Sumerian mythology includes a bunch of weird legendary debates, like The Debate Between Sheep And Grain, the Debate Between Winter And Summer, and the Debate Between Bird And Fish. In case you’re wondering, the winners were (spoiler alert) grain, winter, and bird respectively.
Stevenson and Wolfers find that liberalization of divorce laws significantly decreased rates of domestic violence and female suicide.
History’s first conspiracy theory? The Nero Redivivus legend said that Emperor Nero survived his apparent death in 68 AD and was going to reclaim the Roman Imperial crown; it inspired three rebellions by people pretending to be Nero.
And in the world of modern crazy conspiracy theories: some Pakistanis believe Malala Yousafzai was never shot by the Taliban at all; her shooting was staged by the CIA (or, in one version, Robert De Niro). Also: “In November 2014, just a month after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation – which claimed to represent 150,000 schools – announced an ‘I Am Not Malala’ day.”
Interview with Open Philanthropy Project director Holden Karnofsky on what academic science can and can’t tell us about how to do altruism. Related: Karnofsky’s AMA about job openings at OpenPhil.
New England Journal of Medicine claims firearm injuries go down during NRA conventions (because the people who are busy attending the convention are the same people who would otherwise be shooting themselves). But Andrew Gelman thinks we shouldn’t believe it. Related: firearms researcher Carlos Goes changes his mind, now says there is good evidence for guns causing more crime.
After Washington DC cracked down on fraudulently graduating students who didn’t meet requirements, only 42% of high school seniors are on track to graduate this year. Some interesting discussion here, including the observation that even with the widespread fraud, DC’s graduation rates were still well below the national average. Before we start blaming the DC education system, I hope someone checks that this isn’t exactly what we would predict based on DC’s racial composition and known racial disparities in education.
David Graeber on the new understanding of prehistory. Claims that recent research has converged around a model where prehistoric humans formed large communities reminiscent of “civilizations” in the off-season from hunting, and that agriculture was less of a sudden shock and more a transition to having civilization year-round. Not sure if his views are as consensus as he claims, interested in learning more from prehistorically knowledgeable readers.
Italian election ends with center-right and populists in power, likely a victory for anti-immigrant forces and Euroskeptics. Still unclear who will get to lead the government, prediction markets slightly favor Di Maio and Five Stars. No market on whether Italy will leave the Euro, but most people I’ve read seem doubtful.
Reddit discussion on why the South African decision to seize white land probably won’t come to anything – strongest evidence is they’ve tried this a bunch of times before and it’s never come to anything.
Given the magnitude of the decline in global insect populations, why aren’t we all dead yet?
Bad signs: when your government becomes so censorious that it bans the word “disagree”.
WeForum has numbers on the bullshit-jobs phenomenon: “In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.”
Nominative non-determinism: the town of Equality, Illinois was a historical center of the slave trade, and center of a perverse scheme for kidnapping Northern blacks and selling them into slavery called the Reverse Underground Railroad.
Two new major papers on growth mindset. A large pre-registered experiment (related Twitter discussion here) concluded that a growth mindset intervention had very modest (but statistically significant) benefits, and given that it was so cheap it might still be cost-effective to spam the school system with it in the hopes that a couple of students benefit a little. A large meta-analysis agreed, with the caveat that spamming the school system with basically anything else would be more cost-effective (“From a practical perspective, resources might be better allocated elsewhere than mind-set interventions. Across a range of treatment types, Hattie, Biggs, and Purdie (1996) found that the meta-analytic average effect size for a typical educational intervention on academic performance is 0.57. All meta-analytic effects of mind-set interventions on academic performance were less than 0.35, and most were null. The evidence suggests that the “mindset revolution” might not be the best avenue to reshape our education system.”) People who previously supported growth mindset are taking this as proof that at least it works. I admit I am pretty biased against this idea, but I have a different perspective. Imagine I claimed our next-door neighbor was a billionaire oil sheik who kept thousands of boxes of gold and diamonds hidden in his basement. Later we meet the neighbor, and he is the manager of a small bookstore and has a salary 10% above the US average (though below the average for our neighborhood). Should we describe this as “we have confirmed the Wealthy Neighbor Hypothesis, though the effect size was smaller than expected”? Or as “I made up a completely crazy story, and in unrelated news there was an irrelevant deviation from literally-zero in the same space”?
The Bible says God doomed Cain to wander forever, so where is he these days? Various theories advanced through history have included “it’s metaphorical”, “on the Moon”, and “in Tennessee”.
Business Insider: companies are publicly liberal on social issues mostly because liberals are a more valuable consumer demographic.
New paper The Moral Hazard Of Lifesaving Innovations concludes that when states promote freer distribution of the opiate-overdose-antidote naloxone, people are more likely to abuse opiates because it’s perceived as safer, and in the end there’s higher crime and no reduction in mortality. Interested in hearing what the thus-far-very-successful pro-naloxone movement thinks about this.
Nathan Cofnas debunks Kevin MacDonald’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Interesting not so much because I expect many people to believe Kevin MacDonald’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, but because an attempt to disprove anti-Semitism on the merits got published in a journal and was generally-well-received, and because it shows the way that careful and intelligent study of group differences can be used to fight racism (the argument is basically “Jews’ success in various fields is as we would predict from their IQs, so there’s no need to posit any conspiracy theory”). I don’t think there’s a good way to debunk these kinds of conspiracy theories without citing this research, which is one reason I become so concerned when people try to suppress it.
Related: Wikipedia’s article on Jewtown, Pennsylvania has a certain kind of minimalist beauty to it.
The Darian calendar, created for future colonists to keep time on Mars. In case you have the same question as I do – no, the months aren’t named after Homestuck trolls, they’re named after the Sanskrit names of zodiac signs (which Homestuck trolls are also named after).
Businessman Andrew Yang will run in the 2020 presidential election on a platform of universal basic income. “I’m a capitalist, and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue”. Also supports banning federal regulators from moving to jobs in the fields they regulate, and “turning April 15 into a national holiday”. Who knows, he might even beat Vermin Supreme to win the coveted First Place Among People Who Will Never Win award.
Let’s be fair to Bernie Sanders: he never actually said anything positive about Venezuela. In fact, let’s celebrate this: given how many socialists did praise Venezuela when it looked like it was doing well, this demonstrates admirable judgment and restraint.
The Long-Run Effect Of Teacher Strikes: Evidence From Argentina tries to measure the effect of teachers by seeing if students who are exposed to long teacher strikes do worse in life. It claims “robust evidence” that a standard (for Argentina) of three months’ of teacher strikes over one’s educational career lowers adult earnings by 3%. This goes against all my priors but potentially matches some related results by Chetty. Interested in seeing further discussion of this.
The Fatebenefratrelli Hospital in Italy is famous for the mysterious “Syndrome K” – a fake, supposedly contagious diagnosis they would give Jews in order to keep them out of the Nazi concentration camps. The Nazis never investigated the hospital “out of fear of contracting the disease”.
If your favorite websites have become more censorious lately or cracked down on mostly harmless activity, it’s not their fault – it’s a result of FOSTA, a new anti-sex-trafficking law that in practice enables a wide variety of legal crackdowns and censorship against the Internet. RIP most of Reddit’s darknet- and drug- related communities, and Craigslist personals.
Here’s a graph showing favorability of various groups/people among Democrats vs. Republicans. Republicans view women more favorably than they view the NRA; Democrats view Christians more favorably than they view Nancy Pelosi.
Judge finds Starbucks guilty of refusing to put “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer” warning on their coffee, exposing them and other coffee chains to potentially millions of dollars in fines. Relevant law seriously seems to say that if they can’t prove their coffee doesn’t cause cancer, they need to include the warning.
Does anyone else think the UK #knifefree campaign comes off as a little creepy and Orwellian?
Paul Christiano’s AI safety research is up online at ai-alignment.com, including a summary by Ajeya Cotra intended to by comprehensible by us mere mortals. There’s also been a lot of good discussion of his research program at the new Less Wrong, including a response by Wei Dai.
Also: not one, but two good comic-book-style illustrated guides to AI safety topics. Abram Demski on some of MIRI’s research, and Chris Noessel illustrating Stuart Armstrong’s Smarter Than Us: The Rise Of Machine Intelligence.
Results of all 833 of Aella’s twitter polls. Content warning for frequent graphic sexual content.