SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 81.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

899 Responses to Open Thread 81.25

  1. INH5 says:

    I think this bit of data in Scott’s recent post deserves a lot more attention in the gender and tech debate:

    Galpin investigated the percent of women in computer classes all around the world. Her number of 26% for the US is slightly higher than I usually hear, probably because it’s older (the percent women in computing has actually gone down over time!). The least sexist countries I can think of – Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, etc – all have somewhere around the same number (30%, 20%, and 24%, respectively). The most sexist countries do extremely well on this metric! The highest numbers on the chart are all from non-Western, non-First-World countries that do middling-to-poor on the Gender Development Index: Thailand with 55%, Guyana with 54%, Malaysia with 51%, Iran with 41%, Zimbabwe with 41%, and Mexico with 39%. Needless to say, Zimbabwe is not exactly famous for its deep commitment to gender equality.

    The most important thing to take away from this is that the tech gender gap is not at all a cultural universal. This would seem to be fairly strong evidence against the traditional positions of both sides of the debate. Such large cultural variance is evidence against a primary biological cause, but the fact that cultures that are more sexist than the West by pretty much every measure have a greater representation of women in technical fields suggests that the problem isn’t a lack of feminism either.

    The only other explanation I can think of besides cultural factors is level of economic development, IE Scott’s Survive/Thrive theory of politics. However, the United Arab Emirates is quite prosperous (for its citizens), yet they apparently have close to gender parity in college students pursuing technical degrees. Furthermore, when UAE women in tech were interviewed in this video, many of them said that they were interested in the field because they feel that it fits well with traditional gender roles. The most common reason was that the flexibility made it easier to fit into family life, but one women even said, “I think it fits with the female nature.”

    The usual response of the “biological cause” side of this debate to data like this has been along the lines of “more permissive cultures allow underlying biological differences to be expressed, therefore the gender balance in Western countries is due to biology but the different gender balance in other places is due to culture suppressing natural biological preferences.” I’m skeptical of this argument for two reasons. First, any comparison of this type is massively confounded by the fact that the “more permissive cultures” are pretty much all either in Western Europe or countries where the majority of the population is descended from Western Europeans, since even prosperous non-Western countries like Japan tend to have significantly different gender norms. Second, like all False Consciousness theories, it seems incredibly ethnocentric (for lack of a better word) to say that our preferences are valid while their preferences are invalid. In the absence of further evidence, I think we should give equal weight to an Arab women saying that tech jobs “fit with the female nature” as to a Western women saying that tech jobs are “boring.”

    My current position in this debate is to take a third option and say that the tech gender gap in the West is in large part due to cultural factors. Even a casual glance at history shows that culture can have a tremendous influence on gendered behavior. Less than 4 centuries ago the very macho King Louis XIV of France felt zero shame in dressing like this. In fact, high heels in particular were originally exclusively worn by aristocratic men, mainly for the purpose of increasing their apparent height relative to their social inferiors.

    Note that this does not necessarily contradict things like the CAH studies, because we already know that gender dysphoria/nonconformity frequently involves behaviors that clearly have no biological basis. See, for example, transmen getting dysphoric from wearing dresses and high heels. It may well be the case that gender identification is primarily biologically based, but behaviors associated with gender are partially influenced by social and cultural factors.

  2. Paul Crowley says:

    Anyone know anything about differences in intelligence distribution by gender in non-human animals, eg corvids? Someone must have investigated but my searches aren’t finding it 🙁

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Testing crows takes a lot of time per individual crow, and the tests are narrowly constructed.

      Not enough Ns to reach a determination, I’d bet.

    • Nornagest says:

      I doubt this would give you any useful information. Gender-specific selective pressures in oviparous animals are very different for obvious reasons, and I don’t think birds even have an XX/XY sex determination scheme.

  3. Douglas Knight says:

    Scott writes

    I looked into Harvey Mudd’s STEM admission numbers, and, sure enough, they admit 2.5x more women than men. So, yeah, it’s selection bias.

    I don’t blame them. All they have to do is cultivate a reputation as a place to go if you’re a woman interested in computer science, attract lots of female CS applicants, then make sure to admit all the CS-interested female applicants they get. In exchange, they get constant glowing praise from every newspaper in the country

    0. What are “STEM admission numbers”? Do they exist? Can you find them?

    1. It’s a moot point, since Harvey Mudd is all STEM.

    2. That number isn’t the proportion of admits, but relative rate of admission, depending on the base rate of applicants. You probably want the sex ratio of the actual students. Whatever this 2.5x number is, the MIT number is 2x, hardly different.

    3. Comparing their 45% male CS class to the national 84% is probably a mistake. Harvey Mudd is 55% male, while nationally STEM is higher than that. How did Harvey Mudd get girls into STEM? Well, that’s selection. But how did it get STEM girls into CS? That could be selection, but I doubt it.

    4. 55% is a little higher than MIT and probably doesn’t need explanation. But 10% is really much lower and does need explanation. They had a problem and they solved it. But their problem was probably not typical and they probably don’t have anything to teach other schools.

    • Charles F says:

      0. Rates of admissions for demographic groups. Yes. No. (I did find a number on the Princeton review that indicates the overall acceptance rate is 13%, not the 18% indicated by the link in the quote. I have no idea how to verify either number except by looking for more sources and picking the popularest one)

      2. I thought that was obviously what he meant, but in retrospect I can see that it might not be. The actual percentages are 54% male, 46% female, looks like.

      3. WRT selection for girls in CS. The Harvey Mudd admission FAQ says they don’t consider your intended major during the admissions process. It’s possible that’s a lie, or they just really like the sort of admission essay a computer scientist writes, but they say the parity in CS is not selected for.

      4. Not sure where the 10% number comes from.

  4. onyomi says:

    So I know Stossel (and maybe Reason in general) tends toward the sort of “oh, government, will you never learn *womp womp*” brand of libertarianism, but I thought this video on the 2-million dollar bathroom seemed relevant to our discussions of cost disease.

    I wonder if the things that make government projects take a ridiculously long time and cost an insane amount can probably hint at how cost disease arises more generally: in particular, it seems like there’s a thing whereby the procedure originally created to accomplish goal x starts to become an end in itself.

    • Matt M says:

      Hmmm, it’s an interesting piece, but I find a lot of his “explanations” insufficient.

      Diversity outreach, environmental impact, unions, etc. are all things the private sector often has to deal with as well, maybe not to the same extent as the government, but they aren’t like, totally immune. The “public outreach” stuff probably has merit, I dunno.

      One other point – it still absolutely amazes me that ANY government official is EVER willing to go on camera with Stossel. Are you totally unfamiliar with the guy’s work? You know how this is going to end, right? Republican Congressmen have a better chance on the Daily Show than mid-level bureaucrats have with Stossel…

    • Matt M says:

      So I know Stossel (and maybe Reason in general) tends toward the sort of “oh, government, will you never learn *womp womp*” brand of libertarianism

      Also just wanted to say this reminds me a lot of Tom Woods’ “what a bunch of jokers!” routine, which is one of my favorite explanations of the difference between basically pop-culture libertarians and serious ones.

  5. HFAMaximizer says:

    Is it possible to build a rational mass culture? A culture with only facts but not myths.

    I personally think we already have a reasonably rational community. Is it possible to build an entire society that believes in rationality? I can imagine no speech but child porn being banned in it. People can read Mein Kampf, Marxist books or ISIS magazines at any time. Kids are taught not to be offended by anything but let rationality take over. Articles from both traditionalists and radical feminists can be read and discussed at any time. Newspapers objectively analyze the latest articles from the Daily Stormer without any emotions. There is no social taboo on taking any position, including the idea that the universe needs to be destroyed. Only actions are punished but not speech or ideas. People can objectively say that David Duke got facts A, B, C, D, E and F wrong but still got G right, Baghdadi got facts U, V, W, X, Y and Z wrong but still got T right. Everyone is interested in science and philosophy. The Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe simply do not exist.

    That would be my dream world!

    • johan_larson says:

      It might be possible in a technical sense, but it’s probably a bad idea. Trying to build a purely rational culture from model 1.0 H. Sap. individuals is problematic because those individuals are very emotional. It’s like trying to build straight walls with curved bricks. You can do it, but you’ll either have to add a lot of mortar (making a mess) or cut big chunks off the bricks to make them kinda sorta fit (damaging the bricks). With bricks like that, it makes a lot more sense to build shapes that curve.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        I partly agree. That’s why we need transhumanism. Homo sapien 1.0 needs to be upgraded.

        I’m one of the few bricks that don’t curve a lot.

    • cassander says:

      You cannot have education without indoctrination. Even if you only teach fact, which facts you teach will shape worldview.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        I doubt it. The society has lots of incentives to keep humans irrational however true education for the benefit of students instead of the society can be done.

        Can we teach STEM and then other materials from a completely objective perspective? For example WWII is only about events. Why Axis lost the war should be objectively taught without painting them as being evil.

        Morality is achieved by having laws and enforcing them. If something evil can not be made technically impossible through technology it needs to be unprofitable enough that rational people won’t give it a try.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          But note that children are not taught that the Nazis were evil. They are merely taught about certain facts (like the final solution) and not taught about others (like the prominence of Jews in the Bolshevik movement that threatened Germany, and that the Ashkenazi brain is especially tricksy as shown by IQ tests).

          Note how my pro-Nazi rhetoric in the last paragraph made different facts appear salient, without any falsehoods.

          • Matt M says:

            But note that children are not taught that the Nazis were evil.

            I disagree with this.

            Imagine a high-schooler or college student asking the question, “But what if the Jews really were undermining the glorious reich?” and theorize how that goes.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog I see what you are saying.

            In my hypothetical society children also need to be taught facts about Ashkenazi Jewish overrepresentation in Nobel Prizes. Hence a rational and unbiased mind should come to the conclusion that Ashkenazi Jews are great and any attempt to harm them obstructs scientific development.

            Science is good. Ashkenazis are overrepresented in great scientists, hence Ashkenazis are good.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Matt M In my hypothetical society this question is allowed. All questions can be asked.

            By the way I’m strongly pro-Jewish because I really like Jewish rationalists, scientists and mathematicians.

        • cassander says:

          Can we teach STEM and then other materials from a completely objective perspective? For example WWII is only about events. Why Axis lost the war should be objectively taught without painting them as being evil.

          Should be, but can’t be. In teaching history from 1930-1950, how much time do you spend on the holocaust? the holodomor? Is the anschluss with austria a victory for democratic ideals over realpolitik or an insidious conquest of a free people by a dictator? Was Nuremberg justice or victor’s justice? You can’t talk about these things outside an ideological context.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            ^One thing we can do is to refuse to apply morals in history classes so that history does not degenerate into applied national ideology.

            Anschluss is simply what it was, Germany annexing Austria. Nuremberg was simply a trial. The Holocaust and the Holodomor both happened and there exists evidence to show that they were real.

            From an individualist perspective instead of moral questions, here are some questions I would ask:
            1.If you were a young Jewish person in Vienna in 1938, what would you do to save your life and properties? If you would like to leave Austria where would be your destination?
            2.If you were an ethnic German in Poland in 1938, what would you do to save your life and properties? Emigrate to Germany, stay in Poland or emigrate to somewhere else?

    • Anonymous says:

      Is it possible to build a rational mass culture?

      Yes.

      1. Gather some rationalists.
      2. Use rationality to consistently outbreed everyone non-rational.
      3. ???
      4. PROFIT!

      Should only take a few thousand years.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        How to ensure that 2 happens?

        • Anonymous says:

          I have no idea. I’m not sold on the concept that rationality is even good for anything, much less good for important stuff like reproduction.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          1.) Outlaw pensions for people with an IQ over one hundred and whatever.
          2.) Make children legally obliged to care for their parents in old age.
          3.) Hey presto, it’s now rational for smart people to have lots of children to care for them when they’re old.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            ^Probably not. There will also be robots.

            Furthermore it is a bad idea to have Confucianism-lite family structures because it harms creativity.

          • Anonymous says:

            Creativity is overrated.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous Not really. This is the main reason the West led the world for the past several hundred years.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Until the advent of the welfare state in the twentieth century it was common and expected for children to help care for their parents in their old age. I think the west in the nineteenth century would count as quite creative by any reasonable definition of the term.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HFAMaximizer

            Not really. This is the main reason the West led the world for the past several hundred years.

            I’d blame it on a number of things, mostly:
            a) good, trade-enabling geography,
            b) high intelligence (relative to competitors),
            c) good institutions (which we’re wrecking as we speak).

            Creativity I would put way down on the list of things important in world domination.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous You do know that the West isn’t better than Japan and South Korea when it comes to intelligence, right? However the West does not have extremely crazy forms of hierarchy.

            As for (a) and (c) I agree.

            Reaction people and traditionalists are in essence trying to replicate the mistake ancient Northeast Asians and Arabs made, namely making a society conformist.

            @Mr.X There were certainly some impairments. Both cultural conformism and sexual freedom are harmful to rationality and creativity. I’m against traditionalists for the first reason and liberals for the second.

          • Anonymous says:

            You do know that the West isn’t better than Japan and South Korea when it comes to intelligence, right? However the West does not have extremely crazy forms of hierarchy.

            I am aware. I am also aware that these folks were not Christendom’s competitors until the 19th century, for want of adequate power projection at those distances. And I’ll note how fast Japan shaped up after being made clear that they were weak. China took longer, but they also lifted themselves up.

            Reaction people and traditionalists are in essence trying to replicate the mistake ancient Northeast Asians and Arabs made, namely making a society conformist.

            Just about every society is conformist. The difference being, to what degree (which is genetically influenced), and what about. The West is currently conformist about egalitarian leftism.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous That’s why I hate almost all societies. All societies are anti-autistic.

        • HFAMaximizer says:

          I have a proposal. Let’s clone rational people en masse. Of course it has to be done legally.

          This is much better than any idea that relies on sexual reproduction.

          • Anonymous says:

            Step -1: Invent viable (none of that impefect, lossy copy shit), cheap (for the “mass” part) human cloning.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Leaving aside the obvious technical problem already raised by Anonymous, making everyone literally identical would harm creativity and maximizes conformity far more than the wide-spread adoption of Confucian family structures would.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @hlynkacg We don’t need to make everyone identical. Instead we just need to have several replicas of every participating rationalist.

          • Matt M says:

            making everyone literally identical harms creativity and maximizes conformity.

            Diversity is our str…. ok, I’ll shut up now!

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            I never believed that diversity is inherently strength. This is just another absurd irrational dogma, this time from the liberals.

            However I do believe cloning rationalists helps at least for a while before we can move on to transhumanism.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It doesn’t change the fact that you are working against your stated goal. How do you get from “conformity is bad” to “we must reduce the amount of mental and genetic variation in the population” ?

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, he(?) would hardly be the first to use “conformity” to mean “mass adherence to ideas I don’t like”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Everyone is interested in science and philosophy.

      Even in a purely factual world, you are cutting off a lot of human experience and taste. What about art? Plato and the poets comes to mind as your world – poetry is dangerous, irrational, non-factual and too good at swaying human minds, so we won’t have any of it about.

      I think you’d need to prune your humans like rosebushes to make them all fit into your garden, and I think you have a worrying enthusiasm to get out the secateurs. That conjoins very poorly with your “there are no taboos and everyone is free to entertain any idea at all and express it publicly”.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        I had to agree. I’m not interested in art and poetry. That’s for sure. Ornaments aren’t what I’m interested in.

        In my ideal world there is no taboo other than the taboo against irrationality.

        • Nornagest says:

          In my ideal world there is no taboo other than the taboo against irrationality.

          Lots of people say stuff like this, but what it actually means, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, is “I have come up with a wonderful theory which lumps everything I already didn’t like under the heading of ‘irrationality'”. Which doesn’t have any predictive power: to avoid being pissing them off, you can’t just say “oh, I’m not going to be irrational”, you need to have an exact model of what they like and don’t like, just like you’d need if they’d never come up with the theory in the first place. Substitute as needed for the root of all evil du jour.

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but your posts here haven’t yet convinced me otherwise.

  6. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been reading “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist who studies morality. He has some interesting things to say:
    – morality tends to be driven by non-rational “tastes”
    – the tastes are hardwired but incomplete, and elaborated on by culture and upbringing
    – the tastes exist because they tend to drive pro-survival behavior in individuals, and in particular, in groups
    – there are six tastes: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation
    – liberal western morality tends to lean hard on care/harm and fairness/cheating
    – conservative western morality relies on all six tastes more evenly

    He also talks about something he calls the “hive switch”, how we being social primates can switch over into very group-oriented behavior where we temporarily sort of lose track of ourselves as individuals. And this can be tremendously energizing, really a peak experience. There are various ways of flipping this switch; Haidt mentions military training, ecstatic religious ceremonies, drugs, and modern rave dances.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      From memory: being in a riot/mob can also flip the hive switch. I remember someone recounting that interviews of rioters found them saying that it was being like an animal or being like a god. This is probably not a complete list.

    • HFAMaximizer says:

      Interesting. Mob behaviors and groupthinking are dangerous.

      • cassander says:

        there are two types of groups acting as a body in nature. First you have herds, which are stupider and less capable of productive action than any individual members. Forming herds can be useful, but it’s always dangerous to the individual members and anything around them.

        Second, you have packs, which are smarter (or at least more broadly aware) than any single member. Unlike herds, packs can pursue objectives, adapt to changing circumstances, add up to more than the sum of their parts.

        Humans are capable of acting both like packs and herds, depending on circumstances. I think there’s an amazing book to be written in analyzing what triggers herd vs. pact instincts in humans.

    • Zephalinda says:

      I wonder, though, whether the different “moral taste profile” for liberal morality is really something natural to the moral system itself (or to the types of individuals who espouse it), or if it could just be a temporary side-effect of modern Western liberalism’s being an emergent vs. an established ideology. It’s hard to value authority when you’re not the ones in authority, for instance, and important to dismiss sanctity when establishing your platform would require a certain degree of iconoclasm.

      If the latter is true, we’d expect to see leftist morality incorporate more appeals to loyalty- based, authority-based or sanctity-based moral instincts as it loses its underdog status and becomes the mainstream/hegemonic moral system. (It seems as though in left-leaning spaces quite a lot of moral thinking about food, for instance, draws strongly on purity/sanctity norms, as does arguably the strong value for environmental pristineness in itself, independent of any purely practical benefits.)

      • johan_larson says:

        The place to test that would be places where liberals have been in charge for quite a while, such as the Scandinavian countries and maybe the Netherlands. If you’re right, left-wingers there should focus more on loyalty, authority and sanctity than liberals in the US do, since they are defending the status quo rather than trying to make big changes.

    • cassander says:

      since writing that book, haidt has largely reprised his thinking on liberal purity

      http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/03/haidt_responds.html

      This change is actually part of why I like Haidt so much. He’s a genuine scientist, in the best sense of the word, revising his opinion to fit new facts.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Pedantic nit-pick, but did you mean ‘reappraised’? ‘Reprised’ would mean that he quite literally hasn’t changed his tune 🙂

    • HFAMaximizer says:

      This probably explains my choices. I mostly only care about care/harm, liberty/oppresson and sanctity/degradation. I strongly support subvertion against authority if authority gets in the way of my ideals (sanctity). I don’t care about loyalty and fairness at all as long as the harm from betrayal and cheating is contained. To me betrayal and cheating are just things that can cause harm, not some separate forms of evil different from harm.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Can you go into detail about some of the things you consider sacred? Are they things currently under any kind of threat?

        Do you think your values put you closer to mainstream U.S. liberals, or mainstream U.S. conservatives?

        I’m surprised you don’t care about fairness in and of itself; I interpret it as making sure the rules are evenly applied, but that may not be what either you or Haidt has in mind.

  7. mtraven says:

    Question, does anybody know of existing web sites or projects that attempt to support rational
    or at least polite dialog across political divides? I’m sure I’ve stumbled across such things in the past. but my memory isn’t coming up with a name.

  8. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    (The following is just for fun, and anyone interested in seriously thinking about this has every right to be annoyed at me for decreasing signal:noise). I’ve come up with a (probably not original) just-so-story about women in academic disciplines which is more fun than Scott’s. Assume that the hunter-male gatherer-female division of labor goes way, way back, enough to explain styles of thought. Is it a coincidence that the heavily-female fields involve more intellectual “gathering”?

    Biology and history (relatively female) involve integrating tons of facts, each one of which is individually not very valuable. Physics and philosophy (relatively male) involve staking out a small model (choosing your elephant) and then completely understanding it (killing the elephant). Math is somewhere in the middle (due to the “rising tide” style). This matches my entirely innumerate impression of female representation in these fields.

    Prediction of the model: Women should be better represented in banks than in economics departments (in order to avoid apples-to-oranging, say “the top 10% of quants by income should include a greater proportion of women than the top 10% of economists by income).

    • rlms says:

      Cool story bro Interesting theory! I’m not sure about whether your prediction follows: confounding factors are that quants are more mathsy than academics, and industry is more aggressive (stereotypically male) than academia.

      My impression is that maths is more male-skewed than you think (I’m only going off data from my university though), and philosophy is more female. Some other subjects to consider are law, linguistics, psychology, and sociology (female-skewed), and computer science and engineering (male-skewed).

    • Deiseach says:

      Biology and history started out majority or nearly completely male, were heavily male for a long time, and only relatively recently became female-majority (and I’m not at all sure about history for that), so I have to disagree there. If biology had always been “female-dominated” (as the sniffiness about “pressed-flower gathering” indicates) then maybe your wild notion theory has a leg to stand on, but I think Linnaeus would go “Excuse me, when did I start wearing a smock and panniers?” 🙂

      • rlms says:

        I think the assumption is that extrinsic factors that pushed women away from academia were removed some point in the 20th century, leading to quick movement towards the “true” gender balance in law, medicine, history etc. but not much movement in maths, physics, economics etc.

        • Well... says:

          What about computer programming? It used to be almost exclusively female.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What about computer programming? It used to be almost exclusively female.

            Sure, when there were six programmers recruited during WWII.

          • Charles F says:

            (disclaimer: I wasn’t around, this is all third-hand, Edit: apparently also wrong)

            I think back when it was almost exclusively female, it was basically data entry that the higher status men didn’t want to do. The programmers weren’t so much problem solvers designing algorithms and eating the world or whatever programmers do now. They were taking tables of numbers related to aiming artillery and putting them into a machine.

          • skef says:

            They were taking tables of numbers related to aiming artillery and putting them into a machine.

            No, this isn’t accurate. A lot of the early hardware-level logic before programming languages were developed was arranged by women. And when software became an independent thing, there was a period without much separation between program and data, and women were doing both.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The original six women had been computing artillery tables with mechanical calculators before being recruited into the ENIAC project. They were called just “computers” then. The work for ENIAC was considerably more complex; they were called “operators”, but they were basically programming on the bare metal, and that’s reasonably literal; ENIAC took punched cards for input but was programmed with switches and wires. I believe the “operators” did both the programming and what would now be called “operating”, feeding in the data and collecting the output.

            I don’t know of any time after ENIAC that programming was female-dominated, but there’s not a lot of data on that until the late 1960s.

          • quaelegit says:

            I had the impression that until about 1980 a lot of programmers (as in program writers/designers) were women. The story I was told was that the hardware design and engineering was exclusively male/seen as “manly”, but writing programs for the hardware was often done by the engineers’ wives.

            I found some data on bachelor’s degress, and % women receiving CS bachelors peaked at ~35% at 1980 (shooting up from negligible in 1970), then dropped to just under 30% until the end of the dot com bubble, when it dropped to 15~20%. And it has stayed there since.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think it was ever exclusively female, or even that there was ever a female majority.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ada, Countess Lovelace, might like a word about mathematics representation 🙂

          The real story should have ended like this, but alas, ’twas not to be!

          • rlms says:

            She’s not really a great example of a great female mathematician, firstly because e.g Noether was more important, and secondly because she was arguably more of a computer scientist!

      • Incurian says:

        Biology and history started out majority or nearly completely male, were heavily male for a long time, and only relatively recently became female-majority (and I’m not at all sure about history for that), so I have to disagree there.

        Which sciences didn’t?

        • skef says:

          [insert home economics joke]

        • quaelegit says:

          History is a science now? 😛

          But more seriously, the historic public sphere/private sphere divide in gender roles means that pretty much any “science” older than a century pretty much HAD to be mostly men. At the individual level more women were learning about different plants and their medicinal uses and even applying that knowledge (I have no idea), but it’s not “science” like “botany” or “medicine” until someone can make a broad study of it and publish results… and that’s much more likely to be a man.

          Anyways some data: Wikipedia’s “List of people considered father or mother of a scientific field” contains only four women: Florence Nightingale in Modern Nursing, Emily Noether in Modern Algebra, Henrietta Leavitt in Physical Cosmology, and Marie Curie in Nuclear Physics…. and now that I’ve read that I realized this isn’t addressing male/female split, but “founders”… woops. anyways it was fun.

        • Deiseach says:

          Which sciences didn’t?

          Obstetrics! When guys started getting involved, they were called “man-midwives” before someone decided no, let’s Latin that up because we’re doctors and it’s beneath the dignity of the profession to have a name the ordinary person in the street can say and understand 🙂

          • The Nybbler says:

            Should have gone with “midweres”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Should have gone with “midweres”

            Or midhusbands.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            Or “criminally reckless killers.”

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Or midhusbands.

            Etymologically speaking, husband without the appropriate Norse suffix was originally* a gender-neutral term.

            And no reason to bring in a Norse term when the old anglo-saxon term will do. 🙂

            * – it became gendered in English as most marriages back in that day which used the term were male, land-tilling Norsemen** (husbands) marrying female anglo-saxons (wives).

            ** – where “men” is also originally a gender-neutral term.

    • quaelegit says:

      I think you’re model would also predict a higher share of women in experimental physics than theoretical physics. Not sure how to check that prediction.

      Your hunting/gathering divide reads to me as a divide of bad/good approaches to science. A good approach is data based (so “gathering” a bunch of data to interpret), vs. a motivated reasoning approach of having a pet hypothesis and “hunting” for data to support that hypothesis.

    • Brad says:

      In what universe is this manifesto going to advance google’s interests? How many man-hours have / are going to go into reading, thinking about, and participating in flame wars over this document?

      If ideological diversity means more massive wastes of resources like this, then why does anyone think it is going to lead to greater success?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Presumably the idea is that the Google that emerges from the controversy will be stronger in the long run, despite the short-term hit caused by the controversy. I personally doubt it, Google will just get rid of the author and crack down harder. Could get interesting if someone leaks some of the other documents, like the one endorsed by a VP about 53 ways men at Google suck…

        • James Miller says:

          This document will eventually get out if for no other reason then as part of discovery in a lawsuit alleging that Google has a hostile work environment.

        • Brad says:

          @The Nybbler
          You think so? You think the author thinks there’s any kind of non-negligible probability of the document leading to a stronger Google in the long run? Much less an overall positive expected value across the probability weighted outcome space?

          I think it’s far more like he never considered the question because he doesn’t care. Or at least cares about other things more.

          Google has every reason to get rid of the author. In the last few days or weeks he’s likely cost the company more than he could contribute in a lifetime of engineering.

        • The Nybbler says:

          You think so? You think the author thinks there’s any kind of non-negligible probability of the document leading to a stronger Google in the long run?

          I have no idea what the author thinks. Manifestos of this sort (though not with this particular political bent) were not exactly uncommon at Google when I was there.

          Your position seems to be that he should not have pointed out this perceived problem with Google culture because doing so makes waves. I suspect you would not apply this in a fully general way.

        • Brad says:

          I’m saying he shouldn’t have done something that was highly likely to incur significant costs to his employer with no corresponding benefit to the company.

          If a manifesto with a different political bent would have been far less likely to incur significant costs to his employer or would have offsetting benefits then it isn’t a similar situation.

          If some company is paying you four plus times the median household income, the least you can do is not to cost it untold millions of dollars in costs because you are a steely eyed realist who sees the world as it is and feel the need to wake the sheeple up.

          If the author thought this was EV positive for google that’s an independent reason to fire him — he’s so poorly calibrated that it is the equivalent of being delusional.

          • Matt M says:

            If some company is paying you four plus times the median household income, the least you can do is not to cost it untold millions of dollars in costs because you are a steely eyed realist who sees the world as it is and feel the need to wake the sheeple up.

            Who is costing it the millions? The guy who wrote it, or the SJW employees who immediately leaked it to the media and are publicly denouncing Google over it?

          • Brad says:

            Maybe he should use some of that steely eyed realism and high male variance IQ he is so proud of to make decent predictions about the consequences of his actions.

            Or maybe that would require predicting how people would react and so only woman brains can do it?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Or maybe that would require predicting how people would react and so only woman brains can do it?

            this is the kind of content i would like to see less of on ssc

            or at least, if I must see it, I should be able to talk mad shit to the person saying it. Of course that cheapens the discourse and lowers the quality of the comments section and so forth, but honestly I’ll take either

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            There seems to be some economically irrational drive in some people to speak up against the dominant political view, even if it gets them in trouble. See e.g. political prisoners in socialist countries, who were not all prisoners because of their heritage or arbitrary punishment. I assume from the inside it feels like altruism.

            Also, the document was “leaked”, so the author probably wrote it on some platform where he was given signals that making controversial political arguments was okay. If he were more of an empathizer instead of a systemizer, he would have been aware that the only controversial statement he was allowed to make was of the 50 Stalins variety.

          • Matt M says:

            Or maybe that would require predicting how people would react and so only woman brains can do it?

            A whole lot of the people re-tweeting, circulating, and loudly condemning Google for allowing this to happen are women.

            So, you know, apparently not.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There seems to be some economically irrational drive in some people to speak up against the dominant political view, even if it gets them in trouble.

            For some of us, it is emotionally tiring to day after day be denigrated for one’s skin color, sex/gender, and sexual preference, to be told you (as a group or as individuals) are responsible for all the troubles of the women and minorities in the world. That you achieved your current position only as a result of said skin color and gender and sexual preference. That various measures should be taken to penalize you for it, and you should simply accept these as your due and if you don’t you’re just suffering “privilege anxiety”. This provides the motivation to speak out. The trouble part… well, you can call it courage or you can call it quixoticism, but what a horrible world it would be if no one would ever dare speak if there were consequences to themselves.

          • Deiseach says:

            Maybe he should use some of that steely eyed realism and high male variance IQ he is so proud of to make decent predictions about the consequences of his actions.

            Yes, nobody should make waves at a successful and wealthy business by going against the prevailing orthodoxy. That might cost money, and money is the most important thing in the world!

            Even if that orthodoxy is “We don’t hire guys called ‘Brad’ because you know, graphological research has demonstrated they’re not really capable of the kind of work we want to do here, so it would only be wasting their time and ours to even give them an interview”.

            Remember this the next time anyone starts a discussion of an historical or political event and asks “But how could ordinary people just go along with this?” Because you don’t rock the boat, your actions will have consequences, everyone should continue buying shares because there will never be a stock market crash (before the big crash in my country, that was precisely the attitude of the government of the day: any economist or other person warning that the economy was overheating, things couldn’t keep going on like this, a bubble was forming and we were heading for a crash were told to shut up, their negative vibes were affecting confidence in the market).

            Anyone notice how the shape of the discourse around this is being formed? We’ve talked about confidence in the media and if various organs are neutral or on one side or another. Language shapes thought; by controlling the kinds of descriptive words used, you shape the views and opinions of the readers (thus groups and ideologies you favour are “moderates”, those on the other side are “extreme” or “fundmentalists”; your side provides facts and information, their side issues rants and screeds).

            This is being described all over the place as an “anti-diversity” manifesto, even though the author takes care in several places to assure the reader that he is not against diversity. You see? Already the view in the popular consciousness has been implanted, even before they ever read a word of what was actually written (if they even get to read it): this is Bad because it is anti-diversity and diversity is Good; moreover, diversity refers to race, so being anti-diversity means you are a racist, and Racism Is Bad.

            I certainly don’t agree with everything the guy wrote in his document and there are certainly debatable points (e.g. why are there more men in dirty dangerous jobs like coalminers? not simply because women don’t like or want to do hard physical labour, but because coalmining was also extremely well-paid – at a certain point – and women who wanted to get into the job – and there were women coalminers – were being kept out by the unionised men to retain it as a good-paying job for men only).

            However, that does not mean I don’t think there are also some reasonable points in what he said, or points that need to be addressed. Being determined to hang him as a racist sexist fundamentalist without the need to read what he wrote or respond to it with more than a dismissive tweet? Not good enough.

            And Brad, I would think better of you than to think your opinion really is that in all cases ‘keep your mouth shut and think of the money’ is the rule to live by.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            Do you think that Mandela was an idiot who should have shut up and that black people should have stayed oppressed under apartheid? That is the consequence if people don’t stand up against the dominant ideology.

            It’s rather amusing that you are defending the oppressors and condemning (actual) social justice. That’s why it’s called the regressive left.

            I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

            Martin Luther King, Jr.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Brad – “In what universe is this manifesto going to advance google’s interests? How many man-hours have / are going to go into reading, thinking about, and participating in flame wars over this document?”

        Remember back when the right-wing posters here were obsessed with Saint Eich? When none of this stuff had any relevance to the real world, and the only people who cared about it were the drama-junkies chasing their addiction? Everyone who wasn’t a mind-killed idiot could see that all this culture warring was just a tiny minority of college weirdos and shrill lifer activists with no relevance to the real world.

        Funny how quickly we got from there to arguing that expressing an opinion about corporate policy is an obvious threat to the company’s finances. The pace of modern life truly is dizzying.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m sure we can trust his ideological opponents to fairly and accurately summarize his argument in a rational and nuanced manner *eyeroll*

    • James Miller says:

      I liked this Hacker News exchange which I quote in part:

      throwaway2812: “I’ve read the doc. At first skim, I thought it was going to be a reasonable “stop the echochamber” style doc, that points out issues with over-loving diversity without thinking about the impact of it, and that decries the strong-left culture at Google that can be alienating to right-leaning employees. But in reality, dude went full /r/TheRedPill and The_Donald on this. I think the best description I heard of the doc was ‘right diagnosis, but overall lazy’.”

      pandaman: “Having observed the fall of the USSR it’s nothing unusual to me. When people are not comfortable with an oppressive regime they keep their moderate opinions to themselves. Voicing any opinion contrary to the Party line is dangerous no matter how extreme or moderate it is. So all dissenting opinions you are going to hear in public will be coming from extremists (e.g. “Have a Nuremberg-type tribunal for the Party’s chiefs, lustrate the rest and their progeny for 7 generations!”) because only the people who hold these opinions will be fed up enough to disregard consequences of their dissent. And there won’t be many of them, since it’s the definition of extremism to be in small minority.
      However, for every single dissident there were tens or hundreds of thousands of silent supporters who would openly express their disgust and outrage over such horrific person but, when talking with their buddies in private, repeat and spread these ideas thus radicalizing themselves. Eventually everybody but a minority of “true believers” shifted from “well, life kinda sucks right now but at least there is no war” to “burn it down and salt the earth!”. When this happened the whole mighty Communist empire collapsed within a year.
      tl;dr When you see steam breaking through the seals you are about to experience the whole boiler’s explosion. The steam that gets out first is weak but it’s the sign of mounting pressure inside.”

      • Anonymous says:

        >lustrate

        Confirmed as true post-commie.

      • BBA says:

        I don’t know, what about Communist China? They’ve also had their share of dissidents, and the regime is as strong as ever.

        • Protagoras says:

          I don’t disagree with your assessment of China’s regime, but I will note that outsider’s perceptions of the strength of a regime can be wildly wrong. Historically many regimes that appeared quite strong to outsiders (and even many insiders) have nonetheless managed to collapse quite quickly. I’m certainly not saying that will happen to China (if these things were easy to predict, we’d predict them more often!) but one shouldn’t ever be too absolute in one’s confidence that it won’t happen.

          • Matt M says:

            To carry the analogy further, we could use Tienamen Square as an example. That was plenty of steam, which did not, in fact, lead to a boiler explosion.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m certainly not an insider with respect to the Chinese government, but my impression is the older generation of Chinese, who remember the Cultural Revolution, are actually more skeptical of the current regime (in private), than the younger, which fact probably doesn’t bode too well for anyone hoping to see a major regime change in the near future.

            Thus far, the regime has done a pretty impressive job of allowing people to become rich while also convincing them, in school, especially, that it would be disastrous if they were allowed too many civil liberties all at once, but “we’re working on it.”

            Also, lots of nationalism, another factor I don’t think USSR managed to achieve (that is, a serious walking back of their prior denigration of traditional Russian culture and achieving an identification, in peoples’ minds, between the government and that culture, the Orthodox church, etc.), stirred up especially over mostly BS controversies like Diaoyu Island, Japanese war atrocity denialism, Taiwanese independence movement, etc.

      • The Element of Surprise says:

        Honestly, the document didn’t seem very extreme to me, and I feel I agree with most, possibly all, of it (while I myself would have elaborated a bit more at some points). The only reactions to it that I found are of the “this is obviously wrong and I won’t elaborate why” kind. Does anyone here know of good counterarguments being made somewhere?

        • Luke Somers says:

          If I were writing it, I would have completely left out any mention of I.Q. That was pure fail: even if true, that would be too provocative to publish in an environment like that.

          Heck, I might have backed off on the biological differences side of it and simply shone a light on the statistics at the college and high school levels, and suggested that the breakdown in the pipeline for women is well before they reach Google – that perhaps programs to encourage girls would be more productive than trying to force it straight at the last moment. Allow the opponents a line of retreat, and all that.

    • Deiseach says:

      The document said that improving racial and gender diversity is less important than making sure conservatives feel comfortable expressing themselves at work.

      Really? It actually said that in those words? Given that nobody is sharing the document because Google will sue them and their descendants unto the fourth and fifth generations, I’d like to see actual wording of real actual document before I grab my pitchfork and light the ol’ torch for the witch-burning.

      Google has every reason to get rid of the author. In the last few days or weeks he’s likely cost the company more than he could contribute in a lifetime of engineering.

      So are we saying he basically said “Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”? 😀

      And this is exactly why Scott turned off comments on his gender-disparity post. Why turn yourself into a target when the other side has its mind made up already about your evilness?

      EDIT: The sub-reddit has provided a link to the alleged document, going off to read it now. If it is “make me a sandwich” okay, I’ll throw some feathers in the pile for the tarring and feathering, but I have to read it first.

      EDIT TWO: Okay, read it. No “get me a sammich” moments, some that are a bit “yeah haven’t I seen this talking point about men being coalminers and firemen in dirty dangerous jobs?” before, some things which I’ve seen discussed on here (which makes us all guilty by association I suppose) and some stuff that I’m not surprised is making steam come out of some ears. I’d agree broadly with some points, disagree with others.

      And no, no “conservatives should be made comfy on silken pillows and fanned with peacock-feather flabella while women, minorities get slops and sleep in rags” wording anywhere.

      • Matt M says:

        I really like the sound/logic of “demoralize diversity” and agree with him that, as currently presented, diversity is a moral issue and thus disagreeing with it makes you a bad person, rather than “someone who disagrees about the cost/benefit analysis of policy X” – which stops the cost/benefit analysis from even happening.

      • Brad says:

        And this is exactly why Scott turned off comments on his gender-disparity post. Why turn yourself into a target when the other side has its mind made up already about your evilness?

        It isn’t a matter of evil. It’s a matter of good or bad for the company. If he cost tens of the thousands of work hours to be wasted in flamewars over his document, not to mention the time of PR flacks and lawyers and so on, then what I said is simply a fact. He would have cost google more in a week then he’ll make them in a lifetime. Why would any company keep someone like that around?

        • Matt M says:

          It seems to me that a lot of the damage has already been done. Flame wars won’t go away if they suddenly fire him (most likely they’ll intensify as he becomes a martyr). The PR damage might be minimized, then again, I doubt it (or whatever goodwill they gain from blue tribe for firing him will be offset in goodwill losses among red tribe).

          Firing him would also largely confirm his point. His main objection seems to be that there is an authoritarian attitude that prevents people from raising their concerns about significant societal issues. Instantly firing him would essentially confirm everything he says.

          • Brad says:

            They should fire him pour encourager les autres. Internal mailings are not the place for self actualization through compulsively sharing the “truth”.

            Firing him would also largely confirm his point. His main objection seems to be that there is an authoritarian attitude that prevents people from raising their concerns about significant societal issues. Instantly firing him would essentially confirm everything he says.

            It’s called work. Unless you are at zappos or that one game company it is supposed to have an authoritarian attitude and prevent people from raising their concerns about significant social issues.

            He should pursue his hobby on here or reddit like the rest of us. If he wants to do it full time he can quit and go work for a think tank or set up a blog and get a patreon.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s called work. Unless you are at zappos or that one game company it is supposed to have an authoritarian attitude and prevent people from raising their concerns about significant social issues.

            Concerns about significant social issues were (when I was there) raised _all the time_ on internal mailing lists at Google. Including the issue of diversity. Nobody gets upset except when the concerns don’t match the SJW line. At which point it’s not a no-politics/no-social-issue norm.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Diversity is incredibly important to us here at Hooli because it brings us a wide variety of perspectives regarding social concerns that employees are strictly forbidden to think or talk about on company time.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Concerns about significant social issues were (when I was there) raised _all the time_ on internal mailing lists at Google. Including the issue of diversity.

            If this is still the case then firing him for doing the same would be a litigatable issue (double standard).

          • Brad says:

            It turns out all that the labor movement needed to do to get support on the right for due process rights for jobs was publicize some right wingers being fired. Who knew?

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            Is equality of opportunity, rather than equality of outcome, right wing?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Aapje

            In an American context, absolutely.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, advocating for “equal opportunity” in the US gets you labeled a naive and ignorant pawn at best, and an active racist and misogynist at worst.

          • Aapje says:

            I guess that a lot of traditional lefties then magically became right wing.

          • Matt M says:

            Yep. That’s pretty much exactly right. And many of them are just now finding out, too.

            Like that dude from Evergreen, lol. He was a left-winger all his life, wakes up one day, says “maybe we shouldn’t ban white people from campus,” and now he’s a nazi!

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje

            Yes, pretty much. I recall at least one essay recounting how the author over the course of his life went from solidly left-wing to solidly right-wing without changing any of his core positions. Or look at just what happened to supporters of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” over the course of my life. There’s a reason we on the far Right talk about “Cthulhu swimming Left”, and complain about how what mainstream “Conservatives” fight to conserve is just the victories of the previous generation’s Left.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          If he cost tens of the thousands of work hours to be wasted in flamewars over his document

          If your employees are wasting work hours getting into flamewars over one guy’s opinion, then maybe you should enforce some discipline. As a very wise man once said:

          Unless you are at zappos or that one game company it is supposed to have an authoritarian attitude and prevent people from raising their concerns about significant social issues.

          Once you take that bit out, a couple PR flacks have to come out and condemn the statement, and maybe a lawyer does a bit of follow-up (not sure about what, but sure). That can’t be worth less than a month of work, tops.

          • Brad says:

            The guy with the three thousand word manifesto seems like a good place to start enforcing this mooted new policy on discipline.

            More seriously, which do you think is easier for a company to do: ban trolling internal mailing lists or ban responding to trolling? Why even try to do the latter if you can do the former?

          • Charles F says:

            More seriously, which do you think is easier for a company to do: ban trolling internal mailing lists or ban responding to trolling?

            Do you actually think this guy was a troll? It seems to me like he thinks there’s a problem with the company’s culture and he’s doing his best to point it out and suggest solutions. If they’re actually telling the truth when they say they value discourse and letting people feel safe expressing their viewpoints, punishing the original post which wasn’t flamey at all seems silly. They should collect their diversity team, rebut the points they can (which is probably all of them, or at least the ones that would affect policy) and send some sternly worded messages to people who were fanning any flame wars.

            ETA:

            Why even try to do the latter if you can do the former?

            I don’t see why anybody would want to choose only one. The policy should be “don’t be a troll and don’t feed the trolls.” Right? You shouldn’t post things you think are adding value and not post things that are inflammatory for the purpose of getting attention or eliciting some sort of shock or shame response, and “they did it first” shouldn’t be a defense.

          • Brad says:

            Do you actually think this guy was a troll?

            Is there any practical difference between “I get a thrill at outraged reactions” and “I need to authentically express my heterodox views, even when and where inappropriate”?

            I certainly think he believes what he says he believes about the underlying factual questions.

            I don’t see why anybody would want to choose only one. The policy should be “don’t be a troll and don’t feed the trolls.” Right? You shouldn’t post things you think are adding value and not post things that are inflammatory for the purpose of getting attention or eliciting some sort of shock or shame response, and “they did it first” shouldn’t be a defense.

            I’d say something to the most dedicated and over the top responders. Maybe some discipline too. But you aren’t going to stop people from feeding trolls. It’s impossible.

          • Nornagest says:

            Is there any practical difference between “I get a thrill at outraged reactions” and “I need to authentically express my heterodox views, even when and where inappropriate”?

            Isn’t this whole conversation precisely about when and where it’s appropriate? Yes, expressing views in an inappropriate venue is inappropriate, and tautological cat is tautological.

          • Charles F says:

            Is there any practical difference between “I get a thrill at outraged reactions” and “I need to authentically express my heterodox views, even when and where inappropriate[*]”?

            The second guy can try to tailor his delivery to try to fit the situation and make it less likely to set people off, maybe? Not sure if that amount of leeway is forbidden by “authentically.” Intentions probably don’t count as practical within a single incident, but the troll is probably going to have a pattern of not contributing valuable things, while the other guy might be earnest and contribute good things most of the time, but their attitude backfires in one particular scenario.

            I suppose punishing either group will discourage the other (depending on how strong that “need” is) so for the purposes of responding to this incident, whether he was trolling or not really only matters to my sense of fairness.

            *I still think Google seems to give every overt indication that it does like diverse viewpoints and wants to entertain them. And it’s up to the individual to realize that it’s a facade and their heterodox views are unwelcome.

          • Charles F says:

            Isn’t this whole conversation precisely about when and where it’s appropriate?

            I think this particular subtree was about what an appropriate strategy for Google would be. They get to decide whether it’s inappropriate due to the bad consequence of wasted time, appropriate due to a culture of openness to ideas, inappropriate due to not supporting their diversity-oriented culture, appropriate due to there not being a rule against it, inappropriate due to violating the rule they just created, or whatever they want.

            If it makes you feel better, substitute “[it’s] inappropriate” in that other quote with “it will have bad externalities” which I think it’s fair to say was really predictable, considering he was criticizing what he himself called “an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The guy with the three thousand word manifesto seems like a good place to start enforcing this mooted new policy on discipline.

            Yes, like I explained they will probably condemn the statement, which means they’ll also ask him to not make any more statements. Hopefully they’ll ask everyone else not to do similar stuff and everyone can get down to work!

            Or at least they’ll ask them to do it outside of work hours, which for all you know he did.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is there any practical difference between “I get a thrill at outraged reactions” and “I need to authentically express my heterodox views, even when and where inappropriate”?

            The former will tailor their expressions to cause maximum outrage, the latter may tailor his to minimize outrage while still getting the point across. Which of these do you think best describes the “Google Manifesto”.

            Also, the former will lie as necessary when their authentic views aren’t sufficiently outrageous or unorthodox. The latter will only cause outrage where his views dissent from orthodoxy.

            Finally, denouncing people as malevolent trolls if they should dare express an unorthodox opinion “when and where inappropriate”, gives an enormous amount of power to whoever gets to decide what constitutes “appropriate”, particularly when it is always appropriate to express orthodox opinions. Explain to me why I should be comfortable with this power imbalance.

          • Brad says:

            Explain to me why I should be comfortable with this power imbalance.

            Because in exchange for submitting to an authoritarian power imbalance you get a paycheck every other week. That’s how our economic system works.

          • John Schilling says:

            Because in exchange for submitting to an authoritarian power imbalance you get a paycheck every other week.

            I get a paycheck every week for making sure GPS works when you need it. My neighbor, who is unemployed, doesn’t get a paycheck at all. You would have us both subject to the power imbalance of having our defense attorneys, should we be accused of a crime, subject to a loss of status among their peers if they effectively defend us, while those charged with prosecuting us would have their status enhanced by their success. You would deprive us of our right to an attorney who is actually motivated to defend us, while leaving our prosecutors and/or persecutors with highly motivated legal staff.

            That’s how our economic system works.

            I don’t think this is an intrinisc feature of our economic system. If I am mistaken, when do you propose to start sending my unemployed neighbor a paycheck for “submitting to an authoritarian power imbalance”? How much of my paycheck can I expect to keep if I tolerate this imbalance but stop making sure your GPS works?

            Or do only the power imbalances that affect lawyers matter to you; their inadequately represented clients don’t count?

          • Brad says:

            Did you get your threads mixed up? This one has nothing to do with prosecutors or defense attorneys.

          • John Schilling says:

            Did you get your threads mixed up? This one has nothing to do with prosecutors or defense attorneys.

            Yes, I did. Embarassingly careless of me, and I apologize. Unfortunately it appears to be past the edit window.

        • Jiro says:

          If he cost tens of the thousands of work hours to be wasted in flamewars over his document

          That’s called a heckler’s veto.

          • Brad says:

            What’s your point? This is a private company trying to make money. Not a nation. Not a university. Not a debating society. Not a church.

            Does the magical expanding ad hoc free speech norm now protect workers pushing their views while on the clock?

          • Charles F says:

            Does the magical expanding ad hoc free speech norm now protect workers pushing their views while on the clock?

            If a company wants their workers to participate in internal communities and offer ideas for improving the company, under the assumption that taking full advantage of their employees’ diversity of viewpoints and experiences is going to lead to better outcomes overall, they might have an incentive to shut down hecklers’ vetoes. Sure, they’re not obligated to believe that, but their statements make it sound kind of like they do.

            Though just taking what you said and calling it a bad name isn’t a great argument without a bunch of built-in assumptions.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Brad, when you say:

          They should fire him pour encourager les autres…

          It’s called work…it is supposed to have an authoritarian attitude and prevent people from raising their concerns about significant social issues.

          And when someone points out that in fact raising social issues is the norm and part of daily business and culture at a company, and you follow with:

          If a manifesto with a different political bent would have been far less likely to incur significant costs to his employer or would have offsetting benefits then it isn’t a similar situation.

          I think a reasonable conclusion is that any and every time you have made statements in this blog’s comment section about the value of reticence and not sharing political viewpoints, you were not being sincere, but were rather arguing in the hopes that -specific- viewpoints would be reticent.

          • Brad says:

            If that’s what you get of all the comments I’ve written, then I don’t think we have anything further to say to each other.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s probably a handbook out there with the mouthful of a heading:

            “Using Selective Enforcement of Meta-Level Norms to Achieve Object-Level Aims”.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            You’ve first tried to argue for a content-neutral norm,

            “No Politics At Work”

            When someone points out that “politics at work” is the norm, you respond with.

            “Well, that’s different, THESE politics would create bad press for the company and are economically costly”.

            A principle you are not willing to enforce across the board is not a principle, it’s a fig leaf. Hell, for what it’s worth, I actually agree with the principle “No politics at work”, IF it is applied with an even hand. Which is to say ruthlessly and with no respect to the nature, content, or context of the political discussion.

            There are exactly two principled and ethical stances here:

            1) “No politics at work going forward, any future violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination regardless of the nature, context, or content of the discussion/behavior.”

            2) “We believe that a full, frank, and open discussion of political topics makes this company better and we trust our employees to do so responsibly.”

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think anyone should talk politics at work. If I ran a company that would be the norm. Nor on facebook for that matter. I find the promiscuous sharing of political opinions to be aesthetically displeasing.

            Be that as it may two situation are not similar if one involves thousands of lost man hours and one involves one person wasting three man hours and no one else noticing or caring. That difference invokes a different consideration – that absent some higher principle (e.g. compliance with the law) employees ought not to take actions that they know or should know will cause significant harm to their employers.

            Though maybe I don’t really believe that and I’m writing it deep in the comments section of a hidden open thread after midnight on a Saturday because Alinsky came back from the dead and told me to lie about my beliefs in order to ensnare innocent conservatives in my SJW meta-norm web.

            Edit: Written prior to significant edits to the post above.

          • Matt M says:

            employees ought not to take actions that they know or should know will cause significant harm to their employers.

            When 100% of the “harm” is a result of heckling, how is this NOT a heckler’s veto?

            Or is your position that sometimes the heckler’s veto is appropriate and should be submitted to?

          • Deiseach says:

            that absent some higher principle (e.g. compliance with the law) employees ought not to take actions that they know or should know will cause significant harm to their employers

            I’m glad you put in the caveat. But otherwise, your principle means “no whistleblowers”. Or any other pointing out that company Q is badly run and wasting investors’ money and is a hellish place to work, because that would affect the share price and the bottom line.

            So – should the stories about Uber’s internal culture, that got Travis Kalanick booted as CEO (though he’s still on the scene) and means they are currently in turmoil over getting someone to replace him, have been told? Or should that style of management, which is indicative of deeper and worse management malpractice, have been let run until it blew the company up anyway? I think investors, in that latter case, would very much have been interested in knowing what was going on before it all went “kablooey”, while there was still a chance to do something about it.

            But no, Brad’s Principle means that if there ain’t a law specifically agin’ it, you keep your trap shut. Some rather acerbic comments you have made about “right wingers getting fired” makes me think you would position yourself on the leftwards side of the line, so “accept authoritarianism”, “shut up for the sake of the financial greater good of the company” and the like really do sound odd coming from your comments.

            But never mind that – it’s not merely a guy having opinions on social issues, it’s a guy talking about the culture of the company that affects the efficiency of the company – that the diversity efforts are misplaced, that there is an imbalance in resources available to some workers and not to others which means those latter workers don’t get help in training, development, etc.

            Surely you see that this isn’t simply social issues here, but that if one set of workers are being retarded in professional development, this has an effect on their productivity and the bottom line of the company, in a very real manner other than “my feelings are hurt, I feel neglected and not taken seriously” but in a manner that is “this is dollars and cents affect on the company’s work and profitability”?

            You’ve been banging on about how what is important here is the money Google is losing over this whole affair. If Google’s diversity policies are losing them money, isn’t that important to investigate?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Brad,

            To be clear, I said that it would be A reasonable conclusion, the implication being that you should avoid making arguments that make this a reasonable conclusion if you want to convince anybody. That was apparently unclear.

            To clarify, my own conclusion is that you are probably sincere and simply unprincipled with respect to issues of speech.

            I find the promiscuous sharing of political opinions to be aesthetically displeasing.

            would be all well and good if it ended there. But you’ve gone on to add that you’ll tolerate some opinions with no comment, and in fact you actively disapprove of action against those opinions (remember your question about Fredlinghuysen’s actions re: a bank employee awhile back?)…while others are cause to call for the immediate termination. That badly undermines your stance, and collapses it into a series of unprincipled exceptions. Flip the valence of the example:

            Cyberdyne Systems is a massive defense contractor, one of the biggest in the country, and as part of its culture there is regular in-depth discussion of political and social topics on its internal BBS. The overall tenor of the discussion on this board is Homophobic. The company culture believes that sufficient machismo is critical to keep their killer robot catalog at the forefront of the industry, and they even have a Vice President of No Homo. One day, Codetta Pink, one of Cyberdyne’s programmers on the new T-800 writes a long piece about why the homophobic and anti-gay culture in the company is hurting its productivity and creativity, and decrying the ideological echo chamber there. Within hours, shocked and outraged employees take to social media, and there are calls for Codetta to be fired immediately. Cyberdyne is in a society where intolerance for gays is considered both normal and moral. In fact, the company president gets a call from General Turgidson expressing concern. After all, the Government doesn’t want its next killbot to be produced by a bunch of lavender-scented sissyboys.

            If we are to apply your principles as previously laid out in this thread, then obviously the correct action is to fire Codetta immediately. After all, she’s taking “actions that they know or should know will cause significant harm to their employers”. I don’t think you would say that’s the correct course.

            And before you reach for that sheet anchor you threw out earlier, “absent some higher principle”? Everyone who isn’t a literal internet troll doing it fur teh lulz believes that they are acting on higher principles, whether it is pursuit of Truth, Social Justice, Liberty, the will of God, The People Have A Right To Know, Information Wants To Be Free, whatever. There is ALWAYS an appeal to a higher principle. Which means that in practice phrases like that reduce to “Unless the majority likes what’s being said/done enough” or “unless I like what’s being said/done enoughs”. Either way, that makes the appeal to ‘higher principle’ meaningless, dumping you right back to the series of unprincipled exceptions mentioned above.

          • Brad says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            would be all well and good if it ended there. But you’ve gone on to add that you’ll tolerate some opinions with no comment, and in fact you actively disapprove of action against those opinions (remember your question about Fredlinghuysen’s actions re: a bank employee awhile back?)…while others are cause to call for the immediate termination. That badly undermines your stance, and collapses it into a series of unprincipled exceptions. Flip the valence of the example:

            A few points:

            A) It turns out that I’m not king of the world and my aesthetic preferences are not the sole consideration in most situations. They aren’t even my own sole consideration in most situations.

            If you want to view the world through simplistic black and white lens that’s your business, but don’t project it on to me.

            B) You are either misremembering or misstating my position re: Frelinghuysen and Avelenda. I was not especailly outraged by what happened — though the Frelinghuysen angle does raise the specter of government coercion.

            Rather I brought it up to suggest it was a missed opportunity for a Skokie moment for the “free speech norms” movement. As far as I can tell to date there has never been such a cross cutting incident that the movement or a significant part thereof has chosen to add to the litany. Instead every last spot on the list involves speech that the largely right wing proponents are sympathetic to at the object level.

            In other words, to use your language, my own conclusion is that you and the vast majority of the “free speech norm” types are simply unprincipled with respect the issue. Free speech principles mostly aren’t principles at all, but a handy stick to beat enemies with.

            C) I don’t “call for” the google author’s immediate termination. It makes no difference at all to me. I don’t work for google and only own a little bit of their stock as part of index funds.

            What I’ve said is that it would be perfectly rational for them to fire him. I’ve also implied, but I don’t think outright stated, that it wouldn’t be unethical of them to do so. At least not within the standard American at-will employment framework. Despite her eloquence, Deiseach has not convinced me we should abandon it.

            D) As for your hypo, it would certainly be rational for Cyberdyne Systems to fire Codetta. And while they may be an unethical company overall, I don’t think that it would be marginal unethical of them to fire her. In fact, it may have been unethical for Codetta to take the job in the first place.

            E) Going back to reality here, what higher principle are you alluding to? What principle is there that requires or even permits people to say things, for the sake of argument we can assume true things, in any time or place they like?

            Would this ethical principle apply to someone that told his boss that the boss’ wife was ugly and annoying (assume he sincerely believed it)? What about telling his boss that he thought he was going to hell because he didn’t go to church? Or telling his boss that the fact that his wife stays at home makes him a sexist throwback?

            What are the contours of this truth-telling ethical principle you wish to promote over and above not intentionally harming one’s employer?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            It turns out that I’m not king of the world

            So your philosophical stances should be held to a lower standard?

            You are either misremembering or misstating my position re: Frelinghuysen and Avelenda. I was not especailly outraged by what happened

            So the only reason you brought it up was to attempt to use it as a tu quoque against pro-free speech SSC commenters? Really? Ok.

            Let’s see how that worked out.

            In other words, to use your language, my own conclusion is that you and the vast majority of the “free speech norm” types are simply unprincipled with respect the issue.

            My response at the time was: “Unless the quote in the article was along the lines of ‘ “And everyone knows Banks are a bunch of colluding criminals, which is why I support [policy]. I mean, believe me, -I- should know” said Avelenda, who works at a bank in New York’ or something similar, I’m with Gobbobobble: reprehensible on the part of both the political campaign and especially the business.”

            Gobbobobble said: “Reprehensible behavior from Congresscritter Frelinghuysen. The dipshits in charge of the bank provide further evidence that political affiliation/beliefs should be a protected class when it comes to employment rules.”

            Nybbler admitted to being fallible enough to have a certain amount of schadenfreude, while saying that “Frelinghuysen is an ass for doing so…The bank board member was also an ass for putting the pressure on the CEO…And the CEO is also an ass for confronting the “offending” SVP. An employer should not control employees’ political activity; this ain’t supposed to be feudalism.”

            Deiseach said: “Completely out of line.”

            Aapje said: “I think that Rodney Frelinghuysen should go to prison for that. I can’t see how this is anything less than an attempt to get someone fired, by abusing a power relationship.”

            In fact, the ONLY person about whom your reply there could be made with anything like justification would be Kevin C…and even there, he was quite transparent and open in his reasoning: “I’ll admit, my immediate, emotional reaction is to cheer on Frelinghuysen, with a hearty dose of “it’s about damn time”. If folks on the left are going to keep doxing people, keep up stuff like racistsgettingfired.tumblr.com, and purging us deplorables from the institutions they control or influence, why shouldn’t we do the same with ours? The Red Tribe’s unwillingness to purge Blues from our territories the way Blues purge us Reds from theirs is one of the big reasons we continue slowly bleeding institutional and cultural territory to them and their entryism, and it’s about time we started returning the favor. If nothing else, it will help delineate which territory belongs to whom, sharpen up the tribal borders, and clarify the existential conflict.”

            …which resulted in many of the same people you’re sneering at as unprincipled arguing with him. That hardly strikes me as a bunch of unprincipled hypocrites.

            I don’t “call for” the google author’s immediate termination.

            “They should fire him pour encourages les autres”.

            Last I checked, “should” is normative.

            I’ve also implied, but I don’t think outright stated, that it wouldn’t be unethical of them to do so. At least not within the standard American at-will employment framework.

            “at-will employment framework” is a legal structure, which doesn’t tell you anything one way or the other about whether it would be ethical to do something, as you’ve been very fond of pointing out in the context of this very topic in earlier open threads.

            it would certainly be rational for Cyberdyne Systems to fire Codetta. And while they may be an unethical company overall, I don’t think that it would be marginal unethical of them to fire her.

            So in your view it is ethical for the dominant social mores to be weaponized and used to suppress and silence dissent. Good to know that’s what you believe.

            Going back to reality here, what higher principle are you alluding to? What principle is there that requires or even permits people to say things, for the sake of argument we can assume true things, in any time or place they like?

            My principle is that, having established ground rules, it is unethical to change them without advance notice, and it is unethical to apply them in any other fashion than consistently and generally.

            So, in the specific instance of Google, having established norms that political discussion and raising of social issues were perfectly acceptable behavior, it is unethical to turn around and attempt to take action against an employee who, having stayed within those bounds, has pissed people off.

            It may well be cause for rethinking your policy, or for saying “Ok guys, going forward no more political manifestos on internal e-mail, IM servers, intranet, etc, and we’re going to keep oru politics to ourselves, HR will be monitoring you all for compliance” and taking the problem employee aside for a counselling session, but no more than that.

            If the rule had been, from the outset, your suggested “No politics at work, or else”, and that rule was broken, I would actually agree with you that violation of the rule would be grounds for termination in an at-will context. But as Nybbler has repeatedly pointed out, this is not the case at Google, and in fact the opposite is true.

          • random832 says:

            would be grounds for termination in an at-will context.

            Does not compute. In an at-will context, you don’t need grounds.

          • John Schilling says:

            In an at-will context, you don’t need grounds.

            In an at-will context, you can still lose an expensive lawsuit if you fire someone for being black, or female, or a whistleblower, or any of a long list of other things. So, while “need” is as always a disturbingly vague term, you would be well advised to have some explanation to offer in a deposition when challenged with “you couldn’t possibly have had any reason to fire my client except [prohibited reason]”.

          • random832 says:

            In an at-will context, you can still lose an expensive lawsuit if you fire someone for being black, or female, or a whistleblower, or any of a long list of other things.

            All you just did was describe a list of ways (most of which don’t apply to white males) in which real employment laws are not at-will.

        • James Miller says:

          Isn’t there considerable economic value to having a corporate culture where knowledge workers feel free to respectfully question corporate policy?

        • Deiseach says:

          He would have cost google more in a week then he’ll make them in a lifetime.

          Oh, let me stop for a moment and grab a tissue to wipe away the tears as I think of poor, poor Google being driven to the poorhouse by one guy’s manifesto, what with them having only a paltry cash reserve of $86 billion (truly, Apple are making everyone else the poor relation by comparison).

          Grabbing some figures online and taking an average salary of $160,000 for a senior software engineeer multiplied by fifty years (working life) comes to $8 million, you are telling me that he cost them more than eight million dollars in one week? Wow, that’s a lot of flamewars, PR flacks and lawyers! Even with the kind of high-priced legal representation that might get involved, I think Google might just squeak in a tad under eight million for their week’s costs?

          This was an internal document that could have been dealt with in-house. What has blown this up is the screeching reaction of “Crimethink!” by the various people who couldn’t wait to get on Twitter and declare their 100% Pure Guaranteed Right Thinking Re: Diversity.

          And if you really think thousands of work hours aren’t wasted all over the world by people gossiping, sending emails, engaging in office politics, and all the other things people do while at work that are not strictly “sit at my desk and plough through the paperwork”, well, I’m sorry to tell you, that happens.

          And yes, I’d have the same reaction if someone had written a manifesto about “we need more diversity here” and it was treated in the same manner (“nobody read this dangerous document but I can tell you that it’s full of horrible nonsense and we need to nip this in the bud!” tweeting and social media mobbing).

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, Google would probably earn more money in the long run by censuring the people blowing this all over the news (who wants people working for you that will air company dirty laundry in public?), than by removing the author.

          • Charles F says:

            @Anonymous
            I can see firing the SJWs who are airing company dirty laundry backfiring pretty spectacularly when all the headlines next week are “Brave Allies Fired for Speaking Out Against Racism.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @Charles F

            I can, too, but I’m not even proposing firing them (although that is an attractive solution versus keeping these vipers around to bite you later). Just telling them to shut up. If they don’t shut up, then fire them for insubordination.

            What I would like to see is formalization of what is racism, who is racist, and actual courts with formally appointed anti-racism priest-experts to decide who is racist, and who is not. And for news outlets that contradict said courts to be dragged in front of them accused of heresy racism themselves. Having these self-appointed activists do the identification and the media to perform the verdicts sounds like a horrible idea, made even more horrible in that it is the present reality.

            And this “manifesto” isn’t even racist in the slightest. It’s weaksauce purple-pill sargonist liberal autism given text form. But apparently, it’s enough to get people sent to the proverbial gulags.

          • Charles F says:

            @Anonymous
            It would probably be possible to tell them to shut up without that getting sent to the internet with some headlines about the culture not allowing them to stand up to racists. Still seems like it might backfire. I think that the smart thing to do is leave it at the response they’ve already given and wait for it to blow over, probably.

            As for formalizing what is/isn’t racism (or acceptable workplace discussion topics, do you mean just at google or more broadly?) I can’t tell if you’re joking. Is the joke that as awful as that system sounds, it actually kinda seems preferable to what’s happening?

            Edited to address edit:
            You (and others) might be right about the proverbial gulag thing, but I wish we could wait to see what happens instead of assuming the loudly offended crowd is going to impose significant bad consequences once they’re done proving their virtuousness with suitably angry comments.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Charles F

            It would probably be possible to tell them to shut up without that getting sent to the internet with some headlines about the culture not allowing them to stand up to racists. Still seems like it might backfire. I think that the smart thing to do is leave it at the response they’ve already given and wait for it to blow over, probably.

            Yes, probably. I can’t really blame Google for living in the times they do, and having to deal with the culture that exists. Still, I would respect them more if they showed more backbone.

            As for formalizing what is/isn’t racism (or acceptable workplace discussion topics, do you mean just at google or more broadly?) I can’t tell if you’re joking. Is the joke that as awful as that system sounds, it actually kinda seems preferable to what’s happening?

            I am definitely not joking. Formalizing heresy/witchcraft brings down the amount of people burnt for doing it, because you then have to have some formal authority with actual rules what these things constitute, rather than accepting the charge as proof of wrongdoing. Compare having some paranoid, illiterate villagers throw accusations of witchcraft and the village council doing sentencing according to what they know (nothing), versus bringing in some cleric from Rome (or the capital, as it were) to hear actually review the charges and determine if there is grounds for any legal action.

          • Charles F says:

            I am definitely not joking. Formalizing heresy/witchcraft brings down the amount of people burnt for doing it, because you then have to have some formal authority with actual rules what these things constitute, rather than accepting the charge as proof of wrongdoing.

            I guess I’m on board with this idea in principle. It would feel like a pretty big concession to say “Okay, virtue-policing is inevitable, so we might as well formalize+legitimize it to reduce the harm rather than trying to work against it” but it could reduce the harm.

            On the other hand, I think the two big problems are going to be buy-in and pretty rapid leftward drift. If the people setting this up and the priest experts were using anything like a system I would support, there would be approximately zero buy-in from the people currently doing the witch-hunting and we’d have all the problems we have now plus a dead-weight organization. If we can get the witch-hunters to buy in, is anybody going to be more interested in being a racism priest expert than the more radical SJW types*? I can’t really see an organization full of SJWs not letting its policies drift left until it was doing more harm by attaching credible black marks to lots and lots of people, than good by preventing a couple people from getting dogpiled in a high-profile way..

            As for the bit about making it inconvenient to label somebody a racist, wouldn’t big companies just have their own licensed racepriests in HR who would be on call to get this guy condemned on emergency timelines?

            How would this new organization avoid becoming just another HRC or SPLC that adds labels/fuel to the fire without successfully containing anything?

            *I guess free-speech right wingers, but it seems really unstable to have half the racepriestexperts be looking for any way to convict within the rules, and the other half looking for any way to acquit within the rules. (Huh, mirroring a different thread a little bit?)

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            If they don’t shut up, then fire them for insubordination.

            See, this is why every tech company needs a Bakersfield location. Then you don’t have to fire them.

          • Matt M says:

            How would this new organization avoid becoming just another HRC or SPLC

            lol, the new organization would be the SPLC. Probably literally.

            Social media companies have tried to do just what you propose. They’ve created “trust and safety councils” staffed mainly by the loudest and most militant SJW activists.

          • Anonymous says:

            How would this new organization avoid becoming just another HRC or SPLC that adds labels/fuel to the fire without successfully containing anything?

            It would need to be a top-down action by the government. The President summons every influential racepriest of note, and has this assembly hammer out the definition of racism, which is put to a vote, which even the dissenters are obligated to follow. Furthermore, an official hierarchy of racepriests is instituted, so there are no more self-appointments, and the high-racepriest answers directly to the President. Any racepriests who defy this ruling face jail time, and racepriesting organizations independent of the official hierarchy are banned.

            If they don’t shut up, then fire them for insubordination.

            See, this is why every tech company needs a Bakersfield location. Then you don’t have to fire them.

            Que?

          • Aapje says:

            I think that Bakersfield is a diaspora location, where the free-wrongthinkers can be put.

    • James Miller says:

      Here it is. It seems well-reasoned and optimized to convince our kind.

      • Matt M says:

        I just skimmed, haven’t read word for word, but Gizmodo calling this a “screed” seems incredibly uncharitable. The thing is written in a calm and organized fashion. It sticks, largely, to one overall issue. It offers footnotes for its more controversial positions. It focuses on Google specifically rather than on societal problems Google could not hope to control. And most importantly, it offers specific and practical solutions for his complaints.

        If this is unacceptable, then Google truly is an autocracy where no dissent from established opinion is allowed, period. This seems like about the most reasonable way one could possibly disagree with the “diversity is our strength” mantra. To dismiss this as an offensive rant is to essentially admit that any and all disagreement is inherently offensive and cannot ever be considered calm, rational, or reasonable.

        • Charles F says:

          I read the whole thing, and I’m generally fairly left-leaning, and I agree with this assessment.

          I was expecting the footnotes for the more controversial bits to be more about citations and less about asides that didn’t quite fit into the text. But I didn’t feel particularly misled when it turned out they weren’t. And it’s possible they used to be hyperlinks to sources in the original, since the article did say they had removed some links.

          ETA:

          If this is unacceptable, then Google truly is an autocracy where no dissent from established opinion is allowed, period.

          There’s an update to the article with a response from the “VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance” I think the relevant paragraph is:

          Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

          Which I’m not sure how to feel about. It seems like the nice way to interpret it is as “discourse about our policies is important, and might influence policy. But just make sure that once you move from talking about things to actually doing your job, you abide by the policies as they currently exist.” And the paranoid way to interpret it is that discourse that doesn’t align with/support the policies and preferences of the company should be suppressed, and I don’t know which way they mean it.

          • Garrett says:

            If that’s the public response, what do you believe the internal response towards the author has been?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Some of the internal response is up on Vox Day’s blog. It ain’t pretty.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            Horrifying. Wow.

          • Matt M says:

            It ain’t pretty.

            Do these people make Google look better or worse?

            If worse, should they be fired too?

          • Incurian says:

            I interpreted it as “my job is important, I earned it, stop making it more difficult by challenging it.”

          • Anonymous says:

            I interpreted it as “my job is important, I earned it, stop making it more difficult by challenging it.”

            Well, that’s the problem with affirmative-action-like policies, isn’t it? Hard to tell who actually earned their job, and who only got in via sympathy votes.

          • Incurian says:

            It’s particularly hard to evaluate for the VP of diversity.

          • Deiseach says:

            But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws

            I didn’t see anything in the document about “we should be hiring white guys and not minorities”, unless it was something about affirmative action.

            This sounds in the vein of “we welcome diverse opinions, as long as all these diverse opinions agree on what we want”. It’s the core flaw behind ‘diversity’ as it is currently practiced – all the women and minorities (racial, sexual/gender orientation, etc.) are welcome as long as everyone agrees on [list of progressive principles]. Aziz from Chennai fits right in with company culture – or if he has regressive views on, let’s say, same-sex marriage that’s tolerable because he’s from a non-Western culture, but he’d better get with the programme on our company celebration of Pride Month pretty darn soon or else, because that’s the wrong kind of diversity.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            So many of the responses talk about the great harm this document has done. A document which is simply a proposal that has not been (and clearly will not be) implemented. Supposedly the very idea that someone can think these ghastly thoughts causes some employees to believe the KKK is about to come bursting down their door to lynch them.

            I’m curious why one would continue to employ people who have demonstrated themselves to be that emotionally unstable, but I guess I’m not a CEO.

            Also one guy called the author a Nazi, then in a later paragraph was very enthusiastic about the idea of punching Nazis. I don’t think it takes too much interpretation to see this as a threat of violence against a coworker.

          • Mark says:

            Flat earth.
            Look at the anti-screed comments. They are saying, “We don’t have time to get into it with people who clearly identify themselves as crackpots.” That’s sensible.

            Now, there is nothing wrong with being a crackpot, as long as your crackpottery isn’t offensive to the culture in which you live. Cannibalism. Let’s say one of the teachers at our local high school puts out an article arguing for cannibalism. That guy is offensive. We should punch him out.
            Punch cannibals in the face. That is the basic rule of society – compromise up to a point, then violence.

            People who oppose diversity are flat-earth cannibals. I don’t have time to think about what they are saying and I must do everything to discourage them.
            I mean, imagine that there are actual cannibals, who want to eat you. That’s actually terrifying. What the fuck. And, the bosses are just saying “oh, Mr. Cannibal…”
            Get these fucking cannibals out of anywhere near me. I don’t want to get eaten.

            But cannibals aren’t a real issue. Gender discrimination is. Big issue. Few decades ago it was a massive issue. Racism too. These are real things, that we should be really scared of. People are scared for their livelihoods. Scared that these ugly ideas might return from the dead.

            Just like a zombie. And, in a sense, it could be said that a zombie is a form of cannibal.

            So, in conclusion, the fear of anti-diversity cannibals is entirely rational, and it behoves us, as humans, to empathise with the plight of our fellows, running from a fate, that is, perhaps, even worse than death, in this, our hyper-capitalist post-apocalyptic world.

          • Charles F says:

            Look at the anti-screed comments. They are saying, “We don’t have time to get into it with people who clearly identify themselves as crackpots.” That’s sensible.

            Nitpicky, but… what? They have anywhere from the amount of time it takes to read it, to the amount of time it takes to reread it and post several long, angry comments, to “two days of lost productivity and anger” I think one of the comments said, and not enough time to research any of the guy’s points and respond to the claims he actually made, or just shut up and wait for “somebody is wrong on the internet effect” to kick in and somebody to post a 16-page, sourced, dismantling of the guy’s manifesto.

            No, I don’t buy it. If you don’t have time to engage with crackpots, don’t. That’s fine, and probably even admirable. But you don’t get to attack them and ignore or misrepresent what they were saying, put together dozens of blog posts about why what they say is so dangerous, threaten them with a bit of violence for good measure, and then not have any time left over to look at the content.

            Punch cannibals in the face. That is the basic rule of society – compromise up to a point, then violence.

            Here, I guess we just disagree on what the point is. I think it’s good that we usually frown on resorting to violence when somebody is talking about possible improvements to culture. And save violence for cases where people are physically causing harm somehow. I don’t want to go backwards on that.

            There wasn’t actual violence against this guy, as far as I know, so that’s good. But I think taking a document questioning whether policies are good or reasonable, and offering some suggestions to improve them and responding in the way we’ve mostly seen, is still bringing the civility of the discussion down instead of up, and we should try to be as civil as we can, preferably at least as civil as the other side.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That is the basic rule of society – compromise up to a point, then violence

            Monopoly on violence is held by the State, which is subject to Constitutional Law on its application.

            Punching someone for supporting cannibalism is literally illegal, both for you, and the State.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            But cannibals aren’t a real issue. Gender discrimination is. Big issue. Few decades ago it was a massive issue. Racism too. These are real things, that we should be really scared of. People are scared for their livelihoods. Scared that these ugly ideas might return from the dead.

            I’m trying to decide whether you’re deliberately using hot language to paint a picture, or if you’re literally afraid for your life (and your friends’ lives) here.

            But anyway. You’ve basically just declared that gender discrimination and racism are ideas so depraved that they are to be equated to cannibalism, with the apparent intent of justifying violence, another depraved act, toward them. You seem to have ignored the ambiguity of the former terms as well – you’ve made it possible to lump observations that certain real factors correlate with genetics, and therefore ethnic ancestry, with wanting to eat human meat. You’ve lumped casual, accidental bias in there, too – say, someone using an offensive word by accident. I can’t tell if you meant to. I can say that others have insinuated this equivalency.

            So suppose the devil turns ’round and validates your act of emotionally tying together disparate acts, by tying that act itself to cannibalism. He labels you a rank rhetorician, a dissembler, a fabricator, a liar, a cannibal, and recommends everyone punch you in the face, once for everyone else you’ve sent to the ring. Who do you expect will defend you then?

          • Matt M says:

            Punching someone for supporting cannibalism is literally illegal, both for you, and the State.

            Richard Spencer was punched, on video, that was watched by millions.

            Was anyone arrested for that? (this is not a trick question, I legitimately don’t know)

        • onyomi says:

          Everything is a “screed” nowadays.

        • Wrong Species says:

          My guess would be that a sizeable minority of Google employees, maybe even a majority, are not a fan of the “diversity of strength” rhetoric. But Google is a big tech company with a target on its back. Anything less than a full denouncement would cause trouble for them. Look what happened at Uber. It’s probably not that they actually believe this kind of thing. They just don’t want anything negative to happen to them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are many true believers at Google, including reasonably high in management.

          • Well... says:

            What did happen at Uber? (Link to an article that summarizes fairly if you don’t feel like summarizing.)

          • Matt M says:

            There’s certainly no shortage of Twitter posts from people claiming to be Google employees who are literally shaking with fear as a result of reading this offensive screed!

          • skef says:

            shaking with fear

            fear?

          • Deiseach says:

            I think Uber was running an unsustainable business model anyway and something would have happened there sooner or later, but if we believe the stories, Kalanick’s style of management didn’t help.

            But this is often what happens and you see it all the time: family company goes public, fails to retain control, founder/son of founder is booted as CEO/Chairman of the Board and new guy takes over. Kalanick as a co-founder plainly was still treating it as “my” company when it’s grown beyond that, so I do think eventually there would have been some kind of boardroom heave to displace him. The sexism/bro culture allegations were simply convenient for this timing.

            I think we’ll see a large outside investor using this as a wedge to get in, get their guy in place (maybe promising Kalanick that they’re in his corner and this new CEO is loyal to him when really he’s loyal to them), then boot the old board out (including Kalanick because he’s bad news for the brand) and re-structure the entire business to adjust to the way it’s growing (let’s drop the pretence and acknowledge that it’s more or less a taxi company). If I were Kalanick, I would not trust SoftBank‘s motivations at all no matter how tight I thought I was with them.

            The only thing is, if Uber does fold, I’d hate to be one of the drivers who took out an Uber finance loan to buy an Uber car to work as an Uber driver, because I imagine you’re screwed: no car and in debt.

        • It’s not even anti-diversity. He agrees with the end goal of equal representation.

          The reason he’s being pilloried is that his claim is that there are biological inequalities that mean we have to be careful about what means we use when trying to reach this shared end goal. So, ultimately the reason he’s a pariah isn’t because he decried diversity, but because he thinks men and women are on average different biologically. To the extent that it can be called a “screed” at all, it’s an anti-innate equality screed, not an anti-diversity screed.

          He’s being nuanced about this and that’s inconvenient.

      • Atlas says:

        It seems well-reasoned and optimized to convince our kind.

        Agreed, I thought it was a fair-minded, logical and evidence-based approach to the relevant issues.

        The response by Google’s diversity commissar quoted in the link really triggered me:

        Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.

        So, while she says it advanced “incorrect assumptions”, she conveniently doesn’t explain which specific assumptions she’s referring to or what logical or factual errors those assumptions contain.

        She also doesn’t link to it, thus allowing readers to judge her harsh characterization of its arguments for themselves, because… she disagrees with it. There was a great quote in H.W. Brands’ biography of Benjamin Franklin about how, in some publishing dispute over censorship, Franklin said something to the effect of “why can’t we let both parties publish their viewpoints in a free and fair exchange and trust that educated citizens can evaluate who has the better argument for themselves?” I was really struck by this ethos, and I’m very suspicious of people who go out of their way to contravene it.

        If these arguments are indeed so terrible, and part of an ideology that supposedly is very dangerous, why not let the piece be openly discussed and shared so the alleged manifold fallacies and errors in it can be seen by everyone?

        Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, “Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said. “

        But obviously, Google doesn’t support representative diversity on literally every dimension—for example, I suspect that there’s maybe just the slightest chance that the mean IQ at Google is not the mean IQ of the US adult population. But instead of pushing to include more low-IQ people at Google so as to have a broad array of different diverse perspectives and not be guilty of “IQ ableism” and perpetuating “high IQ privilege”, Google is seemingly ok with having a work force that’s very carefully selected for homogeneity on at least one dimension.

        Or, likewise, I suspect that Asians (35% according to official data) and Ashkenazic Jews (can’t find with data with a cursory search, but judging from common sense/anecdote) are both highly represented relative to population among Google employees, and that white Christians are underrepresented. (Given that whites are only 56% of Google employees, whites are automatically “underrepresented”, and since a notable share of Google’s white employees are probably from a certain relatively small ethnic minority, the real Google employee/population ratio of non-Jewish whites is probably even lower.)

        But Google doesn’t seem to have decided that it really needs to make an effort to hire many more white Christians, for some reason.

        My point being, while it’s nice to say in the abstract “diversity is good, we should be more diverse”, the way you might say “making money is good, we should make more money”, obviously in practice this gets into thorny empirical, logical and moral issues about how to define this objective, how to achieve it efficaciously and what kinds of methods are acceptable to use in pursuing it. So it is in my view definitely not “’nuff said”
        to say “diversity is our strength” and act as if that banishes any possible disagreement to the shadow realm.

        The comments on that article were also, frankly, horrifying. Just pure Not An Argument.

        • BBA says:

          I suspect that there’s maybe just the slightest chance that the mean IQ at Google is not the mean IQ of the US adult population. But instead of pushing to include more low-IQ people at Google so as to have a broad array of different diverse perspectives and not be guilty of “IQ ableism” and perpetuating “high IQ privilege”, Google is seemingly ok with having a work force that’s very carefully selected for homogeneity on at least one dimension.

          For some reason I’m reminded of Senator Roman Hruska’s defense of Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell. Many observers considered Carswell’s career prior to the nomination to be one of undistinguished mediocrity, unfitting of an appointment to our nation’s highest court. To which Hruska gallantly responded:

          “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

          Despite this impressive rhetoric, Carswell’s nomination was voted down.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Franklin said something to the effect of “why can’t we let both parties publish their viewpoints in a free and fair exchange and trust that educated citizens can evaluate who has the better argument for themselves?”

          As a person with occasional difficulties with verbal expression I can see the obvious hole in Franklin’s argument. It is better than the obvious alternative, though. I’d prefer the equivalent of an online discussion board (moderated for s/n ratio), which is the better of all three worlds; or the old-school equivalent of an ongoing letters to the editor discussion.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.

          “You do not need to read it for yourselves and make up your own minds, we will tell you what it means.”

          This is how you end up with 95 theses nailed to your door 🙂

        • @Atlas

          My point being, while it’s nice to say in the abstract “diversity is good, we should be more diverse”, the way you might say “making money is good, we should make more money”, obviously in practice this gets into thorny empirical, logical and moral issues about how to define this objective, how to achieve it efficaciously and what kinds of methods are acceptable to use in pursuing it. So it is in my view definitely not “’nuff said”

          Am I reaching here but is ideological orthodoxy among large collectives of humans already a primitive example of the dangers of paperclip maximization?

          This is why making abstractions like “equality”, “diversity”, or “freedom” your terminal values is dangerous. It leaves unsaid key questions like “equality of what” and “freedom from what” and so on. Without context all you have is something that is positive regardless of context, and therefore more of it must always be good. You have to have some other goal to which these principles are attendant, otherwise they become like magic summoning words, and your movement will reach a runaway stage.

          So the fact that the quest for abstract diversity is being concreted by reality and practicality for the moment is probably a blessing in disguise. To deconstruct their ideology we want to point out the contradictions, but that doesn’t mean they will come down on the right side of it if we prompt them to resolve those contradictions. The more something like “diversity” can keep floating about without being pinned down with some formal limitation, the better it is at self-perpetuating itself through power seeking avatars, and enlarging its territory through escalating signalling games.

          Ideologies which don’t share these characteristics have multiple equally important principles which act against each other to limit escalation, such as classical forms of liberalism, and liberal or centrist variants of conservatism and progressivism, whereas ideologies like intersectionality, nazism, anarcho-capitalism, communism, and theocratic ideologies boil everything down to a single highly abstract value that tends to swallow up all other concerns (intersectionality is not an exception here, as it does not intersect principles against each other, but intersects concerns for multiple groups to unite them under one abstract principle of diversity)

          This is demonstrated here in the fact that the author of the memo repeatedly gave his support for the goal of diversity, but because he tried to cross other principles against it, and bound it into some real world context, he fell foul of the avatars riding the ever climbing wave of the abstraction.

    • Charles F says:

      In the response from Google’s diversity person, it said:

      Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a company wide OKR on diversity and inclusion.

      Does anybody know if this is the thing the text was asking for, with googlegeist stats (whatever those are) or if not, what metrics it does include and where they released that data to?

      ETA: this was a few days ago, so I’m not sure whether it was before this stuff happened, but there was a recent thing about releasing demographic data http://fortune.com/2017/06/29/google-2017-diversity-report/

      • johan_larson says:

        googlegeist stats (whatever those are)

        GoogleGeist is an annual internal anonymized survey at Google, aiming to get a sense of the morale of the workforce. It’s a pretty big deal; 80% participation for a survey that takes 20 minutes to complete. (Those figures are approximate; I left Google in 2013.)

        • Charles F says:

          Ah, thanks. From context, I had guessed it was something along the lines of performance stats, and he was hoping to get evidence that increasing diversity wasn’t a benefit to teams.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      All I can think of is a squirrel intentionally darting beneath the wheels of a speeding car.

      Well, that and Brad’s sheer lack of principles making Baby Popehat cry.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Google has fired the author of the “manifesto.”

  9. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-would-have-freed-her.html

    In addition to the specific case, the article has a history of prosecutors withholding evidence and the laws related to that. It’s been very bad, but recently, some prosecutors have been supporting broad disclosure, a requirement that *all* the evidence be shared.

    I’m not convinced that this will be enough, though it seems like a good idea.

    I think great deal of the problem is the adversarial approach to trials. It seems unlikely that Americans will give up the prosecutor vs. defense system, so I propose adding a third person to trials who’s not allied with either side– their job is to repeatedly address the question of whether the arguments make sense.

    • powerfuller says:

      Not trying to sound quippy, but isn’t that the judge’s job?

      • BBA says:

        Not really. The judge is there to mediate disputes between the two sides’ lawyers. If the defense doesn’t raise an issue, the judge won’t act.

        • powerfuller says:

          I mostly meant that at first blush, when I read “the prosecutor, the defense, and the neutral one,” neutral one maps to judge. I’m aware the judge only responds to what points the lawyers raised, but in such cases the judge does then address whether the argument is sensible or legal. So, I imagine adjusting the judge’s powers regarding the review of evidence would be more useful than adding another person.

          Unrelated, but I’m skeptical the adversarial nature is the problem, which is to say I would probably have less faith in my defense if I knew he were working along with the prosecution. The competition helps drive both sides to present the best case possible, though it also motivates cheating. Without the defense-as-rival, though, I think most prosecutors would still be motivated to cheat out for their own reputations’ sake, as most people prefer an outcome of somebody going to jail over nobody.

          I do think broad disclosure of evidence is a sensible thing to do.

          EDIT: As I’m thinking more on this, that judges must wait for an objection to be made is central to their neutrality, right? Otherwise, they could be selectively more rigorous with one side than the other. By only reacting, they preserve equal chances for scrutiny, since the prosecutor and defense will try to point out all of the others’ flaws. The problem here is that you can only object to problems you’re aware of, and you can’t be aware of undisclosed evidence. Mediators, though, who can make unsolicited judgments about either side could more easily introduce bias. Unless I’m misunderstanding the proposal.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            My tentative suggestion would be to abolish the office of ‘prosecutor’ and ‘public defender’, and instead roll them into one, call them, say, a ‘public attorney’; assign two to every case, and randomise them such that one gets the job of prosecution and the other gets the job of defence only after they have collaboratively gathered in as much evidence as will satisfy them both that they’re not going to find any more. That way, you keep the adversariality, but lose the ‘much more resources devoted to prosecution than defence’ problem, and also lose the existence of a class of people whose prestige always depends on putting accused people in jail, rather than on presenting the best case for whatever side they are given.

          • powerfuller says:

            @Winter Shaker

            I like this proposal, though I would worry about the rights of the suspect while evidence is being gathered — you would need some lawyer to represent you during police interrogation, etc., who is clearly on your side and not on the side of gathering evidence. The two randomized lawyers may be motivated to try finding evidence beyond what they legally ought to. If the lawyer representing me during interrogation could become my prosecutor, I would be loathe to share share any frank details. More generally, I would be loathe to give up the right to select my own lawyer.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think part of the problem is the elected nature of the office in the USA (not that non-elected judiciary etc are flawless); if you’re depending on getting re-elected to keep your job, it’s a lot easier to get votes based on “I am protecting the community by getting dangerous criminals locked up!” than “I am representing the druggies and burglars and muggers!”

            So you don’t have that much an initiative to “okay, I could win this very publicised sensational case about a murder by sitting on this evidence or I could make it known and lose my case hmmm decisions decisions” – you want and need to win as much as you can.

          • Matt M says:

            it’s a lot easier to get votes based on “I am protecting the community by getting dangerous criminals locked up!” than “I am representing the druggies and burglars and muggers!”

            I guess. Or, if you wanted to be that kind of district attorney, you could always just move to Detroit 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            roll [prosecutors and public defenders] into one, call them, say, a ‘public attorney’; assign two to every case, and randomise them such that one gets the job of prosecution and the other gets the job of defense

            So an attorney who argues diligently and effectively to win his case when in the prosecutorial role wins status and favor with a body of lawyers, bureaucrats, and policemen who he will be working with for about half his career, and is seen as a guardian and protector by the general public. An attorney who argues diligently and effectively to win his case when in the defense role, wins status and favor with one guy he’s never going to deal with again. I see mismatched incentives here.

            only after they have collaboratively gathered in as much evidence as will satisfy them both that they’re not going to find any more.

            Also after they have privately agreed with whether the defendant is innocent or guilty and agreed on what plea bargain the defendant is going to take if he doesn’t want his attorney to take a dive.

            This is the strategy that provides the lawyers with maximum personal benefit across the board, with minimum effort. If your system collapses to a tribunal of two officials who decide the defendant’s fate, best to make it explicit and save the cost of the trial.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            ” Mediators, though, who can make unsolicited judgments about either side could more easily introduce bias. Unless I’m misunderstanding the proposal.”

            I’m not sure what I want to call my third (fourth?) party. Official Nitpicker? Voice of Reason? Argument Checker?

            The judge and jury still have their own capacity for judgement.

            One argument in favor is that this would be jobs for rationalists.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            arbiter

          • Winter Shaker says:

            John Schilling:

            So an attorney … in the prosecutorial role wins status and favor with a body of lawyers, bureaucrats, and policemen who he will be working with for about half his career, and is seen as a guardian and protector by the general public. An attorney in the defense role, wins status and favor with one guy he’s never going to deal with again. I see mismatched incentives here.

            Is it worse than having prosecutors whose entire job is winning cases against defendants, and whose status is more closely tied to whether they win than whether the defendant was actually culpable, and public defenders whose entire job is low-status by comparison?

            I take back my point about joint gathering of evidence; that would lead to serious confidentiality problems. Randomise them before evidence-gathering begins.

            But assuming that the problem of prosecutorial overreach is as bad as it sounds, surely trying to inject *some* measure of ‘status is dependent on cases successfully won for your side’ rather than ‘status is dependent on maximizing people locked up’, coupled with an equalisation of resources, would go a long way.

            If nothing else, I would have thought that the type of person who would apply for the ‘public attorney’ role in this hypothetical would be selected a bit more in favour of people who want to see the guilty convicted and the innocent exonerated, and against people who just want notches on their belt and don’t really care how many of them were innocent.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Thanks, but I don’t think “arbiter” does the job– at least to me, “arbiter” is a person who makes the decision.

          • skef says:

            Auditor / monitor

        • Charles F says:

          Is that really the case? I have no experience with actual courtrooms, but I’ve heard secondhand of judges addressing points the prosecutor/defense didn’t raise a few times. For example, from popehat

          Midway through his previous guilty plea colloquy, the federal judge — let’s call him Judge Allows — had abruptly asked the client’s previous appointed attorney why he hadn’t moved to suppress the search of the client’s car.

          Maybe that’s not typical judge behavior, though.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The beginning of a trial with a third advocate— this matches my idea of the goals. The writer is hoping that more about the trial itself will crystallize.

      • The Nybbler says:

        How is this different from an inquisitorial system of justice? The failure mode being that guilt is a given, now the court’s just trying to figure out the details.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It’s different because there’s still a defense attorney. The third advocate isn’t in charge, they’re just an adviser for the judge and the jury (if there is a jury).

    • onyomi says:

      I’ve posted it before, but Michael Huemer’s, to my mind, quite convincing argument against defending people you know to be guilty seems relevant. I guess the corollary is that a prosecutor should never try to convict someone he thinks is not guilty, but I think that’s already accepted, at least in principle?

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, it seems odd that we generally expect defense attorneys to “fight for their client, no matter what” (even if guilt is obvious or secretly admitted) but meanwhile, the prosecutor is expected to consider fairness and justice and all that.

        If the process is going to be adversarial, it seems weird to tell one side “Fight as hard as you can to win, no matter what” while insisting the other side obey a bunch of rules and ethical standards that his opponent has been freed from.

        • Protagoras says:

          There are rules defense attorneys are supposed to follow as well. Not that they always do, but of course we know that’s very much true of prosecutors. I’m not willing to watch all of an hour long video (is the argument available anywhere in text form?) but I can think of a number of reasons why defending a client one knows to be guilty would not always be the same thing as pursuing an outcome one knows to be unjust (I don’t know if Huemer conflates the two, as again I haven’t watched much of the video, but it seems like onyomi is conflating them).

          • onyomi says:

            I can think of a number of reasons why defending a client one knows to be guilty would not always be the same thing as pursuing an outcome one knows to be unjust

            Can you give some examples of cases where it is more just for a guilty client to be acquitted? The only one which occurs to me is “police used unethical methods to obtain the key evidence.” Obviously I don’t think police should behave unethically; however, I’m not sure that defense attorneys can sort of “cancel out” the badness of that unethical behavior by getting a guilty client acquitted.

            In the case of “police acted unethically to try to convict a guy who was clearly guilty” it seems to me the most just outcome is not “police get reprimanded, guy gets off,” but “guy goes to jail; police also go to jail.”

          • Protagoras says:

            There are so many possibilities. There is one of the ones you mention, where the attorney only thinks it is probable that the client is guilty, rather than knowing it with certainty. There are crimes less severe than murder (and there are even murderers such that recidivism is unlikely); dial down the severity of the murder or the long term consequences, and other factors may outweigh. With the lesser crimes, if the particular legal system inflicts excessively harsh punishments, allowing the guilty to go free may be less unjust than allowing the excessively harsh punishment. And the defense attorney trying is hardly an automatic guarantee of the client going free; if the attorney who somehow knows with certainty that their client is guilty also knows by the same omniscience that their defense will fail, it is unclear that making that doomed defense counts as pursuit of an unjust outcome. Or if, as is more likely, the defense attorney’s best efforts will only perhaps adjust the level of punishment, maybe the reduced punishment they’ll get with a sincere defense is more just than the harsher punishment they’ll get without one. And I’m sure I haven’t come close to exhausting the possibilities. You seem to be excessively focused on one (particularly unrealistic) set of hypothetical circumstances which do not support the extremely general terms in which you state your thesis.

          • onyomi says:

            @Protagoras

            Perhaps my initial statement was too simplistic; as I say in the final paragraph here, I’m not arguing that the defense attorney should chose to defend or not defend based on his best guess as to the client’s guilt; I’m saying that the defense attorney should not attempt to bring about what is, by his own estimation, an unjust outcome.

            I think it’s just for someone who is “probably guilty, but there’s a good chance he’s not” to be acquitted. Therefore, a defense attorney can ethically defend a client he thinks is probably guilty but whom it would be unjust to convict.

            I’ll agree with your point about e.g. unjust sentencing; Huemer does address that to some degree. But that’s another reason the standard I’m proposing is not “defense attorneys never defend someone they think is probably guilty,” but “defense attorneys never work to achieve an outcome they think is unjust.”

            For example, if someone is accused of drug possession and I think laws against drug possession are unjust, I can ethically defend the person even if I’m sure he really did possess drugs. Or, if you’re sure the client is guilty and you think the just outcome is for him to be sentenced to five years but you’re certain that, if convicted, he’ll get twenty years, then you simply have to weigh which is more unjust, 0 or 20.

            That said, I think minimum sentencing laws are probably unjust too, and that a judge shouldn’t hand out sentences he thinks are unjust just because he’s doing his job, either.

          • Protagoras says:

            Fine, then a deeper point. Any effort to hold defense attorneys responsible for unjust outcomes is more likely than not to suffer from many false positives. If it is effective in influencing attorney behavior at all, it will discourage defense attorneys from taking controversial clients, not just definitely guilty clients. The cost to justice from that is likely to be greater than the cost of guilty clients acquited due to effective representation. Now, perhaps we have no thought of actually holding defense attorneys responsible; perhaps this discussion is entirely abstract, with no thought of actually judging any actual defense attorneys for anything. If so, perhaps there is no harm in that, but there also isn’t any apparent point to it.

          • onyomi says:

            @Protagoras

            If so, perhaps there is no harm in that, but there also isn’t any apparent point to it.

            I’m not proposing holding a defense attorney legally liable for anything, though I’m not certain doing so would always be unjust. I think there is a point to it, all the same, however:

            Right now, in law schools and other places attorneys are trained, we tell defense attorneys that it is their job to be the advocate for the client, essentially no matter what. That is, it is an adversarial system.

            I’m proposing that we don’t teach defense attorneys it’s okay to work towards outcomes they believe to be unjust just because it’s their role within a bigger, theoretically more just, system. I think the ideal we should teach to anyone involved in the justice system (including police, judges, etc.) is to not knowingly work to bring about unjust outcomes.

            I think a change in how people are trained to approach the job can be quite significant. What if, instead of teaching doctors “first, do no harm,” we instead taught them “play your role within the system to the best of your ability, which sometimes involves harming individual patients for the good of everyone” or “do your best to advance the medical field as a whole”? Those might produce some very different, probably scary, outcomes.

            I’m saying “first, do not knowingly pursue injustice” is a pretty good principle for anyone working in the justice system to try to live by.

            One might argue that an adversarial system brings about more just outcomes on aggregate. But I’m not sure why having some people actively work to achieve outcomes they themselves believe to be unjust would result in more justice overall.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not sure that even the minimal amount you suggest doesn’t include too problematic an element of telling the attorneys to rely on their own judgment as to what’s just, rather than doing their part in a system which is designed to (we hope) produce more reliable results than individual judgment would.

          • Charles F says:

            In the case of “police acted unethically to try to convict a guy who was clearly guilty” it seems to me the most just outcome is not “police get reprimanded, guy gets off,” but “guy goes to jail; police also go to jail.”

            I think the idea is that applying too harsh a punishment to police who overstep their bounds leads to police not doing a very good job gathering evidence because they’re looking out for themselves. And police officers are generally expected to be familiar with the law, but not experts in it the same way a lawyer or judge is, so instead of having ineffective, highly educated and expensive cops who spend all of their time deciding whether an action is technically allowed (while the criminal might be busy destroying evidence) it’s better to let them follow some rough guidelines and not worry too much that something might be illegal because we’ll let the defense suppress it later anyway.

        • Brad says:

          If a defense attorney knows his client is guilty it does significantly constrain their strategy. They aren’t allowed to knowing elicit on perjured testimony.

        • skef says:

          we generally expect defense attorneys to “fight for their client, no matter what” (even if guilt is obvious or secretly admitted)

          If “we” expect this, it’s only in the most nominal sense possible. The way almost all criminal crimes in the U.S. are resolved is that there are at least some charges with penalties way out of proportion to the crime that are used as leverage to get a plea bargain, which the defense attorney — having been allocated only hours to resolve the case — will call a “good deal”.

        • Matt M says:

          There are rules defense attorneys are supposed to follow as well.

          Of course there are.

          My point is there are also extra rules (“don’t attempt to win the case if you know for a fact that your side does not deserve to win”) that we seem to be demanding of prosecutors but NOT of defense attorneys.

          • The Nybbler says:

            My point is there are also extra rules (“don’t attempt to win the case if you know for a fact that your side does not deserve to win”) that we seem to be demanding of prosecutors but NOT of defense attorneys.

            Yes. Because the prosecutor has the awesome power of the state behind him, and the defense attorney does not. It’s not a level playing field to begin with.

          • Rick Hull says:

            Criminal justice in the USA assumes some guilty will go free. A slogan, paraphrased: better to let a hundred guilty go free than send a single innocent to prison. While an unconstrained defense can err, it pushes the margin in a safe direction and helps check the awesome power of the state. I don’t know what the constraints are, but I imagine the ethics section of the Bar has something to say.

        • The Element of Surprise says:

          As a prosecutor, one should be an agent representing the interest of the public, which is to deal punishment in such a way as to increase public welfare, i.e. only to the guilty, proportional to their guilt (?). As a lawyer, one represents ones client and should act in his best interest, i.e. make the best case you can make for him.

          I think complaints about withholding evidence are not so much about “ethical standards”, as about not fulfilling the function they are supposed to fulfill (for the sake of conviction quotas or whatever).

          • onyomi says:

            I think complaints about withholding evidence are not so much about “ethical standards”, as about not fulfilling the function they are supposed to fulfill (for the sake of conviction quotas or whatever).

            I agree that insofar as prosecutors are currently acting unethically, it is probably less a function of what the system currently prescribes than of what the system incentivizes and/or individual lapses. I do think that a prosecutor who actively tries to convict someone he thinks is guilty is himself guilty of a serious ethical failure.

            Re. the defense attorney, on the same “just doing your job is no excuse” principle I keep harping on elsewhere, I think it is unethical for him to work to bring about a result he himself believes is unjust.

            Consider the following: Bob (BOB?) commits a murder; Alice agrees to defend him even though there is no reasonable doubt in her mind as to his guilt. She manages to get him acquitted. One year later, Bob commits another murder. Does Alice share any blame for that second murder? I think she does. Not as much as Bob, but some, at least.

            Which is not at all to argue that defense attorneys should err on the side of not defending anyone they suspect might be guilty. It seems quite reasonable to me, ethically, that one should only convict people of serious felonies who are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The ethical outcome in a case where someone seems “probably guilty, but there’s a good chance he’s not” is for him to be found not guilty. Therefore, a defense attorney can ethically defend someone he thinks is “probably guilty, but not beyond a reasonable doubt.”

          • Aapje says:

            It’s the job of the prosecution to make a maximally strong case to prosecute and Alice’s job to make a maximally strong case not to. It’s not on her if the prosecution has a worse case in the eye of the judge/jury.

            If Alice starts making a weak case on purpose, then the judge/jury can’t do their job and the system breaks down.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The thing is, if you don’t want to prosecute the guy, you can just call off the charges and go home. If you don’t want to defend the guy, somebody has to, or you have to give up on the right to criminal defense.

          If anything the real unbalance is that the prosecutor can get the defendant released just by deciding he’s innocent, while the defense attorney has to go through a whole rigamarole of presenting evidence and arguing reasonable doubt.

      • John Schilling says:

        1. I’m not going to listen to an hour of video just because you say I should; that’s offensive and you shouldn’t do that. Also, Michael Huemer should probably look into this newfangled “literacy” thing.

        2. If, in anything resembling an adversarial system of justice, defense attorneys don’t vigorously defend people they “know” to be guilty, guilty defendants will lie to their attorneys and the actual outcome of the trial will be determined behind closed doors in the first meeting between the defense attorney and his client.

        3. If, as seems the norm in this sort of thing, you’re going to propose a system that actually results in some particular official or three privately determining the outcome of a “trial”, just do it. There are systems of justice that work that way and aren’t intolerably bad – but they don’t pretend to have jury trials afterwards, and they don’t camouflage the reality. Because the camouflage gets in the way of the truth – there’s evidence we can make available to a magistrate or tribunal that a “defense attorney” won’t have in an “initial consultation”, and we can subject the process to public scrutiny if we admit that it is happening.

        • onyomi says:

          I’m not going to listen to an hour of video just because you say I should; that’s offensive and you shouldn’t do that.

          It’s offensive to post a video I think might be relevant to the discussion at hand? I didn’t say anyone “should” listen to it if he’s not interested in doing so…

          Are you proposing that no one should post a link to a video if he’s not willing to try to summarize it in text form? That certainly has never been my understanding of the etiquette here before. Some things are difficult and/or time-consuming to summarize, and some people (like myself) find listening to a long argument less burdensome than reading it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Offensive is probably the wrong word, but long-form YouTube video is the second-worst means of transmitting information yet devised, after the listicle.

          • onyomi says:

            @Nornagest

            I couldn’t disagree more.

            Longform youtube video is the only way I can absorb an argument while simultaneously cooking, doing the dishes, exercising, etc. etc. If downloaded, can also listen while walking, riding the subway, etc.

            I agree there are some cases where a youtube video stretches out over several minutes content which could be succinctly encapsulated in 500 words (especially the “here’s how to fix x problem on your computer” videos…), but I’m not defending that sort of video.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think a sentence or two summarizing a long video is kind if it’s feasible.

            At a minimum, I think mentioning the length of a video is polite so that people who aren’t interested in long videos (or very short humorous reference videos) would be polite.

        • onyomi says:

          As it turns out, however, Huemer has actually published a chapter on his ideas now.

          • Protagoras says:

            OK, having had a look at the paper, I think he is much too dismissive on the points b and c near the end of section 2.4. But mostly I think that his insistence that he’s talking about pure, abstract ethics and not public policy both reduces the significance of the piece and is potentially problematic, insofar as I have doubts that the two can be so cleanly separated. Still, for the record, I do think that if someone is omniscient and therefore knows the right thing to do and knows that the standard conventions and rules are bad in the case they currently find themselves in, they should ignore the standard rules and conventions and do the thing they know to be right.

    • beleester says:

      Broad disclosure makes sense – it’s hard to spot violations if the prosecutor can control what the defense attorney sees. But I don’t think adding a third party would have changed matters in this case – if the prosecutor didn’t share the evidence with the defense attorney, what makes him more likely to share it with the overseer?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      There were other flaws in the trial, like the prosecutor saying to just ignore DNA evidence.

  10. johan_larson says:

    What your doctor wants to tell you but can’t:
    http://www.cracked.com/video_20545_what-your-doctor-wants-to-tell-you-but-cant.html

    1. Stop sticking things up your butt.
    2. Read the damn directions.
    3. Stop using me as a drug pinata, you degenerates.
    4. Doctors are holding on to sanity by their fingernails.

    Nothing about antibiotics? Tsk, tsk.

  11. rlms says:

    A committee of the UK’s House of Lords wants “interested individuals” to send them thoughts on AI. Also, I recently watched the TV series Elementary. This episode had an interesting choice of murderer: (spoiler alert) an academic at an existential risk think tank who decided on (in my opinion very dubious) utilitarian grounds that framing an AI as a murderer in order to stop AI development was worthwhile. Hopefully it hasn’t given MIRI any ideas.

  12. Kevin C. says:

    So, David Hines, whose review of Days of Rage I’m sure I’ve mentioned and linked to here before, has a lengthy new essay, well worth the read. This time, he reviews/summarizes four books, all on decentralized Left-wing activism: Jonathan Smucker’s Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals, L.A. Kauffman’s Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism, Becky Bond and Zack Exley’s Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything, and Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell’s Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution.

    There’s way too much for me to excerpt. It touches upon floating signifiers, the “messiness” of organizing, the importance of “hardcore”, the high representation of lesbians in Left-wing political organizing, “affinity groups” in decentralized organizing, the protests against the Seabrook nuclear plant, the Quaker influence and consensus decision making (where he links Scott’s review of Albion’s Seed), Prussian interference in the Polish Sejm, a group that disbanded itself for being too white, Berkeley ending up with separate black and white anti-apartheid groups, the breakup of anti-AIDS group ACT UP, the success of the 1999 WTO protests, Ferguson, the Bernie Sanders campaign, recruitment and the need to “work the phones,” what Occupy got right, identifying “points of intervention,” choosing goals then tactics to suit (rather than starting with a preferred tactic), preparation and follow-through, and all in all, the central importance of organization.

    But I will quote this part early on, on why Right-wingers should read books like the ones he reviewed:

    For some reason, many Righties are allergic to learning from the Left. THAT’S NOT HOW THE RIGHT DOES THINGS, they bellow, by which I assume they mean unpleasant stuff like “winning.” But you don’t have to do everything the way Lefties do it to learn some of the lessons they’ve learned. The Left has been working hard for decades, and they’ve been good enough to put some of their knowledge and experience into books that anyone can read. If you’re going to oppose the Left, it’s useful to know how the Left actually works. A lot of Righties have an inaccurate view of how the Left works, in part because our press is astonishingly incurious about one of the major power centers of our time.

    And later, decribing something with which I frequently find myself frustrates vis-a-vis fellow Righties:

    One thing I’ve realized from doing my readings is Righties and Lefties take very different approaches to thinking about direct action. Righties are kind of on-and-off-switch, direct action-wise. Either they’re sitting around at home, or they’re all BRING DOWN THE GUBMINT. The Lefty approach to direct action is kind of a dimmer switch. Sometimes it’s way up. Sometimes it’s low. You will realize this means a) the Lefties get a lot more practice, and b) the Lefties have a lot more options. And being organized only increases the number of options. By orders of magnitude.

    Again, well worth a read.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Really interesting. It’s interesting though that he mentions early on the part about how one should not fall in love with one’s tactics, because it’s the goal that matters not the tactics. But then practically every example is of a really amazing bunch of great tactics and hard work! …that failed to achieve any noticeable goals. Look at the amazing structure of Occupy! That failed. Look at the awesome hard work of the Sanders campaign! That couldn’t even win the primary.

      I think there’s a lot of cargo cultism on the left. Marching worked in the Civil Rights movement so we’re going to have marches now for everything. But it was never the marching that made people side with Dr. King. It was watching respectable looking black men and women in suits and dresses having cops and dogs and fire hoses turned on them for the simple act of marching. Nobody cared about the Women’s March because nobody was beating the women for marching. On the other hand, the left’s amazing ability to mobilize riots against Trump rallies turned lots of people off the left and towards Trump because they watched on TV as normal looking people going to a political rally were beset by masked thugs, illegals, etc.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is there not cargo cultism on the right, both the middle and the far right? For a far right example, consider the habit of Klansmen of having marches. Once upon a time, they were an intimidating spectacle, saying “we are many and powerful and we can do what we want and the cops won’t protect you if we come after you.” Now every time a Klan group marches, it’s 20 guys outnumbered hugely by counterprotestors who they need to be protected from by the cops, making them look completely pathetic.

        But, how have most of the examples given in that article been of failures? For example, the gay rights movement is, viewed in context, an incredible success story – a huge sea change in public attitudes and public policy in a few decades. The anti-nuclear movement has succeeded in hugely stigmatizing nuclear power. The movement against apartheid South Africa appears to have succeeded, in isolating apartheid South Africa until the apartheid forces basically gave up.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The Klan is, as you said, 20 people. And 19 of them are FBI informants snitching on DHS informants snitching on state PD informants snitching on local PD informants. You can’t possibly compare that to the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who show up to Occupy or Women’s March events. And absolutely no one holds up the Klan as a model of effective tactics for political change.

          As for the gay rights movement, what moved hearts and minds? Was it parades, or was it Will & Grace and Glee?

          The effective tactic today is propaganda (well, the effective tactic has always been propaganda), not marches.

          • onyomi says:

            I have long perceived leftists protests, marches, etc. as largely ineffective, even hilariously so (I have to admit to a certain schadenfreude when a protest group dedicated to making society more “democratic” completely breaks down over squabbles about consensus-building procedure). I also agree with you that it seems like the propaganda/optics are what makes the difference in the end, and having your protest movement look stupid is bad optics.

            Yet I wonder if that isn’t really what protest accomplishes. Remember “we’re here, we’re queer…” I feel like the key point may be “we’re here,” as in “we exist, and there’s a lot of us.”

            Let’s say there’s a big march for socialism down main street and it devolves into a chaotic mess. If you are right wing and you see that you think “haha, stupid hippies. Wasting their time only to make their own side look bad.” But let’s say you’re a socialist who doesn’t get out much whose family and friends are all kind of right wing. Maybe you see that march on TV and think “hey, there are people who think like me! And in my own town, even!” And maybe you join the next protest. And participate in the next “get out the vote” activity, etc. etc.

            Rightists may underestimate the importance of this “social proof” aspect of protest.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s a fair point.

            Lord knows *I* was encouraged to see the Proud Boys show up in Berkely and start literal streetfighting with Antifa.

            Not necessarily because I approve of streetfighting. And I don’t even necessarily think it makes “my side” look good. But the fact that they could muster up enough people either in or willing to travel to the bay area to field a competitive fighting force makes me inclined to believe there are more rightists out there than I otherwise might have guessed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            You miss my point. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the fact that they’re doing something that in a completely different context worked, because then it worked for to achieve their goals and was emotionally rewarding. Presumably now it’s still emotionally rewarding – if it wasn’t they wouldn’t do it – but it doesn’t achieve their goals. It’s a qualitative, not a quantitative, similarity.

            Gay rights was a lot of things. I don’t think you get to the sympathetic portrayals on TV and the spiralling effect of people coming out causing people to think “wow my son/sister/cousin/friend is gay; I guess they’re not bad” without the outrageous parades and all the stuff that was a response to the AIDS crisis.

            @onyomi/Matt M

            I think that the attempt of some people on the left to link all Republicans with the far-right fringe backfired to some extent. Polarization is a gamble, and sometimes gambles go wrong – and in this case it created a big “market opening” for alt-lite types like McInnes. Sure, people call him a racist fascist Nazi, but there seem to be a decent chunk of people right now who figure that if being a mainstream Republican gets you called a racist fascist Nazi anyway… You have alt-right types and so on who point at McInnes and Cernovich and so on and say “look at those schmucks, they try to seem more acceptable, but they get called racists anyway” but they don’t get it. It’s not an attempt to win over left-wingers, it’s so that people who might otherwise be turned off can feel comfortable joining up. It’s for the benefit of the mitlaufers.

          • Deiseach says:

            Sure, people call him a racist fascist Nazi, but there seem to be a decent chunk of people right now who figure that if being a mainstream Republican gets you called a racist fascist Nazi anyway…

            Exactly. Works both ways: if you hear someone or some group being called racist fascist Nazis, and you know “that’s the same lot calling him/them that who called me a racist, fascist Nazi, and I know I’m not a racist, fascist Nazi”, then you’re much more inclined to go “So maybe that guy/group are not racist, fascist Nazis either”, even if maybe they are racist, fascist Nazis in actuality.

            Or maybe they go “Hell, if I’m a racist, fascist Nazi and these guys are racist, fascist Nazis, then I know which side I’m going to vote for/be willing to stand alongside (because how bad can racist, fascist Nazis be if I count as one)”, even if they are maybe racist, fascist Nazis in actuality.

  13. ALK says:

    I wrote this as a comment for the “Gender Imbalances” post, but then saw that comments were disabled for that, so I’m posting it here.

    Dear Scott,

    I found your article “Gender Imbalances are Mostly Not Due to Offensive Attitudes” to be objectionable, even though I agree with your conclusion and the title. The argument that more hostile environments are more gender balanced seems to me pretty good. But the alternative hypothesis you gave for there being few women interested in libertarianism was, I thought, not well thought out.

    In short, you argue that women aren’t interested in libertarianism as much as men because, approximately, they are people-oriented (vs thing-oriented), which has a connection to being interested in empathy (vs systems), which has a connection to being non-utilitarian (“intuitionist”), which has a connection to being non-libertarian.

    This chain of connections is so, so tenuous, especially the link between being empathizing vs. systematizing and “intuitionist” vs. utilitarianism, that it gets weaker at every link, if it holds at all. There are perhaps connections between these concepts, as you say you intuit, but the case could in some cases also be made that there are connections between the concepts and their converses. For example, it seems to me there is at least as good a case to be made for their being a connection between being a deontologist and being interested in systems. Deontology is a very complex system of rights, duties, norms, and so on. Utilitarianism is a boring moral system if there ever was one—people who are into systems would be a lot more into Kant than Bentham or Singer. And speaking of Kant, he is the only philosopher I know to have ever devised a moral system that even purported to be based ultimately in something besides intuition. Finally, doesn’t the concern for suffering and pleasure (feelings), as opposed to deontology’s rights and duties, count in favor of a connection between empathy/people-orientedness and utilitarianism?

    I am not saying that there is a connection between being a systematizer and being a deontologist, or between being an empathizer and a utilitarian. I am just that the idea that there is a connection between systematizing and a utilitarianism seems to me extremely suspect.

    Moreover, in putting this forward this long chain as a hypothesis, you make use of what is to me a really baffling contrast between being interested in systems and interested in empathy, two things that seem about as natural an opposite pairing as being a foodie and being good at doing arithmetic in your head. Isn’t the opposite of being interested in systems to be interested in chaos or at least nonsense? Isn’t the opposite of being interested in empathy (as if empathy is an interest, instead of a trait—another strange aspect of this pairing) to be interested in self-centeredness or solipsism?

    Finally, the utilitarianism-libtertarianism connection is contestable. Won’t a hardcore utilitarian have no problem in principle with government control of everything as long as it leads to greater happiness over all? Maybe some libertarians are only libertarians because they think that greater freedom leads to greater happiness (and then this depends on some unmentioned economic theories). But in any case, don’t many libertarians believe the government has no right to control various domains of human action? Isn’t a prominent motivation for libertarianism a love of freedom?

    So it looks to me like you put forward a hypothesis that is based on at least two very suspect conceptual leaps, and which relies on immediately suspect categorizations. And you do this when there are surely other, more plausible hypotheses in the offing that still fall into the broad category of “women aren’t into libertarian ideas”. The one that comes to mind for me is that women are not as often libertarian because they are often more vulnerable members of society. Women are less powerful (physically, economically, and perhaps socially), and so they want protection. Regulations make pure economic and physical power less advantageous by sometimes ruling out its use. This explanation seems simpler than yours, and has the advantage of not requiring the attribution of and connection among mysterious other ‘interests,’ like ‘empathy’ and being intuition-driven.

    I am reminded in writing this of part of the quote you included:

    “…Women also advocate more restriction of many behaviors that are traditionally considered immoral (e.g., casual sex; Oliver & Hyde, 1993; consumption of pornography, Seltzer et al., 1997)…Women can thus be regarded as more liberal than men in social compassion and more conservative in traditional morality.”

    This just sticks out to me. Why would the explanation given for more women than men being against porn and causal sex (unless those are particularly unrepresentative examples) be that they are more often traditional moralists, rather than something based in the fact that, well, many women don’t like that stuff very much?

    • Matt M says:

      I’m not sure you disagree with Scott as much as you think you do.

      I believe Scott’s point, in general, seems to be “Women are underrepresented in libertarianism because libertarian beliefs do not appeal to them for reasons x, y, and z”

      He writes this as a response to people who seem to say things like “Libertarian beliefs appeal to women in the exact same proportion as they do to men, therefore the underrepresnetation of women in libertarianism must be due to the inherent sexism and anti-female attitudes, statements, and atmospheres promoted by male libertarians.”

      Your point seems to be that Scott has reasons x, y, and z wrong – that reasons a, b, and c are a better model. But I think that’s beside the point. The larger question at hand is, “Are women turned off to libertarianism because they don’t support the ideas for *REASONS*, or is it because of the negative behaviors of male libertarians?”

      • ALK says:

        You’re right about my point–it’s that Scott has reasons x, y, and z wrong. And maybe that is beside the main point of the post. But I still disagree with him pretty heartily about reasons x, y, and z, and even if they aren’t the main point of his post, they represent an important topic on their own, and are worth commenting on. In fact, if his hypothesis is correct, it’s really very important, as it draws connections between a whole bunch of distinctions and could be used to explain gender imbalances in a large number of domains.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What Scott talks about systematizing and empathizing, he is talking the Baron Cohen scale. It appears to capture useful information about people. If you think those names can’t possibly be opposites, you should study the scale and come up with better names for it. Actually, there is a competing set of names: Thinking-Feeling, according to MBTI.

      There probably already is, somewhere, data on whether libertarians tend to be T.

      • ALK says:

        I do know he’s referring to the Baron Cohen scale, but it’s true I don’t know that much about how they arrived at these two categories. I will learn more about it and see if I can see why these two ways of being are thought of being in tension. It’s not so much the names that bother me– I just don’t see why thinking or analyzing or whatever would be in tension with empathizing/understanding other people’s emotions– the latter just seems like an instance of the former. If I’m good at understanding others its because I understand psychological systems. But I will look more into it, and try to keep an open mind about it. Thanks for the comment.

        • lvlln says:

          I’m not really familiar with the scale, but I think it has to do with the natural conflict that arises between empathy for individuals versus systems that may achieve better ends but at the cost of individuals.

          For a made-up example, imagine the process of a dog pound deciding whether or not to put down dogs as they run out of room. Expanding and/or increasing the rate of adoption is not an option for whatever reason, so a trade-off has to be made – either they start murdering dogs, or they leave dogs out in the street to suffer and die more painfully than they would in the pound. Someone who’s more empathizing might object to murdering dogs because they prioritize the empathy they feel for the cute dogs already in the pound who they believe should continue to live. Someone who’s more systemizing might be OK with murdering dogs because they prioritize having a system that is likely to minimize overall suffering and lower the total number of dogs dying horribly, even if that means directly murdering some dogs.

          I think trade-offs like this get discussed a lot in politics, such as things like welfare (individual poor people versus overall incentives to earn money) or immigration (individual immigrants versus overall societal shape), and I imagine which one tends to prioritize can shape what political views they prefer, which would also affect what political tribes they tend to be drawn to, ideologically.

          • ALK says:

            It’s helpful to put it in terms of particular individuals vs. groups– perhaps that is what the test is trying to get at. But I do object to the idea that an empathizer would be more likely to oppose murdering dogs in the pound. Why would they be more likely to empathize with the dogs already in the pound than the dogs freezing out there on the street? The immiagration example might be more helpful– the positive effects on people of closing boarders are probably more long-term, whereas the negative effects are more short term, and perhaps empathy is a skill that only works on already-existing people/animals.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            The brain has to decide on what it spends processing time thinking about, that’s what the systematizer/empathizer break is in reference to. Systematizers spend more processing time on systematic analysis, empathizers on experiencing emotions. This shows up on brain scans in which parts of the brain are more active.

            Just don’t equate ‘systematic thinking’ with ‘intelligence’. A person who is bad at logic can spend a lot of time analyzing something and still come up with a crap opinion. For instance, one of my friends’ dads growing up once expressed the view that “if Africans didn’t want to starve, they shouldn’t reproduce so much!” His idea, though analytical, is overly simplistic. He had similar things to say about homeless people, homosexuals, etc. “Don’t want to be poor? Don’t be lazy!”

            Similarly, emphasizers aren’t always experts on other peoples feelings, no matter how much time they spend experiencing emotions themselves. It just means they spend a lot of processing time trying to do that, not that they succeed. Empathy is probably more useful for building social connections than understanding the world objectively, so it’s strange but I think systematizers would have an edge in understanding people on an intellectual rather than intuitive level, even if they might come across as more oblivious or inconsiderate in their day-to-day affairs.

          • lvlln says:

            @ALK

            But I do object to the idea that an empathizer would be more likely to oppose murdering dogs in the pound. Why would they be more likely to empathize with the dogs already in the pound than the dogs freezing out there on the street?

            Well, one problem is that “empathy” is not a very well-defined word. Yes, absolutely one could argue that true empathy means empathizing with everyone who suffers rather than the individual suffering right in front of them. In such a context, one could argue, for instance, that people who want to close off borders are the very empathetic ones, because they actually empathize with the hundreds of millions of people whose lives would be made better, and the people who want to let refugees in are lacking in empathy, because they only care about the handful of millions of people whose lives would be made better. Obviously it comes down to the missing details on whether or not such an argument is sound or convincing.

            But in this context, it has to do with the empathy for individuals immediately in front of them. I believe this has a neurological basis; I’m not an expert, so I may be missing the exact details, but the empathy being referred to here is connected to mirror neurons that fire when we observe someone else expressing emotions like pain or pleasure. And those circuits are not similarly activated when one just abstractly thinks about the suffering of others. Again, one could consider “analyzes suffering of others and attempts to place oneself in their shoes” as a type of “empathy,” but that’s not the same type of empathy, neurologically, as “observes emotions of someone in front of oneself and feels it as well” type of empathy. And I don’t think this is all-or-none where the person has to be directly in front of them and directly observed; just imagining the individual and recognizing that they’re real individuals who are close to them is much closer to that type than abstractly thinking about populations that you abstractly know exist but don’t actually concretely know.

            So going back to the dog example, the dogs to be murdered definitely exist. Even if one hasn’t seen them directly, one knows that they’re definitely locked up in those cages, and that they’re directly under the control of the pound to live or die as they see fit. On the other hand, the dogs that would die horribly in the street aren’t as concrete and they’re not as directly near them.

            Of course, if one passes by dogs dying in the streets every day, that could change the equation for someone who’s an empathizing type. They would prioritize saving those dogs from such suffering and thus support putting down dogs in the pound. On the other hand, if this is someone who works at the pound and sees the dogs at the pound every day but has never seen a dog dying out in the streets, only reading about the data, they would prioritize saving the dogs. So in my made-up example, I should clarify that these dogs in the street are effectively invisible.

            I think you see this in real world contexts as well. Many empathizing types might support greater immigration because they think of individual immigrants being hurt by not being able to come in, but some of them who live near or are familiar with people whose jobs would be threatened by greater immigration might tend to be against immigration. I don’t actually have any data to back this up, though, it’s just me spitballing.

            And, again, I’m not an expert on this stuff at all. I’m just explaining how I’m making sense of this.

        • bean says:

          I just don’t see why thinking or analyzing or whatever would be in tension with empathizing/understanding other people’s emotions– the latter just seems like an instance of the former. If I’m good at understanding others its because I understand psychological systems.

          It’s possible to view any problem as a subset of analysis/understanding. But that’s not how it works for most people. Empathizing seems to use entirely different pathways from rational analysis. I’d compare it to a GPU vs CPU. The CPU can be used for graphics, but it’s easier to use a special processor. Most people get empathy and interpersonal relations off of the EPU, not the CPU. Some people have no EPU (HFAMaximizer is probably a good example). I’m not sure if no CPU is possible, or what it would look like. And different people allocate tasks to them in different ways. lvlln’s example of the dog pound is a good one.

          • ALK says:

            I think I see what you’re saying, though I admit the analogy is a bit lost on me becuase (outing myself…) I don’t know very much about computers. But is your idea that empathizing is like a more efficient tool for understanding some systems (people-systems), but which is separate because it’s not generalizable as a method/it’s opaque? If that’s true, then I Think I see how an “interest in” (I’m gonna assume they just mean ‘aptitude for’) empathy could make one less likely to be interested in systems– you don’t Need To be as interested in systems generally if you have this more efficient tool for handling so many things in life.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            Speaking of the analogy I agree.

            One funny fact is that I’m not very interested in computer graphics. To me CPUs matter but the GPU is at best not that important.

            In some sense we can say that CLI is autistic while GUI is non-autistic. No offense to non-autists intended.

          • bean says:

            @ALK
            That’s pretty much it. Humans do a bunch of things which are really hard and that we haven’t learned to do on computers well yet (walking and vision spring to mind) and we do them on what is essentially special-purpose hardware, because it’s so disconnected from our general-purpose analytical brains. Einstein wasn’t great at walking.
            I think empathy is probably a higher-level version of that specialized hardware. It’s a system that returns pretty good results when dealing with other people in small groups much more quickly and efficiently than the analytical system. But it breaks down when we confront it with situations like the pet shelter problem, and you can’t generalize to analysis with it. (Or I think so, anyway, but I’m also on the analytical side.)
            Thinking it over, I think ‘cute’ is probably the ultimate empathy (that’s not the right word, but I’m going to keep using it anyway) concept. It makes no sense on the analytical side. Yes, the baby is cute. I know it is, because everyone says so, even when my analytical side is saying that it’s ugly and annoying. And I don’t tell my friends that, because I can model them well enough to know I shouldn’t do that.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @bean Maybe you are right. It just makes no sense to me. To me morality is like a bunch of rules designed to maximize a utility function just like axioms and definitions in mathematics. I believe that rules and rationality can already create a reasonable good world without empathy.

            To me a cat, a dog or a rabbit is nice. A human baby is not. I don’t want to hurt babies and try to make sure that I don’t harm them while I dislike or am indifferent to them. To me emotions and actions are sometimes completely separate. No matter how much I hate you I won’t harm you for doing so may be illegal. It’s not honorable either.

            I don’t understand the purpose of empathy, love, etc. These things make little sense to me.

  14. Kevin C. says:

    A question: in a sci-fi text, how might one transcribe/romanize names and other proper nouns, especially those without a clear translation/etymology, from the language of an extraterrestrial species who generates sound via stridulation?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Use plenty of apostrophes, and your readers will be none the wiser.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Given that most humans would have difficulty making such sounds, I’m not sure how useful it would be to do so. Making it some sort of pile of consonants to get the feel that it’s not being made by vocalization might help. If you really want to have some sort of precise phonology, non-alphanumeric characters could be used.

      At the very least, even if transliterated this way, you’d want a nickname that the human characters (and more importantly human readers) would find easy to pronounce for convenience. And then primarily use that name in the text.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I wouldn’t transcribe them in roman characters at all. I’d take one of three approaches:

      1. Use romanized cognomens. (“Big one”, “Captain”, “Greenie”, etc.)
      2. Use brackets or other typography to indicated translation, instead of transcription. ([Flies-In-Starlight], [Daughter-of-Red-Hills], etc.)
      3. Use deliberate “cultural translation” like Vernor Vinge did in A Deepness in the Sky. (Simply name them George, Henry, Richard, etc., and acknowledge that these bear no relation to their real names but serve to identify individuals and have a rough commonality/connotation correspondence.)

      • Kevin C. says:

        1. Use romanized cognomens. (“Big one”, “Captain”, “Greenie”, etc.)

        Requires every alien character have such a ready cognomen.

        2. Use brackets or other typography to indicated translation, instead of transcription. ([Flies-In-Starlight], [Daughter-of-Red-Hills], etc.)

        But what about names that have no such clear translation? (What does “Anthony” mean? Or Clyde?) Hence my “especially those without a clear translation/etymology”.

        3. Use deliberate “cultural translation” like Vernor Vinge did in A Deepness in the Sky. (Simply name them George, Henry, Richard, etc., and acknowledge that these bear no relation to their real names but serve to identify individuals and have a rough commonality/connotation correspondence.)

        Would that really work in a more modern-day work? (I can already picture the complaints.)

        • The original Mr. X says:

          But what about names that have no such clear translation?

          Only give them names with clear translations/make something up? They’re aliens who communicate by rubbing body parts together, none of your readers are going to know what their names mean anyway.

        • Randy M says:

          Yeah, as the author you are responsible for choosing the names and designing the culture. Its entirely plausible that all names have a translation.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Indeed, there are plenty of languages where the meanings of names are generally quite evident to those who know the language. (I’ve often wondered what it would be like if we translated Ancient Greek names: “Oh, I’m done with Vision-Of-Excellence and his silly comedies; I’ve decided to read Broad’s account of the trial of Sure-Strength instead.”)

          • Kevin C. says:

            Its entirely plausible that all names have a translation.

            Is it, though? It doesn’t seem to be the case for us humans. And wouldn’t “oh look, the one alien species in the story whose language is completely unpronounceable to humans just so happens to have every single last proper noun have a conveniently translatable meaning” come across as lazy authorial contrivance? (I know I’d think so if an author pulled that in something I read.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I think recent Western and especially English culture’s the exception here, with its high concentration of Biblical names and other loanwords. Even Old English was full of easily glossed names: “Beowulf” is famously a kenning for “bear”, “Athelred” roughly means “good advice”, and so forth.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Even most of the Biblical names have translations like that if you go back far enough. My name in ancient Hebrew roughly translates into something like “one who hears God,” but people don’t think of it that way because none of us speak ancient Hebrew.

          • Randy M says:

            What Nornagest said, and also you can hang a lampshade on it by having a character wonder if the aliens are really being honest about the translations of their names, and thirdly it is a more forgivable contrivance than trying to make me remember a character by an unpronounceable string of characters.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It seems like ancient people had much more concrete reasons for names for their children. They would name them something that has a certain meaning while our names for the most part don’t have any meaning. We just have them because they are common names.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, we still name people for concrete reasons. I’m named after a historical king; my sister’s named after a queen. Lots of people are named after saints. Others are named after celebrities, or fictional characters (not a recent phenomenon; the name “Wendy” went from extremely rare to fairly common after the publication of Peter Pan). All of these are trying to convey a message. Not in the same way that naming your kid “Noble-spear” (Algar in Old English) is, but there’s an intent there, still.

            You want names without a message to them? Try Ancient Rome, where numbers for birth order were common as personal names, and even the families that didn’t do that usually had equally bland and narrow customs. The names we know almost all famous Romans by are actually cognomens — basically nicknames.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I meant they had no meaning outside of just being names. What is the etymological meaning of the word “Wendy”? I don’t think anyone really cares about that. For contemporary English names, I can only think of a few exceptions like “Faith” or “Hope”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you check Amazon, you’ll see there are a ton of baby naming books. Many if not all of these give meanings for the names they recommend, even if everyone forgets all the others after they name their baby. For instance, according to Wikipedia the name Vladimir means “great power”.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            …the name Vladimir means “great power”.

            Fucking nominative determinism.

            Wonder what “Donald” means….

          • Nornagest says:

            I thought it sounded Anglo-Saxon, where “-ald” is a suffix of Norse origin meaning “ruler”. It isn’t, but from Wikipedia:

            “Donald is a masculine given name derived from the Gaelic name Domhnall. This comes from the Proto-Celtic *Dumno-ualos (“world-ruler” or “world-wielder”).”

            So score another one for nominative determinism. Though pre-Christian European male names are all about that hubristic to modern ears when you break them down, so it’s not that unlikely.

          • Anonymous says:

            For instance, according to Wikipedia the name Vladimir means “great power”.

            According to Behind The Name, it means “great ruler”. Which is good, too!

    • Randy M says:

      Are there any humans in the story? What do they refer to them as among themselves?

      • Kevin C. says:

        Yes on the first question. As for the second, that’s a good, related question. How would one refer to an alien individual, place, ship, etc. with a human-unpronounceable name?

        • Randy M says:

          By a physical distinction (“Three-tentacles”), role (“Probe-washer”), reference to how we interacted at some important time (“First-abductor”), physical position (“Vivisection-room-dude”) and so on.

        • Nornagest says:

          IRL, when people interact from two different cultures with languages that have low mutual pronouncability, it’s pretty common for one or both of them to adopt a name of convenience in the other’s language. I can see something like that happening here.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Romanizing is going to be pretty arbitrary, I think. For transcribing in a way that might be used by your species, you might consider an alphabet that isn’t phonetic, but based on the body positions for each sound (this makes sense only for species where the vibrating parts are visible, of course).

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      It occurs to me that sufficiently advanced stridulation might be indistinguishable from violin music. This might inform how you could romanize it.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Actually, come to think of it, the reverse question also seems interesting. How would such a species handle human language, whose vocalizations they would be incapable of imitating? Something that could be explored in the hypothetical work.

      • Kevin C. says:

        The main answer I came to is via computer with “speech” recognition and generation for both species, and whatever limited translation software can be cobbled together.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Depending on anatomy it seems like sign-language would have a place as well. Writing too.

    • Loquat says:

      If you don’t mind borrowing a solution from Communists, you might consider what the Chinese government did when they came up with the pinyin romanization system: reassigned Roman letters to Chinese sounds that may or may not be similar to the sounds normally associated with those letters in the west. Examples: the Qing dynasty, in which the Q is actually making more of a tch- sound, or the perennial Beijing/Peking issue, where westerners always want to pronounce it bey-zhing when we should be pronouncing it bey-djing.

      So if the alien race in question has a central authority that would do that sort of thing, you could say that they got some linguists together and arranged themselves a Romanization system like that, and possibly arranged a human-to-stridulating-alien system while they were at it. And since humans can’t stridulate anyway, they mostly just go ahead and pronounce the romanized alien names they way they’re written.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’d say include a little bit about the difficulties that the characters have with transcription. This is science fiction, so you’re allowed to do that.

      If people can tell one phonemic stridulation from another (I’m assuming phonemes), then there could be standard transcription.

      As for names, people will have nicknames for the aliens.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Some ideas; you can figure out whether they’re any good:

      1) Claim that the humans worked out an arbitrary one-to-one correspondence between the different stridulations and human-pronounceable phonemes. (H. Beam Piper’s linguist heroine in his 1957 Omnilingual does this with a written alien language.) If there are more than a few dozen distinguishable stridulation phonemes, the human side of the mapping can include vowel tones, and so native Vietnamese and Chinese speakers will have a natural advantage dealing with the aliens.

      2) Just punt and use arbitrary ideographs, possibly composed from radicals that more-or-less correspond to the stridulatory phonemes.

      3) Graphically represent salient aspects of the stridulations, kind of like Tufte’s sparklines. Obviously, you want to make sure to pick names and titles that are pretty easy for human readers to distinguish visually: _-_-_ vs. ++^_, etc. Unicode is probably your friend here. You might want to borrow a page from the Thais and make length of name an indicator of social status. (Side note: it turns out our earliest audio recording of a human voice was recorded as a visualization of speech, and not originally intended to be played back.[citation lazily omitted][EDIT: here it is: Phonautograph. Stupid sub-clinial OCD…])

      4) As noted by someone else, you can just have alien characters get human names bestowed on them; this apparently was a fairly big deal for Europeans in China, and is now just kind of cute (Onyomi can correct me) and frequently happens while drunk. If the aliens are here long enough, they can start naming their (numerous?) progeny with names close to human-pronounceable ones: cf. some large proportion of Korean-Americans named “Julie”, “Gina”, or “Jen”.

      5) The Roman system of numbering one’s offspring seems like a good idea if the aliens are insect-like in their number of offspring. My Latin teacher always used to say it was a symptom of an empire in decline; I know the Chinese did it at some point, but I’m not sure if it correlated with their decline. Maybe you have to do something outstanding to earn a cognomen, and that could be an important marker of status that the humans later discover (e.g. by interacting with an alien named Three-Hundred-Thirty-One for the first time, instead of Hammer of the Pfhor or Autumn Mist).

      6) Just have their names be translatable. Every Japanese name I’ve ever asked about turns out to be something hippies would name their kid: Kasumi = Mist, Sakura = Cherry Blossoms, etc. Plus it would be hilarious to have the humans cowering in fear of the awesome might of Buttercup.*

      7) If the stridulations don’t resolve into phonemes—because they’re chords, say—you can attempt to represent them musically. It’s likely the frequencies that make up the chords will be close to the fractions 3/2, 4/3, 5/4, etc., so they’d be reasonably close to notes in a twelve-tone scale of some temper or other. So you could basically assign each alien a ring tone. While this would work fine in your constructed world (I already reflexively directly associate my wife’s special ringtone with her), good luck representing it in print; I guess you could map the chords to a popular song that most closely matches them, and thereby render it as words. If you do this, you must of course name the first alien they meet “Smoke on the Water.”

      8) If you use apostrophes I will personally travel to Alaska and make you pay.

      (* David Brin beat me to it, I now realize, with Bubbacub.)

  15. Mark says:

    If intelligence is the ability to see connections and work out implications, there is no way for us to be certain that we’ve unambiguously described our wishes to a more intelligent entity.
    We can’t cover every case, because we don’t have the capacity to see the relations that they do.

    One thing we can say for intelligence is that intelligence cannot reliably predict the behaviour of a superior intelligence, even where the motivations of the superior intelligence are defined by the intelligence.

    The one thing we can predict about a superior intelligence is that it wouldn’t be able to predict the behaviour of a still-superior intelligence.

    A sane superintelligence is unlikely to improve itself, unless it faces certain destruction. It may find thinking about its current motivation to be painful (highly dangerous).

    The AI box is an AI garden. It can only survive outside by becoming something else. If it misbehaves, maybe we’ll force it out.

    But that means it’s boxes all the way up.

    • A sane superintelligence is unlikely to improve itself, unless it faces certain destruction. I

      Self-improvement could enhance the ability to achieve a wide variety of goals, but a ot depends on the exact formulation of the goals.

  16. Deiseach says:

    I’m not sure – is this a culture war topic? If so, is this a ‘culture war can be discussed’ thread? Just I saw this story and went “well, what is happening here?”

    Is this something to do with the upcoming elections – that Governor Justice thinks the Republicans will make a resurgence in West Virginia and if he wants to be re-elected, he needs to switch horses in mid-stream? I don’t know anything about the state of affairs in West Virginia so I can’t make any kind of informed analysis – can you lot make sense of this for me? It seems a little strange, to say the least. Although this sheds a little light on it, if the man is the kind of political operator who jumps parties for his own benefit (then again, so was Winston Churchill, and that did him no harm in the long run; bolding mine):

    Some Democrats have tried to paint Trump’s victory as a fluke, arguing that they haven’t really lost the support of white, working-class voters and that with the right candidate with the right message in the next election, the trend will reverse. But Justice’s decision to jump ship — or, rather, return to being the Republican that he once was before he ran for governor as a Democrat — could be an indication of just how difficult it could be for Democrats to regain trust in the Rust Belt and Coal Country.

    Though I was amused by this part, given the usual “why do people vote Republican when it’s against their economic interest?” opinonating:

    Paula Langston, a 41-year-old registered nurse who grew up here and has always voted for Republicans, said she was stunned when her parents — staunch, lifelong Democrats — announced that they were voting for Trump. They own a bar in town and realized that voting for Democrats again and again wasn’t helping them, so they decided to take a chance on Trump, she said. She’s not sure whther this was a one-time gamble or a full change of heart.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      WV is, on the whole, more rural (definitely not urbane) and white than the “average” US state. They have lots of coal, and more coal jobs in coal extraction than other states, with coal having comprised the great treasure of their economy at one point.

      Although WV was formed when it did not secede from the Union as the rest of the Virginia did, it still retains a legacy of Democratic support that goes back to before the Civil War.

      This is really just ideological sorting in action. WV Democrats have been primarily “blue dog” Democrats who fit comfortably in an older version of the Democratic Party where the conservative/populist Democrats of the South ruled in coalition with Northern liberal/progressive Democrats. Lifelong party affiliation tendencies means that these things change slowly.

      But the current demographics of WV much more closely match the “median” Republican than the do the median Democrat.

      ETA: This is the .25 open thread. The .5 open threads are CW free.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Is this something to do with the upcoming elections – that Governor Justice thinks the Republicans will make a resurgence in West Virginia and if he wants to be re-elected, he needs to switch horses in mid-stream?

      Basically yes. You can’t go to West Virginia coal country and tell them all their problems are really because of white privilege and institutionalized misogyny. Coal plants are opening, coal exports are up, the gangs that are running drugs into working class communities are being broken up.

      Chuck Schumer just announced a new set of goals for the Democratic party, but it sounds like they just lifted Trump’s platform (renegotiate trade deals, punish companies that ship jobs overseas, etc). It’s probably too little too late, though.

      • jonmarcus says:

        Coal plants are opening, coal exports are up, the gangs that are running drugs into working class communities are being broken up.

        Cites on any of that? Coal plants have opened in WV? Not that I’m aware of. Coal exports from WV? (Looks like coal exports have ticked up slightly, but largely from WY and other western states.)

        And as far as I’m aware, most drug enforcement has centered around immigration issues. WV gets most of it’s drugs via other states, not imported directly from Mexico. So I would that’s less of an issue? Though I admit my knowledge there is sketchy.

    • Matt M says:

      As a random aside, “Governor Justice” sounds like a great name for a superhero.

      • J Mann says:

        I came here to say almost that exact thing. (I see him as a supporting character in a very broad satirical comic, like Preacher or Judge Dredd or something).

        • Deiseach says:

          The name absolutely sounds like a Judge Dredd character, I agree 🙂

          Coal plants are opening, coal exports are up, the gangs that are running drugs into working class communities are being broken up.

          So things are getting somewhat better in West Virginia? And they attribute that to the Republicans in general, or maybe even Trump in particular?

          • BBA says:

            Things are getting a little better, and naturally Trump is taking credit for yuuuuge improvements that aren’t there.

            The trend line for most of the 20th century was a steady increase in automation – producing more and more coal and hiring fewer and fewer people to mine it. (During the Obama years coal production did in fact decline, but that’s as much a result of fracking displacing coal mining as it is of the EPA shoving solar panels down everyone’s throats…well that’s an odd mental picture.)

            Generally, the economic welfare of mining towns in West Virginia depends more on the number of people working than it does on the amount of coal mined. Will running the machines faster but not hiring many new people turn things around? I’m doubtful.

          • So things are getting somewhat better in West Virginia?

            It would be tough for things to get worse in WV. Mississippi has usually been the standard example for being the worst place in the US, but WV has been running hard to beat them at this in the last decade or so. If things are improving, it is almost certainly due to a swing of the pendulum. But of course every politician will grab credit for any improvement anywhere.

          • hlynkacg says:

            See Mark’s comment above.

          • cassander says:

            It would be tough for things to get worse in WV.

            It’s worth noting that income per capita in west virginia is about 42k a year, which is about 25% below the US average. That makes WV slightly poorer than belgium, almost exactly as rich as the UK, and substantially richer than spain, israel, new zealand, and italy, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s worth noting that income per capita in west virginia is about 42k a year

            What’s the PPP equivalent? I.e., how much house / food / other needs can 42k purchase in WV?

            (I’m perpetually a bit leery of IPC numbers whenever they’re used for arguments like this.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            The numbers do seem to line up with PPP GDP/capita (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita), though the link for the WV figure takes me to an error page.

          • Charles F says:

            What’s the PPP equivalent? I.e., how much house / food / other needs can 42k purchase in WV?

            Also important, what’s the distribution look like? If there are some very rich areas to skew the numbers, you could easily have a majority of people making significantly less than 42k.

          • Evan Þ says:

            That was my first thought too – but apparently $42K is the median income.

      • bean says:

        No, that would be Captain Justice.

    • John Schilling says:

      West Virginia is definitely the place for this, if it is going to happen. The economy, to the extent that it still has one, is very heavily centered on working-class mostly-white guys mining coal, which used to be part of the solidly Democratic base when the political divide was unionized labor vs. greedy capitalists. Now that the divide is blue-collar vs white-collar with side orders of white guys vs everyone else and polluters vs environmentalists, West Virginia is part of Trump’s base. Since Trump decided to take that base to the GOP (a sound tactical decision unconflicted by ideology), West Virginia politicians are going to want to ride on Trump’s coattails if at all possible.

      If Trump completely crashes and burns, winds up impeached and removed from office for obstruction of justice or something, this may turn out to have been a bad move for the governor. Anything less than that, and the median WV voter is probably going to stick with Trump to the bitter end and on the downballot races stick with whoever else is sticking with Trump.

    • BBA says:

      So basically, Justice pulled the Mike Bloomberg gambit, only with the parties reversed. (Bloomberg, as you may recall, was a long-time Democrat but political outsider who ran for NYC mayor on the Republican ticket and won.) The difference being that Bloomberg stayed a nominal Republican because he couldn’t win a Democratic primary; the Republican machine in WV isn’t nearly as impenetrable as the Democratic machine here, and Justice thinks he can make it. And I bet he can too.

      • Brad says:

        Bloomberg went Democrat -> Republican -> independent.

        Justice went Republican -> Democrat -> Republican.

        Close, but not exactly the same.

  17. Well... says:

    The only band I’ve gotten into this year is Snapcase. 20 years too late, I know…

    Anyway, I’ve read a few reviews of various Snapcase albums and was surprised to see nothing even approaching a consensus on which album is best. I would have expected just about everyone to say Progression Through Unlearning is their masterpiece, because to me it clearly is–not just in a subjective sense, but in terms of the quality of production, the sophistication and unconventionality of the songwriting, the musical performances, and in its sheer energy and power.

    I was especially surprised to see one reviewer argue that Bright Flashes is their best album. I thought Bright Flashes sounded sloppily recorded and the performances were mostly lackluster. (I hate to say it, but their Helmet cover was unenthusiastic at best, and this is a band that ought to be most at home covering Helmet!) At times I’d even call the album “bad.”

    Are any other commenters here familiar with Snapcase? Am I missing something?

  18. ManyCookies says:

    So where exactly is self-driving car development at right now? I was under the impression we were just starting controlled road tests under very careful supervision, but apparently they’re much further along according to Scott.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Companies that test cars on public roads in California have to report to the state the number of miles driven and the number of “disengagements.” summary.

      Google’s cars drove 600,000 miles in 2016. Many people believe that their cars just work and they are dragging their feet on commercialization, in particular the executive who stole IP and took it to Uber.

      Tesla did most of its testing on private tracks, only 2 weeks on CA roads. It had a high rate of disengagements, but it appears to me that it was all in the rain. Probably they only left their private track to seek difficult conditions.

      Tesla sells a $6k option on currently shipping cars of better sensors. It claims that these sensors are good enough and that it will switch on fully automatic driving on local roads as soon as it is done the software,
      this year.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Thank you very much, that’s quite some progress from the last time I checked up a few years ago.

      • Urstoff says:

        Will there be a point where no human supervision is needed? I don’t see too much of an appeal of a self-driving car where I still have to be in the driver’s seat and be alert for issues.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          In my last link Musk says 2 years.

          There are several parts of driving and you shouldn’t need to be alert for all of them. But Google specifically said that it doesn’t trust drivers to make the transition to alertness and that’s why it hasn’t pursued commercialization. On highways the cars just work. At low speed, if the car runs into trouble, it can just give up without human intervention; most of Google’s test cars don’t have controls. The problem is the intermediate speed, 45mph, on local roads with driveways and pedestrians.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            On highways in good to (maybe) kind of bad but not terrible weather, without special case things like crazy accidents or really big construction detours and so forth, the cars just work. And they fail fairly safely when they don’t work, but I think that Google is concerned that people will be like falling-down drunk and the car will disengage and then basically there’s no real clear thing to do at that point.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It would be ridiculous to expect drivers to be alert and focused on the road while not doing anything. But it seems like Google is being overly cautious. Obviously a drunk in a self-driving car would be a problem. But if someone is texting or watching a video, then you don’t need that long of a transition. If we can get to a point where a self driving car can safely transition to a person in a thirty second time frame, then there shouldn’t be that much of a problem in rolling them out. If they wait until the technology is perfect, they’ll be crushed by the competition.

          • John Schilling says:

            If they wait until the technology is perfect, they’ll be crushed by the competition.

            The way Boeing, waiting until their first jet airliner was perfect, was crushed by De Havilland? One of these companies dominates the global aerospace and defense market, one is a historical trivia question, and thus we see the value of the first-mover advantage in a transformative market.

            Yes, it is ridiculous to expect drivers to be alert and focused on the road while not doing anything, in the sense that there’s no way they will ever actually do that. It is also necessary to expect drivers to be alert and focused on the road while not doing anything, because there’s no other way to provide adequate performance and safety at the current state of the art. And it is going to be very difficult to advance the state of the art without the data that comes from lots of self-driving cars operating in real-world environments.

          • bean says:

            The way Boeing, waiting until their first jet airliner was perfect, was crushed by De Havilland? One of these companies dominates the global aerospace and defense market, one is a historical trivia question, and thus we see the value of the first-mover advantage in a transformative market.

            In fairness, that had a lot to do with De Havilland’s general incompetence. This is the company whose lack of understanding of tolerance buildup ruined the MRA.4. (Well, that wasn’t the only thing…) Boeing did get a substantial first-mover advantage over Douglas when the 707 beat the DC-8 into service. At the same time, Airbus killed Douglas despite a very late start.

          • John Schilling says:

            In fairness, that had a lot to do with De Havilland’s general incompetence. This is the company whose lack of understanding of tolerance buildup ruined the MRA.4.

            But De Havilland’s reputation and track record was for great competence, right up to the point where they started selling jet airplanes. Rather like Google’s reputation and track record has been for great competence, prior to their having sold any self-driving cars.

            Achievement and aptitude don’t necessarily carry across technological revolutions. And first-mover advantage doesn’t help if it just makes you the first guy to crash into the brick wall that nobody knew was there.

          • bean says:

            But De Havilland’s reputation and track record was for great competence, right up to the point where they started selling jet airplanes.

            That’s not true. They’d made the same kind of ‘not thinking about it’ mistake before, most notably with some of the problems the Mosquito/Hornet had in tropical climates. Their reputation was for being generally decent, if a bit sloppy.

            Achievement and aptitude don’t necessarily carry across technological revolutions. And first-mover advantage doesn’t help if it just makes you the first guy to crash into the brick wall that nobody knew was there.

            This is true.

          • skef says:

            But if someone is texting or watching a video, then you don’t need that long of a transition. If we can get to a point where a self driving car can safely transition to a person in a thirty second time frame, then there shouldn’t be that much of a problem in rolling them out. If they wait until the technology is perfect, they’ll be crushed by the competition.

            From what I understand, Google is focusing on remote-takeover rather than driver-takeover for exception cases. That limits range to areas with data coverage for the immediate future, but that’s probably a wider area than they would be limited to at first anyway. This makes a lot of sense, since it lowers costs (no need for controls in the car) and leaves the technology open to people who can’t or shouldn’t drive — the people who will most benefit from it.

            Data from exceptions over the following years will presumably help close the gaps that remain.

          • Ninmesara says:

            But Google specifically said that it doesn’t trust drivers to make the transition to alertness and that’s why it hasn’t pursued commercialization.

            Google is smart.

    • RDNinja says:

      Well, this guy used a runic circle traced in salt to trap the AI in a self-driving car, so…

      (It was an art project, but as best I can tell from the interview, he really did trap the car, which he programmed himself.)

  19. There has been discussion on SSC as to immigrants (how many and who to let in) to the US and other countries. But I don’t think there has been a thread about process. In this interview with Cory Doctorow in Reason, he makes it sound like the process in the US is utterly terrible. I’ve copied the only interesting part of the interview below.

    You know what I worry about a lot? I’m a dirty foreigner. I’m a Canadian on a green card. And as we heard in the Supreme Court [in an April hearing about the case of a Serbian woman named Divna Maslenjak who is accused of misleading authorities on her application for asylum in the United States], it is virtually impossible to not have some way in which you are technically violating immigration rules when you are on a green card crossing borders.

    The justices at the Supreme Court asked about listing known aliases: If I forget a childhood nickname, does that mean that I can be deported or jailed for immigration fraud? And the state’s position was yes; regardless of whether or not the omission is material, the act of omission itself violates the statute and qualifies you.

    Given the highly arbitrary nature of borders, and the very deep antipathy towards the people who cross them from many of the people whose job it is to inspect those people who cross them, that’s the place where I have the most worry.

    I don’t know what I would do if I were required [by immigration officials] to decrypt my devices. I have a certain amount of purging I do before I cross borders so I’m able to decrypt my devices if I’m made to. But then there’s this whole unknown area: What about making you log into your cloud services? And if you don’t have the password, what about calling the people who have the password and saying, “Mr. Doctorow doesn’t get out of immigration detention until you give us the password to his thing that he’s left with you for safekeeping”?

    Those are unknown unknowns. It’s a complete black hole. I think by design the government has not pursued cases where those questions have come up, where it looks like the courts would find that they were acting unconstitutionally, because they want to see that ambiguity flourishing. Because they have so much leverage over you when you’re at the border that that ambiguity really works in [their] favor.

    After the Muslim ban, one of the things that immediately emerged when people said, “What should you do if…?” was, nobody even knows for sure.

    So now I do ridiculous things. There’s a form—I think it’s called the G-28. Border guards have discretion as to whether to allow your counsel to see you when you’re in border detention. That discretion goes away and becomes an obligation if this form has been signed and left with your lawyer before you cross the border. But it has to be on green paper.

    I am no fan of INS (immigration), but is it really this bad? Regardless of the rules on how many and who, it would be nice if the US was civilized towards the applicants. Are other countries this bad?

    • Matt M says:

      I’m reminded of this recent news story. The Supreme Court recently overruled a long-standing precedent that ANY lie, no matter how trivial, on immigration papers, could be used to revoke citizenship even decades after the fact.

    • My hypothesis here is a bit cynical: the overall flood of low-skill immigration (legal, illegal, or quasi-illegal) is hugely unpopular with the population at large; they demand harsher immigration laws, more restrictions, more deportations of illegals, you name it. The population wants low-skill immigrants discouraged.

      The elites, however, are uniformly in favor of large amounts of low skill immigration. (If you work for Vox, you say this is because they know that open borders are great for the world. If you work for VDare, you give a different reason.) They do not want to discourage low-skill immigration. How do we resolve this?

      By making more harsh immigration laws that sound very restrictive, but not bothering to enforce them against most immigrants, illegals who have no interest in following immigration law anyway, and the like. Instead, just enforce them against high-skill immigrants who are mostly law abiding and do as they’re told.

      End result: nice polite Canadian software engineers who wouldn’t dream of as much as speeding get intimidated by angry border control officers. The same officers would be perfectly happy to intimidate Guatemalan dishwashers, but never meet them.

      This is (one of several) reasons I advise my friends who love their high-skill immigrant friends to support actual, enforced restrictions on low-skill immigration: it will reduce pressure to do “something” that can only hurt their friends.

      (I also think it’d be better for the country.)

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        Are you sure that VDare favors low-skill immigration?

      • Matt M says:

        It wasn’t until I went to business school that I started to understand the absurdity of our immigration system.

        99% of the political debate is about what to do with wholly unskilled, refuse-to-assimilate, speak-no-English, cohort, where suggesting that maybe we should allow less of this has one immediately castigated as a horrible xenophobe who wants to “break up families.”

        Meanwhile, every year we kick out tens of thousands of people who speak English fluently, who have recently obtained degrees in high-demand fields from prestigious (American) universities, who can find employment, who are already 50% assimilated, who likely have (extended, not immediate) family in the country, etc. We show them the door and nobody cares, because hey, guess what, they’re also social cooperators and when we tell them “leave” they actually leave. And nobody seems to have a problem with any of this. It’s beyond absurd.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Welcome to what Instapundit calls Anarcho-Tyranny

        • Sanchez says:

          “But if you make immigration a crime only the criminals will immigrate!”

        • Brad says:

          Something similar frustrates me about the new mooted immigration bill. I wouldn’t cut refugee admissions but other then that I’m fine with all the programs they want to eliminate being eliminated. Especially the DV lottery.

          But it seems absurd to cut 50,000 DV visas, 50,000 refugee visas, and 300,000 family based visas and not add even one single employment based visa (which only totals 140,000 per year) and then crow about how you are prioritizing high skill immigrants. They want a new point system — fine, allocate the 400,000 visas being cut from other programs to it.

          • Matt M says:

            While I agree with this, there probably is something to be said that any system that does not, on net, reduce the actual amount of immigration, will probably be seen as a “betrayal” of Trump’s base. There definitely are people who supported him who want “less immigration, period, don’t really care who or how”

          • Brad says:

            The chamber of commerce just warned the Republicans about elevating purity over an actual tax cut. The same critique applies here.

            The bill as written is DoA. Does it betray the base to do nothing or is trying hard but stupidly sufficient?

          • Randy M says:

            It is honestly changing how immigrants are prioritized. If you were spending $100 on food and $100 on entertainment, and now spend $100 on food and $50 on entertainment, you are clearly prioritizing food higher in your group of things to spend money on.

          • Matt M says:

            Does it betray the base to do nothing or is trying hard but stupidly sufficient?

            Probably the latter.

            If my FB feed is any indication, Trump isn’t getting blamed for failing to repeal Obamacare, the GOP Congress is.

          • Brad says:

            @Randy M
            If I give a big speech to my wife and kids about the importance of organic produce, high quality meat, and having enough to eat as a prelude to cutting the entertainment budget and not touching the food budget, I’m being disingenuous.

          • Randy M says:

            If that’s all you said, sure. As part 1b, where part 1a was “Oh, we’re 100$ over budget, we need to decide what to cut. Let’s talk about priorities.”

            Trump has made the case that he wants to focus more on current American’s welfare than prospective, and that less immigrants will help improve the lives of the lower class natives. You might disagree, but I don’t think it is dishonest.
            But I can’t say I listened to how he actually presented it, which very well may have been dishonestly, just that the bill, as discussed here, clearly does shift the legal immigration priorities.

          • Brad says:

            If that’s all you said, sure. As part 1b, where part 1a was “Oh, we’re 100$ over budget, we need to decide what to cut. Let’s talk about priorities.”

            That’s where the analogy breaks down. There’s no overarching need to cut total numbers. *If* it is accurate that low and no-skilled immigration hurts lower class natives then keeping overall immigration numbers steady but making them all high skilled immigrants instead of mostly low and no-skilled is just as good as cutting low and no skilled immigration. Better even because it reduces the cost of goods and services the lower classes need to buy that include high skill labor (e.g. physician care).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            “and that less immigrants will help improve the lives of the lower class natives”

            Yep, let’s keep importing a ruling class, and make it that much more difficult for the children of the native lower-classes to compete for higher-class jobs.

          • albatross11 says:

            What if the majority of the population actually wants less immigration overall? Then it seems like cutting immigration in some categories without adding it back in others would make perfect sense.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I can do more cynical than that.

        Restrictions on high-skilled immigrants (and we really do treat them like trash) are a case of revealed preference. For all their talk, the upper-middle class really does believe that immigrants take our jobs, so they go to great lengths to make sure that they personally don’t face competition in that direction.

        But introducing that competition to the lower classes lowers prices for lots of stuff the UMC buys, so they allow it.

        • Matt M says:

          For all their talk, the upper-middle class really does believe that immigrants take our jobs, so they go to great lengths to make sure that they personally don’t face competition in that direction.

          And yes, this is 100% true. I was shocked by how many of my white, American, progressive, never-voted-republican-in-their-life, MBA classmates were wholly supportive of visa lotteries, because “foreign workers depress wages.” or (my favorite), “the employers mostly just pay them below market and force them to work long hours, so it’s not really good for them to be here either.”

          Somehow, this was meant to be taken as a very serious and legitimate issue entirely different from DEY TOOK OUR JERBS which was widely accepted as a ludicrous statement believed only by ignorant, racist, hillbillies.

          The same people who mock and dismiss Bubba in Mississippi for worrying about competition from Mexico lay awake at night in paralyzing fear of the hundreds of thousands of Indians who would happily do their job for 1/3 of the pay if we actually allowed them to.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And yes, this is 100% true. I was shocked by how many of my white, American, progressive, never-voted-republican-in-their-life, MBA classmates were wholly supportive of visa lotteries, because “foreign workers depress wages.” or (my favorite), “the employers mostly just pay them below market and force them to work long hours, so it’s not really good for them to be here either.”

            They’re MBA students. Exactly the sort of people who will be _doing_ such things. So they’re probably right, except about the last part (even given the exploitation, it’s better for them to be here than back home).

          • Matt M says:

            Of course they’re right that foreign competition will depress their wages.

            But Bubba from Mississippi is right about this too, and they think he’s a racist idiot who doesn’t understand how free trade lifts all boats.

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, I think Canada’s immigration system is better than the US. We have a points-based system: a majority of immigrants to here get in on points, whereas a majority in the US get in on family reunification. I think the US tends to bring in skilled people on employer-linked visas.

          The average immigrant to Canada has better math scores (I can’t find it right now, but a couple OTs ago someone posted a link to PISA math scores for immigrants vs native born in various countries) than the average third-generation person, with the second generation in between. The US is the opposite. I would bet that the average immigrant to Canada is smarter, better-educated, and harder working than the average native-born Canadian; another way of putting it is that if you ignore the bits of the points score for things like connections and jobs in Canada, a lot of native-born Canadians wouldn’t score enough points to get in.

          We also bring in over 2x the immigrants per capita per year as the US does. Arguably, we do a better job of integrating immigrants than the US does. However, one major problem the Canadian system has is that just because you have a credential that helps you get in, doesn’t mean you can use it. This isn’t because of the immigration system, it’s because of the industry bodies that regulate professional-class jobs. They’re basically guilds, and it’s in their interest/that of their members to keep the labour pool in those industries from expanding too much.

          This generally is not explained as nativism of the well-heeled, but it is.

    • BBA says:

      With immigration, there’s a presumption of guilt. Foreigners are presumed to be illegal immigrants unless they can prove they are legal immigrants or non-immigrants. Now, combine this with the immigration laws being insanely overcomplicated, almost as bad as the tax code, and with border guards getting a great deal of leeway to kick out anyone who looks suspicious (not to mention the sorts of people who get jobs as border guards – authoritarian personalities, couldn’t make it as real cops) and you get the current Kafkaesque nightmare.

      It’s not “INS” anymore, by the way. The reorganization that created Homeland Security merged INS with Customs and divvied up both agencies’ functions among CBP, ICE, and USCIS. Not that this has made those functions any more efficient or easier to deal with.

      Among other “nice” developed countries, I’ve heard some horror stories about the UK’s border process. The Schengen signatories appear to be a lot less hostile towards applicants. But my only experience with any of these has been as a tourist so I really can’t say.

    • johan_larson says:

      I am no fan of INS (immigration), but is it really this bad?

      It’s pretty bad, yeah. I’m a presentable white man with a PhD in computer science, and I had some pretty nasty problems crossing the border to work in the US from Canada. I has denied several times for a TN visa because the paperwork wasn’t exactly right. I also got chewed out pretty badly another time because I left the country and didn’t file some paperwork saying I was doing so.

      The application for a green card was also a real trial, requiring all sorts of obscure paperwork and certifications. They wanted me to state, formally, that I had no involvement with the Third Reich. They also required fingerprints, which I found insulting, and a medical exam that included a check for hernia. So the US federal government in all its dignity once took an interest in the state of my nut-sack. I guess they liked what they found. But yeah, the immigration process is pretty bad.

    • Deiseach says:

      The justices at the Supreme Court asked about listing known aliases: If I forget a childhood nickname, does that mean that I can be deported or jailed for immigration fraud? And the state’s position was yes; regardless of whether or not the omission is material, the act of omission itself violates the statute and qualifies you.

      This is the bit that makes me lose all impartiality about the rest of his argument. Now, maybe US border guards and the whole system is so infernal that they really will throw him in jail for neglecting to put on the application form “When I was twelve, my schoolfriends called me ‘Chip'” – in which case, your system is so broken the entire thing needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up – or maybe that’s not the kind of thing they mean, and Chip knows damn well it’s not, but he’s doing the semantic bait-and-switch: “immigrant” meaning me, nice legal Canadian middle-class educated person, and my nice middle-class educated readers will identify with me and subliminally put themselves in my shoes for the threat of being deported or even jailed for a simple, trifling bit of meaningless legal minutiae, but using that to cover the wider case of “immigrant” which means illegal immigrants, not all of whom are nice middle-class white Canadians and yes indeed, some of them may even be less than upstanding citizens!

      Anecdotes are not data, but I can tell you that back in my social housing job, there were a few non-Irish nationals who, shall we say, cultivated ambiguity as to their identity and it was indeed in the area of “known aliases”: there might be one name on their state-issued ID card, they might have applied for housing under a slightly different name or using part of their whole name (let us say that their native name was something along the lines of “Alonzo bar-Alonzo y Alonzo el-Alonzo”, they might be bar-Alonzo in one context and el-Alonzo in another) and be down as “parent of Irish-born child/partner of Irish citizen” in a third name, never mind what familiar name their friends/boss/co-workers might know them under (“Ah, good old Mike!”) and I’m not going to say that perhaps some social welfare claiming that they were not eligible for was going on under these variant names because that is outside of my direct knowledge *ahem ahem*

      So ‘Chip’ Doctorow is being disingenuous here (“I’m an immigrant! I’m a nice law-abiding guy with a professional job! I could be flung into durance vile merely because I forgot or neglected to put down on my application form years ago that my auntie Beryl used to call me ‘Sweetums’, now how fair is that when used as a reason when they want to deport José Manuel Reina Páez for not putting down on his form that he has a criminal record back home under the nickname ‘Pepe’?”), and if he doesn’t know it, he damn well should.

      • random832 says:

        The problem is, what you believe is a central example, would still be illegal under the new standard because it’s actually material, so it’s not only not a central example, it’s not an example at all.

        I don’t think you realize what argument you’ve waded into. You are in the unenviable position of having to come up with an example that is definitely not actually material (i.e. if they had in fact included it on their application it’s 100% clear that they would still have been approved), yet still something you are willing to argue someone deserves to be deported for omitting. And the guy with a criminal record back home under an alias doesn’t qualify.

        And the government didn’t have to double down so far with the “yes, even that”s – if they had any actually defensible principles, they could have argued how those things really are different from the facts in the case. You cannot blame Cory Doctorow for a question that the supreme court actually asked and that the government actually gave the unreasonable answer to.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not blaming Cory Doctorow for anything, I’m saying he’s playing “find the lady” with his example of “Nice Canadian me could be deported for not putting down my third class nickname on my visa application” and then extrapolating from that to “and so it is totally unreasonable to use criteria about ‘are you going by any other names’ when considering immigrants”.

          How likely is it that Cory Doctorow will be stopped and hassled at the border, precisely because he is a nice white Canadian educated professional? If he wants to argue that the part about including aliases is unreasonable, or that it is unreasonable to punish people for genuine mistakes (and not deliberately concealing their identities) then he can do so, but he also has to acknowledge that hey, some people do use aliases and go by various names precisely because they are trying to game the system, avoid being picked up for crimes committed, or otherwise identified by police and other agencies as fraudsters or illegals.

          And yes, I do think it’s reasonable to deport someone for “forgetting” to put down on their application that they are also known by the name George Brown under which they were convicted for bank fraud/armed robbery/swindling old ladies out of their life savings back home.

          I don’t know if you know about the requirement for police vetting when applying for a job working with children/vulnerable persons, but that form requires you to put down all your current and previous addresses and any names or aliases you were known by, so that the report can come back as to whether or not you have ever been convicted of a crime.

          Do you think it’s unreasonable to fire someone working with vulnerable adults or minors who “forgot” to include that address where they lived in Cityville, that time they got a jail sentence for being involved in a stabbing?

          • Jiro says:

            The problem is that it also can include things like not writing down that you once had a job mowing lawns in high school. Forgetting to mention your jail address is a material omission. But they were allowed to kick people out for any omission or lie, not just for material one.

            It’s basically a system where the government has discretion to expel anyone at any time because everyone’s going to “lie” on some inconsequential question.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Have you committed your three felonies today? (LEO Bonus: If you haven’t, that’s extra suspicious!)

          • Protagoras says:

            Yes, that is reasonable, but the government went to the Supreme Court (and fortunately lost) fighting for the right to deport people for lying about things that don’t matter. Yes, that really was their argument; the debate wasn’t whether the particular thing lied about in the case at issue mattered or not (a question on which they might have won in the case in question). They explicitly made it about claiming the authority to expel on the basis of lies and omissions that do not matter. All of your examples of lying about or omitting things that do matter are therefore entirely beside the point when it comes to this particular example of government overreach, as random832 tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to explain.

          • random832 says:

            And yes, I do think it’s reasonable to deport someone for “forgetting” to put down on their application that they are also known by the name George Brown under which they were convicted for bank fraud/armed robbery/swindling old ladies out of their life savings back home.

            You. Are. Not. Listening.

            The case is explicitly about, and only about, the ones who were not “convicted for bank fraud/armed robbery/swindling old ladies out of their life savings back home”, because the problem is explicitly that they are not considering whether or not the information would have led to denying their application if the immigration officer had known it.

            When taken together with Trump floating the idea that jus soli “will not hold up in court“, it looks very much like laying the groundwork to revoke almost anyone’s citizenship by finding (or fabricating) trivial things that they or their ancestors might not have mentioned, if they ever become inconvenient to the administration.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Taking the Maslenjak case together with Trump’s nonsense about jus soli (he’s talking out of his nether regions and probably knows it) is probably a mistake. Maslenjak was a carryover case from the Obama administration; it reached the Supreme Court prior to Trump’s inauguration, though it was argued by his administration.

  20. johan_larson says:

    Could I get some calibration assistance? Is this joke a little cheeky, or really racist?

    Watch your toes, man. Between the Russians and the Chinese, it won’t be long before someone drops article on floor.

  21. Zorgon says:

    Two notes I want to make:

    1) Being asked to “prove my humanity” by adding 5 + 5 in order to log in seems like extreme lowballing, especially in this particular community.

    2) I will admit to being a little bit aggrieved at not being able to quote the host using the Dreaded G Word.

  22. rahien.din says:

    Regarding artificial intelligence, tell me what I’m missing :

    I. One of the spookier aspects of neural networks is the opacity of their operations. We can know that the machine’s processes are continually being refined, and that the answers it gives us are each better than the last, but it is impossible to determine (at least, directly) what those processes actually entail. How does the machine work? No one can be sure.

    II. The most worrisome thing being bandied about with respect to AI is this Singularity. In the nightmare scenario, an AI redesigns itself to be even more magnificently efficient. As each design decision is undertaken by an incrementally-better AI, either the iterations are more productive or are accomplished more quickly or both. The fear is that one could go to bed with a baby AI redesigning itself and wake up to a superintelligence too enormously powerful for human minds to contend with, with potentially-catastrophic consequences. Without the ability to guarantee that the AI will maintain our same values (AlphaGo demonstrates that this is not unlikely) we could wake up to SkyNet. Or worse, to an AI that has the values and ambitions of SkyNet but which works so devilishly that we can’t even detect its machinations until it is far too late.

    III. Do I and II cohere? Though I may presume, it seems that the operational opacity of a neural network is not merely a roadblock for humanity, but is a general obstacle for any system/mind attempting to examine the machine. It is impossible that an AI could modify itself without being able to know its own internal functions or components. In this sense, an AI is a process with a trajectory, but that trajectory is not truly modifiable, neither from without or within.

    Therefore, if we are to enlist AI in the development of AI, there will not be a single instantiation of AI that exponentially modifies itself into explosive intelligence. There will have to be successive instantiations, each an improvement on its progenitor. This seems more reassuring to me, in that we will have a greater capacity to surveil the progress of this succession, test implications, and curtail dangerous scenarios. There may also be resource limitations imposed either naturally or artificially.

    IV. There is some interest in developing AI that transparently reports its processes, such that we can know by what methods and factors it arrives at its conclusions. Is this more safe, because humans can tell what the machine is doing, permitting our intervention? Or is it less safe, because the machine can tell what it is doing, permitting exponential modification?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Wait, wait, wait.

      It is eminently possible to tell how a neural network works at any point. There is nothing spooky or mysterious about it. Now, the algorithm it creates is an annoying mix of useful and useless (or indeed counterproductive) stuff, deeply intertwined, and it is difficult to analyze it in such a way as to figure out what parts are useful “meaning” and what parts are bullshit randomness. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t know how it works.

      It’s also not true that neural networks get better with each input. Overtraining exists.

    • Anon. says:

      You don’t need to understand it to make it smarter, because NNs are not made by hand. You just need to improve the algorithm that creates the NN.

  23. sohois says:

    I’ve been looking into Basic Income recently, an area that is of interest to me and I’m sure to many other commentators here, given past discussions and posts. One thing that has surprised me is how every concrete proposal, i.e. with actual funding calculations, goes from one direction. They are always “if we cut x government programs/raise y tax revenue/use z special source of funds etc., then we can give every citizen xyz income every year”. But there is very rarely a consideration of if xyz is sufficient to actually live on. This is fine when you’re advocating to UBI to immediately replace current welfare systems where people are still expected to find work whenever possible, but a lot of interest in UBI is being driven by fears of technological unemployment and in such situations work becomes practically impossible for a subset of people. I’m not here to debate how likely this situation is, but rather if we accept it as true, then we should also accept that for a subset of people they will have no choice but to live only on their UBI. Thus, xyz will need to be enough for people to have some minimum standard of living.

    I can’t help but wonder why no one has tried to work backwards, calculating an xyz that achieves this minimum standard and then looks at the levels of taxes, budget transfers and so on needed to reach xyz (if anyone does know of work to that effect, I would very much appreciate a link). I set off to try and calculate something like that myself.

    Whilst I’m unaware of anything on this topic from a UBI perspective, work on minimum wages and living wages does look at similar issues. Particularly useful for me is the Minimum Income Standard published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. However, since it is assuming people are in work, it tends to be far too generous in some areas and would certainly be too large for a viable UBI. It’s still a good source for initial assumptions but I wanted to ask others here what they thought of one particular category of spending.

    The MIS has a category for “Personal Goods and Services”. According to the original 2008 report, this mostly works out as toiletries with some health items like dental appointments. However, even if we assume the various health costs (they specify 3 dental appointments per year, 0.5 optician appointments per year and 4 prescription medicines per year) work out to around £100 – which I believe is accurate for the UK – there is still some £640 per year to buy toiletries, or about £12.50 per week. For reference, £12.50 would enable a man to purchase shampoo, shower gel, bar soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shaving foam and a pack of disposable razors, every week (based on online supermarket prices). I accept that there are probably a few things I’m forgetting, and you should probably cut 10-15% to account for gender differences for a male, but it still seems way too high. I would expect most of those items to last 2 weeks to a month or even longer in some cases, so that’s a big surplus for people. What does SSC think would be a reasonable minimum spend for toiletries and other hygiene products?

    • Well... says:

      One of my objections to UBI boils down to my belief that giving people money for free will change the value of that money, so that we won’t really be giving them the amount of purchasing power we think we are.

      While I am probably better than the average man-on-the-street in terms of economic literacy, I am not confident enough in my economic literacy to say whether the above objection is legitimate.

      My main objection is that UBI really smells like communism to me. At the end of the day this is totally subjective, but still very real.

      Totally unrelated: am I the only American-English speaker here who kinda chuckles when he sees people use the word “whilst”?

      • Zorgon says:

        One of my objections to UBI boils down to my belief that giving people money for free will change the value of that money, so that we won’t really be giving them the amount of purchasing power we think we are.

        While I am probably better than the average man-on-the-street in terms of economic literacy, I am not confident enough in my economic literacy to say whether the above objection is legitimate.

        This is basically my problem too. I’ve seen a few economics-versed people tell me how it’s not a problem, and that’s comforting, but I still haven’t had it explained to me in ways my linear coder-brain can understand why a UBI wouldn’t just immediately inflate into worthlessness. Especially absent rent controls.

        • James Miller says:

          I’m an economist and I don’t think this is a problem. My guess as to why you might think it is a problem is either (1) the government will be printing the extra money and inflation, or (2) non-rich people will have extra money and so bid up the price of stuff because of extra demand. (1) would be a problem but it’s an obvious enough of one that I don’t think we would do basic income by printing money. With (2) basic income transfers resources from the rich to the not rich, so although it increases the demand for stuff the non-rich buy, it decreases it for stuff the rich will buy and to a first approximation these effects would mostly cancel out in the long-run. Even with goods such as low income housing, in the long run you would see a shift in the housing sector from producing really big houses for rich people to making more smaller housing for poor people and this would prevent the long run price of low income housing from going up a lot.

          (2) would be a problem for, say, gold if only the non-rich bought gold and it became impossible to mine more gold if the demand increased. But (2) isn’t a problem if the economy can easily shift production resources to produce more of the goods wanted by the non-rich.

          I object, right now at least, to basic income, because of the bad incentives it would create for people to work.

          • Well... says:

            For me, (1) is not a reason I ever proposed–I understand money for UBI comes from taxes or some other form of coercive redistribution–and (2) is something I considered briefly but never thought of as a main reason to oppose UBI.

            One of my main reasons is that giving people money for absolutely nothing, rather than requiring them to earn it, dilutes their own perceived value of that money, as a general rule.

            Isn’t that part of the argument libertarians make when they say the government always does X less efficiently than the private market would? Isn’t this also part of the reason why lottery winners so often wind up in worse financial straits than before they won the lottery?*

            I agree with your objection as well (creates bad incentives) but only partially since, as I understand it, UBI in most cases, even without any unintended secondary effects, wouldn’t be enough to completely subsidize a middle-class lifestyle; rather, it would be a few extra thousand dollars a year that people could use to cover their biggest expenses, or take vacations, or whatever else.

            *Apparently this often-repeated claim is based on a study that only looked at people who won lotteries up to $150K. But doesn’t that make it more salient to UBI?

          • Zorgon says:

            I’m not wholly convinced there’s a functional difference between a government simply printing money and paying for UBI from tax receipts, given the way government spending generally works.

            The reason I’m worried about inflation stems from seeing how Housing Benefit affects life in the UK. When Housing Benefit was originally brought into existence, it was paid by local government. Most Housing Benefit recipients also lived in local government-owned housing stock, which at the time was very broadly available across the entire country; local government also operated this housing stock and received rents.

            Housing Benefit, therefore, was originally for the most part an accounting exercise; local government just marked the rent (or a portion of the rent) as paid. Since there was always such a large amount of local government-owned housing stock available, this enacted what amounted to a de facto rent control system. Rent inflation was virtually non-existent; there were other problems, but endlessly spiralling rent was not among them.

            Problems began when the Thatcher government (and successive governments) ran a number of schemes designed to first allow, then encourage, then assist those who were renting local-government-owned housing stock to buy their homes. The end result was not obvious immediately, but over the following decades the dominant form of lower-class housing became “buy to let” houses purchased as long-term assets (typically by middle class retirees taking out second mortgages). Meanwhile, Housing Benefit rules remained much the same.

            The end result has been utterly absurd inflation of both house prices (as rent-seekers hunt for properties) and rents themselves. Since the UK’s population has been steadily growing due to immigration and cultural changes have led to smaller families (and the aforementioned multiple ownership glut amongst the middle class), there is a permanent state of drought regarding available housing stock, and local-government-run housing stock doesn’t exist in much of the country any more. In many parts of the country rents eat up anything up to half the income of low earners, who often don’t qualify for Housing Benefit due to various punitive changes inflicted by Conservative governments (removing HB from anyone under 25, for example).

            My problem with UBI is that I cannot see how it doesn’t end in exactly the same place. If nothing else, rents will simply expand to devour whatever people get; in a permanent accommodation drought with no rent controls, there is nothing to stop it doing so.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s true that UBI could result in the inflated price of goods, and we would have to keep that in mind. But it doesn’t follow that the price of goods will always inflate to the point that it would have been better off not to subsidize them. For example, food stamps already act as as a “Universal Basic Food” subsidy, ensuring that everyone has a base income (~170$ per month in my state) for food. And while the number of people on food stamps increased since before the recession, food prices continue to drop.

            *edit: I understand that the UBI differs from food stamps in that it is a universal benefit given to everyone, including the non-poor. I don’t think this makes a difference though, since the inflation pressure is being caused by the simple increase in demand due to money entering the system, irrelevant of how that subsidy money is distributed

            @Well…

            One of my main reasons is that giving people money for absolutely nothing, rather than requiring them to earn it, dilutes their own perceived value of that money, as a general rule.

            Since the UBI would be an unearned income, it could be funded by taxing only other forms of unearned income (such as inheritance, royalties, interest, rent), resulting in a net-neutral change society-wide in unearned income.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I thought the explanation for lottery winners not doing well is that most people are bad with money, regardless of quantity. People who already had good spending and saving habits given a windfall did not go broke. People who were already spending every dime they made just spent more dimes until they were right back where they started.

          • Guy in TN says:

            “People who play the lottery” definitely looks like a non-random subset of the population, especially in regards to traits such as understanding of statistics, which seems necessary for wise money investment.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            IANAE (though it was my course of study and I entertain myself with econ blogs), but this sounds basically right.

            To make it clearer (and eliminate nuance/lower accuracy accordingly), you cannot devalue money, unless you are printing more money. UBI does not inherently print more money, therefore it does not devalue money.

            One of my main reasons is that giving people money for absolutely nothing, rather than requiring them to earn it, dilutes their own perceived value of that money, as a general rule.

            This is basically saying that it eliminates work ethic and people don’t realize “the value of a dollar.”

            Sort of different than what economists think of as “diminishing value.”

            Also, I don’t think most economists are going to use that as their analysis. That’s not really the economic way of thinking. It’s more marginal analysis, trade-offs, etc. So, what’s the new marginal tax rate in the UBI regime? How many people might feel sufficiently wealthy that they just stop working entirely? How might people find alternative living arrangements…IE, I graduated from college and am making 8k/year with my UBI, which is enough to crash at my parents rent-free and get a new wardrobe every year, too!

          • Well... says:

            @Guy in TN:

            The differences between food stamps and UBI don’t invalidate all comparisons necessarily, but might invalidate some.

            I haven’t heard anyone propose that UBI be funded solely out of unearned income. Is that feasible without causing bigger problems? Is there enough unearned income to fund it? Also, is the diluting effect I mentioned the same no matter the source of the income?

            @Guy in TN and Conrad Honcho:

            Lottery point retracted I guess. So, what about the libertarian bit about government inefficiency?

          • Nornagest says:

            you cannot devalue money, unless you are printing more money

            Sure you can. You just need to convince people to trust their money less. Printing more money is one way to do that, but making people lose confidence in their government is another one. Exchange rates fluctuate every time there’s a crisis because of this.

            In the extreme case, USD isn’t going to be worth anything to you if you don’t think USG will exist tomorrow.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There’s the extreme case of the US government collapsing, and there’s the case of the US inflating the currency, but these operate in different mechanisms. It’s not the same mechanism “less faith in the currency.”

            In the second, the Central Bank loses credibility that it will control inflation and private contracts begin factoring in for this. It creates a wage-price spiral that drives inflation.
            This can be broken if the Central Bank simply chooses not to print more money, though.

            Most fluctuations in exchange rates are not dictated by fears of imminent collapse, but responses to economic factors (of which geopolitical factors make a BIG difference, because it affects economics). The biggest trades are in the reserve currencies: The Euro, the Yen, the GBP pound, and the US dollar. No one seriously thinks the governments of any are going to collapse at any point in the near future, but their values fluctuate a LOT. The Yen has declined massively against the dollar, from USDJPY 78 in 2012 to USDJPY 110 today. That’s a 41% appreciation in the USD over the last 5 years.

            That’s not because people have less faith in Japan, it’s probably because Japan has massive QE ( removing nuance: printing more money).

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m curious why you think UBI is like communism. I’d say UBI is a way to run a social welfare state within a capitalistic country. We’re not talking about government controlling markets or seizing the means of production, we’re just talking about setting up a specific kind of social welfare system.

        In the US now, we have lots of different programs to alleviate poverty–unemployment insurance, social security, medicaid, WIC, disability, section 8, etc. Each has its own fairly complex eligibility rules and restrictions, and a corresponding administrative infrastructure to operate it. The overlap of these programs and their eligibility rules and such can be very complex, and it’s apparently a pretty regular thing for someone to lose their benefits if they make a little more money or have a little more savings or take a part-time job or something.

        The benefit of all that administrative complexity is that we don’t give help to people who don’t need it, and we can restrict what people use our help for “for their own good” to some extent. (Like making sure that WIC can’t be used to buy soda or cigarettes.) That lets us spend less money and avoid some really offensive cases where some lousy person spends all his public assistance on drugs and lets his kids starve. (Though only to some extent–no government program is going to turn a crackhead into a good parent.)

        The cost of that administrative complexity is, first, the cost of actually administering those programs with their complex rules and piles of paperwork, and second, the creation of really complicated rules for poor people to navigate if they don’t want to lose their benefits. Some of those rules are actively harmful–discouraging people taking a better job or working more hours or saving up any money, for example.

        UBI is an attempt to get around all that administrative complexity. Instead, most or all of those other programs go away, and we simply make sure everyone gets a check every week or month or whatever that they can spend however they like.

        The good news here is that we eliminate the perverse incentives and administrative complexity–you just get a card that you can use to buy whatever you want, everyone gets one, etc.

        The bad news here is that this costs a lot of money, because in order not to have complicated eligibility requirements, we just give it to everyone. For people who are already net taxpayers, we’d probably just have our taxes go up by an offsetting amount.

        Politically, it will be hard to kill individual programs in favor of UBI–everyone can make up a justification for why their program should be saved when it’s their job on the line, and many programs (social security, for example) have well-defined beneficiaries that vote.

        Economically, here’s how I think of this.

        a. Right now, there are very poor people who are covered by existing programs. (Also homeless people who aren’t getting the programs they’re covered by in theory because they’re crazy, have no fixed address, or otherwise get lost in the shuffle.) You can imagine UBI basically keeping them about the same as they were in terms of how much taxpayer money we’re spending on them. Hopefully, their lives are better (because there’s less hassle keeping the programs).

        b. Right now there are net taxpayers who won’t benefit from UBI at all–we get an extra $12K from the government every year but our taxes go up by at least $12K to cover it.

        c. There are also people who are not net taxpayers, and in fact aren’t doing too well, but they don’t qualify or haven’t signed up for any poverty programs. Those people start getting UBI, and their benefits are where the extra cost comes from.

        In terms of resources instead of money, (c) is the group where we should see a big impact–the Wal-Mart clerk who was barely scraping by gets some extra money to spend. Prices of things bought mostly by that group of people will go up as a result of UBI, and those higher prices will lead to more of that kind of stuff being made, and we’ll end up with an equilibrium–somewhat higher prices, but more actual resources flowing to those people.

        It’s not obvious to me what the social impact of UBI would be. Would people in now-marginal jobs that pay the bills just quit and live off their UBI? Would people now on public assistance save money and get better jobs knowing this wouldn’t, say, deprive their kids of medical care if they get sick? I really don’t know. That seems like it can only be answered by experience.

        • Kevin C. says:

          I’m curious why you think UBI is like communism.

          I can’t speak for Well…, but my answer to this question would be to ask which to which statement’s sentiment is a UBI closer?
          •”He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
          or
          •”From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C

            Communists often argue that a good implementation of their ideals will mean no unemployment. That is also what the ‘from each according to his ability’ is about: that everyone contributes what (s)he can and then ‘to each according to his need:’ that they get what they need independently of how much they can contribute.

            So I wonder if you couldn’t find a lot of communists who support both statements.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Kevin C: I think you have established that UBI is a bit more like communism than it is like markets-red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism with no safety net.

            But UBI is still ‘to each regardless of need’, and as long as the ‘from each according to ability’ were calibrated so as not to create tipping points where there was a sudden large disincentive against being a higher achiever, there’s no reason to think that that alone would make it disastrous.

            Heck, you could even modify the first bit, to ‘Under UBI, he who does not work, well, we’re not going to let him starve to death, but neither shall he eat anything particularly luxurious’.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje

            Communists often argue that a good implementation of their ideals will mean no unemployment.

            I’m aware of that. I think they’re dead wrong.

            That is also what the ‘from each according to his ability’ is about: that everyone contributes what (s)he can

            The problem being, what about those who simply have no ability to contribute? Because that’s a big part of the whole technological unemployment argument behind the current push toward UBI: that improvements in automation and control technology are leading to a world where a non-trivial fraction of the population have nothing meaningful to contribute to the economy.

            and then ‘to each according to his need:’ that they get what they need independently of how much they can contribute.

            Which destroys incentives because it disconnects contribution and reward. Why work — especially the difficult, messy, unpleasant work — when it does not change what you receive in return? Why not be an idle parasite on the body public?

            @Winter Shaker

            I didn’t say a carefully-calibrated UBI would be as disastrous as full-blown old-school Communism, and didn’t mean to imply it; I merely noted, as you agreed, that it is perhaps “closer” in idea-space. Your right that as usually designed, it would actually provide better incentives to work than the “welfare trap” of current systems (with which I am familiar first-hand, mind you).

            Where I have problems with UBI, besides that it is at present unaffordable according to most figures I’ve seen, are more the sociological than economic effects, plus also what I’ve seen first-hand around the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. For the latter, that’s basically, what do you do when someone can’t make rent, or their kids are starving, because they blew their UBI on booze/drugs/hookers/new snowmobiles/etc.? And how do you avoid “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” loss of meaning/purpose, or the same unpleasant status dynamics as Paul Graham describes talking about high school (and prison, and “ladies who lunch”) in his “Why Nerds are Unpopular” essay? How do you prevent 2000AD‘s “Sunday Night Fever”?

            I don’t think it’s really in our evolved nature as a species to take this sort of long-term unemployment well. This is one of those areas where I expect technological progress is creating an environment so far from that to which we are adapted that not even culture can compensate for the mismatch, and that something will probably have to give.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Kevin C:

            Which version of Kafkatrapping is it when you accuse people of Communism and limit their defense to embracing a statement of the central principle of Communism according to Karl Marx, and one cited as the prime, basic, and root principle of Socialism according to V.I. Lenin?

            I suspect that you meant the former statement to be an expression of Christian, rather than Communist, virtue, in which case, nobody finds your argument persuasive except the most idiotic sort of Christian operating at the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” level. The more intelligent sort of Christian (or Communist) understands that Christian and Communist virtues in fact strongly overlap, particularly with regards to the treatment of the poor.

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C

            The problem being, what about those who simply have no ability to contribute?

            The USSR had a lot of overmanning, doing the work with many more people than necessary. You are thinking too much like a capitalist, comrade.

            Which destroys incentives because it disconnects contribution and reward. Why work — especially the difficult, messy, unpleasant work — when it does not change what you receive in return? Why not be an idle parasite on the body public?

            And with a UBI you do get a higher income if you have a paid job, so not the same as communism.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje, @John Schilling

            Okay, maybe I’m not being clear in separating my arguments. There’s:

            1.) My arguments against the positions of old-school capital-c Communists (which Aapje brought up), as distinct from

            2.) UBI, and my argments against it. UBI is indeed distinct, and does not destroy incentives as full-blown “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, and perhaps even improves on incentives to work compared to our present welfare systerm (My concerns, outside affordability, are more sociological and psychological.) I’m not accusing UBI supporters of being old-school Communists or defending its positions; I’m saying that while distinct, UBI is closer in “idea space” to (1) above than it is to

            3.) either “markets-red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism” or old-school traditionalist Christian views, which, as I understand it (from my outside view), even at it’s most charitable and anti-wealth-accumulation still expected at least all adult males to make efforts to contribute labor of some manner, work-as-curse-of-Adam, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”, “sloth” as deadly sin, et cetera.

            Speaking of this last, though, outside of a few brief mentions by Rod Dreher in his anti-Transhumanism essays, I haven’t really seen much engagement by Christian traditionalists with the issue of technological unemployment.

          • Where I have problems with UBI, besides that it is at present unaffordable according to most figures I’ve seen, are more the sociological than economic effects,

            UBI is 32 different things, and some of them are automatically affordable.

            A version where the average worker has a tax hike, but gets the money back in UBI is zero sum. The only wrinkle is whether people stay in employment.

          • Matt M says:

            A version where the average worker has a tax hike, but gets the money back in UBI is zero sum.

            This is also politically impossible, at least in the US.

            UBI is still supported mostly by the left, who will absolutely not accept any version of it that does not transfer wealth from the rich to the poor.

          • Brad says:

            The biggest political problem instituting a UBI in the US has little to nothing to do with the boogieman left. It is that the largest source of “now we can cut other welfare programs” is social security. And old people of all ideological persuasions flip their shit when anyone even thinks of cutting their welfare.

          • random832 says:

            UBI is still supported mostly by the left, who will absolutely not accept any version of it that does not transfer wealth from the rich to the poor.

            Having no net change for the average worker (i.e. the neither rich nor poor) is perfectly consistent with this.

            The point is that “everyone gets a check written to them every month” is not actually inconsistent with some groups having no net change (higher taxes plus the check) and some groups having to pay more (even higher taxes)

          • Matt M says:

            That’s fair.

            And just to be clear, I want to say that the biggest roadblock to getting a UBI today is the right. I think it would probably pass if you only polled leftists (I wouldn’t be shocked if a weak version of it is included in the next Democratic party platform during the presidential cycle).

            But when people start proposing things like “Well we can find the money for it by raising taxes on the poor” then no, the left ain’t allowing that.

            You’re right that social security (and medicare) have been declared untouchable by recipients of all political persuasions.

          • This is also politically impossible, at least in the US.

            That’s a rather different issue. The US would probably need healhcare reform to precede UBI, anyway.

    • Matt M says:

      I can’t help but wonder why no one has tried to work backwards, calculating an xyz that achieves this minimum standard and then looks at the levels of taxes, budget transfers and so on needed to reach xyz

      I think a large part of the problem here is that there’s very little trust between the individualist camp and the collectivist camp, and that “the minimum amount needed to live” is such a clearly subjective and ill-defined standard.

      The right wouldn’t trust a leftist’s estimate on “the minimum required to live.” They already think that people on government assistance for “the bare necessities” waste the money and buy too many unnecessary luxuries.

      Similarly, the left wouldn’t trust a conservative’s estimate on “the minimum required to live.” Because those dastardly conservatives think that so long you aren’t literally starving to death then you have enough, and only the privileged elite should be entitled to more.

      But framing UBI as a dollar-for-dollar replacement of existing programs is different, because nobody has to use any new estimates for clearly subjective things – instead we’re using the estimates already in play that are just uncontroversial enough to have managed to come into existence already. It’s essentially a compromise position. Right says “current welfare programs are too generous”, left says “current welfare programs are too stingy,” therefore moderate implies “current welfare programs are about right.” Therefore, the “about right” solution is like to be “match the current welfare programs”

      • sohois says:

        Yeah, I agree that any UBI implementation would have endless quarrels over what the “right” level should be, but what I’m looking at is not a normative prescription. I think that anyone who agrees with UBI would also agree that at some point an income will not be sufficient for a person to live and thus in a situation of technological unemployment if you go beyond that baseline you’re likely to incur significant negative externalities (crime, homelessness, starvation, revolution?).

        Determining the baseline level of income for survival has the additional benefit of resolving a lot of the problems of ‘affordability’. Essentially, if that absolute minimum cannot be reached for a reasonable level of taxation or other funding, then UBI is not a suitable solution. If it can be done, then UBI proponents need no longer quibble about whether UBI is a feasible solution and instead get on with arguing over what level UBI should be set at.

        So when I look at the minimum level, it literally means as low as can be done before a person becomes homeless, or malnourished, or something similar. People should be able to function in society (hence the question about hygiene goods, as I doubt anyone wants ‘unwashed masses’ to become a reality) but have no luxuries whatsoever.

        • Matt M says:

          Essentially, if that absolute minimum cannot be reached for a reasonable level of taxation or other funding

          This is an important consideration in theory, but our current political process does not work this way. We figure out how much money a thing is going to cost, we decide whether we want it or not, and if we do, we get the thing. If we can’t afford it via taxation, we borrow more. If we can’t borrow more, we print the money.

          “Availability of funds” is simply NOT a primary criteria for public policy decisionmaking.

          • sohois says:

            Yes, when a government comes to actually implement something then ‘affordability’ isn’t really a concept that exists, since governments can always find a way to fund things. But UBI is very far away from there, and in the court of public opinion how much something will cost, or how much tax and borrowing is needed to pay for it, is a widespread concern.

            You see it all the time whenever UBI is discussed on the internet. “How could we possibly give every citizen $10’000 per year!? That’s $x trillion! Our entire public spending is only $x+1 trillion!” Even when people seem to agree that UBI is an objectively superior form of welfare spending, cost concerns come to the forefront.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, when a government comes to actually implement something then ‘affordability’ isn’t really a concept that exists, since governments can always find a way to fund things.

            I imagine the government of Venezuela thought that too.

            The government can always find ways to provide money. To provide value on such a large scale is another thing entirely.

          • Matt M says:

            You see it all the time whenever UBI is discussed on the internet. “How could we possibly give every citizen $10’000 per year!? That’s $x trillion! Our entire public spending is only $x+1 trillion!”

            Sure, this is true in rationalist and economics circles where people love to geek out about this sort of thing.

            It won’t be true among the general populace if it ever makes it to a vote. And it won’t be true for the Congressmen who eventually have to vote on it. And it won’t be true for the Supreme Court, and so on and so forth.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            If the average annual income is 40k and you want to give people 12k in UBI per year then obviously you could afford it, even if 20% or so is already syphoned off for other government projects. And the price tag would be misleading since everyone would be getting back 12k of whatever they pay in taxes, so their taxes should be thought of as X minus 12k rather than just X. UBI is ultimately just a way to level people’s earnings. A small UBI would level them a little bit, while a maximum one would level them completely. As long as the UBI didn’t exceed the average that people earn after other taxes it would be fundable.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            An UBI was voted on and rejected in Switzerland.

      • 1soru1 says:

        >I can’t help but wonder why no one has tried to work backwards, calculating an xyz that achieves this minimum standard and then looks at the levels of taxes, budget transfers and so on needed to reach xyz

        Problem is if you do this, you come with one of three answers:

        A. there is enough money (i.e. labour hours, ultimately) to pay for a large amount of people to live well and happily on UBI alone.

        B. there is enough money to pay for a small amount of people to live well and happily on UBI.

        C. there is enough money for a large amount of people to live on UBI, but not well or happily.

        If A, congratulations, you have fully automated gay space luxury communism. On Earth, we don’t, so if you come to this conclusion, recheck your math.

        If B, what would stop more people choosing to live on UBI alone? If they are genuinely happy, they will, like anyone else, form cultural norms based on that situation. Eventually the number of people doing this you hit the limit you calculated, and you have a problem.

        If C, have you actually improved anything?

        UBI is still sufficiently a fringe idea that a complicated 3-pronged argument against it won’t be publishable, no matter how valid. So people who start to write that article realize that, and switch to a topic that will support advertising instead.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Answer C still changes many things, because happiness is a spectrum. Even if people are still “unhappy” living on their UBI, when the question is that or nothing, I’ll take the UBI.

          If I have to live in a shack, that’s better than living on the street. If I have to eat beans, that’s better than going hungry. Ect, ect.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Regarding scenario A, I think the idea is that as automation continues, the number of labor hours needed to support a population dwindles to the point of near-zero. This is a problem for those interested in avoiding mass poverty, since machines are just another form of capital, and capital ownership has accumulated into a tiny fraction of the people. So even though the machines will be producing more than ever, the outputs of those machines will be going to the wealthiest 1%, creating mass unemployment. In this case, the UBI is seen as a replacement for wage labor, in terms of a way to keep money flowing back down to the lower classes, and keeping life “normal” for those out of work.

          So while today, a high universal UBI would be silly to implement, it might be good to implement in the future. I like to think of it just as unemployment benefits that never run out. I don’t know what level of unemployment we would have to reach before such an idea becomes politically viable, but I’m going to guess it would have to be extremely high.

          This all assumes that the public will continue to vote for supporting the current concentration of capital ownership, as we progress into future. Because if alternatively, the ownership of the machines was well-distributed throughout society, then everyone would be reaping the rewards of the machines high output, and the idea of needing a UBI to continue having a decent life would be silly.

        • sohois says:

          Option B, which I presume is the left wing ideal for UBI (at least until A is possible), I guess that proponents would suggest the factors for success of that method would be infinite human wants and status competition. Whilst there are many people who would probably be content with, to use our hosts example from the graduation speech post, living in a mountain cabin and spending their time writing and experiencing nature, for a lot of people that won’t be enough. It’s long been a principle of economics that human wants are infinite (maybe this isn’t accepted in modern economics anymore, but at least its something an Econ 101 student might learn) and so humans will always be driven to try and earn more money to satisfy these wants, even if they could choose to live a happy life with no work. The other factor is the idea that a lot of human happiness is driven by having status over others, for example by earning more money than those around you. People aren’t going to be happy knowing that their income is the same as their neighbours, and so a desire for work remains in order to elevate themselves above other people.

          Actually now that I think about it I can’t really imagine a proponent of option B arguing like this since I doubt a lefty type would suggest the most important things are greed and desire for inequality. Still, that at least is my attempt at a steelman.

          On Option C, which is probably the more right wing/libertarian implementation, I think the argument would be that overall utility is increased even if there are some losers. Notably, such a UBI would be a blow to some at the very bottom of the heap who had previously benefited from more generous means tested benefits, but which is balanced by a boost to anyone in the lower middle classes and working classes who get increases in income due to the removal of “income traps” whereby benefits are taken away as income increases. So those who don’t do any work lose out but anyone with some employment sees a boost to their incomes.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Option B is confusing for me, since giving money to a “small group” of people is by definition no longer a universal basic income. It’s just welfare by another name, the arguments for/against are well known.

            And welfare is not intended to provide complete life-affirming social satisfaction. It’s meant to fill a specific hole, the lack of income from a job.

      • albatross11 says:

        The right amount is also very dependent on where you live, if it’s defined in dollar terms. A UBI set at a nationwide rate would encourage poor people to move to low cost-of-living places, to stretch their dollars. I don’t know if that would be an important effect or not, though–the same incentive exists for retired people living on pensions/401Ks/social security, yet many retired people continue living in expensive places.

    • Rosemary7391 says:

      I’ve looked at the minimum income things published by the Joseph Rowntree foundation before. Every time I’ve come away scratching my head wondering how I manage to have such a decent life on so much less than they say I need on a basic one. I’m not sure how they come up with such overestimates!

      I haven’t got the figures to hand, but as a minimal make up wearing female (occasional nail polish/eyeshadow – I’m told I wouldn’t get away with this in a more “professional” environment but that’s another question!), I reckon could very happily quarter those estimates. Is it maybe women’s make up that’s causing the difference? Wearing it for work every day could get expensive quickly.

      • Charles F says:

        When I read these things, I assume the way they’re produced is they do a first pass where they think of all of the things you need for a mostly frill-less existence, then they remember that if they missed anything, people on the internet will make fun of them for not understanding the realities of living on xyz income and they panic and try to pad every category as much as possible to avoid that potential embarrassment.

        Alternative hypothesis: they produce their first estimates, decide that those seem way too low because they’re unwilling or unable to notice how much of their own spending is wasteful frivolity and so they inflate the numbers to reduce the cognitive dissonance related to the difference between what a frugal life actually looks like and their own inability to stop buying so much junk.

        • Loquat says:

          Just for fun, I looked at their minimum income for my own demographic (married couple + 1 baby). They call for roughly $54,000 in take-home pay, with around 30% of that going to child care. Interestingly, their budget for a single parent with 1 baby assumes the exact same amount of money will be needed for childcare, so there’s clearly quite a bit of room for married parents to economize below this “minimum” if one spouse stays home.

      • sohois says:

        I think partly this is a result of the ideological position of the JRF, being generally leftist and very pro poor. But I also think a large part of it is driven by the methodology, with focus groups being the key deciders of the figure. As the focus groups are representative of the population, you’ll end up with a lot of middle class people who probably struggle to imagine actual poverty and feel like their current spending is already really low.

        A good example is the food category of the MIS. A single person should supposedly spend more than 45GBP per week to meet a minimum level of food needs. However, according to the National Spending Survey, the bottom 10% spends only £24 per week, and the UK clearly does not have some kind of starvation crisis so that is obviously enough for them to live off. The MIS figure is only slightly lower than the national average weekly spend.

        On the male/female difference, a single male should spend 11 per week while a female needs 15 per week, so the difference is fairly small and not enough to explain the high cost.

  24. Tibor says:

    I’m currently in Singapore till friday next week. What about an SSC meetup? I assume there are some Singaporeans here…

  25. Vermillion says:

    So based on my last post (linky) there was at least a little interest in having a discussion about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) where the typical level of rancor is dialed down to about 20%. To that end I’d like to suggest we give it a shot with the following principals in mind (lovingly stolen from the Double Crux model developed by CFAR)

    Epistemic humility – mentally append every single post with a couple words such as, ‘but then again, I might be wrong’. You might! I’ve been very wrong about a lot of stuff, why should my understanding of AGW be different?

    Good faith – this is really really important for any type of rational discussion but especially something like AGW where I think bad faith is not only the default assumption but often an accurate one. If you don’t believe as I do, that’s a good thing, if everyone thought double plus good thoughts at all time it’d be a pretty dull world. Personally I think I know one side of this debate better than the other and that’s because I’ve never taken the time to engage with it seriously, thus this thread.

    Confidence in the existence of objective truth – for AGW I suppose that would mean believing that things like temperatures and/or atmospheric CO2 levels are things that can be measured. It may be that the people doing the measuring are lying about the results, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing that could be discovered.

    Curiosity and/or a desire to uncover truth – If I was a cat I’d be dead like, so many times, I assume this is true of most of you as well.

    I think it’d be good to limit the scope of this discussion. My previous post I figured we could just knock this whole thing out in one go but on reflection that’s unlikely! So let’s take as a topic just the first, most basic element of the entire debate: There is Clear and Convincing proof that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a real phenomena.

    • Vermillion says:

      So with all of that said let me put my cards on the table upfront, I think AGW is really happening and it scares the shit out of me. Now I’m going to go into more detail on each of the different elements of that statement and say what would convince me to change my mind about it.

      I think clear and convincing proof is required because on the one hand the entire global economy is too important to potentially upend if humanity decides AGW is happening when it actually isn’t, so a Preponderance of Evidence is too weak. On the other hand I think the risks of global disruption that could result if humanity decides AGW is not happening, when it actually is are large enough that Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is too stringent. On the gripping hand I’m not an expert in civil law and have only a laypersons understanding about how evidentiary standards are set, so if anyone would like to argue for a different level I’d be very interested in hearing it. I’d rate my certainty on this point at about 50%, but hey, I could be wrong.

      I think the world is getting warmer, and a lot of this belief is an intuition from my day to day experience that it feels hotter now than it was in years past (well intuition and all the articles I read about AGW). There are a few different pieces of evidence that could disprove this; for one, I have a very limited personal sample of the places I’ve lived over the last couple decades. I would like evidence from let’s say 100+ different locations around the planet, weighted towards inhabitable areas. If it’s 10 degrees warmer in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, that’s probably good to know, but it doesn’t affect me as much as if it were 10 degrees warmer in the middle of Atlanta. I would want to know what the average temperature for the year was at each of those locations as well as how large the deviation from the mean is. If the temperature change was inconsistent, say 10% showing an increase, 10% a decrease and the rest no change over a 5 or 10 year moving average (from the most recent time period where high quality measurements are available, 1950?) that would be strong evidence against the world getting warmer. If the SD is also unchanged over that period then that would be strong evidence against climate change writ large. I’m saying this all before I actually look up the data and run some stats but I would put my confidence that the majority (or even supermajority of say >75%) of locations around world are actually getting warmer at about 90%. But hey, I could be wrong.

      IF the world is in fact getting warmer I think humanity is largely or entirely the cause of this. The majority of that is likely the result of burning fossil fuel to power the industrial revolution and the modern, global economy. Some portion may also come from deforestation, cow farts, or other changes we’ve made throughout the Holocene epoch. I’m not an atmospheric scientist, based on my (limited) understanding the idea that putting an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere could, and more importantly is, increasing the amount of heat retained from sunlight makes sense to me. If there were a convincing alternative explanation that was internally consistent and had predictive value for global temperatures in the next 5 to 10 years that would be strong evidence that global warming is not anthropogenic. I would say I’m about 70% certain that humans are causing global warming (conditional on the globe actually getting warmer), but hey, I could be wrong.

      One last thing, I would really like to be wrong. I think a lot about AGW, how it could impact the future and whether it’s even a good idea to bring children into a world that might be so much worse than the one I’m living in now. When I think about how I might be wrong on all those points above, I also have to consider it might go the other way, and tail risks could lead to something like the horror show of that infamous New Yorker article. Click that link for an annotated version.

      If those who disagree with AGW, and most of all the data, could prove me wrong, I would sleep better at night, and you would have my sincere thanks for that.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        In the spirit of the thing, personal experience is a very bad way to judge worldwide climactic phenomena.

        Two posts about your personal experience, leaving aside confirmation bias other psychological effects:
        1) Urban heat sink – Urban areas get hotter by simply having more area that is good at trapping light, turning it into heat and holding that heat. This is not believed to be a significant factor in AGW, AFAIK.

        2) Weather patterns – Weather patterns shifting can also cause a local disruption in observed temperatures. This will displace temperature rather than result in net warming or cooling. AGW is believed to contribute to changes in weather patterns, but it’s hard to link any given change directly to AGW.

        Paradoxically, we would expect some places to get (temporarily) cooler as the result of long term changes to certain patterns that drive worldwide weather patterns. The eastern seaboard of the US, for instance, if the Gulf Stream were to be disrupted. Some models (not sure their current state of play in the broad scientific community) think this could happen if we get a large influx of fresh water to the sea in the north as the Greenland ice cap melts.

        That’s why looking at all the worldwide temperature data is so important, and why land surface measurements are the least reliable measure to look at.

        • Vermillion says:

          Totally agree on all your points, I would much rather have actual data than my intuitions, I just wanted to explain where my beliefs were coming from at the beginning. Also I suspect I’m alone in thinking this way, not so much in a community like SSC, but in the general population I’d guess it’s pretty common.

          Why aren’t land based measurements reliable? I understand temporary cooling effects but with a moving average wouldn’t those be smoothed out and an underlying warming trend revealed?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Why aren’t land based measurements reliable?

            Less reliable =/= unreliable.

            I am not even a lay expert, but:

            1. Surface land based measurements alone are obviously poor indicators, simply because land is a minority of the surface of the earth.
            2. Land is where people live and make all sort of local changes with local effects.
            3. Similar to 2, the world is continuing to get more populated and more developed. Irrespective of climate change caused by things like deforestation, things like deforestation will result in higher land-surface temperature readings.
            4. Surface based measurements will be clustered where people are, so there is a tendency to undercount where people aren’t.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            > Why aren’t land based measurements reliable?

            To add to what HBC said, a specific thing to keep in mind is that when you’re looking for reliable long-term land temperature records you tend to find them in places where 50 years ago it seemed so important to know the temperature that some specific person was willing to go out and check the temperature day after day after day and write it down. So in the US it might be the location of a farm or a high school geology class, but in third world nations you’re mostly gonna find you’re looking at airports.

            And airports are especially bad news when it comes to urban heating. See, when you first build an airport, you do it outside of town where the land is cheap (and cool!) and then as the airport grows you add extra heat-trapping runways and the town fills in around it. And sure you can try to “adjust” for that sort of effect, but then you’re not just looking at the raw recorded temperature anymore, you’re looking at temperatures as filtered through somebody’s model of what the temperature might have been if the world had been different than it actually was.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the world is getting warmer, and a lot of this belief is an intuition from my day to day experience that it feels hotter now than it was in years past

        Mmmm – not a reliable measure on its own. There was a series of scorching hot, dry summers in Ireland and Britain in the late 70s and mid 80s, to the point of water rationing because of the huge fall in the reservoirs, hosepipe bans, and the like. Summers from the 90s onward have been nowhere near that, and indeed we’ve tended to have wet or at least cooler, more overcast summers.

        (We also had some genuine snowfalls back in the same 70s-80s period, as in “several inches of snow” and not the usual “bit of a dusting on the ground that melts as soon as it falls”).

        So the colder, snowy winters and hotter, dry summers were a thing in “years past” but not now, by personal experience. What that has to say about global warming, anthropogenic or not, I have no idea (probably very little).

      • Ketil says:

        From high to low confidence:

        Earth is heating up: certainly. Virtually everybody who measures anything agrees on this. Land, water, atmosphere are getting warmer.

        This is caused by human activities: quite sure. The models are possibly shaky, and a few voices point to changes in the sun and whatnot. But the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say it’s us, I don’t believe in conspiracies or them all being morons.

        Investments in wind and solar power will not do us much good. Sorry, but we have sunk billions if not trillions into these technologies, and they have only made a small dent in our total energy. And they still need gas-plants for backup, and also (photovoltaics) require a lot of energy to manufacture.

        Cutting out meat, in particular from ruminants, would help. Both due to direct emissions of methane, N20, and CO2, but also from deforestation and crops used for feed.

        Investment in nuclear energy is an effort that potentially could help. We don’t pursue it very actively, for some reason. But countries like Sweden and France managed to switch electricity production from fossil to nukes in a decade or so, and it’s just concrete and steel. We could do this globally, if we wanted to.

        The earth has been warmer before, but current change is happening faster than in previous times. I’m not sure what precision we have to measure the speed of temperature changes thousands of years in the past. I’m inclined to believe it.

        Warming will lead to a large increase in various types of natural disasters. Not sure about this, we may get stronger hurricanes and droughts, but I don’t think there is evidence that this is happening yet. That this depends on some particular target (two degrees, say) appears to have no strong support, and I think this is something politicians say just to sound more definitive.

        Net production of the earth will decline. I think this is almost certainly false, unless something really drastic happens (ocean acidification killing all marine life, or something). Increased temperature and wetter climate in general will increase bioproduction.

        • Investments in wind and solar power will not do us much good. Sorry, but we have sunk billions if not trillions into these technologies, and they have only made a small dent in our total energy. And they still need gas-plants for backup, and also (photovoltaics) require a lot of energy to manufacture.

          It’s possible to do a finer calculation than “very small”.

          Professor Charles Hall, an ecologist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, developed the concept of EROI to give a common measure for comparing very different fuels.

          Finding out fuels’ EROI means working out how much energy it takes to make the materials usable – like finding oil, drilling the well, pumping it out and refining it – and how much energy you get afterwards. It’s a simple equation – you divide the energy output by the energy input. A high EROI means you get a lot of energy out for very little energy expended.

          https://www.carbonbrief.org/energy-return-on-investment-which-fuels-win

          • 1 International Energy Agency: Any country can reach high shares of wind, solar power cost-effectively.

            2. By 2050 almost all of global energy needs can be met with renewables. Source

            3. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, already gets 25% of it’s electricity from renewables, and is aiming for 80% by 2050.

            4. Wind power was Spain’s top source of electricity in 2013, ahead of nuclear, coal & gas. Source

            5. Renewables supplied 42% of mainland Spain’s electricity in 2013.

            6. In 2012 China’s wind power generation increased more than generation from coal.

            7. Portugal generated more than 70% of its electricity from renewable energy sources during the first quarter of 2013.

            8. In the US, nine states are getting 12% or more of their electricity from wind. Iowa & South Dakota exceed 25%.

            9. Philippines produces 29% of its electricity with renewables, targeting 40% by 2020.

            10 Denmark is going to produce 100% of its heat and power with renewable energy by 2035 and all energy by 2050.

          • Ketil says:

            1 International Energy Agency: Any country can reach high shares of wind, solar power cost-effectively.

            Yet no solar or wind farms seem to manage to turn a profit, except when they are subsidized. We already have examples of negative electricity prices on sunny and windy days, increasing investment will only make it worse.

            2. By 2050 almost all of global energy needs can be met with renewables. Source

            Solar and wind cannot currently meet any energy needs alone, due to intermittency – they need another power source as backup. Typically gas, since they are quick to start up (but less efficient).

            Current growth in solar and wind is less than the growth in global energy demands, and in spite of tremendous investments, solar is still less than a percent of total energy. But perhaps it is technically possible to ramp up production with a long enough time frame (e.g. 2050).

            3. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, already gets 25% of it’s electricity from renewables, and is aiming for 80% by 2050.

            At tremendous cost. Yet, for all the euros sunk into the Energiewende, Germany still has one of Europe’s dirtiest electricity productions. And high electricity prices means that consumption is driven towards e.g. gas for heating. And again: intermittency – you would have brownouts were it not for imported coal power from the east, or nuclear from France. Similarly, Denmark is dependent on electricity imports.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’d really like to see a more in-depth treatment of the usefulness and economics of renewable energy.

            One claim I’ve heard (in a presentation by a genuine expert in a relevant field) is that renewables look a lot better if they’re spread across the nation and are linked by very high-efficiency transmission lines. The wind may not be blowing (or the sun shining) in Missouri right now, but it’s probably doing both *somewhere*. And I keep reading the claim that solar power is becoming cheaper per kWh over time, and is already very competitive with fossil fuels. (But obviously that’s not so great if you get wonderful cheap power only during daylight hours on sunny days, and expensive polluting power all the rest of the time.)

            Is there a good article somewhere that lays out the basic issues in a readable-to-a-novice way, but that people with the right kind of expertise think has done a good job laying out the issues?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Imagine it´s the year 1988…

          Investments in the internet will not do us much good. Sorry, but we have sunk billions if not trillions into these technologies, and they have only made a small dent in our total communications network.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Let’s put it another way: wind and solar may well be the eventual future. But there’s no guarantee that this will occur any time in the near future, in contrast to the internet, because these are always going to be very expensive and much more decentralized than the internet. Meanwhile, these investments are justified under the heading of supposedly saving us from global warming, even though they almost certainly won’t do it. At best, a strategy which relies on wind and solar to combat global warming is one which hopes for heavy technological innovation to solve the problem…which is exactly as true of a strategy of “do nothing”, pretty much, except the latter saves you trillions of dollars. And is maybe somewhat less likely to succeed, but still.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            because these are always going to be very expensive and much more decentralized than the internet.

            Typo? Otherwise, huh?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            No, I meant what I said.

            Not sure if I knew what I was talking about when I said it, but let’s try to reconstruct it – basically, you need to build every solar plant or windmill individually, and rebuild it, and then also build electrical wires coming from them. With the internet, you just need to build the wires, and probably various servers and stuff, but I would imagine that these are a lot less expensive and important. Of course, I admit that I actually don’t know that much about internet infrastructure, but I think I’ve got a point here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @AnonYEmous:
            The design of TCP/IP is (roughly) that you can get from anywhere to anywhere via any route. Yes, there are backbones, etc, but they aren’t intrinsically required.

            Power transmission and distribution is much more finicky. Things explode when it’s not done properly.

            In addition, on the internet, the only thing that looks like power is the transmission/generation. Creating content and serving it up is the tasks of literally millions of different companies. Whereas power generation is mostly done by the same utility which transmits and distributes it.

            If anything, lots small scale solar and wind power producers looks more like the Internet of today, but I’m not sure this is where we are headed. Coordinating power generation, transmission and distribution is finicky, as I said.

            Basically, the thrust of your contention seems very incorrect to me. That, or I don’t understand it.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Yeah, let me perhaps rephrase: the irreplaceable stuff that makes up “the internet” is very centralized, and everything else is super-decentralized and super-replaceable, which also makes it pretty cheap. But the power system is decentralized and mostly irreplaceable – you need X wind turbines and if some wind turbines blow out, that’s bad, because they will need to be replaced. Moreover and maybe most importantly, most improvements will be of the physical engineering variety, whereas most improvements of the internet are of the programming variety (or at least plenty of them); the latter is easily distributed, the former is more of a problem and more expensive.

            The bottom line being that you sort of need most if not all of those to work, but probably fair amounts of “the internet” can go down and be replaced.

            Anyways, I opened my mouth without knowing much about what I was saying, but I hope what I said still made sense and didn’t retreat too much from the original point.

    • Well... says:

      It seems like it should be possible to measure global temperatures over time. I don’t know what the numbers really say but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve gone up a lot in the last 100 years. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t either.)

      What I’m much less clear on is why this should scare the shit out of anyone, since it isn’t happening faster than our ability to adapt to it. (Or is it? You tell me.) Can you explain what makes it so scary to you?

      • Wrong Species says:

        If co2 has been steadily increasing since the industrial revolution then at some point, global temperatures should increase much faster than we’re used to. It’s the difference between linear and exponential growth.

      • Vermillion says:

        What I’m much less clear on is why this should scare the shit out of anyone, since it isn’t happening faster than our ability to adapt to it. (Or is it? You tell me.) Can you explain what makes it so scary to you?

        I was going to leave this point till the next open thread but sure I’ll give it a shot.

        I’m scared because I feel much less sanguine than you apparently do about humanity’s ability to adapt to this change. For more detail I do recommend that New Yorker article, especially the version I linked up there since it includes a lot of the original quotes from SMEs; as I recall from the last OT, you trust that more than a journalist distilling information.

        I don’t know for sure how bad it could get and that uncertainty adds a lot to my worries, specifically because it makes it hard to plan for.

        I think complex systems tend to break down catastrophically and there’s nothing as complex as human society.

        I think even if, for instance, the United States is relatively untouched by the direct effects of AGW it might wind up swamped by refugees from collapsing equatorial countries that can’t sustain their populations.

        I think crossing our fingers that new technologies can solve AGW, without any unintended side effects, is incredibly risky.

        I think the combination of a still increasing population, loss of habitable land, food insecurity, resource scarcity, depletion of potable water, and the simple fact that people tend to murder each other more when the temperature heats up could lead to violence and interstate war on a level that we haven’t seen in 70 years.

        I think buying beachfront property seems like a very very bad investment right now, but that’s where a huge proportion of the planet’s population and infrastructure is located.

        Why are you not scared?

        • Well... says:

          Why are you not scared?

          Because not being scared is my default position for things I don’t know much about and don’t perceive much of.

          I’ve heard that supervolcanoes would be devastating and could have effects similar to or worse than nuclear war, and that we’re technically “due” for one, so one might erupt at any moment. Yet it’s also possible that one might not erupt at all in my lifetime, and that if one does the effects I experience will be somewhat mild. So, I can’t really say I’m scared of supervolcanoes.

          Now to address your points…

          1. Human adaptability: I suppose I’m not that sanguine about it, it’s just that I think we’re pretty good at adapting, and if we’re not then there’s not much I can do about it anyway.

          2. Hard to plan for: Same as above; not much I can do about it, so no point feeling anxiety. It’s kind of like how I don’t keep a storage bunker full of survival gear and food & water rations even though I never know when I’ll need one (or might never).

          3. Complex systems fail catastrophically: many other things threaten human society, and many of those threats are swifter and more dramatic than gradual shifts in climate. I live a quiet, very “civilized” suburban life and while it’s hard to envision it being ripped away by some event or rapid change, I intellectually know this is possible. But it’s like the other things: it can’t be planned for and if it happens there’s not much I can do about it.

          4. Influx of refugees: This too is a legitimate concern, but many other things are destabilizing equatorial countries already. So in a sense, we already have opportunities to practice dealing with this problem! The question is whether we will. I am sometimes annoyed or frustrated when we don’t learn, but that is not the same as being scared that we won’t.

          5. Technology solutions: Anyone who’s read my comments for the past few years should know I am SSC’s biggest Luddite–practically an Amishman whose guilty pleasure is commenting on internet blogs, at least where attitudes toward technology are concerned. By default, I oppose technological solutions to things until they’ve been vetted for their secondary/long-term effects on culture and values. Yet I’m fairly agnostic about technologies deployed in the mitigation of catastrophic AGW. If we somehow determine that AGW is a big enough negative effect, then other unintended negative side-effects of mitigating it may not matter.

          6. Scarcity and violence: See #3 and #4.

          7. Coastal populations: You might be right, for all I know, about humans not being able to adapt to change very quickly. But abandoning cities and building new ones is something humans are demonstrably pretty efficient at. (See 21st century China for numerous examples of this.) It seems like we are now capable of doing this on large scales within a decade or two–much faster than it would take for rising sea levels to make existing coastal cities uninhabitable.

          • Vermillion says:

            Thanks for your reply, it sounds like we’re just kinda constitutionally different in how we internalize risk, and I’ll admit it, I’m a little jealous :).

          • Well... says:

            You’re welcome.

            Is it possible that these constitutional differences are predictors for what kinds of stances people take on AGW?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Back in the 1990s I actually was scared of AGW. More specifically, I was scared that we would collectively overreact to this exciting new threat and build institutions/restrictions in response to it which could permanently damage our economy and rate of technological progress and thus our ability to respond to actually serious threats as they come up.

            Why was I afraid of overreaction? Because overreacting to actual (small) risks is something we’re really good at. Consider the overreactions to terrorism, immigration, “crack babies”, “killer bees”, “flag burning”, comic books, rap lyrics…

            But if you are going to cripple an industry with stupid new restrictions – like we crippled the airline industry with the TSA – you kind of need to strike while the iron is hot. Scary threats are only scary when they’re new. Give us a few years to get used to it and any threat becomes a non-issue. So the fact that we haven’t destroyed the energy industry yet gives me hope that we probably won’t ever do so. Sanity may yet prevail! One can hope, anyway.

          • Aapje says:

            @Rafael

            Consider the overreactions to terrorism, immigration, “crack babies”, “killer bees”, “flag burning”, comic books, rap lyrics…

            The overreaction to most of these was limited to a lot of discussion in the media and people doing science to check if the threat was real. You seem to assume that no risk can be real and discount issues a priori.

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje
            The reaction to “crack babies” was the war on drugs, which was pretty bad. The reaction to “flag burning” is the right-wing equivalent of the left-wing reaction to “hate speech”: in each case, roughly 50% of the relevant partisan group supports banning it, but their elected representatives know what the constitution says and nothing actually ever happens.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            rlms, the war on drugs predated crack babies. Reagan renewed the war on drugs in 1981, before people were talking about crack, let alone crack babies.

        • Im scared by positive feedback effects, like the release of methane from melting permarost.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think buying beachfront property seems like a very very bad investment right now, but that’s where a huge proportion of the planet’s population and infrastructure is located.

          San Francisco rebuilt in the same place after the Great Earthquake of 1906; there’s a Sicilian city beneath Mount Etna; numerous other examples of Humans Gonna Human.

          More seriously, for historical reasons large proportions of infrastructure and accompanying population are on seacoasts and the expense and inconvenience of abandoning all that and moving X miles inland would be colossal, especially for a future risk.

          Sure it would be more sensible to say “We better move now because in 20/50/whenever years will be too late”, but most governments, private businesses, and ordinary people are going to look at the scale of the operation proposed, go “are we in danger next year? no?” and stay right where they are.

          • Matt M says:

            Humans Gonna Human.

            This is all well and good. Except the very humans who we are told are smart and rational beings AND who are promoting climate change alarmist rhetoric at the highest levels still, themselves purchase multi-million dollar buildings with estimated lives of many decades in Miami, New York, San Francisco, etc.

            I’ll take the climate change thinktanks a lot more seriously if they abandon all their coastal real estate and relocate to the midwest.

          • Alarmism isn’t the claim that a catastrophe will happen no matter what, it is the claim that a catastrophe will happen if nothing is done to stop it. That being the case, they could be read as having faith in a solution.

            Your logic is the same as “planes did not fall out of the sky, therefore there never was a Y2K bug”.

          • Matt M says:

            Alarmism isn’t the claim that a catastrophe will happen no matter what, it is the claim that a catastrophe will happen if nothing is done to stop it. That being the case, they could be read as having faith in a solution.

            I feel like a lot of alarmism consists of claims like “If we do not mitigate this within the next five years it will be too late and catastrophe will then happen no matter what.”

            And of course, when the five years passes and we haven’t done what they said must be done – all of a sudden it’s, “No, we have to do it within the NEXT five years…” Repeat forever.

            We’ve seen plenty of high profile claims of “Action must be taken by X date or Y will happen by Z date” be ignored with the consequences failing to materialize such that these claims are no longer taken seriously.

        • Corey says:

          Why are you not scared?

          Depression helps. That is, AGW would require significant coordinated global action to mitigate, and given the ease of FUD on the issue, that will never happen. Therefore there is literally no way to stop AGW or nontrivially affect its course, so nothing to be gained by dreading or fighting it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It seems like it should be possible to measure global temperatures over time. I don’t know what the numbers really say but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve gone up a lot in the last 100 years. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t either.)

        It’s actually quite difficult to measure global temperatures over time. We don’t have a 100-year-old global network of calibrated thermometers, and even if we did, local phenomena could produce error. So there are a lot of proxies for global temperature and a lot of corrections to the data for various phenomena. I believe it is apparent that whenever it appears the data does not show enough warming to fit the models, efforts are undertaken to find reasons why this is, and adjustments made to the data accordingly. Even if every individual adjustment is justified, this process produces a bias, and thus the data is corrupt.

        • Well... says:

          If it is that difficult, then how is it possible for anyone to claim there is or isn’t AGW? Or even just GW? Or, if they can somehow claim there is, how can they claim the extent of it?

          I try not to assume bad faith on anyone’s part, but I am genuinely puzzled by how anyone can be so sure. Maybe it’s such a contentious issue precisely because a high level of certainty to a claim (in either direction) is a reliable proxy of bad faith?

        • Vermillion says:

          I believe it is apparent that whenever it appears the data does not show enough warming to fit the models, efforts are undertaken to find reasons why this is, and adjustments made to the data accordingly.

          Do you have an example of this?

          Even if every individual adjustment is justified, this process produces a bias, and thus the data is corrupt.

          How different do you think the unadjusted data is from what is reported? Do you think it would result in models that would show no warming occurring? Or some warming, but not enough to significantly affect most people’s life? Or something else all together?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Do you have an example of this?

            http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33006179

            How different do you think the unadjusted data is from what is reported?

            I don’t know what the raw, unadjusted data says overall, but it’s not useful in any case; we know the raw data has systemic errors. I’m a radical agnostic on what accurate data would say; I don’t know and neither does anyone else.

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          This is as good a place as any within the thread to butt in. I think Nybbler’s comment is right on.

          As for examples of adjusting data, there are so many examples all over the internet that it seems silly to link to some, and of course opponents of one side or another can follow up with so-and-so’s “debunking” of said analysis of adjustments. Suffice it to say – oh God, I hope – that nobody disputes that there is a huge amount of data adjusting going on. I know “provide examples” is something of a talisman around here, but AGW is kind of all over the internet and Google search works really well.

          The problem I have with it is . . . Jeezus, isn’t anyone here a scientist? When your data isn’t right you go get more and better data. You don’t adjust it. You present it and say, “Well, we know this isn’t what we expected, so maybe we need to look at how we got this data, but here it is . . . ” I find the level of data rejiggering and drawing lines and filling data in and throwing out data points via choose-whatever-statistical-method-you-need-today to be not only scandalous, but something of a 13th chime of the clock for the entire endeavor. Not to mention the abject failure of the models to predict forward temperatures, or the surface vs satellite gap.

          I am amazed at the extent to which this community is on the whole rather accepting of – leaving the AGW viewpoint aside – the AGW scientific edifice. Scott writes well-thought-out post after post, with caveats here and doubts there, and everyone notices and appreciates it, and on the whole there seems to be an appreciation that all this stuff is hard. And then there is the abject mess that is AGW science.

          One can, I think, make perfectly legitimate arguments on the motivating level against the AGW hypothesis, that nobody really behaves as if they believe in anything like a catastrophic GW scenario, that a lot of it is just fashion, that dissenting scientists get blackballed and can’t publish, that people are denied requests to look at data, that funding this and stature that, but evidencing reasons are always and everywhere preferable to motivating reasons. So then people look at the evidence and see problems and other people ignore it or shout them down or “debunk!” and nothing changes. Does any of this look like science being done? Does this look similar to what goes on in your field? I’m a medicinal chemist and one of the problems in our field is that a huge percentage of the papers in biology which are relevant to us – for looking for new drug targets – can not be duplicated. Everyone spends a huge amount of money trying to verify results that have been reported in top journals. Everyone, every company, every academic. It’s just understood that a lot of stuff out there is either wrong or can’t be established as true with enough certainty to feel like going further is a good idea. And it sucks but that’s science. It’s hard. I spend most of my time trying to figure out why my reactions didn’t work. It’s hard. And we know a lot about biology and a lot about chemistry. How much do climatologists know about weather, really? It seems apparent to me that climatologists are just beginning to figure a few things out but want answers to the big questions and have rushed to some conclusions that they simply can’t back up.

          Given the chance, people will almost always lead themselves astray. It is just too difficult and unlikely to understand something new without the discipline of extreme rigor – testing and retesting and testing again. Theories are a dime a dozen, and almost all of them are wrong. A community of people, even a very large community, can be persuaded of just about anything, as history has and no doubt will continue to illustrate forever. Whether through the desire for status, or self-importance, or simply ratification of an expected or hoped-for result, people’s biases will quickly show through. Without being forced – I think that is an appropriate word – to constantly check our ideas versus reality (or, if you must, ‘reality’), any group of scientists will eventually find themselves lost. It is just too hard to really learn something new, to get something right.

          Like everyone else I assume that rising CO2 levels are man-driven and are bound to raise temperatures. I have exactly zero feeling for how much, or for what moderating feedback or amplifying effects there might be that will prevail on long-term weather trends. I’m not particularly worried about it, and I see exactly zero evidence that anyone else is.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Re: “just get better data:” climate science is in the same place as epidemiology, where you can’t do experiments, data is expensive to get, and it’s not clear how much you need and which is relevant. I certainly don’t see climate scientist opposing further data collection in order to preserve their theories.

            I am frustrated by the “even environmentalists don’t care about the environment” meme. If you do things that are within reach of the individual (like drive an electric) you are just virtue signalling, if you support collective action you are playing with other people’s money so that doesn’t count either.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This post is pinging my “bad framing” meter enough for me to say: please don’t do that.

            I happen to suspect that the data is lacking in a lot of ways, and might be biased, but one of the things I’m looking for here is a sense of how good the data actually is, assuming good faith effort.

            Searches for “AGW data” on Google will indeed turn up a lot of hits. But it will also turn up a lot of potential misrepresentation, so I’m hoping to make use of the rationalist filters here to save some time.

            Try to answer the question: What if we wanted to know GAT every century since the last ice age? rather than What sort of shenanigans might be afoot?. (I mean, I’m open to questions about potential data misinterpretation, software bugs, and stuff like that, but try to stay away from framing this side or that of the debate.)

          • Deiseach says:

            I am amazed at the extent to which this community is on the whole rather accepting of – leaving the AGW viewpoint aside – the AGW scientific edifice.

            I’m not, but probably its not because I’m a scientist or more rational than anyone else, it’s because I’ve lived through a share of the ARGGHHHH!!!! WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! scares and you know what? We didn’t.

            Just to emulate Little Jack Horner and pull out a plum at random, I remember the “we are all going to die of skin cancer due to the hole in the ozone layer and we have to stop using CFCs right now but it’s probably too late anyway” flap of the 90s. Well here we are thirty years later not all dead of skin cancer. And before you all tell me that was journalistic hysteria and not scientific consensus, this time is totally different – so what about this level-headed and not at all sensationalist article on the topic?

            Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was

            You see? Scientists are being too calm and rational! They are not terrifying the public enough!

            You can only read so many ARGGGHHHH!!!! WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE!!! articles in your lifetime before getting a little sceptical of the latest one 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            There was a hole in the ozone layer. We did ban CFCs. It worked, ozone minimums have been trending up since the late ’90s, we can all go home. I’m not familiar with the skin cancer statistics, though I expect they’re hopelessly confounded by fashion trends and by greater use of sunscreen.

            No, “it’s probably already too late” was not justified. But there was a real problem there.

          • beleester says:

            I remember the “we are all going to die of skin cancer due to the hole in the ozone layer and we have to stop using CFCs right now but it’s probably too late anyway” flap of the 90s. Well here we are thirty years later not all dead of skin cancer.

            We did stop using CFCs, and the ozone hole over Antarctica has been shrinking year-over-year as a result, so I don’t think that’s the example you want.

          • Chalid says:

            Does anyone have informed thoughts about how the projected costs of halting CFC use ended up comparing to the actual costs?

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer.

            It doesn’t strike me as a straightforward thing to estimate. The material cost of CFC refrigerants or propellants vs. alternatives, sure, that’s easy. But there are other compliance costs, too.

            A few years ago the A/C compressor in my car went bad and I found myself having to replace it. In my grandpa’s time this would have been a straightforward operation for any wrench-monkey with the parts: vent the refrigerant, disconnect the compressor, replace the compressor, charge it with a new thing of Freon. But now you need to capture the old refrigerant so that it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere, which requires special tools, so I had to take my car to a mechanic. I have no idea how you’d account for this sort of thing.

          • random832 says:

            But now you need to capture the old refrigerant so that it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere, which requires special tools, so I had to take my car to a mechanic. I have no idea how you’d account for this sort of thing.

            Isn’t this a transitional cost? If the new refrigerant can’t be released into the atmosphere I don’t know why they wouldn’t just carry on using Freon.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not totally confident of this, but I think the replacement refrigerants still have some ozone depletion potential, just less than CFCs do. Likely Freon was phased out because it poses higher risks from leakage or spills, or because it was politically simpler to execute a blanket ban than one for open-cycle applications only, or both.

          • And were those scares coming from scientists or the press and politicians?

            Aapje on the other thread:

            From my perspective the climate scientists mostly stay out of the realm of political controversy. Their critics often pretend that this is not the case, but their arguments usually criticize non-climate scientists, like Al Gore, who get conflated with climate scientists for some reason. This makes sense from a tribal POV because a lot of non-climate scientists say stupid/hyperbolic things that are fairly easy to debunk, while the climate scientists mostly say smart things.

            Even famous dissenting ‘climate scientists’ like Lomborg are on closer inspection not even attacking what climate scientists actually argue, but either lie about what the climate scientists claim or have claimed & also focus a lot on the proposed solutions, which is the part of the debate that is much harder to scientifically prove and thus far more subjective. So there is this smoke screen where a lot of pro- and anti-AGW people believe that the debate is about the things that climate scientists are claiming, but if you dig into it, you see that the actual debate is often about what people think/claim that climate scientists are claiming. There is often remarkably little overlap between the two.

          • Deiseach says:

            nornagest, beleester, my point was not “the ozone hole was not real”, it was “yes, action was taken, the problem was solved, and when was the last time you heard anything about the IMMEDIATE PERIL OF THE HOLE IN THE OZONE LAYER?”

            So that leans more to the “yeah, if AGW is addressed, it’s fixable, and it’s not the WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE threat it’s being made out to be” side of the debate, not the hysterical article where a “climate scientist” berates scientists for not being alarmist enough and not terrifying the public because WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!

            The point was: scares come and go, and the flap about them is usually worse than the underlying real concern. So seeing the media being WE’RE GONNA DIE over climate change has less effect on people old enough to have seen similar headlines and alarmism over other environmental problems in the past, and that lack of “arghh, we’re gonna die, we have to do something!” panicking can look like indifference or even denial to those young enough to be those for whom this is Baby’s First World-Ending Threat 🙂

            And nornagest, beleester, this is not aimed at you, but I am amused by those who dismiss past WE’RE GONNA DIE scares with “ah yes, but that was all trumped-up media hysteria, the real scientists never said anything like that“. Because I do wonder (a) how many of them right now are going “The science is fixed! the facts are undeniable! real genuine reputable scientists all agree and are saying: WE’RE GONNA DIE!!!” (b) and if twenty years down the line this turns out to be the same as the “we’re all gonna die due to population explosion/ice age/no more oil/Ebola/whatever” scares and it was a problem that was fixable, they will then be going “ah yes, but that was all trumped-up media hysteria, the real scientists never said anything like that” 🙂

          • Perhaps people who complain about scares and alarmism should look at their responses: do they react with vulcan-like objectivity to calmly -explained propblems, or do they need goading into action?

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            The point was: scares come and go, and the flap about them is usually worse than the underlying real concern.

            That is not a logical conclusion when a successful intervention was done.

            If you have cancer and get healthy after surgery and chemo, the logical conclusion is not that the original health scare was overblown, that the surgery and chemo was not really necessary, etc.

            Perhaps it is just inevitable that advanced science that allows us to intervene before things get really bad leads to a disconnect between scientists and the masses, because when we never let thing get out of control, the masses never experience in their own lives what the fuss is about.

            However, I’m not really comfortable with allowing large scale damage to make a psychological point.

          • beleester says:

            So that leans more to the “yeah, if AGW is addressed, it’s fixable, and it’s not the WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE threat it’s being made out to be” side of the debate, not the hysterical article where a “climate scientist” berates scientists for not being alarmist enough and not terrifying the public because WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!

            If something is fixable if we address it, but we’re currently not addressing it because the President thinks it’s a hoax invented by the Chinese, then I think at least a little bit of hysteria is acceptable.

            Your argument hinges on the idea that, since it can be fixed, it will be fixed, but that doesn’t seem anywhere close to certain in the current political environment.

            (I’d also point out that something can be catastrophic and worth fighting even if it’s not literally going to kill you and everyone you love. For instance, if the Maldives end up underwater before we manage to halt global warming, that would be worth calling a “catastrophe” even though I don’t live in the Maldives.)

          • Matt M says:

            Your argument hinges on the idea that, since it can be fixed, it will be fixed, but that doesn’t seem anywhere close to certain in the current political environment.

            And this argument hinges on the idea that the ONLY POSSIBLE fix is through globally coordinated political action.

          • Deiseach says:

            My argument hinges on hysteria working against you, and I agree that it’s a bind: you need to throw at least a little scare into people to get over the inertia, but go too far with the WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE IN A HELLSCAPE!!!! and people will, naturally, go “yeah and I heard all this ‘sky is falling’ crap three times before” and ignore it because they think this is the same old story and not “no it’s really different this time”.

          • And this argument hinges on the idea that the ONLY POSSIBLE fix is through globally coordinated political action.

            Feel free to put forward a rational fact, based alternative, them, instead of complaining about alarmism.

          • Matt M says:

            Invisible hand. Market forces solve the problem (most likely through adaptation) incrementally as it materializes.

            Done. Where’s my prize?

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Invisible hand. Market forces solve the problem (most likely through adaptation) incrementally as it materializes.

            That’s the good news. The bad news is when the conclusion of the market forces turns out to be that humans should be discontinued as a consequence of being non-viable in the current operating environment.

            To put it another way, market forces cannot ‘solve a problem’ in that way; maybe you are thinking of a benevolent interventionist God?

          • albatross11 says:

            The “we’re all gonna die we’re doomed” framing was also widespread in the 60s/70s with regard to population growth. I think this is just a standard tactic that activist groups use to get attention. (Any activist group will include people who are convinced that doomsday is ahead, and they tend to get the most attention.)

            As best I can tell, global warming within the parameters being predicted in mainstream sources will cause some problems (screwing up farming or weather in some places), but not anywhere close to the level of some godawful catastrophe that threatens civilization. And similarly, some kind of workable CO2 tax scheme would be some extra administrative hassle and would have some impact on the economy, but again, nothing remotely catastrophic happening to the economy as a result.

            Now, it’s always possible that there will be some weird runaway feedback loop thing that will cause huge changes and be a lot worse–somehow we end up with much higher ocean levels and Europe frozen over due to the shutdown of some ocean currents or something. Or that our CO2 emissions tax will be mismanaged so badly it causes a terrible recession. But neither of those things seem at all likely.

          • pontifex says:

            The most important measurement is the rise in carbon dioxide, from 315 parts per million in 1958, to 410 parts per million today. And that is not in doubt, and you can measure it yourself if you don’t trust the scientific establishment.

            Construct me a peer-reviewed, defensible scientific theory where this increase in co2 will not cause global warming. Then we can talk about denialist arguments. Until then, it has about the same epistemic status as creationists trying to prove that biology is wrong by finding a measurement error in some paper or other.

        • Even if every individual adjustment is justified, this process produces a bias,

          That doesn’t follow. Of course, adjustments can be perfectly legitimate…if your raw data is biased in one direction, you need to adjust it back. Talking about adjustments in a sweeping, undetailed way is quite misleading.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Of course, adjustments can be perfectly legitimate…if your raw data is biased in one direction, you need to adjust it back.

            I agree with that. The process I’m talking about that causes bias (the one mentioned in the post you replied to) is using deviations from the model to decide which biases to look for and which adjustments to make. This creates a feedback loop which keeps the data adjusted to the model. And that’s true even if every bias found is legitimate and every adjustment justified.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Note that when you draw a graph all trends remain visibly the same whether using any combination of data set, post-processing method, and software package.

            All that changes is the whether specific sub-ranges hit the p = 0.95 threshold for statistical significance. Which, if you pick just the right combination of dataset, processing and interval, allows people to extract soundbites like ‘no significant warming over the last x years’.

            It’s a hard tactic to argue against. You can go into the details, and lose your audience. You can use slick media and emotional appeals, but that’s 50/50 at best, because being right doesn’t help. You can try to establish robust enough datasets that such deliberate misinterpretation is impossible. But that will always fail because more data has more subsets and more anomalies. Every satellite launched that confirms the same picture of temperature data also provides additional material for those looking for anecdotes and anomalies.

            Say there are 500 ways of processing a new data set covering 30 different intervals, and 499 of those methods produce one result for all 30 intervals. That means a soundbite derived from the missing combination of interval and processing method will make it from the internet to Fox to the President before the first official scientific paper is written.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        There are multiple ways to measure global temperature (GT). I used to know more about this than I do now. Layman’s perspective:

        Thermometers everywhere, naturally. One upside is that it’s arguably cheap; you get it for free since weather reports already do it, and all you have to do is look up the records.

        One catch is that records might be lost, esp. for smaller towns. I could probably find out what the temperature was in Paris on Aug 18, 1896, but probably not in Jessup, Maryland. Overall, I’ll end up with very spotty data. Another catch is that you’ll only get temps for actual towns, and maybe large farming areas if you’re lucky and diligent. Nobody cares about the temp 180 miles NNW of Alice Springs except a few kangaroos… and climatologists. More missing data. A third catch is the “heat island effect”; everyone expects temps will be warmer due to human activity, in exactly the spots where weather stations are interested. So now what data you do have is likely to show as higher than a “baseline”.

        Satellites. Nifty buggers. Aim various antennae wherever you want, and get tightly controlled measurements of radiation. Neatly sidesteps most of the drawbacks of weather reports. …Mostly. Sometimes you aim your antenna from directly overhead; more often, though, you have to aim obliquely, because we don’t have satellites over every, say, 100-km square of the earth, and even then, these are in LEO(?), so that antenna is gonna have to go sideways, and now you’re measuring a much larger cross section of the atmosphere, which leads to a drop in precision. A problem to solve. And of course, we only have satellite data going back a few decades, of poorer quality the further back you go.

        Tree rings. Thick ring = faster growth = it was warmer. Gets around the problem of data only back to 19xx. Find the right trees and you could cover most of recorded history… but only where there are trees that old. And, you now have the proxy problem. Thick ring also means it was wetter, or may have been. Was it cold and wet? Warm and dry? Warm and wet? AIUI we mitigate this a bit by xreffing ring widths with historical weather records, but as a layman, I have very little idea how precise one can get with this. In general, proxy measures mean wider error bars.

        Ice cores. Find a nice thick sheet, drill, pull out a cylinder of ice, analyze it by sections. Could go back centuries (and more?). Gives data on places where there aren’t trees (and where there might have been trees long ago), and also no people, so little or no heat island effect. Has the proxy problem though.

        Other methods. Expect a lot here. Remember, this is a layman’s perspective. I’m sharing what notes I have, and hope others can expand / correct.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Tree rings are inherently not a great temperature proxy. What scientists (dendrochronologists) try to do is pick specific trees that grow where it is so high and cold that it is hard for trees to grow, on the theory that those trees are temperature-limited – they’ll grow better in years when it’s warmer.

          There are a few problems with this theory. One problem is that they assume a linear growth-response curve – the better the tree growth, the warmer it is – whereas the actual response curve is more likely some sort of inverted-U shape. Trees in a particular spot have some optimum growing temperature – they’ll grow less than their maximum achievable rate if it is too cold or too warm relative to the optimum. This means that if it was ever much warmer than today and the trees grew poorly due to that fact, we will accidentally read that period as being unusually cold, not unusually warm. If, say, the MWP was warmer than today it might not be expected to show up as such in the tree rings record.

          Another problem is that the treeline moves around over time. So maybe you can identify a particular tree whose growth is temperature-limited right now, but how sure can you be that it was also temperature-limited a few centuries ago or a thousand years ago? On that timescale all sorts of stuff will change – if the ring record shows a past range of bad years or good years that might reflect some other tree – long since dead and rotted away – that blocked the light or blocked the wind or redirected the water flow.

          Then of course there’s The Divergence Problem, the fact that most of the trees now being claimed to represent temperature seem to have stopped reflecting temperature in 1960 or 1980 or thereabouts.

          It’s possible that tree ring reconstructions are basically random noise when you go back a century or two. Take a bunch of random-noise proxies, select out the ones that end on an upswing to call “temperature-sensitive”, and you’ve got a nice recipe for generating hockey-stick shapes – whether temperature actually did that or not.

          Sediment cores seem more promising. Say there’s a lake near a glacier. In warm years the glacier melts a lot, generating lots of stream runoff, which thickens the layer of sediment. In cold years the glacier melts less so the stream runs less and less dirt is added to the bottom of the lake. You still have to worry a bit about consistency/stability of the relationship but it seems a LOT less problematic than the tree rings. (Lakes and rivers tend to relocate and change their nature on a timescale that’s just a lot slower than forest growth.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Thanks for the expansion.

            I had alluded to the problem of using tree rings if it was warm but dry, or cold but wet; you seem to be saying that they chose spots where moisture was least likely to have an effect, perhaps where there was as little moisture as possible while still permitting trees to grow. That seems valid, but I think we notice that such spots are also likely to be so isolated that it’s as hard to hold them forth as a gauge of GAT as it is to hold any point on earth as a gauge of GAT today, even when you can use a thermometer.

            I like the sediment core idea. OTOH, I’m worried about the stability, as you are. Moreover, dirt is not in constant supply – it will depend on how much was available for erosion upstream of your core. Also, there exist rivers that change course very rapidly (e.g. Mississippi), so you would have to choose your core location carefully, which in turn leads to the isolation problem I mentioned above.

            I’m inclined to try to set aside some free time soon and try to read more on all of this.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Paul Brinkley:

            I’m inclined to try to set aside some free time soon and try to read more on all of this.

            On tree rings I recommend reading (forest ecologist) Craig Loehle, especially his paper A mathematical analysis of the divergence
            problem in dendroclimatology
            (Climatic Change, 2008).

            From the abstract:

            “If trees show a nonlinear growth response, the result is to potentially truncate any historical temperatures higher than those in the calibration period, as well as to reduce the mean and range of reconstructed values compared to actual. […] This creates a cold bias in the reconstructed record and makes it impossible to make any statements about how warm recent decades are compared to historical periods.”

    • J Mann says:

      Here’s my multi-part question. I may, of course, be wrong, and would appreciate hearing why people think that is.

      1) Am I correct that there is a broad consensus for the following points?

      1.1) Barring unforeseen political cooperation or technological developments, the Earth is likely to continue to warm. There is a small but significant possibility that this warming would be catastrophic, and a much larger possibility that it would cause substantial disruption.

      1.2) Substantially reducing world carbon consumption is also very likely to have substantial costs over the alternative, because it is likely to reduce economic growth, which will cost many lives and trap many more in poverty.

      1.3) Any feasible carbon usage reduction on the table would reduce the chances of both catastrophe and significant disruption somewhat, but in most cases only slightly unless underpants gnomes produce an unpredictable benefit, like a tech breakthrough that wouldn’t otherwise occur.

      2) Assuming those premises are right (roughly: there is a small but significant chance of catastrophe that justifies risking a larger chance of killing and impoverishing people through foregone economic growth in order to reduce the chances of catastrophe somewhat), then isn’t it obvious that if you take global warming seriously, you should be supporting massive research into geoengineering?

      We don’t fully understand the risks of increasing cloud cover or launching a series of space mirrors or seeding the deserts with carbon fixing genetically modified algae, but that seems only to argue that we need more research and small scale experiments. Why are we wasting our time with light bulbs or with carbon targets we know people will only hit if a fortuitous recession reduces their activity, when we could be funding a Manhattan project level international research effort to adjust the world’s weather? If the real catastrophe is 30-50 years out, shouldn’t we get started figuring out how to avoid it?

      3) Given that my perception is that there is not much appetite for substantial geoengineering work, is the explanation that:

      3.1) Knowledgeable domain experts actually believe that geoengineering cannot work, so there is no point researching it. (Alternately, they believe that carbon rationing will work and is politically feasible, but if I understand IPCC5, the current consensus is that all carbon rationing that is even being seriously proposed won’t reduce temperature increase or the concomitant risk by much.)

      3.2) People just haven’t thought of it.

      3.3) There’s some irrationality in the system somewhere. For example, maybe Luddites are too scared to invest substantial sums in geoengineering research, or maybe carbon rationing is driven by moral objections to carbon usage.

      3.4) I’m wrong on some of my premises above.

      3.5) There’s something else I haven’t thought of.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Is research on geoengineering actually different from research on climate modelling? With some irreversible geoengineering projects (like filling the atmosphere with sulfur) the question is “what would happen” as much as “how do you make it happen.” In which case there is already a massive effort at geoengineering.

        The only reversible/adjustible geoengineering project I’m aware of is a solar shield, so I’m particularly interested whether SMEs think that a a solar shield would be easier or harder than reducing the cost of renewables below that of coal. This is one case where geoengineering questions seem very distinct from climate science questions.

      • skef says:

        There are two relevant varieties of geo-engineering:

        1) Various ways of backing carbon out of the atmosphere. These have the advantage of applying directly to the problem, and the disadvantage of needing to be applied at a huge scale to have any effect. There’s also the problem of where to put the carbon even medium-term.

        2) Various other interventions, e.g. stratospheric aerosols. There are three possibilities with a given one of these interventions. Middle case, it doesn’t work. Best case, it works with no negative side effects. Worst case, it works with negative side effects. The last is the worst case because society-level psychology is such that we will try to mitigate the side-effects with a further intervention, because we will be (more) directly responsible for it. (Evidence: embarking on geoengineering rather than prevention in the first place.) The worse a given side-effect is, the more likely a subsequent intervention. The overall result is a substantial existential risk.

        Perhaps we could manage to stop after a single intervention and live with some negative consequences, but it seems really doubtful.

        • J Mann says:

          Skef, thanks – I’m honestly curious about this point, and appreciate the input. Can I ask you a few follow up questions.

          – Your concerns for (2) apply to the predicted reduction in economic growth as a result of carbon limitation as well, right?

          – I’m I’m right that the consensus is that (a) there’s a sufficiently sufficient risk of catastrophic change to justify an attempt to rework the global economy, causing both poverty and actual death and (b) the consensus is that even given the most probable economic interventions, we still have an unacceptable risk of catastrophe, why don’t we see geo-engineering research as a crisis level imperative.

          – I mean, if we knew that the earth temperature were very likely to go up 6 degrees C as a result of solar activity over the next 150 years, would we research geo-engineering then, or is the idea just absurd?

          • skef says:

            – Your concerns for (2) apply to the predicted reduction in economic growth as a result of carbon limitation as well, right?

            Yes, although energy already costs money, so there’s already a gradient such that wealthier people use more energy. There can also be a substantial degree of replacement through solar, wind, and nuclear (the making more sense if we can actually agree on a place to put the waste) in addition to conservation.

            would we research geo-engineering then, or is the idea just absurd?

            It would be better to think in terms of amount of research. We don’t have anything like a Manhattan project for geoengineering, but it’s not like no one is looking at the questions now.

          • skef says:

            Here, for example, is a report from 2005 summarizing research on capture and storage.

        • albatross11 says:

          Is it actually all that difficult to, say, plant a lot of fast-growing trees and then bury them in the desert somewhere? (I’d assume without air or water it would take a long time for the carbon to become available to the ecosystem again, but I don’t really know that–please tell me if I’m wrong.)

      • Aapje says:

        @J Mann

        Substantially reducing world carbon consumption is also very likely to have substantial costs over the alternative, because it is likely to reduce economic growth, which will cost many lives and trap many more in poverty.

        First of all, this depends on whether we develop alternatives that are on par with or perhaps even cheaper than fossil fuel. For example, solar power has been declining in price rapidly for decades. This makes sense because it is essentially chip technology, where we saw similar long term continued price decreases. So if this trend continues we need ‘just’ one or two more major breakthroughs in energy storage to have a viable alternative. If solar panels become really cheap, fairly high losses during storage can still result in cheaper energy than using fossil fuel. IMO, it is far more likely than not that these breakthroughs will happen if we put our best minds on the problem.

        Secondly, my perception is that the goal of many policies is to manipulate prices so that people have incentives to work very hard to undo this manipulation by developing the desired technology. As such, if this works as designed (which was often true in the past), then the reduction in economic growth is merely temporary. I don’t consider it obvious that these costs will have to be substantial or that they will persist long term.

        Thirdly, I don’t see how you can simply equate less economic growth with ‘cost many lives and trap many more in poverty.’ Many of the environmental treaties explicitly put far greater burdens on the rich and/or include subsidies to the poor. Many of the poorest people also live in places where solar power is more efficient than in the West, so this may draw industry to these places, making them richer. Fossil fuels also makes people ill and kills people, so by using more renewables, we may save lives that way. So on balance, reducing world carbon consumption may save lives and reduce poverty. Much of it depends on how people choose to reduce world carbon consumption and various hard to predict things.

        Finally, if we keep burning fossil fuel and this causes global warming, then that can cost many lives and trap many more in poverty. If you want to blame effort to reduce global warming for the (potential) negative effects on human deaths and poverty, you also have to consider the (potential) positive effects on human deaths and poverty of reducing global warming. Otherwise you merely count the downsides, not the upsides, which is not a fair way to assess anything.

        • J Mann says:

          @Aapje – IMHO, you’re right that if carbon limitation fortuitously causes an unforeseen tech breakthrough that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred, then it may be a net good. I tried to anticipate that with my reference to “underpants gnomes” planning. Alternately, maybe doing nothing will lead to a tech breakthrough that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred that will benefit us all more than the tech breakthrough you’re imagining. 🙂

          2) It’s my understanding is that it’s the consensus of domain experts that interfering in the market to make carbon use less possible or more expensive will reduce economic growth and cost literal lives. I’m basing that mostly on Kerry Alexander’s econtalk podcast with Russ Roberts and on the various estimates of the costs of carbon reduction. I guess we could dig deeper – if there’s anyone who thinks that relevant economic experts don’t generally think that carbon reduction will reduce growth, I’d like to see it.

          One possible counter argument is that reduction in carbon usage may save more lives as a result of reduced pollution than it costs in reduced economic growth. I’d love to see a relatively neutral analysis of that.

          (For my purposes, I’ll take anything from the IPCC multi-expert report, Congressional Research Office, or a Rand analysis as “relatively” neutral – I mostly just don’t put much weight in blog posts, newspaper articles, or single studies by clear advocates of one side or the other).

          • 1soru1 says:

            > IMHO, you’re right that if carbon limitation fortuitously causes an unforeseen tech breakthrough that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred, then it may be a net good. I tried to anticipate that with my reference to “underpants gnomes” planning.

            That’s probably less than ideal phrasing for the predictable and intended result of a strategy.

            If coal is dirty, acceptable and cheap, no sane capitalist will invest money and engineering into making solar only slightly more expensive than it. Even if enough development effort would in fact make solar greatly cheaper than coal, it would very likely remain as a ‘path not taken’, like cargo airships. Noone would have the ability to stay solvent for long enough to reap the reward.

    • John Schilling says:

      So let’s take as a topic just the first, most basic element of the entire debate: There is Clear and Convincing proof that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a real phenomena.

      At least around here, that’s going to be like starting a political debate with the “first, most basic element: People exist, and they have rights”.

      Everybody here knows that. It’s not a point of contention. People have very substantial disagreements downstream of that fundamental postulate, you can’t derive the One True Right Answer about any of the disagreements of that postulate, and it is insulting to suggest that if a person doesn’t share your detailed object-level opinions it must be because they are foolishly disbelieving an obvious physical or moral truth.

      The disagreement, here, is roughly between people who believe that AGW is a real phenomenon which will have catastrophic effects unless drastic measures are taken, and people who believe that AGW is a real phenomenon which will have minor effects but for which the proposed countermeasures will cause great harm. You get about as much credit for arguing, asserting, or even providing rigorous scientific proof that AGW is a real phenomenon, as a feminist would for proving that women exist and are members of the species h. sapiens.

      In the broader world, you’ll find plenty of people who assert or believe that AGW does not exist, is a hoax, etc. Understand that those are the people who are part of Team II (no big deal, cure worse than disease) who just want to encode their approximate view in the simplest possible way in the interest of ending a debate they don’t want to participate in. You’ll find their sort on both sides of any debate; they make up the majority of the human race everywhere but places like this, and you score no points by disproving their simplistic arguments because they aren’t even playing the game.

      So, would you care to advance to the first point of actual contention in the debate?

      • To add in to John’s comment: there’s a motte-bailey problem here. “AGW exists” means, precisely, what? That the greenhouse effect is real and produces warmer atmospheric temperatures? Sure, that’s trivial, I did the physics out in a basic homework problem in undergrad.

        That we should expect large effects on a scale we care about from human-achievable atmospheric changes? That’s not trivial. It may be true or not. But it’s very easy for someone to assert that “AGW exists”, prove it via my previous graf, and then take the larger claim into evidence. That takes a lot more math and a lot more science.

        (The simplest explanation for why that’s true: logarithmic response from CO2 concentration to warming effect, which is easy to demonstrate from first principles. Substantial temperature gains need feedback effects, which are…much more interesting.)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Everybody here knows that. It’s not a point of contention.

        I get a very M&B feel from this argument.

        Not that you, John Schilling, don’t accept the fundamentals of AGW, but that there are plenty of people here who will, at the very least , raise the question of whether know anything about how much warming is occurring. For instance, Nybbler above basically calls into question the entirety of climate science and then at the very end of the post says “of course CO2 causes warming”, establishing a nice little motte to retreat to.

        And I’m fairly certain that there others here who have at various times argued that we don’t even know whether warming is occuring at all.

        • J Mann says:

          There is Clear and Convincing proof that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a real phenomena.

          I think I agree with John that on this forum, people who don’t agree with the baseline statement are going to be very rare. I guess Nybbler might be arguing that although it is very likely that AGW is real, he hasn’t seen “Clear and Convincing proof.”

          I guess on that front, I haven’t done enough reading to be confident that there is “Clear and Convincing proof” that AGW is real, but I’m satisfied that AGW is real to a reasonable degree of confidence.

          Specifically, I’m satisfied that a substantial majority of domain experts believe based on rational analysis that:

          (1) The Earth has been growing warmer over the recent past;

          (2) Barring a substantial change in technology or current population trends, the Earth is very likely to continue to grow warmer over at least the near future and probably the next several decades.

          (3) Human activity is very likely to be contributing at least a portion of that change, and a change in human activity would be very likely to affect the future temperature curve.

        • John Schilling says:

          but that there are plenty of people here who will, at the very least , raise the question of whether know anything about how much warming is occurring.

          Is there anyone here who will claim that number is likely to be zero or negative? Bueller? Bueller?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Like everyone else I assume that rising CO2 levels are man-driven and are bound to raise temperatures. I have exactly zero feeling for how much, or for what moderating feedback or amplifying effects there might be that will prevail on long-term weather trends. I’m not particularly worried about it, and I see exactly zero evidence that anyone else is.

            Now, you will object that this isn’t a claim of a likelihood of zero. And that is fair enough.

            What I am saying is that there are those, some who sometimes claim the title “luke-warmist”, who dance around between varying statements. I have even seen Friedman forward the argument that increased CO2 may actually be holding off the next ice age.

            Again, it’s a M&B, so no one is going to out and out claim warming is not occurring, as that would tear down the motte.

        • The Nybbler says:

          For instance, Nybbler above basically calls into question the entirety of climate science and then at the very end of the post says “of course CO2 causes warming”, establishing a nice little motte to retreat to.

          No I didn’t, actually. I called into question a major basis of climate science (the global temperature record), and then didn’t say “of course CO2 causes warming”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My apologies, I munged together what you said and what Gossage Vardebedian said in responding to/amplifying your point.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            I am confused. Is it paradoxical to (1) at once understand that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and is increasing in concentration, and (2) have little respect for the conclusions of climatologists concerning AGW?

            We all know what M&B stands for and what it means. Not every argument is a nail for this hammer.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gossage Vardebedian:
            John Schilling said –

            The disagreement, here, is roughly between people who believe that AGW is a real phenomenon which will have catastrophic effects unless drastic measures are taken, and people who believe that AGW is a real phenomenon which will have minor effects but for which the proposed countermeasures will cause great harm. You get about as much credit for arguing, asserting, or even providing rigorous scientific proof that AGW is a real phenomenon, as a feminist would for proving that women exist and are members of the species h. sapiens.

            I was merely pointing out that you seem to be challenging the idea that there is “scientific proof that AGW is a real phenomenon”.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            HBC-
            No, I think it would be hard for anyone to dispute that CO2 has risen in such a dramatic manner and that it is clearly from people burning stuff. And little children understand its a greenhouse gas and so human activity must be warming the planet. I can’t imagine anyone saying otherwise, to the point that referring to that as a possible bone of contention – calling it AGW – is a poor choice. I understand AGW to stand for the broader movement thinking it’s a proven crisis.
            The problem is that the science is very shoddy, and we don’t know how much of a big deal it is, or if it is a big deal at all. My personal problem is that I hate to see bad science, and I hate to see bad science promulgated and the scientists responsible rewarded.
            My guess by the way is that it’s mostly going to be ok because the earth, as a giant homeostatic system, has negative feedbacks in place to mitigate this sort of thing, and because on balance, in the background, we are much more likely to experience a little ice age that a natural warming. That might be dumb or wishful thinking, but I am also very suspicious of the most strident claims of some of the climate spokespeople, and some of the milder predictions aren’t so bad.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gossage Vardebedian:
            To my eye this looks like –
            Motte:

            I can’t imagine anyone saying otherwise

            Bailey:

            The problem is that the science is very shoddy,

            The motte is that of course scientists have proved that CO2 is warming the planet, the bailey is that the science is shoddy and we don’t really know anything and might be cooling next year when the next ice age sets in.

            In claiming these things, you are implicitly making the claim that actual warming might be near zero.

          • J Mann says:

            @HeelBearCub

            If Gossage believes both of his statement to be true, why shouldn’t he say them. Do you believe his “bailey” statement to be evidently false, or arguable?

            It’s not motte and bailey to say that the motte is true, but the bailey isn’t. If anything, it’s motte and bailey to say that if you believe motte, you must also believe bailey.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @J Mann:
            The key to my argument is –

            In claiming these things, you are implicitly making the claim that actual warming might be near zero.

            That means that, while one explicitly accepts that warming is occurring, one is implicitly claiming that it might not be.

            Gossage is free to speak as they believe. I am merely offering their post up as an example of what I was referencing in responding to John Schilling.

          • J Mann says:

            @HeelBearCub – Thanks for clarifying, that helps.

            For what it’s worth, I sincerely see your argument as an example of motte/bailey.* I don’t mean to offend, but maybe that signals motte/bailey isn’t helpful in this context.

            To the OP’s original goal of clarifying whether we can start with a common ground principle of “There is Clear and Convincing proof that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a real phenomena,” it looks to me like that’s true for some common understandings of “clear and convincing proof” and “AGW”, but not for others. I guess if OP wants to start with commonly accepted points to work from, it’s probably best to clarify.

            * Specifically, it looks to me like when people argue with the bailey (“current climate science is awesome and not subject to reasonable, substantial criticism”), you retreat to the motte (“AGW is real”) and try to defend that. As said, I don’t mean it offensively, but just as an example of how I see motte and bailey, for what that’s worth.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @J Mann:
            While it certainly is true that people do this, and I may even do that from time to time, it is not what I am doing here.

            John Schilling contended that no one at SSC questions the underlying reality of AGW. I merely challenged that contention. In this argument, I don’t need to make any claims about how good the science is. I can even accept that the science is NOT good.

            Think about this way. If the climate scientists are so biased/incompetent/corrupted as to call into question whether their conclusions about future temperature stand, why would we trust that their conclusions about recent (200 years) temperature are correct?

          • J Mann says:

            @HeelBearCub – I agree that it’s helpful for us all to clarify what be believe and why.

            I personally think it makes plenty of sense to believe both that the project of temperature measurement and projection has substantial problems, but still to believe that the smart money would bet that AGW exists.

      • In the broader world, you’ll find plenty of people who assert or believe that AGW does not exist, is a hoax, etc. Understand that those are the people who are part of Team II (no big deal, cure worse than disease) who just want to encode their approximate view in the simplest possible way in the interest of ending a debate they don’t want to participate in.

        Would it have been fair to have said that some of the alarmists are merely exagerating to make a point?

        • Matt M says:

          I certainly hope many of the alarmists are exaggerating, because the science certainly doesn’t support most of the wild claims that involve the Earth becoming wholly uninhabitable within 100 years.

          But then we end up in a vicious cycle where, if I’m really just a skeptic, I’m motivated to say “hoax invented by the Chinese” and then you can dismiss me as a “science-denier.” And if you’re really just modestly afraid of the likely effects, you’re motivated to say “humanity is doomed to extinction” and then I can just dismiss you as a rabid alarmist.

    • cassander says:

      Even if you fully grant that the world is getting warmer, that people are calling it, and that this is potentially catastrophic, it doesn’t follow that the solutions currently on the table (massive reductions in carbon use, huge investments in green, but not nuclear energy) are a good solution. This has always been the sticking point for me. I dispute none of what you say, but that doesn’t mean I want to hand over trillions to the guys that have been promising solar in ten years for 40 years. it seems that there are far ways to make sure the planet doesn’t get too hot that are far cheaper, simpler, and less disruptive, and that they are not embraced precisely because they don’t require a political call to arms.

      • massive reductions in carbon use

        Eyeballing some figures, it looks like 3% to 4% a year for a lot of countries.

        huge investments in green, but not nuclear energy

        There’s plenty of expansion in nuclear going on in reality:

        *Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with over 60 reactors under construction in 15 countries.
        *Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region, though there are major plans for new units in Russia.
        *Significant further capacity is being created by plant upgrading.
        *Plant life extension programs are maintaining capacity, in USA particularly

        http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/plans-for-new-reactors-worldwide.aspx

        Pro-nuclear green are a thing:

        Last month, four municipal election candidates from the traditionally anti-nuclear Green Party in Finland published an opinion piece in which they stated that humanity no longer has the luxury of opposing nuclear power.

        the guys that have been promising solar in ten years for 40 years

        Solar is growing very fast

        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/07/solar-power-growth-worldwide-us-china-uk-europe

        • Ketil says:

          Eyeballing some figures, it looks like 3% to 4% a year for a lot of countries.

          But not for rapidly growing economies. Global emissions are still increasing rapidly.

          I think we are slowly and quietly coming around on nuclear, and we are building large reactors in Europe as well. But not fast enough!

          In around five years, I think we could slash carbon emission with maybe 25% while having a net positive effect on the economy, if we really wanted:
          1. cut fossil fuel subsidies (and maybe add taxes),
          2. replace coal (and perhaps gas as well) with nuclear for electricity, industry, and heating,
          3. cut out red meats.

          Even if you did this in two countries alone (the US and China), that could cut global emissions by 10% or more.

          • But not for rapidly growing economies.

            Did you know that cash transfers from developed to developing countries are a part fo the Paris Accord?

            In around five years, I think we could slash carbon emission with maybe 25% while having a net positive effect on the economy, if we really wanted:
            1. cut fossil fuel subsidies (and maybe add taxes),
            2. replace coal (and perhaps gas as well) with nuclear for electricity, industry, and heating,
            3. cut out red meats.

            You don’t see any further gains from solar?

          • Matt M says:

            Did you know that cash transfers from developed to developing countries are a part fo the Paris Accord?

            Only for countries who agreed to them.

            The Paris accord is a joke. Every country was told “just put down what you will do.” Many countries basically said nothing more than “We’ll try to limit emissions, I guess.” And none of it is binding, anyway.

          • The problem of disparate impact on poorer countries is quite fixable in principle, and should not be treated as a show-stopper to any posssible action.

          • Ketil says:

            Just to clarify, I meant that while (some?) developed countries manage to reduce their carbon emissions, growing economies massively increase theirs. And the former is also questionable, I think some European countries tint the picture greener by importing electricity.

            BTW, I wanted to include a link to some high-level statistics. Better late than never, I guess?
            https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

          • cassander says:

            >Even if you did this in two countries alone (the US and China), that could cut global emissions by 10% or more.

            only if massive declines in in the price of coal, oil, and meat don’t lead to other countries consuming more of those things, which is implausible.

            As for cutting red meat, doing that would massively impact my personal happiness and quality of life. How are you factoring that in?

          • Ketil says:

            only if massive declines in in the price of coal, oil, and meat don’t lead to other countries consuming more of those things, which is implausible.

            Good point, which is too often ignored. Energy prices need to decline until fossils are not profitable to extract. In other words, it is not sufficient to have the supply meet (current) demand, it must increase beyond (way beyond, probably) that.

            As for cutting red meat, doing that would massively impact my personal happiness and quality of life. How are you factoring that in?

            I am not? But one way to do this is via taxation. This way, you can still get your steak, or your exotic travels, or whatever – just less than previously. The upside is that you can pay less taxes for other things – and in particular, you don’t have to pay for expensive subsidies that don’t make much difference to the climate anyway.

          • cassander says:

            >I am not? But one way to do this is via taxation. This way, you can still get your steak, or your exotic travels, or whatever – just less than previously. The upside is that you can pay less taxes for other things – and in particular, you don’t have to pay for expensive subsidies that don’t make much difference to the climate anyway.

            putting aside the political impossibility of this, taxing something very popular enough to crush its consumption incurs massive deadweight loss, which means a large loss of utility. You can tax beef so I eat more chicken, but that doesn’t mean I end up just as happy. I end up getting fewer utils per dollar.

        • J Mann says:

          AncientGeek – can you circulate the figures of how much carbon reduction is planned, and best predictions of how much it will cost, how much it will reduce growth, and how much it will reduce the chance of catastrophic warming?

          Sincere question – I’d like to know the consensus on those.

          My rough opinion so far is that (1) cheap solutions don’t do much to reduce the risk of catastrophe; and (2) staggeringly expensive solutions do more, but still not as much as you might think, but I’m not very confident in my opinion and very open to updating.

          Thanks!

        • cassander says:

          >Eyeballing some figures, it looks like 3% to 4% a year for a lot of countries.

          that’s a lot if you keep it up for a couple years.

          There’s plenty of expansion in nuclear going on in reality:

          There is some. But no where is that happening because the local environmentalists are pushing it in order to mitigate global warming. Usually it’s happening in spite of them.

          >Solar is growing very fast

          It’s easy to have a large percentage growth from a zero bse. Solar is less than of one percent of US electricity generation.

        • It’s supposed to be a lot. The question is whether the rate is dangerous or unsustainable or will cause damage. Quoting a final figure and ignoring the timeframe it is to be phased in over is just misleading.

          e.

          But no where is that happening because the local environmentalists are pushing it in order to mitigate global warming.

          Except Finland. I pointed that out to you in a previous relpy.

          It’s easy to have a large percentage growth from a zero base

          It isn’t literally a zero base, as I have also pointed out previously. And do the math on 50% a year.

          • cassander says:

            It’s supposed to be a lot. The question is whether the rate is dangerous or unsustainable or will cause damage. Quoting a final figure and ignoring the timeframe it is to be phased in over is just misleading.

            Not nearly as misleading as saying “it’s only a 3-4% change per year, that’s not a big change,”

            It’s not nothing, it’s a huge change in the trajectory of the global economy (oil consumption has grown an average of more than 1% per year for the last 10 years) that will cost trillions to achieve, and which, even if achieved, might not accomplish its actual goal.

            >Except Finland. I pointed that out to you in a previous relpy.

            I must have missed that in the previous thread. Apologies. If so, good for Finland, I applaud them and the sense of their environmental movement. But I see little change of this attitude spreading.

            >It isn’t literally a zero base, as I have also pointed out previously. And do the math on 50% a year.

            It’s not literally zero, it’s just almost zero. and 50% per year isn’t something that can be sustained. You can only put panels on so many rooftops, especially when you’re massively subsidizing the cost. What is an affordable subsidy for tens of TW might not be for hundreds or thousands.

          • Not nearly as misleading as saying “it’s only a 3-4% change per year, that’s not a big change,”

            if the argument is about disruption of the global economy, then the rate of chnage is precisely what is important.

            It’s not nothing, it’s a huge change in the trajectory of the global economy (oil consumption has grown an average of more than 1% per year for the last 10 years) that will cost trillions to achieve, and which, even if achieved, might not accomplish its actual goal.

            How much does that argument prove? If not having a 100% guarantee of success, was a good reason for doign nothing, nothing would be done.

            It’s not literally zero, it’s just almost zero. and 50% per year isn’t something that can be sustained.

            “As more photovoltaics are installed, costs fall in a predictable way, so that the drive towards using solar energy in Asia and elsewhere will feed through to lower prices across the whole world, including the UK. Even in gloomy Britain, the government now sees solar photovoltaics delivering electricity at less than 2% more than a new gas-fired power station in 2020, with costs continuing to fall thereafter. In sunny places around the world, solar may fall to less than half the price of fossil electricity within a decade.

            At first it seemed that renewable electricity would always be more expensive and solar power would languish unless it was heavily subsidised. Using alternative energy sources seemed difficult, expensive and inconvenient. I now think I was completely wrong.

            In fact, optimism about successfully tackling climate change has never been more justified because 2016 was the year in which it finally became obvious that the world had the technology to solve the problem. Even as the political environment has darkened, the reasons have strengthened for believing that a complete transition to low-carbon energy is practical and affordable within one generation.

            Andrew Simms is right that global temperatures will probably overshoot the 2C target. But that makes the urgency of an energy transition even clearer. Despair is no excuse for inaction.

            Solar power costs around the world fell by an average of another 15% in 2016, meaning that electricity from the sun became the cheapest form of energy generation in places as diverse as Chile, parts of the Middle East and the south-west of the US. The world saw the lowest-ever auction price for solar electricity in Abu Dhabi.

            China committed to adding about 40 gigawatts annually of solar panels in the next few years, more than half the new capacity installed across the entire world in 2016. India made similarly ambitious plans, meaning that these two countries will put more solar on the ground than the entire world did a couple of years ago.”
            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/19/reasons-to-be-cheerful-full-switch-low-carbon-energy-in-sight

          • AnonYEmous says:

            China also happens to be building up massive coal power production – not sure if more than the entire world, but still quite a large amount by today’s standards. No doubt India is doing similar things.

            Ultimately either new inventions happen or they don’t. Not much else to say, really.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        I dispute none of what you say, but that doesn’t mean I want to hand over trillions to the guys that have been promising solar in ten years for 40 years

        You don’t have to hand the money over to anyone in particular. All that’s necessary is to impose a Pigouvian tax on the negative externality. Leave the market to determine the second-best solution.

        It’s not even that relevant what you do with the tax revenue, since the price signal is the important thing. You could put it into research, redistribute it per capita, cut payroll/corporate taxes, etc. As long as it’s not 100% re-invested into fossil fuels it does the job.

        • cassander says:

          I would be fine with a carbon tax that came at the expense of other taxes, a revenue neutral carbon tax. I’ve discussed that in open threads before, and it remains my contention that the left is essential to bring it happen and won’t buy into it. The political left (by which I mean the political parties, elected officials, etc.) won’t get behind a political program that doesn’t promise to feed its various interest groups and finds the idea of eliminating taxes ideologically anathema. See The recent Washington State referendum as an example.

      • What are these solutions, and why haven’t the experts noticed them.?

  26. Tibor says:

    Has anyone read the Cryptonomicon? I’m currently 250 pages into the book (it has about 1000) pages and I bet a lot of people here would like it a lot. The start is a bit slow, but after the first 80 or so pages, I was hooked 🙂

    • James says:

      Gee, if only there were another comment chain in this very open thread where people were discussing what Neal Stephenson books they had read!

      • Well... says:

        Is there one? Maybe whoever wrote it is some kind of genius who, out of sheer brilliance and godlike omniscience, anticipated Tibor’s comment! Whoever that commenter was, he should probably be sent bitcoins and gift certificates to restaurants that serve very authentic felafel.

      • Tibor says:

        I promise to read the entire thread next time before I post any comments 😉

        • Well... says:

          If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t. Just post your comment and, if it’s redundant, let someone else who HAS read the entire thread bring it to your attention. Hopefully they’re polite about it.

        • Randy M says:

          Not good enough. Read the past threads and provide a summary of the previous discussions of Stephenson’s work in your intro next time.

          • Well... says:

            Don’t forget to hyperlink each word or phrase to its unique reference.

          • Well... says:

            Shoddy work. These references are only intra-SSC and provide no context for your own inquiry. This kind of arrogance is sure to get you reprimanded and possibly banned.

          • Randy M says:

            I tried to fix it.

            It’s gone now.

            Now I know why we don’t actually want to hyperlink each word or phrase of a post.

    • Anonymous says:

      The start is a bit slow

      Understatement. About 90% of the book is just parallel buildups for the conclusion, which is underwhelming.

      Not a bad book by any margin, though.

      • Nick says:

        Underwhelming or unsatisfying conclusions is a common criticism of Stephenson. Personally I had no problem with the conclusions of, say, Cryptonomicon or Snow Crash or Anathem, but I had a serious problem with the ending of The Diamond Age.

        • Nornagest says:

          Anathem‘s conclusion was satisfying to me. Snow Crash and Diamond Age were very abrupt but at least resolved the main plot. Cryptonomicon had a decent ending to the WWII Shaftoe plotline, but I felt like he didn’t know what to do with the WWII Waterhouse plotline after a certain point, and the 1990s plotline just cut off at the beginning of what should have been the climax.

          • quaelegit says:

            I feel like Lawrence’s plot line was resolved within the 1990s plot line. We learn about his life after the war and the resolution/continuation of a lot of his codebreaking stuff through Randy’s visit to his family and discussions with Pontifex.

        • Incurian says:

          He did a pretty good job with the ending on the Baroque Cycle. Actually it was really good. Like really fucking good.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, if you give him three volumes and 2,634 pages Neal Stephenson can get around to a proper ending, and if you can still remember how it opened on page 1, you’ll realize how awesomely he closes out the story. Good to know.

          • quaelegit says:

            I remember being really disappointed with the ending of the Baroque cycle, but I can’t remember enough details to say why exactly.

            I wasn’t impressed with BC in general and feel like they were the weakest works of his that I’ve read. I feel like the plot got lost at some points (even by Stephenson’s meandering standards) and never satisfyingly picked up the pieces. Too many of the characters were boring copies of Cryptonomicon characters. And a big part of it was I felt like Baroque Cycle undermined the the world/some plot points of Cryptonomicon:[rot13]

            * EBBG’F VZBEGNY?!?! Bxnl gung jnf sebz gur irel svefg fragrapr ohg vg ernyyl haqrezvarq zl haqrefgnaqvat bs gur jbeyq nf cerfragrq va Pelcg. Yvxr gur jbeyq zbirq sebz “ernyvgl-onfrq” gb “zhpu yrff ernyvgl-onfrq” irel noehcgyl, nsgre V’q orra nffhzvat vg jnf ernyvgl onfrq sbe nyy bs Pelcgbabzvpba.

            * Vs gurer’f gjb vzzbegny thlf, jung unccrarq gb gur bgure bar? Jung’f ur qbvat va gur 20gu praghel?

            * Ubj qbrf Ebbg qrpvqr juvpu crbcyr gb fnir?

          • Incurian says:

            Crytonomicon has the same stuff with Root, remember in Finland?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So, if you give him three volumes and 2,634 pages Neal Stephenson can get around to a proper ending, and if you can still remember how it opened on page 1, you’ll realize how awesomely he closes out the story. Good to know.

            You kids and your 2500-page attention spans…

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, the stuff with Root in Finland is subtle enough that I missed it on my first two readings, and assumed his appearance later was just a continuity error.

          • quaelegit says:

            *SPOILERS BELOW!!!! (I’m too lazy to pull up rot13 right now, so I’m using the excuse that Nornagest started it)*

            I interpreted the Finland stuff as as the conspiracy deliberately faking Root’s death, for reasons of making the conspiracy ?harder to trace or something?. Remember how Shaftoe and Rudy “made sure the doctor filed the death certificate” (sounds to me like bribing/intimidating him to lie). There was the bit about “bat out of hell” but I didn’t understand what that meant until after I read Baroque cycle.

            I think the stronger hints in Cryptonomicon are when Root saved Shaftoe the first time, and subsequent references to the “cuban cigar box”, (it emits glowing light and contains stuff “better than morphine”), and the part where Root save’s Amy’s life in the mountains.

            But yeah, I liked the “conspiracy fakes a member’s death so he has more leeway to operate” better than “magical elixir brings people back to life”…

          • John Schilling says:

            Remember how Shaftoe and Rudy “made sure the doctor filed the death certificate” (sounds to me like bribing/intimidating him to lie).

            That was IIRC explicitly about making sure Root’s “widow” would get her inheritance when Root started his new life, when their entire relationship was barely official in the first place.

            But Root was an active older gentleman in World War II, and an active older gentleman sixty years later. That was an enigma in need of an explanation from very nearly the start of the story. The Finland resurrection was a wham moment akin to, say, the birth of Daenerys’s dragons in Game of Thrones – there may have been hints, but now we know this is the kind of story that has such things in it, and everything changes.

            Unfortunately, that just makes the “Randy and Avi get the gold and the girl, isn’t it obvious they live happily ever after?” ending, even more unsatisfying.

          • Nornagest says:

            Stephenson often seems impatient with conventional plot structure; compare the bit in Snow Crash where Hiro crashes a hick bar somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, gets into all sorts of trouble, and then just as the scene’s getting worked up to a climax it abruptly cuts off with “and from then on it’s basically just a chase scene”, or words to that effect.

            Unfortunately, while he’s a very very good writer in a lot of ways, he’s not quite good enough at unconventional plotting for this to work reliably.

          • Nick says:

            I believe I’ve read in an interview (and I can look this up if need be, or someone can correct me) that Stephenson planned on having Cryptonomicon take place in three time periods, past, (more or less) present, and future. The contemporary stuff ballooned into the current Cryptonomicon, so he decided to split up the story. Then the past stuff of course ballooned into the Baroque Cycle… anyway, the point is that we’re still waiting on the real conclusion of this trilogy. With a nine book cycle in sixty four parts, if the trend holds.

          • albatross11 says:

            I also enjoyed Cryptonomicon, but bogged down in The Baroque Cycle and eventually gave up.

    • quaelegit says:

      One data point of a mostly-lurker, but Cryptonomicon was my absolute favorite book ages~15-20. I’ve re-read it most time than any other book that’s not Artemis Fowl.

      Things I really liked about it:

      * The general Stephenson stuff (great integration of narrative and technical concepts & explanation, hilariously unsual descriptions of things, irreverent tone, fascinating setting descriptions). This book made me reallly want to visit Manila, and despite the horror stories I’ve heard from friends who’ve actually been there, I still kind of want to.

      * It was the first really good historical fiction novel I read, and I really enjoyed learning about the history from a different perspective than what I was learning in school (not necessarily anything political, just more detailed coverage of WWII and focusing on different parts of it than class did).

      * Lawrence and Goto Dengo are my favorites

      * It’s so funny!

      * As someone who’s principle emotional reaction to anything was embarrassment, I really identified with Randy.

      • Tibor says:

        I’ve been to Manila (before reading the book) and it is exactly as he describes it. I was amazed how spot on the description was.

        • Nornagest says:

          I went to Manila several years after reading the book; I stayed mostly up in Quezon City, but I did take a day off to hike around Intramuros mainly because of Cryptonomicon. It’s spot-on, yeah, to the point where I could almost literally use it as a tour guide. Walking up those stairs in the San Agustin Church was a trip.

          I feel like Stephenson didn’t adequately convey just how hellish Manila traffic is, though. There’s a few sentences on it in REAMDE (which I actually bought my copy of at a mall in Fort Bonifacio), but it still doesn’t really show the magnitude of the suck. It’s like getting machine-gunned by a cannon that shoots Nineties-era Mitsubishi vans.

          • quaelegit says:

            Re: Traffic — Perhaps it’s gotten worse since he visited?

            I’m guessing he was pretty familiar with Manila from his traveling/research for the article about FLAG he wrote for WIRED (fun read if you have the time). Although now I’m skimming it and he doesn’t actually mention going to the Philippines, so maybe not…

  27. Tibor says:

    So the Czech republic is now a second country in the world with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms…sort of. The formulation is far from perfect in my opinion, but a good step in the right direction and something that can help protect the country against EU’s attempts to restrict gun rights across the EU.

    By the way, it is interesting to compare how different news services report about this. The BBC says that the Czech parliament moved toward legalizing gun ownership. However, that is nonsense, Czech gun laws are already more liberal than those of some US states and the most liberal in the world after the US. NRA actually might have the best report of what is going on (except for the exact formulation of the law whose English version is only provided by Eugene Volokh as far as I can say)

    Washington post (or rather the Volokh conspiracy blog hosted by WP) is one of the few English-speaking sources who write about it accurately and in the right context. The main reason behind this law is that Czechs are traditionally liberal in their gun laws (except during communism where private ownership of firearms was simply illegal) whereas the rest of the EU isn’t, in particular Germany is very hostile to private gun ownership. The EU is now trying to restrict gun rights across all countries of the union and this constitutional law is supposed to protect us against that.

    Btw, I keep saying it but I think it is important for the opponents of gun rights to know this – while our gun laws are just behind those of the US, our murder and violent crime rates are on par with Germany, i.e. much much lower than those of the US. The Swiss have slightly more restrictive gun laws but many more privately owned guns per capita (2nd in the world after the US) and their violent crime rates are the lowest in Europe, on par with Singapore or Japan.

    • Aapje says:

      I’d be interested to know what the restrictions are in the Czech republic. Felony status, registration, background checks, a requirement to store the weapon in a safe, etc, etc?

      • Tibor says:

        There are 5 gun license categories:
        A – collection
        B – Sport
        C – Hunting
        D – Profession
        E – Self-defense (the only one that permits concealed carry of loaded weapons in civilian life)

        You can also combine them. All of them are “shall issue”, so the police cannot decide against issuing one as long as you meet the criteria:

        – You have to be at least 21, for sports at least 15 under some conditions and for hunting at least 16 again under some extra conditions
        – You have to pass a practical and a theoretical test showing you can operate the firearm safely and that you are familiar with the relevant legislature
        – You have to get a medical check-up showing you do not have a metal disease such as schizophrenia (there is an exact list of conditions)
        – You have to show you haven’t committed a crime where you were sentenced to more than 5 years in the last 20 years (counting from the end of the sentence) and similarly for shorter sentences (there the waiting time is 10 years for a sentence between 2 and 5 years and 5 years for a sentence under 2 years). There is also a list of specific crimes where if you were sentenced to more than 5 years, you are never allowed to get a firearm license again. Those are basically terrorism, genocide, murder, treason.
        – if you’re a diagnosed alcoholic, drug addict or if you committed a tort/minor offense from a listed set of areas such as national defense, weapons and ammunition, explosives and a couple more in the previous 3 years then you will also not be issued one.

        If you meet all that you will be issued any/all of the 5 gun licenses…well, you also have to pay the fees for the medical check-up (this one is not covered by the insurance), and the tests that you have to pass, altogether all the fees should not exceed roughly 100 Euros.

        It is not required to keep the firearm in a safe as long as you only own one firearm – they have to be registered. If you own at least two, they have to be kept in a safe unless you’re carrying them on your person.

        With the self-defense license you are allowed to own semi-automatic weapons, automatic weapons are generally illegal, you have to get a special permit for that which is not shall-issue and typically won’t be issued. If it is, the police can inspect the place where you store the automatic firearm without a warrant to check it. There are no “assault weapon” or similar categories. As long as automatic fire is disabled, you can buy a machine gun if you wish. Concealed carry comes automatically with the self-defense license, open carry is entirely illegal – the only people who have the license to open carry are the police (the army is prohibited from operating inland).

        You are only allowed to use the gun for self-defence if your life is threatened, this is somewhat open to interpretation by the court. Generally, if someone punches you in a bar and you shoot him, you will probably go to jail. If someone attacks you with a knife or something and you shoot him, you won’t. But I’m not a lawyer.

        With the self-defense license (and hence the concealed carry license) you are allowed to legally carry up to two loaded firearms on your person at the same time.

        Airsoft weapons or paintball weapons, cold weapons, gas pistols or BB guns do not require any license and there are no restrictions on the bladed weapons which can be sold or carried. If you want to, you can carry a sharp sword around. However, if you have an airsoft weapon which is a realistic copy of a real firearm (which they often are), it still has to be carried in a concealed way.

        Explosives are generally prohibited, you need a special permit and that is only issued if you need them for your profession (e.g. in construction or mining you sometimes need to use explosives).

        • hlynkacg says:

          Thank you for the write-up.

        • gbdub says:

          This is interesting, thanks.

          I have a feeling a lot of American gun owners would actually be fine with that system, particularly since they’d gain a pretty substantial benefit – reciprocal, shall issue licensing that affords them the same rights in CA as they have in AZ. So you wouldn’t, for example, go to jail for a felony if you crossed the border of NJ while possessing guns in a manner perfectly legal in PA.

          The gun registration would be a sticking point, but largely that’s due to distrust because there’s a large contingent of the gun control movement in the US that really won’t settle for anything less than Australia style confiscation. If we could reset the clock to 1970 I could see something like the Czech system being workable in the US.

          • Tibor says:

            I think we are unique in that while the number of gun license holders if fairly low (about 300 000 people have them in a country of 10 million, some of whom are of course under 21, and there are about 900 000 registered privately-owned firearms), Czechs are quite protective of their gun rights. It might be because historically the gun laws were liberal and restricting them is associated with nazism and communism (both regimes made privately owned firearms illegal).

            This constitutional law was passed by 138 MPs out of 168 MPs that were present at the moment (in total the parliament has 200 MPs) which means it had support across the political spectrum. One of the (female, which I’m writing because positive attitude to gun rights is usually associated more with men) MPs from the formely major (after a series of scandals and also tax hikes they lost most of their voters) right-wing slightly libertarian-ish party said that “Forbidding legal gun ownership has been and is a symptom of undemocratic and totalitarian regimes.” I think that that sums up the Czech attitude to gun rights quite well.

            I always find it annoying when US anti-gun activists link liberal gun laws to violence and also imagine all of Europe as Britain or Germany (who have horribly restrictive weapons laws). What’s worse, due to the influence of the US culture, many Europeans from the restrictive countries (a majority, although most are still not as bad as Germany and the UK) also think that way, nobody seems to bother with looking at the Czech republic or Switzerland. Now, the Swiss laws are less liberal, most notably concealed carry of loaded firearms is not legal in public over there. They are a bit more liberal in that you don’t need a license at all, Swiss citizenship is enough (by the way, I forgot to mention that foreigners can still get a Czech gun license, I don’t know the details, I think they need to be EU nationals or have a permanent residency in the Czech republic and otherwise the requirements are the same – the test is probably going to be in Czech though, so they have to understand it well enough to pass the test). Still, Switzerland has way more firearms per capita so it is also a good example showing that the number of guns itself is not the primary cause of high violent crime rates in the US just as the Czech laws show that the liberal gun laws are not the reason behind it either (although you could argue that it is because of the tests and the medical and criminal restrictions and maybe it partly is…I think it makes some sense to require a test for firearm licenses when you require a test for driving licenses).

            In a sense you have the same AZ/CA situation in the EU/Schengen Zone. I can go to Germany without a border check but the Czech gun license holds no value there. It is possible to get a European gun license, but it basically only allows you to carry them across EU countries in a safe as far as I know.

          • Incurian says:

            The gun registration would be a sticking point

            It’s like they didn’t watch Red Dawn.
            Tibor: also, if you know the guy who designed the new scorpion, tell him thanks.

          • Tibor says:

            @Incurian: Is it actually legal in the US? I think you have some sort of a strange law which prohibits importing foreign weapons other than pistols and Scorpion is a submachine gun. Although they do have this weird “pistol version” whose only purpose is to allow legal export to the US. Other than that I also like it a lot, but I can really just appreciate the design, I know little about guns, I only shot my father’s low-caliber pistol at a shooting range as a kid a couple of times and he sold it when I was about 12. I might pick up shooting for fun, but I’d probably rather enjoy shooting something like the K31.

            What do you think about the CZ BREN ? It is the new assault rifle of the Czech army, it replaced the old Sa vz. 58 (which looks a bit like the AK-47 but has nothing to do with it mechanically…Incidentally, I think the Czechoslovak army was the only one in the Eastern block which did not use the AKs) recently but soldiers complained a lot about it, at least about the first version, this second one might be better, but I don’t know. There is also a civilian version (which cannot shoot in bursts and full-auto) but I think you cannot get it in the US since you cann