Links 8/17: Exsitement

Hackers encode malware that infects DNA sequencing software in a strand of DNA. Make sure to run your family members through an antivirus program before ordering genetic testing.

Every time I feel like I’ve accepted how surprising optical illusions can be, somebody comes out with an even more surprising one that I have to double-check in Photoshop to confirm it’s really illusory.

Effective altruist organizations estimate it may cost about $7,500 in efficient charitable donations to save one life. But the median American believes it only takes about $40. This and more from a survey on charity discussed on 80,000 Hours.

OpenAI creates AI that can beat some of the best human players in a limited version of the complex online multiplayer game DOTA 2. A few days later, Reddit’s DOTA2 community develops strategies for defeating the AIs. Human creativity wins again!

New method of killing bacteria, a “star-shaped polymer [that rips] apart their cell walls” may be a breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Did you know: Pablo Picasso was once questioned by police who suspected he had stolen the Mona Lisa.

Study: Asian-Americans are treated differently due to their weight – ie fat Asians are viewed as more likely to be “real” Americans.

The list of Michigan Department Of Corrections’ list of books prisoners may not read (h/t gabrielthefool). Includes the atlas (providing maps raises escape risk), textbooks on making webpages with HTML (what if they learn to hack?), and all the Dungeons and Dragons manuals (marked as “threat to order and security of institution”, for some reason). “I shouldn’t be astounded at the level of control and dehumanization in such a list, but somehow I am.”

From the jury selection hearings for the Martin Shkreli trial. I refused to believe this was real at first, but I’ve seen it in multiple credible sources and I guess I’m satisfied. And Ross Rheingans-Yoo spoils our fun and reminds us that actually all of this is deeply disappointing.

LiveScience reaches Peak Rat Study: Why Men Love Lingerie: Rat Study Offers Hints. “Just as lingerie turns on human males, tiny jackets do the same for male rats, a new study finds.”

Did you know: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Twitter was the first source to report on Osama bin Laden’s death.

I assume this is just lawyers amusing themselves, but technically a New Zealand law could disqualify all Australians from serving in their own Parliament.

Annie Dillard’s classic essay on a solar eclipse. I wanted to write something serious and profound about my eclipse experience, but I gave up after realizing there was no way I could match this.

The mountains of Victoria, Australia, include Mount Useful, Mount Disappointment, Mount Terrible, Mount Buggery, and Mount Typo.

Voting system theorists use voting system to systematically vote on voting systems, determine that among 18 options approval voting is best, plurality voting (what the US uses) is worst.

Julia Galef’s List Of Unpopular Ideas About Social Norms. Number 3: “It should not be considered noble to remain anonymous when donating to charity, because publicizing one’s donation encourages other people to donate.”

New Yorker: Is There Any Point To Protesting? This seems like a really important question, especially given how hard it is to trace whether any recent protests have resulted in real change. The article discusses it briefly (and presents some evidence against), but then shifts topics to a less interesting (though still worth reading) tangent about whether modern decentralized protests work worse than 60s-style highly-regimented ones.

I’ve mentioned a bunch of times on here that studies show going to a therapist isn’t necessarily any better than getting a good therapy self-help workbook. Now unsurprisingly a meta-analysis of these studies shows the same thing (paper, popular article).

Just learned 80,000 Hours has a podcast. This week’s topic: pandemic preparedness. I got to talk to some biosecurity researchers at EA Global. The consensus was that we should all be really scared of bioterrorism, but that they can’t explain why – sharing their list of Top Ten Easy Ways To Create A Global Pandemic might not be the best way to promote public safety. If you want to work on this cause and have (or can get) relevant skills, contact 80,000 Hours at the link on their website.

A cartoon from a 1906 newspaper’s Forecasts For 1907 (h/t Steve Omohundro)

I’d previously heard the good news that, even though inequality was rising within developed countries, at least global inequality was on its way down. This good news may no longer be true.

Did you know: Happy, hapless, perhaps, mishap, happen, and haphazard all come from from the same Norse root “hap” – meaning “chance”.

Darktka does a really good nootropics survey – way better than mine – but with mostly expected results. Their tl;dr: “Most substances seem to have no or only slight effects when rated subjectively. Most substances with substantial effects were already well-known for their effects, some of them are prescription drugs or pharmaceuticals.” Do note how selegiline and l-deprenyl often get very different results, sometimes barely within each other’s confidence intervals, despite being different names for the same chemical.

GoogleMemoGate update: Fired memo-sender James Damore has set up a Twitter account at @Fired4Truth with 78,000 followers and is well on his way to receiving $60,000 from crowdfunding. Part of me is optimistic; maybe people will feel less afraid if there’s an expectation that other people will look after them if they’re fired. But another part of me is worried that this creates a strong financial pressure for martyrs to transform themselves into sketchy alt-right-linked celebrities obsessed with being politically incorrect – which will retroactively justify firing them, and leave anyone who defended them with egg on their face. In some ways this is a difficult debate without a clear answer. In other ways – Fired4Truth?! Really?! You really couldn’t think of a less sketchy-sounding brand?!

Related: Quillete has an article by four domain-expert scientists who support some of the Google memo’s claims; their site then gets DDoS-ed and taken down. It seems to be back online now. Remember they’re dependent on reader donations.

Vs. Traffic Court. “Traffic laws are supposed to be about safety. But many of us feel strongly that they’re mostly about money. And in that short trial, I was able to make that point…”

Viral joke going around Chinese Twitter about what they would tell Chairman Mao if he came back today, translated by Matt Schrader.

Finally, AI learns to do something useful: remove watermarks from stock images.

I like Venkatesh Rao’s work, because it gives me a feeling of reading something from way outside my filter bubble. Like it’s by a bass lure expert who writes about bass lures, secure in the knowledge that everyone he’s ever met considers bass lures a central part of their life, and who expects his readers to share a wide stock of bass-lure-related concepts and metaphors. But Rao writes about modern culture from a Bay Area techie perspective, which really ought to be my demographic. I guess filter bubbles extend along more dimensions than I thought. Anyway, everybody’s talking about The Premium Mediocre Life Of Maya Millennial, and people who know more about bass lures than I do assure me it’s really good (it also says nice things about me!)

Spotted Toad: Good And Bad Arguments Against The Obamacare Opiate Effect – ie the claim that some of the increased opiate-related mortality is due to easier access via Obamacare.

Would an ancient Roman dressed in 50s AD clothing look hopelessly out of style to an ancient Roman in the 60s AD? r/AskHistorians on fashion trends in the ancient world.

Big econ study shows that the rates of profit have skyrocketed over the past few decades, adding a twist to standard labor vs. capital narratives. Likely related to monopolies/oligopolies and restriction of competition. Takes from Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Karl Smith, and Noah Smith.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, cell phone carriers fight the government over proposed changes to emergency alert systems. My position might be biased by my eclipse trip, when the state of Oregon decided it was necessary to send out Statewide Emergency Alerts telling people not to stare at the sun.

Trump’s cybersecurity advisors resign, cite both bad cybersecurity policy and general moral turpitude. Does Trump even have any advisors left at this point?

In some parts of the world, snake oil remains a popular folk treatment, and you can even buy it on Amazon.

I guess I can’t get away without linking McSweeney’s article on Taylor Swifties.

Substances don’t have to be a liquid or a gas to behave as a fluid. For example, have you considered a fluid made of fire ants? (h/t

Samzdat finishes its excellent series on metis, narcissism, and nihilism with a two-post summary/review: The Uruk Machine, The Thresher.

New study in the Lancet (study, popular article) finds that saturated fat in moderation might be good for you, carbs potentially worse. I can’t bring myself to really look into this, but the fundamental questions are always where you started and what you’re trading off against. If someone eats 100% sugar and switches some of their sugar for a little saturated fat from meat, that’s good. If someone eats 100% donuts and switches some of their donuts for a little bit of carbs from fruit, that’s also good. I’m not sure how seriously this study considered these things, but I would warn against taking it as some sort of final “SCIENCE SHOWS FAT GOOD, CARBS BAD, EVERYONE GO HOME NOW.”

QZ: All The Wellness Products Americans Love To Buy Are Sold On Both Infowars and Goop. Infowars is super-Red-Tribe and Goop is super-Blue-Tribe, so it’s fun to compare the way they pitch the same items. See eg the herb advertised on Goop as “Why Am I So Effin’ Tired” vs. on Infowars as “Brain Force Plus”. The former advertises that it “replenishes nutrients you may be lacking..sourced from ancient Ayurveda”, vs. the latter “fights back [against] toxic weapons…with the next generation of advanced neural activation”.

The first written use of the f-word in English is exactly what you expected.

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243 Responses to Links 8/17: Exsitement

  1. Anonymous Bosch says:

    The Assange/RT thing is from 2012, just FYI.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    The “malware DNA” story has been pretty significantly misreported I think. If you read the article, you see that they didn’t actually exploit any existing vulnerabilities; rather they deliberately altered a commonly used program to be vulnerable, and then exploited the vulnerability they’d introduced. That’s… pretty unimpressive IMO.

    Seems they did find some actual vulnerabilities in other programs used with DNA data, which seems actually important, much more so than their dumb publicity stunt, but which isn’t quite headline-worthy. But apparently they decided to exploit an artificial vulnerability of their own making rather than any of the existing ones they found…

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      If I were focusing solely on the no-doubt-difficult-and-fiddly “get exploit payload into DNA molecule” step, I would certainly at least be tempted to introduce a known vulnerability into the analysis software, just so I could test the thing end-to-end and get a result more dramatic than “the text I entered here is also the text I entered there”. (And just that component is indeed important and newsworthy; real exploits are always elaborate towers integrating dozens of components each of which is the product of a reverse-engineering effort in itself.)

      How much of an actual practical effect this might have? Who knows. Though I can’t help but think of concerning anyone trying to actually get around analysis with it…

    • epiphi says:

      Yeah, I work at a biotech company and the opinion of our software VP was, quote “Wait so they changed the software to have a specific vulnerability, then demonstrated that they can leverage the vulnerability they specifically crafted for their attack?”

      The “digital format, known as FASTQ, that’s used to store the DNA sequence” is incredibly not fancy- it’s a plaintext list of ACTGs, each annotated with a 94-letter quality encoding (from “!” to “~”). I think it was difficult to produce a buffer overflow using only the characters “ACGT” and don’t feel like they’ve demonstrated much other than that the program, which they altered, processes plaintext in the way they predicted. (I suppose they could have found that quality issues with sequencing prevented even this?)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I saw that, but I don’t think the point was “existing sequencing software is poorly designed”, I think it’s “you can do this in principle”.

      I realize there’s probably some grey area, if the amount of information you can fit in DNA is so low that only a terribly designed program would be hackable by it. I still think it’s neat.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The problem is that it’s obvious one can do this “in principle”. The demonstration adds nothing to that.

        • Dedicating Ruckus says:

          The knowledge that it’s actually doable to get an exploit payload into a strand of DNA (as opposed to the multitudes of things that can be done “in principle” but are decades from any demonstration) is still interesting.

          That said, probably not much practical impact from this technique alone. Maybe in the future in concert with a dozen other things.

        • beleester says:

          I don’t think it’s totally obvious, seeing as DNA sequencing is pretty complicated and I don’t know how it works. Yes, the general principle of “a program can be exploited through its inputs” is pretty unsurprising, but at that level of detail pretty much every cyberattack is obvious.

          In this case, the non-obvious parts are what it takes to get your attack payload encoded as something that will survive as a DNA strand and survive a pass through the sequencing machine so that the computer can read it. FTFA:

          To speed up the processing, the images of millions of bases are split up into thousands of chunks and analyzed in parallel. So all the data that comprised their attack had to fit into just a few hundred of those bases, to increase the likelihood it would remain intact throughout the sequencer’s parallel processing.

          When the researchers sent their carefully crafted attack to the DNA synthesis service Integrated DNA Technologies in the form of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, they found that DNA has other physical restrictions too. For their DNA sample to remain stable, they had to maintain a certain ratio of Gs and Cs to As and Ts, because the natural stability of DNA depends on a regular proportion of A-T and G-C pairs. And while a buffer overflow often involves using the same strings of data repeatedly, doing so in this case caused the DNA strand to fold in on itself. All of that meant the group had to repeatedly rewrite their exploit code to find a form that could also survive as actual DNA, which the synthesis service would ultimately send them in a finger-sized plastic vial in the mail.


          Even then, the attack was fully translated only about 37 percent of the time, since the sequencer’s parallel processing often cut it short or—another hazard of writing code in a physical object—the program decoded it backward.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Sure, and if the various articles about this framed that as the central problem I’d be much less annoyed. But instead they present it as if “a program can be exploited through its inputs” is what’s so amazing here.

            So yeah I agree there truly is something nonobvious here, and I was wrong to ignore that earlier. But the various articles about are still presenting things in a pretty misleading manner, focusing instead either on A. something they didn’t actually do or B. something that’s obvious, instead of, you know, taking the obvious as obvious and presenting the nonobvious question they solved as the main focus.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            For their DNA sample to remain stable, they had to maintain a certain ratio of Gs and Cs to As and Ts, because the natural stability of DNA depends on a regular proportion of A-T and G-C pairs. And while a buffer overflow often involves using the same strings of data repeatedly, doing so in this case caused the DNA strand to fold in on itself.

            In my semi-expert opinion this explanation is likely inaccurate.

            You’ve got two potential issues, the first more likely:

            1) DNA synthesis companies have synthesis constraints to ease the process of high-throughput DNA synthesis. These constraints are less flexible than the real world, where entire genomes range from >72% GC to almost 20% GC (and this is an average with local extremes worse than these values – values from wikipedia).

            These constraints can be ameliorated in a lower-throughput process.

            My bet is that the researchers submitted their sequence for synthesis and got a message that their sequence was outside the synthesis constraints, and didn’t even think to ask how this could be gotten around. Or if they did ask this, the people they were talking with didn’t try to troubleshoot (not worth the effort).

            2) Actual DNA stability in replication: Yes, some DNA sequences are notably less stable when replicating. But this isn’t a problem for synthesized DNA, and it can often be ameliorated with special vectors for propagation (single-copy vectors, linear vectors).

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @anonymousskimmer- Agreed, I spent quite a lot of my PhD working with DNA sequences similar to natural ones but annoying to DNA synthesis companies due to being repetitive (you get repetitive sequences in nature fairly often)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think you know more about hacking than I do. It wasn’t obvious to me. I never would have thought of this in a thousand years.

          • Johannes D says:

            It depends on how much you’re allowed to modify the sequencing program. I mean, it’s basically about changing a program from “1) Sequence this DNA and 2) output the resulting bits” to “1) sequence this DNA and 2) execute the resulting bits”.

            Now, it turns out that in many cases, tricking programs to execute specially-crafted input data—instead of doing what they’re supposed to do with it—is for various reasons easier than it sounds. If there’s a suitable vulnerability in the input processing code, it doesn’t matter where the input comes from.

          • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

            “1) Sequence this DNA and 2) output the resulting bits” to “1) sequence this DNA and 2) execute the resulting bits”.

            I think the important part here that most non-professionals do not understand is how thin is the boundary between (1) and (2) and how easy it is to cross it. The correct answer to both is “way more than you think” and “yes, you are right to be very concerned about it and no, we do not have real solution to it so far”.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      I think the impressive part here is not the exploit itself (which is largely simulated, indeed) but the reminder of a fact long known to professionals, but largely ignored by everybody else – there’s no such thing as “just data”, and any piece of data can contain hostile content that could exploit problems in processing system, and most processing systems are not suitably protected from that. Most software that processes common data exchange formats is built under assumption that the data is friendly, and is not sufficiently robust against hostile data. The fact that in this case the hostile data could be DNA is a clever marketing – it could be a photo, a book, a document – anything that can be electronically encoded.

  3. purplepeople says:

    $7500 is surprisingly high. I would have also guessed around $100/life for the AMF or similar.

    • maniexx says:

      It’s actually quite comforting that it is this high. It means all the lower cost opportunities are already being taken care of. On the other hand, well, it’s more than charity marketing made us think it would be, but it’s also the price of a reasonable 5-year-old used car.

    • Ben Liddicott says:

      And you would be correct.

      Cost per life saved by vaccines is about $100 to $200.

      As long as all these programs are in need of funding charities with a worse ROI should just stop.

      Edit: To clarify, this is only relevant if you are interested in cost per life saved.

      Most people think certain categories are categorically different, so this is not always the relevant criterion, in which case it isn’t relevant.

      I’m not replying to the the troll because he is a troll.

      • Dedicating Ruckus says:

        As long as all these programs are in need of funding charities with a worse ROI should just stop.

        Because clearly, the lives of unvaccinated people at risk for preventable diseases are the only thing anyone values anywhere, and if anyone chooses to use their money for anything else, it’s only because they’ve not been sufficiently educated as to ROI numbers.


        • Said Achmiz says:

          Well, now, hang on. If we’re exhorted, via appeals to utilitarian justifications, to give money to a charity that saves a life per $7500, then Ben Liddicott’s comment applies in full force.

          If, on the other hand, we set aside utilitarian motivations, then perhaps we have no reason to want to give to the $7500/life charity in the first place? (I mean, maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But… probably not.)

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            True, if you can save lives at $100 via vaccine distribution, and it takes $7500 via malaria nets or whatever the current frontrunner on GiveWell is, then this is very relevant information to the EA people, and they should (according to their own values) investigate this and update their recommendations.

            But “charities with a worse ROI should just stop” is an absurdly broad statement, not hedged by anything until the passive-aggressive retroactive edit just now. And even by the EAs’ assumptions, I don’t think it’s actually true; at some point you’ll exhaust the low-hanging fruit available from vaccines, and then if you’ve already got an infrastructure in place to distribute mosquito nets or give microloans or whatever, you can pivot faster to whatever the new best option is. The optimal allocation of EA dollars is not necessarily “all money goes to the current most efficient avenue, no money goes to anything else”.

      • wintermute92 says:

        Can you source this?

        The EA post explicitly offers “most Americans believe a child can be prevented from dying of preventable diseases for very little – less than $100” as an inaccurate belief. If vaccine-based lifesaving can be done for $100/life, and somehow that was completely neglected in the post, I’m going to strongly update against believing EA stats.

        But I absolutely can’t find numbers like this. I’m finding stats like US$4972
        per death averted.
        That’s for rotavirus, widely considered one of the most cost-effective vaccination programs available.

        And I think $100/life fails basic fermi estimates. A vaccine needs a high rate of lifesaving at a low cost to even be in the running; the obvious candidate for a spot-check is cholera. That runs several dollars per immunized patient (you’ll find much lower numbers, but they ‘cheat’ by getting doses paid for by the manufacturer), meaning a cumulative life saved per <30 applications to be a realistic candidate.

        Cholera incidence in the worst modern outbreak – Yemen – is still around 2% of the population annually. Cholera can have fatality rates of up to 50% without treatment, but in practice even disaster areas are consistently under 10%. Cholera vaccines offer 85%-50% protection, declining over two years. That's ~300 doses per life saved, or $1,200 per life. So we're a solid order of magnitude off, and I've been massively generous in pretending we can distribute cheaply in crisis regions.

        I don't know what else to look for. As far as I can find, $100/life via vaccines is simply false. I would consider it a massive indictment of EA if it isn't, so please source this if you can.

    • Shiney says:

      It’s a long way from the getting your shoes or suit destroyed to save a child dying in a pond analogy that used to be so prevalent as an argument for utilitarianism.

      Do we know why this number has increased so much? I think the estimate in Peter Singer’s “A Life you can save” (2009) was more like $1000. Are the estimates given about the Against Malaria Foundation going up due to getting less ROI for the marginal donation due to low hanging fruit? Or are the current estimates of the previous effectiveness of AMF lower than they used to be?

      I assume these points aren’t something new that I just thought up is there any good analysis of this somewhere else.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t know whether the cost of saving a life has increased or if the earlier advertisements which said it was very cheap were lying.

        Someone, probably Ozy, has argued that even if you’re poor by American standards, you can still give enough charity to save three or four lives in your lifetime, and that’s pretty good.

        • Shiney says:

          If this was lying I’m a bit surprised that this hasn’t come up in any of the recent criticism’s of EA and Amia Srinvasan’s review of “Doing good better”(2015).

          I guess Ozy is right about that, but if the inflation rate on saving lives is as high as the increases in the cost suggest (750% in less than a decade) this won’t be true soon. I don’t particularly see why this rate should continue, but I also don’t really know how it increased so much in the past decade, so this whole thing is fairly confusing.

          It’s uncertainty stuff like this which even though I donate to EA recommended charities (for global development), make me feel a bit icky about wholeheartedly recommending them to others.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It may not have been lying exactly– it may have been leaving out a lot of relevant information. For example, just mentioning the price of food to save a life, but leaving out the infrastructure needed to deliver the food.

  4. Incurian says:

    A cartoon from a 1906 newspaper’s Forecasts For 1907 (h/t Steve Omohundro)

    I misread “message” as “massage” and thought, “damn, that’s one hell of a telegraph.”

  5. thedixon says:

    I very much disagree with Ross Rheingans-Yoo that jury members are morally wrong. He’s missing a very important prior. It goes like this:

    Very smart and very unprincipled people are often pretty good with doing crimes in a way they can’t get pinned on them. General prosecution process works well with middle of the road people. Outliers often weasel out. So knowing that a person is very smart (a CEO of large company) and very unprincipled (drug price action) raises prior of him being guilty of financial fraud quite a lot. Those people rightfully then say, that they would be strongly biased toward him being guilty, since it’s not “all the facts” that would be presented, but only the facts that prosecution was able to uncover, given a very strong adversary.

    Adjusting probabilities based on prior actions and persons moral character is not always a bad thing.

    • Nick says:

      I very much disagree with Ross Rheingans-Yoo that jury members are morally wrong.

      Actually, Rheingans-Yoo didn’t actually say that; I think Scott’s summary here is inaccurate. Rheingans-Yoo said that people “aren’t taking at all seriously the civic duties that democratic rule of law requires” and/or “were unable to separate emotional valence from matters of fact.” These could certainly be called failings, but he never claims that makes them morally wrong. In particular, it seems difficult to characterize the second one as a moral failing at all—at best, failing to prudently cultivate the dispassion required by such a case is the moral failing, but he’s not making that claim.

      • Salentino says:

        Or it could be that they were trying to get out of jury duty. Many smart people I know try to get out of jury duty, which may leave a certain under-representation on jury panels.

    • Peffern says:

      Counterpoint: People’s ‘smart, unscrupulous adversary’ detectors are not reliable and the upside of occasionally catching a fraudulent CEO is probably worsened by unfairly discriminating against innocent people who just look sketchy or have a history.

  6. Dedicating Ruckus says:

    Regarding the moist greenhouse paper, it seems that their methodology was basically just to do a bunch of model runs and cross-compare them. This isn’t necessarily useless, but it certainly has an inherent risk of losing connection with reality and disappearing into its own navel (particularly with modern GCMs, concerning which there’s not a lot of evidence that they’re really worth the processor cycles to run them).

    Looking back in the real world for a second, it’s worth recalling that the current climate is an interglacial in an ice age, and when we aren’t in an ice age the GATs have been multiple degrees higher than current with CO2 concentrations up several-fold. If there were an instability in our climate (within easy reach) that could take us to a Venus-like equilibrium, it would have triggered at some point back then. So discussing this as a potential end state of current climate change is an extreme reach. (Note that the paper itself never even mentions this connection, which is admirable restraint on their part.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, I’ve removed.

    • If I am reading the paper correctly, their model planet has a sensitivity just over 4, or about twice current estimates for the Earth (which, however, vary a good deal). The transition occurs for a CO2 concentration of 1,520 p.p.m., about four times the present level. Effects are logarithmic in CO2 concentration, so it looks as though the equivalent at a sensitivity of 2 would be a concentration about eight times the present level. Judging by one piece I read, that’s about what you get if all the fossil fuel on Earth is burned.

      That piece, however, had much less drastic conclusions on the effect of burning all fossil fuel–a temperature increase of about 11°C over a couple of millenia.

      • Dedicating Ruckus says:

        Yeah, I don’t necessarily think that paper is meant to connect to the modern AGW debate at all. There’s this idea (unclear about its degree of consensus, but it’s in Wikipedia, anyway) that over the next billion years or so, Earth will become uninhabitable due to increasing temperature as the Sun brightens; this seems to just be extending that general category of result over greenhouse forcings as well. As such, it’s fine to wildly handwave a whole bunch of things, because over that kind of timescale the models are going to be wildly inaccurate anyway and there’s not much you can do about it. (They don’t even mention Earth that I recall; it’s all generic results for “a water-bearing planet” or whatever.)

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      It’s also a very specific GCM which assumes a water world at a depth of 50m; I assume the GCMs used in IPCC and related projections at least simulate land and ocean with more fidelity. Seems like more of a proof-of-concept for the model design than an attempt at projecting AGW impacts.

  7. Jacob says:

    >Voting system theorists use voting systems to systematically vote on voting systems, determine that among 18 options approval voting is best, plurality voting (what the US uses) is worst.

    Nitpick: They used approval voting to vote on voting systems. So approval voting picked itself best.

    • ashlael says:

      Now I want a study of psephologists using different systems to vote for their preferred systems, to see which systems perform better under which systems.

    • Linvega says:

      Yeah I also was stumped on that.
      I naturally assumed when reading it first that they used all those 18 variants to vote on all of them and then averaged the results or something.

  8. Squirrel of Doom says:

    My thought about protesting is that it mainly works as a social event.

    People meet, work together for a common important goal, fall in love etc. If society is changed as a result, fine, but the resulting community is worth it regardless.

    This is a theoretical thought. I don’t personally partake.

    • That’s connected with my view about political/ideological work and a variety of other things.

      Suppose I put time and money into trying to change the world in ways I consider an improvement. I’m producing a public good–any effect I produce is shared with billions of other people, so my incentive to do it is very weak, inadequate unless benefit is billions of times cost.

      Why does it happen anyway? Because of side benefits. You are working for a cause you believe in along with others who share those beliefs. That’s a good context for making friends, finding potential mates, general networking.

      Which is why I think it a good sign that two different libertarian organizations I have interacted with recently appear to have a sizable female membership. Unlike most libertarian organizations I have interacted with.

      • Tibor says:

        Do you have any insights or guesses as to why these two organizations are more successful than others at attracting female members?

        • Jack Lecter says:

          I’d like to know, too.
          I’m vaguely libertarian-shaped, and socially awkward, and I’d like to have the chance to date someone before I die…
          I mean, that’s probably decades away, but I’d have really thought it would’ve happened by now.

          • SFL has a big annual event in D.C. in February–I’ll be speaking there. My impression in the past was that it was about a third women. The ratio was higher at the YAL event I spoke at recently, but on the whole I find SFL a more interesting group of people.

            I think the SFL event is open to anyone who pays the entry fee, but I don’t actually know the details.

        • I’ve asked people at SFL. One answer I was given was that they got the men to dress decently, but I’m not sure how serious that was.

          When I gave some talks in Georgia (the country, not the state), it looked as though the women outnumbered the men. I suggested that they ought to be exporting libertarian women or importing libertarian men, but I don’t think anyone was taking me up on the proposal.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      I think this is about 70% right. It certainly matches my (non-joiner) outlook on protests–you hang out with like-minded friends, make a catchy sign, signal that you Get It, meet some more like-minded people, and get some good vibes and/or righteous anger over Still Having To Protest This Shit. You see a colleague or acquaintance and say “I had no idea you cared so much about ___ too!” It’s more interesting than spending your Saturday afternoon cleaning the garage. And so on.

      That’s the demand side view of the protest. The supply side is the organizations doing the organizing/strategy/permitting and so forth, to which my experience is more arms-length. I’m not really sure if they expect protests to do anything; maybe a big crowd outside a state legislature before a close vote may sway someone. What they certainly seem to bank on is that the circus will give their people a huge audience of sympathetic but marginally attached people from whom to seek emails and phone numbers, pledges of support, signatures on petitions, and (lest I forget) donations. Also big crowds let the organizers look effective to their donor base and generally give an impression of clout.

      • Dedicating Ruckus says:

        David Hines has a lot about this, but one of the big purposes of protests (even on relatively uninteresting topics and where they won’t have an immediate effect) is as practice and exercise for doing organization. Successfully staging a protest is a lot of logistics work, and building and maintaining a cadre capable of running that kind of infrastructure is 1. hard and 2. valuable. Plus, of course, the benefits in visibility and recruitment that you mention.

      • moridinamael says:

        This suggests that a primary purpose of protests is to demonstrate to the funding bodies of political organizations that the individuals in charge of organizing protests are actually doing something.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I think I’ve already said this when we discussed protests before, but I believe that ability to pull off a large mass protest used to be far more important in the West, but for some reason is not anymore today.

      In the 19th and early 20th century, when you gathered a crowd of thousands to demand things (like universal suffrage and secret ballot), the government would be likely to deem it an uprising or a riot, and crack down with extreme force. Some examples off top of my head [1] [2] (And often such things could get violent [3].)

      And the German and Russian revolutions of 1918 included people marching on streets, and general strikes. But the main difference why it did stick was that they had backing of (conscripted) military units.

      I believe the tendency to organize inconsequential protest marches today is a product of half-remembered cases of such truly effective demonstrations (I’m talking about memory on societal level, maybe I should use the word ‘meme’), but most people often forget the real reason why they were considered significant threat by the authorities: the implicit threat of attempted revolution (or at least leaving the government no choice but act to maintain their monopoly of violence). [Yes I’m glossing over the idea of civil disobedience mentioned in New Yorker.]

      Both the Arab spring protests and the Turkeys anti-coup demonstrators actually achieved some societal change. March for Science did not, and neither do the stereotypical blackclad leftists breaking shop windows.


    • neaanopri says:

      Decentralized protest seems like it is more of a “social event”, especially since the organization of the protest is through a friend network, not a top-down chain of command.

      One point in the article that bears repeating: the Gezi park protesters in Turkey weren’t able to effect change because there wasn’t anybody for the State to negotiate with.

      Also, without a protest leader, there’s a coordination problem amongst the protesters when faced with an assault by police. The protesters nearest the police would only want to resist if they are assured that the greater mass of the protest will back them up, and not run away.

      These seem like the same problem: if there is a designated Leader of the protest, who would be anyone who could temporarily command the crowd, then they could publicly state that the protest would resist police attack. As long as they are able to keep up the protesters’ morale, the coordination problem would be solved, and the protesters in the front lines could resist repression with reasonable confidence that the greater mass of the protest could back them up. The front lines would resist in this way only if they had confidence that the Leader could command the crowds to back them up.

      Similarly, there is no incentive for the State to negotiate with an uncoordinated protest that isn’t expressing a clear goal. With the Tahrir Square protests, the goal was pretty simple: Hosni Mubarak must step down. That is very simple to articulate, and might fall under some sort of complexity threshold. The Gesi Park protests in Turkey seemed to signal general dissatisfaction with Erdogan, without articulating a clear goal.

      If the State can negotiate with a Protest Leader and offer concessions so that the protest will disperse, then there is an incentive to negotiate rather than risk violence, as both sides can declare victory. However, if there is no Protest Leader who can command the loyalty of the protest, then there is no incentive to negotiate directly. The State can only announce concessions publicly, hoping that the protest will disperse, which is much worse than a guarantee from a Leader. In this case, the state has little incentive to offer concessions and every incentive to ignore or repress the protest.

      Protesting in this way seems like a classic coordination problem straight out of the Anti-Libertarian FAQ.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think that’s about the only useful thing out of modern protests.

      Beyond that I think it comes down to cargo cultism. Civil Rights era marches were effective in changing hearts and minds, but it wasn’t because of the marching. White people indifferent to the plights of black Americans changed their minds and became sympathetic not because they saw lots of people marching, but because they saw respectable-looking black people in suits and dresses beset with dogs and fire hoses for the simple act of marching.

      During the primaries, every time rioters peaceful protestors at Trump rallies jumped on cop cars, threw bottles/rocks at cops or eggs at middle/working class Americans attending a political rally for a mainstream party, the next day there would be dozens of posts on the Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald of people saying “I’m sick of it, the left is insane, I’m on the Trump Train now.” Honestly I think that’s why Trump chose to hold rallies in places he had no hope of winning, like Chicago and San Jose.

      The Women’s March was fine for camaraderie or whatever, but it didn’t change hearts or minds because none of the women were being beaten by Trump supporters.

  9. afirebearer says:

    Anyone kind enough to suggest me a good therapy self-help workbook?

  10. Said Achmiz says:

    Effective altruist organizations estimate it may cost about $7,500 in efficient charitable donations to save one life. But the median American believes it only takes about $40. This and more from a survey on charity discussed on 80,000 Hours.

    and the 80k hours site says:

    It turns out that most Americans believe a child can be prevented from dying of preventable diseases for very little – less than $100. In fact, 40% of people believed the ‘most effective charities’ could save a life for under $10 – less than a hundredth of what we believe to be the true cost. 3% believed a life could be saved for under $1! A minority thought it would cost much more – 5% gave an answer over $1,000 – which pushed the average to around $500:

    But look at, for example, the graph of educational attainment in the survey sample, and compare to the numbers from the Census Bureau or the National Center of Education Statistics! (For instance, over half the survey respondents had at least a Bachelor’s degree and three-quarters had at least an Associate degree, whereas only about a third of Americans have at least a Bachelor’s and less than half of Americans—closer to 40%—have at least an Associate degree.)

    In other words: “most Americans”, nothing! The “median American”, nothing! This is a non-representative sample. We don’t know what it tells us about “most Americans”, if anything.

    • gwern says:

      Mechanical Turk has been extensively used for survey & experimental work, and while it’s far from perfect, the basic results are generally OK. This sort of imbalance is expected from a random population sample. There’s always going to be imbalance on some covariate or demographic variable, even if you sample thousands of people, not just ~180. The absolute difference here is like 10 or 20 people. Aside from being expected, there is no sign that the results are being driven by oversampling one demographic with really weird beliefs about charity effectiveness: looking at the CSV, I see that the median effectiveness for people with 4+ education rating (some college) is $22.5 and the median for below that is… $23. So if you did post-stratification or census weights, it wouldn’t affect the estimate by more than pennies. I would bet that if you redid that question on Google Surveys for another n=400 or so, you would find the median is very similar, and certainly not a saner value like $2300.

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    Voting system theorists use voting system to systematically vote on voting systems, determine that among 18 options approval voting is best, plurality voting (what the US uses) is worst.

    Note that the vote itself was held using approval voting, not via some complicated meta-voting system or whatever.

    Not that that’s a bad thing, since approval voting is pretty great and we should totally use it. 🙂 (IMO range voting would be better, but if approval voting is what you can get people for…)

    FWIW, plurality voting actually tied with “Fishburn” and “untrapped set” (two Condorcet methods, or families of methods) for last.

    • Luke Perrin says:

      I wonder if it would be possible to create an electorate with preferences such that each of those voting systems would have elected itself.

    • Psy-Kosh says:

      More or less same here, although I’d choose Approval over Ranged, but happy with either of those.

      (Really, what disturbed me about the results in that thing was that the second highest approved system was IRV. WWWHHHYYYYYY?)

      • Jameson Quinn says:


        Because this vote was held at a conference in the UK just prior to the AV referendum (their name for IRV), and some of the attendants were more or less professional members of the IRV-industrial-complex.

        Since voting methods are my thing (I’ve cited this VPP straw poll more times than I can count and know what it is even though I didn’t click on the link), I’ll add some more comments here:

        * These days we say “voting methods” (or “election methods”), not “voting systems”. “Systems” was always somewhat ambiguous; it could mean just the machines, or it could mean the larger set of laws and procedures for a given polity, neither of which is a question that could be answered just by “approval voting” or “IRV”. And “mechanisms” and “algorithms” sound too jargon-y. So “methods” is the sweet spot.

        * A lot of people have heard the results of Warren Smith’s groundbreaking 2000 simulation study, where he found that score voting had better voter satisfaction efficiency than any other method across a variety of simulation conditions.¹ That was good stuff, but it doesn’t mean that score voting is The One Best Method. More recent work using more-realistic models of voter preferences and strategies displace score from the top of the heap (The New Best Voting Method Will Surprise You!), though plurality voting remains at the bottom or within one of the bottom.

        * If you’re looking for an organization that is both promoting approval voting (we’ll probably get it used in Fargo starting next year) and looking into even-better methods, is it. No org is perfect, but I think we’ve done a good job with a shoestring budget, that we’re poised to grow by an order of magnitude, and that we’re decently rational about both voting theory and activism strategy.

        ¹ Those aren’t the words he used, but they’re what we call those things today, and I think that the current words are mature and not going to shift again in another 15 years. So wouldn’t you rather just learn the right words the first time around?

        • Psy-Kosh says:

          Whoops as far as “systems” vs “methods”, and the info, thanks.

          Though maybe I should explain my reaction (and maybe you can answer something that’s been bugging me)

          My reaction is more that while I realize there’re tradeoffs for any voting method, I am unable to see monotonicity as optional. ie, my instinctive reaction is more “if you don’t have monotonicity, then what you have isn’t so much a voting method as much as a lovecraftian ritual to rip open a portal to cosmic madness” (I exaggerate for effect, but you get the idea)

          I mean, if you don’t have monotonicity, it seems to become shaky as to what it means, on an intuitive level, to rank/vote/etc for a candidate. That’s why I dislike IRV and it drives me batty that it tends to be _the_ alternative people often jump to when they want voting reform. Why is IRV so popular?

          So, am I missing something? Is there some way in which non-monotonicity is simply no big deal? (I’ve seen people express that view, and I honestly do not comprehend it.)

          And thanks for the link to the more recent work.

          • Jameson Quinn says:

            In answering the literal question “why” I didn’t mean to minimize the frustration with IRV. IRV’s prevalence (and the abominable “RCV” branding) are largely a historical accident, from (almost exactly) 25 years ago when “citizens for proportional representation” reformed as FairVote in order to focus on single-winner, and chose IRV because it was supposedly a stepping stone to STV. But yes, nonmonotonicity is almost inexcusable; I can imagine supporting a method that was nonmonotonic in theory, but not a single-winner one that had any real chance of being so in practice, let alone one that had actually demonstrated the problem as IRV did in Burlington.

            The single-winner/multi-winner history is interesting. I think US (but not UK!) activists made the right choice to focus more on single-winner from the 90s up through today, but I think that that decision should be revisited now. Increased public concern with gerrymandering and new and better PR proposals like PLACED voting mean that PR may become the best place for activism in the near future.

          • Psy-Kosh says:

            James Quinn: Can’t directly reply to you further (Strict limit on thread depth here looks like) so will reply here and hope you see it.

            First, thanks for the history lesson there. (And whew, so I’m not completely crazy for finding non-monotonicity intolerable. (I am wondering if you have any idea what the perspective is of people who say that it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen people say that and genuinely can’t comprehend that view))

            I have a question about what you said, though. You emphasized that you can’t imagine supporting a _single winner_ method that can be nonmonotonic in practice. This may be a silly question, but why is non-monotonicity more acceptable for a multi winner method?

            And thanks, will look into the PLACED stuff later.

  12. Lirio says:

    From the jury selection hearings for the Martin Shkreli trial. I refused to believe this was real at first, but I’ve seen it in multiple credible sources and I guess I’m satisfied. And Ross Rheingans-Yoo spoils our fun and reminds us that actually all of this is morally wrong.

    So i was going to comment that it’s bizarre for someone to consider jurors being honest about their biases to be morally wrong. After all, isn’t that exactly what we want in order to get a fair trial? But it turns out Scott is mischaracterizing Ross Rheingans-Yoo’s argument because it’s funnier that way. In reality Ross seems disturbed/dissapointed by three things: 1) The possibility that the jurors are not taking their civic duty seriously, 2) The possibility that the jurors are unable to separate their emotions from the facts, and 3) That the people he trusts take their civic duties seriously and would judge only on the facts never make it through voir dire.

    To address them in order:
    1) Martin Shkreli is one of the most hated men in America, the fact that the jurors are honestly expressing their inability to be impartial instead of attempting to get into the jury in order to convict him seems to me like they are in fact taking their civic duty seriously. One of the most important parts of taking a duty seriously is recognizing when you are unable to discharge it.*

    2) How can anyone who has lived on planet earth and interacted with the locals possibly be surprised that people are unable to separate emotional valence from matters of fact? If anything, the surprising thing is that the potential jurors are both aware of their bias, and able to recognize that it makes them incapable of being impartial. If Ross wants to despair, then rather than despairing over the basics of human nature, it may be more useful to despair over the possibility that voir dire is optimizing juries towards people who are either unaware of their biases, or aware but willing to lie about it.

    3) Of course thoughtful and impartial people never make it through voir dire. In an adversarial system nobody wants the jury to decide on the facts. The win condition is a verdict in you favour, not the verdict that reflects the truth (though the two may overlap). Given that it is much easier to influence the emotional valence attached to the facts than the facts themselves, the lawyer with the weaker case will attempt to get a jury emotionally biased in his favour, while the opposing lawyer must do the same or lose the advantage. In theory, we hope the competing interests cancel each other out and we get a fair trial. In reality, the prosecution has way too much power for a variety of reasons.

    *Incidentally, Honor Harrington failing at this at the end of Flag in Exile was the exact point the series lost me. Ab lbh fghcvq ovgpu, lbh’er rzbgvbanyyl genhzngvmrq, culfvpnyyl vawherq, naq fyrrc qrcevirq. Lbh ner hasvg sbe pbzznaq, tb gb orq. Gura gb nqq vafhyg gb vawhel gur rarzl pbzznaqre frrf guebhtu ure pyrire ebhfr naq gura ergerngf naljnl, orpnhfr ernfbaf. Htu.

    • John Schilling says:

      the fact that the jurors are honestly expressing their inability to be impartial

      Are they? My reading of some of those statements, at least, is that the jurors are dishonestly claiming an inability to be impartial because they don’t want to bother with serving on a jury. And not even trying that hard to sell the lie.

      • random832 says:

        If that were the case you wouldn’t expect all of their statements to go one way. Wouldn’t at least some of them be of the form “I love rich pharma bros, I’ll definitely vote to acquit”?

      • Lirio says:

        All seemed completely honest to me. Nothing in that transcript reads like deception, let alone half-assed deception.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        I can believe that. I’m sure some of them are thinking (1) this could be a long trial, and (2) since everyone will buy that I hate this guy, I have an easy way out.

      • blah says:

        I’m sure some of them are being honest, but if you’ve ever served jury duty you’ll see people giving all kinds of reasons why they can’t serve.

        In this case it’s likely that the first person was honest about his bias or knew claiming partiality would get him off the jury. Then it was just a matter of monkey see monkey do.

      • Lirio says:

        A straightforward way to test this would be to check how many jurors various sorts of trials tend to go through, and the reasons why. That should let you determine whether the “long and boring” effect is more likely to produce jurors recusing themselves than the “defendant is publicly reviled” effect. Depending on which effect is stronger, we could then update in favour of the jurors using an excuse to duck out of the trial, or the jurors genuinely feeling that they are incapable of being impartial.

        At present i’m not interesting in doing such a study, so i’m just going to fall back to, “They sound serious enough to me.” If it matters, i’m in the same boat as Juror Number 77, you would have to convince me Shkreli was innocent rather than guilty.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Somebody on Twitter said all the pictures he’d seen of the Shkreli case looked like they should have been captioned: “The Trial of Rumplestiltskin.”

  13. Paul Brinkley says:

    I am disappointed in the lack of a Mount Partition. Make it happen, Victoria.

  14. Paul Brinkley says:

    Re: the Rock’s tweet:

    Back at the time, I had remembered the first effective report of the death of bin Laden actually being a livetweet from some hapless Pakistani IT dude. (The last few tweets were surreally hilarious.)

    Doesn’t get more “first” than that.

  15. honhonhonhon says:

    I find Samzdat harder to read than even moldbug.

    • Nick says:

      I agree; I was really excited to hear about samzdat when Scott first linked the blog, because I liked The Last Psychiatrist, and I wanted more takes on James Scott, Lasch, et al. But I’ve read a bunch of the posts now and cannot get past the writing style. I just don’t find it entertaining the way TLP or Moldbug were. I keep feeling it’s a problem with signal to noise, but that makes no sense given the comparators—maybe it’s that samzdat’s ‘signal’ feels more garbled than Moldbug’s or TLP’s?

      • Sanchez says:

        I was under the impression that Samzdat was TLP.

      • pontifex says:

        Moldbug has a dry wit which is very fun to read, even when he’s saying something you don’t agree with at all. It feels like reading a well-written story from the villain’s point of view.

        I can’t get into Samizdat– at least at the moment. Too many abstractions, too few reasons to care. What’s the bottom line? Should I care about Nietzsche, or what?

    • Witness says:

      I think it’s fair to say that Samzdat is at least partially about the difficulty of communicating the subject matter, so it’s not surprising that it’s a struggle to read.

      I personally find it enjoyable, and important, and also difficult to communicate about.

      • Nick says:

        I sympathize with having to communicate difficult ideas, but I don’t see how the style doesn’t simply make it harder than it would otherwise be.

    • Jack Lecter says:

      Moldbug’s dense, but his work has this odd hypnotic quality- if you’re in the right headspace, you can loose hours at a time reading his work.
      I think he’s largely wrong, at least as far as positive prescriptions go, but the tone is kind of fascinating. I think Scott wasn’t far wrong classifying him as poetry, way back when.
      (And being mostly wrong leaves room to still be right about some really important things, though exactly what percentage those are is something I’m interminally debating with myself…)

      • Jack Lecter says:

        I have a little of this same feeling with Samzdat, but the vibe is overall less pleasant, partly because the parts I disagree with are more Scary Outgroup ideas and less Exotic Fargroup ideas.

  16. AZpie says:

    I fail to see what’s morally wrong about jurors in the Shkreli affair being honest about their lack of capability to assess the defendant’s degree of guilt objectively. It would be an issue if we were to find out that they claimed not to care about the price raises but actually conspired to get the man jailed no matter what. This obviously has not happened.

    And, I mean, the man’s actions are in part really bad. How on Earth is it morally wrong for that to arouse feelings of hatred in jurors, who are, all civic duties aside, still human? Again: what would be problematic was that if they lied about it. They did not.

    EDIT: original phrase “morally wrong” seems to have been changed to “deeply disappointing”. My stance doesn’t change. There’s nothing disappointing about this, unless we have some very weird expectations about how people’s emotions affect their behavior.

    • gattsuru says:

      There are a couple issues here.

      From a rule of law perspective, it’s not healthy. He’s not actually being charged for the actions most people think are bad, or that these prospective jurors want to punish him for. You could maybe argue this is a closest-neighbor thing like getting Capone for tax evasion, except that many of the matters that prospective jurors bring up as motivations are things we’ve explicitly decided we’re not supposed to punish, rather than just being hard to prove. American adherence to the impartial jury has always been practiced more in the books than the breach, but “has a punchable face” is absolutely not good even by our low standards.

      From a practical perspective, this probably undermines the trial’s honesty. Having two hundred people ejected from the jury pool over blatant motivations like this doesn’t necessarily prove that the actual final jurors were biased — maybe the remainder were genuinely honest, impartial, or avoided media entirely. On the other hand, Abraham couldn’t find ten righteous men, and the judge had to locate twelve jurors.

      From a pragmatic perspective, there’s a reason that we tell jurors to put aside information they’ve heard before the trial: the court of public opinion does not bother with standards of proof, custody of evidence, or procedural rules. Shkreli may well be exactly as much of an asshole as the media presentation makes of him. We have rather clear demonstrations across the last couple years that this is not true for everyone given a waxed moustache and projected on the big screen.

      It’s understandable that a few people might be unable to put aside their feelings on a topic like this. However, once >94% of the jury pool can not, this indicates a deeper failure.

      • AZpie says:

        Those are very good points, and I agree with them. However, I still do not find it disappointing that the excused jurors were honest about how their emotions probably affected their ability to act as jurors.

        What evidence at all do we have that if they had acted more rationally when interviewed, the resulting jury would have been less biased than now? I believe that if the people in question were honest about the things they said, it is extremely good that they were at least honest about it so that they could be excused. All the same, I don’t think we should assume that just because the would-have-been-jurors considered themselves unable to perform their civic duty, the rest of the potential jurors are any worse than in any other trial. It might be like that, but I don’t think the case is very strong. A lot of trials evoke powerful emotions, so I’m guessing the biases should be about the same for any trial with a jury and any jury with this guy – whatever the jurors in question here eventually decided to say.

        What I’m slightly surprised by here is the assumption that most jurors who claim to put aside their emotions actually do that – but perhaps that is an unnecessarily cynical point of view.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          but perhaps that is an unnecessarily cynical point of view.

          I… don’t think so. The Law has these little blind spots- areas where established tenets conflict with modern Cognitive Science- or Science generally, and everyone kind of knows it, but… the legal tenets underlie decades or centuries of precedent, and carry a ton of institutional inertia.

          Let me put it this way- imagine you have a high-status, extremely exclusive subculture which derives its power from knowledge and control of sacred texts based on centuries-old rulings that also serve as in-group shibboleths… and you want to coordinate them to revis their ancient cultural symbols based on the say-so of some geeks in a lab or something.

          Jonathan Haidt is staring at us pityingly.

          We’re gonna be here awhile.

          Edit: Lawyers are very much wordsmiths (in Nozick’s framework). Scientific habits of thought are foreign to a lot of them, and legal theories tend to get ‘reinterpreted’ rather than outright falsified- the Law is really, astoningly terrible at saying oops.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        He’s not actually being charged for the actions most people think are bad

        The question to me is whether the actions he is being charged as having committed are motivationally or typologically correlated with the actions he proudly admitted to.

        This sort of a priori directly goes to believability of prosecution or defense claims. It doesn’t fully tilt the matter one way or another (e.g. Gattaca for someone committing a crime they were highly unexpected to commit), but it does add weight.

        • bbeck310 says:

          For good procedural reasons (including the dangers of prosecuting innocents and the risk of turning trials into months-long analyses of defendants’ entire life histories), the rules of evidence exclude character evidence presented by the prosecution to prove an increased probability that the defendant is guilty, even if Bayesian reasoning would support that reason. If you would be influenced by character evidence not presented at a criminal trial and that would not be admissible at a criminal trial, you should not be a juror.

          Remember, even in theory, the criminal justice system is not primarily about discovering truth; it’s primarily about balancing the state’s need to prosecute criminals against defendants’ rights to a fair trial.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Remember, even in theory, the criminal justice system is not primarily about discovering truth; it’s primarily about balancing the state’s need to prosecute criminals against defendants’ rights to a fair trial.

            Other than the 4th-8th amendments, is there a basis for this preference other than habit?

          • Schmendrick says:

            Other than the 4th-8th amendments, is there a basis for this preference other than habit?

            “Truth” is a damn small target to aim at, especially when there are all sorts of biases cluttering up the system. It’s even harder to hit when you realize that most court systems in the US are terrifyingly underfunded with even these diminished expectations. As things stand, the trial is “fair” if both sides have the opportunity to perform their investigations, don’t obviously lie to each other, and then present their best arguments to the trier of fact (in criminal matters, this is the jury).
            That’s a massive outsourcing of costs in both time and money from the court’s staff to outside parties. If the court actually had to verify and reconstruct each stage of the investigation, instead of outsourcing that to the DA and Defense team, the judicial system would grind to a halt under the sheer weight and number of cases.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            Also, there’s an implicit (sometimes explicit) belief that juries are easily biased, which we try to deal with by excluding categories of evidence we think are likely to be only weakly relevant. IIRC, the idea is that prior bad acts are ‘prejudicial’- only weakly correlated with guilt- unless they strongly resemble the act currently being alleged.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            This is mitigated somewhat by the rarity of criminal trials- plea bargains are way more common.
            I’m not saying there aren’t still funding issues, but they’re nothing compared to what we’d have if we were actually giving everyone trials.
            I definitely have the impression it didn’t used to be this way, but I’m not sure how we ever afforded it. Maybe trials used to be less expensive? I think David Friedman has a piece where he suggests we’ve added more safeguards over time to prevent the conviction of innocent people, but it doesn’t really seem like that could save enough money to fund all the trials, especially given lower GDP and lower taxes.

          • In 18th century England, a single jury went through something like ten or fifteen criminal trials in a day. In early U.S., it was at one point an open question whether a trial could be carried over to a second day.

            I discuss that, with more details (it’s late), in the webbed draft of my book on legal systems very different.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            From memory of a piece about the German legal system, which tries very hard to avoid plea bargains, and part of that is by keeping trials affordable:

            American practice is to eke out accounts question by question, rather than just letting people tell their story of what happened.


          • Aapje says:

            @Jack Lecter

            This is mitigated somewhat by the rarity of criminal trials- plea bargains are way more common.

            I don’t see how that is mitigating, because the problems in the court cases carry over to the plea bargains. More specifically, the less confidence an innocent or less guilty than charged person has, the more incentive they have to accept a plea. This can be seen as a form of extortion.

          • pontifex says:

            Have you read Torture and Plea Bargaining? It compares the medieval system of using torture to avoid holding a court case with the contemporary American system of using plea bargaining (with the prospect of huge penalties in the balance) to avoid holding a court case. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but the basic idea is reasonable: when the “real” judicial system becomes unworkable, a parallel one springs up without most of the safeguards of the “real” one, and everything flows through that.

  17. bean says:

    That’s not all of the D&D books. Not even remotely. Monster Manuals I-IV are OK, but V isn’t?
    As for the atlas, I suspect it was simply too big for them to be OK with inmates having on account of the fear of being used as a weapon.

    • Montfort says:

      Yeah, they haven’t kept up with the current editions, much less all the various splatbooks. I wonder if they add to the list as they confiscate? That might explain why, e.g. Rolemaster made the list.

      My favorite listing so far is “How to Draw Manga: Illustrating Battles, by Hikaru Hayahi” censored for “providing detailed instruction in the marital arts such as judo, karate, aikido, kendo, kung fu and similar techniques.”

      • Sangfroid says:

        They had a bit of a scare when an inmate tried the spirit gun.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Note: marital as opposed to martial arts is a typo in the original, not in Montfort’s comment.

      • daniel says:

        This is probably a list of books that have been actively denied after someone tried to order them.
        One comment mentions a policy directive found here which specifies ““Dungeons and Dragons” and fantasy
        role-playing games of a similar type are also prohibited.”

        And in general if depicting bondage, murder, or sexual acts is enough to get a ban no way this is a full list.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      From what I’ve heard D&D is surprisingly popular in the prisons that don’t ban it. As most prisons ban dice because they can be used for gambling, players have to use various other homemade randomisers like cardboard spinners or drawing bits of paper with numbers on them out of a bag.

      I’ve also heard that the prisons that do ban it do so either because of leftover 1980s Satanic Panic ideas or because they think a DM has too much authority over the players.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Man, I wish I had authority over my players.

      • Protagoras says:

        Clearly prisoners should be playing the Amber role-playing game to get around the ban on dice.

        • cassander says:

          Well everyone should be playing Amber, because it’s the best RPG. I once signed up to play a session of it with Erick Wujcik, only to have it canceled because of his untimely death.

          • engleberg says:

            How about Shadows and Gossamer? Or is the Zelazny source material decisive?

          • Protagoras says:

            The games of Amber I either played in or tried to play in did have a disturbing tendency to end quickly or get canceled, but never for such an unfortunate reason. Still, those that ran at all were fun while they lasted. @engleberg, I have not played Shadows and Gossamer, but Zelazny’s setting is exceptionally appropriate for role-playing (in the books, Merlin is clearly a PC).

          • Baeraad says:

            I love what Amber is trying to do, but I’ve always shied away from it because of the vagueness of the rules (what does being the greatest swordsman alive actually mean? How many standard-issue swordsmen can you defat at once? Two? Twenty? A hundred?), the absence of any non-fighty skills (what? I like non-fighty skills) and the way some of the stats are so obviously superior to others.

            I keep trying to write my own RPG inspired by Amber that fixes all those shortcomings, but as with every damn thing in life, it’s turned out to be Harder Than It Looks.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “How many standard-issue swordsmen can you defat at once? Two? Twenty? A hundred?)”

            Have you read the novel? It’s from the good old days before gaming influenced fantasy and things got more quantified, so I’m not going to say it will answer your question usefully, but it’s an excellent novel.

            The probably not useful answer is “a whole lot if they’re constrained to come at you one at a time on a narrow path”.

            The consensus is that the first five Amber books are good, and the second five are not so good. I feel they went downhill sharply after the first book, but there are a few good bits in the sequels.

      • random832 says:

        From what I’ve heard D&D is surprisingly popular in the prisons that don’t ban it. As most prisons ban dice because they can be used for gambling, players have to use various other homemade randomisers like cardboard spinners or drawing bits of paper with numbers on them out of a bag.

        It’s not clear why those can’t also be used for gambling. It seems like the correct solution (if it’s for some reason important that prisoners don’t gamble) would be to actually monitor what they’re doing and make sure they’re not gambling, rather than banning materials.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Gambling creates too great an incentive to bias the randomizer.

          D&D is primarily about the whole group enjoying themselves. Not to say that there aren’t incentives to cheat, but if you don’t trust the DM to produce a randomizer that is fair, you orobably don’t trust him to be DM.

  18. Paul Brinkley says:

    Trump’s cybersecurity advisors resign, cite both bad cybersecurity policy and general moral turpitude. Does Trump even have any advisors left at this point?

    …umm, yes. According to the article, he still has 3/4 of his cybersecurity advisors alone (only 7 out of 20 resigned, mostly Democrats).

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Yeah there was a similar to-do about the Arts Council but it had a bunch of Obama holdovers on it including Kal Penn. The councils are mostly just fluff. You should be worried about huge chunks of State and Justice that are still basically headless.

  19. greghb says:

    Earlier this year I read and summarized a paper about the impact of protests. I couldn’t find much else on the topic, but didn’t search the literature exhaustively.

    Do protests work?

    Protests often happen around times of political change, but do they cause it? On April 15th, 2009 the Tea Party held 581 rallies across the country. You might want to see if larger rallies were associated with future Tea-Party-favored outcomes. But that wouldn’t solve the correlation vs. causation question: maybe larger rallies happened precisely where pro-Tea-Party outcomes were already in motion.

    So, some clever researchers thought to ask: what about the weather? [1] Presumably the rallies in areas where it rained had lower turn-out, but the rain didn’t otherwise affect the political process. This would act like a random intervention on rally size. Sure enough, attendance was lower at the rainy rallies. And, far more interesting, the political outcomes were different as well: areas with non-rainy rallies saw higher attendance at future Tea Party events, higher vote-shares for Republicans in the 2010 midterms, and more conservative voting records among their representatives. By one estimate, every protester caused an additional 7 Republican votes in the midterms.

    Pretty clever! But now for the cold water. This is one of those situations where you have to control for a million things. For example, weather doesn’t happen totally randomly, but instead comes in systems — on this particular day, most of the rainy protests were in the mid-Atlantic region. So you have to try to account for that — which this paper does, and I think admirably. For example, they make sure rain on -other- days doesn’t show the same effects — which would be damning to the results if so, but it doesn’t, so that’s good. They also control for many other variables, like population size and 2008 voting patterns. Even so, some researchers are still skeptical. You can see detailed criticism — and, in the comments, the political science version of a flame war — here.

    On net? Common sense says that protests work in the obvious ways: energizing and organizing the base, and getting representatives to take notice. Empirical research says “yeah, maybe so!”

  20. dianelritter says:

    I just went over and looked at the paper you linked to on the ‘Estimating the Level and Distribution of Global Wealth, 2000–2014’ paper. Hard to see how anyone could consider this as bad news, on any level:

    ‘Estimated global household wealth stood at USD 251 trillion in 2014, having grown from USD 117 trillion in the year 2000.”

    Ie, the world is, collectively more than 2 times as wealthy than it was a mere 10 years ago. That sounds pretty headline worthy to me.

    The authors of this paper calculated the Gini coefficient of global wealth to be 92.2% in 2014. Another group (Davis 2008) calculated gini wealth in 2000 to be 89.2, using the (approximately) the same methods. So the world is approximately 3% more unequal.

    So, twice as much to distribute, and the distribution is 3% less equal. How does that translate to bad news? How does the headline come out to be “world more unequal!” rather than “world dramatically more wealthy!!” Having the pie be TWICE as BIG is really major, exciting news. Having the distribution be slightly (3%) less equal seems meaningless. The authors only looked at two income segments (the top 1% and the top 10%). The share of both of those groups total wealth went down (slightly). So whatever else is going on, the rich didn’t get richer. They didn’t look at other income groups, so with the information provided we don’t know if any income group is absolutely worse off, or which one it is, or why.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Ie, the world is, collectively more than 2 times as wealthy than it was a mere 10 years ago. That sounds pretty headline worthy to me.

      If, due to population increase, building regulations, and commons, the price of all houses increase 2x, this does not mean that suddenly everyone is twice as rich. It just means that houses are twice as costly – good for the seller, if they plan on living in a tent, bad for the buyers and renters. Actual wealth (in terms of objects) hasn’t increased, just the cost of them.

      Measuring actual wealth increases is difficult. How much more valuable is a 1080p TV versus a standard definition TV? What if using the latter now requires purchasing a special converter? Does this make the 1080p TV more valuable, or simply raise the cost of the minimum entry standard?

      • Witness says:

        Is this sort of adjustment not considered in inflation calculations?

        (And, not having the time and inclination to read the paper, are the numbers inflation-adjusted?)

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          The CPI represents all goods and services purchased for consumption by the reference population (U or W) BLS has classified all expenditure items into more than 200 categories, arranged into eight major groups. Major groups and examples of categories in each are as follows:

          FOOD AND BEVERAGES (breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full service meals, snacks)
          HOUSING (rent of primary residence, owners’ equivalent rent, fuel oil, bedroom furniture)

          The CPI does not include investment items, such as stocks, bonds, real estate, and life insurance.

          Housing units are not in the CPI market basket. Like most other economic series, the CPI views housing units as capital (or investment) goods and not as consumption items. Spending to purchase and improve houses and other housing units is investment and not consumption. Shelter, the service the housing units provide, is the relevant consumption item for the CPI. The cost of shelter for renter-occupied housing is rent. For an owner-occupied unit, the cost of shelter is the implicit rent that owner occupants would have to pay if they were renting their homes.

          This is a very informative link, US-specific though it is.

          So only partially.

          I’m not even close to knowledgeable on this issue, but I believe an important point in the CPI calculation is equivalent goods (it may have another name). E.g. If an increase in the cost of housing causes people to share a home with roommates, the CPI-Housing may actually decrease, even though people are living in less.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Yeah, this article is far more knowledgeable on the issue and basically says that inflation doesn’t account for housing price increases well:

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Numbers are not inflation adjusted, and are also not PPP, but actual exchange rates.

          First, our recent work uses official exchange rates to convert currencies to our standard measure of value, which is U.S. dollars at the time in question.

          In 2000 the dollar was about 20% stronger (compared to international currencies) than it was in 2014:

  21. dieb says:

    I’d previously heard the good news that, even though income inequality was rising within developed countries, at least global income inequality was on its way down. This good news may no longer be true.

    You’re making the (very common) mistake of confusing wealth and income. The paper you linked is about wealth; your blurb, and other papers and such that you are referencing, is about income. Wealth is generally much more unequal than income is.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Comparing an income Gini to a wealth Gini is a serious error, because wealth is more unequal. But comparing the income trend to the wealth trend is at most a minor error. If the correct interpretation is that nothing has changed and income Gini has been declining the whole time while wealth Gini has been rising the whole time, I think Scott’s reaction would be pretty much the same.

      • dieb says:

        I’m not sure that wealth inequality and income inequality changes should always track each other. Most people on Earth have no wealth at all, at least as measured in such a paper. Such people could receive income increases without any (again, at least measurable) wealth increases, which would leave the deltas on wealth inequality and income inequality to not be the same.

        Nonetheless, I think the blurb should probably be edited, as the blurb only talks about income. While I agree that it’s very possible that wealth inequality changes and income inequality changes should be the same, it seems like it’s an assumption that should be stated.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, this is an error, and Scott should correct it. And he did edit it to be more vague, although it might still be wrong because it might not be a change, but rather that the two had always diverged. I’m mainly objecting to your last sentence that this is a serious error because of a specific failure mode, rather than a subtlety of different forms of measurement.

          • dieb says:

            You’re right that my last sentence was probably overly broad. It was just supposed to be a quick bit on why these different forms of measurement matter.

    • cassander says:

      I did the math once. If you have a perfectly equal society, where everyone starts working at 18, makes the same amount, gets the same raise every year, saves the same amount, gets the same rate of return, and retires at 65, the richest 1/5 end up with 2/3s of the wealth. That’s the baseline for wealth inequality.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        What happens if you factor inflation into this? I’d suspect that the baseline would decrease.

      • Brad says:

        I must be missing something. If you start with an equal wealth allocation and all the flows are the same, then where does the divergence come in?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Did your analysis assume that there are an equal number of people in each age cohort? If not, what’s the assumed population pyramid, and is this assumed to be a static distribution?

        • cassander says:

          I assumed age groups from 18-65 were the same size, then people start dying after they retire. Not exactly realistic, but it was doable with the skills i had available at the time.

  22. TK-421 says:

    There was a Penny Arcade strip about prisoners and D&D back in 2010, so this is clearly not a new phenomenon (and indeed the PDF says “REVISION DATE: November, 2014”). What gets me is that the stated reason for denying D&D and other games is “role play”, even for things like Magic: The Gathering that don’t really involve RP in practice. That’s pretty weak even by the pointlessly restrictive standard set by most of the rest of the document. That said, the list does seem to omit Pathfinder, so maybe the prison just has an exclusive licensing deal with Paizo…

    It also bans a Chick tract for containing “a scurrilous attack on a religion”, which is about as good an adjective for them as I’ve ever run across.

    • Antistotle says:

      The real reason might be the safety of the inmates. After all, who would YOU rather beat up, the guy with the three tears tattoo’d falling out of his right eye, or the guy who prefers to play a elven magic user…

    • Montfort says:

      The revision date does say 2014, but there are items listed that were only added in 2016 and 2017, FYI.

  23. Antistotle says:

    > Trump’s cybersecurity advisors resign, cite both bad cybersecurity policy and general moral turpitude.

    Several of those resigning were Obama-era appointees, including former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil and former Office of Science and Technology Policy Chief of Staff Cristin Dorgelo. Not surprisingly, then, the issues outlined in the resignation letter were broad, faulting both Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and his inflammatory statements after the Charlottesville attacks, some of which came during what was intended to be an infrastructure-focused event.

    Virtue signalling, not impressed.

  24. Lirio says:

    I’ve mentioned a bunch of times on here that studies show going to a therapist isn’t necessarily any better than getting a good therapy self-help workbook. Now unsurprisingly a meta-analysis of these studies shows the same thing (paper, popular article).

    Does this account for the possibility that there may be variability in individual response that cancel each other out when averaged? Like imagine that for half the population therapy is 80% effective, but self-help 40% effective; while for the other half therapy is 40% effective, and self-help 80% effective. If you did a randomly assigned study on this population, you would expect to find 60% effectiveness for both therapy types.

    In my case at least, the two are definitely not equivalent. Therapy is mostly useless but at least provides some mandatory human interaction. Self-help books on the other hand seem only good for triggering my ego defences.

  25. alchemy29 says:

    Re: Watermark removing AI. Of course it would be Google. Unfortunately if the technology becomes widespread then people who use watermarks can either use solid watermarks or add random perturbations to the watermarks to prevent them from being easily erased (this has already happened).

    • marshalljung says:

      I wouldn’t be too harsh judging Google (I apologize if I assumed in this case). They do state in the abstract, “A key takeaway message of this paper is that visible watermarks should be designed to not only be robust against removal from a single image, but to be more resistant to mass-scale removal from image collections as well.”

      As the world leader in AI and CNN’s for image processing tasks it isn’t all that surprising it’s Google researchers that published on it.

  26. Yosarian2 says:

    Commenting on the “is there any point in protesting” article, I actually think that the nonviolent BLM protests were extremly effective, in a lot of ways. A lot of their demands were met, in ways I don’t think would have happened without the protests

    After the protests started, we saw:

    -National roll-out of police body cameras, which have already had significant impacts of their own (for example, the recent case of the Baltimore police planting drugs who were caught with their own body cameras.)

    -Federal civil rights investigations into the police departments in several of the cities that saw the biggest protests, such as Baltimore and Ferguson, which found systematic problems and ordered the police to correct them

    -Significant pressure aimed at cities like Ferguson from both the courts and the federal justice department requiring them to stop putting people in jail who were unable to pay fines because of poverty, which had been a major issue.

    -Obama changed the federal policy of giving military equipment to police. (This was a temporary step, though, since Trump has rolled it back.)

    -The police chief in Chicago was fired, largely because of protests about a shooting there

    -Several police officers actually did go to trial after shootings, in a way that had been rare before the protests

    -Changes in a lot of police departments towards community policing, changes in policy, changes in training,ect

    -Brought more attention to the issue of mass incarceration, which became a significant issue at least on the Democratic side in the 2016 election and will probably continue to be one going forwards

    Obviously it’s hard to know for sure, but I do not think most of these changes would have happened without the protests.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      I am not an expert on BLM or policing, but counterpoints on a few of these:

      -It appears that your 2nd point (Federal investigations) is being rolled back by Trump & Sessions as well in terms of e.g. withdrawing consent decrees.

      – Of those officers who have gone to trial, have any been convicted? As far as I can tell this is one of BLM’s terminal goals, at least as the movement existing in the near-term aftermath of Ferguson. Insofar as police officers can continue to expect that they will be extremely unlikely to be convicted of any crime in the event that they shoot a black person (which, whether or not you are sympathetic to BLM, seems to be the case in the United States at this point in time), I would characterize BLM as having failed in their central aim.

      – Attention to mass incarceration does seem to have shot up in late 2014 and 2015 following Ferguson, but my impression has been that BLM (at least in its early days) has been much more focused on police brutality and killings as opposed to mass incarceration. The most commonly cited work on mass incarceration I’ve seen is The New Jim Crow, which was published in 2012. In addition, the current macro-news-cycle on mass incarceration seems to be pushing against this thesis, and instead suggesting that meaningfully reducing incarceration rates would require greatly reducing rates of imprisonment or sentence lengths for violent offenders (obviously a much harder sell than leniency for non-violent drug offenders, who turn out to be a pretty small group in the prison population).

      • Yosarian2 says:

        >-It appears that your 2nd point (Federal investigations) is being rolled back by Trump & Sessions as well in terms of e.g. withdrawing consent decrees.

        Yeah, that’s true. I still think the civil rights investigation done during the Obama administration, and what they found, will have a longer-term impact on the policies and politics around policing though.

        >– Of those officers who have gone to trial, have any been convicted?

        They have not.

        I certanly wouldn’t say that BLM has accomplished all of it’s goals. I just found it odd that the article asked the question “does protest accomplish anything” and then actually brought up BLM, and then didn’t actually consider the question of if BLM accomplished anything, when I think it had quite a significant impact.

        >– Attention to mass incarceration does seem to have shot up in late 2014 and 2015 following Ferguson, but my impression has been that BLM (at least in its early days) has been much more focused on police brutality and killings as opposed to mass incarceration.

        They talked about both. The famous moment in the campaign when a BLM protester criticized Bill Clinton for mass incarceration got a lot of attention, for example. You’re right that it was starting to become an issue before that, though.

    • cassander says:

      we also saw dramatic increases in crime in the cities most affected by said protests, which disproportionatly will effect the people BLM claims to be trying to help. So how was that helpful again?

      • Yosarian2 says:

        It’s not accurate to claim they’re “dramatically higher”, they’re still in most cases lower then they’d been for most of the last several decades, just not quite as low as at their lowest point.

        It’s not clear to me if there’s actually a “Ferguson effect” or if it’s just regression to the mean. But sure, it’s possible that in the short run, decreased public confidence in the police combined with police being more careful could be associated with higher rates of crime. In the longer run, if the police reforms improve faith in the police and improve community-police relatations that should lower crime, but that effect will probably take more time to play out.

        • cassander says:

          It’s not accurate to claim they’re “dramatically higher”, they’re still in most cases lower then they’d been for most of the last several decades, just not quite as low as at their lowest point.

          technically correct, but the reversal of a decades long trend requires a lot more than a minor adjustment, and ought to be cause for concern.

          >In the longer run, if the police reforms improve faith in the police and improve community-police relations that should lower crime,

          this was tried in the 60s. it failed catastrophically.

  27. Besserwisser says:

    Diseases can be really scary. There was an epidemic in Finland among reindeer from 2003 to 2005, killing thousands. The scary part? The disease was transmitted by mosquitos and herders reported their occurence as unusually low for the years in question. That’s what happens when some of the best cared for animals in the world, getting all kinds of shots against all kinds of diseases, are experiencing a disease outbreak during a couple particularly good years. Thousands die.

    • Mary says:

      An anomaly is more likely to be a cause than a counter. Perhaps they had trouble with their blood supply? That would decrease their numbers and drive them more to the sources left, like reindeer.

      • Besserwisser says:

        Actually, I phrased that wrong. Herders said harassment by mosquitos was unusually low in those years. So no, mosquitos didn’t suck reindeer more because they were out of other sources. My guess is that the disease was doing unusually good, possibly to the extent of harming the mosquitos as well. I still hold onto the view that it could have gone a lot worse.

  28. eyeballfrog says:

    The infowars/goop article made me wonder how much we can learn about human psychology just from marketing. At the very least, it seems like they’re less likely to have ideological biases, since the bottom line doesn’t care about whether you’re a behavioralist or whatever. They’re also pretty big on replicability, since you want people to keep buying your product.

    • andrewflicker says:

      As a quasi-marketer, I’ve often thought that much of the best knowledge of human psychology was hidden away in hundreds of corporate marketing departments that don’t share notes or cross-pollinate much. Hard to change the incentives, though!

  29. Gerry Quinn says:

    I’m not sure how the rat thing relates to lingerie in particular – it seems like it could work for any fetish

    Is lingerie a fetish? – perhaps the difference is only social acceptance But one could argue that at least lingerie accentuates the traditional objects of desire.

    Whereas if the sexually receptive rats had worn tiny Wellington boots or leather accessories, surely the results would have been the same?

  30. neaanopri says:

    In RE Shkreli trial:

    Does American jury selection happen with all of the jurors in the same room? If the first juror had the idea to say that they hated Shkreli so much that they couldn’t possibly be impartial, and everybody heard that the judge accepted it, then it seems like the bystander effect would encourage everyone to also say the same thing, and try to convince themselves of the fact as well.

    It seems sort of insane that this thing is done publicly, because this way you can get strange group dynamics in juries like the ones above. It would make a lot more sense to hold these interviews in a one-on-one setting (which I imagine to be sort of like a Catholic confessional), so that people wouldn’t be assured of the success of their arguments to get out of jury duty.

    Or does this dilute the “will of the people” (sort of similar to jury nullification) too much?

    • registrationisdumb says:

      From my experience in jury duty (note this may vary slightly based on state and type of case):

      Step 1: You get a letter in the mail for jury duty
      Step 2: You take off work to wait in a room with a bunch of other plebs and wait for someone to call groups to come down for selection
      Step 3:When your group gets called down, a judge will run through about 40 questions for the group such as “Does knowing the prosecution is a police officer positively or negatively affect your judgement in a way that will make it difficult for you to remain impartial” or “have you read about this case in the news?”
      Step 4:The prosecution and defense can disqualify a juror for any reason they decide. They now call in individual jurors for more questions to see if they fit the panel.
      Step 5: If enough suitable jurors cannot be found, repeat step 3 with the next group of people from the room.
      Step 6: Repeat steps 3-6 until you fill the jury or it hits 4pm.
      Step 7:If it hits 4pm, wait till tomorrow then go to step 2.

    • Normally, it’s just a matter of efficiency.

      Typically, you have a few dozen potential jurors in the courtroom, and no place else to stash them during the process. At least in my experience, they pick out 12 people at random, and seat them in the jury box. Then, those 12 people are asked a basic series of questions, e.g., do you know the parties in this case, have you ever been in a similar situation, etc., etc.

      It’s like asking if the patient has had any of a long list of diseases; the “correct” answer is “no” to all questions. If one of the jurors raises a hand to say, yes, I’m acquainted with the defendant, there will be more questions about that.

      Anyway, some jurors will be dismissed from the jury box, either for cause (judge ruling) or via peremptory challenges by the parties (the attorney “would like to thank and excuse Mr. Kestenbaum”). Then, new prospective jurors are seated in their place. Rather than repeat all the basic questions again, the new people are asked if they would have answered “yes” to the questions put before. In other words, having them present in the room saves time.

      The adversarial process tends to eliminate people who are unusual in any way. One side wants a liberal jury, the other side wants a conservative jury. One side wants affluent jurors, one side wants jurors who know poverty. And so on and on, as to age, education, occupations, religious affiliations, various kinds of life experiences, etc. With outliers eliminated, jurors end up mostly being close to the demographic mean of the court district.

      Jury service is like the military draft. People serve under compulsion. But people who are uncooperative are screened out in a variety of ways. In my experience, jurors (the ones who are actually empaneled) do take their responsibilities very seriously.

    • IvanFyodorovich says:

      In my experience in Massachusetts, after you fill out some forms, the judge asks you questions in person out of earshot of the other jurors. I spoke pretty quietly and was twice told by the judge to speaker more softly so the other jurors couldn’t hear me.

      Also, I wouldn’t read this as “these people were so impassioned they were incapable of objective judgment”. I would read it as “people hate being on long jury trials”. Think how much it would screw up your life to be on a trial that would last a couple of months. If you can get out of that by saying “I know who Martin Shkreli and I hate his guts and I can’t possibly be objective because someone I know takes expensive medication” you might just say it. Furthermore you wouldn’t need the example of other jurors to know that trick, the judge will ask if you have any knowledge of the defendant that would impair your judgment so all you have to do is play along.

  31. beleester says:

    That optical illusion is bugging me, not because it’s fooling me so hard I need Photoshop, but because it only works in my peripheral vision. Whichever square I look at, the lines look straight, but all the other lines look slanted. So I can make the slope seem to change by looking at one side or the other.

    This isn’t the only optical illusion where I’ve seen this effect, but it’s really weird.

      • Lirio says:

        Huh, that one is actually more effective than the one Scott linked. While i can’t not see the illusion in the first one, i can easily tell that it’s not an illusion because the squares are all clearly the same size. No need for Photoshop verification. However the black and white one is not quote slanted in a way that would necessitate different sized squares, and in any case some do look slightly smaller than others.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Wow, that’s amazing. It shows that there are indeed all kinds. (Or in this case, two.) The illusion was so vivid to me that for a long time I couldn’t even figure out what the caption was telling me to look for — What horizontal bars? Are you just using that word to distinguish from the vertical bars?

      I held a piece of paper up to the screen to confirm that the horizontals were in fact horizontal. Then I found I could convert them to horizontal by nearly closing my eyes, blurring the bric-a-brac enough that the illusion went away.

  32. Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff says:

    ” Fired4Truth?! Really?! You really couldn’t think of a less sketchy-sounding brand?!”

    A fair observation, Scott. But also why you’re not going to be employed as a “creative” in any ad agency anytime soon.

    • RDNinja says:

      Probably all of the reasonable variations on his name were already taken by parody accounts.

      • veeloxtrox says:

        honestly, he could have went for @TheMemoGuy (I check and it isn’t taken) and it would have been less controversial

  33. Wrong Species says:

    On The Rock:

    The Rock should run for president. Here’s the political and business case for why he’d win

    Probably not a good idea but I think The Rock is one of the few people in America who could easily be supported by both sides.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      That was one helluva tweet to improvise:

      Dwayne Johnson ✔ @TheRock
      Just got word that will shock the world – Land of the free…home of the brave DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!

      The Rock jokes around about being President, but I’ve been following the guy since 1999 and that doesn’t seem all that implausible to me.

    • RDNinja says:

      The Rock does have a very positive and friendly image, but I don’t know how he could avoid losing that when he starts on debates and attack ads. OTOH, could his opponents still run attack ads without looking like jerks for dumping on one of the most well-liked movie stars of our time?

      I think a race with The Rock would loon completely different than what we’re used to. Maybe he could do an overtly positive, independent run, and let the media commentators do all the mud-slinging for him?

    • powerfuller says:

      Well, he’d be the second president with Wrestlemania credentials.

  34. ashlael says:

    Re: Australian Parliament.

    It is very unlikely on the basis of existing case law that the NZ relationship would make anyone ineligible.

    When the High Court has ruled on this area previously, it has said that the rule is not absolute but simply requires a candidate to make all reasonable efforts to renounce foreign ties. The hypothetical example discussed was a foreign power which conferred citizenship on members of parliament to deliberately cripple the Australian government. Similarly, some countries do not allow you to renounce your citizenship, and in these case you can still be a MP while a dual citizen.

    The privileges accorded to Australians by NZ cannot be renounced by an individual, and therefore would not be regarded as constituting a breach of Section 44.

    A more interesting aspect of the current dual citizenship crisis is the case of Senator Malcolm Roberts, who may end up replacing himself in the Senate.

    It appears clear that Senator Roberts does not currently hold dual citizenship. The question however is whether he was at the time he nominated for election. If it is found that he did, he would have been incapable of being chosen as a candidate and the High Court would hold he had never been elected at all.

    In that case there would be a recount with Roberts excluded, which would elect a Mr Fraser Anning. Anning was eligible at the time of the election, so no problem there. However, since then he has become bankrupt and the constitution does not allow a bankrupt to serve in parliament.

    As a result, mr Anning’s seat would become vacant (for the first time – legally, it would have always been Anning’s seat since the election, despite the fact that Roberts has been sitting in it). That vacancy could be filled by anyone that Anning and Roberts’ party nominates who is eligible – and since Roberts is no longer a dual citizen, he would be eligible.

    So we may well see a Senator replacing himself in a position he was found to never have won in the first place.

    Another fun case is the Greens’ Nick McKim. While he is not currently implicated in the dual citizenship crisis, if it were to expand further and suck him in, we could see a seat flipping from the far left to the far right.

    McKim won his seat by a narrow margin of about 150 votes ahead of One Nation’s Kate McCulloch. Australia has a preferential voting system and voters number their choices in order. When a candidate is eliminated, those votes get transferred to the next numbered candidate on the ballot.

    While most of McKim’s voters gave their next preference to his Greens party colleagues, enough did not and either exhausted their vote or preferenced his ideological opposite to deliver victory to One Nation if he is eliminated.

    And that’s before you even get to the fact that the government has a one seat majority and the Deputy Prime Minister may well have to face a by-election.

    • AnthonyC says:

      Thanks. At first I thought the article Scott linked was silly. Maybe it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the events you’re referencing? The NTimes had an Op-Ed about it today,

      More basic question: what, if anything, happens to the bills these elected officials voted on, or other decisions made in office? Could someone (assuming judicial review is a thing in Australian law the way it is in the US, sorry if it isn’t) get the courts to overturn a law if it could be shown that enough of the members of parliament who voted for it were ineligible for office to have reversed the outcome?

      I assume there are good principles of jurisprudence (whose names and features I don’t know) that could prevent that kind of chaos. Right? At least in these cases where the people in questions weren’t actually intending to deceive or to support the interests of a foreign power?

  35. Lirio says:

    Annie Dillard’s classic essay on a solar eclipse. I wanted to write something serious and profound about my eclipse experience, but I gave up after realizing there was no way I could match this.

    People keep treating watching a total solar eclipse as being some kind of incredibly profound and astounding experience. From the essay, “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.” There’s also this XKCD comic:

    This bugs me, because i cannot imagine how that could possibly be the case. While i have not seen a total solar eclipse, i have witnessed ~90% partials on two occasions. Both on cloudy days that allowed me to observe it without the special glasses, though the second time i was able to borrow some when the sun peeked through the clouds. It’s neat, but i can’t picture how that last 10% occlusion could somehow push the experience from “that’s pretty cool” to “transcendental”. Like, the lighting levels drop to twilight, okay i know what that looks like. There’s also this awesome halo effect around the eclipsed sun, i’ve seen pictures of that, it no doubt looks way better in person. What am i missing?

    • raemon777 says:

      I personally didn’t get a *huge* kick out of the eclipse, but I still think it’s definitely true that Partial vs Solar eclipses have almost no relationship. Up until the last minute, you’re looking at a thingy through silly glasses that doesn’t especially look like anything. After you go from 99% to 100%, the actual special effects turn on and the world darkens and the skies glow and whatever.

      I think in a world with all kinds of special effects you can see in movies any given day, this may no longer be impressive to everyone, but it’s still the difference between “awesome special effects happen” and “nothing especially happens at all.”

      (FWIW, plenty of people around me were having profound experiences so I think this depends more on how jaded you are)

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Sorry, Dillard is right. I saw it in Idaho. Well, felt it.

      It’s a physical sensation far more than a visual one. And you’re right. You can’t possibly imagine it.

      I’ll try to describe the indescribable: Sure, you know what twilight looks like. But you have never had a two second sunset. The whole world going dark instantly broke some deep assumption inside me.

      And at the same time the Sun is replaced by this eerie alien heavenly body. Sure, I had seen many photos. But had I only seen the regular sun on photos, I think I would have been rather stunned by the regular one too. Photos don’t capture suns well.

      Some people talk about the sudden temperature drop too. I didn’t even notice.

      • Lirio says:

        How does the eclipse two second sunset compare to the sun vanishing behind a heavy stormcloud? That seems like the next closest experience.

        You’ve really only seen the sun in photos? Have you never watched a sunrise or sunset? It’s dim enough then you can easily look at it, and how beautiful it is! Not just the sun, but all the pretty colours spread across the sky and landscape, it’s one of my favourite sights. Wouldn’t recommend looking at it in the middle of the day though, i’ve done it briefly many times, and it always looks exactly like being stabbed in the eyeballs by the world’s brightest daylight-spectrum spotlight.

        • Mary says:

          Nowhere near as quick. Also, as the light decreases, it doesn’t change in quality. The clouds will make it more flat as they encroach.

        • Peffern says:

          Squirrel isn’t saying they’ve only seen the sun in photos; they’re saying if they had only seen the photos, the actual sun would probably still shock them, since photos don’t capture the sun well.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          I had only seen the eclipsed sun in photos. Looking down on a printed piece of paper is very different from looking up at it ruling the night sky.

          If you’ve ever met a basketball pro, you might have been surprised by how BIG they are in person. It’s distantly related to that.

          Also what Peffern said about my clumsy metaphor.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            In other news, even the best coffee table book can’t do justice to the Grand Canyon.

          • Lirio says:

            Ah, okay now i understand what you meant. What you’re saying is that there are elements of witnessing a total solar eclipse which are very unlike previous experience, making them both difficult to anticipate and surprising in their novelty. This happens rarely for me, especially when i have reference material such as pictures.

            Nancy, i haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, but have seen both Niagara Falls and Angel Falls in person. The main thing the pictures really failed to convey was the sound of the rushing water, but even then i already expected it based on previous waterfalls. Not saying i got nothing out of seeing them in person, they were certainly very fun experiences and well worth it, but the expectations more or less matched reality. So i’m pretty sure that between pictures and related experiences i’ve got a good mental map on the Grand Canyon. Still, i very much want to see up close and in person some day, i’m expecting it to be great.

            Also on the note of Angel Falls, the plane ride in was much more exciting than looking on them up close from the lookout point by the foot of the falls. We were flying frighteningly close to this massive wall of rock off to our right, and when we entered a cloud which dropped visibility to zero while flight system kept repeating, “Warning. Terrain. Warning. Terrain.” Then the clouds broke and there they were, the falls in all their glory. The combination of anticipation and fear made for a wonderful experience.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The Grand Canyon is much bigger than Niagara Falls. As I recall, it goes out to the horizon, or nearly, as you look across it, and off to the horizon on both sides.

            A two foot wide coffee table book does its best, but it just can’t.

          • keranih says:

            Let me chime in with very strong agreement with Nancy. The Grand Canyon is huge. It is mind-shakingly large – the uncanny valley of landscapes.

          • Lirio says:

            Right, but the horizon to horizon hugeness is something that i am aware of and have accounted for in my mental picture. It seems unlikely there’s anything about the experience that i would not be expecting. The thing about the total eclipse is that from people’s vague descriptions of totality i felt like there may have been aspects of it i was unaware of, and i’m glad i asked because it turns out there were in fact quite a few. Now i have more things to look forward to!

          • keranih says:

            And what I’m saying is that even having looked at lots of pictures of the GC, I was completely flabbergasted by the experience! My mental picture was not ready to be matched against the reality.

            (Now I feel bad that if you go see the GC, it won’t be *that* much wow, and you’ll be disappointed.)

          • Lirio says:

            Don’t worry, my expectation is precisely that while it will be pretty amazing, i will not be as astonished by it as others seemingly are. So i assure you i will not be disappointed, but i could still very well be surprised!

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      A few personal eclipse highlights:

      – Venus visible near sky zenith. This one takes a bit of astronomy knowledge to figure, but given that knowledge it is in fact a potent source of “holy shit this should not be happening”.
      – Sunset on every horizon. Even during totality it doesn’t get much darker than deep twilight, but you’ve got the “sunset” effect (I assume actually just caused by seeing sunlit areas beyond the horizon) 360 degrees around. More “this should not be happening”.
      – The diamond ring. You can look at pictures of this; they don’t capture it. It’s one thing to see a photo whited out at a point; it’s completely different to see sunfire on the corona’s edge.

      There are other neat things that come from the partial zone, like crescent shadows through gaps and the creepy “sunlight loses its potency” (decreasing amplitude of sunlight without changing its spectrum, which AFAICT nothing but an eclipse will cause). But in terms of dramatic things, everything comes at totality.

    • JonathanD says:

      The total solar eclipse is one of the things that doesn’t translate well to photos or videos. It’s like rainbows or fireworks. You have to be there. It wasn’t a change my life moment, but it was definitely very cool, and I could certainly see steering a vacation around getting into the path of totality.

    • John Schilling says:

      I have witnessed ~90% partials on two occasions. […] It’s neat, but i can’t picture how that last 10% occlusion could somehow push the experience from “that’s pretty cool” to “transcendental”.

      The human eye is logarithmic, rather than linear, in response, and it is subject to saturation at levels approaching full sunlight. A hasty google for data on eclipse luminance and human optical response suggests that the perceived brightness change from a total eclipse will be 2000 times greater than that from a 90% partial or annular eclipse. And that’s without considering the qualitative differences, e.g. visible twilight on every horizon, visible stars in midday, visible solar corona around black disk, extremely rapid onset for all of this, etc.

    • Lirio says:

      @Dedicating Ruckus: That diamond ring effect is what i will look forward to the most in 2024. (Or earlier if i’m suddenly able to afford travel.)

      @JonathanD: Your analogy fails for me, since rainbows and fireworks seem translate perfectly fine to video, at least visually. Aurally on the other hand, the sonic effect of fireworks is indeed irreproducible except in person, particularly up close. Otherwise, while watching fireworks and rainbows is more enjoyable in person, that’s true of everything.

      @John Schilling: That’s very cool, i will update my mental model accordingly, thank you.

      • anon1 says:

        @Lirio: If the diamond ring is what you’re after, plan to view the eclipse some distance away from the centerline. Effects such as the diamond ring, Baily’s beads, and glimpses of the red solar chromosphere are often barely visible on the centerline, but can last much longer closer to the edge.

        Since 2024 should be at a much more active point in the ~11-year solar cycle (we’re close to a minimum now), that eclipse could be a great time to look for prominences, another effect best viewed from off-centerline.

        There’s a lot more information, including a handy graph of edge effect and totality durations as a function of distance from centerline, at Centerline or Edge: Where to View a Total Solar Eclipse


        Some subjective notes:

        If you watch from a high point, you can see the edge of night coming towards you at ~2000mph. From what I’ve heard, that in itself is overwhelming. From the linked essay on that point:

        The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out…. This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds.”

        I viewed the eclipse from flat ground, but there was a tall, snow-covered mountain not too far to the west. The sun was a sharp thin crescent, the air had suddenly become cold, the light was still bright but didn’t feel at all like day (more like floodlights at a football game), and then the mountain vanished. The few moments between the mountain going dark and the onset of totality were… something.

        • Lirio says:

          Oh wow, i think i could have easily gone the whole six and a half years between now and the next eclipse without encountering that information. Thank you, very much!

          It amuses me that the second part of the article suggest being near the centre unless you have a GPS. Don’t worry, i’m one of those weird technology fetishists who carries all sorts of devices around. Why, not only do i have a GPS, but also a cellular phone, a two-way pager, a portable music player, a camera, a small computer, and a PDA!

  36. Amused Muser says:

    Pretty sure this isn’t 8/17 Scott.

    Edit: Ah, I see from earlier months that the format is month/year, rather than month/day.

    • Montfort says:

      August of ’17, perhaps? He did call the other links post this month 8/17 too, despite it being posted on the 7th. Of course, it seems silly to have two August of 2017 links posts without distinguishing them some way.

      Edit: This whole thing could’ve been solved by waiting a few hours and marking it 9/17

  37. JulieK says:

    Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, by American Psychiatric Association

    “This book provides diagnostic critical symptoms and behaviors related to specific mental health disorders, the content of this book is a threat to the security, good order or discipline of the facility.”

    • Tarpitz says:

      That one I think actually makes sense. Detailed descriptions of symptoms make it easier to convincingly fake a disorder.

  38. Tibor says:

    The product link is something I was just thinking about yesterday. I go to a shop with a lot of “bio” (the same what “organic” means in English) products and they are (with some exceptions) advertised in, for a lack of a better word, a very “blue” way. Perhaps not as much over the top as in the US but still. Lot of those products are genuinely high quality, but I find the way they are advertised mildly annoying. I’m thinking: “These things are just good, why do you have to tell people they are ‘saving the environment’ by buying them, I should be convinced to buy them for their benefits to me alone.”

    I guess that they are completely missing a more “conservative” market that way, people who will figure out that things advertised this way are just way to make “hippies pay double”. You can brand hummus like a fancy hippie vegan thing or you can brand it as a tasty spread (which it is). You can brand a petrochemical-free detergent as something that “saves the environment” or you can point out that it is much more pleasant to the skin and does not come with a artificially smelling odour (it is probably a bit less efficient, so you have to use a bit more, but I’ve yet to encounter something that cannot be cleaned with it.

    • Nick says:

      I guess that they are completely missing a more “conservative” market that way, people who will figure out that things advertised this way are just way to make “hippies pay double”.

      Rod Dreher noticed that there are real contrarian conservatives and tried to make “Crunchy Cons” a thing. I don’t know how successful he was—I hardly ever hear about Crunchy Cons, and not in quite a while actually—but it sounds as though they were buying these products already regardless of how they’re coded.

  39. enkiv2 says:

    Regarding Damore’s behavior:
    As Sonya Mann has pointed out on Twitter, it’s not just his choice of handle — basically, everything Damore has done since the memo leaked has been exactly what someone trying to cast doubt on the good-faith interpretation of his memo would advise him to do, including scoring interviews with Milo and Molyneux. Either he’s really dumb about PR and doesn’t understand how bad it makes him look, he’s really naive/in a cultural bubble and thinks Milo and Molyneux are representative of the mainstream, or he’s somehow decided that catering to the lunatic fringe is worthwhile. (Since it won’t be worthwhile in terms of actually winning his argument, maybe he’s just doing it for the financial or emotional support?)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Or he’s decided that since he’s already been cast into the basket of deplorables there isn’t any further disincentive to engaging with other basket-dwellers.

      When you’ve already been fired from your job and had your name smeared in the national press, your reputation is tarnished no matter what you do. Who exactly is it who would otherwise be willing to hire and associate with him but would balk after hearing about a Milo interview?

      Turning his nose up at sympathetic voices in the alternative media isn’t going to win him any points with the mainstream media. So why not do the interview?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Because he actually believed something moderate, not extreme?

        I mean, that’s Scott’s point, I think. That Damore’s defenders were all like, “Hey, this is a relatively well-backed-by-the-research good-faith attempt to not go full reactionary, but instead say, ‘Maybe our current approach isn’t working.'”

        Of course, Damore’s views themselves may have changed over the course of the drama. It would be hard, I think, not to feel very bitter in his shoes.

        • John Schilling says:

          If I’m a moderate whom no other moderate will hire or associate with because they are afraid of what the X-tribe extremists will do to them, but the Y-tribe extremists are willing to adopt me as a champion or a martyr, I’m going to be trying to build up my status in Y tribe even if my actual views are still moderate.

          The extent to which this describes reality in the Tech community that is Damore’s professional home, is unknown to me – but it seems at least plausible.

          • random832 says:

            If I’m a moderate whom no other moderate will hire or associate with because they are afraid of what the X-tribe extremists will do to them, but the Y-tribe extremists are willing to adopt me as a champion or a martyr, I’m going to be trying to build up my status in Y tribe even if my actual views are still moderate.

            Moloch makes extremists of us all in the end.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Let me share an anecdote which literally happened five minutes ago.

          I was talking to some of my co-workers at my lab about our mandatory sexual harassment training and what constitutes a protected class. One of them asked me if Nazis were a protected class and I said, no, political beliefs aren’t on the list. Another responded “yeah, that’s why Google was able to fire that guy who put all that sexist stuff online.”

          The last month has shown definitively that Damore’s views are extreme. Extreme enough that he counts as a Nazi for practical purposes. More than extreme enough to be cast out of polite society.

          So if he’s not supposed to associate with other “extremists” and centrists won’t have him, WTF is he supposed to do? Live in the woods like a hermit?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Fun fact: in California, political views are on the list of things employers can’t discriminate against you for.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The first person was probably not thinking of Damore, but of Charlottesville. What was the second person thinking? Was he saying that Damore was a Nazi? Or was he just saying that he was fired for political views?

            (Not to disagree with your original comment, but I think your second goes too far.)

          • Wrong Species says:


            So when does being fired for “political views” end and “harassing a protected class” begin?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:


            Yeah but that doesn’t have much bearing on the discussion we had been having, since we’re on the east coast.

            @Douglas Knight,

            From the way she said it and knowing her politics, I don’t think she considers it a meaningful distinction. Six of one half, dozen of the other.

      • mupetblast says:

        The Weinstein affair gives some credence to the may-as-well argument. Here was a guy who was actually on record as being on the left (had written articles for Consortium News and went to work for one of the most lefty institutions around) but who found it nearly impossible to gather any lefty allies after he went big. The right were by and large the only ones eager to come his side. Now he’s essentially a conservative for most intents and purposes. Voila, just like that.

    • Winfried says:

      Betting heavy on “respectability” got him a mix of impotent and ambivalent assistance.

      What’s the next place you would look?

    • bbartlog says:

      How many organizations do you suppose offered him interviews? I assume, for what it’s worth, that Milo and Molyneux sought him out. Now, *maybe* he also had offers from mainstream interviewers rather than these dodgy characters, but I think it’s fairly likely that his choices here were ‘do interviews with marginal figures or don’t do interviews at all’. At which point his choices are either A) look bad to people with mainstream prejudices, but at least get heard by a sympathetic crowd on the alt-right, or B) quietly disappear down the memory hole. I don’t think ‘actually winning his argument’, in the sense that you are using it here i.e. convincing most people that he was in the right, was ever actually an option, and I think he knows that.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think the reason he gave for doing interviews with Molyneux and Milo were that they were more likely to hear him out and not do a smear job. True or not, it is reasonable.

    • Odovacer says:

      Where would you go if many media outlets where misrepresenting you and hostile to you?

  40. powerfuller says:

    Oh, I’m a big fan of “hap” (as you may be able to guess)!

  41. rpglover64 says:

    On the subject of Taylor Swift Tom Swifties, this past MIT Mystery Hunt had a puzzle with clues like

    “_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _” she sang, irreconcilably.

  42. sandoratthezoo says:

    Relevant Pitch Perfect II joke:

    Fat Amy: They’re going to look at us and think, ‘Why is the most talent one Australian?’
    Fat Amy: Well, I’m fat, and that’s close enough.

  43. GregS says:

    The Spotted Toad piece doesn’t make much sense. He uses “drug mortality” as his metric, but the ACA and Medicaid expansion would only be relevant to prescription opioids and maybe benzodiazepines. But prescription opioid overdoses have mostly flattened since about 2010 (so have benzodiazepine poisonings, ~80% of which are really opioid interactions). The increase in drug overdoses since 2010 is mostly due to an increase in overdoses from heroin and synthetic opioids sold as heroin. He actually points this out at the end of the article, but then glosses over it as if it’s irrelevant.

    He’s using the CDC as his data source, which makes me wonder why he’s pulling *total* drug overdose deaths. You can easily sort it into drug categories (“Other opioids” meaning most prescription opioids, “synthetic narcotics” meaning fentanyl and other super-powerful opioids, methadone, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, “psychostimulants with potential for abuse” which unfortunately combines illicit methamphetamine with legal prescription treatments for ADHD.) You can easily see the different trends by drug category over the past 15 years. I’m certainly not defending the ACA, but it makes no sense to blame it for an increase in heroin-related deaths. If you look at the trends over time by drug type, you get a different story. In fact, you get several different stories, rather than a single (IMO very misleading) opioid epidemic story.

    The blog has several other pieces on the same topic. I’ll have to read and see if maybe my initial reaction is unfair.

    • cassander says:

      the majority of the ACA didn’t really go into effect until 2014, so you’d want to look at an increase from then, not 2010.

      • pdbarnlsey says:

        His key point in the article is that that’s not the case – that states which would be undertaking medicaid expansion once the ACA came into effect also tend to expand medicaid in the run up, and visa versa.

        That portion of his evidence is fairly persuasive, IMO.

  44. veeloxtrox says:

    Re: Vs. Traffic Court

    As someone who was hit with that same violation a few months ago and took drivers school to keep it off my record. I would have tried this argument in court to get out of the fine and cost of drivers school. I read over the statute and thought there was a hole there but didn’t put in the time to find it. If it happens again, I am looking up this link and making the same argument in court.

  45. grendelkhan says:

    Hackers encode malware that infects DNA sequencing software in a strand of DNA. Make sure to run your family members through an antivirus program before ordering genetic testing.

    This is reminiscent of the Chainsaw of Custody, an attack on forensic software (specifically EnCase): the cops repo your hard drive, then attach it to their systems to grovel through your files–but unbeknownst to them, the very act of reading your drive has allowed you to own their systems! (The manufacturer doesn’t get why this might be a problem.)

    Coverage-driven (i.e., effective and efficient) fuzzers have been widely used since at least 2015, but you can still spin up an instance of AFL or a simple libFuzzer driver against any software that handles untrusted input, i.e., pretty much any software, and have a reasonable chance at finding some exciting bugs. See, for example, FreeRADIUS, which had done all the best-practices stuff–full test suites, static and dynamic analysis, regression tests–and was thoroughly owned by a guy spending a week with a fuzzer.

    (This is part of why I’m excited about Rust. You can still mess up parsing, but not quite so badly.)

  46. Beece says:

    More on D&D in prison. A VICE article with accompanying mini documentary.

    In some prisons, any congregation with more than 3 people is considered a gang. If you have 3 PCs and 1 DM, you are now a prison gang AND a party of heroes!

  47. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Very impressive connection between research and useful work. What are they doing differently than most countries?

    • Aapje says:


      One reason is that the price of land is high, while food prices are very low (the lowest in Western-Europe in fact and extremely low compared to incomes). Because the Dutch are not very much into fancy smancy food, there is little market for low yield, high quality niche products. The focus of the government and industry is thus on mass production. That is only sustainable in such a competitive environment with very high yields.

      A second reason is that The Netherlands is so small that it makes sense to primarily compete against other countries, rather than against producers in the same country. So this allows for a strong cooperative environment where farmers and the government work together a lot.

      A third reason is that the market is very competitive and rational. Many countries choose to subsidize traditional, small-scale farming. This is rare in The Netherlands (the main exception is that the Dutch love to see cows outdoors, which is inferior to keeping them indoors when it comes to milk-production, but even this preference was monetized by the industry by selling ‘pasture milk*’ rather than using subsidies, so market distortion was minimal).

      * Fun fact: the milk sold as ‘pasture milk’ and the cheaper milk come from the same milk supply, so are identical, consumers just pay more for the branding.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I did notice that only 15 varieties of tomato seemed rather skimpy.

        I’m not sure how much of the market, even in the US, is for “low yield, high quality niche products”. I expect it’s tiny compared to the mass products.

        • Aapje says:

          You can still make them in mass quantities, they’ll just tend to be relatively expensive. A good example of those kinds of products are those with protected designation of origin (so only products from a certain region may be sold under a name). Examples:

          Champagne, Kobe beef, Roquefort, Serrano ham, prosciutto, Gorgonzola.

          Countries like France have a huge number of wines, cheeses and other products that are protected legally like this and which are sold for relatively high prices compared to products of similar quality which are not sold as a premium brand.

  48. tscharf says:

    Google: Youngsters should probably be reminded that Microsoft was cool once too. It seems Google is going down that rabbit hole. It’s losing that shiny new toy image. They seem to be getting a bit arrogant.

    • Brad says:

      Microsoft may not be cool, but they are huge, still growing, and profitable. That’s not a bad place to be.

  49. Baeraad says:

    Well, that sinks it, then. I’m definitely Blue Tribe, despite my disappointment with the tribal leadership of late. “Why Am I So Effin’ Tired?” is a question I ask myself on a daily basis, whereas the mere phrase “Brain Force Plus” makes me feel… even more effin’ tired.

  50. Leucippus says:

    It’s a stretch to call Google’s watermark removal algorithm “AI”. It is a carefully designed sequence of straightforward steps, including optimizing some functions and taking averages of gradients. There isn’t really any learning going on (unless you consider the iteratively reweighted least squares algorithm to be learning), nor is there any neural network that works for poorly understood reasons.

    The line between AI and algorithms can be blurry and is arguably ill-defined, but the original paper, and even the linked article, always refer to the algorithm as an algorithm, not as “machine learning” or “artificial intelligence”. This is probably best described as a case of good old human intelligence being applied to algorithm design.

  51. sunnydestroy says:

    This is a better source to read more in-depth about the study and its motivations:
    link text