duty, or it’s pleasant?

      This will surprise no one, but I’m way out on the far end of the tail of the SSC distribution on this one. You might say I’m a pro-voting extremist.

      Voting is a pleasant duty for me, and an obligation given my elected role. I always recommend it to others, but I can’t deny that the impact of one vote on election outcomes is negligible.

      I’ve been involved in politics since I was a teenager, and I’m 60 now. The morning I turned 18, I hurried to the city clerk’s office to register to vote. In more than four decades as a voter, I have voted in every presidential election, every gubernatorial election, every city council election, every primary, and so on. As far as I know, I have missed voting in one election — a school board race in Ithaca, NY, when I was in grad school.

      What’s more, I have been involved for years in election wonkery, not just who-wins-who-loses stuff, but questions of how to design or change the process to be more fair, more efficient, less confusing, less subject to fraud, etc. (I discussed some of that in this SSC comment thread a couple weeks ago, but of course there’s enormously more to it than that.)

      I am interested in many things, but election administration has always been on that list.

      In November 2004, I was elected county clerk and register of deeds, ousting my predecessor, and I have held that position ever since.

      Among many other roles and duties, as Clerk/Register, I am the county’s chief election official. In some technical sense, I’m the one who counts the votes, but I don’t touch any ballots. More accurately, I’m just one of many people who manages the voting and vote counting process.

      So, yeah. I vote.

    • Emile says:

      All three, but in order of importance: it’s pleasant, it’s a duty, it’s impactful.

    • rsq says:

      I vote because I feel not voting is a tragedy of the commons/prisoner’s dilemma type thing, and there is an ethical duty to cooperate. If enough people (I agree with!) vote, we’ll all be better off, even if individual votes don’t matter much.

      • On the other hand, if enough people who disagree with you vote … .

        Voting isn’t enough. There is a second market failure problem in rational ignorance. Since you know your vote has almost no effect on the outcome, you have very little incentive to make a serious effort to be sure your beliefs are correct–especially since if you did, there is some risk you would come to conclusions that would make you unpopular with those who now agree with you.

        It makes far more sense, unfortunately, to simply persuade oneself of whatever the orthodoxy of one’s tribe is, often combined with the belief that everyone who disagrees is stupid, uneducated, evil, or being paid off by some shadowy conspiracy. That’s the pattern I observe—on both (all) sides of political issues.

    • Outis says:

      I’m an immigrant, so I won’t vote. I do wonder, though – *could* I vote, in practice? It seems that the right is concerned that people are voting without having the right to, and the left is concerned that even checking IDs would suppress legitimate voters. So what checks *are* there? In California, say.

      • Protagoras says:

        Show up at the polling place, and lie about who you are, giving the name of somebody who’s registered to vote who you think won’t. Of course, if they do vote (or something else goes wrong, like the poll worker knowing the person you are claiming to be), you’ll likely be caught, and there will be serious legal penalties, and if you get away with it, that’s only one vote. Which is presumably why this sort of thing seems to hardly ever happen. But it’s certainly possible; the standard system (without the IDs the Republicans are fighting for) is for people to just show up and say who they are, and the poll workers to look for that name on the list of registered voters.

  47. John Sidles says:

    Torrents of divisive rhetoric are flowing in regard to terrorism … and so it is notable that the discourse of professional anti-terror strategists is unifying rather than divisive:

    The Starfish Caliphate:
    How ISIL Exploits the Power
    of a Decentralized Organization

    by LtCol Stewart Welch
    Small Wars Journal,
    November 20, 2015

    […] In their 2006 book, The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom describe starfish organizations as those that survive without leadership. Centralized organizations are like spiders: cut off the head and the spider dies. Decentralized organizations are more like starfish, which multiply when you try to cut them to pieces. Groups like Napster, Wikipedia, or Alcoholics Anonymous have strength in their decentralized, leaderless nature.

    ISIL is a spider organization that acts like a starfish. […]

    ISIL’s brutality disgusts everyone in the world, and that is to our advantage. The widespread rejection of their ideology and brutality establishes single unifying factor for multiple different groups and nations. Consider the fact that U.S., Sunni Gulf states, Iran, and Russia are actively fighting ISIL ideology and seek to limit their influence and expansion.

    We should use this confluence of interests to develop a multi-faceted information effort highlighting the dangers and moral bankruptcy of their ideology. Our unified message should focus on universal rejection of their oppressive and murderous worldview. Our brand should be simple: the whole world is against ISIL.

    This requires connecting opposition voices and proactively messaging audiences that are susceptible to this toxic ideology. By multiplying nodes, sharing counter-messaging information and focusing our efforts, the international community will become a more expansive, diverse network than the jihadist sympathizers can muster.

    These efforts to coordinate messaging are currently underway, but networks take time to develop. The sheer number of nations, groups and individuals that reject ISIL is an untapped advantage that we need to exploit. Messaging alone will not solve the problem, but it is a critical aspect to countering any decentralized organization fueled by an ideology of violence.

    Peaceful, freedom-loving people around the world will be dealing with this threat for generations. We need to start to see ourselves as a bigger, stronger starfish with more tentacles and a far greater reach than our enemy.

    ———–
    Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Welch, USAF, is currently serving as a Middle East Strategist on the counter-ISIL team in the Joint Staff (J5). He earned a BA in Civil/Environmental Engineering from the George Washington University in 2000, and an MA in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary in 2008. Prior to his current assignment, Lt Col Welch was an Olmsted Scholar in Tel Aviv Israel, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Modern Middle Eastern History from Tel Aviv University.

    Resolved for purposes of SSC debate: Progressives have structured their movement as “a bigger, stronger starfish with more [rapidly adaptive social and cognitive] arms and a far greater [historical] reach than their [reactionary] opponents.”

    That is why, in demonizing “social justice warriors”, reactionaries are futilely fighting “a previous war” against a progressive movement that identifies itself as a “bigger, stronger science-respecting starfish” that is adaptively advancing its interests in multiple distributed theatres.

    • Deiseach says:

      a progressive movement that identifies itself as a “bigger, stronger science-respecting starfish”

      Depends on your flavour of progressive. The lady whose article I linked the other day would most likely identify very strongly as a progressive, and she blamed science for sexism 🙂

    • HlynkaCG says:

      A “bigger stronger science-respecting starfish” wouldn’t be all that progressive. It would basically be imperialism 2.0.

      • John Sidles says:

        The RedState reactionary meme is “you will be made to care” … the point being, that not everyone is good at this “caring” stuff … plenty of folks are flat-out incapable of it.

        • Magician says:

          I would like to preserve SSC as a place where we avoid this kind of contextless partisan posturing.

          • John Sidles says:

            Agreed that it’s not easy to steer between the Scylla of demagoguery and the Charybdis of solipsistic denialism. In regard to global terror broadly, and its cognitive aspects specifically, the OP-quoted Small Wars Journal threads this passage pretty successfully (as it seems to me and many). Which is not to say that some folks won’t get their hair mussed … but I do say no more than ten or twenty cognitive ideologies toppled, tops … depending on the breaks!

          • Magician says:

            I was not sure that I understand your reply, are you the demagogue or the denialist. Initially I was referring to your partisan posturing, not that of redstate, reactionaries etc. Above you seem to have reduced a series of complex issues to a some of black/white fight between rational science loving progressives and mentally ill reactionaries. This is the direct opposite of charitably trying to argue against the strongest positions of your opponents. Further in doing so you conflate the criticism of social justice activism by Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, our host etc with far right opposition to basic rights.

          • Magician says:

            In relation to ISIL. I think the problem of defeating the organisation of IS is very different to neutralising the underlying ideology and preventing its reemergence in another form. I would argue there is only a common front against IS on the surface. The Gulf states and the US support radical groups with the same underlying ideology. Citizens of the former have most likely supported IS directly. Iran has its own murderous sectarian proxies both in Iran and Syria. Assad has been the worst actor in Syria and he has Russian support. Turkey’s main interest is in extending its reach and denying Kurdish influence. It’s hardly a collation of peace loving folks on one side and monsters on the other.
            To look at the situation on another level. The imam of my local mosque is often described as a moderate and has appeared on tv criticising the Islamic State. He is also a kind and generous man. In private however he suspects that IS is a black bag operation run by the mossad/CIA. Similarly he condemns Assad’s barrel bombs but supports suicide bombings in Israel.

          • John Sidles says:

            Reluctance to posture, practiced as a pretext for inaction — inaction in regard to social justice concerns, climate change, effective ISIL opposition, healthcare reform, etc. — becomes a roman virtue, which is to say, a virtue carried too far. As does any CinC of any national force, and any leader of any community or nation, Obama must wrestle with the difficult practical boundaries of virtuous practice. In this foggy realm there are no easy answers … without regard for ideology.

        • anon says:

          “Two Years Later, You’ll Still Be Made to Care

          In the last twenty-four hours, much of the mainstream media has shown itself perfectly willing to serve as agents of Satan (or should I use Moloch to make you feel better?)”

          Oh shit, they’re on to us

  48. Primadent says:

    Is Nathan Robinson aware of your writings? Would you write for his magazine if he asked you to? I’m already imagining a publication that would bring together Fredrik Deboer, Scott Alexander and Nathan Robinson, how great would that be?

  49. Kevin B says:

    I’ve been lurking on SCC for about a year now and have been wondering what Scott and this crowd think about single payer healthcare for the US. I’m a medical student, and I’m thinking about involving myself in a pro-single-payer organization, but don’t want to do so if it’s not a good cause or not a valuable use of my time.

    The group itself loves to present slides and slides of data in support of single payer, most of which shows: a) how utterly expensive and inefficient our healthcare system is, b) how poor our healthcare outcomes are compared to other developed countries, c) how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care), and d) the improvements that other countries have seen upon implementing single-payer (Canada, Taiwan, etc.). So they propose we transfer the current insurance premiums people are paying to private companies to healthcare taxes and everyone gets improved medicare, which is more efficient and has more bargaining power to make healthcare cheaper, without the incentives to not care for people, yada yada. All of this leads them to argue that it would save the country tons of money AND lead to hugely better health outcomes. They think Obamacare was a bandage on a gushing wound, i.e. better than nothing, but not by much.

    Now I realize I’m getting all this information from a distinctly biased source, and I haven’t been able to found very many counterpoints or unbiased analyses, which worries me. Only thing close is this cost break-down of Bernie Sanders’ proposal, which doesn’t consider the long term effects of better healthcare on future cost or increased utility for the country, but still ultimately decides we’d save $38 billion. What are some counterarguments besides the ruin of private insurance companies (and the current political implausibility)? I’ve been thinking about Scott’s post on bewaring systemic change, since this would be a huge overhaul of a system with hard-to-predict outcomes. Although perhaps the fact that a bunch of other countries have done it before us makes the ground a bit less shaky.

    Given his profession, I’m surprised I couldn’t find Scott addressing this topic anywhere.

    Thoughts? Reading suggestions? Life suggestions?

    • Tarrou says:

      Just be aware of the trade-offs. Government involvement assuredly means a few things:

      1: Trade universal access for fast access. If you think the average well-being can be improved this way, carry on!

      2: Trade patient choice for expert panels. I actually think this would probably be a good thing, but this is the “death panel” political pill you have to get swallowed. More a political issue than a health-care one, but it is definitely a biggie. Try telling a family that six more months with their loved one isn’t cost-effective. And prepare for the lawsuits.

      3: The regulatory problem. Regulatory capture is always a problem, but when a basic and massive public good is being produced and sold by the government to the government, who is going to regulate it? The government……..And any problems will be subject to political coverups and all the BS that entails.

      4: Innovation. Megan McArdle has written massively on this, and I’m not sure she’s convinced me. But I do think there’s a basic mismatch between the profit motive and government price regulation of novel treatments. Basically, there’s a trade-off between innovation and controlling healthcare costs.

      5: Trade corporate scamming for private scamming. Here again, individuals are relatively limited in how much they can scam, while corporations have a much larger possibility. But individuals are hard to catch, and when the entire population has the ability to scam, that adds up quickly*.

      *When I worked for a medical transport company, we often had “hospital discharges” which involved medicaid patients who wanted a ride somewhere. They’d call an ambulance, complain of chest pains, which by law gets you admitted to the hospital. Then they’d get discharged “home”, which they would claim was wherever they wanted to go. Total cost for what was basically a long and disjointed taxi ride – many thousands of dollars. One lady used to visit her sister across the state once a week like this.

      • John Schilling says:

        Trade patient choice for expert panels. I actually think this would probably be a good thing, but this is the “death panel” political pill you have to get swallowed.

        Of course, the competing systems have their own expert, or maybe not-so-expert, panels deciding what treatments will and will not be paid for. “Death Panels” have always been with us and probably always will be. A hundred years ago, the Death Panel was when the family met in a somber discussion around the dining-room table to decide whether Junior’s college fund would instead be used to pay for Grandma’s operation. A hundred years before that, the trade was for a bottle of overpriced snake oil, so that’s progress at least.

        But it turns out people hate that sort of thing. Tell them that Grandma is going to die in three months, OK, everybody knows that everybody dies, and we’ve learned to live with that. Grandma is going to die in three months unless Junior gives up his dreams, in which case Grandma doesn’t die in three months? That’s Drama, Tragedy, Unfair, and proof that somebody, somewhere is being evil in a way that Something Must Be Done About.

        The purpose of single-payer health care, or Obamacare, or employer-provided health care or private health insurance or any other such thing, is not really to provide better patient outcomes. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t, usually there’s not enough difference to be worth fighting about. The real purpose is to put a layer of impenetrable bureaucracy between the inevitable death panel and the inevitable death. There’s a panel somewhere that decides that your grandmother dies in three months while that other guy’s grandmother gets to live for nine, but all you know (if you don’t insist on reading the fine print) is that the kindly sympathetic doctor is telling you that the best available treatment will only keep grandma alive for X months. That’s a real, substantial increase in human happiness compared to the hard conversation and Junior maybe not going to college.

        And it means that any health-care system is vulnerable to attack by anyone who would prefer a different system, by pulling back the curtain revealing the first system’s hidden death panel. But if you believe in government transparency, it’s going to be really hard to keep the death panels hidden in a single-payer system – and that’s a real problem.

        • John Sidles says:

          SSC readers should be aware that John Schilling’s evidence-free comment is largely at-odds with the history of medical “death panels”.

          Two good (even thrilling!) death-panel articles by physician Christopher Blagg are “The Early Years of Chronic Dialysis: The Seattle Contribution” (1999) and “The Early History of Dialysis for Chronic Renal Failure in the United States: A View From Seattle” (2007).

          Even more riveting is medical student (and pioneering dialysis patient) Robin Eady’s account “The dawn of dialysis — reminiscences of a patient” … which provides a needed counterweight to healthcare discourse that is too-commonly unempathic.

          Needless to say, similar episodes are destined to multiply greatly in coming decades. Will the day come, when disorders like schizophrenia are no longer devastating life-sentences, as kidney failure once was? We hope that the answer is “yes” … even if the treatments aren’t cheap! 🙂

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I wish John Shilling’s post was etched in stone and forced to be read by everyone participating in health-care reform.

          We can’t have everything we want. And no politician is willing to say this.

          NHS is unpopular because it tells people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive.” It still works better than the US because it actually stops the stupid treatment.

          What a bunch of other countries do is just have the doctor say “there is nothing that could be done.” This is often a lie, but it produces outcomes that leave people happier, wealthier, and with health that is statistically indistinguishable from the US system.

          Or it may not be that the doctor is lying, and instead the rationing is done at the regulatory level, by being extra stingy about what procedures and drugs get approved. This has the side effect of leaving a lot of useful innovations as well as dubious ones on the floor. Right now other countries have the benefit of watching what the US does and selecting off the best performing parts.

          • Anonymous says:

            NHS is unpopular because it tells people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive.”

            I live in the UK, and my experience is that the NHS is popular precisely because people believe that the alternative of private healthcare entails telling people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive”.

          • John Schilling says:

            All health-care alternatives involve telling people that they can’t have that treatment because it’s too expensive. The difference is how they hide and/or sugar-coat it.

            Having single-payer coexist with a private system may be the worst of both worlds, because the private system will advertise its treatments with exaggerated claims of their superiority and a transparent government won’t be able to hide the fact that it isn’t providing the “superior” treatments.

          • nope says:

            Universal healthcare doesn’t really reduce choice in the way people act like it does. If you want to be treated for free then you have to take what you get, but you can just go to a damn private hospital if you really want ultra-special treatment. Granted they aren’t cheap, but the cost of good private care in, say, Denmark is pretty much comparable to average American healthcare costs and often less.

          • Anonymous says:

            Further to my comment above, and re: John Schilling:

            I always find arguments like this kind of odd. As I said above, it seems to me that in my country, just as in the US, people are very very keen to have as much healthcare as they can, and abhor the idea of any system in which anyone is denied healthcare due to cost.

            It might be politically profitable, then, when starting with a socialized healthcare system, to expand it, offering your citizens more and better healthcare options, if that’s what they want – promising to do that when you’re in power ought to get them to vote for you. But only to the extent, of course, that the democratic system works. Which isn’t a very large extent.

            So… Does your argument rely on democracy not working? Would you openly celebrate the fact that voters’ desires re: healthcare are not met, and argue that this is better than a market system, in which customers’ desires are met? How far would you carry this view – would emigration restrictions sometimes be a good thing, if they would prevent citizens from choosing to migrate to a country in which they will be able to buy more healthcare than they ought to? And does this not cut directly against one of the main arguments in favor of democracy’s legitimacy – that the citizens choose who they want to govern them?

            I think one argument for favoring individual sovereignty is that, while it leads to absurdities when taken to its logical conclusion, the results of taking protectionism to its logical conclusion are an order of magnitude more absurd.

          • Anonymous says:

            @nope:

            I think that, as when arguing the merits of private schooling over public schooling, people concerned about choice are explicitly concerned about the choice of the poor. Of course rich people can always send their kids to private school, send themselves to private hospitals. The goal of the pro-private folks is to extend the benefits of the market system in this area to the poor as well as the rich.

          • John Schilling says:

            I always find arguments like this kind of odd. As I said above, it seems to me that in my country, just as in the US, people are very very keen to have as much healthcare as they can,

            In your country, when people catch cold do they ask the doctor to prescribe them three different kinds of antibiotics? That would be more health care than just taking one kind of antibiotic, and way more than the stay-home-and-rest think that actually works.

            In my country, people want to believe that they are having the best possible heath care. “Best” is not the same as “most”. And judging by the level of understanding most people have about the treatments they are seeking, e.g. antibiotics for colds, it’s pretty clear that most of them are going for “believe”.

            They also want to believe that their inevitable death is far enough in the future as to be beyond their present planning horizon, which causes problems when it clearly isn’t so.

            and abhor the idea of any system in which anyone is denied healthcare due to cost.

            This, too. But again, more as a matter of belief than of actuality. If they believe there isn’t a better treatment that they (or anyone else) is being denied on a cost basis, they are happy. If they have to make cost vs. treatment trades, for themselves or anyone else, they are unhappy.

            There is a better treatment that they are being denied on a cost basis, of course, and they do have to make that trade. OK, maybe not if they are ultra-rich, because there is no point in inventing a treatment that even the ultra-rich can’t afford, no way for the Best Cancer Surgeon in the Country to raise his fees beyond the ability of the ultra-rich to pay. But for everybody else, there will be new treatments that are still too expensive for everyone to have, and best surgeons that can’t treat every patient. And very expensive brands of snake oil that some patients will believe constitute the best available treatment.

            Democracy doesn’t help this. Democracy basically means putting to all the voters the question, “here’s a bunch of increasingly expensive treatments, and what will happen to your tax bill if we offer them to everyone who wants or needs them”. That’s exactly the sort of decision they don’t want to make. And since they won’t actually spring for the highest-possible-cost version, it means that they are stuck with all of the things they don’t want: settling for not as much health care as they could be getting, settling for less than the best health care, and knowing that people are being denied health care because of cost.

            The only way most people can get what they really want, at less than ruinous expense, is for someone to lie to them and say “there are no better treatments available than those on this list that we are offering”. In a democracy, they will tend to vote for whoever best delivers that lie. But whoever is in charge of curating that list, will be accused of being a “death panel” by the competing liars.

            As a rationalist who values truth, actually-effective health care, and the ability to make my own economic decisions, I kind of do celebrate voters not getting what they want in this regard.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Snake oil was a lot more popular 100 years ago than 200.

      • Unified policy can be an issue. My impression is that while it may be difficult to find a doctor who will do knee replacement for a fat person in the US, it’s harder in the UK.

    • John Sidles says:

      Thoughts?  Marco Rubio has marked medical students like you as his political enemies 🙁

      Reading suggestions?  Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland (JAMA 2004).

      Also, Kenneth Ludmerer’s Time to Heal: American Medical Education from the Turn of the Century to the Era of Managed Care (1999) is well-respected.

      Life suggestions?  Practice in Canada … physicians, patients, and citizens alike are reasonably happy there.

      Couplets?

      For forms of  government  healthcare,
         let fools contest.
      What’s best administered,
         is best.
         — Alexander Pope

      Unifying conclusions?  Global economic experience shows that diverse varieties of well-regulated healthcare systems all work well, whether they are Canada-style single-payor or Swiss-style private-sector.

      Which is what Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney similarly proposed decades ago (but alas, neither got).

      Meanwhile, the wasteful, harmful, unethical, moronic US healthcare wrangling futilely continues … 🙁

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ John Sidles
        Global economic experience shows that diverse varieties of well-regulated healthcare systems all work well, whether they are Canada-style single-payor or Swiss-style private-sector.
        Which is what Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney similarly proposed decades ago (but alas, neither got)”

        I think you mean ‘respectively proposed’.

        • John Sidles says:

          To be specific, the record shows that neither HilaryCare nor RomneyCare was a single-payor (Canada-style) plan … both were regulated-market (Swiss-style) plans.

          These three plans (and ObamaCare too) bear a close family resemblance, for the common-sense reason that (ideology aside) well-designed regulated-market plans work reasonably well … when naked political ambition doesn’t get in the way.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Sidles

            Hillarycare ~1992 and Hillarycare2008 both included government-paid plans that users could choose instead of user-paid plans. Obamacare* does not. This is a very important distinction.

            * staying out of ‘Did state Romneycare = 1990s national GOP proposal etc etc’.

    • ReluctantEngineer says:

      how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care)

      No comment on the rest of this, but the standard counter-argument regarding Medicare’s administrative cost savings is that they are primarily the result of most of Medicare’s administration being handled by other government agencies (e.g. the IRS does the billing for Medicare, whereas private insurers do their own billing). I don’t actually have any sort of accounting statements or even rough estimates of the actual numbers involved, though, and would be interested in seeing them if anybody has any.

      • John Sidles says:

        For concrete administration/overhead numbers, see Himmelstein and Woolhandler, “Billing and insurance-related administrative costs in United States’ health care: synthesis of micro-costing evidence” (2014, PMID: 25540104), and references therein:

        Results  Billing and insurance-related (BIR) activities costs in the U.S. health care system totaled approximately $471 ($330 – $597) billion in 2012. This includes $70 ($54 – $76) billion in physician practices, $74 ($58 – $94) billion in hospitals, an estimated $94 ($47 – $141) billion in settings providing other health services and supplies, $198 ($154 – $233) billion in private insurers, and $35 ($17 – $52) billion in public insurers. Compared to simplified financing, $375 ($254 – $507) billion, or 80%, represents the added BIR costs of the current multi-payer system.

        Conclusions  A simplified financing system in the U.S. could result in cost savings exceeding $350 billion annually, nearly 15% of health care spending.

        Needless to say, no other healthcare system in the world incurs administration/overhead relative costs that are anywhere near US relative costs.

        • ReluctantEngineer says:

          That paper did not contain the information I was after, but it did eventually lead me to the Medicare fund trustees report, which does have some of it. Budget breakdowns can be found on pages 45 (Part A), 78 (Part B), and 106 (Part D), and for Parts A and B they include entries for things like “Treasury administrative expenses” and “FBI” (Part D’s section does not show these, but it’s the smallest). So while I’d still be interested in seeing more detailed numbers (and a private insurer’s balance sheet for comparison), it seems that the standard counter-argument needs improvement at the very least.

          • Kevin B says:

            One thing that surely muddies the issue is that it’s (from what I understand) nearly impossible to get detailed information about insurance companies and how they work.

          • John Sidles says:

            Kevin B observes (correctly): “It’s nearly impossible to get detailed information about insurance companies and how they work.”

            Yes, ubiquitously, and there is a common-sense market-based reason why insurance-industry opacity is ubiquitous.

            I attended a medical billing seminar which taught that, if a billing process is made sufficiently opaque, arbitrary, capricious, and complex, that a fairly high percentage of patients (about 30%) will forego needed treatment, rather than submit to a dehumanizing billing process.

            The associated savings to the insurance company are sufficiently great, and market forces are sufficiently strong, and customer familiarity with major medical care is sufficiently scant, that essentially all US healthcare companies embrace these perversely-incented (mal)practices.

            Bob Parr depicts these practices accurately and hilariously (yet poignantly) in the animated film The Incredibles.

            Can these perverse incentives be effectively mitigated, such that the (very real) choice-related virtues of the market come into play? Yes, and SwissCare/HilaryCare/RomneyCare all have shown the way to effective healthcare reform.

    • baconbacon says:

      “b) how poor our healthcare outcomes are compared to other developed countries”

      By what measures? The simple metrics like life expectancy are barely moved by health care and are heavily driven by other factors when cross country comparison. Years ago I got into an argument about the WHO’s rankings on health care (which were discontinued in 2000, and the argument was 06/07 I think- around the time Sicko came out)- where I realized you could “hack” their health care rankings. Found your own country, set up a tax plan that is “fair” by the WHO standards and provide zero health care to any citizen- perfect scores in two criteria, a terrible health care system by any judgement otherwise. Without getting any further into that wormhole the lesson I learned is this

      – Most rankings of health care outcomes are highly subjective-

      An argument against single payer will almost certainly take a different approach to measuring health care outcomes than those that support single payer. Neither is going to be objectively correct. One example (from memory) was a study on ACL repair in the US vs Canada. Proponents of single payer noted it was “1/2” the cost in Canada with only slightly worse outcomes than the US. Opponents focused on the “facts” that average wait time in Canada was months longer and the cost/benefit analysis ignored this (also that a large % of wealthy Canadians either get their major health care at illegal for profit clinics or medical tourism). Which is more important?

    • keranih says:

      All of this leads them to argue that it would save the country tons of money AND lead to hugely better health outcomes.

      …may I put in a request for a pony and a plastic rocket, while we’re taking orders of heart’s desires?

      More seriously –

      Government funded widgets are not the best widgets, nor the least expensive widgets, nor do they prevent shortages of widgets, nor are government funded widgets adequate to the desires of most people wanting widgets.

      They will, however, be sufficient for those people who must have widgets, yet for whatever reason have no other options to get one. Because as soon as people have the option to get widgets elsewhere, they do.

      One of the primary reasons healthcare is so expensive in the USA (and there are many) is because we have effectively removed market forces from the provision of care. The people who pay for healthcare are not the people using the healthcare, so that doctors, hospitals, and equipment/material suppliers are not at all motivated to find cost cutting innovations. This is the primary problem, imo, and single-payer does nothing to fix that, and will only make it worse.

      (Want a comparison of the effect of third-party paying on medical care? Look at the comparable cost between getting your 120 lb dog a c-section, and getting one for your sister. The medicine is different. It’s not 500% different.)

      Other reasons for higher costs include gatekeeping/rent-seeking by the various regulated shareholders, from hospitals fighting competition and forcing increased regulation on smaller clinics to the cap on medical doctors and licensing practice acts. (Also not fixed by single payer.) There is also the side costs of malpractice lawsuits (unsure how single payer will fix this) regulatory compliance (also not fixed by SP) economies of scale (*might* be bettered with SP) and certain quirks of the American consumer (private rooms in hospitals, first dollar insurance, low tolerance for wait times, physician choice, etc, etc.) And a few other things I am missing.

      As said above – it’s all about tradeoffs. For a given good/service like healthcare, as with everything else on the planet – you can get it good, you can get it fast, or you can get it cheap. Pick two. And then deal with not having the other one.

      I could be talked into a tax-payer funded, *very* basic, public-health oriented set of clinics that collected baseline info (ie, radiographs, ultrasound, ecgs, physical exams, blood chemistry panels, limited titers, limited cultures) as well as conducting the most basic public health interventions like vaccinations, all for a minimal co-pay. This information could be sent to the physician of the patient’s choice, so that formal diagnosis and treatment could be done by a doctor. If private charities wanted to set up as the physician of choice for people who could not pay, then they would be able to do so with minimal overhead. If some people chose to take that information from the clinic and “treat” themselves, well, that’s on them as well.

      I would not expect these services to be fast or as good as the for-profit clinics that would spring up to serve those who could afford to pay. But they would be there, and it might help return some sanity to a dysfunctional system.

      • John Sidles says:

        keranih opines  “One of the primary reasons healthcare is so expensive in the USA (and there are many) is because we have effectively removed market forces from the provision of care.”

        Uhhh … there is no “market force” acting to provide healthcare for schizophrenics (or other severe mental disorders), is there? Don’t “market forces” plainly act in the opposite direction to healthcare provision? Namely, don’t “market forces” proclaim, that the sooner these patients die, the better off (economically) society is as a whole, by any strictly rational metric?

        The above-cited Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi review “Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland” (JAMA 2004) illustrates that humane yet market-driven healthcare systems are feasible. Indeed, politicians as diverse as Mitt Romney and Hilary Clinton proposed them decades ago …

        Meanwhile, ObamaCare is evolving (erratically yet inexorably) into SwissCare … largely because no alternatives are being seriously proposed. The sooner, the better?

        • Kevin B says:

          There seems to be something here (that I haven’t thought enough about to articulate well) about healthcare being viewed as a right vs. as an economic product. As a pure economic product, healthcare is refused to those who can’t afford it (and maybe they need it most). As a right, maybe the richer have trouble buying the diamond-studded care they’d prefer?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Do you “have the right” to other people’s labor?

            If not there is no sane way that you can argue that health-care is a right rather than a simple commodity just like anything else.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG argues that “health-care is […] a simple commodity just like anything else.”

            That is the rationale of the Priest and the Levite, but not the Samaritan.

            Very plausibly, the Priest and the Levite went home to write editorials calling for more police patrols on the Jerusalem-Jericho highway, and decrying the immigration of the alien Samaritans. Note, however, that their editorials did not make it into “The Good Book”. 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            What do you mean by ‘commodity’? Wikipedia tells me that a commodity is a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. Which part of that description do you disagree with?

            Or is it that you believe healthcare is fundamentally more important than other goods and services? But it seems to me that food, water, and shelter are all more important than healthcare. Are houses not commodities? How about bread? And why can’t an important good be a commodity, anyway?

          • keranih says:

            @ John Sidles –

            The Priest was a little rural religious official on his once-a-lifetime trip to oversee the Sabbath in the Temple, for which he had ritually purified himself for the last month. Touching a filthy bleeding man of unknown lineage would have required another round of purification. I don’t *agree* with his choice, but I *understand* it.

            Furthermore, the Samaritan ponied up his own donkey, his own money, and his own good name to take care of the stranger – he didn’t go hire a handful of thugs to shake down the local population for money to pay the hotel bill. If you want to play the Samaritan card, play the part of the Samaritan, not the Levite.

            @HlynkaCG –

            Very little of what is currently promoted as “health care” is all that much a commodity. Vaccines and basic supplies, yes, medications once they are discovered, most supplies, and to some level wellness visits. But one of the reasons healthcare has not dropped in price as much as everything else is because so much of it is produced by individual skilled labor.

            Market forces are still the only way I see to get prices to reduce, rather than to just continue to increase at varying rates.

          • science says:

            But one of the reasons healthcare has not dropped in price as much as everything else is because so much of it is produced by individual skilled labor.

            I agree with the basic point, but I’d give it a very different connotation. To my mind the fact that we have a fetish for bespoke, hand made, artisanal medical care is a problem that causes us to get an objectively inferior product at a high cost. Assembly line health care would be a good thing, not a bad one.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous asks: “What do you mean by ‘[simple] commodity’? Wikipedia tells me that a commodity is a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs.”

            Anonymous, your quote omitted the key word ‘simple’ … which is crucial, given that health-care is a vaguely defined ‘item’ that is ‘fungible’ only dubiously, ‘marketable’ only opaquely, ‘wanted’ often desperately, and ‘needed’ crucially.

            As a case study in these distinctions, it’s hard to beat Robin Eady’s The dawn of dialysis — reminiscences of a patient” (op cit.).

            Needless to say, the humane value of these more-than-market medical traits has been appreciated since antiquity.

          • Anonymous says:

            @science: Interesting – but what would ‘assembly line health care’ actually look like?

            @John Sidles: Can you give some more explanation of why you believe healthcare isn’t particularly fungible? Is the kind of service you will get from each doctor really that different?

            Regarding the necessity of healthcare, I think this view requires a belief that extra time alive is more valuable than anything and everything else. The kind of grim but more realistic view is that healthcare is a want, not a need, and is supported by the observation that if you really held the first view then you would spend 100% of your income on maximizing the length of your life, which I suspect you don’t do.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous wonders “What would ‘assembly-line health care’ actually look like?” and “Why isn’t healthcare particularly fungible?”

            A surgeon of my acquaintance (now retired) specialized in pediatric spina bifida patients … a condition that is not uncommonly associated with diminished life-quality and reduced life-expectancy.

            This surgeon took care to alternate the appointments of younger patients with older patients, to ensure that they spent time together in the waiting room (if necessary by deliberately delaying seeing a patient), such that the younger patients could learn from the older patients.

            Such deep personal consideration is the antithesis of ‘assembly line health care’, and the lifelong relations that this physician sustained with his patients (and their families) were incompatible with ‘fungibility of health-care’.

            Hopefully this physician’s example helps to answer your questions, “science” and “anonymous”.

            Now, good luck explaining these matters to Bob Parr’s boss! 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            Hopefully these examples help to answer your questions, “anonymous”.

            Perhaps they do – I’m not sure if I understand. Are you saying that by getting their patients’ trust, doctors can establish themselves as monopolists for those particular patients, who will be unwilling to seek out alternative doctors even if their own drops in quality, because those other doctors don’t have a rapport with them and/or an understanding of their medical history?

          • John Sidles says:

            Lol … yes, and to adopt your market-centric language, “anonymous”, my wife and I have for the past 36 years sustained a monopoly on each other’s affections!

            Why is it, do you think, that so few people use market-centric language … happily married people especially?

            Note too, that market-centric language is notably absent from the Hippocratic Oath. Why is this, the (non-Randian) world wonders?

            After all, isn’t the Hippocratic Oath’s “respect for privacy” utterly incompatible with “market efficiency”?

            That’s the plain verdict of the health-care information black market, isn’t it?

            Yikes.

          • science says:

            @JS
            No this blatant and unconvincing appeal to emotion doesn’t answer the question at all. By the way, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year was Mr. Saint withdrawing from the US economy every year?

            @Anonymous
            Assembly line medicine starts with evidence based medicine, instead of god-complex gut-feeling based medicine. It takes it even a step beyond how that is generally conceptualized though to not just have individual hero-doctors using best practices, but embedding them in a larger system with systematic data collection, feedback loops, and quality control.

            Of course if wealthy people want to get their artisnal medical care from hand picked doctors with just the right late middle aged look, neutral mid-western accent, a caring but slightly paternalistic attitude who will spend hours thoughtfully listening to their concerns they ought to be allowed to use their own money to LARP out whatever encounter they’d like.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            After all, isn’t the Hippocratic Oath’s “respect for privacy” utterly incompatible with “market efficiency”?

            No. No reason your interactions with your doctor can’t include a stipulation that they may not disclose your private information.

            @science

            Again, interesting. Why, exactly, could someone not set up this kind of business today? Advertise it as sleek and modern and evidence-based – all positive-sounding buzzwords. And true, as well! Why hasn’t someone done this already? This isn’t a trick question or anything, I’m serious.

          • science says:

            Because of the aforementioned fetish. As for how we got there, don’t look at me consumer psychology isn’t my thing.

            The largest beneficiary would be the payor. So my guess is that either it’d have to be imposed by the (possibly single) payor or would have to get patients to have more skin in the game to make it happen. But again, not my area, maybe someone could make it happen by putting up ads saying “one weird trick your doctor will hate”.

            Kaiser is probably the closest thing we have today at any sort of scale. Or maybe one of the government health services (veterans, Indian).

          • Hari Seldon says:

            @science: Interesting – but what would ‘assembly line health care’ actually look like?

            Not nearly as bad as you think. There are “assembly line’ clinics for lots of elective procedures. Hair restoration, Lasik, etc… You can get affordable, predictable treatment at the sacrifice of some hand holding. Or you can pay top dollar for lots of mental stroking and some branding.

            I happen to run what others in my profession call an “assembly line dental practice.” I focus on a few procedures in which I am very experienced and efficient. At my practice, you can get a dental implant for $700. You can have it restored with an abutment and crown for another $700. I realize that is still expensive, but it is about the 1/3-1/4 of the typical cost in the US.

            The standard experience for many patients seeking a dental implant goes something like this:

            1. Visit dentist for consultation. Pay for radiographs and exam. Take impressions for surgical stent.

            2. Visit imaging center or surgeon for conebeam imaging. ($$$) Have imaging sent to laboratory with impressions for guided surgical stents. ($$$)

            3. Have implant placed – often with sedation or GA ($$$)

            4. Revisit surgeon to have implant evaluated for restoration.

            5. 2-3 Visits with restorative dentist to place abutment and crown.

            At my office:

            1. Patient calls and says he wants a dental implant. They are quoted the fee over the phone.

            2.They come in for a free consultation and radiographs. My assistants do all prep work and history before I enter the room. I come in, introduce myself with minimal chat, review medical history, examine radiographs and do a clinical exam. I tell the patient whether they are a candidate or not, explain risks and answer questions. The patient is given the option of having the implant placed that day or rescheduling.

            Most patients choose same day treatment. I anesthetize, go do another procedure or exam and return in 10-15 minutes. Place the implant, take an impression for the restoration and thank the patient for coming in. The typical patient is in and out in about an hour.

            Do I have deep, lifelong relationships with my patients? No. But if you are going to the dentist for social reasons, you should know you can get escorts and therapists for a lot less money.

            Local dentists continually badmouth me for “undercutting the profession”. They tell their patients I cut corners and use inferior materials. None of which is true.

            The average dentist who claims to routinely place implants places 30-40 a year. I placed 30 implants on Monday. Honestly. Who has more experience? I can do this in my sleep. I don’t need conebeam imaging and cad-cam generated surgical guides to tell me where vital anatomical structures are. I have flapped open a thousand jaws; I know where stuff is. I could never have gained that level of experience charging $4-6000 to replace a single tooth.

            So you can have a dentist who sits and listens to you talk about your grandkids for 20 minutes, or you can save a few thousand dollars and have a dentist who is merely pleasant and professional. My clinic is in a non-descript office building; no waterfalls in the lobby; no pretty girls bringing you a hot towel to freshen up afterward. You come in, you get treated, you pay, you leave. It’s not for everybody, but it works for a lot of people.

            I get patients who find me online and travel from all over the US and Canada. They don’t come because I am “THE BEST”, but because I am cheap. I am a bald, homely, socially impaired introvert. You will never see my picture on my advertising. But I offer $1400 for an implant, abutment and crown. X-rays, imaging, lab work, exams – all complimentary.

            Just one biased perspective. Not everything in medicine can be that streamlined, but many things could be.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Why hasn’t someone done this already?

            I would say the chief obstacle to assembly-line medicine is guild restrictions on who is allowed to provide medical services and where they are allowed to provide them.

            Consider restaurants. Suppose you notice the main restaurant in town is doing a crappy job – service is slow and expensive and the food isn’t very good. It is LEGAL for you to open a competing restaurant right across the street and steal away all their customers by offering a better product. You can sell food that is better and cheaper and faster, put billboards up advertising this fact, and thereby force them to either GET BETTER or be driven out of business.

            Or suppose your restaurant does REALLY WELL and you think there’s enough demand specifically for YOUR kind of awesome food that it would make sense to buy the building next door and double the seating at your first location, or open a second location to handle the overflow. In the restaurant business, you can just DO that.

            Now apply the same idea to hospitals. If you want to open a competing hospital next to an existing one in most states you can’t because you won’t be able to get a Certificate of Need – you’re not ALLOWED to open a new hospital OR make more beds available in an existing one if this would in any way endanger the profitability of the already-existing hospitals.

            Hospitals are regional monopolies by law, kind of like auto dealerships only more so. They aren’t directly competing with anybody so there’s little incentive to improve.

            (In the few pockets of medicine where patients aren’t insulated from prices you do sometimes see assembly-line medicine. Most notably, LASIK mills are pretty much that. A vision-correcting surgeon gets really really good at doing just the ONE THING you need his level of expertise for while his staff does everything else including most of the patient interaction.)

          • John Sidles says:

            Hari Seldon practices “assembly line dental practice: I focus on a few procedures in which I am very experienced and efficient.”

            Glen Raphael observes “LASIK mills are pretty much that [assembly-line medicine]”

            Hari Seldon, please let me say that (1) Your post-name is awesome, and (2) your professionalism receives my highest respect. Would that all medical conditions could be treated as effectively and performatively as carious and fractured teeth.

            Glen Raphael, your post reminded me of a particle theory postdoc of my acquaintance — the former graduate student of a hyper-famous theoretical physicist — who left physics for ophthalmology, made a fortune as a Los Angeles LASIK surgeon, and retired rich while still (relatively) young … unlike any of his fellow post-docs! 🙂

            Needless to say, assembly-line medical/dental careers like these are already entirely consonant with regulated-market Swiss/Hilary/Romney/Obama-Care systems … by virtue of well-crafted market-mechanisms that Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s JAMA study analyzes in-depth.

            This is the common-sense reason why precisely zero major medical/dental professional societies (known to me) have joined the strident far-right calls to abolish ObamaCare.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous says [correctly but naively] “There’s no reason your interactions with your doctor can’t include a stipulation that they may not disclose your private information.

            What’s wildly naive is the expectation that medical data feasibly can be kept private in an unregulated healthcare system … given the immense black-market value of healthcare information in the unregulated setting of insurance rates.

            This isn’t a crime that any amount of forensic auditing can reliably detect, or any amount of punitive legislation can effectively prevent.

            The creation of perverse incentives for this privacy-invading healthcare crime is what’s head-slappingly stupid about Marco Rubio’s health-care legislation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Atul Gawande on assembly-line surgery.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ John Sidles:

            You realize that you are playing the role of the Levite in this scenario don’t you? You castigate others for failing to make sacrifices or show empathy. While refusing to make or display any of your own.

            Are actually going to present an argument for why you think health care is in a class apart? Some how more essential than or less of a commodity than food or shelter? Ir are you going to stick to thinly veiled insults?

            @ keranih:

            Anonymous already answered the question but I would add that the doctor’s time and attention is itself a service commodity.

            @ science
            Such “assembly line” does exist as others have already pointed out but licensing and insurance regulations are generally designed to keep them on the fringe. (See Hari and Glen’s posts below yours)

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            What kind of regulation do you imagine would prevent this problem? It’s already illegal to sell private information, isn’t it?

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous asks:  “What kind of regulation  do you imagine would  do the Swiss use to effectively prevent this problem [of black-market privacy invasion]?”

            The ingenious market-based (not legislative!) answer is stated plainly in Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s “Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland” (JAMA 2004, op cit., Google find a complete PDF)

            “Prices are adjusted only for the enrollees’ canton and age and the urbanization of their residence. […] The government also risk-adjusts compulsory insurers. Those with above-average medical care costs receive trans- fers from those with lower-than-average costs.

            In particular, the medical history of customers is irrelevant to the pricing of their policy  … which destroys the black-market value of this information. Which is an ingenious, elegant, market-based solution to an otherwise intractably toxic black-market in privacy invasion, eh?

            It is this crucial privacy-protecting risk-leveling mechanism that Marco Rubio — bizarrely and inexplicably, as it seems to me and many observers — seeks to disrupt. The intended mechanism by which Rubio’s disruption benefits the electorate remains “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” … for which no lover of privacy will thank Mr. Rubio.

        • keranih says:

          Uhhh … there is no “market force” acting to provide healthcare for schizophrenics (or other severe mental disorders), is there?

          I’m not sure if I’m understanding you. Please tell me if I’ve got it wrong:

          1) You mean that our current non-market-forced system is doing a bang-up job of treating severe mental disorders, to the point that other nations view our treatment as a superior blend of improved outcome, low cost, and patient autonomy, so that moving to any other system would be a negative…or…

          2) There are no people who are paying for mental (or other) health medical care for their children, siblings, or parents, just as there are no people paying for care for infants, children, people in comas, or elderly demented folks, so a market-driven health system will never provide good outcomes for those people.

          Namely, don’t “market forces” proclaim, that the sooner these patients die, the better off (economically) society is as a whole, by any strictly rational metric?

          Now I *know* you’re talking out of your hat. Rational people would not smoke tobacco, drink alcohol immoderately, nor waste valuable time on the internets trying to teach pigs to sing arguing with other invisible people.

          Yet here we are, and my local bar, computer shop, and internet provider are all well pleased with the situation.

        • [This has nothing to do with the thread–it’s just a way of getting a message to John somewhere he will see it]

          Yesterday you accused me of making a false argument (in the Cook et. al. 2013 discussion) that I did not make—indeed took some care to make it clear I was not making. I challenged you to either support your accusation or retract it. I have seen no response from you, and it occurred to me that you might have moved on to the current discussion and never seen my response. I am now calling your attention to it.

    • Vaniver says:

      I’m a data scientist. I think that the short term health and economic impact of single payer is muddy, and could easily go either way. (It’d be better than what we have with the ACA, but that’s not hard.) I think that the data and long-term health impact potential is immense–being able to consolidate all American health data would be a treasure trove many times the size of the various European data sources, which are already tremendously useful.

      We could learn much more about the impacts that treatments have in the wild, which is way more useful than a handful of tiny studies done in experimental conditions.

      • Kevin B says:

        Yeah the side effects in terms of consolidation and simplification of the whole system seems really attractive to me, even if it’s hard for me to imagine all the pieces to that puzzle.

    • brad says:

      how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care),

      You are fooling yourself if you think doctors are going to be held harmless. More than a fifth of healthcare spending goes to “physician and clinical services” and that probably doesn’t capture all the physician income. Plus, especially when you look at specialist physicians, their compensation is a serious outlier internationally, (Yes, even after accounting for medical school debt and malpractice insurance.)

      If we are going to slow the growth of health care costs, and we don’t much of a choice, labor costs — which are necessarily someone’s labor income — are going to have to come back down to earth. There’s no magical pot of fraud, waste and abuse that’s going to do it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, there really is the option of eliminating everything but labor. Singapore pays its doctors the same as America and that’s 2/3 of its healthcare spending. Yet its healthcare is at least as efficient as Europe.

        • brad says:

          I’m afraid I don’t know much about the Singaporean health care system. Do you think the model is replicable or is it dependent on some of the many differences between the US and Singapore?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is worth learning about the Singapore healthcare system because it is so different. It is a counterexample to almost everything anyone ever says about what is possible.

            I don’t know if it is replicable. But one should also worry about whether the Canadian system is replicable, or whether it depends on differences.

            Edit: I meant differences like corruption. But maybe you mean racial differences in the need for healthcare. I doubt that there is such a difference: it is just as easy to spend lots of money in the last year of life, regardless of what age that is. Longevity statistics should be adjusted for race, but I think Singapore still looks pretty good.

        • Hari Seldon says:

          I suspect Singapore pays its doctors a wage similar to the numbers provided by the BLS. Those numbers are nowhere near accurate for total physician (and especially surgeon) compensation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Surgeons make a lot of money, but there aren’t a lot of them. My memory of making the comparison was $250k, mean across all kinds of doctors. BLS puts the median PCP at $220k and specialist at $400k. (It also puts the overall median at $187k, but I think that’s top-coding.)

            Do you dispute those numbers? Do you have a source for a different numbers?

      • Kevin B says:

        Even in Canada, doctors get paid just fine. I would honestly fight for a fairer, cheaper system even if it meant I didn’t get paid quite as much.

    • US says:

      As for reader suggestions, I read The Oxford Handbook of Health Economics last year. It’s written for economists, but most of it is (I think – it’s hard for me to judge…) reasonably readable for non-economists as well. The book is well written and it has a lot of good stuff. It’s also quite long (~1000 pages), but you probably don’t need to read all of it. It’ll likely give you a much better appreciation of which various issues and tradeoffs are important at many different levels of analysis within a health economics context.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m going to put my Machiavellian hat on. Whether single payer health care decreases the income of doctors or not, many doctors believe that it does. If such a doctor is reviewing your residency application, then being heavily involved in such an organization will not help you. You have your whole life, and more influence in the future to tackle controversial big issues, so I don’t see the need to start now.

    • As best I can tell, while U.S. healthcare is anomalously expensive, outcomes are not particularly poor. For details on the WHO report usually cited in support of the claim that they are, see:

      http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2009/09/international-health-care-comparisons.html

      It’s also worth noting that the U.S. system is far from a free market one. A majority of all expenditures are paid for by government, and both the insurance industry and the medical industry are heavily regulated.

      • Hari Seldon says:

        Thank you for pointing that out. Like so many of the economic issues facing the US, this is one of our own design. We insist on keeping the profit motive intact with private companies, but simultaneously socialize the payments and losses side of the equilibrium. We need to choose one or the other. Right now we are combining the worst aspects of two potentially viable systems.

        Healthcare, housing, student loans. If prices are spiralling out of control, you can bet the government is holding its well-intentioned finger on the wrong side of the scales.

        I prefer a free market, but realize that will never happen in the US for healthcare. Sometimes I think we may as well just get the inevitable out of the way and develop a rational, socialized system.

        There are many drawbacks. Innovation will be stifled. Current inefficiencies will be permanently enshrined. Bureaucracy will flourish. Uncomfortable immigration issues will HAVE to be addressed. My kids will never have Dr. Beverly Crusher diagnosing and formulating treatment for all their health problems with an iTricorder. But outcomes will probably be just as good as what we have today and many people on the margins will be saved from medical bankruptcy.

        Tradeoffs suck, man. I really want a medical tricorder. Preferably linked to my Amazon Prime Pharmaceutical Account.

        • John Sidles says:

          Hari Seldon says  “Tradeoffs suck, man. I really want a medical tricorder.”

          Lol … Hari Seldon, please let me say that your well-reasoned well-expressed comments are admirably smile-inducing (for me anyway) 🙂

          Yes, in domains as diverse as evolutionary biology, game theory, military strategy, healthcare economics, and human courtship, it commonly happens that optimal strategies are mixed strategies. Life would be a lot simpler if this weren’t true … in particular, we wouldn’t need our big complicated messily empathic hominid brains.

          As for medical tricorders, the way those things can diagnose and repair a rotator cuff tear, non-surgically within a few seconds, is pretty incredible! 🙂

  50. Deiseach says:

    Some good news from me for once 🙂 Generally I’m whinging and complaining whenever I post on here, but there’s a good-news story in the local paper I want to share.

    If anyone has a subscription to the Investigational New Drugs journal (the journal of new anti-cancer agents), they may be interested in this article.

    There is or may be a promising drug treatment for acute leukaemia, if the human testing goes well (it appears to do well in mice). The local interest is that a man from my county (that would be “state” in American terms), Dr Florence* McCarthy and his team in the Department of Chemistry and the Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility at UCC (Scott’s alma mater!) in collaboration with Professor Tom Cotter, Chair of Biochemistry at UCC and the National Cancer Institute in the USA, have created a novel molecule from a natural extract. It reduced leukaemia tumours by up to 70% in mice; the molecule is derived from an ellipticine which is isolated from the berries of the Bloodthorn tree and it was produced by Elaine O’Sullivan in McCarthy’s research group.

    According to Professor Cotter:

    We targeted acute leukaemia, which is a difficult to treat cancer, and to be honest I didn’t expect the experiments to work as well as they did. In fact I was so surprised with the results I kept looking at them for ages; I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing.

    *Florence is a male name in Ireland, at least in south Munster, generally abbreviated to Flor; it is particularly but not solely associated with the McCarthys – see Flurry Knox in The Irish RM whose full name is Florence McCarthy Knox. Traditional McCarthy names are Justin and Florence for the boys).

    • Murphy says:

      >Tom Cotter

      I had that guy as a lecturer.

      At one point he handed out a link to a [particular revision] wiki article on one of the topic which we were covering saying that he’d reviewed it and considered it far better written than any other text he’d come across on the subject.

      He’s a good teacher.

    • MichaelM says:

      We Americans have counties, too. You silly unitarians don’t really have an equivalent to our states.

      • anonymous says:

        They sort of do now (since devolution) — but they call them countries, which is just perverse.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          Where do you think the term “State” comes from? Nation-state, city-state, separation of Church and State …

      • Deiseach says:

        I know that you have counties inside states, and I didn’t want to use “county” and have you thinking I mean a smaller administrative district (like a townland) rather than the larger entity 🙂

        • MichaelM says:

          Your larger entities ARE like our counties. We have sub-county municipal governments, too. Vaniver gets it.

      • Vaniver says:

        Ireland is the equivalent of a US state. What they don’t have is the equivalent of our federal government. (The EU is a pale shadow, and much more similar to the Articles of Confederation.)

  51. keranih says:

    Inspired by the Comment Pun –

    To what extent is it possible to argue that those who make the most use of R