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Links 10/16: New URLeans

Hey, remember that time when Merv, Turkmenistan was the largest city in the world? What about when it was Dobrovody, Ukraine? Here’s a helpful cheat sheet if you’re feeling a little lost.

Marble quarries somehow look both exactly how you would expect a marble quarry to look and yet also much much better.

Profile of Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman, a former naval officer whose motto is “Honey badger don’t give a s***”.

Genetic risk for high sugar consumption is somewhat correlated with genetic risk for substance abuse, suggesting some kind more more general genetic risk for impulsivity and addiction.

Related to Lizardman’s Constant: when polled on whether they have ever been decapitated, four percent of people say yes (hidden in this transcript)

Brookings Institution: “There is a deep well of rigorous, relevant research on the performance of charter schools in Massachusetts…This research shows that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.”

One interesting methodology to examine whether school degrees are useful in and of themselves or for signaling value: look at teenage mothers. Someone who delivers a child a month after graduating high school is probably the same sort of person as someone who delivers a child a month before graduating high school, but the former will probably get a degree and the latter probably won’t. Based on this methodology, a paper finds that a high school degree has real value and not signaling value. Possible confounds: maybe the availability of a GED makes this situation different than for college; maybe there’s a ceiling effect for how well people with teenage pregnancies do?

“Related”, by which I mean completely contradicting the above: Danish data (of course it’s Danish data) showing that school effects are mostly just signaling. Maybe a US/Danish difference?

Marginal Revolution asks why bowling has declined in America. Did you know in the 1960s, top bowlers made twice as much as top football stars, and a bowler was the first athlete ever to get a $1 million endorsement contract?

Federal government tells Berkeley they may not offer free online video courses, because they are discriminatory against deaf people who cannot hear the audio. Willing to reconsider if they translate them into sign language as well or add closed captioning, but the college says it can’t afford that and will probably just take the courses down. This is a metaphor for how everything works all the time.

Hey, remember those five different times when thousands of Irish-Americans formed impromptu armies and invaded Canada in order to pressure Britain to free Ireland?

The Daily Show had a whole segment making fun of Donald Trump’s claim that his microphone wasn’t working properly during the last debate. Now the Commission on Presidential Debates has confirmed that his microphone was indeed defective. On the other hand, still no sign that it was part of a giant Clinton campaign conspiracy, and not clear exactly how a microphone malfunction makes you say that not paying taxes makes you “smart”. Come to think of it, every part of this story is also a metaphor for how everything works all the time.

Herman Mashaba started out as the son of an impoverished widowed domestic worker in apartheid South Africa and rose to become a multimillionaire businessman. Now he was just elected as the first Libertarian mayor of Johannesburg, and has vowed to end poverty in the city by encouraging construction and investment. The best thing to happen to African capitalism since Nwabudike Morgan?

Reddit: r/IAm14AndThisIsDeep Also, r/CrabsEatingThings.

Adam Smith Institute argues for the claim that markets will punish discrimination by pointing out many examples of exactly that happening. This is in honor of a recent study which follows up on one of those resume experiments by finding that companies which discriminated against minorities in the hiring process were twice as likely to go out of business as those that didn’t. As welcome as this result would be I’m not sure I buy it – discriminatory vs. non-discriminatory companies likely only differ in a few employees, and that’s not enough to double the company’s chance of surviving. The paper itself points out that this could just be an artifact of more organized companies having a better hiring process that relies less on personal judgment, or the sort of company leaders who aren’t racist also having other good qualities. Related: did you know that the segregation-era South had to pass laws prohibiting companies from preferentially hiring (cheaper) black labor?

Andrew Gelman on the history of the replication crisis.

American television: Let’s see which celebrity can answer trivia questions the fastest. Japanese television: We’re going to tie a piece of meat to a celebrity’s body, take her to the island of Komodo, and film her getting chased by Komodo dragons.

In Denmark, neighborhood of origin does not influence earnings after age 30. In Sweden, neighborhoods also don’t matter for earnings, education, etc. Still not sure why Moving To Opportunity had such a strong effect in the US, unless it’s the whole “US socioeconomic status differs a lot more than Scandinavian socioeconomic status”. I feel bad for being excited that Scandinavia will probably develop its own segregated underclass in the next few decades and we’ll finally start getting good studies about how that affects things.

Lifehack: Align the High and Low Lights of North Shields to escape being caught in the Black Middens.

More praise for SSC sponsor Beeminder.

A physicist on the problems with “publish or perish” and modern science culture. I keep hearing about this but I have yet to read a clear explanation of how a better system would work.

The Insanity And Brilliance At Ethereum’s Developer Conference. “Until you see it for yourself, it’s hard to truly grasp the scope of what is being built. If Ethereum works it will fundamentally change society.”

Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft come together to form Partnership on Artificial Intelligence To Benefit People. Probably more about privacy and cybersecurity at this point, but still useful to have as a framework if larger issues come up in the future. I would link to the organization’s website itself, but I’m boycotting all those sites that are one page full of giant images and two or three sentences of text which don’t explain anything useful.

Only about forty percent of Americans support Trump for US President – so how come fifty-four percent of Chinese do?

China admits that 80% of its clinical trials are fabricated.

There’s a standard argument that sweatshops are good for the Third World because they increase employment opportunity. Now Chris Blattman has studied it empirically.

Helpful 19th century infographic on Albion’s Seed and Bay Area transhumanism (h/t ecstatmonochromat)

Argument: Maybe the surplus of men in mathematical fields is for some biological reason. Counterargument: as the culture has become more accepting toward women, more women have entered these fields, so wouldn’t attributing the remaining difference to biological factors be a very silly god-of-the-gaps argument, arbitrarily saying that all of the already-resolved differences were cultural but all of the not-yet-resolved differences must be biological? A study adds a new perspective to this debate by determining that the percent women in the extreme right tail of mathematical ability was increasing rapidly up until twenty years ago, after which point it has mysteriously remained exactly the same. Women continue to do better at verbal tasks.

Remember how you had to learn cursive in elementary school even though it was clearly useless and inferior to other forms of communication? An Atlantic article argues that there was sort of a rational explanation – cursive was the most convenient form of writing for the obsolete pens of yesteryear, and it took a while for people to realize that better pens made it unnecessary.

Garett Jones has written a long summary article of his theory about how immigrants can change countries’ economic fundamentals.

“Some have claimed that [the city of] Austin put up moonlight towers partly in response to the actions of the Servant Girl Annihilator.”

Reddit: What is a great career path that kids in college aren’t aware exists? Answers include “sailor”, “actuary”, and “person who joins the military for the minimum allowed period of time and then takes advantage of veteran-related programs to get free college and a cushy government job for life”.

The BMJ published an article a while ago pushing a extreme Taubesian view of nutrition. Now it’s facing calls to retract as scientists point out various errors.

The newest front in the replication crisis: basic math errors. A bot finds that 13% of papers may have a math error large enough to potentially change the paper’s conclusion.

Leading environmental scientist James Lovelock was previously famous for his belief that global warming would be much worse than anyone thought. Now he says he’s changed his mind, that global warming will probably be so slow we don’t need to worry much, and that he’s actually concerned about AI risk.

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1,221 Responses to Links 10/16: New URLeans

  1. Titanium Dragon says:

    I’m not even remotely worried about AI.

    Global warming is going to cause problems. It is just not going to be the end of the world. It is going to be an expensive problem, though, in the long term, but expense in any given year will be fairly low.

    Also, the study you cited about pregnant girls and high school diplomas seems to suggest the opposite of what you said; there doesn’t appear to be a long-term earning difference between them.

  2. Brinck says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter 🙂 Someone else may have mentioned this but there is a really interesting chapter of labor history where unions and groups committed to “raising wages for workers” were also flat-out racist – e.g. some of the original arguments for a minimum wage were all about making sure that women, immigrants, and minorities couldn’t undercut white people with their labor prices. Weird stuff.

    Thanks for writing such great posts!

  3. Jill says:

    About making it a norm for the board not to comment on the percentage of SSC commenters who are Right or Left Wing, I am very much against that. One reason is that some folks say they’d like more Left Wing commenters. If they get their wish, and more Left Wing commenters show up, then it would seem not very inviting to have them here and then to forbid them from commenting on the fact that they are a minority, while they are. Whereas, if they can comment on it, and others might too, and might also say they want more Left of Center commenters, they might invite their friends. It seems unlikely that the board can solve a problem (lack of Left of Center commenters) if there is a norm against admitting that said issue exists.

    The other reason I’m against that kind of norm is that I think the country is really bubbled– with people in Blue or Red bubbles where never the twain shall meet. And that’s one reason we got Trump as the the GOP nominee. And part of the bubble problem is denial of it happening. People sincerely believe that this isn’t happening– that the groups aren’t so separate that there is not only no consensus in the U.S. on opinions, but there is no agreement on what the real facts are, about what is going on in our government. But we’d be better off if we admitted such problems and faced them, rather than running away from them.

    I really think we in the U.S. have a rather huge problem with denial of political realities. Trump is the best recent illustration of this. People think that if they are against the political establishment policies, that they should vote for someone who hasn’t “dirtied his hands” with politics. They think that some narcissist who has a history of cheating people and of never helping anyone but himself, is going to be their great savior, riding in on the white horse to save the day. Politics is “dirty” so politically experienced people are untrustworthy, in their book. But sexual assault, bigotry, stiffing your creditors, employees, stockholders etc., and various kinds of business fraud are just fine, by comparison, in their eyes.

    They hate all the politicians that they themselves elected. But the very next politician who says something they enjoy hearing, gets their full faith and loyalty– no questions asked– as long as he is a narcissistic tough guy billionaire bully whose self worship is contagious, and who has no political experience whatsoever.

  4. Alex S says:

    About careers, 80,000 Hours thinks actuary is less promising as a career path, compared with web designer, along every dimension except salary. They also imply that actuary competition is tougher than software engineering at large tech firms. But I think working for Microsoft, Amazon, and so forth is clearly tougher than being an actuary.

  5. I am dubious of the Merv and Dobrovody claims. The implicit assumption is that if there was a larger city at the time somewhere else we would know about it. Do archaeologists really believe they have made that complete a study of all plausible ancient city sites?

    • Lumifer says:

      I am pretty that they mean “largest that we know of“, would be quite silly otherwise.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The claims about Merv and Dobrovody are very, very different. The claim about Merv is that it was big in 1150 AD, while the claim about Dobrovody is that it was the largest city in the world in 3800 BC. It’s a lot easier to know about the world of a thousand years ago than the world of six thousand years ago. It’s a lot easier to know about cities of 100k than cities of 10k. It is very easy to believe that there are unknown regions that had 10k cities in 3800. It is even easier to believe that there are unknown cities in Mesopotamia. It is also easy to believe that known cities in Mesopotamia were bigger earlier than thought, the evidence destroyed by later expansion. But there probably weren’t cities of 200k in 1200 AD that we don’t know about.

      Actually, it’s not clear that anyone serious believes that Merv was ever the biggest city in the world. Wikipedia makes the claim, but its source doesn’t mention Merv at all. The page Scott linked to on Wikipedia compiling 4 lists has Modelski (2003) mentioning Merv, but claiming that it was never near number one. I guess Chandler (1987) does claim that it was tied with Constantinople, Fez, and Hangzhou at about 200k after the fall of Kaifeng, but before Hangzhou exploded as the new capital. I’m confused that he omits Baghdad. In any event, the point is that the Silk Road had a top 10 city and that this has been lost to the popular imagination.

    • Careless says:

      The Dobrovody claim seems insane. 5000 years ago, before there were any crops adapted to more northern areas, and in an area not on the sea? The biggest city in the world?

  6. Maware says:

    The right-wing bubble thing: here are my opinions on it.

    I think that the bourgeoisie have adapted a form of leftism in the same way Christianity was adopted by them in the past. It still has part of the essence, but a lot of the various controversial or paradoxical aspects are muted or chopped off to reconcile them with bourgeoisie life.

    However, in the same way the social Christianity was attacked by people outside of the bourgeoisie, that social leftism sees some attack now too. Like Christianity, it gets attacked from a smaller number of fundamentalists on the same side, matched by people who dislike it on the opposite. People who oppose the status quo now oppose the social leftism in the same way they opposed the social Christianity of the past, and its the leftists who are shocked at the outré people. Isn’t the whole “silent majority” shtick of liberal commenters the same language conservatives used back in the day?

    The language may differ, but the bourgeoisie’s outrage in being challenged still stays the same, and so places that shock their leftist sensibilities become right wing bubbles, despite the whole definition of the grey tribe Scott put out, the discussion of drug use and legalization, the lifestyle leftism, and the anti-authoritarian bent.

    • TMB says:

      I kind of agree with this, but I don’t think it’s related to economic class (except to the extent that certain classes might need to be more up to date with social fashions).

      Does anyone else here remember prudes? There used to be these people who’d go around getting offended by things, and it wasn’t really based on any sort of consideration of the facts, it was just that they were hyper-sensitve to the general mores of society. So, there was general agreement that running around with your wang out, or talking about sex in mixed company was unacceptable, and these people took it to the most extreme edge. Always tut-tutting.

      Anyway, I think you can kind of tell the zeitgeist (perhaps with a slight delay) by looking at which way the prude-likes are swinging.

      Up until recently, (90s-00s) my sense was that the prudes had swung over to full-on liberalism – you were more likely to be castigated for suggesting that there should be rules of personal conduct than for doing anything in particular.

      Now, it looks like we’re kind of segueing into some weird combination of theoretical hyper-liberalism and good old-fashioned prudery with respect to sex.

      And loads of stuff about racism, which is *really* annoying.

      Anyway, as I say, it’s not really social class itself, more a question of whether your cultural-sensitivity-windmill is pointing in vaguely the right direction, and is in sufficiently good order to be driven by the bullshit-winds of fashion.

    • LPSP says:

      Adoption of the bourgeoisie was a thought that ran through my head in a major way I’d say two years ago (as in for about year). I don’t think it’s the prima-facto now, but it’s certainly part of why the ultimate battle is always over grounds other than right or left.

      My pet theory, a variation on this, is that right and left are conveniant, polite company labels that society can use – sock puppets we willing pile ourselves into so that we can debate on issues without blood being shed. If we used our true alignments, we wouldn’t be able to have conversations in politics because there’s no compromise over principles so fundamental – the two sides would see each other as Just Plain Evil, and there’d be war. The current state of politics is the closest to these we’ve seen in a long way – the closest to the safe sockpuppets being overthrown.

  7. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    This friend of mine works at the US Census. I’m trying to get him to tell all of his coworkers about Lizardman’s Constant.

  8. Sandy says:

    This blog has previously discussed the Taiping Rebellion, in which over 20 million Chinese died over the course of a civil war where one side was led by a guy who believed he was the long-lost brother of Christ. In continuing to read up on Asian history, I only just learned today that there was also an Islamic rebellion shortly after the Taiping Rebellion, the Dungan Revolt, in which a further 20 million Chinese died.

    Wikipedia cites the oddest instigating factor for a civil war I’ve ever seen:

    The revolt arose over a pricing dispute involving bamboo poles, when a Han merchant selling to a Hui did not receive the amount demanded for the goods. A recorded 20.77 million people died in Shaanxi and Gansu, most of them Han Chinese civilians massacred by the Hui Muslims.

    Does China have really great historical reasons for religious persecution or what?

    • Leo says:

      They’d be quite justified in that, alright, but in fact modern Han Chinese are some of the most religiously tolerant people you’ll meet. Anti-Islamic sentiment has been on the rise since the 2008 riots, though.

  9. Leo says:

    “You need to use all of these shoddily made, Chinese government approved, replacement apps instead. The preferred app for messaging is an app called WeChat, a bizarre Slack / Venmo / Tinder hybrid that 800 million people use to communicate every day. ”

    The Ethereum guy doesn’t know what WeChat is. The Venmo comparison is apt. Tinder and Slack, way off. The Tinder of China is 探探 (tantan), which is pretty much a clone. This is display of ignorance is in the first paragraph, too. Not confidence inspiring at all.

  10. Dain says:

    I wrote over a year ago that SSC gave off a right-wing vibe, albeit inadvertently. It seems my impression then is buttressed by this comment thread. By even abiding the claims and arguments of the right in an above-the-fray manner, the blog risked losing lefty cred and garnering charges of being crypto-conservatve. This isn’t helped by certain demographic facts of its readership. It’s all quite unfair, but it is what it is.

    http://bit.ly/2dSz54I

    • Murphy says:

      Reds under the bed!

      I love that the symbolism of who the “reds” are has changed over the years keeping the phrase fitting…

      If he’d published his stuff a few decades back he’d have had “kindly” people warning him that his talk of basic income might get him branded a red and-we-know-what-happens-to-people-like-that despite all his posts about how hilariously bad communism is at running things.

  11. Dain says:

    So E Harding claims to have been banned. Is there a public record of this, like one of those comments from Scott with bright red text?

    • Anonymous says:

      Check the comment link at the top of the page.

      • Dain says:

        Thanks. I’m not here often enough. Don’t know the ins n’ outs.

      • I see Scott has banned himself. Pretty cool.

        • Deiseach says:

          The epitome of “firm but fair”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I was initially confused by the lack of a red-text “banned” message… but I guess if he’s banned, he can’t actually post one.

            [EDIT] – It also occurs to me that if that’s the standard of comment that he thinks justifies a banning, there should be a whole lot more bans happening.

          • Gazeboist says:

            It’s only a one week ban. I think temp bans are supposed to be exemplary, rather than punitive? [edit] So people are advised to avoid comments like that, but they won’t necessarily earn the banhammer unless it becomes a habit.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All I will say is that I was “brought up short” when Scott posted what he gave himself the temp ban for.

          • Jiro says:

            If people, including Scott, think that posting ban-worthy material is worth the ban, then the ban has failed and the penalty should be raised until posting ban-worthy material is not considered worth it by anyone.

            Penalties are not supposed to work as fees.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Um, I just noticed and feel at least somewhat guilty for my part in it. I hope the self-ban doesn’t extend to posting new content.

            To be honest I might have overreacted in saying I’d refrain from posting, but I’d just gotten another warning from the mods on HN (an undeserved one, imo), and it seemed like two in one week was a sign to take a break. Plus you take things more seriously when they’re coming from certain people versus Random Commenter #4617. Plus I need to procrastinate less anyway.

            Anyway, I don’t know what his exact reasoning was for a temp-self-ban, but just to reiterate, certainly no hard feelings on my part or anything (if Scott happens to be reading this).

  12. LH says:

    That “Nwabudike Morgan” reference just turned me from occasional reader to die-hard fan of this blog. Well done.

  13. LPSP says:

    Trump is attacking China, but Hillary is attacking China’s character and attitude. Guess which one is more tolerable? The physical body is transient, but the inner motive and value, that never changes.

    (I considered editting this onto another of my posts – is it irritating to have lots of mini posts like this? It’s easy for me to make them but if it bothers folks I’m considerate)

  14. LPSP says:

    The physicist “publish or die” problem stems from the fact that the only two ways (recognised) to measure the real progress of physicists are paper output and tenure. The former is awarded even if the papers are innaccurate or unenlightening junk, and the latter can be awarded simply for friendliness with the right people and seniority alone. Neither directly rewards research, or correctness for that matter. I propose a solution: data debt.

    a) Scientists are loaned money for every body of data they produce, either from direct research or from processing that or existing data. It doesn’t matter what it is, the scientist just inputs the numbers and charts and an algorithm awards a loan proportional to the volume.

    b) Other scientists are paid to test these findings via the exact same method. This is repeated for several iterations, so the attempted replication is itself tested and so on.

    c) If a body data fails to replicate, the scientists in question are indebted to the vendor. If it replicates soundly, no debt – the body of work is good enough. In mixed cases (ie the vast majority) the scientists owe a fractional amount.

    The specific rates of pay and calibration I couldn’t answer. This system is far from perfect and will obviously prove unfair or exploitable in one or more ways; however I feel it is a step up from the current model in terms of incentives, elegance and efficacy.
    – Scientists are motivated to not only put out papers but to create findings that stick; the scientists paid to test other’s studies are rewarded only if their attempt also replicates (ie if one group of scientists willingly flubbs the evidence for partisan reasons but all the others replicate, they owe the loan vendor and ditto if their’s is the only one that does replicate);
    – It becomes harder for corrupt or collusive forces to coordination and mass-flub results;
    – And publish-or-perish is alleviated as a steady flow of data and/or verification work – disconnected from any single study – is enough to earn money for, provided it replicates.

    • I am not involved in any way in the scientific community, so I may be full of bunk. But my first reaction to this is that it would disincentivize risky research. I don’t think that is a good result.

      • LPSP says:

        I could see that if you could find a correlation between risky research and research unlikerly to replicate. I can’t envisage that at the minute. Risky research is already compensated in any case.

  15. Deiseach says:

    Dear America, go home, your entire nation is drunk.

    First Hillary’s campaign reveals the awful truth about Pepe, and now this? The Creepy Clown Threat? Not alone is there a Creepy Clown Threat but someone thought it’d be appropriate to bring it up at a White House press briefing?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Your article is a bit old, it missed some of the newer incidents. Last night we had some nut on the 6 train in a clown mask chasing teens around with a knife.

      This whole thing is a bit bewildering if it’s an actual pattern, but I’m pretty sure it’s just that more attention is being paid to the normal background-level of clown attacks. With 325 million people you have to imagine some number of nuts in clown costumes commit assault on a given day.

      • Deiseach says:

        the normal background-level of clown attacks

        When a sentence like that can be written with a straight face, I throw my hands up and figure it’s the weekend, may as well start drinkin’ 🙂

        2016 – started strange, kept getting progressively weirder. Perhaps I should not be surprised Trump turned out to be one of the two left standing to contest the presidency, even though everyone thought he was the absolute no-hoper joke.

        The Clown Candidate, one might say?

        • Jaskologist says:

          France had a clown panic back in 2014. Maybe clown scares are just one of the mysterious constants of the universe, like Swedish meatballs.

        • hlynkacg says:

          @ Deiseach,
          I don’t know how to properly express how much I enjoyed this comment

          As I’ve said before The Onion made the transition from satirical newspaper to sober and restrained journalism so slowly that most people still haven’t noticed.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think the real problem is that the statistics are combining attacks by clowns and attacks by jesters. Completely different.

  16. LPSP says:

    I have no idea how they derived that conclusion from the before-after paper. We agree and accept that teenage mothers are pretty similar in character regardless of the when-minutae, yet a high school degree makes one so much more employable? That would indicate that two similar people’s success is dictated by an arbitrary bit of paper, which is easier to attain when not caring for a newborn and so rewards by sheer chances those lucky enough to enter labour after their exam dates. In other words, pure signalling value.

    I should note that the signalling value of a degree does have inherent value, namely that the bearer was that bit more able to tolerate the time and expense/debt needed to get a degree – and whether that was an indicator of skill, native character/motive/attitude etc. or fortunate circumstances/wealth/sheer luck is irrelevent to employers, as the number one thing they want in their company is reliability no matter the origin. I accept that signalling does serve a use, and this doesn’t contradict the fact that education increases no skills or abilities.

    • LPSP says:

      No wait, hang on, the study is saying the degree had no effect on employment success. This changes everything – Scott, why didn’t you say this? Pretty pertinent.

      • Chalid says:

        That’s the whole point. Someone who completes all of high school except one month has essentially the same education as someone who completes all of high school. They differ only in whether they have the signal, e.g. the diploma. So if there’s no difference in employment success then the signal has no value, and the value of high school therefore comes from the education (broadly defined).

        • Skeltering Lead says:

          Note the existence, magnitude, and sign of this latter value is not identified by the research design

        • LPSP says:

          That’s MY point, that Scott’s wording in the article impled that the data said the opposite.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @LPSP:
            No, he said it correctly, I believe. At least I understood what he meant.

            Edit:
            “Based on this methodology, a paper finds that a high school degree has real value and not signaling value.”

            I think the confusion is the meaning of “degree” in that sentence. The degree is not merely the piece of paper, but the educational work which was completed in order to qualify for the piece of paper.

          • Iain says:

            Part of the confusion is that he used the word degree in the previous sentence (“the former will probably get a degree and the latter probably won’t”) with a different meaning. In one case it means “diploma” and in the other it means “education”. Unintentional ambiguity!

          • LPSP says:

            That’s pretty much it, guys.

  17. AlphaGamma says:

    Lifehack: Align the High and Low Lights of North Shields to escape being caught in the Black Middens.

    Having sailed into the mouth of the Tyne in the dark, I was wondering why I hadn’t done this. Turns out (bottom of the article) that the lights are now switched off. The towers are still useful marks in daylight, but at night you use the sectored light which appears white if you’re on the right course and red or green depending on which direction you’re off it in.

  18. Deiseach says:

    Talking as we were about AI risk, this is the kind of thing I see as much more likely to cause problems than AI re-writing its code and deciding to turn us all into paperclips – ultimately down to humans making particular choices which the machine then carries out as instructed, without having to be smart enough to think about it for itself, and the tendency we are exhibiting to turn everything over to automation more and more in order to get faster and faster results to achieve a sliver of advantage to get more money money money than our rivals:

    Here’s a great explainer from London Capital Group’s Ipek Ozkardeskaya of how algos operate, and why the flash crash couldn’t be halted.

    “Algorithms are designed to act without emotion or thinking based on specific rules written by coders. E.g. “If GBPUSD drops more than 10pips in under a second then sell £1M.”

    “The problem is these algos often trigger other algos which trigger more algos… and so on. These algos react seriously fast. Within a few milliseconds or even microseconds. A human doesn’t have time to intervene to stop it.

    “By the time you’ve blinked (300 milliseconds) the algo has sold, reloaded and sold again… 20 times! Now you’ve seen it, thought about it and reacted another second has passed. In this time 500 more algos have triggered, each jumping on the bandwagon and selling more.”

    At 00:07 the flash crash occurred for a mere two minutes, hence the name, it subsequently recovered around 80pc of these moves. Like many, Mr Curran flags the Financial Times article, which was published at 00:06, and referenced the ‘harsh Brexit’ comments from French President Hollande.

    Mr Curran says: “A news tracking algorithmic trading system would have picked this up and started shorting aggressively just as volume was at it thinnest, right at the start of the Asian session.”

    • roystgnr says:

      A “flash crash”, in which algorithms offer stupid trades and thereby impoverish the people who created them in favor of people who were less stupid, isn’t much of a risk at all, much less an existential risk. I didn’t even die of despair after stock exchanges retroactively cancelled such trades on the Heads I Win Tails You Lose principle, and that principle seems to be weakening. As the rules slowly improve, perhaps we’ll all die of schadenfreude after a crash-instigating firm loses their shirts?

  19. Failed at reading comprehension says:

    > Someone who delivers a child a month after graduating high school is probably the same sort of person as someone who delivers a child a month before graduating high school

    I kept staring at this sentence for a full minute wondering how it would be meaningful for someone to deliver a child a month.

  20. Nott Alexanderson says:

    Ok is no one else absolutely terrified of the whole “robots will take over by the end of the century” thing? I mean, I can’t be the only one wetting their pants at the thought of this right? Also, and I acknowledge this is largely rhetorical, what idiot thought letting computers design other computers was a good idea?

    Is anyone else considering a campaign for a new dark age?

    • Sandy says:

      I’ll be dead by the end of the century, so there’s not much point wetting my pants at the thought of it.

      • Nott Alexanderson says:

        So will I hopefully. How sad that our fallback position for catastrophe is now just being dead.

        • Sandy says:

          Not necessarily. Peter Thiel plans to live forever, and I have the utmost confidence that he’ll think of something around 2070.

          • Nott Alexanderson says:

            Maybe they should elect Trump then if only because the nuclear holocaust will cauterize the wound. But I guess such cynicism is cheap and unproductive.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Butlerian Jihad when?

    • New Early Medieval Period. Historians abolished the old Dark Age some decades ago.

      • Deiseach says:

        Historians abolished the old Dark Age some decades ago.

        I wish the pop culture would catch up with this; the amount of times I see “Dark Ages” thrown around, in some cases not alone meaning “Mediaeval Period” but even up to before the Enlightenment! Because pfft, what were a bunch of Italians doing in the 16th century before a bunch of French and English gentry in the 18th century suddenly all grew big brains and discovered the use of reason?

        I’m very sore about the Mediaevals, though: fight me on the 12th-13th centuries, go on I dare you 🙂

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The 12-13th centuries were great, which is exactly why I call “the Renaissance” a Dark Age. The people using reason in the 15th century weren’t Italian.

          • Deiseach says:

            It does tend to remind me of the 60s and the later “New Age” revival: all that Western logic and science is so boring and materialistic, man, let’s go for Esoteric Eastern Wisdom! So they fall over themselves reviving Neoplatonism and one-upping each other on who can manage the most obscure reference to Classical mythology, as well as astrology and magia getting major upsurge in interest and coolness factor 🙂

        • Somewhere there is a quote about the commercial revolution having now been pushed back to the eleventh century.

          I’m particularly fond of barbarian art such as the Sutton Hoo treasure and the Tara Brooch (even if the latter has sacrificed function on the alter of form).

        • brad says:

          Things in the 12th century might have been relatively okay, but the British Isles in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries were pretty grim.

          • Compared to when and on what data? All of the past save the very recent is pretty grim by modern standards.

            Checking my handy Atlas of World Population History, it shows British Isles population growing from 600 to 800 A.D.

          • brad says:

            Compared to the prior Romano-British period. The entire concept of a dark age is that thing have gone backwards. I don’t think anyone calls the iron age a dark age just because it was grim as compared to the present.

          • Deiseach says:

            the British Isles in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries were pretty grim

            Hey! The 8th to 10th centuries were the high point of our Golden Age in Ireland! Is the Book of Kells something you would expect out of “pretty grim” circumstances? Occupied England “the Romans pulled out and left us hanging in the wind as the Romano-British are gettng their backsides kicked by vengeful tribesmen and our economy and society has collapsed along with Rome” may have been “pretty grim”, but the rest of us were doing okay.

            Viking incursions became a real problem towards the end of the period, and the Norman invasion invited over and decided to stay during the 11th century kicked off a long period of strife, but early Christian Ireland was a land of (relative) peace and prosperity; the monastic foundations were famous educational centres, we were sending missionaries to continental Europe who were founding monasteries all over the place and becoming bishops, royal advisers, and teachers, power was being centralised (whether you think that was a good or a bad thing, but it cut down on minor feuding and raiding), even English kings came as international students to get free education from us 🙂

            I’ll leave you with the joke about John Eriugena* and the Emperor Charles the Bald (though modern spoil-sports are throwing doubt if it ever happened):

            William of Malmesbury’s humorous anecdote illustrates both the character of Eriugena and the position he occupied at the French court. The king having asked, Quid distat inter sottum et Scottum? (What separates a sot [drunkard] from an Irishman?), Eriugena replied, Tabula tantum (Only a table)

            *9th century Irish scholar:

            Johannes Scotus Eriugena was an Irishman, educated in Ireland. He moved to France (about 845) and took over the Palatine Academy at the invitation of Carolingian King Charles the Bald. He succeeded Alcuin of York (735–804) as head of the Palace School. The reputation of this school, part of the Carolingian Renaissance, seems to have increased greatly under Eriugena’s leadership, and the philosopher himself was treated with indulgence by the king. Whereas Alcuin was a schoolmaster rather than a philosopher, Eriugena was a noted Greek scholar, a skill which, though rare at that time in Western Europe, was used in the learning tradition of Early and Medieval Ireland, as evidenced by the use of Greek script in medieval Irish manuscripts.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, note that bit about Alcuin of York: born in the early 8th century, highly educated to the standards of the place and time, invited over by Charlemagne himself to run his school:

            At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and ’90s. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. “The most learned man anywhere to be found”, according to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne (ca. 817-833), he is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.

            This is the fruit of establishments in the 7th century, part of the period you are describing as “pretty grim” and “things have gone backward” “compared to the prior Romano-British period”. There certainly was collapse post-Roman withdrawal, but that effected everywhere, and it is not true that the “Dark Ages” were solely a period of subsistence peasants grubbing in the mud and gazing in slack-jawed bewilderment at the ruins of the glorious Roman past; some of them were literate, educated and in touch with the Continent (thanks to the Church).

            I think the Venerable Bede would like a word with you about the period of ignorance, poverty, and stagnation you are attributing to the place:

            At the time Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, there were two common ways of referring to dates. One was to use indictions, which were 15-year cycles, counting from 312 AD. There were three different varieties of indiction, each starting on a different day of the year. The other approach was to use regnal years—the reigning Roman emperor, for example, or the ruler of whichever kingdom was under discussion. This meant that in discussing conflicts between kingdoms, the date would have to be given in the regnal years of all the kings involved. Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus. Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

            Poverty-stricken misery post-Roman good times meant those who considered themselves “well-off” only had the likes of these paltry items to adorn themselves with, because naturally the natives were too ignorant to have any traditional skills of their own not learned from the Romans.

          • “The entire concept of a dark age is that thing have gone backwards.”

            I’m not certain, but I think the term originally referred to the shortage of surviving textual sources, making the period dark to historians. It then got commonly interpreted in your sense.

            But what is the evidence that things went backwards? I’ve cited the population estimates for Europe, which suggest that the late Roman period was “dark” (declining population), the early medieval period “light” (rising population).

            For the British isles, the estimates show population trending up until 400, a slight dip at 600, and from 800 up pretty rapid rise.

            Deiseach has, of course, cited the Book of Kells. The Sutton Hoo treasure, equally impressive in a different medium, is 7th century. None of that tells us how well off the average Briton was–but decent data don’t exist.

            What is the evidence that things were terrible relative to the situation a few centuries earlier?

          • LPSP says:

            Interesting stuff about Alcuin of York.

            When I describe the nature of America, “Mainland Europe, with a system of governance devised by the British” usually works for the white portion of the populace. I think there’s a parralel with Charlie Hammer and his friend Alcuin in here.

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach has, of course, cited the Book of Kells. The Sutton Hoo treasure, equally impressive in a different medium, is 7th century. None of that tells us how well off the average Briton was–but decent data don’t exist.

            In general, things like that only get made in periods of relative peace and prosperity. When you’re fleeing for your life from Viking raiders who want to rip off the jewelled covers of your holy books and reliquaries, you don’t have the luxury of spending time on those kinds of endeavours (until the Vikings settle down in your territory to build ports and trading cities).

            “Dark Ages” in the popular sense is remnants of polemic and propaganda from Enlightenment times/early 19th century solid ‘feet on the ground scientific thinking material progress’ types who liked to think of themselves as the heirs of the idealised Classical world and looked down their noses at the perceived Church-dominated periods post-collapse of the Empire, when all was darkness and superstition until the faint glimmerings of revived Classical thought during the Renaissance which led, inevitably, to the wonderful modern people they were now.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think there’s a parralel with Charlie Hammer and his friend Alcuin in here.

            It is interesting because it shows the “barbarians” were interested in learning and scholarship, did want to take on the mantle of Rome not merely as “leading power in war and trade and rule” but in other matters, weren’t merely leaving it as “those clerical types need to read so they can read their Bible but kings and warriors only need a good sword and a strong arm to use it” but did try to be patrons of the arts and sciences. They very much wanted to legitimise themselves as the heirs of Rome but they also had a genuine interest in knowledge – Alfred the Great comes later, but after a lifetime of fighting the Danes and finally re-establishing his kingdom, he too wanted to civilise his people by introducing learning – including translating into the vernacular Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” himself – not a past time you would expect of a ruler who had to claw his way back into power, who lived on the edge of the former Empire, and who lived well before the Renaissance and the “re-discovery” of Classical learning.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m not certain, but I think the term originally referred to the shortage of surviving textual sources, making the period dark to historians. It then got commonly interpreted in your sense.

            Actually it was the other way around: the term first got used by Petrarch in the 14th century to cover the period between the fall of Rome and Petrarch’s own time, when people were ignorantly doing backward things like creating beautiful illuminated manuscripts and inventing Gothic architecture, instead of cosplaying ancient Romans like all the enlightened people were. Later the term came to refer specifically to the early Middle Ages (approximately 500-1000), because, as you said, there was a dearth of written sources so we didn’t know much about it.

            (Although it is worth mentioning that in some respects the period does seem to have been genuinely dark-in-the-sense-of-bad compared to the old Roman days: throughout the west, population levels, long-distance trade, urbanisation and literacy all seem to have fallen. In Britain, the population fell during the fifth century from around 4 million to around 1-2.5 million, and didn’t recover until the Tudors a full thousand years later.)

          • ” I think there’s a parralel with Charlie Hammer and his friend Alcuin in here.”

            I think you are confusing Charles Magnus with his grandfather Charles Martel.

          • “In Britain, the population fell during the fifth century from around 4 million to around 1-2.5 million, and didn’t recover until the Tudors a full thousand years later.)”

            What’s your source for those numbers? My Atlas of World Population History shows a high of one million about 400 A.D., declining to .9 million in 600, back to 1 million by 800 and passing 4 million sometime in the 13th century.

            And it shows European population levels starting back up about 600 A.D. and passing their Roman high about 800 A.D.

            Are there newer estimates that are very different?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I was mostly going off the figures on Wikipedia, although they were in line with all the stuff I’d previously read on the matter. FWIW the Oxford DNB mentions that “In the past, historians tended to underestimate the importance of Roman Britain partly because it was seen as a relatively thinly settled country, with perhaps only a million inhabitants. That view has been overturned by archaeology since the Second World War. It is now clear that in general terms Britain (and specifically England) had a population and a density of settlement comparable with those of the high middle ages,” so I think your source might be out of date.

          • LPSP says:

            I think you are confusing Charles Magnus with his grandfather Charles Martel.

            *quick wiki check*

            My god, you’re right. I’ve been making that error for a while now, too.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            That Bede was venerated is the canonical example of how far intellectual standards fell. But he did make real contributions to the rebound.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Canonical” for whom, exactly? I’ve never heard anyone say such a thing. Certainly I don’t think a historian of the early middle ages would express such an opinion, given that scholarship in that area has been trending away from the “dark ages” view for a while now.

          • Deiseach says:

            That Bede was venerated is the canonical example of how far intellectual standards fell.

            Mr Knight, you are perhaps unaware that Bede is now St Bede? Or that “Venerable” is one of the three stages towards canonisation, and the reason he is called “Bede the Venerable” is that for so long, this is the stage he was classed as? And post-Reformation, this has tended to be forgotten as a religious status and treated as all one name.

            To quote a handy definition:

            When a decree of this Congregation establishing that a Servant of God has practiced the Christian virtues in heroic degree has got the papal approbation he or she gets the title “Venerable”.

            The virtues in question are the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the four cardinal or moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), and the annexed virtues like humility, obedience, chastity, poverty, etc. according to each one’s state of life or office in the Church (bishop, priest, religious, layperson). The word “heroic” refers to the manner of the exercise of the said virtues: it should be exceptional or at least above the average by reason of the constancy and facility of exercise attained normally as a consequence of habitual practice. Such a person, therefore, who has been officially recognized to have practiced the Christian virtues heroically is awarded the title “Venerable”. However, no “public cult” or official veneration of the Servant of God is as yet authorized. This means that till he or she is beatified no acts of worship or veneration may be performed officially by the ministers of the Church till this is permitted by the pope.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, I did not know that “venerable” was a technical term, let alone that it meant “not venerable.” But I did know that he was (eventually) a Doctor of the Church, venerated for his learning, not just his faith, hope, and charity.

            Why are we talking about Bede? Because you venerated his learning. People arguing against the “Dark Ages” always point to Bede because he’s the best. He just isn’t very good, which is why people arguing for the “Dark Ages” also point to him.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Where do you get the idea that Bede “just wasn’t very good”? He spoke English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, which is two more than most Classical Romans did, three more than most Classical Greeks (who, as a rule, didn’t bother learning Latin), three more than most Late Imperial Western Romans (Greek having dropped off the Western curriculum sometime during the third or fourth centuries) and three more than the Romans of his day (if you count the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire as Roman, which some historians do). Not really seeing the evidence of intellectual decline here.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            What, did English intellectual life peak with Burton and it has all been downhill since? Do you get extra points for making up a new language?

            Most people praise Bede for his actual contributions and not mere tools. Deiseach praised Bede for his promotion of the Anno Domini system. Most people (as measured by googling “bede dark ages”) praise him for calculating the date of Easter. As far as I know, these really improved the state of the world. But they would not have impressed the Romans, let alone the Greeks.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            He also wrote histories, commentaries on the Bible, books about education, translations of the Bible into English, poetry, hymns, and various other types of work. As for the language issue, sure, knowing lots of languages isn’t the be all and end all of education, but it’s still pretty impressive, and the fact that an ordinary monk in some distant and relatively unimportant part of Christendom knew more languages than a Roman aristocrat at the height of the Empire is surely a point against the idea that the “Dark Ages” were a period of ignorance and backwardness.

      • herbert herbertson says:

        We can still have the Greek Dark Ages, though, right?

    • Murphy says:

      thing is, getting computers to do most things, including design computers is an extremely good idea when it’s simply automation. The CPU’s in your computer long ago passed the point where a human could design them unaided.

    • Deiseach says:

      Like Sandy, I’ll be bones by the time you young’uns are fleeing in terror for your lives from the God-Emperor AI’s army of killbots. Have fun! 🙂

      (One of the unexpected advantages to being a fossil: all the gloomy prognostications won’t matter a straw to me because I won’t be around to see if they come true or not).

      • Tibor says:

        I imagine you have children o at least younger relatives you care about, so I doubt that’s really true.

    • Gazeboist says:

      This claimed danger seems implausible.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok is no one else absolutely terrified of the whole “robots will take over by the end of the century” thing?

      Not really. All the stuff’s going to run out before then, there’ll be nothing to build robots out of or run them on, and we’ll be permanently fixed in a post-abundance society which will probably end up neofeudal and highly local forever. It’ll be nice, we’ll be safe from social reformers for the rest of time. The human urge to invent will be able to exhaust itself happily on microimprovements to standard of living, without constantly running the risk of constructing world-threatening horrors simply because the materials are available.

  21. anon says:

    Lovelock has been Britain’s leading independent scientist for more than 50 years. His Gaia hypothesis, which contends that the earth is a single, self-regulating organism, is now accepted as the founding principle of most climate science,

    Is The Guardian a rag, or is climate science significantly less sciencey than I thought?

    and his invention of a device to detect CFCs helped identify the hole in the ozone layer.

    …so is this one of those Tesla type cases where he manages to invent useful stuff while still going batshit, or…?

    “I’m not sure the whole thing isn’t crazy, this climate change. You’ve only got to look at Singapore. It’s two-and-a-half times higher than the worst-case scenario for climate change, and it’s one of the most desirable cities in the world to live in.”

    This is not the dumbest thing I’ve heard all month, but only barely.

    it is manifestly clear that he enjoys maddening the green movement. “Well, it’s a religion, really, you see. It’s totally unscientific.”

    Well, it is if you base it around “Gaia”.

    • “His Gaia hypothesis, which contends that the earth is a single, self-regulating organism, is now accepted as the founding principle of most climate science,”

      ???

      • Fahundo says:

        Pretty sure “Gaia Hypothesis” was what the bad guy from the movie Kingsman believed in. Sounded like the kind of thing that, uh, you would expect a movie writer to make up.

    • Murphy says:

      @anon and @David Friedman

      The guardian has a pretty good science section but that article was not written by one of it’s science writers.
      It also has few nutty new-agey authors who wouldn’t know a hypothesis from a pointy stick.

      hence the fluffy garbage.

      Gaian hypotheses suggest that organisms co-evolve with their environment: that is, they “influence their abiotic environment, and that environment in turn influences the biota by Darwinian process”.

      Lovelock, born in 1919, is best known for the ‘Gaia hypothesis’, which proposes that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system, similar to a living organism.

      http://www.nature.com/news/james-lovelock-reflects-on-gaia-s-legacy-1.15017

      • Deiseach says:

        that article was not written by one of it’s science writers.

        I was wondering why James Lovelock was being treated as Serious Climate Scientist, given the scepticism that his Gaia Hypothesis evoked back in the day. It was odd to see him being quoted as mainstream, not as, um, a visionary thinker.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is The Guardian a rag

      Did the Pope wear a silly hat until the present one eschewed it as a vanity in the eyes of Christ?

      This is the same paper that boosted Stalinism far into the Sixties and still gives Polly Toynbee a column. It’s had worse Brexit coverage than the Daily Mail.

    • LPSP says:

      Is The Guardian a rag

      It’s nicknamed Teh Grauniad for a reason. Tied with the Daily Mail for worst non-red-top newspaper in Britain.

      • nimim. k.m. says:

        Publishing the News hacking scandal and PRISM program makes quite interesting history for a newspaper “tied with Daily Mail” in terms of being terrible. Just take the Israel – Palestine coverage with a grain of salt.

    • LPSP says:

      Eh, suppose Mister Plumbean’s extravagant ad-hoc property mods severely diminished the value of neighbouring properties. Suppose Plumbean also took to playing loud Caribbean-Techno-Hymns with jungle sound effects 24/7, 365. Suppose Plumbean wasn’t a competent property modifier and caused damages, wild animal rampages and invasive species issues. I wouldn’t say it’s unlibertarian to ask him to think of the neighbourhood.

  22. Dain says:

    I’d assumed Chinese opinion leaned toward Clinton because her pantsuits look Mao-ish.

  23. Dain says:

    The Trump link is from May. (I’d thought I read that somewhere before.) I’m curious if Chinese opinion has shifted much since then, as his anti-China rhetoric has only grown.

    The sentiment that comes across in Chinese opinion of Trump is somewhere between the least empathetic stance and most empathetic (as expressed in the notion of “pathological altruism”). Whereas the modal reaction around the world to a foreign leader bashing one’s homeland is simple animosity, the Chinese reaction may be one of “well yea, if I were him I’d say the same thing about us.” Meanwhile Clinton’s opinion is post-nationalist, as she, relative to Trump, believes China is worth criticizing not because it’s the “other team,” but because it runs afoul of idealistic humanitarianism. The fact that it’s a nation-on-nation squabble is only incidental, but it’s nonetheless anti-Chinese. This may feel to the Chinese like something akin to the way domestic conservatives feel, in their disdain for progressives’ leap-frogging loyalties. Dishonest and all about moral grandstanding.

    So the Chinese hate Her more, despite Trump’s rhetoric. They may also recognize hot air when they see it, so discount Trump’s mostly hinted-at militaristic belligerence as compared to Clinton’s actual record.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      So the Chinese hate Her more, despite Trump’s rhetoric.

      Please stop this, person who is definitely not E. Harding. It’s every bit as annoying as liberals using Dr*mpf (which is apparently sufficiently annoying that Scott has a filter for it).

      • Dain says:

        Ok. I was using the word “her” anyway, and that added flair. Is it even an insult? I mean “Obamacare” isn’t an insult, not anymore, apparently.

        What is “Dr*mpf”? First I’ve seen it.

        • Drumph. It’s Trump’s old family name, and John Oliver tried to make a great joke of it. Fortunately, it hasn’t gotten much traction.

          • Evan Þ says:

            It’s sadly gotten traction in certain internet circles, including some leftists who really should know better than to make such ethnicity jokes.

    • onyomi says:

      My very strong general impression is that, relative to Americans, citizens of the PRC are conservative, right wing, and authoritarian as understood in terms of American political standards, albeit also more secular and much more positively disposed toward communism as a lip-service ideal. Trump is a better match to the beliefs they already have.

  24. Jill says:

    It seems like we are trying increased inter-tribal communication here on this board more often. I think that it would be great if we could keep doing this more and more, even though it can be really stressful. Let’s have brass balls or brass ovaries or whatever it takes.

    If enough of us have the courage to do this, and to strive to learn from it, and to learn how to do inter-tribal communication effectively and respectfully, then we could be a role model for our society as a whole– which desperately needs to learn these things, in order to survive and function well. It could be a matter of life or death for our democracy– or what is left of it.

    The rise of Trump is but one symptom of our society’s pathological bubble-ness and the impossibility for most people of inter-tribal communication.

    One thing I do agree with some Right Wing people on is that there are times when political correctness impedes or even shuts down communication. Yet that doesn’t mean that hate speech would be a good idea. I think we should strive for some kind of balanced way of dealing with that conundrum.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      One thing I do agree with some Right Wing people on is that there are times when political correctness impedes or even shuts down communication. Yet that doesn’t mean that hate speech would be a good idea.

      Can you elaborate on what you mean in the bolded sentence?

      This isn’t meant as a gotcha, I’m just not sure what you’re saying. I initially read it as something like “slurs should remain taboo.” But then I reread it and now I’m not sure. Hate speech is kind of a slippery concept and I remember you subscribe to the idea of non-violent communication, which might have it’s own definitions which I’m not familiar with.

      Anyway, I agree with the rest of the comment. More two-way communication, and fewer bubbles, would be good.

    • MichaelM says:

      I don’t know if SSC does inter-tribal communications very well. Pretty much everyone here is blue tribe. Deiseach is kind of like another country’s red tribe, I think, but the whole tribal model doesn’t translate very well over borders.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Jill isn’t using tribes in the way Scott did, as near as I can tell. I’m not sure if she has grokked that Scott even had a whole post wherein he heavily used the word tribe to mean “group I identify with which is different than party I vote for”.

        SSC commentariat (SSCC?) tries to use tribes the Scott meant them, but Scott wasn’t actually all that clear anyway. He wasn’t really proposing an actual fully functioning theory of US tribes.

        But … most people here are gray tribe, not blue tribe.

        • Zombielicious says:

          I’ve been more coming to the opinion that grey (gray?) tribe isn’t actually a useful paradigm. Mainly because it’s waaay too easy – it’s mostly the best aspects of red and blue, minus the bad ones. Considering yourself “grey” lets you just claim all the things you like about your tribe, plus all the things you like about the other tribe, while also rejecting what you don’t like about your own tribe. Plus, realistically, most people seem to eventually lean one way or the other (hence terms like “left-libertarian”). It’s just a matter of degree, plus how much tribe-self-awareness you have to be able to make fun of the stupid things your own group does and admit that they’re not perfect.

          Don’t get me wrong, I really liked and self-identified with the idea of “grey tribe” when I first heard the term (in Outgroup). But realistically I’m in one of the two major ones, and I know which one it is. This took a while to figure out and admit to myself. Especially if you’re prone to (self-)awareness of tribal behavior and spend a lot of time without being exposed to your actual outgroup, people in your ingroup can become very frustrating over time, so it’s easy to start to think they’re not your ingroup. I think that’s where a lot of the grey tribe identification originates. Plus it’s very tempting in that it’s a way to claim to have transcended tribalism itself – you’re not actually even in one of the two factions, even better than admitting you’re just a slightly more self-aware and (hopefully) reasonable member of group X.

          Now someone may just say, “Oh, you were never really grey tribe, but I am.” Which is possible, but I still think it’s more useful to just think of it as two tribes, and admitting to yourself which one you’re a part of can just be kind of difficult. Some people very close to the middle may have a particularly hard time. But most “grey tribe” people still probably find themselves getting more annoyed with one (out)group than the other; one is a lesser tribal evil for them. Plus having three just doesn’t fit the tribal model well. Who’s grey tribe’s outgroup? Blue and red are defined in terms of opposition to each other – their voting patterns and favorite restaurants are coincidental. Grey tribe doesn’t seem to have one, at least not in the visceral emotional sense that tribal outgrouping is supposed to work. They don’t oppose blue and red as a single outgroup, and blue and red barely seem to acknowledge them, except when treating grey members as part of their (blue/red’s) opposite.

          To the extent that blue and red are meaningful, it seems more sensible to just think of basically everyone as being blue or red, but some people are particularly weird idiosyncratic members of their tribe, and some are more balanced and self-aware about their tribalness than the most glaring examples of tribalness usually are.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zombielicious:
            There is lot of truth in that post, but, I think that using a small number of tribes to describe 330 million people doesn’t really work, especially when it’s such a heterogeneous population.

            At the very least you need to look at splits like urban/sub-urban/rural. Traditional 4-year College/Other college/No college. Indistinct ethnicity vs. all the distinct ethnicities. What religion if any. High social function vs. low social function. And many more, I’m sure.

            I think Scott mostly just took a collection of things I will call “urbane” (Jimmy Stewart’s aspiration in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) and put that together with low-social function (we don’t understand most other people, and they think we are weird) and called it grey tribe. And that isn’t even quite accurate.

            But blue/red doesn’t really accurately describe the rest of the US.

          • Zombielicious says:

            That’s true, but imo it’s just a shortcoming of the whole red tribe/blue tribe paradigm, not something that’s resolved by adding a grey tribe. Things start to feel weird when you’re putting someone like Ron Paul in the same category as Jerry Falwell, or someone like Thomas Friedman in the same category as Noam Chomsky (someone else may prefer better examples, but you get the idea). You can break things down (beyond red and blue tribes) along further demographic and ideological lines all you want, all the way down to individual people and organizations and their specific opinions and mission statements, but in the end almost everyone lines up in opposition to what they see as the greater evil, which seems to be what the red/blue idea is good at capturing.

            Red tribe and blue tribe is like the result you get from factor analysis of the n-dimensional ideological space. It’s useful at predicting some things, like why do liberals hate the Koch brothers so much even though they support a lot of liberal goals (ditto for similar examples on the other side), whereas for other things you need to look at more than the one-dimensional axis. Adding grey tribe doesn’t seem to give you anything useful in between, and actually takes a lot of the explanatory power away. For instance, it’d seem fair to put both Chomsky and the Koch brothers in grey tribe, but now you have two members of the same tribe who are probably clear examples of each other’s outgroup. It breaks the model for stuff like this, whereas “red/blue tribe as coalitions of subcultures and demographics, and defined in opposition to each other” explains it perfectly.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Zombielicious

            That is an excellent analysis.

          • Jill says:

            Yes, great analysis. Thanks.

          • MichaelM says:

            Thank you Zombielicious, beautiful. Describes perfectly what Scott meant and what’s wrong about using them as purely political labels.

            To use myself as an example: I have libertarian leanings and have for some time, although I’m slowly building my way out of that. But I am still solid blue tribe, in Scott’s meaning. I think this can be demonstrated with a few good reasons:

            1. I live within 15 minutes of I-95 in the North. This has stronger explanatory power than you might think. Anyone who has lived both near I-95 in the North and elsewhere in the East will understand. Anyone who hasn’t: The Boston-Washington corridor, one of the most heavily urbanized, densely settled areas of the country is defined by I-95 in this area. Even the less dense, urban areas can be very blue tribe, being usually either suburban or very close to a suburban area.

            2. Blue tribe has a harder streak of gender egalitarianism than red tribe. I have four sisters (two sisters, two step-sisters): One is an efficiency expert for a major financial corporation, another is an accountant, another is a graphic designer for an industrial design company, and the final one (the one closest to red tribe of any kind) is a bank teller. All are employed, none are being asked (by their husbands or anyone else) to leave their work for child-rearing reasons (the graphic designer and the accountant have had kids so far). The efficiency expert isn’t even sure she wants kids and, although her husband does, nobody is pressuring her to do so (it wouldn’t work anyway).

            3. Religion played a very peripheral role in all our lives. Even when my birth mother was dying its role was ceremonial for most of us. My one sister, the graphic designer is a straight up atheist, proud and moderately out-spoken about it. I’m not an atheist but certainly not a Christian. No one in my social sphere thinks this is weird or worthy of putting any pressure whatsoever on me for it. The most religious person in my family is, oddly enough, the sister who is an efficiency expert, the strongest female personality and the one least like any kind of stereotypical red tribe woman. Even then, her religiosity is a ‘liberal’ Catholicism. I doubt she would ever vote for an anti-abortion Republican, for example.

            4. The blue tribe also tends to heavily value education. Three of my four sisters have four year degrees (the graphic design artist a five year degree from a prestigious university, actually), one of them (the efficiency expert) is working on an MBA at the cream-of-the-crop non-Ivy League schools. My father didn’t get a degree until later in life but he made a point of getting one when I was young (along with my mother, both took night classes to make sure they had a formal education), despite having no need of one whatsoever (he was doing very well for himself as a software salesman for a series of major enterprise software vendors). Purely a cultural choice on his part.

            5. I actually get to see what strikes me as red tribe on a semi-regular basis, and always have. I grew up in a suburb that was somewhere near the border, where red and blue intermix pretty freely. There were still farms left in the suburb we lived in and, by the time I was old enough, there was still definitely a strong cultural current of old-county that had absorbed a lot of the off-spring of the people who moved here in the suburb boom of the last 50 years. I like a lot of these people but I can tell how different I am from a lot of them. In a way, they’re more blue tribe than a lot of their fellows further West or South and I’m probably a lot more red tribe than some of my fellows further in towards the urban core (which probably helps explain my receptivity to ideas like libertarianism), but I can still almost smell the areas where I am not on point with them.

            6. My girlfriend is a black-native-white, mixed race aspiring scientist who isn’t sure about ever having kids. She wants to be a geneticist, which means a career that is NEVER going to let her be a house-wife and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She was born in Portland and her family is from New York. There isn’t a lick of red-tribe on her and I’m head over heels for this girl, have been for years. Unless you want to look at it as a John Smith-Pocahontas thing (she sometimes does. My suburban upbringing means I have more marks of red-tribe than she or most of the people she’s known do, which she finds attractive sometimes), this is probably a good reason.

            I don’t know how good of an explanation I make, but I do think it highlights some of the key points that make the blue tribe blue instead of red. Breaking them down further can be useful, but having the model is very important because it helps understand politics and society in the US (which has almost always had some form of another of majoritarianism) much, much better than any other model.

            Sub-groups of the red tribe and blue tribe are just that: sub-groups. The red and blue tribes are social coalitions, amalgamations of related groups that have some common vision of the future that they unite to achieve. They’re kept together by politics, but their achievements have non-political implications so they can have non-political properties. They can ultimately have individual members who disagree with most other members of the tribe on every single one of a laundry list of political points (I’d be willing to bet that a surprising number of They-Who-Shalt-Not-Be-Named spring from blue tribe backgrounds), but they do so from within rather than without (still surrounding themselves with tribal fellows and engaging in non-political but still tribal behaviors).

            They’re attitudes, they’re cultural mores, they’re beliefs and they’re instincts. Not all people come to the same political conclusions based on the same attitudes, cultural mores, beliefs, or instincts, so you have variance within the tribes. All you can see as far as definitive outcomes for each tribe are statistical. Not every red-triber is a reliable Republican voter but many of them are. Not every blue-triber is pro-choice, but many are. Political leanings are just one test of tribal membership, something that can give an indication but aren’t themselves firm support for a conclusion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zombielicious:
            Agree with that, but most especially about it being a product of the political system, especial a FPTP political system.

            I think comparing modern day sports loyalties with the ancient green vs. blue rivalry is instructive (although certainly not original).

      • Deiseach says:

        Deiseach is kind of like another country’s red tribe, I think

        Definitely. As HeelBearCub points out, Scott’s Tribes were meant to apply to more than merely political views (it’s entirely possible to be Blue Tribe Republican and Red Tribe Democrat, for instance) and encompass an entire cultural way of thinking, behaving and worldview: education, religion, who you interact with, social/ethnic diversity or homogeneity in where you come from, where you went to school, where you work, etc.

        Naturally we then glommed onto them as labels for political discussion 🙁

  25. ThrustVectoring says:

    I’m actually quite okay with Berkeley taking the videos down. It’s the sort of price you have to pay in order to have a policy that makes accessible videos. Like, negotiating with terrorists holding hostages saves lives, and there’s no way for your refusal to negotiate to go back in time and make the terrorists not take hostages, yet there’s still a very good case for not negotiating with terrorists. In the same way, there’s a very good case for supporting the accessibility requirement, even though there’s no way for it to cause Berkeley to have the funds and/or foresight to make the videos accessible.

    • Jiro says:

      That might apply if not allowing inaccessible content creates incentives to produce accessible content. I don’t think that’s true here; the inaccessible content was basically free for Berkeley. And bans on free inaccessible content don’t create incentives for costly accessible content.

  26. SM says:

    > This is a metaphor for how everything works all the time.

    when the government tries to “ensure fairness”. FTFY.

    If I wanted to download subtitles for, say, “Stark Trek Beyond”, would take me less than 5 minutes to get them. Actually, you can get several competing versions of them, and there are people that will fix them for free if you tell them there are mistakes there.

    Somehow opensubtitles.org guys have almost 4 million subtitles in dozens of languages without being threatened by Fed. No not “everything” and not “all the time”.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Stark Trek Beyond”

      Is this some kind of weird Iron Man/Shatnerverse cross-over? Also, try something like Muhteşem Yüzyıl: Kösem instead. Or just a random YouTube video.

      Subtitles don’t appear out of thin air. Making them (and translating them) takes time and effort, especially when there’s no screenplay to check things against/copy things from. Subtitles for Hollywood blockbusters are readily available because they are popular (so it’s easier to find a poor English-speaking sucker who will create and upload subtitles for free), and also because often the distributor will bundle subtitles with the original release in the first place (so the production company/distributor/whatever pays the subtitler while the pirates don’t even need to put in much effort of their own). For more niche videos it’s harder to find someone capable and willing to create subtitles. (The “YouTube Heroes” program was supposed to create incentives for doing so, among other things. The response wasn’t enthusiastic.)

      • SM says:

        I think you mean this one?
        http://www.opensubtitles.org/en/subtitles/6745215/muhtesem-yuzyil-kosem-alametler-ve-mucizeler-en

        There are subtitles. No idea how good or complete, but it’s there.

        > Making them (and translating them) takes time and effort,

        And of course this can not happen without Federal Government forcing people to do it. I mean, who except Federal Government could create such project as Wikipedia, for example? Surely not a bunch of unpaid volunteers and a non-profit supported by donations!

        > Subtitles for Hollywood blockbusters are readily available because they are popular

        Visit the actual site. There’s no 4 million Hollywood blockbusters. Visit Wikipedia and look how many projects it has. All supported by volunteers. It’s possible and people do it everyday. The potential of free cooperation is gigantic. The potential of Feds… well, we just saw it. They just destroyed a perfectly useful thing out of perverse sense of “fairness”.

        > The response wasn’t enthusiastic.

        Google has no idea how to do community. It’s a sad fact. I don’t know why but it’s just how it is.

  27. Scott Alexander says:

    Test.

    • AnonBosch says:

      I can leave a comment through the in-page form now again, as before.

      I tried to register a WordPress account to get in on the custom avatar action, but logging in (both through the reply button with this morning’s setting changes or through the right-sidebar link now) doesn’t seem to work. When I get to the “login through WordPress.com” the first clickthru works and I see my account, but the second clickthru to “log in” gets this error:

      We couldn’t find your account. If you already have an account, make sure you have connected to WordPress.com.

      I’m logged in to WordPress.com right now one tab over so it sounds like something’s up with the Jetpack plugin

      • cassander says:

        I had precisely the same problem.

        • Deiseach says:

          Third person with that “Okay you do have a WordPress account, you are logged in, and yes you have followed the instructions but ha ha did you really think it would be that easy you naive simpleton?” problem.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        Update: The WordPress login process seems to be working now, although this time the second clickthru required one manual retry (which I was prompted for).

    • Urstoff says:

      I was blind but now can see

    • Gazeboist says:

      A parallel discussion I started before finding this.

      For the record, I (currently logged out) still see the “recent comments” widget.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The “report comment” links appear to be gone?

  28. Tim Martin says:

    From the amount of time I was willing to spend this morning reading Japanese wikipedia, it looks like the komodo dragon clip isn’t from a game show. There’s a Japanese variety show called Sekai no Hate made ItteQ; the show has a bunch of different segments that they run. One of them is “Chinjuu Hunter” (rare animal hunter). The komodo dragon stunt was an episode of Chinjuu Hunter- no game or prizes involved, just doing crazy shit for entertainment.

  29. onyomi says:

    I’ll assume he gets the visual/statistical evidence right and say that this XKCD is one of the better persuaders for AGW I’ve seen. My only complaint would be that even 20,000 years doesn’t seem like much on a geologic scale.

    • keranih says:

      The problem is showing the (well recorded) recent upswing spike, while flattening out previous rises and falls over the last couple hundred years, which are not well recorded. Also there’s the extrapolations into the future.

      • AnonBosch says:

        While the proxy records are certainly lower resolution than the instrumental record, they’re sufficiently high-resolution that if there were a spike similar in duration and magnitude to the current instrumental record (i.e., 1°C over 100 years) we would’ve seen evidence of it. Tamino demonstrated this around the time Marcott 2013 (one of the source papers XKCD uses) came out.

        • Am I wrong in believing that when the hockey stick graph originally came out, the proxy numbers were replaced with the observed temperature data numbers for the recent period, possibly because the proxy line for the recent period failed to show the observed temperature increase? I thought that was what got referred to as Mike’s trick in the leaked emails, but I could easily be mistaken.

          It would seem the obvious test of the sensitivity of the proxies to rapid temperature change.

          In any case, the ice core data show temperature changes more rapid than the recent changes in the more distant past, I believe several times in the past million years or so.

        • VVV says:

          One word: MWP.

        • nona says:

          Can you explain what Tamino did? I read it as saying he took the proxy temperature data, added a 0.9 °C spike to it, and showed that taking an average of time-perturbed time series shows the same spike. However, that says nothing about the relationship between the proxy and the underlying temperature.

          From the XKCD comic, it looks like a 1 °C change over a century is considered “unlikely” (but not impossible) but there are 220 centuries in the graph, so assuming unlikely means p < 0.05 (and assuming independence across centuries) there should be 11 spikes. If unlikely means p < 0.01, then 2 spikes. The lack of error bars around the temperature is my main problem with the comic.

    • Jaskologist says:

      What happened to The Pause of the last 10-15 years? Is that still a thing that happened?

      • The Nybbler says:

        I don’t think they’d managed to completely adjust away the Pause before El Nino ended it.

      • AnonBosch says:

        The only context in which there was ever a “pause” was shamelessly cherry-picking start points near the 1997-1998 El Nino spike, and also cherry-picking satellite temperatures, which are more sensitive to ENSO and therefore register higher spikes. (Monckton at one point asserted his start dates weren’t cherry-picked because cherry-picking implies human selection and he had an algorithm which automatically selected the earliest start point that could maintain a zero trend, which is clearly totally different.) The 2015-2016 El Nino finally ended it in all datasets.

        There may or may not have been a slowdown; some scientists say yes, others no, others “insufficient data for a meaningful answer.” But both 2014 and 2015 were record years and 2016 will likely be one too, so if there was a slowdown in the 20-aughts, it’s likely stopped by now.

        My personal view is that the evidence shows that temperature increase is probably more stepwise and less steady than scientists previously thought (due to oceanic oscillations) but I’m certainly not a climate scientist, just a voracious reader and spectator of ClimateBall™ so that’s an extremely low-confidence opinion.

        • “My personal view is that the evidence shows that temperature increase is probably more stepwise and less steady than scientists previously thought (due to oceanic oscillations)”

          My nonexpert guess is the sum of a rising trend due to AGW and an oscillating trend with a period of sixty or seventy years due to some mechanism shifting heat between atmosphere and ocean. That fits the general pattern of the past century plus, and there is at least one published article in support of it.

        • John Schilling says:

          The only context in which there was ever a “pause” was shamelessly cherry-picking start points near the 1997-1998 El Nino spike, and also cherry-picking satellite temperatures, which are more sensitive to ENSO and therefore register higher spikes.

          See, when I actually do the math, I find a statistically significant hiatus from roughly 2004 to the present, whether I exclude the anomalous El Nino years or not, whether I use GISS ground measurements or MSU satellite, whether I plot vs. calendar time or ln(CO2).

          Not doing the math and just eyeballing the graph does risk being led astray by 1998, yes. But the post-2004 hiatus isn’t something you can just handwave away.

          The 2015-2016 El Nino finally ended it in all datasets.

          OK, I see what you did there. Anyone including the 1997-1998 El Nino spike is a cherry-picking innumerate denialist, but the 2016-2016 El Nino spike is proof that CAGW is for realz.

          Throw out the outliers, all of them, or don’t. Either position is defensible. Including only the ones that support your interpretation, that’s the very definition of the cherrypicking that you would accuse others of.

          • I did a least squares fit to the data from 2002 to (I think) 2013, back when that was the most recent year the webbed NASA data were available for. I picked 2002 by eyeballing the data to see where it started to go flat.

            The slope was about zero, I think very slightly but not significantly negative.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            OK, I see what you did there. Anyone including the 1997-1998 El Nino spike is a cherry-picking innumerate denialist, but the 2016-2016 El Nino spike is proof that CAGW is for realz.

            Throw out the outliers, all of them, or don’t. Either position is defensible. Including only the ones that support your interpretation, that’s the very definition of the cherrypicking that you would accuse others of.

            I explicitly said the pause was a false accounting based on cherry-picking the (then) most-recent major El Nino, so I thought it was fairly obvious that I was using the (now) most-recent major El Nino in the context of said false accounting. Apparently that wasn’t clear?

            But it actually doesn’t matter either way, because if one does adjust for ENSO fluctuation, 2015 is still a record.

          • John Schilling says:

            But it actually doesn’t matter either way, because if one does adjust for ENSO fluctuation, 2015 is still a record.

            Depending on how one does the adjustment, yes. And you really don’t want to be “adjusting” data in a debate as contentious as this one. But OK, reasonable defensible adjustments make 2015 a record year for temperature.

            So what? One of the competing hypotheses is a general secular rise in temperature. This model makes it likely that last year was a record high. The other competing hypothesis is that there was a secular rise in temperature from roughly 1975-2004 with temperatures generally flat with random fluctuations and maybe a weak warming trend since. By this hypothesis it is likely that the record high was some time in the last ten years, with no one year in that period more likely than any other.

            You’ve got one anomalous data point that does not significantly distinguish between the two hypotheses. And you keep trying to make that data point decisive while insisting that the other side is “cherrypicking” by not throwing out one anomalous data point.

          • “The other competing hypothesis is that there was a secular rise in temperature from roughly 1975-2004 with temperatures generally flat with random fluctuations and maybe a weak warming trend since.”

            This is a point I have tried to make over and over again in FB climate arguments and the like, with very little success. Most people don’t intuit the difference between high and rising. The fact that a recent year was a relative high is evidence that temperatures are higher than they used to be, but doesn’t tell us whether they are still rising or just varying randomly around a level that is high due to earlier increases.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            And you really don’t want to be “adjusting” data in a debate as contentious as this one.

            Controlling for lurking variables is an incredibly basic scientific principle that is uniquely deprecated in debates over ((C)A)GW.

            The other competing hypothesis is that there was a secular rise in temperature from roughly 1975-2004 with temperatures generally flat with random fluctuations and maybe a weak warming trend since. By this hypothesis it is likely that the record high was some time in the last ten years, with no one year in that period more likely than any other.

            The other competing hypothesis isn’t a hypothesis. It’s a moving target that rolls forward as far as is needed to maintain a zero trend. I feel the need to reiterate that both my initial reply and pretty much all discussion on blogs regarding the “pause” since it was first tested out as a mindkiller by Fred Singer in 2006 have used a start date of 97-98. Now suddenly we’re not debating that, we’re debating your idiosyncratic idea of the pause as beginning in “[roughly] 2004.” The nature of temperature rise is that it will almost always be possible to draw a flat line going back some time, particularly if the rise is more stepwise than is commonly assumed. Here‘s an arbitrary pause that I found just counting back from my birth year (and I checked, both ’77 and ’86 were mild El Nino years per the ONI)

            Both sides in this argument have two datapoints, a start and an end. The issue is comparing like-to-like. For a long time, the faux-skeptic crowd favored the use of 97-98 and [current year]. Due to the major positive ENSO signal, this was not a like-to-like comparison. And now that [current year] is like-to-like, such comparisons rightly appear foolish.

            Meanwhile, those seeking a rigorous approach have three options: either adjust for the ENSO signal and make it like-to-like, which is reasonable but leads to spurious charges of data manipulation (usually with no deep analysis the adjustment methods or attempt at reproduction that might illustrate why it’s suspicious.) Or wait around for another El Nino year, but that’s inexact (since El Ninos are never exactly the same in duration and intensity) and makes your data kind of useless for 10-15 years at a time.

            Or… just use the whole damn record because ENSO balances out and when dealing with GHGs 100 years is a better sample size than 10. Feedbacks can be slow, that’s why TCR and ECS are different values.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I love xkcd, but even Randall admits in that cartoon (around 16000BCE) that he is smoothing the data. For a view with more noise, see

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/09/20/josh-takes-on-xkcds-climate-timeline/

  30. In general, libertarians support individual rights, but in the case of climate change, it seems as though the usual point of view is that if there’s some climate change (enough to flood out people living at the lowest altitudes, for example), this should just be viewed as an ignorable cost. Is this consistent with libertarian values?

    • Murphy says:

      The libertarian position is that making everything private property solves the issue.

      The libertarian model is that the people seeing their homes sink bellow the waves should generate a list of every individual who’s released or caused to be released greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, take each of them to court one at a time in some private court that you and each individual agree upon for each case , in each court case you have to prove to the court to the standard of proof accepted by that specific court and judge that 1: greenhouse gasses are the reason for global warming while the defense throws every crappy denialist paper at the court, 2: prove that no other factor caused sea level rise, 3: prove that the individual in that specific case released greenhouse gasses, what they released when with proof to a standard the court will accept.

      once you’ve established that they might have to pay damages along the lines of the damage to you divided by the fraction of the worlds CO2 they personally produced.

      You then hope that this amount is more than a millionth the cost of the court case. You then repeat this exercise half a billion times.

      If the individual is arsey and refuses to accept the juristiction of any particular private court then you’re SOL unless you can arrange for mercinaries with guns to kick their door in.

      I’m not even kidding.

      • Julian says:

        While yes the libertarian vision would say you should take offenders to court, you are ignoring a number of major factor and being needlessly smug about it.

        The largest is the government’s (state and federal) role in creating climate change. Subsidies to gas and oil, housing, and the building of roads contribute much more to climate change than any single private enterprise (unless they are engaged in one of those activities).

        Under a libertarian regime (if all policies were enacted) much of hose distorting effects would not occur and we may not be looking at such drastic impacts on the climate.

        This of course does not “solve” this issue in other countries.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          The largest is the government’s (state and federal) role in creating climate change. Subsidies to gas and oil, housing, and the building of roads contribute much more to climate change than any single private enterprise (unless they are engaged in one of those activities).

          Under a libertarian regime (if all policies were enacted) much of hose distorting effects would not occur and we may not be looking at such drastic impacts on the climate.

          There are actually very little “subsidies” to gas and oil. Most of it comes in the form of tax credits and things like exploration depreciation rules that exist primarily so companies can have a predictable schedule for COGS calculations. Liberals call them “subsidies” for political purposes and because unequal tax breaks have the same macro effect, but from a libertarian perspective they’re not. Combine this with various environmental regulations and it’s very likely that under a hardcore libertarian regime there would be a lot more drilling, not less.

          And it’s not like Libertopia wouldn’t have roads, they would just be private. Again, if anything, that would lead to more net emissions, not less (since the more competition, the more redundancy in infrastructure.)

          “Government is the biggest polluter” is mostly a way for ancaps to dodge environmental questions. Any emissions-generating activity government engages in would likely be engaged by multiple private companies as well.

        • At a slight tangent.

          One does not have to believe that one’s preferred political/economic system does everything right in order to prefer it, an obvious point many people seem to miss.

          I spend part of a chapter in the current edition of my first book explaining why my preferred system for generating law will get some things wrong, including control of highly dispersed externalities such as air pollution. It is still my preferred system, for two reasons:

          1. It isn’t clear that there is an alternative that consistently gets those things right.

          2. There are lots of other things that I expect my system to get right and other systems to get wrong.

      • Unirt says:

        And how would libertarians solve the tragedy-of-the-commons problem with air pollution? By heavy restrictions imposed by the government? Why is that easier to do under libertarian regime than now?

        • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

          I don’t think there is a good solution.

          I’m glad that pure libertarianism isn’t what society has settled on, and actually has an EPA.

          • And how do you solve the tragedy of the commons problem, market failure more generally, for voting or controlling government more generally?

            The problem arises because an individual makes decisions some of whose costs or benefit end up with other people so don’t go into his decision. That occasionally happens on the private market, as in the case of air pollution.

            But it’s the normal situation on the political market. When you vote for president, the costs and benefits of your decision are shared with about three hundred million other people, a public good with a huge public. So you have almost no incentive to take care that you are voting for the right candidate.

            Similarly for a congressman, a president, a judge in the decisions he makes.

          • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

            Oh, I absolutely need to double check my political definitions and read the party manifestos, of current party platforms *and* the intellectual thought leaders. My language isn’t precise enough.

            For that specific example I actually would prefer what society once hoped for in its electoral college system, where respected, educated members of the public were voted *to* vote for the president. And that persons vote would be silent. Its true, that one vote matters gets drowned out with 200 million other people. Choosing the best electoral representative out of 10,000 people would be preferable. I wish the older system held true.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Ignorable cost of what? Ignorable why? I’m having trouble parsing the view you’re trying to describe.

      Carbon driven AGW is often viewed as an externality of carbon-generating economic activities of various kinds. This means, basically, that the cost (of the global warming effects) is paid by people so far removed from any of the transactions driving the activity that those costs can’t be effectively factored into the price (eg sea level has no or at least negligible effect on the cost of coal mining in West Virginia). It’s ignorable in the sense that a company or whatever can typically get away with ignoring it, not that it should be ignored. Saying that something “should” be viewed as an externality is a claim about useful framing, not about the morality of the thing in question.

      The preferred libertarian solution to externalities is usually either (not ancap) a tax of some sort on the activity that creates the externality, in this case the generation of excess atmospheric carbon, or (ancap) a post hoc class action law suit against those entities that cause the externality.

      • Aapje says:

        The preferred libertarian solution to externalities is usually either (not ancap) a tax of some sort on the activity that creates the externality […] or (ancap) a post hoc class action law suit against those entities that cause the externality.

        Actually, the most libertarian solution is carbon credits, as this changes carbon output from an externality into a commodity that can be traded, so the people who create maximum value from carbon output will be the ones who can best afford to buy them; and the cheapest solutions to reduce carbon output will become cheaper than buying carbon credits. So the market should automatically make people choose to reduce carbon output in the cheapest way possible and pollute only when that provides maximum economic value.

        From a theoretical free market perspective, it is a very good system and it was implemented as part of the Kyoto accords.

        Of course, pretty much every time libertarians actually get into power they fail to make their solutions work. In this case, too many credits were issued, which meant that the supply was greater than the demand and there was no real pressure to limit carbon output.

        • Gazeboist says:

          My understanding was that most libertarians view the credit as a needlessly complicated solution that is fundamentally the same as the tax, which is nevertheless probably the best we’re going to get (in America) when there’s an extremely sturdy NO TAXES faction occupying a substantial part of the legislature.

          That’s certainly my view, but I’m a libertarian sympathizer, not the full model.

          • cassander says:

            I’d say that the libertarian position is that a carbon tax would be perfectly fine as long it was offset by a reduction in other, non-carbon taxes. It’s the left that’s uninterested in that deal, not the right.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Why? It’s about making people pay for an externality, not enhancing revenue. The proceeds should be directed towards mitigating the externality, but otherwise it seems separable from other parts of government and their budgets.

          • AnonBosch says:

            I’d say that the libertarian position is that a carbon tax would be perfectly fine as long it was offset by a reduction in other, non-carbon taxes. It’s the left that’s uninterested in that deal, not the right.

            You’re absolutely wrong. There has been exactly one carbon tax proposal introduced by a Republican: Bob Inglis’ “Raise Wages Cut Carbon” bill in 2009. It went nowhere and Inglis got primaried by Trey Gowdy because ads hammered him with TAX TAX TAX AL GORE IS FAT without noting the corresponding payroll tax reductions.

            As of this moment, there are multiple carbon tax bills currently languishing in committee, all from Democrats (and one from Sen. Bernie Sanders.) These range from pure fee-and-dividend to partial dividend + corporate tax cuts to dividend + tax cuts + job retraining / benefits for coal workers (probably fair enough considering an effective carbon tax would essentially end their industry).

            But all of them specifically allocate the tax revenue, none of them simply adds it to the general fund in the way imagined by right-wing people attempting (and apparently failing) a left-wing Turing Test.

            Just about the only example I can find of a right-wing government introducing a carbon tax is Ireland, and that’s if (a) you count Fianna Fáil as right-wing (b) ignore that they were in coalition with the Irish Green Party at the time. All carbon taxes were introduced by either left or center-left governments.

          • Skivverus says:

            You’re absolutely wrong. [evidence]

            Sanity just doesn’t make the headlines these days, does it?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Republican =/= libertarian. Small “L” libertarians aren’t even a proper subset of Republicans anymore, if they ever were.

            The relationship between libertarians and Libertarians is also complicated, of course.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            I was responding to cassander’s claim that the left is uninterested in carbon taxes with offset revenues.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Mea culpa, then. I think I just missed the implications of cassander’s second sentence. Which has me annoyed now because we just finished a huge flame war where people kept trying to stick libertarians on one side of the US political spectrum, despite that not describing them well. And there he is undercutting my efforts to push back on that claim.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think many people think that carbon taxes will always get added to the general treasury immediately. Often they will gradually slip as one politician or another needs to raid something for a source of funds.

          • cassander says:

            @AnonBosch

            That the bills are languishing in committee with no one pushing them seems to demonstrate my point that the left is not particularly interested in them. More to the point though, raising taxes them spending the money on stuff democrats want is not lowering other taxes. Every single one of the proposals you linked to includes spending on some democratic constituency or creates a new entitlement. None one simply says “for every dollar this raises we’ll cut other taxes by a dollar.” Your evidence proves my point.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            That the bills are languishing in committee with no one pushing them seems to demonstrate my point that the left is not particularly interested in them. More to the point though, raising taxes them spending the money on stuff democrats want is not lowering other taxes. Every single one of the proposals you linked to includes spending on some democratic constituency or creates a new entitlement.

            Fucking Congress, how does it work? Once a bill is referred to a committee any further consideration is dependent on cooperation from the majority party. It doesn’t matter how hot and bothered the Democrats are for a carbon tax as long as they don’t control the chairs.

            And fee-and-dividend is not a “new entitlement” because the amount distributed is based entirely on revenues rather than some statutory obligation to distribute X amount. In the macro sense it’s entirely interchangeable with a payroll tax cut.

        • cassander says:

          >Of course, pretty much every time libertarians actually get into power they fail to make their solutions work. In this case, too many credits were issued, which meant that the supply was greater than the demand and there was no real pressure to limit carbon output.

          I assume you are referring to the European Carbon permit system? Because I’m pretty sure that there were precisely zero libertarians in charge of that system.

          • Aapje says:

            I assume you are referring to the European Carbon permit system?

            The European Carbon permit system is an implementation of the Kyoto credit system. So the former is a subset of the latter. I judge the system to be libertarian because it seems most consistent with stated libertarian goals (to allocate resources through the free market) much more than the alternatives.

            The EU leadership cannot be considered libertarian in general, as their ideology is more a combination of libertarianism (very pro-free market, free movement of goods and people) with non-libertarian ideas.

            Anyway, I do admit that my claim was too strong, although I do think that it is fair to judge ideologies by the performance of solutions that follow the tenets of that ideology.

          • cassander says:

            >The European Carbon permit system is an implementation of the Kyoto credit system. So the former is a subset of the latter.

            Neither of these had a libertarian within miles of them.

            >ibertarian because it seems most consistent with stated libertarian goals (to allocate resources through the free market) much more than the alternatives.

            By that logic, Hillary Clinton is a Stalinist because her goals are consistent with the Stalinist goals of reducing income inequality.

            >although I do think that it is fair to judge ideologies by the performance of solutions that follow the tenets of that ideology.

            I absolutely agree, and when a libertarian gets power over the EU, I’ll judge him thusly. but I will not blame libertarians for things they had absolutely nothing to do with.

  31. fountain pen user says:

    it took a while for people to realize that better pens made it unnecessary.

    I would argue that ballpoints are, at least today, not necessarily better. They are less ergonomic, and today’s fountain pens can be pretty much completely leak-free. Inks dry reasonably fast. At this point, it’s a trade-off between wrist pain and smudgability of freshly written lines.

  32. Peter Akuleyev says:

    The lesson I took away from that Atlantic article is that we should stop using ballpoint pens and use fountain pens. Seems to me people who don’t have legible handwriting are still at a disadvantage going through life.

  33. Outis says:

    Have you guys heard about the clown thing? Scary clown attacking children, or something? What’s up with that?

  34. AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

    Interesting about James Lovelock saying that.

    I had the idea that much of climate change is similar to nuclear winter*. Namely, lots of scientists don’t *really* believe things will get horrible in 30 years…but the logic is that people will never change unless the immediate danger is exaggerated.

  35. Vaniver says:

    Maybe the decapitation answers are like this 5 second film.

  36. Artificirius says:

    What exactly determines whether a person is ‘left leaning’, ‘right leaning’, ‘radical left’, ‘radical right’ etc, etc?

    The same as above, but with respect to places? What issues are the tipping points here? Gay marriage? Free trade? Free Speech?

    • JHC says:

      As far as I can tell favoring the interests of corporations and the wealthy in all matters*
      +
      Hating SJWs

      are the two issues that unite the right here.

      *Being pro-gay marriage, pro-drug legalization, and pro-open borders are the issues where SSCers are able to “throw off the scent” of movement conserviatism. On these issues one is able to be creative with one’s political identity since they do not directly threaten the wealthy.

      • Mary says:

        You need to be a little more explicit in your first claim, it’s a big vague.

      • Jill says:

        True.

        I don’t actually agree with Marx on much. But I do agree with him that economics is almost everything. The little non-economic window dressing matters don’t mean much– except as a bone for politicians to throw to voters, to act like they are actually giving them something significant, while politicians are allowing mega-corporations to rob people blind.

        As I mentioned before, humans are beings capable of infinite self delusion. When humans get together into a tribe that has a lot in common, or think they do, they tend to ramp each other up to greater and greater levels of self delusion. Eventually you get tribes that don’t share much consensus reality between tribes at all. That’s what our larger society is like, and it is stressful to us all. This is a microcosm of it right here. As you can see, the Right Wing tribe is quite dominant, both here and in the larger society where it dominates the media and all major branches of federal and state government except for the presidency.

        • Nelshoy says:

          Jill, I think you’re equivocating between the right wing SSC- which is more reactionary in the old sense- and mainstream conservatism. Economics may be the most important thing to *you*, but with how little it gets discussed it seems fair to say background and social value differences are much powerful group attractors. Practically the only thing most rightwing SSC commentators share in common with the red tribe is a distrust in goverent regulations and the progressive left. Unless you were just making a metaphor.

          Your description of the right-wing’s power is selective and comes across as very bravery debate-y. It goes the other way, too. I’m sure the right wingers here fancy their position more akin to that of a besieged minority than a suspicious elite.

          • Deiseach says:

            As you can see, the Right Wing tribe is quite dominant, both here and in the larger society where it dominates the media and all major branches of federal and state government except for the presidency.

            You know, I think I will sit down in my lunch hour and weep salt tears for the poor, downtrodden, oppressed American people. Right-wing bigots to the right of them, Right-wing reactionaries to the other right of them (left? THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LEFT!!!), the one single solitary figurehead of goodness and progress being the President (he can be no other than a symbol of a kinder, better world because he is bound in chains and shackled by the Evil Right Wing Domination Parties Of Mass Domination of Culture, Religion, Politics, Media, Economics, And How To Roast A Chicken), the only faint ray of hope for the liberals huddled in secrecy in their homes, barely daring to dream of a world not crushed beneath the jackboots of the Right.

            (I’d be a little less sarcastic if the Democrats were not every bit as happy to get into bed with rich donors and businessmen, just so long as they make the right noises about being socially liberal. All politicians are plugged into the Establishment, and those that aren’t – like Sanders, who is more old-school Labour than anything else – can be middling big fish in a smallish pond on a local level but won’t get too far above that unless they have the right connections and push the right line. And that should be encouraging us all to light a fire under our public representatives, of whatever party, to represent the interests of the public and not their own).

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Deiseach

            I disagree with you a lot, but I still adore you.

        • I’m dubious about economics being almost everything. I believe that sometimes people gain economicly from prejudice, but a lot of the time, prejudice is a luxury that people indulge in for emotional reasons.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Jill

          You said

          “economics is nearly everything”

          And this interests me. Because it puts you “out of time”, so to speak – there’s a clear trend over the past little while for the left (or, at least, the mainstream left in North America) to care less and less about economic egalitarianism.

          I think this explains the dysjunction that often occurs when you comment here – people who say “the left is winning” are speaking of social issues (it is hard to deny that the West has moved dramatically to the left on social issues in recent years), and people who say “the right is winning” mean economically (I think free-market policies have been doing better over the last few decades in the West).

          The movement of the Democratic party to caring about equality, but primarily for people with university degrees and money, shows this: it’s a victory for the left socially, and a victory for the right economically.

          • Jill says:

            Yes, and since economics is almost everything in a society, it’s overall a giant victory for the Right.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …Could we trade? I think I would rather have the Left win for a while on economics if it meant them losing on social issues.

        • Mary says:

          “I don’t actually agree with Marx on much. But I do agree with him that economics is almost everything. ”

          Why?

          He’s been falsified in every prediction he made, so I presume you’re not basing your claim on his thinking. What are you basing it on?

      • Gazeboist says:

        Definitely feeling more “pushed” than “pulled” wrt libertarianism etc.

      • Deiseach says:

        Being pro-gay marriage, pro-drug legalization, and pro-open borders are the issues (that do) not directly threaten the wealthy.

        I’m in complete agreement with this, and often wonder that people don’t seem to realise it is perfectly possible to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. You can be completely in favour of, for instance, paying for contraception on employees’ health policies and “a woman’s right to choose” not for any “reproductive justice” reasons but because it costs your business more money if you have to pay for maternity leave and your women workers are less productive if they are off having babies and leaving work at six instead of staying till ten because they have a sick kid at home. Better to encourage them to ‘lean in’ to their career and put off having offspring (for good if possible, but as late as can be) – for as long as they are of value to you.

        You can even sell gay spaghetti, if that’s what will get you a larger share of the market, when the wind of customer sentiment is blowing that way.

        (I’m more socially conservative, fiscally liberal in my sentiments, so I’m definitely not in favour of “corporations and the wealthy in all matters”, and I only object to SJW for the lunatic fringe – though what I would define as ‘fringe’ and others would not is where I get into trouble ).

        I react somewhere between amusement and irritation when the bien-pensant fall right into line, as with that linked article above, to provide free marketing and advertising for companies that jump on the bandwagon. Some of them are apparently aware enough of the realities of life that they acknowledge the businesses and entities involved are only doing it to steal away customers (and are cynical enough to engage in tit-for-tat ‘you help normalise LGBT by showing happy gay families using your products in your media advertising, we will put your name out there as gay-friendly and to be supported’), but others genuinely seem to think that it really is all about “wooo, diversity! equality! we believe in this cause!” and not to realise that fundamentally it is all about the bottom line.

      • IrishDude says:

        What happens when corporations or businesses have competing interests? Who do the right favor then? I think both the left and right wing have certain favored businesses: solar panels and green energy, agriculture such as corn growers, and Wall Street financial firms each have their boosters in congress.

        Libertarians are for free markets but aren’t pro-
        any particular business except the ones that produce high value at little cost and without infringing others.

    • E. Harding says:

      Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the American political spectrum since 1933:
      http://voteview.com/SENATE_SORT110.html
      http://voteview.com/SENATE_SORT113.html
      http://voteview.com/HOUSE_SORT110.html
      http://voteview.com/HOUSE_SORT113.html

      1840 Democratic platform? Largely right-wing. 1936 Democratic platform? Largely left-wing.

      A far left-wing tweet: https://twitter.com/adamjohnsonNYC/status/783825597390782466

      • Jill says:

        Of course, you can make up measurements for Right vs. Left that “prove” whatever you want to prove. But you can’t deny that both Houses of Congress, most governorships and state legislatures, and SCOTUS until Scalia died, are Right Wing dominated. And every year more and more money is spent on campaign contributions by the crony capitalist welfare queens that the Right Wing serves (And yes, to a lesser degree, parts of the DINO Left Wing serve them too), especially after Citizens United, the grand dream of the Right Wing, came into effect.

        • “especially after Citizens United, the grand dream of the Right Wing, came into effect.”

          But not for the roughly two centuries before the campaign finance legislation that Citizens United restricted came into effect?

          You seem to have bought into the story according to which the world was fine because rich people couldn’t spend much of their money on politics, then Citizens United was passed, and now the country is going to hell because rich people can buy politicians.

          That’s wrong twice over. For most of U.S. history the restrictions didn’t exist. After the restrictions were passed and before Citizens United it was still legal for rich people to spend as much as they wanted, provided it wasn’t directly linked to a politician’s campaign. That is still the situation.

          All the case changed was the ability of organizations to do what individuals could already do. If CU was reversed, the Koch brothers and Soros could still spend hundreds of millions of dollars on independent efforts in support of candidates and laws.

          Did you know any of that?

  37. Mary says:

    Related: did you know that the segregation-era South had to pass laws prohibiting companies from preferentially hiring (cheaper) black labor?

    As Thomas Sowell would tell you, Prejudice is free, discrimination costs. Even passing laws doesn’t help, often. South Africa had places that were legally all white and actually majority black, because people wanted to sell their houses. Requiring the construction companies there be all white meant a white front man to deal with the government.

    • Jill says:

      Every company wants cheap labor, whatever color it may be. That doesn’t mean company owners or managers are unbiased people.

      If you need a Civil Rights Act, you pass a Civil Rights Act. you don’t say No, discrimination is fine and we don’t need any new laws, because… free market worship.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The question is in fact whether or not you _need_ a Civil Rights Act, or whether the absence of the opposite along with plain old human greed will get you close enough.

      • Mary says:

        Sowell also points out that education and income increased steadily for blacks before and after the Civil Rights Acts — at the same rate.

        So “need”? Do you?

      • Julian says:

        Im glad that you live a world where the Civil Rights Act ended all forms of discrimination.

    • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

      Yes, the vigorous maximization of economic output, in conjunction with minimization of labor costs, and the absence of democracy and a concrete bill of universal human rights, combined with widespread social dominance of rational-yet-unempathic cognition, has historically yielded economic optimization strategies that are morally problematic.

      • cassander says:

        If you think the concentration camps were a net postive for the german war economy, you need to do a lot more reading about them. Nor was the problem specifically german, just about the first thing Beria did after Stalin died was get rid of the traditional gulags because of how appallingly wasteful of human capital they were.

  38. Jiro says:

    Pointing out cases where markets punish discrimination only shows that markets sometimes punish discrimination. As being screwed over only part of the time isn’t a good deal, this proves nothing useful.

    Also, imagine that one business owner takes some of his profits and buys some baseball tickets and another instead buys some discrimination. If the first guy doesn’t go out of business, why should the second?

    Also (also), consider cases where customers prefer discrimination. If customers will pay extra to eat in a place that is all white, discrimination could actually be profitable.

    • keranih says:

      Also (also), consider cases where customers prefer discrimination. If customers will pay extra to eat in a place that is all white, discrimination could actually be profitable.

      This is one of the most difficult instances I have struggled with. A business is hiring a customer service person. Person A is glum, dower, and doesn’t shower often – but is swift and precise in data entry and expert at eliciting what the customer actually needs. Person B is bright and engaging and attractive – but fat-fingers X% of the entries and has no real ability to understand the product or customer needs.

      At some point, the downsides of hiring A are overcome by the upsides of hiring B. The question is *where*?

      The government is far less able to id that tipping point than the market. At any rate, it is more likely to be less accurate than the moving mean of the market.

      Outlawing discrimination against A only means that all the like companies have an even-ish distribution A-type customer service types, with a corresponding decrease in marginal customers who would rather not purchase than deal with an A type teller.

      imagine that one business owner takes some of his profits and buys some baseball tickets and another instead buys some discrimination.

      A third buys some MJ. A fourth goes to the art gallery. A fifth buys some porn.

      …wait, which moral preferences are we enforcing again?

      • Jiro says:

        The point of the baseball ticket example is that a common argument by libertarians is that discriminating costs money, so businesses that do it won’t be able to compete. But businesses whose owners spend money in other ways still are able to compete.

        • keranih says:

          businesses whose owners spend money in other ways still are able to compete.

          Right. And again, if we are going to discriminate against some plays in the system, but not others, which morality are we enforcing? And why? And most importantly, at what cost?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          @Jiro

          But businesses whose owners spend money in other ways still are able to compete.

          Sure, but: Owner A takes some profit and spends it on baseball tickets. Owner B spends the same amount on discrimination, so he can’t afford baseball tickets. He’d better like discrimination better than baseball.

          Then a lean year comes. Owner A’s demand for baseball tickets is pretty elastic, so he chooses to forgo baseball tickets this year in order to keep his business alive. How elastic is owner B’s demand for discrimination? If it’s less elastic, he goes on discriminating and his business goes under. If it’s more elastic, he grits his teeth and stops being discriminatory. If people say, “The Hell with that; he made his bed already” then he still goes out of business. If people say, “Hurray, another nondiscriminatory business I can patronize” then he stays afloat. If he gets used to being nondiscriminatory and decides next year he’d rather buy baseball tickets, then we’ve made progress. If he hates his life all year, then when things pick up he’ll go back to his old practices — until the next lean year.

          Meanwhile, Owner C, who cares more about his business than he cares about either baseball or discrimination, has expanded throughout the tri-state area and eats both their lunches.

          • Iain says:

            Yes. That is definitely how the theory works.

            In actual real-world capitalism, companies get away with small inefficiencies all the time. When the consequence is a small loss in productivity, that’s fine. When the consequence is an impediment to the ability of racial minorities to engage in society, we start looking for other solutions.

            (As an aside: some of the right-leaning people on this site have indicated concerns about what they see as increasing culture wars, in which previously apolitical spaces become polarized by racial tension. I don’t track the individual stances of posters here enough to know whether anybody simultaneously holds that position and the libertarian stance on discrimination that is the topic of this thread, but it seems worthwhile to point out how thoroughly incompatible they are. If you think there’s too much racial tension now, imagine how much more you will enjoy it when our societal mechanism for eliminating racial discrimination relies on the public naming and shaming of businesses who are perceived as being racist.)

          • Garrett says:

            If you think there’s too much racial tension now, imagine how much more you will enjoy it when our societal mechanism for eliminating racial discrimination relies on the public naming and shaming of businesses who are perceived as being racist.

            I think this is a talking-past-each-other case.
            In terms of the right amount of racial tension I think the ideal amount is zero, much like for poverty. Different political philosophies have ways of addressing the disconnect between reality and the ideal.

            I suspect that the comments about “too much racial tension” are less about an argument over naturally-occurring racial tensions as opposed to racial tensions which are being flamed for political purposes.

            Much like comparing deaths from a hurricane vs. a terrorist attack. The numbers might be the same, but one has agency behind it.

    • Mary says:

      ” If customers will pay extra to eat in a place that is all white, discrimination could actually be profitable.”

      Only if those profits aren’t eaten up by the extra expense. After all, if you reject job candidates for being black, you either have to pay more to attract more candidates, or leave openings open for longer.

      And how much would they be willing to pay, anyway?

      • jsmith says:

        >And how much would they be willing to pay, anyway?

        I can’t comment on racism (I think it’s plausible that a small number of businesses could benefit, though not most), but businesses like Hooters did pretty well by focusing on the male demographic and hiring exclusively attractive, female waitstaff.

        • Sandy says:

          I have to imagine pandering to the market of “people with racist beliefs” would be less profitable than pandering to the market of “men who like hot busty women”. Particularly as you might pay in more than just cash — the stigma that would be attached to patronizing a business that advertises itself as “whites only” is far less than that attached to patronizing Hooters, at least at the moment.

          • Deiseach says:

            I have to imagine pandering to the market of “people with racist beliefs” would be less profitable than pandering to the market of “men who like hot busty women”

            Sandy, I think I can get you coming and going on this one 🙂

            All your pretty buxom waitresses are white blue-eyed blondes? Well, that’s just plain downright racism! (Do gentlemen prefer blondes? Has there been a study done on this – surely there must have been?)

            On the other hand, if you try to not be racist by hiring equally pretty buxom WOC, that’s also racist because black women have been hyper-sexualised, Asian women are regarded as demure and submissive dolls, and so forth.

            So whatever you do, it’s racist, and you are profiteering off racism, you racist panderer 🙂

          • Aegeus says:

            If the anti-discrimination laws get repealed, that would imply that at least 50% of the population is interested in patronizing a whites-only business, and you should expect there to be a market for it. Similar to how there was a market for it during the Jim Crow era.

            (I suppose it’s possible that most of the people who get rid of the laws will be public-spirited libertarians who think it should be legal even if they’d never personally patronize such a business, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)

            The specific case of whites-only businesses seems unlikely to make a comeback, because we’ve spent over 150 years working to stamp out that particular strain of discrimination. But that’s not a general argument. It doesn’t follow that, say, Christian-only businesses would be just as unprofitable, or that fifty years from now, nobody will be interested in cyborg-only businesses. If something is contentious enough to become “the issue of the day,” that probably means there’s a big population in favor of it.

          • Lumifer says:

            If the anti-discrimination laws get repealed, that would imply that at least 50% of the population is interested in patronizing a whites-only business

            Um. That’s the “if you want legalize drugs you are a druggie yourself” kind of argument?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Isn’t this a fully general argument against capitalism? Maybe sometimes a company makes a crappy product but is able to stay in business anyway. But the more intense the competition, the less likely this is to happen.

      (agreed this doesn’t address your last point)

      • Aapje says:

        ‘Crappy’ is rather subjective. There is a lot of evidence that people choose by other factors than quality, like virtue signalling, tribalism, emotions, etc.

        I think that you merely need to look at how product are marketed, which very frequently is not by arguing their quality, that many consumers don’t optimize on quality.

        Hence I find the idea that more competition will result in crappy products to lose out to be a doubtful assertion.

        Unless you define crappy as the opposite of what people base their decisions on, but then you are just arguing a truism.

        • Jill says:

          LOL, we’d have to look through a lot of advertisements to find one that does argue for the quality of the product.

          • nona says:

            Have you ever seen a car commercial that mentions winning a JD Power award? Here’s as many as you could care to watch.

            Here’s an ad for paper towels that’s about quality. And one for toilet paper.

            Of course people care about quality.

          • Aapje says:

            @nano

            That is not a good rebuttal. Firstly, there are a huge amount of commercials, so one type of advertising can be rare compared to other types, yet still have my cases. It would have made more sense for you to have searched for ‘car commercial’ on youtube and they tally how many of the first X results mention quality (although that is still quite subjective).

            For example, only about 5% of people are gay, so in a random group, you’d have to ‘look at’ 20 people before you encounter a gay person. One could somewhat reasonably say that you have to meet ‘a lot’ of people before you meet a gay person. Yet 5% of the billions of people on earth is still a huge number and it’s not hard to find them if you specifically seek them out.

            Secondly, ads placed on Youtube can hardly be considered a representative sampling.

          • Deiseach says:

            we’d have to look through a lot of advertisements to find one that does argue for the quality of the product

            Radio ad of my childhood, in which the slogan was “Cheno Unction: it’s a quare name, but great stuff!”

      • Jiro says:

        It’s a rebuttal to an argument (inefficient things will lead to a company going out of business) which is already fully general. As a rebuttal, it is fully general in the sense that it applies regardless of which inefficient thing is mentioned, but it fails to be fully general in the sense that it does not rebut more specific arguments that are not about all inefficient things as a class.

        • Iain says:

          The specific details of the inefficiency also matter. If our real-world businesses only reach 80% of the efficiency of a spherical business in a frictionless void, that’s not a big deal; it’s not like we were going to capture that remaining efficiency with another economic system. If our real-world competitive market only squeezes out 80% of the racism, then it still sucks as a racial minority when you get hit with the remaining 20%. Furthermore, we actually do have an alternative response to racist service and hiring practices, and it seems like a pretty good one to me.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          @Jiro

          an argument (inefficient things will lead to a company going out of business) which is already fully general

          The unstated assumption that keeps it from being fully general is that a sufficient number (for some definition) of people aren’t bigots. For discrimination to be insupportable, there have to be competing non-discriminatory businesses.

          But if bigotry is that widespread, who’s going to elect the government that criminalizes it?

          Obviously one can make up counter-examples. If I am a super-genius who discovers a cure for cancer that will otherwise take humanity a thousand years to find, but for reasons of my own I will sell it only to left-handed redheads, the market obviously isn’t going to strike me down. So what?

          • Lumifer says:

            The unstated assumption that keeps it from being fully general is that a sufficient number (for some definition) of people aren’t bigots.

            The assumption is weaker: only that a sufficient number of people value financial success more than their bigotry.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Lumifer

            The assumption is weaker

            Quite right.

      • Mary says:

        Most businesses that stay in business either make a better product in the eyes of their customers, or are cheaper.

  39. Anon. says:

    http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/10/cathy_oneil_on_1.html

    Machine learning uncovers uncomfortable facts. Who’s at fault? Evil data scientists who focus on accuracy instead of what Cathy O’Neil feels is “right”.

    they can’t do anything about having grown up in a poor neighborhood. For that fact to be used against them doesn’t seem right.

    • Jill says:

      Did you read her book?

    • qwints says:

      I disagree with your characterization of that discussion. Her argument is that people shouldn’t have their punishment increased because of factors they can’t control, not that data scientists who find correlations are evil.

      • Anon. says:

        Her argument is that people shouldn’t have their punishment increased because of factors they can’t control

        First of all I really don’t think this is what she’s saying, and second I don’t think it’s a good steelman either. What factors do people control? A principled stance that ignored all inputs out of the control of the subject would ignore pretty much everything. People have no more control over their IQ than their neighborhood. Should we ignore intelligence when making hiring decisions, or admitting people to universities?

        And you still need to provide an argument that justifies why it’s wrong to use factors they can’t control.

        • youzicha says:

          The comment was about criminal punishment, not hiring or university admissions. This is a standard position in law, e.g. some random paper that came up in Google states,

          Criminal law, by design, assigns culpability for intentional, volitional action. Criminal law theory and criminal law doctrine thus both place an important emphasis on an individual’s ability to control his or her behavior.

          Compare with, e.g., the insanity defense. Finding a principled stance here is indeed a difficult problem (if we live in a deterministic universe), but it is one that jurists have been discussing for centuries, and the answer is not to ignore pretty much everything.

          Like O’Neil says, a law that says “if your father has been in jail, you are sentenced to one more year in prison” would seem to be unconstitutional. Yet these kind of rules are now being applied, only codified in a computer program instead of in a the criminal code.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Request phrasing this less annoyingly in the future.

    • Daffy says:

      Who’s at fault? Evil data scientists who focus on accuracy instead of what Cathy O’Neil feels is “right”.

      This is not even close to the argument she was making.
      1. She never conceded that the data scientists were uncovering causality. To the contrary, she argued people are using the results of models without much critical thought put behind the causal story. I wouldn’t really call that “focusing on accuracy”.

      2. She pointed out cases where the most accurate algorithms were still inaccurate like the value added model in education. Sure, the model might be slightly better than some bureaucrat in figuring out the true skill level of a teacher. But teachers aren’t fired because of the opinions of some bureaucrat, but they are fired because of the marginally better opinions of some algorithm. Her point was that it’s fine to go after more accurate methods, but the seriousness of our actions should in some way correspond to the accuracy of the method.

      3. Of course, she is going to tell us what she feels is right. What else can you expect? Apparently your feeling is that algorithms produce Truth, and it’s fine to use the criminal justice system to punish people for things they did not cause (like being born in the wrong zip code). Clearly O’Neil’s values conflict with yours, but I think her main point was that you’re still making value judgments even if you’re just using an algorithm.

      Also, why are you mad bro?

      • Anon. says:

        I wouldn’t really call that “focusing on accuracy”.

        She would. “The problem with recidivism scores is what we’ve done is we’ve basically given the power to a class of scientists, data scientists, who focus on accuracy only.” She’s pretty clear on this point, I think.

        #2 obviously I agree with, bad models are bad models and ought to be treated as such.

        For #3 see my response to qwints. But yes, obviously I value truth & knowledge over O’Neil’s feelings. Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t you or anyone else? Why wouldn’t O’Neil? I certainly value knowledge over my own feelz, and I’m not even a “data scientist”.

        • Julian says:

          Her use of accuracy in that sentence meant that the actions of the algorithm reflect the past data that’s been fed into it.

          Her argument is that the data used to create the algorithms is biased and so will produced biased results.

          The discussion of hiring practices is a great example of this. If a company has only ever hired men then how can an algorithm even know that women COULD be hired.

          Her argument is a more nuanced version of “crap in crap out”

          By positioning your self as for “Truth” and O’Neil as against “Truth” you have forced others to disprove you by arguing “Truth” is not good. Thats a very cheap trick. It also ignores that “Truth” can mean different things based on the question you are asking, which is another of O’Neil’s points.

          If you ask: “How likely is someone similar to Mr.X to end up back in jail?” You will use different inputs than if you ask “How likely is Mr.X to end up back in jail?”.

          Answering the first question does not answer the second question. The second question is likely unknowable to any reasonable amount of accuracy.

          Furthermore, the sentencing algorithm is self reinforcing. Much research points to longer sentences leading to hire recidivism rates. If the algorithm gives you a longer sentence because you were born in a certain place and then you do end up back in jail then the algo thinks it was “right”. But it is possible you only ended back in jail because you had to serve a longer sentence on the original crime. Had you served a shorter sentence then maybe you wouldn’t have committed a second crime (this is unknowable but the algorithm doesnt even consider it, apparently).

  40. sov says:

    That BMJ retraction piece is a rabbit-hole of interesting things.

    First, you get the studies put forth by the BMJ admonishing the low-fat dietary guidelines based, in small part, on (meta-?)meta-analyses by journalist Nina Teicholz–which all contrarian sources seem to make a special effort to remind readers she’s *just* a journalist (which is actually doubly interesting because while she studied Biology at Yale/Stanford she has a Masters from Oxford in (???) because she’s pretty purposefully vague about it). Then, you get this organization, CSPI, who wrote the retraction letter to the BMJ signed by over a hundred expert (or expert-adjacent) researchers/doctors/advocates, in part, due to the nature of the BMJs results in influencing American dietary guidelines and the DGAC.

    Pretty interesting, but there’s more: many people that signed the original retraction letter are removing their names from it, seemingly in response to public records requests. Additionally: was the appeal to retract the article done in good faith, or was it an example of censorship due to Teicholz’ critical review of research spearheaded by the originator of the retraction letter, Dr. Hu. This essentially culminated in the removal of Teicholz from a National Food Policy Conference panel.

    And to cap it all off: the blogger I linked above doing the research? He’s the son of the guy that invented the Heimlich maneuver.

    edit:
    The comments are a goldmine as well.
    More from Heimlich.
    Teicholz’ in-comments response to retractionwatch.

    • Ivan Ivanoff says:

      This whole thing is a mess. I’ve met with Nina a few times; I respect her work and think she is a good person.

      But both sides have become ridiculous. It has even descended to name-calling, and both sides are completely convinced of their 100% right-ness on diet. I feel like that as well is a good metaphor for all things.

  41. ShemTealeaf says:

    Regarding the career paths reddit post, is anyone here an actuary? I’m considering moving into that field (currently a software project manager), but I have no idea if I would actually enjoy the work. I passed the Probability exam with a 9, and I’m currently studying a bit for Financial Mathematics, but I’m reluctant to commit fully without knowing much about the job experience.

    Any advice or input would be appreciated.

    • Steven says:

      Not an actuary, but I know a bit about the field.
      My sister and her husband are both actuaries with >15 years experience each.
      My brother was an actuary for a couple of years, hated it, and became an ER doctor.
      All on the P&C side, not Life.

      Short version, picked up from many family dinners over the years.
      Pay is good.
      Hours are pretty light once you’re finished with all the tests, and vacation time tends to be generous.
      (Before then, expect to put in a lot of time studying on top of your full time work.)
      (And even with studying, hours tend to be less than I-banking, medical residency, or biglaw.)
      Easy transition path to management role, if desired.
      Medium to high levels of corporate bureaucracy.
      Many people find the work boring and somewhat repetitive.
      When not in meetings, you spend your time working on spreadsheets estimating losses, for use in setting prices and determining the necessary level of reserves.

      If you need more details, you’ll probably have to find an actual actuary.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      I’m sort of an actuary, though not in America.

      If you work at an insurance company, the work is kind of boring and pretty specialized, but the pay and the benefits are good. If you work as a consultant, the pay is bad and the benefits are bad until you climb up the ladder far enough, but the work is more diverse and interesting.

    • Alex S says:

      I was thinking that an advantage of trying to be an actuary is that you can get a job relatively quickly after passing an exam or two. That way, you can find out if the work is a fit. This is unlike law, where some folks go through three years of school and then realize the work isn’t their cup of tea.

      Also, what prompted you to start thinking about actuary?

  42. Psmith says:

    A follow-up on Scott’s occasional mentioning of the physiological effects of CO2 concentration.

    This work demonstrates that the level of carbon
    dioxide in the atmosphere at which humans can survive
    indefinitely, is much lower than expected. The estimated
    toxic level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere under
    lifetime exposure is 426 ppm (Figure 1)4. At the present
    rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the
    toxic limit will be attained in AD 2050 based on extrapolation
    of the measured results from Mauna Loa5.

    • AnonBosch says:

      I’m not clear how the 426ppm lifetime exposure figure was derived and the paper cites a paywalled 2001 paper from the same author. While I doubt that specific threshold is well-supported, this is one of the fat-tail scenarios that keeps me from dismissing AGW as an x-risk entirely.

      • Psmith says:

        the paper cites a paywalled 2001 paper from the same author

        Link.

        • Lumifer says:

          Smells of cracked pots.

          • Psmith says:

            I agree, at least to the extent that I hadn’t heard about this until now, and that I would have expected to hear about it a lot if it were widely agreed to be a potential problem. On the other hand, the science doesn’t strike me as obviously fishy.

    • sabril says:

      I’m not an expert, but I would think that if we have gone more than half way from normal levels of CO2 to toxic levels of CO2, you would notice that in nursing homes, people are dying left and right from CO2 poisoning.

  43. lemmy caution says:

    “Brookings Institution: “There is a deep well of rigorous, relevant research on the performance of charter schools in Massachusetts…This research shows that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.”

    The natural experiment for the High Schools between lottery winners and lottery losers is a lot less clean than you would guess. They do the big test at the two year mark and the difference between in years in a charter between the winners and the losers of the lottery is only a half a year.

    https://seii.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Charter-School-Demand-and-Effectiveness.pdf

    Before moving to impacts on test scores, we first
    confirm that the charter school eventual offer
    indeed predicts the likelihood that an applicant
    will attend a charter school. In the language of
    the framework described above, this is the first
    stage (Table 5A, column 2). Middle school
    students offered a seat in the lottery attend one
    more year of school at a charter than those not
    offered a seat. The difference is about half a year
    in high school. This satisfies the condition that
    charter offers predict charter attendance.

    But why is the difference in years of charter
    attendance only one year in middle school and
    half a year in high school? If all students who
    were offered a seat at a charter enrolled in that
    school and stayed for all years prior to the
    MCAS, we would expect the first stage in high
    school to be two years, for 9th and 10th grade.
    (Middle school is a little more complicated, as
    we combine multiple grades so that the expected
    years of attendance will vary based on grade
    level.)

    There are several reasons for the difference.
    Many students who are offered seats at a school
    choose not to attend, as discussed in Chapter 3.
    Some students leave a charter before we observe
    their MCAS score.iv And a few students who
    were not offered a seat in the lottery end up
    attending a charter, usually through sibling
    preference or application after the entry grade.
    Happily, our empirical method adjusts for actual
    attendance at a charter and scales the effect by
    the years of attendance. This is another benefit
    of using instrumental variables, in addition to
    controlling for selection bias.
    ——————————————————————-

    I mean OK, do the best with the data you have. But, pretty sure that the lottery winners who don’t choose to attend the charter or who get washed out are going to be worse students than lottery winners those who do attend until the test.

    • Jill says:

      Even aside from the lottery question, in the charter schools study, does Brookings have other biases? Or is Massachusetts the only state where they are beneficial? Did they research all 50 states and then publish the date on the 1 state where they were beneficial?

      The Myth of Charter Schools
      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/11/11/myth-charter-schools/

      “… a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.”

      Charter schools are an area where bias is very likely in studies. A lot of charter school corporations make a boatload of money off of them, and many have been found to be quite corrupt and/or incompetent at providing good educations to students. Those corporations are dying to find studies that show how superior charter schools supposedly are.

      • lemmy caution says:

        Yeah. I think they are hyping the Massachusetts study because it is one where the charters look good and because there is a charter initiative on the ballot in Massachusetts.

        My bet is that this education reform stuff is actually generally pretty well intentioned, but since it doesn’t actually work, the scammers make their way to the top.

  44. TMB says:

    Re: Japanese Gameshow

    It’s not a gameshow – the clip was from “Sekai no hate made IteQ” – they send comedians around the world to see interesting things/ do funny challenges.

    Good show.

    • Josiah Henn says:

      The literal translation would be Variety Show, is the way Japanese refer to it. However, the exact show in question is actually a very interesting example. The show started as 『クイズ発見バラエティー イッテQ!』, literally Quiz Discovery Variety ItteQ. ItteQ is a pun since the English Q sounds like the Japanese sound which would end the verb “go and come back”. so it’s a play on Go and Quiz and Go and Come Back. Basically “Destination Quiz”. The discovery part is done by the production team, which goes to exotic locations to “discover” a quiz to give to the contestants.

      It was only in 2007 when it was renewed that the name changed to the current 世界の果てまでイッテQ!, i.e. “To the ends of the earth! Go and Quiz/Come Back (pun)”. So its roots are still very much in quiz and games, though the content is various and would be considered a “variety show”. At the same time it’s very difficult to say a show with QUIZ (albeit via a pun) in the title is not a quiz/game show…

      • TMB says:

        Interesting.

        I see what you mean, but, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a stand on this one and insist that it isn’t a quiz/game show.

        This is a quiz show:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugMoVk0krjo

        I would say, even if it is light hearted, in order to be a game-show, there has to be some element of competition, or the entertainment has to in part derive from the contest, or the format of the “contest” has to be integral to whatever it is they’re doing.

        I just can’t see that with Ite Q. I mean, half the time they don’t really have any challenge at all – it’s just like – go to this interesting festival that they have in Mexico, or something.
        Or do a bungee jump.

        For example, here:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DmhQP77zNc

        The sections are called “What’s the world’s best festival?” (A regular segment) and “If you ask barbers around the world to give you a haircut, what kind of haircut do you get?”

        • Josiah Henn says:

          Like I said, it’s a variety show now. I’m not disagreeing, really, more just pointing out its interesting origins. There are a lot of Japanese variety shows that might have mistakenly been called Japanese gameshows about which this conversation would occur, but it happened to occur regarding a show that has “quiz” in the name and started specifically as a quiz show.

          For example, here’s an older episode (2007) so you can see how it used to be:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbme0RAkmBg

          and here’s a newer episode but it still has questions and timer ticking down and such:

          http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x40a9fh

    • gbdub says:

      So it is (and is intended to be) much more Jackass than Jeopardy?

  45. arbitrary_greay says:

    Most of the CRAAAAAAZY JAPANESE GAME SHOWS LOL clips miss some important context: most all of these stunts are restricted to celebrities only. The intent behind most of these things is to pull the curtain back on their regular front, give the fans an opportunity to see their authentic self, the stuff they’re made of. On the opposite end, of course the celebrities are also working closely with the staff to maximize the entertainment value of the footage. And it’s their job to.

    Western reality shows do filter for this by casting the most interesting auditionees, but those people are still actually competing for the prize. It’s still not the same thing as using people for whom it’s literally their job to do these sorts of things and make it look interesting. (although the internet has inadvertently reinvented that class in the west, with social media celebrities and streaming celebrities and such, the return of personality-driven non-narrative media) If you watch full clips, the prizes are usually trivial, from eating a single meal on camera, to some shower stuff basket, to just the screentime to shill their latest song or movie or drama. Half of the time, the prize is to just not partake in the penalty game, and so some celebs are crafty enough to lose with style, so they can be even more entertaining in the penalty game.
    There’s a stark difference in behavior to when actual competition is in play, such as in the case of Run For Money.

  46. Albatross says:

    Regarding Adam Smith… I dunno, I feel like having a hiring manager so racist that they can be detected by studies has all sorts of cascading problems in a global economy. I mean, most small businesses fail anyway – passing up talent, vendors, or customers based on race or worse driving them away is probably one more mistake than most businesses can afford. As more US states become minority-majority and the entire world’s economy becomes more global most businesses are looking to go international on day one. If a car dealership doesn’t want to hire a Spanish speaking salesman well the CFPB is looking into racism in car loans and GM or Ford will pull the plug in a second if regulators ask them too. And once we get to mid to large size businesses who is going to accept a job offer from a noticeably racist hiring manager? Even if it is subconscious on the hiring manager’s part, new hires are going to meet their coworkers in the office or on the factory floor and unlike sexism or bosses being jerks the fact that everyone is white is not something that can be hidden.

    Younger workers are going to be disappointed in a lack of diversity in a company, especially if the company’s make up is wildly out of alignment with local demographics. Regulators are going to be sniffing around, and businesses in cut-throat markets just aren’t going to survive against competition that excludes irrational factors. I don’t know if “twice as often” is true or not, but I would say that the more openly racist the hiring manager, the less likely survival becomes. Even most racists prefer dog whistles and subtle hints now.

    • baconbacon says:

      I mean, most small businesses fail anyway – passing up talent, vendors, or customers based on race or worse driving them away is probably one more mistake than most businesses can afford.

      I don’t understand this logic, if most small businesses fail anyway then they (by definition) can’t afford the mistakes they are making. Making fewer mistakes would make you less likely to go bust.

      • I think Albatross’s point was that small business can’t afford to be racist or they will go out of business. But the comments were a little scattered.

        In general I agree that the market will drive racist businesses under. But one really needs to looks at the specific situations. Imagine a community where most of the population believes incorrectly that a sub-class of the community is stupid or has poor work habits. You would think that a business that hired this sub-class would have a competitive advantage and increase their profits. But if the business is retail, they may lose business if much of the community won’t patronize their store because of their workers. Even if they don’t sell directly to the community, the business owner might be ostracized and have other disadvantages for going against the community will. So I don’t think it is straight-forward that businesses will be less racist than their community.

        On the other hand, a racist community probably won’t have non-discrimination laws either. So I do agree that a business has more incentives than a government to be non-racist. But I don’t think it is likely that businesses would hire in a non-racist manner in a racist community, even with no laws forced them to hire to hire racially. I believe in the case of Jim Crow, there were quite a few laws that forced racial hiring and other restrictions, so this isn’t a good test of my theory.

        • It’s worth pointing out that how much harm racial discrimination does to the target population depends a lot on how much of it there is. Take your example. Suppose half the businesses are in the sort of situation you describe, where hiring the members of the disadvantaged group is unprofitable. If the group makes up only a tenth of the labor force, there are still plenty of jobs with firms that are not in that situation.

          So fifty percent discrimination imposes a fairly minor cost on the victims, a somewhat narrower range of employment opportunities. Ninety-five percent discrimination imposes a very large cost. The effect is highly non-linear.

  47. Joel says:

    “I feel bad for being excited that Scandinavia will probably develop its own segregated underclass in the next few decades”

    What makes you think this will happen?

    • nelshoy says:

      Large number of uneducated immigrants * integration failure = underemployed ghetto-ized underclass.

      • Joel says:

        Is there any evidence that this is actually happening? I would expect Scott to base expectations on something more than just speculation.

        • Lumifer says:

          Is there any evidence that this is actually happening?

          Yes. Visit Stockholm.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Which runs much higher in melanin than one would expect, yes, but that doesn’t stop the Social Democracy from owning their souls.

            There’s a rule: If you think Sweden is pursuing a stupid government policy, check your facts and your reasoning very carefully indeed, because you’re likely wrong.

            Sweden takes in more refugees per capita than about anyone not neighbouring an active warzone, but it’s also pretty effective at turning them into swedes.

          • Joel says:

            I live in Stockholm. What exactly would visiting Stockholm prove about Scandinavia developing an underclass?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Joel

            So, do you notice any difference in the character of the centre city (not the Gamla Stan, but rather, say, the Sergels torg area) over the last decade or so?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Thomas Jørgensen

            but that doesn’t stop the Social Democracy from owning their souls.

            You’ll excuse me if I don’t consider that the primary criterion for success.

          • Joel says:

            @Lumifer
            I haven’t noticed anything personally, but I’m sure you’re implying that there are more foreign-looking people about on the town. Although that could possibly be true, I fail to see that it conveys anything about socioeconomic demographic change, much less provides any proof whatsoever.

            I’m smelling emotional vested interest on your part and I’m very tempted to back out of this discussion,unless you have some verifiable facts for me.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Joel

            No, no vested emotional interest. An no, I don’t mean the numbers of brown people (or the number of kebab shops).

            I was struck by how much dirtier this area became. Also, emptier in the evenings with aimless groups of young men here and there. I know the feeling I got there, from other places, but I did not expect to encounter it in Stockholm.

          • Joel says:

            @Lumifer
            Fair enough. I mistook your tone for the same rhetoric used by the uncomfortably large xenophobic minority in Swedish. I apologize.

            I still don’t think a general feeling of dirtiness says anything about developing an underclass.

          • sabril says:

            There’s a rule: If you think Sweden is pursuing a stupid government policy, check your facts and your reasoning very carefully indeed, because you’re likely wrong.

            Is this rule based on evidence? If so, could you please summarize the evidence?

            Is this rule based on a logical argument? If so, could you please summarize the logic?

            Or is this rule based on wishful thinking?

        • baconbacon says:

          Syrain Americans are 52nd on the wikipedia list of ethnic groups in the US by household income at $61,000, while Dutch Americans are all the way up at …. 58th with $59,000 in income? Followed by French and Korean identifiers.

          Scandinavians are 11th at $72,000, but Danish/Swedish/Norwegian are 32/33/34 at around $66,000 so the gap between the Danes and Syrians is about the same as the gap between Scandinavians and the Danes.

          • Sandy says:

            I would imagine most Syrians got here (before the civil war) by having educational qualifications and being part of the flying class. Most Dutch/Scandinavian Americans have likely been here for many generations so that’s not a guarantee for them.

            The Syrians Europe is getting now are a rather different demographic.

          • baconbacon says:

            y having educational qualifications and being part of the flying class. Most Dutch/Scandinavian Americans have likely been here for many generations so that’s not a guarantee for them.

            The Syrians Europe is getting now are a rather different demographic.

            Being in a country for 3-4 generations should be an advantage for the Dutch/Scandinavians over recent Syrian immigrants, and most of those Northern European immigrants would have been selected from higher ambition/risk tolerant pools, and left behind lower ambition/risk tolerant pools in their homelands.

          • Sandy says:

            Ok, I should have been more precise than “many generations”; Dutch immigration to North America dates back to the 1600’s. New York City was founded by Dutch settlers as New Amsterdam. Several hundred thousand more Dutch immigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries. When a community’s ties go that far back, they tend to disassociate from that ethnic identity and assimilate into the mainstream culture, which results in fewer intracommunity support systems and networking opportunities. As a result, the demographic profile of the descendants of Dutch settlers should be very different from their ancestors in major ways, because these descendants are now culturally and socially indistinguishable from most white Americans.

            Syrian immigrants who came here for economic and job-related reasons are likely to be more educated than the American median, and more likely to form connections with other Syrian communities in the United States.

          • baconbacon says:

            As a result, the demographic profile of the descendants of Dutch settlers should be very different from their ancestors in major ways, because these descendants are now culturally and socially indistinguishable from most white Americans.

            But not genetically (depending on how the survey data was complied and intermarriage etc).

            The counter would also be that there were major immigration waves (particularly the Swedes) in the late 19th/early 20th century ( Wikipedia has 1.3 million Swedes coming during that time frame, a pretty enormous number considering the current population)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          See eg http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/assessing-immigrant-integration-sweden-after-may-2013-riots :

          “On a scale between 0 and 1 (with 0 being perfect equality and 1 perfect inequality), Sweden’s Gini coefficient in 2012 was 0.24, versus the OECD average of 0.31. Between the mid-1990s and late-2000s Sweden’s Gini coefficient grew by 4.8 percentage points, representing one of the fastest growth rates in the OECD, and suggesting a likely driver of the growing discontent among the Swedish labor force—both native and migrant. In addition, the poverty rate in Sweden has more than doubled since 1995, and stood at about 9 percent in 2010, according to official estimates.

          As immigrant populations have grown, Sweden has experienced a persistent level of segregation—among the highest in Western Europe. In 2008, 60 percent of native Swedes lived in areas where the majority of the population was also Swedish, and 20 percent lived in areas that were virtually 100 percent Swedish. In contrast, 20 percent of Sweden’s foreign born lived in areas where more than 40 percent of the population was also foreign born. Demographic differences among regions, and particularly between the north and the south of the country, are also important.”

          • Joel says:

            As you’ve probably noticed, the debate has become quite heated on this issue in recent years. As a result I’ve become allergic to statements on the form “Sweden is doomed, and it’s the immigrants’ fault”. I know you only said the first part of that, but it still triggered my xenophobe detector.

            Interestingly, you’re the first person who has responded with actual facts, not just speculation and “common sense”.

            I’m still not convinced, though. The article you linked places most of the blame on labor and housing policies in the 90’s, and I’m not sure that is very relevant projecting forward. And I’m certainly not convinced that this is because of immigration, other than immigrants being the victims of this increased segregation.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        But integration isn’t failing. It’s slow – it takes about a decade, but it is very complete.
        Take a typical refugee ten years after arriving in Sweden and he or she is now an employed atheist (the statistics on how quickly and totally immigrants secularize are pretty eyeopening) social-democrat.
        Same holds in Denmark. There’s a lot of angst about failing integration, but it’s almost entirely down to the fact that recent arrivals haven’t been assimilated by the Northren Borg yet, which makes them stand out like all hell, which fear-mongering assholes exploit for political gain and the fact that Sweden takes really very high numbers of refugees in, which makes people worry, but really, from one perspective.. a decade is less than 18 years, so..

        It would be nice if we could become even more efficient assimilators, but that would require substantial breakthroughs in adult education, because teaching people a new language and then ramming them through a full remedial education is just not a very fast process regardless of how strong your national tradition for adult education and training is – and it is very strong in all the nordic countries.

        • US says:

          “But integration isn’t failing. It’s slow – it takes about a decade, but it is very complete.
          Take a typical refugee ten years after arriving in Sweden and he or she is now an employed atheist (the statistics on how quickly and totally immigrants secularize are pretty eyeopening) social-democrat.
          Same holds in Denmark.”

          An analysis of Danish data conducted by the Rockwool Foundation found that for family-reunificated spouses/relatives etc. to fugitives, 22 % were employed after having lived in Denmark for five years (the family-reunificated individuals, that is, not the fugitives themselves). Only one in three of the family-reunificated individuals had managed to find a job after having stayed here for fifteen years. […] In Denmark, the employment rate of immigrants from non-Western countries was 47,7 % in November 2013, compared to 73,8 % for people of (…’supposedly’, see also my comments and observations here) Danish origin, according to numbers from Statistics Denmark (link). […] When you look at the economic performance of the people with fugitive status themselves, 34 % are employed after 5 years, but that number is almost unchanged a decade later – only 37 % are employed after they’ve stayed in Denmark for 15 years.” (I posted this on my blog a while back, here’s the blog link, with more data and information)

          Just for you information, I’m not going to engage with you again or reply to any comments below which you might make – I frankly don’t respect people who either talk about that which they know nothing, or who say things which they know not to be true, and either one or the other applies to you. I added the comment for the benefit of others, not for the benefit of you.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            The reference for your fifteen year number is very hard to find, and it conflicts with eurostat.
            http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578956/IPOL_STU(2016)578956_EN.pdf (page 23)

            The fact that the labor participation for immigrants to Denmark is currently dropping is news to me, and depressing as hell.

          • US says:

            You’ll want to look at Table 9, page 30 of the Rockwool Foundation publication. The numbers are right there in the report. 34.3% employment rate after 5 years, 36.8% after 15 years, 34.1 % for family reunificated individuals after 15 years.

            Listen, this stuff isn’t news. I have done postgraduate work on the fiscal effects of immigration, and even ‘left-leaning, the welfare-state isn’t that bad-‘ economists like Torben Andersen agree that immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed – I should know, I’ve attended his lectures on this topic. I have not seen those Eurostat numbers before, but the very notion that *any* group of fugitives have a 75% employment rate after a decade is laughable to anyone who’ve actually studied this topic.

            In case you were wondering, I only responded to your comment because you were sort-of-kind-of implicitly calling me a liar (I was considering reporting the comment, but decided against it). I state this also so that you’re aware that my preferences have not changed; I do not want to engage with you any further.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            You might be right about everything, but this is a terrible way to engage in an argument.

          • US says:

            Whatever Happened to Anonymous

            The fact that I didn’t outright call Thomas either an idiot or a liar in my first reply was a result of great restraint on my part. He in my opinion clearly does not know enough about this stuff to hold an opinion on this topic.

            I’m autistic, so I don’t always have a good grasp of the social rules that other people play by, but the numbers speak for themselves. Also, this was not supposed to be an argument; it was supposed to be me telling people who might not otherwise know that Thomas is wrong (full of bullshit). As a general rule I don’t engage in arguments with people like Thomas, because as Brandolini aptly put it, “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

            Notice how I didn’t include numbers related to the question of whether or not (muslim) immigrants in Denmark are secular in my first reply? That’s not because I haven’t looked at this stuff, it’s because it’s too much work to prove people like Thomas wrong on all counts. It’s not worth the effort. Half of Danish muslims – both first and second generation – wanted the government to punish the people who drew the Muhammed cartoons, yet this guy’s telling some fairy tale about (all of? most of?) them having jobs and being secular. I hoped to show by adding the employment figures that his opinions are worthless and that he clearly doesn’t have a clue – it’s not just that he’s ‘a bit off’ about the numbers, he clearly has no idea about the actual state of affairs. But I don’t want to talk to people like that, because it’s a waste of time – life’s too short. Openly signalling your disapproval of people who behave in this manner should in my opinion be considered a virtue on a site like this one.

          • Joel says:

            @US

            I agree that you should probably practice a bit bit more humility if you truly want to be taken seriously. How can you be 100% sure that Thomas is bullshitting? He clearly has numbers backing him up, and how can you be sure your numbers are more trustworthy than his numbers? The truth is not always black and white.

            If you don’t want to argue, fine, but the kind of hit-and-run fact-dropping you’re doing is probably not very effective at convincing people.

          • US says:

            @Joel:

            “Take a typical refugee ten years after arriving in Sweden and he or she is now an employed atheist (the statistics on how quickly and totally immigrants secularize are pretty eyeopening) social-democrat.”

            I’ll be more blunt. This is a bald-faced lie, and anybody who has ever actually looked at the data knows this. He gives zero evidence for the atheism part, which is not surprising as there is none, and a lot of evidence pointing in a very different direction, and only has one highly questionable source for the employment data, which frankly goes against pretty much everything we’ve known about these topics for decades. I know because I’ve been interested in this literature, on and off, for a long time; I read my first Rockwool Foundation publication about Danish immigrants’ employment figures, educational attainment, crime data, etc. 15 years ago, and I have, as I also mentioned, done actual academic work on these topics. I have also blogged such topics in some detail in the past.

            Thomas does not respect the truth, which to me means that he argues in bad faith. I don’t want to pretend I don’t know any better than him or that he may be right, because that’s not true. It would be a bit like, say, some 2nd year physics student granting that the guy trying to sell him a perpetual motion machine might be on to something. He’s not on to something, he’s wrong about the facts. The fact that people like Thomas often get away with statements like the ones he includes in his first comment to which I replied is a big part of the reason why I don’t care for political debates.

          • US says:

            Joel:

            Just to do a bit more of the work for you, if you want more details about some of the reasons I have for assuming I know more about these topics than Thomas does, here are some links to start with:

            Data on Danish immigrants (1)
            Data on Danish immigrants (2)
            Data on Danish immigrants (3)
            Data on Danish immigrants (4)
            A few crime data
            Integration i Danmark omkring årtusindskiftet (book in Danish)
            Random stuff (Follow the links. I’ve also read textbooks about norms, migration analysis, conflict analysis, etc., and there’s a reason why I included links to that stuff as well in that post. I also consider books like these to be important in terms of obtaining a deeper understanding of the issues at hand, especially in terms of understanding how it’s very clearly not reasonable to expect an outcome like the one Thomas implicitly outlines).

            I’ve quite systematically deleted a lot of the stuff I posted on these topics on my blog in the past so there are a lot fewer links than there could have been, but the above collection should at least help clarify that I’m not some average Joe who read a newspaper article in the Economist about immigrant employment rates and therefore think that I know a lot of stuff about these things. As I point out in one of the articles I later deleted on the blog, an analysis of roughly 2000 Syrians who arrived in Denmark between 2009 and 2013 showed that only 13% of Syrians were employed after having stayed here for three years (here’s a Danish link). A report last year (Danish link) relatedly e.g. found an employment rate of Lebanese people at the age of 30-59 years living in Denmark of 30,4%, and an Iraqi employment rate of 32,8% – compared to an employment rate of 82,3% for native Danes. Try to square numbers like these with a 75% employment rate among fugitives after 10 years (Thomas’ source), even assuming other subgroups in the sample do significantly better, keeping in mind that many of those Iraqi and Lebanese people have already been here for more than a decade. Square it with the dual observation that 50 % of males and 35 % of non-Western females without a Danish education are employed, and that only one in four immigrants in Denmark had a Danish education in 2015 (Statistics Denmark, link). Square his optimistic 10-years-is-all-it-takes position with the observation, made in a recent article by two of Denmark’s leading demographers, that the difference between the native Danish employment rate and that of non-Western immigrants increased from 23.3 percentage points (77.9% for Danes, 54.6% for non-Western immigrants) in 2008, to 26.1 percentage point in 2013 (link). The idea is not worth taking seriously, and if you think such numbers are accurate you don’t know what you’re talking about.

            As for refugees quickly turning into secular atheists, just a short note on this. A survey made by Capacent, Din muslimske nabo, found that 55% of muslims asked thought that it should be illegal to criticize religion, whereas 34% disagreed with this view (Danish link). Other surveys have found similar results, for example another large survey (n=2792) of Danish muslims in 2009 asked whether the participants agreed that the government should outlaw books and films criticizing religion. 50% of both muslim immigrants and descendants thought that it should, whereas only 35% of muslim immigrants, and 40% of muslim descendants, answered no to this question. A substantial proportion, bordering on a majority, not only aren’t atheists, they’re actively in favour of making criticism of their religion outright illegal.

      • LPSP says:

        I daresay it’s already begun. Sweden Yes and all that.

  48. baconbacon says:

    Based on this methodology, a paper finds that a high school degree has real value and not signaling value

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. That isn’t what the abstract says.

    Despite being much more likely to obtain a high school degree, the control group does not enjoy higher labor earnings later in life, suggesting that the signaling value of a high school degree is zero for this population.

    The conclusion (in the abstract, I didn’t read the paper) was that a high school diploma had zero value (and hence zero signaling value).

    • null says:

      The conclusion is that a high school diploma has zero signaling value, as teenage mothers who basically completed high school but did not receive a degree have similar outcomes as teenage mothers who did receive a degree. There is still a discrepancy in outcomes between high school dropouts and people who completed high school, and Scott determined that this was a result of real value as this paper suggests that there is little signaling value.

      • sards says:

        There is still a discrepancy in outcomes between high school dropouts and people who completed high school, and Scott determined that this was a result of real value as this paper suggests that there is little signaling value.

        Does the paper discuss this discrepancy? Or are you simply referring to the common knowledge that high school graduates as a group do better than dropouts? If it’s the latter, I don’t see how that has anything to say about the real value of high school; there are obvious confounding factors at play.

  49. sards says:

    Based on this methodology, a paper finds that a high school degree has real value and not signaling value.

    What do you mean by “real value”? I just read the abstract, but it said they found no evidence of signaling value; it said nothing about real value.

  50. Steven Reilly says:

    I don’t usually defend Kim Jong-un, but he didn’t ban sarcasm, just sarcasm aimed at his regime. Not much better, I suppose, but good evidence that all those “North Korea is comically crazy!” stories are nonsense, and it’s just ordinary crazy.

    http://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/warned-09022016160227.html

  51. Urstoff says:

    Looking at that largest cities throughout history link…the Late Bronze Age Collapse was legit.

    • John Schilling says:

      And we still don’t understand why, which is more than a little bit scary.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      That’s not saying much. It should be no surprise that the people who believe in the Collapse produce precise numbers compatible with their beliefs. The best case scenario is if the Collapse were a summary of these numbers, but it isn’t. The numbers were produced after the qualitative idea existed and are influenced by it. It’s hard to imagine any other way to do archaeology, but circular reasoning and echo chambers are real problems. (Not to dispute the particular example of the Collapse.)

      Or maybe you just mean that you didn’t know how big the Collapse was supposed to be…that the Capital C was legit.

  52. AlphaGamma says:

    Japanese gameshows: We’re going to tie a piece of meat to your body, take you to the island of Komodo, and film you getting chased by Komodo dragons.

    I imagine this is not the order they did these three things in.

  53. Blue says:

    I believe this is the same Lovelock whom the title character of the Orson Scott Card novel is named after.

  54. Bugmaster says:

    The best thing to happen to African capitalism since Nwabudike Morgan?

    It depends, how close are they to Air Power ?

  55. Ryan says:

    On charter schools:

    My basic hypothesis is that public schools with the lowest SES students have a whole lot of kids who hold back academic achievement of others either by being directly disruptive (bad behavior) or through being plain dimwitted. The charter schools can reject the bad apples and accept only the better students. This creates an environment in which they can achieve in accord with their academic potential.

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      I don’t think it’s even that the Charter Schools reject the “bad apples” (though that certainly is part of it), it’s that to get into a Charter School one’s parent must, *at minimum* value their child’s education enough to initiate a change. The “easy button” is to hand your kid off to the default school for your address and let The State do as it will. It is marginally harder to get your kid into, and make arrangements for them to get to a charter school. This immediately sorts out parents who don’t care, and parents who don’t care will (statistically) have kids who don’t care.

      A culture that values education (see the comments about Denmark and Sweden neighborhoods) is going to produce (largely) kids that value education. A culture that doesn’t value education is going to produce kids that do not.

      It does suck for the kids who want to learn but are stuck in traditional schools, but it was going to suck for them anyway.

      • cassander says:

        If all schools were charters though, the effect of a relatively small number of invested parents is enough to drive whole markets to do better, the same way we have competitive markets in, say, soap, despite the fact that few of us pay much attention to which brand we buy.

        • DensityDuck says:

          “If all schools were charters though”

          Sit back, children, and hear the tale of the Goose Who Laid Golden Eggs…

          • cassander says:

            Right, because markets are totally untried system that definitely doesn’t produce better cars, computers, or cell phones every year…..

          • Dahlen says:

            I wouldn’t die on that hill, TBH. When it comes to manufactured products of all kinds, the new version of a given thing, in today’s capitalism, might have some added functionality, improved safety and useability, reduced price and cost of production, or other objective and real improvement, or it might not, and the only thing that could be said for it is that the newer stuff is trendier. Which, by definition, it always is.

            Lots of us over here still have Communist-produced leftover manufactured goods and one thing they’ve really got going for them is that they’re certainly sturdier and longer-lasting than their modern versions, from textiles to appliances.

          • DensityDuck says:

            The things that make charter schools have better outcomes will not exist if you declare that all schools must be charters.

    • Emily says:

      I don’t think it’s totally accurate to say that charter schools *reject* bad or disruptive students.

      They may recruit by advertising in ways which are more accessible to certain types of parents. They may create higher-than-necessary barriers to entry on the part of the parents. (Like, you have to attend some meetings to apply/enroll.) They may try to scare the parents into not applying (like, making it clear there are strict behavioral codes, or giving the kids a test which isn’t used in admissions, but the school makes clear that kids who don’t pass are going to have trouble with the curriculum.) Once difficult kids enroll, the school can expel them for behavioral issues, or threaten to make them repeat a grade if they don’t do well on the tests. (Whereas, if they transfer to their local neighborhood school, they won’t have to repeat.)

      But I wouldn’t really call these “rejecting” bad students or only accepting better ones. In some cases, that would actually be much better, as with charter schools like BASIS which have very difficult curricula. Rejecting a student who almost certainly isn’t going to make it is much kinder than accepting them and then letting them fail.

      • Ryan says:

        I think both you and William have detailed and sensible thoughts. In my defense “yeah, uh, that’s totally what I meant.”

    • I don’t know the experience of charter schools elsewhere, but in my home state of Minnesota, charters seem to have almost exclusively “bad” or “disruptive” kids. I’m not sure if charter schools here even have the right to exclude certain kids, but in any case they don’t. It seems to me that the whole point of charter schools is to have an alternative to public schools for kids who don’t do well in the public system. I am curious to know if the charter experience is different elsewhere.

      Unfortunately the average charter school here also has test scores well below the average public school. That makes them look unsuccessful, but it may be that those kids in the charters are doing better there than they would have if they stayed in the public schools. It would be nice to get some data on this, but it is such a political hot potato that it would be difficult to get objective information. But overall, I think charter schools are a good thing, because it provides an outlet for those failing in the public schools.

  56. AnonBosch says:

    Leading environmental scientist James Lovelock was previously famous for his belief that global warming would be much worse than anyone thought. Now he says he’s changed his mind, that global warming will probably be so slow we don’t need to worry much, and that he’s actually concerned about AI risk.

    Lovelock has now managed the rare feat of being misinformed about IPCC predictions from both extremes. His predictions in 2006 were outlandish, and his statements now are just… incoherent:

    Lovelock now believes that “CO2 is going up, but nowhere near as fast as they thought it would. The computer models just weren’t reliable. In fact,” he goes on breezily, “I’m not sure the whole thing isn’t crazy, this climate change. You’ve only got to look at Singapore. It’s two-and-a-half times higher than the worst-case scenario for climate change, and it’s one of the most desirable cities in the world to live in.”

    First of all, as far as I know the climate models don’t predict forcings. They assume the forcings from several different scenarios ranging from a BAU coal-fired dystopia (RCP 8.5) to emissions-peak-tomorrow (RCP 2.6) and then predict the net feedbacks from each. Future CO2 emissions are just fed into the models as input. I suppose those emissions scenarios are generated with the aid of “models” originally, but now we’re talking about economic models, not climate models.

    And as of now we’re only slightly below the BAU RCP, with the difference being mostly due to the global recession. Certainly not “nowhere near as fast as they thought.” Even comparing it to the old SRES inputs, we’re also somewhere between highest and second-highest. Furthermore, most of the input scenarios don’t start to significantly diverge until 2020, so it’s entirely unclear what would’ve happened in the last decade to precipitate this particular change of heart.

    The second part is just… incoherent. What is 2.5 times higher than the worst-case scenario in Singapore specifically? CO2 concentration? Temperature? Sea levels? I’m trying to imagine a variable that’s both locality-specific and would fit the bill of being “2.5 times higher” than some prediction and coming up blank.

    This sounds a lot like a Freeman Dyson situation where you have a scientist suffering from emeritus disease making breezy claims about how “the computer models are bad” while giving no specifics and very clearly not bothering to look into the details.

    • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

      Who are you going to believe? Some 95-year-old contrarian, or your own lying eyes?

    • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

      PS: although please let me say, on the other hand, that this week’s essay / book review by 92-year-old Freeman Dyson, “The Green Universe: A Vision” (New York Review of Books, Oct. 13, 2016), is crystal-clear and well worth reading. Good on `yah, Freeman Dyson! 🙂

    • DensityDuck says:

      well shit I’m old enough to remember when Climate Scientists were obviously right about what was going on, and questioning them was something that only stupid Science Denier Republican racist homophobes did because they didn’t want to give up those precious, precious dollars.

      So now I guess it’s…okay to talk about how Climate Scientists might be wrong about stuff?

      • Lumifer says:

        it’s…okay to talk about how Climate Scientists might be wrong about stuff?

        Depends on talk where. I wouldn’t recommend it on the grounds of, ahem, institutions of higher education.

      • AnonBosch says:

        What is the point of this reply?

        • DensityDuck says:

          The story was, all along, that Human-Caused Earth-Ending GabbleWabble was totally for real because Climate Scientists said so. Whenever anyone suggested that they might be wrong, the questioners were asked to present their degree in Climate Scientology; lack of said degree was seen as all the rebuttal needed to suggestions that the Climate Scientists might be wrong.

          and, um, now here’s a Climate Scientist saying that GabbleWabble might be different, and he’s misinformed, incoherent, an out-of-it old fool who doesn’t deserve to be listened to be anyone and should have been turned into Soylent Green about ten years ago.

          • AnonBosch says:

            The story was, all along, that Human-Caused Earth-Ending GabbleWabble was totally for real because Climate Scientists said so. Whenever anyone suggested that they might be wrong, the questioners were asked to present their degree in Climate Scientology; lack of said degree was seen as all the rebuttal needed to suggestions that the Climate Scientists might be wrong.

            Whose story? Are you arguing with me, or are you arguing with some Straw Warmist who isn’t in this thread and doesn’t believe, for instance, that argument screens off authority, or that AGW is real because of evidence, rather than the pronouncement of some arbitrary authority?

            If you want to re-litigate some dumb argument you had in the past with a left-wing echo chamber, maybe go back and do it there instead of here.

          • DensityDuck says:

            I guess if you want to pretend that there isn’t a history around Global Warming arguments, then there’s not much more I can say.

      • Matthew says:

        I’m going to quote Asimov here.
        My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”.

        Questioning of the climate models is like questioning the exact bulge of the oblate spheroid earth. It is magnitudes of different from dropping a snowball on the floor of the Senate.

    • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

      Contrarianism is receiving scant respect too, from politically non-partisam citizen-scientists, and wilderness-hikers, and polar explorers … for these wilderness-loving folks the evidence of their own eyes compellingly affirms the consensus climate-science moral and economic narratives.

      On the other hand, at age 90+, it’s understandable that James Lovelock — and Freeman Dyson too — no longer get out into the wilderness much! 🙂

    • TomFL says:

      When’s the last time you saw anybody in the media quote a scenario other than RCP8.5 or similar worst case? 1M sea level rise is the maximum of the range for RCP8.5. People routinely quote 2M or higher and generally never mention the number they use is the worst case number of the worst case emissions scenario. Hansen put out some ridiculous paper with 10 feet by 2050 and the media ate it up.

      For the most part they never quote the IPCC anymore and use the paper of the week with some dubious numbers. The biggest problem with “climate science” is the selection bias from environmental journalists.

      All scenarios are BAU at the start, it is a matter of when peak emissions occur. If one was to believe China then we are way below RCP8.5 and well into one of the medium emission trajectories.

      I can’t remember the last time I saw a mainstream media outlet discuss model performance vs. observations or drug up the endless doomsday predictions from decades ago that haven’t come to pass. If they want to quote crazy estimates, they should at least follow up 10 years later.

      I don’t know what the 2.5x number is. He might be referring to Singapore’s average temperature already being higher than estimate of temperature rise elsewhere.

      • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

        Don’t recent mainstream media articles like the Miami Herald’sSea rise could force millions in Florida to adapt or flee, study finds” (March 14, 2016) provide entirely reasonable summaries of the social and economic implications of climate-science research?

        Insurance actuaries broadly agree — “Sea level rise could cost Florida $400B in property loss” (August 3, 2016) — and these dry-eyed hard-noised evidence-driven folks cannot reasonably be afflicted by excessive liberal bias, can they?

        In breaking news, scientists say sea-level rise-rates are accelerating. Are they right? The world wonders … and insurance company actuaries wonder especially.

        And Trump’s worried too! 🙂

        • TomFL says:

          No.

          #1: “Floridians alone make up nearly half that number if seas rise six feet”

          #2: “at least partially underwater if sea levels rise six feet by 2100”

          https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_station.shtml?stnid=8724580

          Currently 2.37 mm/yr. 1 inch per decade. Do the math. How large of a change in rate will it take to get to 72 inches by 2100? Over 10x. Is that reasonable when examining the trend above? Should that be a working assumption? No.

          Read chapter 13 of IPCC AR5 report. The median at RCP8.5 is around 2 feet. Even using the median estimate at RCP8.5 it would take on the order of 500 years to get to 6 feet. RCP8.5 isn’t going to happen.

          Florida coastal building codes are for 100 year hurricane storm surge levels. Any new construction or over the past few decades are typically 10 or more feet over sea level.

          Insurance actuaries go on a year by year basis. They aren’t insuring a Florida home for the next 85 years, they are insuring it for the next 12 months. Florida home insurance rates are all about hurricanes, not sea level rise.

          Acceleration in sea level rise is approx 0.010 mm / yr2 according to the IPCC AR5. That isn’t going to get you to 6 feet anytime soon.

          • AnonBosch says:

            RCP8.5 isn’t going to happen.

            Agree with the rest of your post but I don’t think it’s possible to be confident about this one way or the other. That’s the entire reason disparate RCPs exist.

          • John Schilling says:

            Florida coastal building codes are for 100 year hurricane storm surge levels. Any new construction or over the past few decades are typically 10 or more feet over sea level.

            There’s presumably a reason for this. If a building has to be 10 feet above sea level to survive a 100-year storm, and turns out to be only 8 feet above sea level because RCP8.5 happened after all, what is its mean survival time in the Florida hurricane environment?

            If it’s 80 years, fine. If it’s 10 years, now you have depopulated a fair chunk of Florida. Probably best to look into that scaling before dismissing the risk as negligible.

          • TomFL says:

            Certainly storm surge will be X feet higher with higher sea levels, so if you build to today’s levels you will have increased risk with higher sea levels. How much is unknown, I have never seen any data on this. The higher surge levels have an increasingly smaller chances of occurring.

            One assumes that the building codes take into account some level of projected sea level rise but I can’t confirm that.

          • TomFL says:

            RCP8.5 assumes we will use coal at 10x today’s current rate by 2100 along with large population increases. This would exhaust all known coal reserves by 200% before 2100.

            RCP8.5 could technically occur but I find it very unlikely as CO2 use is already starting to bend the right direction. China is a major factor and they are promising to peak at 2030 (?) which is significantly ahead of RCP8.5. China is likely to limit coal use for air pollution reasons alone.

          • CatCube says:

            @John Schilling

            Be careful; the return period isn’t equivalent to the lifetime. As a matter of fact, it’s use (“100-year storm”) is now deprecated because of the confusion it causes. A 100-year event (storm, wind event, earthquake, etc.) is the event that has a 1% chance of being exceeded in a given year. Similarly, a 50-year event is 2%, 20 year is 5%, etc. There’s no reason you can’t have multiple 100 year events back-to-back.

            For the 1% exceedance event, there’s a 50% chance it will occur in a 70-year period. (P=1-(1-p)^n) I can’t find data for storm surge return periods in Florida, so it’s hard to say what losing 2 feet will do, especially since the intended design life will have a big effect on the economics.

            On Corps of Engineers projects, we assume a 100-year lifespan, so our operating basis event (the earthquake where the facility should be operable in the immediate aftermath) is 144 years, since that’s the event that has a 50% chance of occurring during the lifetime.

            Maximum design earthquakes, for life safety, are the ones that have only a 10% chance of exceedance in the project lifespan, or 1000 years. (It’s actually 949 years, but that usually gets rounded up)

            Most civilian structures usually have a design lifetime a lot lower than 100 years, so that’s going to push the chance of occurrence down some.

            (The maximum credible earthquake, or the largest that could reasonable be expected to occur, is used for certain types of high-hazard structures–dam components and the like.)

          • ” If it’s 10 years, now you have depopulated a fair chunk of Florida”

            Looking at Figure 13.11 on the latest IPCC report, SLR in ten years on RCP8.5 is about five or six inches.

          • CatCube says:

            @David

            I think he’s asking if the increase in sea level will push the storm surges to an elevation that can be expected to damage buildings currently with a 50% chance of not seeing a storm surge in 70 years to 10 years.

      • AnonBosch says:

        When’s the last time you saw anybody in the media quote a scenario other than RCP8.5 or similar worst case? 1M sea level rise is the maximum of the range for RCP8.5. People routinely quote 2M or higher and generally never mention the number they use is the worst case number of the worst case emissions scenario. Hansen put out some ridiculous paper with 10 feet by 2050 and the media ate it up.

        For the most part they never quote the IPCC anymore and use the paper of the week with some dubious numbers. The biggest problem with “climate science” is the selection bias from environmental journalists.

        I agree with this generally, although the Lovelock interview is an example of this selection bias cutting the other way. The Guardian is usually considered left-wing but here they are uncritically repeating some quotes that seem to be completely unsupported and don’t fit with how climate models work. Meanwhile here’s the Daily Mail, which is usually considered right-wing, in 2006 quoting Lovelock’s original outrageously pessimistic original predictions (he amusingly cites the IPCC for them, I assume someone swapped his copy of the TAR with the script from The Day After Tomorrow).

        Science journalists on the whole like to cite outliers because they make for exciting headlines and do a rubbish job putting them in context. This especially applies in areas where the details are still unsettled. I think Zwally has changed his mind on Antarctic ice sheet balance four times in the last decade alone and every time it’s accompanied by a triumphant “HOO-AH” from the alternating info bubbles.

    • “What is 2.5 times higher than the worst-case scenario in Singapore specifically?”

      My guess is temperature. He is saying something like (I haven’t seen the original) “Singapore’s average temperature is higher than the global average temperature by 2.5 times as much as the global average temperature is predicted to rise by 2100. Singapore is a great place. So why assume the world would be terrible if it got warmer?”

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Wow. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

        • My guess at what he meant or what he meant if my guess is correct?

          Assume it’s the latter. The numbers are not important–the world is not all at its average temperature. But the point that AGW is expected to leave most of the world no warmer than some places where people do just fine is a legitimate point against the alarmist assumption that warming of that amount must lead to catastrophe.

          • Anonymous says:

            Wear a small sock-like electric heating thing on your little toe, keep it at 42c or something like that for a day, I guess that’s tolerable? Then stay inside a room heated to 42c for a day and tell me what you think.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Of course, if some climate change would leave most of the world at temperatures that are absolutely inhospitable, that is worse than if climate change would leave most of the world at temperatures that are hospitable. But the case for being worried about global warming isn’t that global warming will increase global temperatures to levels that are, merely in virtue of their temperature, absolutely incompatible with flourishing human life. And the fact that Singapore is a great place is terrible evidence for the claim that it would not be catastrophic for other places to move substantially in its direction.

            For one, Singapore is an extremely modern city with a strong economy, culture, and well-functioning government (and, in my opinion, is a nice place to live largely despite the temperature). If you build that kind of city on a desert or tundra, and you can, then it’ll be a decent place to live too. But it would obviously be catastrophic for a large part of the world to become desert or tundra.

            To bring out how silly the relevant reasoning is, suppose we took every “nice place to live”, including New York state, Texas, Scandinavia, Singapore, and so on, and just randomly reshuffled their climates (perhaps gradually over a generation or two). Is the fact that each of these places are presently nice good evidence that this reshuffling wouldn’t be catastrophic? Of course not. And many places don’t have the economic or political infrastructure to absorb changes in climate as well as presently nice places do.

            There might be catastrophic costs either to the distribution of climate or to changes in climate, neither of which are remotely addressed by pointing out that being hot doesn’t rule out being nice. And the latter, in particular, is behind a lot of concern over global warming.

          • AnonBosch says:

            But the point that AGW is expected to leave most of the world no warmer than some places where people do just fine is a legitimate point against the alarmist assumption that warming of that amount must lead to catastrophe.

            Well, my days of cringing at your comments on (C)AGW are certainly coming to a middle.

            Let’s first define our terms. The 2015 GMST was 14.8°C per NASA. For Singapore it was 28.3°C per their own weather service. Under your interpretation of Lovelock’s comment (worst-case = 2.5x the difference b/w Singapore and GMST by 2100), we’re discussing a hypothetical rise of about 5.4°C, which seems to accord with this IPCC figure’s RCP 8.5 projection. (This is also about the mean annual temp difference between Singapore and Shenzhen). So it’s plausible enough that perhaps this is what he meant.

            The biggest problem with your comment (and his) is that the fact that people in Shenzhen wouldn’t be threatened if Shenzhen took on the climate of Singapore is that it tells us about exactly one consequence of global warming (people may be physically unable to inhabit certain places) in one place (Shenzhen, or equivalent latitutdes).

            It doesn’t say anything about sea level rise, or biodiversity loss, or ocean acidification / anoxic zone expansion, or any other global-scale consequences. It doesn’t say anything about precipitation shifts, or fire risk, or fat-tail possibilities such as the clathrate gun.

            For medium- to high-emission scenarios (RCP4.5, 6.0, and 8.5), ocean acidification poses substantial risks to marine ecosystems, especially polar ecosystems and coral reefs, associated with impacts on the physiology, behavior, and population dynamics of individual species from phytoplankton to animals (medium to high confidence). … Ocean acidification acts together with other global changes (e.g., warming, decreasing oxygen levels) and with local changes (e.g., pollution, eutrophication) (high confidence).

            Examples that could lead to substantial impact on climate are the boreal–tundra Arctic system (medium confidence) and the Amazon forest (low confidence). For the boreal–tundra system, continued climate change will transform the species composition, land cover, drainage, and permafrost extent of the boreal–tundra system, leading to decreased albedo and the release of greenhouse gases (medium confidence), with adaptation measures unable to prevent substantial change (high confidence).

            Extensive biodiversity loss with associated loss of ecosystem goods and services results in high risks around 3°C additional warming (high confidence). Aggregate economic damages accelerate with increasing temperature (limited evidence, high agreement), but few quantitative estimates have been completed for additional warming around 3°C or above.

            It doesn’t take into account that Singapore would still exist, so if Shenzhen becomes Singapore, Singapore now becomes a hellish place where heat waves cause wet-bulb temps approaching the limits of human tolerance.

            By 2100 for the high-emission scenario RCP8.5, the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors (high confidence).

            It doesn’t take into account the shifts in ecosystems, including food crops and fish stocks and freshwater supplies, that would accompany such a rise in temperature. Sure, people can migrate, cities can renovate or build new infrastructure. But the sort of massive migration and shift in supply chains and food production infrastructure that would accompany every city in the world jumping the equivalent of 20° of latitude towards the tropics entails enormous costs.

            Projected large increases in exposure to water stress, fluvial and coastal flooding, negative impacts on crop yields, and disruption of ecosystem function and services would represent large, potentially compounding impacts of climate change on society generally and on the global economy.

            A brief note on sea levels. It is (correctly) observed that lay commenters and activists consistently overestimate the speed of the sea level feedback and make stupid comments about how Florida will be underwater by 2050 or somesuch. But I wonder if you have grasped the full implications of sea level feedback being slow; it also means that GHG-induced sea level rise gets baked in early and continues for centuries after emissions peak.

            Sustained warming greater than some threshold would lead to the near-complete loss of the Greenland ice sheet over a millennium or more,causing a global mean sea level rise of up to 7m (high confidence); current estimates indicate that the threshold is greater than about 1°C (low confidence) but less than about 4°C (medium confidence) global mean warming.

            You have previously noted that you enjoy citing IPCC projections against alarmists who talk out of their ass about climate change. All of the above blockquotes are from the Technical Summary of AR5-WG2. I am beginning to suspect this is an isolated demand for rigor.

          • @AnonBosch:

            I wrote:

            “a legitimate point against the alarmist assumption that warming of that amount must lead to catastrophe.”

            A legitimate point against is not the same thing as a refutation of. And “must lead to catastrophe” is not the same thing as “could possibly lead to catastrophe.”

            I don’t know how much you have participated in lay arguments about AGW, but there are quite a lot of people using rhetoric if not arguments about the world burning up.

            But thanks for checking that the numbers are consistent with my guess at what he meant.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Philosophisticat

            suppose we took every “nice place to live”, including New York state, Texas, Scandinavia, Singapore, and so on, and just randomly reshuffled their climates (perhaps gradually over a generation or two). Is the fact that each of these places are presently nice good evidence that this reshuffling wouldn’t be catastrophic? Of course not.

            But you also have little reason to believe that it would be catastrophic. You definitely don’t have useful economic modeling on the question.

            There might be catastrophic costs either to the distribution of climate or to changes in climate, neither of which are remotely addressed by pointing out that being hot doesn’t rule out being nice.

            There might be benefits either to the distribution of climate or to changes in climate.

            @AnonBosch

            the sort of massive migration and shift in supply chains and food production infrastructure that would accompany every city in the world jumping the equivalent of 20° of latitude towards the tropics entails enormous costs.

            Instantly? Absolutely. Over centuries? We have very little reason to believe so. Economic/political systems operate on much faster timescales than climate systems, and we simply can’t run these timescales the wrong way round and expect to get a defensible answer. Almost everyone runs them the wrong way round intuitively, because they don’t know what else to do.

            This fundamental flaw in analysis underlies nearly every danger you speak of; it’s just most obvious here.

          • AnonBosch says:

            Instantly? Absolutely. Over centuries? We have very little reason to believe so. Economic/political systems operate on much faster timescales than climate systems, and we simply can’t run these timescales the wrong way round and expect to get a defensible answer.

            Change happening slowly amortizes the costs, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Take everyone currently working as a fisherman in a tropical Asian city. Suppose there’s some combination of acidification, anoxic expansion, and climate-induced migration amounting to a negative effect on fish yields. It could be something as simple as reduced mass (due to Bergmann’s rule). This will lead to a misallocation in labor in the same way an improvement in technical efficiency would, but without the productivity benefits.

            Might some higher latitudes of the ocean become more productive? It’s certainly possible. But then you’re looking at migration, which again, is a needless cost just to get back to equal productivity.

          • LPSP says:

            I can easily see my toe being constantly out-of-place and irritated by that, with the strong head differential between there and the rest of me causing horrible prickly heat. Whereas overall heat is something adaptable, even if repulsive.

          • Anonymous says:

            Change happening slowly amortizes the costs, but it doesn’t eliminate them.

            You’re putting the timescales the wrong way round again. You’re assuming that the fast system stays the same for all time and that the slow system only causes a constant inefficiency. What’s worse is that every estimate I’ve seen of the cost of that inefficiency is a static estimate based on just running today’s fast system on some terminal value of the slow system.

            Let’s use a non-politicized example. While my specialty is dynamics/control, my degrees were all in aerospace engineering departments, so I’m going to pick the example of an aircraft. Simplifying things, there are two timescale-separated systems: 1) Orientation/velocity and 2) Fuel/weight. (Obviously, there are some events like dumping fuel which can cross this distinction, and things like position, primarily what we’ll care about is altitude, can be dropped into either bucket depending on the maneuver in question.) In regular operation, you can make rapid changes to orientation/velocity (turn the yoke, pull the throttle), but your weight (in particular due to fuel on-board) varies slowly over the course of the flight. I see two common mistakes in thinking about dynamical systems when applied to climate change:

            1) Hold the fast system constant, pick a terminal value of the slow system, think about how instantly jumping to it could have catastrophic effects. An aircraft example of this would be to think about how we’re eventually going to use up a whole lot of fuel, and that’s going to change the vehicle’s weight (and the distribution of weight unless we’ve pumped fuel around in the tanks). Imagine if this all happened immediately. I can do this on my flight simulator. I can instantly change the amount of fuel. I can even find values that make the plane go into a catastrophic situation (even theoretically unstable/uncontrollable if I can pick the distribution). That being said, this reasoning is pretty obviously fallacious when you think about it at all.

            2) “Change happening slowly amortizes the costs”. This fallacious view still holds the fast system constant. It then imagines that you can just interpolate damage between now and a non-catastrophic version of (1). An aircraft example is that efficiency of flight depends greatly on altitude – as you use fuel and your weight goes down, it turns out to be more efficient to fly at higher altitudes. Now here comes the critical difference between aircraft and economic/climate systems: we know this because the aircraft is almost exactly the same at every portion of the flight – we have good models of it that are applicable at each timestep. The fallacious reasoning is to think, “Sure, right now the most efficient altitude is 22000ft, but at the end of the flight, we’ll weigh less, and the most efficient altitude will be 36000ft. So, while the danger of continuing at 22000ft isn’t realized now, it’s just amortized over the course of the flight.” Did you notice the sneaky assumption on the fast system? “…continuing at 22000ft”? In reality, as flights go on, pilots increase their altitude (usually in steps to make airspace management easier) in order to grab efficiency gains. We know this behavior of the fast system; we can model this.

            The standard method of simulating timescale separated dynamical systems is to hold the slow system constant, let the fast system converge, take a small step forward in the slow system, and repeat. That means that at first we’re evaluating the fast system at the beginning of the flight, but eventually, we’ll evaluate the fast system in the middle of the flight and then later at the end of the flight… and that fast model has to be valid at all those times. For aircraft, we can model the fast system really well at all times, so we can do this. We can even include changes like increasing altitude to increase efficiency.

            For economic/political systems, we can’t model the fast system well. We certainly can’t do it at all times. Organizations like CBO don’t even try beyond ten years, and you would be laughed out of any economist’s office if you proposed trying to construct a model of the world economy that was valid for 2065. The analogy is if we were incapable of even determining the most efficient altitude at the end of the flight – sure, we think it might be different, but if we didn’t have a model of the fast system that was valid near the end of the flight, epistemic honesty prevents us from saying much. The analogy of a pilot adjusting the altitude is like human adaptation – technological development, moving, etc. (things that happen on very fast timescales relative to climate change).

            This is why every climate change damage paper I’ve ever read does it the wrong way round. They consider an estimate of how much damage an Xdeg change could cause today’s economy, then amortize that damage across the years. DICE said they made that damage model “dynamic”, even though it was really just an amortization based on T calibrated to hit the endpoint estimated by considering today’s economy (so, really a static estimate that was “dynamitized”, even though this is fundamentally theoretically broken). Low and behold, if they take a fallacious amortization of a damage function that is assumed to be positive definite, they get a positive amount of damage! But it’s the same fundamentally broken process as assuming that we can just amortize the costs of flying at 22000ft because the optimum endpoint is 36000ft.

            Literally all of your criticisms are subject to this claim. Your final sentence gives away the fact that you’re mentally reasoning the wrong way round: “But then you’re looking at migration, which again, is a needless cost just to get back to equal productivity.” You’re holding the fast system constant and assuming that it will be identical at the final point. We have absolutely no justification for this (and a lot of economic/political history which says otherwise).

            Unfortunately, the conclusion of applying basic principles of dynamical systems theory is that, right now, we have no bloody clue what the economic costs/benefits will be. We just have no theoretically defensible way of calculating them. I’m not particularly pleased by this thought… but my education and intellectual honesty obliges me to hold it.

          • simon says:

            Well said anonymous, but it’s not always that easy for the hypothetically fast human system to change rapidly in practice given entrenched human interests.

            Steve Landsburg once made on his blog a similar point to yours: he pointed out that the time taken for sea level rise to inundate a city is larger than the time it would take for buildings to be replaced anyway, so the city can be moved in time without a high net cost to society.

            But my response to that is that such a move would benefit landowners at the new city location at the expense of the landowners in the initial city location. So the landowners at the initial city location will lobby the city government to build dikes even at high cost, potentially approaching the full loss that those landowners might otherwise suffer and ignoring the gains to others. It could even be a higher cost than that if non-local governments subsidize the dike-building.

            Your point still stands, I am just pointing out an additional complication.

          • Anonymous says:

            my response to that is that such a move would benefit landowners at the new city location at the expense of the landowners in the initial city location.

            This part is absolutely true… but it’s true about the fast dynamics, too! Detroit all but fell apart (very quickly, relatively) due to purely economic considerations, and lots of people lost lots of money… no matter whether they tried to lobby their government to protect their interests or not. I currently live in an area that grew substantially due to politics – a BRAC relocated a lot of people (who make good money) here. People who owned land here from before basically came into a windfall as demand rose… and I imagine those who owned land in their previous locations lost.

            I don’t even go so far as to claim that all people will be pleased by the changes. I come from a farming family. While my subset of the family didn’t continue it, there is a strong contingent of cousins who have. I don’t think the desire to continue the family farm is going to just disappear on its own. Nevertheless, it’s possible that in the future, a descendant will have to think, “Farming corn here just isn’t as profitable as it once was. I really hate to give up a tradition that’s gone on for so long, but if I want to continue making a good living, I have to consider buying some land a little further north from here… or maybe consider changing up some of the crops I plant.”

            It’s still really important that this is on a slow timescale. If it’s on a fast timescale, the humanitarian cost is high – see the Dust Bowl. If it’s slow, then people will gradually move; gradually change crops; gradually adjust their way of life. New generations already adopt new tech, new ideas, and new social conventions that are different from their parents… and they do so based on changes in the fast dynamics. It’s a bit ridiculous to think that people will simply stop changing as climate change occurs. Just like what happens with political/economic effects, people will lobby to protect their own interests… but again, I have no reason to believe this will cause more inefficiency than a counterfactual world where they’re still lobbying to protect their interests from economic/political change.

            My final comment is that if you’re really sure about climate change and an estimate of sea level rise – buy land that is currently slightly inland! Make sure your children agree with your assessment of the future possible value so that when they inherit it, they don’t sell it immediately. This slow process will produce winners/losers, but I’m not sure it will be at a rate that beats the ROI of the stock market. If you think it will, buy buy buy. You have great knowledge, and your descendants could be big winners. (Disclaimer: investment may be subject to non-climate risks, including economic/political factors. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance. Additional boilerplate as necessary.)

          • ““Farming corn here just isn’t as profitable as it once was. I really hate to give up a tradition that’s gone on for so long, but if I want to continue making a good living, I have to consider buying some land a little further north from here… ”

            The Amish have been doing this for quite a long time. Lancaster County, in particular, got very expensive, so new settlements were created in southern Illinois and other areas where agricultural land was more available.

            So far as your idea about buying land inland, I’m not sure you realize just how slow the process is. SLR so far has been eight or nine inches in a century. The high end of the high emissions scenario estimate in the latest IPCC report is one meter by 2100.

            The rule of thumb for the U.S. Atlantic coast is that a meter of SLR shifts the coast by a hundred meters. So on a generous estimate of SLR (not the most generous possible, of course), you are talking about a shift inland of the coastline of only a hundred meters by the end of the century.

            Not much room for profits from land speculation.

        • beoShaffer says:

          As dumb as giving a country to whomever refuses to split it?

      • Matthew says:

        I live in Singapore. My entire life is sweat.

    • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

      The sea-level rise-rate projections of this week’s (above-referenced) Fasullo, Nerem & Hamlington article “Is the detection of accelerated sea level rise imminent?” (2016) extrapolate to the following rise-scenarios (as I calculate the numbers):

      • Year ~2225: Two meters of sea-level rise
      • Year ~2450: Ten meters of sea-level rise

      But don’t take my word for it … read Fasullo, Nerem & Hamlington’s article, and run the numbers yourself.

      Are there gross uncertainties in the above rise-rate projections, uncertainties equally at the low-end and the high-end? Oh yes, most definitely, isn’t that the right answer? Or at least, the Bayesian answer?

      Are there coastal areas of the world whose cities, highways, bridges, and sanitation infrastructures are more than 209 years old? More than 434 years old? Yes, plenty of them, isn’t that the right answer too?

      So maybe the Pope’s not so dumb? Those Vatican folks are maybe pretty smart, to take the long view, aren’t they?

      • TomFL says:

        I don’t see anything in this link about 2225 or 2450. This paper is all about whether the recent bump is acceleration or El Nino.

        Apparently someone else came up with those numbers by making some rather invalid assumptions. It is almost impossible to stay on that type of high emissions scenario for 400 years. There isn’t that much fossil fuel.

        You do realize all estimates come in ranges, right? A minimum, median, and maximum. Quoting only the maximum range of worst case scenarios and inferring they are the likely outcome is part and parcel of propaganda. If you want to say one number, say the median or include the term “worst case” with your projection.

        IPCC AR5. Year 2500
        High emissions scenario (1.5m to 6.6m)
        Medium emissions scenario (0.2m to 2.3m)
        Low emissions scenario (0.5m to 1.0m)

        http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/figures/WGI_AR5_Fig13-13

        • Unfailingly Inamorate Killogie says:

          Figure 4 of Fasullo, Nerem & Hamlington projects a long-term acceleration stabilizing at  ~0.12 mm/yr^2; the above-quoted dates for two-meter sea-level rise (by 2225) and ten-meter sea-level rise (by 2450) then follow, don’t they?

          • TomFL says:

            That rate is “only” 10x greater than the rate estimated by the IPCC AR5:

            “When a 60-year oscillation is modelled along with an acceleration term, the estimated acceleration in GMSL (twice the quadratic term) computed over 1900–2010 ranges from 0.000[–0.002 to 0.002] mm yr–2 in the Ray and Douglas (2011) record, to 0.013 [0.007 to 0.019] mm yr–2 in the Jevrejeva et al. (2008) record, and 0.012 [0.009 to 0.015] mm yr–2 in the Church and White (2011) record. For comparison, Church and White (2011) estimated the acceleration term to be 0.009 [0.004 to 0.014] mm yr–2 over the 1880–2009 time span when the 60-year cycle is not considered.”

            If you want to believe sea level acceleration rates are going to magically change by a magnitude when there is zero evidence of this happening over the last 100 years of warming, be my guest. The IPCC doesn’t believe it and you will just have to ignore the scientific consensus on the subject.

      • anon says:

        I commend to you this piece reflecting on attempts by the US military to plan on even 30-50 year horizons. Probably no other institution in human history has expended as much effort and money on very long-term planning.* Their success has been modest.

        *Note: possibly the ancient Egyptians were an exception.

    • Agreed. The guy is clearly a genius, but he’s also totally totally nuts. His views swing from one extreme to the other on a range of issues, and I don’t think anyone in the actual environment movement, or within environmental science or climate science, thinks of him as a leading environmentalist. What he does do is make really wild claims that make for interesting article headlines, which I think has probably been more than partly responsible for his prominence. Brilliant, quirky and interesting, sure, but ‘leading environmentalist’, and entirely sane, no probably not.

  57. erenold says:

    By the way, 54% of Global Times readers – even assuming this poll at least pretends to be scientific and not a self-selected poll, which I somewhat doubt – is NOT by any reasonable definition equivalent to 54% of PRC nationals. Just for reference, the Economist had Hillary+12 in China, illustrating the wide variance depending on who you ask.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Times

    I can’t think of an equivalent state-controlled, far-nationalist, sensationalistic mass tabloid other than Der Sturmer, and that’s not a comparison I particularly want to make. Maybe the Völkischer Beobachter? But hopefully my point is clear – quoting a poll of the Global Times readership as evidence of Chinese public opinion is not far off doing the same with the National Enquirer.

  58. William O. B'Livion says:

    In Denmark, neighborhood of origin does not influence earnings after age 30. In Sweden, neighborhoods also don’t matter for earnings, education, etc. Still not sure why Moving To Opportunity had such a strong effect in the US,

    Denmark, 5,593,785 population.
    Ethnicity:
    Scandinavian, Inuit, Faroese, German, Turkish, Iranian, Somali
    Languages:
    Danish, Faroese, Greenlandic (an Inuit dialect), German (small minority)
    Religions:
    Evangelical Lutheran (official) 80%, Muslim 4%, other (denominations of less than 1% each, includes Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Serbian Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Baptist, and Buddhist) 16% (2012 est.)

    Sweden, 9,880,604 population.
    Ethnic groups:
    indigenous population: Swedes with Finnish and Sami minorities; foreign-born or first-generation immigrants: Finns, Yugoslavs, Danes, Norwegians, Greeks, Turks
    Languages:
    Swedish (official), small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities
    Religions:
    Lutheran 87%, other (includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist) 13%

    US, 323,995,528 population.
    Ethnic groups:
    white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
    note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean persons of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin including those of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Spanish, and Central or South American origin living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
    Languages:
    English 79.2%, Spanish 12.9%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 3.3%, other 0.9% (2011 est.)
    Religions:
    Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)

    From the CIA world fact book.

    The US is orders of magnitude larger than either mentioned country and ethnically FAR more diverse. This allows for large, ethnically homogenous neighborhoods with shared culture and values that are different from the larger culture. Even the most innocuous of these (e.g. color choices for clothing) can be signals and cause divergent outcomes. This doesn’t even get into different sub-cultures and their notions of “success”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      …the very next sentence in my link is “…US socioeconomic status differs a lot more than Scandinavian socioeconomic status. I feel bad for being excited that Scandinavia will probably develop its own segregated underclass in the next few decades and we’ll finally start getting good studies about how that affects things.”

      • It could also have to do with the fact that the USA has this weird system where your neighbourhood determines what schools you can attend. In Denmark, you can live in the bad neighbourhood and still go to the good school. In the US, that’s illegal for some strange reason.

        • Lumifer says:

          The reason is that in the US the schools are local, that is, they are typically run (and paid for) by the town — not by the state and not by the Federal government.

          And it’s not illegal — it’s just that the town is unlikely to let your kid into the school if you don’t live there. But it’s not like it’s a criminal offense or something.

        • Sandy says:

          Residency requirements are a leftover from the days of segregation, meant to stop white parents living in mixed neighborhoods from sending their kids to white schools in other neighborhoods.

  59. TomFL says:

    …makes you say that not paying taxes makes you “smart”.

    This is a clear sign of Trump Derangement Syndrome. So what is it? Paying taxes makes you smart? OK, let me help:

    US Treasury
    1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
    Washington, DC 20220.

    IRS
    1111 Constitution Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20224

    Send as much money as you want all you “smart” people. Signal your intelligence to your peers! Frame the checks and put them on your wall next to your diploma and Facebook feeds. What, you minimize the amount you owe? You pay the legal minimum? How not smart of you.

    Seriously, of all the ways to criticize Trump, this is by far the most incompetent way to do it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I won’t say that the commentary on this has been very smart or clear. But I think the outrage comes from a widespread intuition that extensive use of tax loopholes is immoral — whether that’s by Donald Trump or Apple. Something like taking all the deductions you are entitled to is fine, but by the time you are setting elaborate structures solely for tax purposes it crosses a line in many people’s minds.

      • TomFL says:

        I agree with this assessment, but why bring Trump’s past payments into it? If you have an issue with the tax structure one could look at the proposals of the candidates on reforming the tax law instead of past personal returns. I would expect everyone to minimize their tax liability.

        The example given with Apple is interesting in that Tim Cook is not held personally responsible or accused of being personally immoral for Apple’s far more egregious tax exploits but Trump is. It’s just partisan yammering.

        The creation and exploitation of tax loopholes is a bipartisan exercise. See the Cadillac tax on union healthcare as an example.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ve seen plenty of attacks on Apple for being immoral and/or unpatriotic. While it isn’t generally framed as against Tim Cook specifically that’s the strong implication and certainly how he has taken the criticism.

      • Ryan says:

        Direct your anger at the tax lawyers and accounting firms who lobbied to create the Byzantine system in the first place.

        • TheWorst says:

          Why not at the wealthy, unscrupulous people who hired them to do that, and then profited from doing so?

          • Ryan says:

            I don’t think that’s correct. Wealthy people would definitely prefer to not pay tax lawyers and accountants a ton of money to navigate the system for them.

          • TheWorst says:

            But they demonstrably have a much stronger preference for not paying taxes, and demonstrably prefer paying tax lawyers and accountants over paying taxes.

            I’m not interested in assuming spherical cows.

          • Nebfocus says:

            It seems everyone should have an equally high preference to paying the least amount required. Doing so does not make anyone immoral.

          • Julian says:

            Anyone can “take advantage” of the tax break that Trump did. Its very easy.

            Start a business and then lose a bunch of money. Report that on your taxes to reduce your income.

            Unless you are committing fraud, you are going to end up with less money than if you had just paid the tax on the money you had.

            As Matt Levine at Bloomberg says, the first rule of tax is that more money is better.

            Ignoring the possibility that Trumps return was fraud, he still lost $900 HUNDRED MILLION dollars. Not sure how that is a good thing for him.

            The correct analysis of this is not that Trump is a crook for using a tax loop hole, but that he is a bad at business which is ultimately more damning to his persona.

          • brad says:

            If I buy a business for $10,000 dollars that has lost $1 million in the last 5 years, in what sense have I lost any money? Why should I be allowed to offset $1 million in future income?

            That’s the kind of thing Trump went to Washington to lobby for.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Everything has to even out in the end. If you can only tax gains but losses magically disappear, you are just going to pay to create yet another lawyer of accountants to make sure that losses find some way to pre-load themselves against existing gains. And new start-ups creation is going to be much worse, because often the most valuable thing coming out of them (which could be used to pay the last few days of employee wages) is the tax loss.

            Financial regulation is hard. It’s even harder if you don’t know anything about finance beyond vague “I don’t like those people” feelings, because you don’t know WTF you are doing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Julian:
            It’s quite possible that Trump declared an on paper loss of his real-estate holdings, personally, then formed a public company based on those holdings. This would mean that the public shareholders actually took the real loss, not Trump.

            That kind of loss is limited to real-estate dealings, and isn’t comparable to a run of the mill business balance sheet.

          • “If I buy a business for $10,000 dollars that has lost $1 million in the last 5 years, in what sense have I lost any money?”

            Why would someone be willing to sell you for $10,000 a business one of whose assets was several hundred thousand dollars worth of tax deductions? It isn’t as if you are the only person in the world who would like to pay less in taxes.

          • Matthew says:

            @ryan

            If you want to do something really evil, first make sure it’s really boring. That’s what the Byzantine tax structure is for rich people, expensive camouflage. Rhetorically, lots of people argue for a flat tax or some such, but when push comes to shove, the actual proposals are in areas like the estate tax or reducing the top rate. I.e. they help the rich pay less money, but preserve the Byzantine structure.

      • Jaskologist says:

        But this isn’t even a case of elaborate structures. This is a case of not paying income tax when you have not made any income, with the additional wrinkle that you can average your net income over the course of several years so that if you lose $10 million in one year and make $5 million the next you are still recognized as being in the red. This isn’t a crazy loophole, it’s how any sane income tax regime would need to operate.

      • gbdub says:

        The fact that it’s being described as a “loophole” is the most frustrating aspect of the whole thing! Trump declared enough losses that he made no adjusted income – therefore there was nothing to tax. And the IRS isn’t going to take a declared $900 million loss on faith – I guarantee it was looked into, and if it was sufficiently shady we’d likely have heard about it already. Yeah, he’s allowed to carry forward losses, but it’s clear that this is basically essential. Otherwise there are pretty easy to envision scenarios where you end up with exorbitant marginal tax rates.

        Say you’re a small business that lost $500k last year, but netted $1 million this year. Over 2 years, you’ve made $500,000. Say there’s a 30% income tax. In the “carry loss forward” scenario, you would pay $150k in tax on your $500k total net for the two years – exactly the same as someone who made $250k both years. Seems fair, right?

        But if you can’t carry loss forward, then you have to pay $300k in tax – twice as much, for an effective tax rate of 60% on your actual profit, all based on an arbitrary date cutoff. How is that fair?

        The anti-1%ers seem to want us to tax “rich” people heavily, but their mental image and rhetoric of “rich” is tied to wealth – in the US (and most places) we primarily tax income and capital gains (and to a lesser extent that is can be higher in other places, consumption and real estate).

        Would these people really be happy with the government taking a percentage of their savings account and cash out of their mattress every year, even though it just sat there? I doubt it.

        There are plenty of reasons to dislike Trump. That he had a tax lawyer who appropriately carried forward his massive losses to avoid extra taxation is not one of them. The especially annoying one I saw was “Undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than Trump did!” Which, yeah – they made more money than he did over the relevant time frame. The especially amusing one is that the New York Times, which broke the story, also did not pay any tax for at least part of the relevant time frame (because they’ve been hemorrhaging money).

        • TomFL says:

          It’s like saying that capital gains are paid on all the daily accumulated rises of stock market value and daily market declines are ignored. It makes no sense to do something like this.

        • brad says:

          Do you really think there was a realized loss that large? I think we are dealing with a tax loss that does not match what would be considered a loss in day to day business.

          That’s not Trump’s fault, but given the large disparity between what tax law considers a loss and reality, I think it is fair to call it a loophole.

          • Randy M says:

            What was the situation? Is this an argument from incredulity or do you have reason to believe it is exaggerated? Ok, trump is somewhat synonymous with exaggeration, but I assume actual lawyers were involved in submitting the details.

          • brad says:

            I have no doubt it was legal, what I’m saying is that a loss for the purposes of tax law often doesn’t match up with what most people, or even GAAP, would consider a loss.

          • Randy M says:

            Can you give an example? I am neither a lawyer nor a business owner, so providing and example would be more persuasive.

      • Deiseach says:

        There’s two parts to it: for the ordinary person, big businesses and people like Trump not paying their full whack does seem like cheating or stealing.

        On the other hand, if Trump (or any other businessman) paid their full tax bill with no attempt to use any of the perfectly legal mechanisms to reduce their liability, that would not be perceived by their peers as being smart. “Honest but dumb” will get mean you get taken advantage of.

        Tax avoidance is a pain for the state and the public, but as long as the businessman and his accountants don’t step over the lines of the law, they’re not doing anything wrong (arguments over the morality or ethics is another question).

        • gbdub says:

          How is it honest or ethical to say “I made more money than I actually did”? It’s certainly dumb in the context of taxes, but it also hardly strikes me as moral and ethical to lie (or be lazy in your calculations) just because doing so increases your bill.

          There’s a spot on your tax form that you sign stating something like “These numbers are all accurate to the best of my knowledge”. Intentionally failing to calculate appropriate adjustments to your gross income would make that statement a lie, regardless of the direction.

          • bean says:

            I think you have an overly simplistic view of the tax structure. There have been experiments when a bunch of tax accountants were given the same information and got wildly different results, despite everyone following the law. I forget how much, and google isn’t helping me find anything about this, but the idea that someone like Trump has a single correct value for how much he owes in taxes is not realistic. By getting a worse tax preparer, he could easily raise his tax burden. And I’m not sure how anyone could accuse me of failing moral and ethical duties if I took the standard deduction instead of itemizing, even if that would get me more money back.
            For that matter, how he structures his operations is going to have an effect on how much he pays in taxes. If someone wants to pay more than they have to, all they have to do is decide not to use structures which shield more of their money from taxes.
            Also, as George W Bush once pointed out, the IRS does accept checks and money orders.

          • gbdub says:

            You’re still saying, precisely, that it is more honest and ethical to calculate your income in a way that gives you a greater tax bill, despite your knowledge that there is a perfectly legal way to calculate it that reduces the bill.

            Everything else in your statement is an argument against the excessive complexity of the tax code, not against the morality of taking or not taking deductions you are legally entitled to take.

            Nothing you’ve said addresses the Trump situation, which was primarily him carrying forward a declared loss to reduce future tax liability. Others and myself have already argued that that sort of deduction is essential to tax fairness, and you’ve said nothing that would refute this.

          • bean says:

            @gbdub:

            You’re still saying, precisely, that it is more honest and ethical to calculate your income in a way that gives you a greater tax bill, despite your knowledge that there is a perfectly legal way to calculate it that reduces the bill.

            No, I’m not. I’m saying that there are ways to calculate your income that give you a greater tax bill that would still let you sign the line marked ‘everything above is true and correct’ in good conscience. I’m very much not in favor of imposing a moral duty on anyone to pay taxes that they are not legally required to. I’m on your side here.

            Everything else in your statement is an argument against the excessive complexity of the tax code, not against the morality of taking or not taking deductions you are legally entitled to take.

            Agreed. The tax code for someone at Trump’s level will always be complex, but it’s certainly too complex now, and it could be a lot simpler for normal people.

            Nothing you’ve said addresses the Trump situation, which was primarily him carrying forward a declared loss to reduce future tax liability. Others and myself have already argued that that sort of deduction is essential to tax fairness, and you’ve said nothing that would refute this.

            Why would I? I agree with you on this. I was bringing up the point that the amount of taxes someone who is honest pays could vary quite a bit depending on decisions they make that do not take them outside the bounds of honesty. Note that the tax professionals the experiment I mentioned were all given the same brief, namely ‘find the lowest taxes you can for this guy’. Some of them did a much better job than others.

          • Gbdub says:

            Apologies, I read your comment as a defense of the notion that paying more tax was more ethical.

          • bean says:

            Not a problem. In retrospect, I should have been more clear that I was agreeing with you, and just trying to point out how complex taxes are for someone at Trump’s level.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      How much tax you pay reflects your ethics, not your intelligence. Trump claims not paying taxes makes him smart, those who dispute that say it makes him unethical.

      • TomFL says:

        “How much tax you pay reflects your ethics”

        I couldn’t disagree with that statement more. Please expand on it. It makes absolutely no sense.

        Gun manufacturers, alcohol companies, gambling institutions, and porn sites pay plenty of taxes. Religious organizations pay none. I suppose all those who don’t pay federal income taxes are by definition unethical.

        This argument is a non-sequitur, Trump didn’t say not paying taxes makes him “ethical”.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I’m not saying tax reflects ethics in a direct “more tax = more ethics way” but that paying very low amounts of tax can be unethical.

          ‘This argument is a non-sequitur, Trump didn’t say not paying taxes makes him “ethical”.’

          Consider an analogical scenario. Imagine someone who pretends to be homeless and begs on the street, claiming that this is a “smart” way to avoid work. Do you see why some people might consider this indicative of a lack of morals?

          • Lumifer says:

            The analogy fails: the pretend-homeless lies about his situation (if he doesn’t and, say, just silently stands on a street corner with a donation cup in his hands I don’t see any problems with his morals). And we’re not discussing fraud to avoid taxes, we’re talking just about arranging one’s affairs to minimise them.

          • William O. B'Livion says:

            So you are saying that if I scrupulously follow the rules, taking only (but every) deductions that *Congress* builds into the tax code, then use MY FREAKEN MONEY on things I value (buying goods and services, which employs people, or investing the money in stocks and bonds which help companies and/or cities build stuff), then I am less moral than some other guy who doesn’t take *any* deductions and then gives HIS MONEY to the government?

            Yeah, because only through the government can we do any good, right?

            If you structure your income or investments in order to minimize taxes, you know what else you’re doing?

            You are doing things that Congress, the (alleged) representatives of The People think are valuable.

            There are these investment vehicles called “Tax Free Municipal Bonds” whose interest is tax free at the federal (and usually state) level. Congress wrote this into the tax code to allow municipalities to sell bonds at a *lower* rate than otherwise. This makes them attractive investments to certain classes of investors (folks who prefer a more reliable rate of return than in the stock market) AND makes them a better deal for city tax payers (because they can borrow money at cheaper rates).

            So when Warren Buffet parks a bunch of his money in tax free munis, he pays a lower *rate* of tax than his secretary, but he is also getting a slightly lower rate of return on his investment AND this benefits the cities whose bonds he buys.

            How is *this* immoral?

            Another thing that gets peoples knickers in a twist is the difference in taxation between long and short term capital gains. The latter is taxed as regular income, the former at a (almost always) lower rate. This is seen as “unfair” because it’s really all the Governments Money, so you should let them take as much as you want.

            In reality it is *intended* to encourage people to think longer term in their investment strategies and to provide a reward for people who buy and hold rather than people who day trade, or flip.

            Again, a deliberate decision on the part of Congress that gets demagogued by the sorts of people who think that profit is inherently immoral.

            This is the same with almost all “loopholes” in the tax code. Some set of congresscritters thinks that X benefits society, so they make X a tax deduction, tax free or whatever.

            Now, there probably are some bits of the tax code (I don’t know it well enough to give examples, but I will grant this) that are carveouts of dubious morality. Some of them were designed that way, some were well intentioned but wrong.

            But in the general case when one does things to optimize one’s tax liability one is *ALSO* optimizing for what Congress has decided is the right way to do things.

            These are distinct from the case where someone is clearly abusing the tax code[1], engaging in fraud, hiding income etc. which are usually unethical.

            [1] For example in the early 1990s a well known politician and his wife deducted $2 from their tax liability for every pair of USED underwear donated to charity. This is probably overstating the value of used underwear. BTW, this politician thinks I don’t pay enough taxes).

      • TheWorst says:

        This. There’s more to smartness than being a defect-bot in a place with a cooperative norm.

        • Randy M says:

          A cooperative norm? Nah, tax lawyer is a huge industry. People don’t just buy turbo tax because it is simple, but because it advertised finding out ways you paid money you didn’t need to.

          You start getting into the unethical aspects when the business paying low taxes is doing so because of laws they specifically wrote and/or lobbied for, and even then it isn’t slam dunk unless some corruption is involved on the part of the legislature.
          Is that the kind of thing alleged against Trump?

          • TheWorst says:

            Is that the kind of thing alleged against Trump?

            In all fairness, I imagine basically everything is alleged against Trump by someone or other. I mean, he’s a presidential candidate.

            But not paying for services you use is defecting against the norms of America–America is a large country, the presence of even a million defectors wouldn’t even challenge the stronger statement that there’s an impossibly-strong cooperative norm–and Trump is basically a defect-bot (paying half of what his contracts say he owes was his policy in Atlantic City) so it tends to stick.

            Personally, I don’t think it makes him either smart or unethical, since it’s not a choice he made, it’s something that happened to him–a consequence of being either spectacularly incompetent or amazingly, impossibly, absurdly unlucky in the 90s such that he lost a billion dollars in an industry that was booming at the time.

          • Randy M says:

            See, that’s a pretty good rejoinder–“if you were smart, you wouldn’t have lost enough money to avoid paying taxes for a decade.”

            the presence of even a million defectors wouldn’t even challenge the stronger statement that there’s an impossibly-strong cooperative norm

            I think there are norms that are strongly pro-cooperation intrapersonally (like help someone change a tire–but seem to be fraying over time*) but I don’t think these really filter much down to “Be proud of paying income taxes and don’t try to minimize them” except for A) talking about other people (especially rich or corporations, ie, “Benedict Arnold corporations”) and B) Hank Hill.**

            *People just don’t even seem to get out of the way for emergency vehicles anymore.

            **(That’s from a US television show, a cartoon character that was a stereotypical Texan stoic middle-class somewhat naive but rather respectable family man)

          • Anonymous says:

            (paying half of what his contracts say he owes was his policy in Atlantic City)

            It’s worth pulling this out of the parenthetical. Are the “he’s just a smart businessman” people really willing to defend the behavior of
            1) Ordering some goods, 2) taking delivery, 3) paying less than what was agreed to, 4) and telling the vendors to go sue him if they didn’t like it?

            Where’s the concern for a high trust society now?

          • TheWorst says:

            I’m pretty agnostic on whether Trump is smart or not, for a variety of reasons.

            But on the norms: Let’s say there’s a legal loophole that lets me get away with murder. And I do it. Bragging about it doesn’t prove that there aren’t norms against murder, or that I’m smart (or not smart), it just means I’m a murderer who got away with it and brags about it.

            The norm against murder is pretty strong, even though a lot of people want to do it and some try very hard. Probably very few people who did it would feel obligated to turn themselves in, and we’d probably all have at least some sympathy for a murderer who wanted to avoid prosecution–of course they’d want that, anyone would–but I don’t think that’s evidence against there being a strong no-murder norm.

          • TheWorst says:

            Where’s the concern for a high trust society now?

            Since it’s dropped whenever it doesn’t support their current tribal interest, I’m pretty sure that’s another instance of a stated preference turning out not to match a revealed one.

          • Randy M says:

            defend the behavior of
            1) Ordering some goods, 2) taking delivery, 3) paying less than what was agreed to, 4) and telling the vendors to go sue him if they didn’t like it?

            Agreed that’s unethical [assuming correct and other obligations were fulfilled]

            But on the norms: Let’s say there’s a legal loophole that lets me get away with murder. [etc.]

            I think very few people equate murder and not paying taxes, perhaps only wonderfully naive utilitarians. I don’t know what I would do *as a murderer* because the kind of person who engages in unjustified killing is usually not terribly pro-social in other ways [citation needed].
            I believe in a strong moral obligation to refrain from killing. I do not believe in a moral obligation to give money to the government beyond what is required by law. There are other, and in fact better, ways to cooperate than taxes that are better reflection of character, though I’m not engaging in this argument in order to paint Trump as a saint, or even better than average person.

          • TheWorst says:

            I think very few people equate murder and not paying taxes, perhaps only wonderfully naive utilitarians.

            That’s pretty far afield of the point, which is why I wasn’t equating murder and not paying taxes, or saying that anyone, anywhere ever did. I thought that was obvious.

            The things you pointed at as evidence that there isn’t a strong “pay your taxes” norm are also evidence that there isn’t a strong “don’t murder anyone” norm.

            There are TV shows depicting murderers favorably. This isn’t evidence that we lack a strong norm against murder.

          • Randy M says:

            The things you pointed at as evidence that there isn’t a strong “pay your taxes” norm are also evidence that there isn’t a strong “don’t murder anyone” norm.

            I wasn’t aware TurboTax had an assassin division. I’d better make sure to read the fine print on the EULA next time.

            I wasn’t equating murder and not paying taxes

            Well you were not saying they have the same magnitude, but implying they had the same sign. I don’t think people agree with even that, outside the legal requirement.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There isn’t even a strong norm to not _cheat_ on your taxes. People are willing to pay cash to retailers and tradespersons in exchange for a small discount. They do this believing that the main reason for this is that the income will not be reported.

          • gbdub says:

            @The Nybbler – a lot of places prefer cash even if they aren’t cheating on taxes, because credit card companies charge a fee to the retailer to accept payments. This fee is nominally just a couple percent, but sometimes there’s a minimum fee that can wipe out the profit on small purchases.

            I will say that not reporting cash tips is pretty common.

          • Anonymous says:

            Let’s say there’s a legal loophole that lets me get away with murder. And I do it. Bragging about it doesn’t prove that there aren’t norms against murder, or that I’m smart (or not smart), it just means I’m a murderer who got away with it and brags about it.

            Other people have focused on taxes, but I’d like to focus on the murder bit. In particular, a lot depends on what you’re packing into the words “loophole”, “get away with”, and “murder”. Let’s stay away from other political topics, so abortion and using guns are out. Instead, you killed an adult human without a gun. That being said, a jury of your peers unanimously agreed that it was a completely justifiable act of self defense – the other guy really was going to kill you if you didn’t act first.

            The boring answer is to say, “That’s not ‘murder’, because it’s justifiable.” But that just shifts the problem. It’s better to say, “There’s a legal loophole that let you get away with that murder. And you did it.” There are still norms against murder, but this situation is precisely the reason we also have norms for self-defense! If you found yourself in this situation, it might literally be that the smart act was to defend yourself… even if one can kind of squint and imagine that it falls under the anti-murdering norms while ignoring the pro-self-defense norms.

            That’s why many responses to this talking point are of the type, “How much money do you send in that isn’t legally required,” or, “There is a reason we have tax norms for loss carryover.” Like the person who wants to completely ignore the existence of pro-self-defense norms, someone has to ignore a whole bunch of norms that are closely related to the don’t-cheat-on-your-taxes norm in order to lay guilt on the man in orange.

          • keranih says:

            I have good friends – strong progressive liberal friends – who don’t deduct their mortgage interest or their land taxes on their federal taxes because “they want to pay their fair share.”

            They are doing ok, but they are not at all rich. I started yelling that they were insane and wasting money on the federal gubmint and about got thrown out of the house.

            People really do have different values about this.

          • Jill says:

            keranih, wow, they should have taken the deductions and contributed the money they saved to Bernie then. Too bad they didn’t think of that.

          • keranih says:

            @ Jill –

            This was before Bernie. And before Obama.

            I think they would say that it was better the money was spent “by the people” than by a particular politico.

          • Anonymous says:

            The lesson is that there will always be some people with weird values. Now, whether those values are widespread enough to be considered societal norms is an empirical question. I think the answer to that empirical question is also an important starting point for whether people with the other set of values we’ve mentioned can suitably be called “defectors”.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            In Massachusetts, you can elect to pay state income tax at a 5.85% rate instead of the standard 5.2%. Only about a thousand people do.

      • Deiseach says:

        Trump claims not paying taxes makes him smart, those who dispute that say it makes him unethical

        And I’m sure all, each and every last one, of the rich donors Hillary was shilling to when she made her “basket of deplorables” remark have never, ever so much as taken a penny of legitimate tax reduction measures but instead have insisted on paying their full tax bill. No, they won’t even claim charitable deductions. Every cent to the government!

        (I’m not trying to spite Hillary, I’m just saying nobody wants to pay more tax than they have to, and if you have enough money to be worth it, you will find ways – like setting up trusts and foundations and what-not – to lessen the burden).

        I think Trump would rather be perceived as having avoided paying a huge tax bill he owed, rather than being granted a tax credit, because being seen as smart if slightly crooked means he’s rich enough to dodge tax and canny enough to have made enough money to be worth dodging tax, whereas not owing that tax in the first place due to losses makes him sound less successful than he portrays himself as being.

        • JHC says:

          I think that’s your two hundreth “i’m not for Trump, but…” post.

          • onyomi says:

            And this is why people are driven to go full anon.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, I’m not a fan of Trump. But putting all the virtue on one side and all the evil on another is unrealistic. We’re talking about an election where one of the candidates is a career politician who is ambitious, has wanted this job for a long time, has connections, has been in office under a previous administration, and has a track record that shows they are comfortably part of “the way things are done”.

            The other candidate has no political or administrative experience, is running on a mix of being an allegedly successful businessman and being precisely the kind of political establishment outsider that his opponent is not, thus he will shake up the status quo. There’s bombast, populism, appeals to self-interest and a lot more (and worse) in his campaign and not too much actual policy.

            Money is needed by both parties to run their campaigns, such being the facts of life. Both candidates are probably trying to appeal to donors, but we can more easily tell in one instance than another because that candidate is going the traditional route of campaigning, which is appealing to likely donors on their particular special interest.

            Since you don’t get rich by simply going out to the money tree and harvesting it, and since the tax codes of just about every nation in the world are tangled and contain exceptions, loopholes, and schemes for large businesses, non-profit and charitable bodies, and wealthy individuals to lessen the burden of the taxes they pay, it’s more than likely some at least of those rich potential donors have availed of similar schemes.

            Attacking one’s opponent on a perceived weak point is part of campaigning. But is Trump the only person in the room who has used tax avoidance schemes? No, is what I’m saying.

            And that’s all I’m saying, apart from Hillary is not running on a platform of a moral crusade, and some of the money her donors are giving her is coming from the same kind of “write-offs” she’s lambasting Trump for. As Vespasian reminded his son, Money has no smell. We’re not talking about a candidate who is shocked to the core of her being about an ethical breach, we’re talking about someone who knows how many beans make five when it comes to her career attacking her opponent on any front she can find a chink in his armour.

            If Trump is a crook, give him a good pasting! If he’s a criminal (and not merely doing what’s legal if unpleasant to contemplate), then let the IRS who are auditing him prosecute him, or if Hillary has evidence of criminal wrong-doing, let her hand it over to the authorities.

            I agree tax avoidance is something very like a scam, but there are a lot of businesses and others doing it, and if Hillary is so exercised about it, let her put forward solid proposals as to how she’ll shut these schemes down (and cope with the lawsuits that will flood in afterwards from all the firms who took advantage of these schemes).

  60. Sam says:

    Regarding the gender divide in the top levels of math: I’ve thought a lot about this, and it has been disappointing to see essentially no change in the last 20 years. What I have seen, though, does a decent job of explaining that discrepancy.

    At the top levels of math, high achievement is almost entirely justified by math competitions. From Mathcounts in middle school to the IMO in high school, students are motivated to go above and beyond the classroom curriculum mainly for the purpose of doing well in math competitions. This was my experience growing up. I trained hard for those competitions because I wanted to be the best, and math provided me an unambiguous opportunity to compete.

    In the past 20 years, there’s been something of an arms race in competition math. Websites like the Art of Problem Solving (which I’ve taken and taught classes on) have sprung up to provide both supplementary advanced math education and resources and classes for students hoping to do well in competitions. As a result, the tests have gotten harder year after year, as the population of advanced math students doing very well on these competitions has grown. And it’s paid off, at least in the US, as we’ve won the last two IMO’s.

    In this context, it’s not too surprising that the gender divide has stayed steady despite broader acceptance of women. Competitiveness is directly linked to testosterone levels, so a disproportionate number of boys have been attracted to math competition achievement. As the competition has heated up in the last 20 years, those students who are most competitive have tended to rise to the top, keeping the upper echelons predominantly male.

    I think about this as I teach kids contest math. With this population, it’s always easier to motivate them by making each class into a mini-competition. To balance out the testosterone a bit, though, I try to make the students work together in team competitions, which require the social skills that the girls in my classes tend to have more of.

    • Anonymous says:

      If competitiveness was directly linked to testosterone levels there were be no competitive women at all. Setting aside actual physical disorders, even a 1st percentile man has orders of magnitude more testosterone than a 99th woman. Yet clearly, again setting aside actual physical disorders, there are women that are more competitive than the least competitive men.

      Maybe stick to math competitions and leave biology to the biologists.

      • lvlln says:

        If competitiveness was directly linked to testosterone levels there were be no competitive women at all. Setting aside actual physical disorders, even a 1st percentile man has orders of magnitude more testosterone than a 99th woman.

        “Directly linked to” is not equivalent to “is the one and only factor of.”

        • Anonymous says:

          In that case Sam’s entire argument falls apart. Just knowing that competitiveness is related to testosterone levels in some completely unspecified manner or other is not nearly enough to support the conclusions he is drawing.

          • lvlln says:

            Just because something isn’t “the one and only factor of” doesn’t mean that it’s “related to… in some completely unspecified manner or other.” The world of biology is filled with shades of grey. Things affect other things in ways that are more nuanced than and that usually lie somewhere between “one and only factor” and “completely unspecified manner.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Well — what’s the relationship, and does or does not it lead directly to Sam’s conclusion?

      • Sam says:

        Of course I meant that testosterone correlates with competitiveness, and of course it correlates with gender. I suppose it might be easier just to assert that boys are more competition-driven than girls, and the upper tiers of high school math are becoming a more competitive field recently, so boys have tended to be motivated to reach there more frequently. Although I haven’t read it entirely, this paper seems to suggest that this assertion is not far off in a related question of career choices:

        https://web.stanford.edu/~niederle/BNO.QJE.pdf

        And just to get the argument straight: I’m assuming (as Scott does) that one would normally expect the top levels of high school math to become more and more gender-balanced over time, as with most things in society. But they haven’t, and my explanation for why not is the increasing dominance of competition-related motivations for going above and beyond to reach the top levels of high school math, which have disproportionately attracted competitive boys (like my teenage self).

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you by the top level of high school math? Do you really think math competitions are driving enrollment in calculus BC? It’s not that hard a class …

    • Anon9 says:

      Introverted girls who are strong solo workers at math, but are unmotivated by competition and temperamentally averse to collaboration, get nothing?

      • Sam says:

        We still have individual work and tests maybe 20-30% of the time. That’s the default mode, as far as I can tell, of other classes, but I didn’t find it typically motivated many of the students.

    • namae nanka says:

      The bigger reason for the ‘improving’ ratio is rise in Asian numbers, who do exceedingly well and so SMPY isn’t as far out on their right tail. For example,

      Noteworthy is the
      fact that 26 and 27 percent of the girls and boys,
      respectively, from Shanghai, China, scored above
      669 on the 2009 PISA; the corresponding numbers
      for the U.S. girls and boys were 1.2 and 2.5 percent,
      respectively, below the 2.8 percent overall for
      OECD countries.

      Even at the very start, Asians were the majority of females iirc.

  61. gwern says:

    Sugar paper: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jorien_Treur/publication/307550012_Heritability_of_high_sugar_consumption_through_drinks_and_the_genetic_correlation_with_substance_use/links/57c8822f08aefc4af34ec88e.pdf http://www.gwern.net/docs/genetics/correlation/2016-treur.pdf

    Related to Lizardman’s Constant: when polled on whether they have ever been decapitated, four percent of people say yes (hidden in this transcript)

    Speaking of which, in my ongoing catnip survey, despite offering prizes to make people take it more seriously, I'm still getting a lizardman's constant of… 4% of respondents say they have 'sometimes or often had fatal heart attacks while watching television'. (Humans are why we can't have nice things.)

    Still not sure why Moving To Opportunity had such a strong effect in the US

    It didn’t, they just kept reanalyzing the data for various followups and subgroups until they finally got a result they liked. (What was it, only benefits in female children under the age of 12 in education/income but nothing else?)

    Well, here’s a pair of articles proposing, based on physiology, that perhaps this axis is actually the same as the domestication axis that’s so famous from canine experiments, with schizophrenic people being more domesticated than usual and autistic people being less domesticated. (H/T Alice Maz)

    Eh. Not sure how that explains the genetic evidence: schizophrenia is a large chunk of shared risk with other psychiatric disorders such as bipolar and depression, with contribution from copy-number variants, affecting genes associated with the immune system, which are heavily under natural selection (“Genetic Markers of Human Evolution Are Enriched in Schizophrenia”, Srinivasan et al 2016 http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223%2815%2900855-0/pdf ); while autism is not shared that much and primarily due to de novo mutations. I don’t see how any of that works as a ‘extreme end of a domestication spectrum’ theory, whatever laundry list of phenotypic correlations one may come up with (and the lack of genetic consideration is striking considering how much schizophrenia/autism have been researched and how many major papers have come out in the past few years) – the genetic architecture of domestication in cats/rabbits/etc doesn’t look like schizophrenia/autism at all.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      while autism is not shared that much and primarily due to de novo mutations.

      Huh, is it that different? I know there is at least some genomic evidence for the hypothesis, e.g. this, which finds that, for the CNVs they checked, if having more copies promotes one, then having less copies promotes the other. But I don’t know what the contradicting evidence is or if that’s outdated or anything.

      the genetic architecture of domestication in cats/rabbits/etc doesn’t look like schizophrenia/autism at all.

      OK, that would seem to be a pretty big hole with the domestication idea then!

    • Sir Gawain says:

      It didn’t, they just kept reanalyzing the data for various followups and subgroups until they finally got a result they liked. (What was it, only benefits in female children under the age of 12 in education/income but nothing else?)

      Also, those who participated in the program did so voluntarily, which means the results might need to be deflated if there was self-selection of the most determined public housing residents.

      If neighborhood quality was as super duper important as the Ta-Nehisi Coates theory of racial inequality claims, it seems to me that MTO would have had much stronger positive effects on income and educational attainment.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “It didn’t, they just kept reanalyzing the data for various followups and subgroups until they finally got a result they liked. (What was it, only benefits in female children under the age of 12 in education/income but nothing else?)”

      Eh, I’m going to have to look this up, but I thought the original results were weak and then after a few more years of watching people and seeing how they did they became pretty strong and I wasn’t able to find any problems with them. I’ll have to search out the study I’m thinking of.

  62. onyomi says:

    I agree with a lot of the “publish or perish” essay, but see a problem with this:

    “In this system, a scientist to be successful he/she needs to be good at not only doing scientific work but also at selling their idea, which I think not often come hand-in-hand. Quite the opposite, in fact. Great scientists are usually terrible at marketing their idea. Science has become too corporate and hierarchical. And becoming corporate is a great innovation killer.”

    I remember being surprised at the same thing when I finished my PhD in literature and not everyone was enthralled by my breakthroughs in interpretation of esoteric points of Chinese prosody. But I’ve since realized that learning how to sell your research to a wider audience is part of the process of understanding its wider significance yourself.

    The idea that becoming “corporate” is an “innovation killer” seems precisely backwards to me. A physicist may be excited about the discovery of one more subatomic particle, but for the rest of us, the question is “so what? Can we have our warp drive yet?” And as much like philistines “the rest of us” sound, some degree of the “so what?” impulse is a good thing, because it keeps research pursuing real answer to real problems/desires, rather than delving into unapplied minutiae only a few people who are paid to think about it care about.

    • caethan says:

      You’re seriously underestimating the importance of unapplied minutiae only a few people care about.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, my minutiae is very important to me! But I bet it isn’t to you. Unless I contextualize it in terms of bigger issues.

  63. onyomi says:

    “Dan” on MR says exactly what I was going to say about the decline of Bowling:

    “Dan September 17, 2016 at 3:57 am
    Ceiling effects. Bowling doesn’t work well as a highly competitive spectator sport because the best bowlers are so close to the ceiling of optimal performance on any given roll. As bowlers get better (through training, technology, etc.), the game gets more monotonous. In contrast, improving NFL players make more exciting, spectacular plays. With the exception of field goal kickers, who (much like bowlers) make <40 yard field goals with boring regularity."

    • cassander says:

      So in boardgaming, there are some games where most of your effort is against other players and others where you play against the board. Take vanilla settlers of catan, or this game. In both, your goal is to build up a resource extraction network. The other players’ decisions certainly influence you, but opportunities to undo the work of others is limited and the game is mostly about exploiting the board to its fullest in relative independence. Compare that to a game like chess where the other player is the entirety of the challenge.

      You’re absolutely right that there’s a skill ceiling problem, but the reason is because bowling is a game played against the board (the goal is to knock over pins) not other players (the same is true of field goal kickers, actually). Football remains interesting not because it gets more spectacular (rising skill levels makes the game less variable), but because any rise in skill level raises the difficulty level of the game (your team is better, but so is the other team). With games you play against the board, the difficulty level is fixed.

      • Lumifer says:

        Golf is the counter-example of a game played “against the board”, but still a viable spectator sport with lucrative endorsement deals. Of course the skill ceiling is higher.

      • onyomi says:

        Good point, though, as Lumifer says, it’s conceivable to have an “against the board” game with a higher ceiling, like Golf. Presumably we’re not close to the point where the best players score holes-in-one all the time. Gymnastics, figure skating, and similar sports seem not to suffer the ceiling effect so much because there’s more potential to e. g., invent a new move. With Bowling a strike is a strike and you can’t do any better than a strike. You don’t, for example, get a super bonus for making a 7-10 split.

        But it’s true that “against the competitor” games have something of a built-in difficulty curve like that.

      • DavidS says:

        I love the fact that we’re using Settlers of Catan as the familiar reference point to explain the mysteries of bowling!

        On the ‘playing against the board’ v ‘playing against the player, I find it interesting that some games are currently the latter but could become the former if people are good enough. E.g. if you’re good enough at snooker/pool then whoever goes first could clear up. Would be interesting to know if any sport has been ‘broken’ by this. E.g. if a single rugby player could reliably drop-kick for posts from his own half of the pitch (3 points whenever you get the ball, basically, when the unlikely maximum you can get before handing over control is 7) it would totally transform the game

        • Lumifer says:

          My understanding is that popular (that is, lucrative) games tweak the rules on a regular basis to prevent slam-dunk strategies and keep things exciting and full of drama.

          • Ben Parry says:

            What I’m getting from this is that 100-pin bowling could have endured better.
            Or ten pins, but a half-mile long alley.

    • Randy M says:

      That’s because the best football players play against the best football players, while the best bowlers compete against the best bowlers, but are really playing against the same pins and tracks everyone else does.
      We need to innovate on the sport, add some animatronic or a defensive aspect. Or have both players bowl at once!

      • gbdub says:

        Curling is basically bowling with a defensive/strategic aspect, an extra degree of freedom (you need to get both your angle AND distance right) as well as a bigger element of luck. Plus it’s goofier (giant rocks? brushes? ON ICE?), always a plus for obscure sports. All this makes it way more fun to watch.

    • gbdub says:

      I think the lack of TV (and now, internet) appeal is a big part the issue with bowling. For entertaining viewing, a sport needs to have high drama and visually spectacular replays that make for good highlight shows.

      Bowling can be dramatic/tense, but only in the moment. Over the course of a match, yeah, who misses when can be big. But separate any individual shot, and it looks more or less just like every other one. Unless you watch the whole match, there’s little drama. And it’s not like you can count down the “top ten strikes of the week!” because every strike looks the same.

      Golf is brought up as a comparison – it works better on TV because there are many matches going on simultaneously, and at any given time there is plenty of dramatic stuff going on somewhere on the course to make for a compelling broadcast. And there will always be unique, visually dramatic shots to replay on ESPN. And yeah, it’s less “solved”, and luck plays a bigger role even at the pro level just because the course, weather conditions, etc. can vary dramatically.

      Someone said something like “Bowling is like golf, if golf consisted of nothing but 10 foot putts on a flat green”, and I think that’s about right.

      The MR thread brought up a good point about bowling’s intial popularity: in the early days of TV (black and white, low resolution, and before instant replay), watching football, baseball, or golf kind of sucked because it was hard to tell what was going on. Bowling (and boxing, also popular at the same time) looked a lot better on TV.

      There’s also the fad aspect – bowling took off like crazy when automatic pin setters and scorers were perfected, and suddenly everyone was into bowling. Once the novelty wore off it faded, and there was correspondingly less interest in paying big money to sponsor pros and tournaments.

      • Lumifer says:

        TV has been a major influence. I’ve heard claims that the reason football=soccer is not as popular in the US as in the rest of the world is that it was deemed to be not well-suited for TV broadcasting because of the difficulties of inserting commercial breaks.

    • LPSP says:

      That’s really funny, I was just summarising my thoughts on the principles on game balance with regards to linear challenge games versus head-to-head battle games earlier, and this is perfectly relevent.

      In the former game type, which includes any regular sort of race, throwing contest and so on, there is a single optimal method, and so all skill narrows down endogamously towards aptitude in this field. As such, spectation boils down to seeing the latest and going “yup, our javelin throwers are still tickey-boo”.

      The latter game type, including football, tennis, paintball fights and so on, by contrast has no best strategy, and where any team has to constantly adapt and evolve to stay ahead of the game. So there’s a constant reason to pay attention to constant games and their minutae.

  64. anon says:

    Another military / rocket-science question: what has changed, technologically, that makes hypersonic weapons a new concern? Is there any connection to SpaceX’s recent success using supersonic retropropulsion to land reusable first stage rockets?

    • cassander says:

      So the trouble with super or hyper sonic weapons (I’m talking missiles here, not more exotic stuff like railguns) is it takes a lot more fuel to make a missile go that fast, which means you have either much shorter range or a much larger missile. The Tomahawk might be slow, but you can cram 100 of them onto a destroyer. Something like this has 50% more payload, but weighs 4 times as much and flies half as far.

      That said, going faster gives your opponent less time to detect, track, and then evade or destroy your missile. If anti-missile systems are pretty crappy, and until recently most of them has been, then going faster doesn’t raise the probability of kill (PK) all that much. Say your enemy’s anti-missile system has a 1% chance to shoot down your missile per shot and fires once a second. If you take 10 seconds to get there they have about a 9.5% chance of shooting you down. If you go twice as fast and they only get 5 shots, you shave that to about 4.5%, not a huge gain. But if their system has a 10% chance, going twice as fast cuts them from a 65% PK to 40%. And that math actually understates the effect, because some parts of the kill chain take fixed amounts of time (e.g. if tracking you always takes 2 seconds, then going from 10 to 5 means their odds go from 56% (8 shots) to 27% (3)) and faster moving weapons are harder to shoot down. Now that anti-missile systems are finally getting to be reasonably reliable, speed is becoming more attractive.

      All that said, the rise of super and hypersonic weapons has been predicted before, and not come to pass.

      • bean says:

        You’re mixing types of missiles. Things like Tomahawk have been at least somewhat vulnerable for decades. The big advantage of speed for anti-ship missiles is that it significantly increases the range at which you need to shoot down the missile to keep the debris from hitting you. On most modern anti-ship missiles, the warhead is mostly there to distribute the fuel throughout the ship, so that the resulting fire kills it. This is why systems like RAM and ESSM have appeared to supplement Phalanx. The problem with fast missiles is that you have fewer missiles for a given amount of money, and the missiles you do have are bigger and easier to detect.

        • gbdub says:

          Faster anti-ship missiles also reduce the time you have to detect, target, and intercept, so they do have a higher chance to hit.

          The thing about hypersonics like scramjets that is particularly attractive is that they can theoretically have the long range of subsonic cruise missiles with the lethality of short-range rockets

        • cassander says:

          I cite the tomahawk more as an example of a missile people have heard of than anything else, though they are working on an asm version, or were last I checked.

          • bean says:

            They originally had an ASM version (the TASM), but it went away because targeting long-range ASMs is really hard, and after the fall of the USSR, the land-attack version was perfectly adequate for taking out their fleet. The latest Tactical Tomahawk is supposed to have a seeker capable of hitting ships, and modern communications might solve some of the problems that killed the TASM.
            I was pointing out that even the P-700 isn’t immune to defenses, and hasn’t been for quite a while (if ever), while subsonics (Harpoon being the canonical example) have had effective defenses since the late 70s/early 80s. Hypersonic missiles are a rather different ballgame.

    • John Schilling says:

      1. The first generation of effective ballistic missile defense systems is narrowly optimized against ballistic missiles during their midcourse coast phase, and would probably fail against a maneuvering hypersonic boost-glide missile. This is unlikely to be an enduring advantage for the hypersonics; ballistic plus decoys is almost certainly more likely to get through than maneuvering hypersonics against a defense that is designed to deal with both. But military decisionmakers can sometimes get narrowly focused on the next narrow advantage over an adversary.

      2. Particularly in the United States, there are a lot of hypersonics engineers who have given up hope on anyone ever hiring them to build a hypersonic spaceplane to fly into outer space, on account of that plan never works. Having only a Mach-umptydozen hammer, their livelihood depends on finding a problem they can convince people is vaguely nail-like for them to come in and fix. Strategic weapons is such a problem, and hypersonic systems make for very sexy Powerpoint.

      3. Specifically in the United States, there’s a clear demand for the ability to press a button and have a precision-guided conventional munition strike some terrorist headquarters or whatnot within the hour. We have of course various ballistic missiles that can strike anywhere in the world in less than an hour, but these are generally understood to carry nuclear warheads and there is an understandable fear that if we launch one at say Pyongyang, someone in Beijing will see this as a Big Fiery Arrow of Nuclear Death pointed at them and overreact. Since “everybody knows” that it is the ballistic missiles that have nuclear warheads, there is a persistent claim that we can freely launch hypersonic boost-glide missiles at our enemies and nobody else will be threatened because look, it says on our website that they only have conventional warheads and are only used against terrorists and rogue states and whatnot.

      I am not making this up.

      And no, there’s no connection to SpaceX’s work in hypersonic retropropulsion. That’s very narrowly focused on a poorly-understood aspect of how to slow down at hypersonic speeds, and one of particular interest to people trying to land on Mars. Doesn’t apply when the plan is to deliberately crash into the ground at the highest practical speed.

      • cassander says:

        > Since “everybody knows” that it is the ballistic missiles that have nuclear warheads, there is a persistent claim that we can freely launch hypersonic boost-glide missiles at our enemies and nobody else will be threatened because look, it says on our website that they only have conventional warheads and are only used against terrorists and rogue states and whatnot.

        This is uncharitable. I’m not a fan of the prompt global strike idea, but a hypersonic glide weapon A, has a a very different trajectory than a pure ballistic missile and B, the reason people know we don’t put nuclear weapons on them is the same reason people know we don’t put nuclear weapons on the B-1 bomber, treaty restrictions on nuclear capable delivery vehicles and a mutual inspection regime.

        • John Schilling says:

          the reason people know we don’t put nuclear weapons on them is the same reason people know we don’t put nuclear weapons on the B-1 bomber, treaty restrictions on nuclear capable delivery vehicles and a mutual inspection regime.

          Except that,

          A: There is no treaty allowing mutual inspection of hypersonic cruise or boost-glide missiles, and

          B: There is no treaty allowing China to inspect anything, and

          C: The people who are proposing the US build hypersonic weapons for conventional strike are very much not proposing or supporting new arms control treaties allowing foreign inspection of their toys, and

          D: The mutual inspection regimes are for ensuring that peacetime force levels do not exceed treaty limitations, not to provide meaningful guarantees in wartime.

          Everybody knows we have about five thousand nuclear warheads in bunkers at Kirtland that are never inspected, and everybody assumes that if we care we can slip a few of those into any missile or bomber we want on short notice. Nobody who is surprised to find a hypersonic missile – or a B-1 bomber – flying their direction a the start of some snap crisis, is going to conclude “we inspected those six months ago, so they can’t possibly be nuclear, so tell the premier to go back to sleep”.

          In the case of the B-1s, nobody much cares. Hypersonic cruise missiles, they’ll care. See, e.g., the Russian reaction to the Aegis deployment in Poland – and the distinct lack of any serious proposals to allow Russia to inspect them and verify that they aren’t nuclear.

          • cassander says:

            >A: There is no treaty allowing mutual inspection of hypersonic cruise or boost-glide missiles, and

            The arms treaties specify what you can build, not what you can’t. building nuclear capable hypersonic missiles would be a violation.

            >Everybody knows we have about five thousand nuclear warheads in bunkers at Kirtland that are never inspected, and everybody assumes that if we care we can slip a few of those into any missile or bomber we want on short notice.

            the missiles and bomb bays of nuclear vehicles are deliberately made different shapes from conventional, precisely to preclude this sort of thing. and while the warheads themselves are not inspected, the launch vehicles certainly are.

          • John Schilling says:

            The arms treaties specify what you can build, not what you can’t. building nuclear capable hypersonic missiles would be a violation.

            Of which clause of which “arms treaty”? I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all by now, and I’ve just reread the INF and New START treaties to make sure I haven’t missed anything. They do not say what you think they say.

            the missiles and bomb bays of nuclear vehicles are deliberately made different shapes from conventional

            I’m pretty sure that was not the case for the AGM-86B/C cruise missiles, the BGM-109A/B/C cruise missiles, and the B61 hydrogen bomb fits on the same bomb rack units as the Mark 84 conventional bomb.

            and while the warheads themselves are not inspected, the launch vehicles certainly are.

            Only if the launch vehicles are ICBMs, SLBMs, or heavy bombers.

            I believe you are confusing current U.S. Government practice, not subject to foreign inspection, with verifiable treaty requirement. If you are going to claim otherwise, I am going to ask you to specify which clause of which treaty you believe applies.

      • anon says:

        Good answer. And consistent with what I gleaned from engaging on Twitter with a foreign policy / military strategy academic specializing in air power.

        I remain confused as to whether one should *expect* certain types of rocketry advances to materially alter the strategic calculus of nuclear war. If in fact said calculus rests upon potentially falsifiable properties of (only) ballistic missiles, then color me skeptical about geopolitical stability, since it seems to me that we are in a veritable golden age of technological innovation in rocketry, albeit driven by non-military motivations. even on a floating platform

      • bean says:

        ballistic plus decoys is almost certainly more likely to get through than maneuvering hypersonics against a defense that is designed to deal with both.

        My understanding is that decoy discrimination is basically a solved problem. By the time you build a decoy that is capable of fooling all of the systems, you’re better off either fitting it with a warhead or leaving it off and throwing the missile faster. Care to elaborate as to why this isn’t the case?

        • John Schilling says:

          Exoatmospheric midcourse decoy discrimination is not at all a solved problem. It is often an overstated problem, e.g. when you hear someone talking about thousands of mylar balloons. But it is probably possible to produce decoys weighing no more than ~5% of the mass of an actual warhead that cannot be remotely distinguished from an actual warhead. If these decoys are deployed from within an intense chaff/flare cloud to conceal the precise kinematics of deployment, the defense is probably stuck with engaging 5-10 times as many targets as there are warheads. If there are any technologies capable of changing this, they are either TRL-1 or -2 handwavium, or they are sufficiently classified that we are not talking about them here, and I’m not betting on the deep black boffins having solved this one.

          This is specific to the exoatmospheric midcourse phase of a long range, purely ballistic missile. While the missile is under thrust, decoys can be trivially distinguished by their relative plume signatures. Once they begin reentry, anything much lighter than an actual warhead will be stripped away. And that covers pretty much the entire trajectory of a hypersonic boost-glide weapon.

          • bean says:

            Fair enough. I’ve heard that exoatmospheric decoy discrimination isn’t as hard as you make it out to be from people who are probably a bit better-placed to know, but I’m not 100% certain they’re right. Obviously light on specifics, but even the peak of ballistic missile trajectories still have detectable atmosphere, and I think that IR got involved as well.

    • Garrett says:

      Hypersonic weapons (basically cruise missiles which can fly over Mach 5) become a concern once they are technically possible. Some of the pioneering work on this was done only in the past few decades including the X-43 program. Their main advantage is that as flying aircraft, they have a much smaller heat signature upon deployment, and they fly at a much lower altitude making detection more difficult and providing less early warning.

      The SpaceX stuff seems to be completely unrelated. It’s about using small thrusters to generate a gas cushion to increase air resistance and thus aerobrake much faster/safely when arriving at Mars. I think this is to substantially reduce the fuel used for breaking on arrival and thus bring down costs.

    • Aegeus says:

      Better engines to make it easy to reach hypersonic speeds (the Meteor and Brahmos use ramjets), and better guidance packages to maneuver at those speeds.

      There might also be an arms-race thing, where nobody needed to build a huge complicated ballistic missile and glider to deliver their payload until missile defenses got good enough to shoot down regular antiship missiles.

      I think SpaceX’s work is unrelated, because they’re working on landing a rocket slowly and safely, but missile work tends to involve landing your rocket as quickly and unpredictably as possible. They might build on similar foundational research (how things behave at very very high speeds), but it looks like SpaceX’s work is specifically about weird things that happen when your rocket exhaust is pointed into a supersonic windstream.

    • gbdub says:

      Hypersonic maneuverable reentry vehicles are interesting for ballistic missiles because, not only are they harder to intercept, but they’re potentially a threat to large mobile targets, namely aircraft carriers (and other capital ships). The large US fleet of nuclear carriers is essential to American force projection, and currently the are a very hard target. But if you can make them vulnerable, they are too valuable to risk. If an adversary (mostly we’re talking about China here) were able to threaten US carriers in the Western Pacific, that would be a game changer (currently China has no blue-water assets capable of seriously challenging the US Navy toe-to-toe).

      Hypersonics will also be more accurate on fixed hardened targets – prompt precision strike with conventional weapons is also a big deal for the American military, as others have noted.

      As anti-cruise and anti-ballistic missile systems get better and more widespread, maneuvering hypersonics are kind of the next logical step on the ratcheting scale of defense vs. offense.

      • Lumifer says:

        currently the are a very hard target

        A naive question coming out of MilSF: how easy is it to saturate the carrier group point defense? If you launch a few hundreds of AS missiles simultaneously, will it be able to deal with them?

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          … No.
          Carriers are not meant to be used against anything that could be classed as a power- That flashing neon sign you see floating over carrier groups saying “Drop nuke here” is one reason, but also, they’re just too vulnerable to mass missile or competent sub-marine attackers.

        • bean says:

          @Lumifer
          The two halves of your question have different answers.

          A naive question coming out of MilSF: how easy is it to saturate the carrier group point defense?

          Hard. AEGIS has made a tremendous difference in the missile defense capability of CVBGs since it was introduced. Previously, you only had, IIRC, ~4 guidance channels per missile ship, and maybe 4 missile ships. Now, you still have 4 missile ships, but each can have a dozen or more missiles in the air at once. Also, modern missiles are a lot more accurate.

          If you launch a few hundreds of AS missiles simultaneously, will it be able to deal with them?

          Probably not. But launching that many missiles is not easy. China might be able to do it once, or twice at the outside. The same for Russia. That still leaves us with a lot of carriers. Nobody else can do so.

      • bean says:

        I’m not too worried about the carriers. Keeping track of a carrier group at sea is not as easy as you might think. They’ll shoot down any in-atmosphere snoopers, and satellites aren’t persistent enough (and really expensive). Ships move while the AsBM/AsHM is inbound. The carrier you thought you killed? Actually a Dutch tanker. Or maybe a destroyer with ECM gear operating.

    • youzicha says:

      The AMaRV was quite similar to the recent Chinese anti-ship missiles, and it was developed in 1979, so technologically this has been possible for a long time.

      I think the issue is more specifically about China. The US strategy in the area was developed when the Chinese military was very weak (because they didn’t have a big budget). In the the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, the U.S. could place aircraft carriers near the coast of China as a demonstration because China had no weapons which could target them. Now the Chinese military can afford to buy expensive weapon systems, including ballistic missiles, so area denial becomes a concern.

      But if you look at the Soviet union instead, then they always had area denial capabilities, so perhaps the anomaly is how soft a target China used to be.

      • bean says:

        There’s a lot more that goes into such things than just the aerodynamics of the reentry vehicle. The big problem for an AsBM is targeting. Finding the target (harder than it sounds against a carrier group in the open sea), getting that datum back to the AsBM before it’s totally stale, and then acquiring the correct target after the missile reaches the area is nontrivial. The Soviets talked of AsBMs in the 60s, but I believe that was either merely talk, or involved firing SLBMs with really big nuclear warheads at places like Gibraltar.
        Also, note that the Chinese are just now reaching the point the Russians were at in the 80s, and the US has moved on a long ways from there.

        • youzicha says:

          Is the targeting problem different for hypersonic and non-hypersonic missiles? From what I read, China is going to rely on a combination of radar satellites and airplanes to locate the carrier groups. That’s what the Soviet Union used in the 1980s (RORSAT + suicidal Tu-95 scout missions) to support their non-ballistic anti-ship missiles.

          • bean says:

            There’s several different problems. First, the number of missiles the Chinese can throw vs the number the Russians could, with the resulting effects on the number of missiles likely to find the right target. I don’t have good numbers on the DF-21D, but you’re looking at tens of missiles, not the hundreds the Soviets could put out.
            Second, the US has gotten better at self-defense. Yes, the DF-21D is faster than the Kh-22, but AEGIS is fantastically more powerful and the latest SM-2 variants are a lot better than those of the 80s. Third is time lag. The Kh-22 had a maximum time of flight of about 6 minutes, and, IIRC, was updated by the aircraft radar just before launch. The DF-21 is at least a minute longer, and that doesn’t count the time lag to get data from the sensors to the missile battery.

  65. Yup, Merv was huge. The whole of Central Asia was pretty important for a long time and possibly counts as an independent origin of civilization. And during it’s golden age around the 1000s you had things like astronomers advancing the state of the art and speculating about life on planets orbiting other stars. The intellecual orthodoxy and mysticism stifled science. Then the Mongols came and killed all the city dwellers they didn’t ship back to Mongolia and most of the overland trade with China shifted to the Indian ocean.

    But if you’d like to learn more I can recommend “Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane” which I recently finished reading. It was (puts on sunglasses) enlightening.

    • Spotted Toad says:

      Here’s a remarkable quote from Michael Axworthy’s Empire of the Mind about the destruction of Merv:

      The Seljuk Empire had been split toward the end of the twelfth century by the rise of a subject tribe from Khwarezm, whose leaders established themselves as the rulers of the eastern part of the empire. They were known as the Khwarezmshahs. In the early years of the thirteenth century, the ruling Khwarezmshah, Sultan Mohammad, became dimly aware that a new power was rising in the steppe lands beyond Transoxiana. There were impossible rumors—true, as it turned out—that the Chinese empire had been conquered. There may have been some attempts at diplomatic contact, but these were bungled, resulting in the deaths of some Mongol merchants and ambassadors. Contrary to popular perception, the Mongols were not just a ravening mob of uncivilized, semi-human killers. Their armies were tightly
      controlled, well disciplined, and ruthlessly efficient. They were not wantonly destructive. But their ultimate foundation was the prestige of their warlord, Genghis Khan, and an insult could not be overlooked. After the killing of the Mongol emissaries, what came next in Transoxiana and Khorasan was particularly dreadful because of the Mongols’ vengeful purpose. There followed a series of Mongol invasions, aimed initially at punishing Sultan Mohammad—who, veering from tragedy toward comedy, fled westward to Ray,
      pursued by a Mongol flying column, and then north until he died on an island off the Caspian coast. These invasions later developed into conquest and occupation. What this meant for the hapless Iranians can be illustrated by what happened at Merv, after the Mongols had already conquered and destroyed the cities of Transoxiana:
      . . . on the next day, 25 February 1221, the Mongols arrived before the gates of
      Merv. Tolui in person [the son of Genghis Khan] with an escort of 500 horsemen, rode the whole distance around the walls, and for six days the Mongols continued to inspect the defences, reaching the conclusion that they were in good repair and would withstand a lengthy siege. On the seventh day the Mongols launched a general assault. The townspeople made two sallies from different gates, being in both cases at once driven back by the Mongol forces. They seem then to have lost all will to resist. The next day the governor surrendered the town, having been reassured by promises that were not in fact to be kept. The whole population was now driven out into the open country, and for four days and nights the people continued to pour out of the town.
      Four hundred artisans and a number of children were selected to be carried off as slaves, and it was commanded that the whole of the remaining population, men, women, children, should be put to the sword. They were distributed, for this purpose, among the troops, and to each individual soldier was allotted the execution of three to four hundred persons. These troops included levies from the captured towns, and Juvaini records that the people of Sarakhs, who had a feud with the people of Merv, exceeded the ferocity of the heathen Mongols in the slaughter of their fellow-Muslims. Even now the ordeal of Merv was not yet over. When the Mongols withdrew, those who had escaped death by concealing themselves in holes and cavities emerged from their hiding places. They amounted in all to some five thousand people. A detachment of Mongols, part of the rearguard, now arrived before the town.
      Wishing to have their share of the slaughter they called upon these unfortunate wretches to come out into the open country, each carrying a skirtful of grain. And having them thus at their mercy they massacred these last feeble
      remnants of one of the greatest cities of Islam. . .
      Contemporary eyewitnesses at Merv gave estimates for the numbers killed ranging between 700,000 and 1.3 million. These figures are huge but credible, representing a high proportion of the population of northern Khorasan and Transoxiana at the time. The numbers were probably greater than normal because country people and refugees from tens and hundreds of miles around fled there before the siege began. When we talk of the magnitude of twentieth-century massacres and genocides as if they were unparalleled, we sometimes forget what enormities were perpetrated in earlier centuries with the cold blade alone.

  66. MugaSofer says:

    Now the Commission on Presidential Debates has confirmed that his microphone was indeed defective.

    Have they, though? From the article:

    “Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump’s audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall,” the commission said in an unfortunately brief one-sentence statement.

    […]

    His microphone for the broadcasts was working fine, which means that the vast majority of the people who were watching could hear him fine. The relatively minuscule number of people inside the debate hall are unlikely to decide who the next president is — especially given they were in a blue state, New York.

    It sounds like Trump noticed/was told about some problems with the speakers in the hall, and concluded from that that that there was an elaborate conspiracy sabotaging his TV performance.

    • Aapje says:

      1. It’s not strange that Trump would blame the microphone, as he merely heard the speakers and was unaware that TV viewers had proper sound. So he didn’t have the information to determine whether the microphone or something else was at fault. If the speakers worked correctly for Clinton, his assessment that the microphone was broken was not illogical.

      2. Audience response is a factor in how a candidate is perceived and it’s thus not strange that Trump would be upset if he felt that the malfunction caused adverse responses by the audience compared to everything functioning correctly.

      Of course, it’s a little paranoid to argue that the malfunction was intentional, rather that just a malfunction.

    • Virbie says:

      I don’t think that the malfunctioning microphone was a deal-breaker in either direction, and I doubt it was anything but an equipment malfunction, but it is pretty unfortunate that it happened (to any candidate). You’re leaving out the feedback loops involved in debate performance, confidence, etc that are affected by the local environment, is the only one the participants are actually exposed to while debating. Especially in a forum full of crosstalk and interruptions, I can’t imagine my performance wouldn’t be significantly affected by my opponents volume in the room being louder than mine. Though of course, I’m not a politician and have little to no practice with loud, public, verbal confrontations, so this effect would probably be mitigated to some extent.

  67. “Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC300808/

    • Murphy says:

      Ya, that was a shitty little sarky response by a bunch of people who’s attitude is “who needs science, we already know all the answers”.

      I mean, there’s all these studies into “obvious” things where we already know the answer!! we should just not bother with studies!

      There’s a relevant lesswrong:

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/im/hindsight_devalues_science/

      The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. dismissed scientific studies of WWII soldiers’ experiences as “ponderous demonstrations” of common sense. For example:

      1: Better educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than less educated soldiers. (Intellectuals were less prepared for battle stresses than street-smart people.)

      2: Southern soldiers coped better with the hot South Sea Island climate than Northern soldiers. (Southerners are more accustomed to hot weather.)

      3: White privates were more eager to be promoted to noncommissioned officers than Black privates. (Years of oppression take a toll on achievement motivation.)

      4: Southern Blacks preferred Southern to Northern White officers (because Southern officers were more experienced and skilled in interacting with Blacks).

      5: As long as the fighting continued, soldiers were more eager to return home than after the war ended. (During the fighting, soldiers knew they were in mortal danger.)

      How many of these findings do you think you could have predicted in advance? 3 out of 5? 4 out of 5? Are there any cases where you would have predicted the opposite—where your model takes a hit? Take a moment to think before continuing…

      In this demonstration (from Paul Lazarsfeld by way of Meyers), all of the findings above are the opposite of what was actually found. How many times did you think your model took a hit? How many times did you admit you would have been wrong? That’s how good your model really was. The measure of your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.

      Unless, of course, I reversed the results again. What do you think?

      Do your thought processes at this point, where you really don’t know the answer, feel different from the thought processes you used to rationalize either side of the “known” answer?

      Daphna Baratz exposed college students to pairs of supposed findings, one true (“In prosperous times people spend a larger portion of their income than during a recession”) and one the truth’s opposite. In both sides of the pair, students rated the supposed finding as what they “would have predicted”. Perfectly standard hindsight bias.

      Which leads people to think they have no need for science, because they “could have predicted” that.

      (Just as you would expect, right?)

      Hindsight will lead us to systematically undervalue the surprisingness of scientific findings, especially the discoveries we understand—the ones that seem real to us, the ones we can retrofit into our models of the world. If you understand neurology or physics and read news in that topic, then you probably underestimate the surprisingness of findings in those fields too. This unfairly devalues the contribution of the researchers; and worse, will prevent you from noticing when you are seeing evidence that doesn’t fit what you really would have expected.

      • Murphy says:

        To build on this:

        For years in A&E, patients with serious head injury were often treated with steroids, in the reasonable belief that this would reduce swelling, and so reduce crushing damage to the brain, inside the fixed-volume box of your skull.

        The logic seems almost as solid as using parachutes to prevent fall damage.

        Then they actually did a trial, the CRASH trial.

        It was a famously hard fought battle with ethics committees.

        It turned out that steroids were killing patients.

      • This is a way that rationalism has turned me into a (more?) annoying person. When someone says “that was obvious” or “that isn’t suprising”, I’ll say “Really?” and ask them whether they really would have predicted it.

    • Froolow says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of snark. But this shouldn’t be interpreted – as Murphy does below – as making a claim, “We shouldn’t do RCTs into obvious things because we already know the answers”; it is actually making a more subtle and interesting point (still snarky though – this is the BMJ Christmas issue where the snark is free-range and delicious).

      There is a specific problem in evidence-based medicine (EBM) where trials – in the sense that a hardcore EBM practitioner would accept – are sometimes impossible to conduct. This could be because of ethics, because you can’t blind one or both arms of the trial or because you couldn’t possibly find volunteers who would accept being in the control arm. The genius of the parachute paper is that it hits all three of these objections and more, but for a real-world example consider surgical intervention for knee pain; it is hard to find a surgeon who thinks that their particular technique doesn’t work (so you can’t ethically conduct a trial because no surgeon is in equipoise), you can’t possibly blind a surgeon to the technique they’re assigned to (nor blind the patient to whether they have had surgery or not, unless you make potentially scarring incisions for no clinical reason) and no patient with knee pain is going to accept enrollment in an RCT where they might possibly get no treatment when they can get surgery on the NHS just by asking for it. And yet, we have no idea if the intervention is effective at relieving joint pain, let along effective considering the side-effects or whether such an intervention is cost-effective.

      The only practical response to this is to base your clinical consensus off a worse standard of evidence than would satisfy an EBM purist in these cases. In the parachute paper, they’re basically daring you to say that you wouldn’t – daring you to say that even in the case of parachutes you’d demand an RCT. But this leads to a huge and unacknowledged problem with EBM; we basically have to give it up when it gets difficult, and nobody has thought about what ‘difficult’ means in this context. It means that we have excellent evidence regarding the efficacy of drugs (which are easy to trial), but basically no EBM-approved evidence regarding surgical techniques, which are almost certainly where the low-hanging fruit is in terms of survival rates and overall morbidity improvement.

      To circle back a little, the parachute question is clearly silly; we would never want to do a trial into whether parachutes work. But there are a lot of questions where the trials are only a little bit more difficult to conduct than normal, and intelligent people might disagree in good faith about whether such a question – given extensive non-randomised evidence – has been ‘settled’ with respect to funding / clinical consensus etc.

      A specific and live issue around this is around interventions for long-term cancer survival. There have been a few heroic attempts to get a cohort of cancer patients randomised to two kinds of treatment for the rest of their lives (say, 20 years) but for obvious reasons and through no fault of the authors these studies tend to be of terrible quality. However we (in the UK) have amazing databases on cancer survivorship relative to the kind of intervention you were picking up your prescription for thanks to the more-or-less joined up way the NHS operates. Are the purists right that the RCT evidence supersedes the cohort / database evidence, or should we say that the ‘pyramid of evidence’ is not as important as EBM purists would advocate and we accept huge cohort studies can be better than small but otherwise well-conducted RCTs?

      That’s not to say that – in general – we should prefer low-quality non-comparative studies to massive well-designed RCTs. Nor, as Murphy has interpreted the paper, to say expert opinion will supersede a systematic review of the published literature in all cases. But it does highlight a problem which EBM advocates seem a little unwilling to talk about, in quite a sophisticated (if trollish) way

      • Murphy says:

        I’m not so sure that was the authors view. Look at their publishing history. Retrospective. Retrospective. Retrospective.

        This is not someone who’s become frustrated with the problems of running good RCT’s.

        Sure, the charitable way of looking at it is to treat it as someone addressing the practical and ethical problems of applying the RCT model to gain the highest quality evidence about some issues where running an RCT isn’t practical.

        The uncharitable way of looking at it is a snarky little guy who honestly believes that simply looking at uncontrolled outcome data is better because he’s such an expert and knows the truth anyway and all this crap with publishing is just a ritual to get people to accept his obvious rightness.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Great comment. I’m not sure where the authors’ intent lies, but I’m not sure it matters.

        The point is that this provides, by way of absurdity, a platform to discuss these broader issues in evidence-based medicine. Sure, it can be used to derail the conversation, but it also provides a framework to talk about what’s desirable and possible.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “There is a specific problem in evidence-based medicine (EBM) where trials – in the sense that a hardcore EBM practitioner would accept – are sometimes impossible to conduct. ”

        Then you talk to me (or folks in my field). People have thought about predicting RCT results from observational data for a very long time.

  68. placeholder pseudonym says:

    The only source for this month’s boilerplate “crazy North Korea!” story is Radio Free Asia, which means an evidential value of close to zero. Actual DPRK propaganda is also cited, but only on the rather bland matter of their disliking being condemned by the UN.

    • Aapje says:

      Yeah, I have extremely little confidence in most of these ‘You wouldn’t believe what N-Korea did today’ stories.

      An extremely closed country + a main source of information about that country being another country that is at war with them = disinformation heaven.

    • John Schilling says:

      This. Propaganda about North Korea is only slightly more reliable than propaganda from North Korea. And less entertaining, but that may just be a matter of taste.

  69. Zombielicious says:

    Re: Berkeley online course videos.

    How hard is it to add closed captioning to videos? It seems like it would be very easy to do, and volunteers would also be readily willing to contribute, and it seemed like most of the MOOC sites already had some form of it (EdX and Coursera at least, iirc). I also wonder what qualifies as “closed captioning?” A speech-to-text converter plus a button to notify an admin of errors?

    Re: Markets punishing discrimination.

    This is like the joke about the economist and the $20 bill, in that it basically ignores empirical reality where discrimination of various forms was ridiculously widespread (see most of U.S. history). It’s also making a big, unjustified leap from some examples of markets punishing discrimination to the conclusions “we can be pretty sure markets are picking only on the criteria we want them to use” and “it is perfectly well and good to lament the fact that for whatever reason, some ethnic groups are less qualified, systematically less hard-working, achieve worse educational results, commit more crimes or whatever.” Plus conflating discrimination in hiring (or better yet, fantasy football picks in ~2016) with discrimination as a whole, and the implied conclusion that therefore discrimination can’t really exist. Good thing we have the link showing degrees aren’t actually about signaling – it’s not like the market would ever allow people to be judged based on broad stereotypes about them, rather than their merits as an individual. Anyone company or individual doing so would be outcompeted quickly, keeping their numbers negligible, just like with the non-existent $20 bill.

    • Deiseach says:

      I Googled costs to see if this really is hideously expensive, as per the Vice-Chancellor’s letter.

      This crowd say they’ll do it for $3 per minute. How long are the videos and how many of them is the next thing; I’ll assume they run for an hour each so that is 60 minutes x $3 = $180 dollars per video. If you have ten in a series, that’s $1,800. Multiply that by however many different lecture series they’re offering. But I’ve seen some small amount of education budgets in a previous job and that’s not too unreasonable. Expensive for an individual, but for an entity like a university not so much, and surely there’s some kind of accessibility grants available?

      Okay, they need to cut costs, but on a multi-million dollar annual budget, there must be some fat they could trim, and there does appear to be rumblings about where exactly is the money going?

      Berkeley does appear to be feeling the pinch when it comes to its budget, and is facing what seems likely to be swingeing cuts:

      Their message was that the campus faces a deficit in the neighborhood of $150 million for this fiscal year and has embarked on what Steele termed “a broadly consultative process” to review all areas of the campus for potential changes that would better position Berkeley for the future. The goal, they said, is smoothing out a recurring pattern of expansion and contraction — and maintaining Berkeley’s place as the nation’s top public university.

      So I imagine the “we can’t pay for closed captioning” is a combination of genuinely seeking to cost-cut (if these are free online for the public and not core college coursework, they are going to be very far down the list of priorities) and putting on the poor mouth to get more money out of government.

      This is the kind of stupid stuff that happens when budget cuts are made in an emergency; big, splashy, wasteful things keep their funding because they’re somebody’s pet project or they’re guarding their turf, and you get the office staff told they have to buy a cheaper brand of copier paper while the big-wigs are claiming expenses for jetting off to conferences and symposia at full whack.

      Looking again at that Vice-Chancellor’s letter, I think this is more of signs of tough times ahead:

      Yet we do so with the realization that, due to our current financial constraints, we might not be able to continue to provide free public content under the conditions laid out by the Department of Justice to the extent we have in the past.

      In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free. We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.

      • Murphy says:

        Again, you’re working under the assumption that they have some kind of duty to dig the cost out of their own budget when they were providing free education to everyone out of the goodness of their hearts. You know what’s cheaper than close captioning thousands of videos? pulling the network plug out of the server.

        If it’s so cheap then it should be super easy for some of these Oh-So-Concerned groups to caption the videos themselves. I suspect the uni would have been happy to add such captions if someone provided them.

        But easier to point to someone else’s budget and scream that they should spend the money to enhance favors they have no obligation to provide to the world at all.

        • Zombielicious says:

          You know they are a public university taking taxpayer money. I tried to find out how much, and it looks like it’s been dropping every year, to 12% of their total revenues in 2013, down from 54% of their total budget in 1987.

          So, if we want everyone involved to just ruthlessly optimize for self-interest, sure – they should probably pull the program entirely, which would also save on hosting and electricity costs, unless they’re getting some positive marketing benefit out of it, in which case it’s not really a selfless act to “provide free education to everyone out of the goodness of their hearts,” and the state should also stop using taxpayer money to fund the university. Though I don’t really advocate for that, I’m just having trouble seeing them as martyrs here, so much as that their reaction offers a great chance for political opportunism.

          • Julian says:

            Yes they are public university, but they are only obligated to provide education to students who are accepted for enrollment.

            The videos are available to anyone, not just students of UC Berkeley.

          • Ann Nonny Mousse says:

            Yes they are public university, but they are only obligated to provide education to students who are accepted for enrollment.

            The videos are available to anyone, not just students of UC Berkeley.

            Yes, which is exactly what I was trying to get at with my earlier comment about conflicts of interest; the perceived value of being accepted as a student is diminished by the availability of the videos to the general public, which may be a (even unconcious) part of the motivation of whichever administrative body to put roadblocks in the way of them being made available to the widest possible audience. That part of the college administration which put them up originally obviously didn’t have any such qualms.

          • “which may be a (even unconcious) part of the motivation of whichever administrative body to put roadblocks in the way of them being made available to the widest possible audience. ”

            That makes very little sense. Improving accessibility would increase their audience by what, a percent or two? If they didn’t want to offer free classes for fear it would undercut their market for paid classes they wouldn’t be providing the videos in the first place.

        • Deiseach says:

          Murphy, they’re a fee-charging university. They are not providing anything to anyone out of the goodness of their hearts, and I worked in Irish local education provision and saw dealings with second and third level institutions from both the provision and the government side, so I am very cynical when any institution starts crying poverty in response to government directives.

          • Soumynona says:

            They weren’t charging fees for the video access.

          • Murphy says:

            @Soumynona

            From further up the argument seems to be “they must be getting something out of giving this away for free, like good PR hence *mumble mumble* evil money grubbing evil *mumble* football bad”

          • Deiseach says:

            Soumynona, I was addressing Murphy talking about them providing education out of the goodness of their hearts. They don’t, they charge fees to the students, which is part of how they pay for the running of the university. If they’re putting up stuff online, that’s part of a wider scheme – yes, part of it is fulfilling the public university mandate, and part of it is branding, getting recognition, etc.

            If only part of the public can access their free content, then that limits their charitable and educational purpose. There are members of the public who have disabilities that mean these videos are not accessible to them and so they do not benefit from them. The government is acting in its capacity of treating all the interests of the people equally. If the university really can’t afford to caption or otherwise make the videos accessible, then they are entitled to take them down or look for help in making them accessible.

            The protest seems to be “if some can’t have it, none can have it and that’s not fair” – but it’s the university that seems to be doing this, not the government. And if you find it unfair that a free resource is no longer available, imagine then how it feels to be someone who can never access any resources like this because their needs make the ‘free’ content unusable to them – and that’s something they have to put up with every day of their lives. That’s not very fair either, is it? Someone who gets something unexpected for free that they can do without because they have other sources of obtaining it, versus someone who can’t get any advantage of the ‘free’ material and can’t easily access alternatives: there’s no “big bad wolf” here, there’s competing needs and problems, and I think the people who jumped on this as a stick to beat “See? Big Interfering Government strikes again!” are being disingenuous.

            Either equality legislation means what it says, or it’s only a face-saving exercise to make ordinary, able-bodied people feel good about themselves and when push comes to shove, they won’t carry through on it.

            Frankly, I find all the university’s pledges on their websites of being fully signed up to making things accessible less believable when I take this incident into account, and were I a student with a disability, or a parent of such, I’d think twice about going to Berkeley or that they would live up to their promises.

          • ” The government is acting in its capacity of treating all the interests of the people equally.”

            I don’t think that’s right.

            Suppose there is some service the government thinks it is good to provide. It can provide it to ninety percent of the population at a cost of ten dollars per person. The other ten percent are much harder to provide it for–perhaps a much more dispersed population–so it costs a hundred dollars each to provide it to them.

            Providing it to only the ninety percent is treating everyone equally–treating everyone as if the value of providing the service to him is more than ten dollars but less than a hundred dollars. It isn’t providing the same outcome for everyone, but unequal outcome is not the same as unequal treatment.

          • John Schilling says:

            Providing it to only the ninety percent is treating everyone equally […] It isn’t providing the same outcome for everyone

            By one extremely popular definition of equality, that is literally oxymoronic – “treating everyone equally” means exactly and only “providing the same outcome for everyone”. You may prefer one of the other definitions of equality, but you need to understand and acknowledge this one if you want to communicate effectively with people who don’t share your preference.

          • Murphy says:

            Many universities do a lot of things which offer little to no benefit to themselves as long as it costs them little to nothing.

            Looking for mirrors for linux repositories? trying to download cran packages? Most of the repo mirrors will turn out to be hosted by universities.

            They get ~zero PR for this because people don’t typically feel strongly about linux repo mirror 27 in a list but they play a small part in making highly valuable things available to normal people easily by donating a little of the universities bandwidth.

            But if some horrible little scumbag bureaucrat or some little scumbag private individual with an attitude of “if I can’t have something nice perfectly customized for me then nobody can have it” took them to court insisting that they spend chunks of their budget annotating those repos documentation to better support custom tracing machines for deaf-blind children with synesthesia then those mirrors would simply get the plugs pulled because suddenly a low-cost good deed is being turned into a stick to beat them with and is suddenly a cost center with little benefit for them.

            The narrative seems more and more accurate the more I read about it.

    • Odoacer says:

      The link states that:

      Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has recently asserted that the University is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because, in its view, not all of the free course and lecture content UC Berkeley makes available on certain online platforms is fully accessible to individuals with hearing, visual or manual disabilities.

      Does this mean that whenever an image that is referenced it must be described aloud for those with visual disabilities? I don’t know the price of closed captioning, but adding audio descriptions of images sounds like a harder problem. I’m also uncertain if the videos are fully accessible to people with manual disabilities.

      EDIT: Looking at the DOJ letter, it appears that a concern for the deaf got this started. The “Aggrieved Individuals” listed work at Gallaudet University and are both members of the National Association of the Deaf.

      Also, the DOJ letter talks mentions vision disabilites WRT BerkeleyX:

      Some videos were inaccessible to people with vision disabilities for several reasons.
      First, many videos did not provide an alternative way to access images or visual information (e.g., graphs, charts, animations, or urls on slides), such as audio description, alternative text, PDF files, or Word documents. Second, videos containing text sometimes had poor color contrast, which made the text unreadable for those with low vision. Finally, information was sometimes conveyed using color
      alone (for instance, a chart or graph would differentiate information only by color),
      which is not accessible to individuals with vision disabilities.

      Finally, there is a section of the requirements on p.9 that Berkeley must follow if it continues this online content. I’m not aware of the costs, but following guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA), probably isn’t cheap.

      • Josiah Henn says:

        I’m not aware of the costs, but following guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA), probably isn’t cheap.

        I was originally thinking maybe they could just run the videos through cloud.google.com/speech-to-text‎, but this is a whole different problem. Are the lectures from other universities really compliant (and this is only a Berkeley issue)? How are other universities managing this?

        Personally I’ve complained about video-only training in my job many, many times (apparently we must not have any hearing-impaired employees). We have many non-native English speakers and, being bilingual myself and having lived abroad for many years, perhaps I sympathize more than others. Furthermore, I like useful information to be searchable, which video and audio is not. I am told these things:

        1) Video is cheaper (in terms of wage cost / time) to make. Speakers can ramble and hem and haw and change directions mid-sentence or whatever and not have to worry about grammar or paragraph structure or, you know, generally conveying information in a means that benefits the consumer (which takes additional time and effort). So video might be especially preferable if the source of knowledge is expensive, busy, or self-important–and the destination of that knowledge is more of an afterthought.

        2) Text has a higher risk of leakage. I am not sure this follows logically, but it is what I am told. Though not obviously an issue with giving away college lectures for free (compared to proprietary information within a company), they still might want people to watch the videos at *their* sites (for advertising or branding), instead of walk away with, and be able to redistribute, written information. (Although it’s quite easy to walk away with videos as well, I guess it is less common).

        3) Video is better for metrics. You can track views and set checkpoints to make sure people at least have them running on their computer (whether they are playing minesweeper and barely listening or not). This is especially good to automate compliance if people are required to have been exposed to certain information, or perhaps for progress tracking at online educational sites.

        Anyway, I guess I’m most surprised how other universities are managing compliance if Berkeley does not. If they are, then Berkeley should just do whatever they’re doing. On the other hand no one complying would not surprise me. I haven’t watched any university’s online lectures, because I don’t like video, so I have no idea what’s going on.

        • Iain says:

          Speaking of other universities: in the absence of accessibility mandates, how many of those universities would have provided closed-captioning on their videos? I would expect very few of them. Because of the mandates, people with disabilities now have a wealth of resources that would otherwise have been completely locked away. (I’ve taken a number of free Coursera courses from a variety of universities, and they were all fully closed-captioned, so I’d be surprised to learn that the answer is that nobody is complying.)

          It’s obviously regrettable that Berkeley feels the need to take down some of its free content. But it’s far from obvious that the overall mandate is a net negative. At most, all this story shows is that the DOJ is being a little bit over-zealous in this one instance – and, given that other universities don’t seem to have the same problem, I think it’s quite plausible that this is some sort of political move on Berkeley’s part.

          PS: From the “Conclusions of Law” section of the DOJ’s letter:

          Finally, UC Berkeley has not established that making its online content accessible would result in a fundamental alteration or undue administrative and financial burdens. As indicated below, the Department would prefer to resolve this matter cooperatively.

          As ultimatums go, that seems quite tame. Less “you have to stop offering free courses”; more “you already have policies about making content accessible, and you aren’t following them. Please fix that.”

          • Josiah Henn says:

            Speaking of other universities: in the absence of accessibility mandates, how many of those universities would have provided closed-captioning on their videos? I would expect very few of them. Because of the mandates, people with disabilities now have a wealth of resources that would otherwise have been completely locked away.

            As someone who abhors video as a communication medium, I would say this hinges on how much information is unique to lectures. In my experience, professors are eager to share their knowledge and opinions, and I would hope you could get the same information from their books and textbooks. So unless “completely locked away” means “not free”, I hope this is not true. If it is, then I (and others who have very poor aural retention), non-native speakers, and hearing-impaired all are suffering.

            On the other hand, if the information is available elsewhere, and the issue is the “knowledge” not the “video”, then perhaps linking free textbooks would satisfy the requirement as well. I, for one, would be ecstatic. Textbooks are not cheap.

            Alas, however, I suspect institutions are more willing to give away spoken information than written information, for similar reasons to those my company gave to me: it is less expensive to create, easier to brand, and easier to track.

          • Iain says:

            By “resources” I meant the free classes / videos themselves, not the information contained within. There’s been an explosion in MOOCs recently, without a concomitant increase in (for example) free textbooks. Without the accessibility mandate, people with disabilities would have been unable to benefit from the proliferation of MOOCs. Thanks to the mandate, they can. That seems valuable to me.

            One concern with free textbooks is that a good chunk of the value of MOOCs comes from working through the assignments. To get the full benefit, there would have to be a fairly tight connection between the textbook and the coursework. Given the overall benefit of free textbooks, though, the DOJ might have accepted it anyway.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            By “resources” I meant the free classes / videos themselves, not the information contained within. There’s been an explosion in MOOCs recently, without a concomitant increase in (for example) free textbooks. Without the accessibility mandate, people with disabilities would have been unable to benefit from the proliferation of MOOCs. Thanks to the mandate, they can. That seems valuable to me.

            Of course it is valuable, but there is also a cost. These laws/regulations are a burden and do affect the ability for people to provide stuff (not even necessarily financially, but at a certain point the burden of a large amount of rules just becomes so irritating and tiresome that people give up). The result is that the majority are denied things, so a minority can have something.

            A major objection that I have to the pro-regulation rhetoric is that this downside is typically ignored (and additionally, the debate often involves shaming language implying that the opponents hate the minority). The result is a rather toxic and divisive debate, rather than a rational assessment of what burdens are reasonable (how many people benefit & how much vs the burdens) and which aren’t.

            There is also the issue that these regulations de-incentivize actually solving the problem at the source and instead, result in a lowest common denominator society, where non-disabled people cannot have things that are deemed discriminatory (like the trend to gender-neutral rest rooms resulting in the removal of urinals, despite those being much better suited for people with male genitals than using a toilet to pee in).

            Another example is that we now have deaf people fighting against implants, which they argue will destroy deaf culture. So you get the weird situation of some deaf people embracing and refusing to solve their disability, but then demanding that society enables this self-segregation by burdening non-deaf people.

          • Deiseach says:

            society enables this self-segregation by burdening non-deaf people

            Burdening? How is this burdening you? If you don’t want or need the closed captioning or subtitles, you need not use them.

            If it’s the producers of such material you worry about, it’s the same kind of burden they have in making sure they’ve properly credited and paid for using copyrighted material, got consent, provided bi-lingual materials, etc. Paying to have videos made of a lecture and putting it up online is also a ‘burden’ – these are free courses for the public, and nobody is being charged for them, but at the same time the university has to pay for them being made and hosted and all the rest of what is involved in putting material online to be seen.

            Are the non-deaf public who were taking advantage of this material any less of a burden?

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            The burden is that a professor cannot just put a camera in his classroom and upload the video, but he has to take extra steps to add captioning which takes time & effort (at minimum). So that is a burden for the professor.

            It’s very likely that the captioning process means that it takes longer for the video to become available, as it is an extra step, which is a burden on non-deaf students who don’t need the captioning, but still have to wait for it to be added.

            If a professor/college decides that this burden tips the endeavor over from feasible into non-feasible, they can decide to not provide the video at all, which clearly burdens non-deaf students by not giving them the option to see the video. Basic economic theory suggests that all endeavors are on a continuum of viability and any extra burden will make some endeavors unviable.

            And keep in mind that my main objection is not so much to this individual case, but rather the stifling effect of having many such requirements. It’s often very easy to make a case that one individual requirement is a small burden, but I object to how cumulative effects are generally ignored by advocates. It’s not that hard to make a tasty meal for a vegetarian or for a lactose intolerant person or for a gluten intolerant person. But it’s very hard to make a tasty meal that has to be vegetarian and without lactose and without gluten. I don’t want to live in a lowest common denominator society.

            Anyway, your unwillingness to simply concede that captioning a video is an extra burden above and beyond the basic burden of creating a video without captioning, proves my point how irrational the debates on this topic tend to be.

          • “Burdening? How is this burdening you?”

            I have, webbed and in most cases linked to my web page, the full text of four of my published books, most of my published articles, video or audio recordings of many of my public lectures, video or audio recordings of various of the courses I’ve taught.

            The cost to me of putting that material up and keeping it up is very low. If someone imposed a bunch of requirements on me, such as text versions of all the talks and classes, the material wouldn’t be there.

            The web is a superb tool for giving information away, a somewhat clumsy tool for selling it. People often find it worth their while to give information away for indirect benefits, such as getting people to read what they have written. Push the cost up a bit and it often isn’t worth doing.

            I concede that there is a certain poetic justice to Berkeley being forced to live up to its own stated principles. But forbidding people to give something away to anyone unless they go to the additional trouble to give it away to everyone is a stupid and destructive rule.

          • Iain says:

            @Aapje:

            I am perfectly happy to concede that closed captioning imposes an additional marginal cost. I haven’t seen much discussion about how large that marginal cost is, but it is obviously more than zero. I’m also willing to concede that quantity of regulations can have a cost all of its own. That said: given your frustration, I hope you will be sympathetic to my own equivalent frustration. Specifically, I think the anti-regulation discussion in this thread has largely tended to ignore the upside of accessibility regulation.

            Nobody would deny that, ceteris paribus, having closed captioning on videos and granting disabled people access to additional resources is a good thing. Nobody in this thread has proposed an alternative mechanism for obtaining those benefits. Instead, all we have is (largely unsupported) speculation that maybe the cost is too high.

            And sure. Sometimes the cost of regulations is too high. And sometimes the regulation already takes that into account, and allows for reasonable exceptions (page 8):

            UC Berkeley is not, however, required to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its service, program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

            Too often, the cost of compliance is used as a one-stop all-purpose argument against regulation. It’s not. It’s a cost, which needs to be reasonably weighed against the benefits of that regulation.

            In the specific case of accessibility mandates, there is a long history of positive externalities. Cut curbs on sidewalks were originally mandated in the interest of people in wheelchairs, but they turned out to be beneficial for nearly anybody riding or pushing a thing with wheels: bikes, strollers, shopping carts, and so on. Similarly, closed captioning is important for deaf people, but it’s also useful for people watching a video in their second language, or skimming quickly through a video to find a particular point, or just watching a video in a library without headphones. That’s far from being a “lowest common denominator society”.

            I am absolutely down for critical analysis of the costs and benefits of various forms of regulation. I’m just not convinced that cost-benefit analysis is what we’re all doing here.

          • “I am absolutely down for critical analysis of the costs and benefits of various forms of regulation.”

            One complication is that there are two levels of cost/benefit analysis.

            1. Does this particular regulation produce net benefits?

            2. Do the institutions that produce the particular regulation produce a set of regulations that produce net benefits?

            For a very different example, consider the question “should the government put out recommendations on what people should eat?”

            It’s obvious that such recommendations can sometimes produce benefits. I think it is now well established that one such recommendation, switching from butter to stick margarine in order to eliminate saturated fat (replacing it with transfats!) did an enormous amount of damage. So in deciding whether you approve of that sort of government activity you have to somehow figure out which will happen how often.

            Take this line of argument far enough and you get to the anarchist/minarchist debate. The question is not whether there are things governments can do that should be done but whether having a government results in net benefits or losses.

          • Deiseach says:

            I concede that there is a certain poetic justice to Berkeley being forced to live up to its own stated principles.

            Well, that’s my main angle on this: Berkeley is very big on talking the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk – people like to do nice things as long as it doesn’t cost them. When you’re being tested on what will your principles cost you, do you walk away or do you take the hit?

            So Berkeley saying it can’t do this and will take down its material makes me think that they like the aura of being progressive, but won’t put themselves to the inconvenience that living up to those principles actually means.

            That may tie in to Ethical Altruism, in a way; at least – I will grant them that much – the people involved are looking at costs and benefits and the most effective and efficient way, and are willing to pay the price to support their principles. I do have some disagreements with the way they judge “what is the best?” but I yield to them that they are (so far) putting their money where their mouths are.

            Berkeley isn’t. You can rightfully argue that they are not obligated to put any of this stuff out there for anyone at all, or not for free, and that they have the right to take it down if they so wish. And I agree with all that. But where I don’t agree is the attitude that “those less able are taking our stuff away from the able-bodied!” The people who got the advantage of the free online lectures were no more entitled to them than the deaf or vision impaired; this notion that “this was ours and now we’re losing it because somebody made a fuss” is a troubling one because it’s putting differently disadvantaged groups against one another, when we should all be pulling together to make life easier for everyone – and that means everyone, not “can manage without accommodations so far”.

            When some of you get older and start needing glasses or can’t hear so well or the contrast on that screen is looking fuzzy to you, are you going to be willing to drop out of participating in society one way or another, in small or bigger ways, because too bad for you granddad if you can’t keep up any more, I can walk up those steps/read that small print just fine, and your requirements are a burden on me?

          • Iain says:

            1. Does this particular regulation produce net benefits?

            2. Do the institutions that produce the particular regulation produce a set of regulations that produce net benefits?

            This is a very reasonable set of questions, although my answers to them would land us somewhere in the vicinity of the modern liberal democratic state, and I suspect that your government would end up much smaller. I do agree that they are the right questions to ask.

            Dietary recommendations are a weird example, though. First, the margarine issue seems more like a problem with the scientific community than the government, although I admit that I am not an expert on the area. Second, given that we’re going to be getting dietary recommendations from somewhere, the government seems like our best hope of getting a unbiased summary of the most recent scientific information. There may be cases of regulatory capture (like the inclusion of “dairy” in the classic food pyramid), but in the absence of government advice it’s not like the dairy industry wouldn’t be free to make its own uncontested recommendations.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman

            1. Does this particular regulation produce net benefits?

            2. Do the institutions that produce the particular regulation produce a set of regulations that produce net benefits?

            This is a very reasonable set of questions, although my answers to them would land us somewhere in the vicinity of the modern liberal democratic state, and I suspect that your government would end up much smaller. I do agree that they are the correct questions to ask.

            Dietary recommendations are a weird example, though. First, the margarine issue seems more like a problem with the scientific community than the government, although I admit that I am not an expert on the area. Second, given that we’re going to be getting dietary recommendations from somewhere, the government seems like our best hope of getting a unbiased summary of the most recent scientific information. There may be cases of regulatory capture (like the inclusion of “dairy” in the classic food pyramid), but in the absence of government advice it’s not like the dairy industry wouldn’t be free to make its own uncontested recommendations.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman

            1. Does this particular regulation produce net benefits?

            2. Do the institutions that produce the particular regulation produce a set of regulations that produce net benefits?

            Sure. I think those are good questions. I suspect we would tend to disagree on the answers, but I agree that they are the right grounds for debate.

            I do think the dietary recommendations example is weird. First, my impression is that the blame for the margarine failure falls much more on the scientific community than the government, although I freely admit that I am no expert in the area. Second, despite its failings, I’m hard-pressed to think of another actor that would do a better job of dietary recommendations than the government. Yes, it’s possible that we end up with regulatory capture (like the inclusion of “dairy” in the food pyramid) – but if the government doesn’t publish any guidelines, it’s not like the dairy industry can’t publish its own now-uncountered press releases.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            I am absolutely down for critical analysis of the costs and benefits of various forms of regulation. I’m just not convinced that cost-benefit analysis is what we’re all doing here.

            I am not doing that. What I was doing is a meta-debate: arguing that the proponents of these regulations are debating in the wrong way (by not doing proper cost/benefit analysis, but instead using shaming to bully people into submission).

            When the debate is done this way, you can’t actually distinguish the useful regulation from the bad regulation, because the proponents are not making a rational case.

            Instead, all we have is (largely unsupported) speculation that maybe the cost is too high.

            Isn’t the burden on people who propose such regulation to make the case for it, rather than demanding that skeptics prove that it isn’t?

            The latter seems extremely unfair and unworkable (given that skeptics don’t necessarily want to spend their time and money on disproving every idiot with a plan; and that it incentivizes the proponents to make their plans hard to test).

            Specifically, I think the anti-regulation discussion in this thread has largely tended to ignore the upside of accessibility regulation.

            I’m not actually anti-regulation. I’m anti-‘get regulation by using bullying tactics, rather than rational analysis.’

            If I became dictator, I would regulate quite a bit, but only after analyzing the actual effects through experiments and such…and only after honestly examining the downsides as well as the upsides; and accepting the former rationally.

            @Daeeach

            So Berkeley saying it can’t do this and will take down its material makes me think that they like the aura of being progressive, but won’t put themselves to the inconvenience that living up to those principles actually means.

            I think that it is human nature to be much more eager to have the rules apply to others, but not want the rules to apply to oneself.

            This is not limited to progressives. The number of ‘pro-lifers’ who get an abortion is not insignificant, for example.

            When some of you get older and start needing glasses or can’t hear so well or the contrast on that screen is looking fuzzy to you, are you going to be willing to drop out of participating in society one way or another, in small or bigger ways, because too bad for you granddad if you can’t keep up any more, I can walk up those steps/read that small print just fine, and your requirements are a burden on me?

            I’ve needed glasses for most of my life and yet never expected people to adapt so I don’t need glasses. I would be absurd to demand that, since it would require everything to be printed with 1 foot high characters.

            I am visually handicapped and it burdens me, but there is no reason why it is fair for me to transfer that burden to others, when I can manage myself. Of course, some things cannot be managed so easily and work out much better if society adapts somewhat. But then the burden is on the proponents of those adaptations to make a solid case.

            AFAIK, this case was never made for captioning. And again, it is not the responsibility of skeptics to do a solid cost/benefit analysis, but for the proponents. ‘My life is so sad so help me’ is not such an analysis, but emotional manipulation.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman

            1. Does this particular regulation produce net benefits?

            2. Do the institutions that produce the particular regulation produce a set of regulations that produce net benefits?

            I think these are good questions. I suspect we would frequently disagree on the answers, but I agree that they are the right questions to ask.

            @Aapje:

            Isn’t the burden on people who propose such regulation to make the case for it, rather than demanding that skeptics prove that it isn’t?
            […]
            AFAIK, this case was never made for captioning. And again, it is not the responsibility of skeptics to do a solid cost/benefit analysis, but for the proponents. ‘My life is so sad so help me’ is not such an analysis, but emotional manipulation.

            This doesn’t seem like an accurate description of the situation to me, whether it is referring to this conversation or to the actual process of adopting the regulations. In terms of this conversation, my impression is that the preponderance of people actually looking up numbers and facts have been on the pro-regulation side. Deiseach was the one who actually researched the cost of compliance, and demonstrated it to be low enough that the cost of closed captioning an hour of video is an order of magnitude smaller than the cost of paying a professor to stand in front of a camera for that hour, even ignoring the time it takes the professor lto prepare. I am a little bit baffled at how you can accuse us of not presenting a rational case.

            If you’re talking about the regulations themselves: it seems prima facie unlikely to me that these regulations were adopted without doing any cost-benefit analysis, and your accusation that nobody sat down and researched the cost of compliance before imposing the regulations is completely unsubstantiated. If this were a ridiculous and unworkable scheme, then surely we would have more examples of its failure than one university that is somehow less able to comply than all of its peers.

          • Iain says:

            I’ve tried replying to David’s post four or five times, and it keeps not posting. I suspect that I am triggering some sort of word filter. Staying brief, then, to avoid filtering:

            @David Friedman:
            I think those are good questions. I suspect our answers would differ significantly, but I agree that they are the correct questions to be asking.

            @Aapje:
            I don’t know whether you are accusing the people in this thread or the people who crafted the regulations of substituting emotional manipulation for actual reasoning, but in either case I think it is an unfair accusation. In the former, it looks to me like most of the facts and numbers in this discussion have been introduced by the pro-regulation side. In particular, Deiseach hunted down the actual cost of closed captioning (which is, I think it’s worth pointing out, at least one order of magnitude cheaper per hour than the salary of the professor being filmed). If you’re talking about the regulators themselves, then you’ve provided no evidence for that. Given that the only example of a problem that has been presented is a single university that somehow can’t manage to meet the same obligations as its peers, I think the regulation is doing fairly well for itself.

          • “cheaper per hour than the salary of the professor being filmed”

            I don’t know about the Berkeley material, but videos of my classes and lectures don’t cost any of my time. I’m teaching the class or giving the talk to a live audience and someone is recording it.

            If you are imagining (for all I know correctly in the Berkeley case) a professor giving a lecture specifically for the purpose of being filmed, then the natural question is how the cost per user for the basic video compares to the additional cost per additional user for adapting it in various ways. If the cost of adapting it is only a tenth the cost of producing it but adapting it only increases the number of viewers by one percent, the relevant measure of cost is higher for the latter.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Iain

            Nobody in this thread has proposed an alternative mechanism for obtaining those benefits.

            Outside charitable organizations can offer to work with and financially support the universities to make their free content more accessible. If this is an important issue to you, you could donate or start such an organization yourself.

          • Iain says:

            The video lectures in the MOOC courses I’ve seen all appeared to be recorded specifically for the course itself. If I had to guess, I would say that the EdX videos were purpose-recorded, and the YouTube/iTunes videos were recordings of lectures that were happening anyway.

            Assorted math quibbles: My one order of magnitude was based on Deiseach’s $3/hour quote, and an assumption that most lecturers make at least $30/hour. If you look at her link, it is an argument from the $3/hour people arguing why you should hire them and not the $1/hour people, implying that there is downward pressure on the cost of closed captioning. I’m also not counting any of the prep time for the professor, or the other fixed costs of producing the video. My hasty search indicates that 15% of American adults are deaf or hard of hearing, although obviously that is heavily skewed by the elderly. As I mentioned earlier, there are benefits of closed captioning that accrue to non-deaf people as well. Furthermore, deaf people are less capable of substituting in-person lectures for closed captioned video lectures, so the marginal benefit they derive from video lectures will be higher.

            Anyways: we could go back and forth about the exact metrics to use, but at the end of the day, I think the proof is in the pudding: the costs of accessibility haven’t proven to be too onerous to anybody except Berkeley, and it seems to have created a pretty significant body of accessible material.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Iain, the quoted price is $3/minute, not $3/hour.

          • Iain says:

            Oops! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

            Yeah, that does kind of shift the numbers.

        • Can I still be anonymous? says:

          I hate video and can’t learn through it so I gave up on Coursera a while back.

          I came back to Coursera this year and found that the videos all have transcripts now. Was able to do the course I was interested in, in one work lunchtime a week.

          I don’t actually believe that UC Berkeley was too strapped for cash to get closed captioning done. Whatever budget they allocated for the courses and videos, they could have allocated an extra 1% of that for captioning. If that 1% of the budget really made the marginal difference between not offering the courses and offering the courses, then they could have redistributed the budget to make slightly fewer courses and made the rest accessible.

          They didn’t plan for accessibility and they’re being penalised for that. Seems completely reasonable to me.

          • IrishDude says:

            They didn’t plan for accessibility and they’re being penalised for that. Seems completely reasonable to me.

            …and the non-disabled (and many disabled) that were previously able to access free education from a quality institution are being penalized as well. Seems completely unreasonable to me.

        • Deiseach says:

          Speakers can ramble and hem and haw and change directions mid-sentence or whatever and not have to worry about grammar or paragraph structure or, you know, generally conveying information in a means that benefits the consumer

          For precisely these reasons I find video tutorials etc. nearly useless, and I have no vision/hearing/processing disorders to worry about. I find myself skipping through large blocks of the presentation to find the couple of pertinent points, and if something does not have a transcript (as many online interviews do not), then I will not waste my time watching it.

          It’s amazing how out of a 30-45 minute video presentation, once you’ve skipped past the “yeah, well, okay now, I’m going to talk to you a bit about Thing but first I want to tell you this boring and irrelevant anecdote” parts, how little actual content there is: sometimes 5-10 minutes worth of actual information.

          I learn more easily and retain information better from written, rather than verbal, sources.

          This is especially good to automate compliance if people are required to have been exposed to certain information

          That’s probably the main reason for them in work situations: it doesn’t matter if you had the sound muted and never watched the thing, we showed you the training video as required by HR so that’s our liability covered.

          • “I learn more easily and retain information better from written, rather than verbal, sources.”

            So do I, but we seem to be in the minority. This is connected with my long standing puzzle about why the mass lecture survived the invention of the printing press.

            Many years ago, when I finished writing my price theory text, I tried teaching according to your and my approach. I told the students “read the chapter for this week. Come in to class and ask me any questions you have about it. When nobody has any more questions the class is over.”

            It seemed the obvious thing to do but the students didn’t like it so I switched back to a more conventional approach.

          • Aapje says:

            @David

            It seems that there are different learning styles and pure text book learning only work for people with one learning style.

            But even for those people, mass lectures provide the benefit of forcing a certain pacing through the material on people. A lot of people optimize their time to their immediate desires & demands placed upon them (what is often called being lazy) and need that.

            Your request to the students to come up with questions doesn’t actually enforce engagement, since they probably don’t have any questions without reading the chapter, so there is an incentive to not read it. You were basically demanding them to create work for themselves, which doesn’t work very well with human psychology.

          • Deiseach says:

            Many years ago, when I finished writing my price theory text, I tried teaching according to your and my approach.

            Oh, I got into trouble with one particular lecturer in class when I did my usual thing of writing down a précis of her remarks as she was making them (because there was no way I was going to remember what she was talking about unless I wrote it down).

            I have no idea what she thought I was doing – writing letters? doodling? skiving off in some way? But she stopped the lecture and called me up to explain what I was doing.

            So I have a tiny bit of a grudge against the “hey, a talk is way cooler and more fun than boring old texts and reading stuff!” methods ever since 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            Oh, I got into trouble with one particular lecturer in class when I did my usual thing of writing down a précis of her remarks as she was making them

            Interestingly, my learning style is that I cannot engage with complex material while making (extensive) notes. I did resort to that in one class and it was an indication that I could not follow the material (it worked out all right, in the end).

            But it was very common for some students to do that and it seems strange that a teacher would call that out. Could she have been new to teaching? Or perhaps you write in a way that looks weird from a distance? 🙂

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            @Deiseach

            Did I understood correctly? She called you out for taking notes?

            Mind-boggling. My professors complain, in a very “youth these days” way, that students don’t anymore take notes in the class, just sit there listening.

            @others

            Unless the lecturer by some mystic magic manages to hit just right my sweet spot for engagement, I do need to write down something or my thoughts start to wander, either because stuff is boringly simple or because it’s so hard that I don’t understand enough.

            The notes don’t usually make much sense for anyone else, and not even to me a couple of days after the class, so I throw them away. Except when it was the case of “too difficult”, then I try to use them as a support when studying from the books.

            Now, I don’t learn much from the lectures either (when the material is too difficult, I could presumably benefit from the lecturer by asking questions, but I never can come up with any other questions than “WHY” “HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE” on the spot), and usually prefer the books for this reason, but “lectures and compulsory weekly exercises” is a major motivator to actually study the material on some schedule.

            However, there is this one thing I’d wish teachers would experiment a little, if the class size permits it feasibly done: “Next week we will be covering the chapters X, Y and Z. Please read the material beforehand: you are required to email me at least one question about it (this can be detailed question about something you didn’t understand, or a simple request to cover some particular point more in detail).” I had one lecturer who did this, and liked it very much. In my experience, only very talented people can come up with the kind of useful and illuminating questions that benefit whole class during the lecture; mediocre ones like me need a bit more time to see what they exactly did not get and what they actually want explained.

        • “1) Video is cheaper (in terms of wage cost / time) to make. Speakers can ramble and hem and haw and change directions mid-sentence or whatever and not have to worry about grammar or paragraph structure or, you know, generally conveying information in a means that benefits the consumer (which takes additional time and effort).”

          I both write books and teach courses. Converting two days worth of classes into a book chapter is quite a lot of work. Reciting the chapter would convey information less effectively than teaching the class in the usual way, not more–written and spoken English are different.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “This is like the joke about the economist and the $20 bill, in that it basically ignores empirical reality where discrimination of various forms was ridiculously widespread (see most of U.S. history).”

      In the future, recommend you read articles before commenting on them.

      The article points out that this was maintained only by various laws which banned companies from hiring minorities at lower prices.

      • Zombielicious says:

        I did read it. It’s how I was able to quote parts of it. I didn’t bother following all of the links given.

        My point was that it’s going from a reasonable assertion – arbitrary discrimination makes hiring uncompetitive – to the broader assertions of markets never discriminating and if they do it’s justified because of traits of the population being discriminated against (and now even that discrimination in hiring is only maintained by government laws).

        Maybe I’m just too dumb to see it, but if I say “I don’t hire black people because I think they’re statistically lower average IQ,” or “they’re more likely to steal,” that still seems like discrimination. As opposed to saying, “I tested this potential hire and didn’t hire them because they did poorly on the test.” You can maybe see where this defense made me eyeroll, especially when the perceived implication is “markets don’t allow discrimination, that’s government’s fault, and if someone does discriminate it’s because the group probably deserved it.” The comparison to college degrees seems apt – we rejected you because you didn’t have the right degree, even though we could have tested you, but that might have cost us a little extra money, so it’s easier just to reject everyone who didn’t go to Stanford.

        That’s without even getting into discrimination due to market demand, like not hiring certain types for front-facing positions. These days it seems to be mostly (hopefully) limited to people with weird (i.e. foreign or ethnic) names or bad teeth, but it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t prevalent during Jim Crow and such. Or the other type where the “statistical” discrimination isn’t based on careful calculations of the latest social science research and its implications for long-term hiring costs, but just some manager or HR person going “lazy good-for-nothings, try not to hire ’em.”

        This defense aside though, I’ll take the hint and also refrain from commenting in the future. I don’t really want to stir up trouble here, and that seems to be the direction things are headed.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Zombielicious:

          Frankly, I would prefer that you stick around.

          I really don’t see why your posting would or should actually “cause trouble”. Your comments have added to the conversation.

          Scott’s statement here is one datapoint, not a ban-hammer.

        • Aapje says:

          @Zombielicious

          Maybe I’m just too dumb to see it, but if I say “I don’t hire black people because I think they’re statistically lower average IQ,” or “they’re more likely to steal,” that still seems like discrimination. As opposed to saying, “I tested this potential hire and didn’t hire them because they did poorly on the test.”

          An issue is that the testing can be very costly. So from the employers’ perspective, it can be economically rational to discriminate if a stereotype is true often enough. Then the result is a smaller pool of potential candidates, but with higher average quality.

          A solution to this isn’t necessarily the banning of this practice, which just incentivizes companies to do it covertly, but you can also try to make the stereotype less true or (if there is a perception-truth mismatch), educate employers that their stereotypes are less true than they assume.

          The comparison to college degrees seems apt – we rejected you because you didn’t have the right degree, even though we could have tested you, but that might have cost us a little extra money, so it’s easier just to reject everyone who didn’t go to Stanford.

          I would argue that the degree is a test. All testing is imperfect. There are pretty much always going to be people who fail the test who would make good employees and vice versa. I don’t see why you consider an imperfect test done by the company to be valid, but depending on external testing by a university to be wrong. I see these on a continuum.

          I would also argue that a Stanford degree is a multi-year test, which makes it fairly high-quality. A similarly extensive test by an employer would not just cost ‘a little extra money,’ but would be really expensive.

          These days it seems to be mostly (hopefully) limited to people with weird (i.e. foreign or ethnic) names or bad teeth

          I would argue that a major reason for this is actually that people want to hire people that are not lower class. Bad teeth are a lower class indicator and many names that are called ‘ethnic’ are actually lower class signifiers within an ethnic group.

          Michelle Obama and her daughters are (considered) black, yet their first names are not those that I would expect to result in name-based discrimination, unlike lower class black (or white) names.

        • keranih says:

          “I tested this potential hire and didn’t hire them because they did poorly on the test.”

          But the test doesn’t say if the employee actually smart – could be illiterate, or the test is a bad copy, or the answers were scored backwards, or the employee didn’t go to the testing room. All these are possible reasons for the result (“Applicant is smart?: NO”) to be incorrect. We do recognize, though, that the test offers objective evidence of “smart” that trends very well with the employer’s actual experience of how “smart” candidates do as employees. So because of the high correlation between the test result and actual performance, the time & money invested in testing is a good trade-off.

          The objection to using race as a test for “smart” should be, imo, sourced from two errors: either race doesn’t track at all with “smart”, or race doesn’t track well with smart – or, at least, doesn’t track well once the time & effort of determining race has been spent.

          Whether or not race tracks with “smart” is pretty well established in this country – there’s a persistent difference in test scores and job performance across groups.

          And, unfortunately, the effort for determining race is pretty minimal. For a test as simple and easy as looking at a person’s skin, the correlation between race and “smart” doesn’t have to be all that high in order for it to be atleast somewhat useful.

          The arguement from the market side is that the “what race” test for “smart” is crude enough to lead to rejecting large numbers of “smart” candidates, and accepting non-trivial numbers of “not-smart” candidates. This is a resource pool that advances in “smart” detection technology –

          – which would be more expensive than just looking at a person, but most things are –

          – could take advantage of. And those companies that did not innovate and adapt their candidate selection process slowly fell behind, because their labor force wasn’t as good.

          TL:DR – using the eyeball to determine who is smart vs using a paper IQ test is just as discriminatory, it’s just a lot more imprecise. So long as one is cool with the selection process being non-random, one is accepting discrimination. The push should be for more accurate & efficient discrimination that focuses on cheaply identifying mismatches between *true* candidate skills/ability and *true* job requirements. Hammering employeers for making accurate assessments of mismatches is bad. Letting the market hammer employers for making inaccurate assessments of mismatches is better.

          Assisting employee candidates in identifying job market opportunities and honing their skills to match those openings, even better.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            Being smart is actually merely one of the things that employers care about and not necessarily the most important. McDonalds merely needs their employees to be capable of following their procedures. Beyond that, extra intelligence may actually make employees perform worse in those jobs (or leave sooner).

            They probably care a lot more that people actually turn up for their shift, have decent people skills, etc, than being smart.

            It’s pretty clear that certain subcultures make much better employees for certain jobs. For example, in Europe, the native people who want to work for agricultural salaries tend to have much lower work ethic on average than Eastern Europeans. Somehow this discussion is often limited to race, when it is much broader. But the actual truth often disagrees with the tribalist dogma.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          On second look, you are right and I am wrong. I framed my reference in the link to carefully say that this was one factor, but the Adam Smith article, which I assume you’re referring to, did make it sound like the one and only thing. I’m sorry I was a jerk to you.

          You can refrain from commenting or not as you wish.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Thanks. I figured you were replying in part to what I’d added to Seth’s thread, which was poorly stated and unnecessary, and it probably gets annoying to put in years of work into making a good blog and get constantly criticized for favoring one side or another. So I didn’t really want to contribute to any of that. No hard feelings then, anyway.

        • By the way, testing of applicants by firms can be very dangerous legally in the US. If you can’t prove that your test directly measures skills needed for the position, then you could well be charged with discrimination against a protected class. The lawyers would just have to show that the test had a lower pass rate by some protected class, which is probably true for almost any test.

          About 15 years ago, I needed to hire an accountant for my firm. Since the job required manipulating thousands of line of data in an Excel workbook, I set up a test for all the applicants to take, to show that they could manipulate lots of data in an electronic spreadsheet. The HR Department said I couldn’t give the test, because it hadn’t been “validated,” and we could be accused of discrimination. They said I could send them down to the State Employment office to take one of their “validated” Excel tests. I declined when I looked at these tests, which asked questions about 10 lines or so of data.

          It is true that the HR Department was totally dumb, since my test was much more valid for the job than the one from the Employment office. Nevertheless, I am sure they were told by our legal counsel that they could not allow home-made tests because of the danger of lawsuits. I don’t think our legal counsel was incorrect in their judgment.

          It does seem to be true that any firm can require a college degree for jobs that clearly have no bearing on the job performed, but apparently the same rules don’t apply for education requirements as do for tests.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            the rules

            The law explicitly mentions testing together with degrees. And yet…

          • Chalid says:

            But in some parts of finance, it’s basically standard practice to interview with “brainteasers” that have no relevance to the job. e.g. the very first question in my very first post-graduation job interview was the camel crossing the desert problem, which has no direct relevance to any job anywhere.

            Everyone knows this is a standard thing to do (I’ve even been given written tests of this form, again given by very large well-known institutions), and everyone knows it’s effectively an IQ test. And also, in the end, everyone knows that the people who actually get these jobs are almost exclusively white and Asian, and mostly male too.

            So is something different about these jobs? or are banks in legal danger, again?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I am a Software Engineer, programmer, developer, what-have-you.

            One of our standard questions was a logic problem that would take 30 to 45 minutes to work through, despite being fairly simple.

            Most everyone got the problem wrong to begin with, which then allowed us to work with them to solve the problem. It was a very good proxy for “can you work to solve a coding problem in our team”.

            The one person who got the problem right off the bat didn’t get the job. Because when we went on to a second problem that he didn’t figure out immediately, it became really hard to work with him to understand how to get the right answer.

            So, while it certainly was some portion an IQ test, it was much more than that.

          • Anonymous says:

            So is something different about these jobs? or are banks in legal danger, again?

            My guess is that no one has caught up to them yet, and for some reason their employment lawyers haven’t shut down these tests. I can imagine the lawyers emphatically telling the finance folks not to do this, but the arrogant finance people thinking they know better. I am not a lawyer, but my guess is there will be a lawsuit about this some day.

          • Whoa! What happened? That Anonymous is me, I have no idea how it got posted like that. And it doesn’t give me the option to edit either.

            Edit: And the gravitar is slightly different too.

    • Chalid says:

      How hard is it to add closed captioning to videos? It seems like it would be very easy to do, and volunteers would also be readily willing to contribute, and it seemed like most of the MOOC sites already had some form of it (EdX and Coursera at least, iirc).

      Do note that the MOOCs in question are Berkeley courses *on EdX*. The vast majority of EdX, involving many many other universities, is compliant, so there’s something about Berkeley that’s setting it apart – perhaps budget, perhaps internal university politics.

      Also the DOJ has been telling Berkeley to get its act together on this for years. This did not come out of the blue.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Is the content on EdX compliant? How do you know?

        What do you mean by compliant? Do you mean compliant with the law or compliant to the standard that is required of public institutions, such as Berkeley? That DOJ has not complained about EdX is a sign that it is compliant with the law, but the law for free services from private institutions is much more lax. It does charge for some purposes, but I think that covers very little of its material.

        Have you compared the closed captions on Berkeley courses to those from other schools? Are they inferior?

        • Iain says:

          The DOJ letter answers some of these questions. In particular, some of Berkeley’s EdX videos lacked captions altogether, and the majority of Berkeley’s YouTube videos had automatically generated captions, which were frequently “inaccurate and incomplete”.

          Also: the DOJ has, in fact, gone after EdX. Last year, the DOJ and EdX reached a settlement requiring EdX to improve the accessibility of its website and provide assistance to universities in creating accessible content.

          • Deiseach says:

            the majority of Berkeley’s YouTube videos had automatically generated captions, which were frequently “inaccurate and incomplete”.

            Oh, that’s probably understating it; has anyone ever tried turning on Youtube automatic captioning when a foreign-language video with no subtitles is playing? Amazing fun but not one bit of resemblance with what is being spoken.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            OK, I forgot that the inadequate captions were automatically generated, so it’s not much of a judgement call, rather it’s real captions or nothing. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether EdX videos all have handmade captions. MIT and Harvard have been sued (not directly by the DOJ).

            I did not know that the DOJ had gone after EdX. The consent decree seems to say that DOJ claims that because EdX accepts any money at all, it cannot do anything inaccessible, but EdX disputes this. But this is about the website, which is necessary for people to do the paying things, so this does not address whether whether the DOJ would let them give away caption-less videos.

    • Virbie says:

      > It’s also making a big, unjustified leap from some examples of markets punishing discrimination to the conclusions “we can be pretty sure markets are picking only on the criteria we want them to use”

      I’m seeing this sentiment expressed multiple places in this post’s comments, and I don’t really understand it (note that I truncated the quote because I do somewhat agree with criticism of the latter statement). To me, it’s valuable information that entirely irrational discrimination like “I won’t hire Arabs because I hate them” is punished by markets and doesn’t stick around very well, and this does mean that markets are only optimizing for variables we want them to be optimizing for. This doesn’t let statistical discrimination off the hook: optimizing for the right variables doesn’t mean you’re doing so in the right way. The criticism of statistical discrimination on certain axes is that it’s too blunt and the collateral damage is too high. It’s still something of a societal ill that has second-order consequences, but it’s also a far, far broader problem than racism or sexism (e.g., credentialism or using one’s class-derived accent to assess their work quality), and a far trickier line to draw. In my moral framework at least, this approaches a collective-punishment: from the perspective of the applicant, he’s being reduced to his skin color and punished for the actions of those who share his skin color.

      I agree that the article as written does seem to be pretty nonchalant about statistical discrimination, but I feel like here of all places, people are comfortable with absorbing the useful (in this case, uncontroversially factual) parts of any given article without blindly buying in 100% to the perspective taken by the link. Scott’s blurb for that link doesn’t say anything about racism not being a real problem.

    • Urstoff says:

      There is a lot more to making a course accessible than just captioning videos.

      • brad says:

        I don’t know about video, but in the past I had to do work to make a fairly complicated website meet accessibility guidelines and it was a major pain in the neck.

        Consider one of Scott’s graph heavy posts, this one for example, how long would it take you to write up descriptions for each of those images that would be considered an equivalent substitute?

        Navigation and layout constitute another major pain point. You need to essentially design a parallel UI and embed special tags throughout your website to so that a screen reader reads the site in a comprehensible order and can make navigation through it possible. Of course if your site looks like something out of the pre-tables era (never mind css) than everything just works, but if you design a UI like that you’ll be out of a job.

        I’m ambivalent about whether we should or shouldn’t have these laws, but no one should fool themselves about the total cost across the economy of having them.

        • Urstoff says:

          Yep, there are lots of things that go into making a website accessible, and it can be a major pain if the design didn’t have accessibility in mind in the first place.

          I think good practice would be to design with the low-hanging fruit of accessibility in mind (proper headers for site navigation, alt text, video captioning, captioned hyperlinks, good color contrast), and stuff beyond that should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Isn’t the whole point of css that you could put the special tags for the screen readers and then do something pretty with it anyway?

          Pretty design is supposed to work independently from the content. Making a design friendly for the disabled will also make it easier to render (less likely that a browser bug will mess it up), easier to test (most test frameworks work similarly to screen readers) and easier to document (the special tags themselves add information about the intent of each part of the site)

          If your customers really would fire you for following best practices, maybe it’s a good thing that you were forced to follow them by regulations. Then you could say it wasn’t your fault that it took time and effort to do it properly.

          • brad says:

            I’m sorry but this is naïve nonsense. The dreams that are separation of presentation and content, progressive enhancement, the semantic web, and so on have never been achievable without sacrificing looks, functionality, time / cost to market, performance, and generally all of the above.

            These “best practices” are promulgated by people that have never built anything non-trivial. Go look at amazon.com, apple.com, or news.google.com. Those are actual best practices.

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            @brad

            However, your regular MOOC does not need to be a very complicated website. Certainly nothing that the level of amazon webpage.

            The main difficulty would be “adequate text replacements” for graphics and plots, in many cases, I have no idea how that could be done.

    • grendelkhan says:

      How hard is it to add closed captioning to videos? It seems like it would be very easy to do, and volunteers would also be readily willing to contribute, and it seemed like most of the MOOC sites already had some form of it (EdX and Coursera at least, iirc). I also wonder what qualifies as “closed captioning?” A speech-to-text converter plus a button to notify an admin of errors?

      It’s not hard, and it costs very little (mainly the cost of reviewing someone else’s work). YouTube lets you crowdsource it. If the channel owner enables that, that is.

      I know it’s fun to get really worked up about the costs of accessibility (like that thing about any building you renovate needing to be brought into full ADA compliance, so no one renovates anything), but maybe just this once we can do an end run around all that and just fix the problem?

  70. Ann Nonny Mousse says:

    Federal government tells Berkeley they may not offer free online video courses, because they are discriminatory against deaf people who cannot h