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OT110: Opendragon Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Comment of the week is Stefferi on the circumstances leading to the rise of Hitler. See also idontknow: “The strongest defense against extreme right wingers is a moderate right wing party that is vigorous.”

2. Please vote for your favorite adversarial collaboration from the last week. The entries were:

a. Does The Education System Adequately Serve Advanced Students?
b. Are Islam And Liberal Democracy Compatible?
c. Should Childhood Vaccination Be Mandatory?
d. Should Transgender Children Transition?

After some discussion with the contestants, the winner of the popular vote will get a $500 prize, and the winner of my vote will get a second $500 prize; these may or may not be the same entry. After you’ve read all the entries, you can vote here.

3. I would like contestants to email me their experience participating in the contest. There is no particular structure or prompt I want, but here are some questions (adopted from a list sent by John Buridan) to get you started:

– What were your initial positions?
– How much did your positions shift and in what ways?
– How much debate and argument was there during the course of the work?
– How did you resolve it?
– Is the conclusion closer to one or the other person’s original position?
– What advice would you give future adversarial collaborators?

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1,130 Responses to OT110: Opendragon Thread

  1. Error says:

    I’m trying to locate a quote. It was in a conversation about good- and bad-faith argument, maybe related to the recent adversarial collaborations, and went something like “you’re not obligated to continue to engage with someone who refuses to listen to arguments and keeps trying to hurt you.”

    The phrasing isn’t right (or at least Google can’t find it), and I don’t remember who said it. It might have been here on SSC, or Less Wrong, or it might have been on one of several vaguely adjacent blogs. Compass Rose and Don’t Worry about the Vase are both in my feed, so it could have been those or anything linked from those, too.

    Does it ring a bell for anyone?

  2. IrishDude says:

    I’m curious if anyone has thoughts on the quality of the Georgetown Study that estimated the number of Puerto Rican deaths due to Hurricane Maria. Death certificates seemed to attribute less than 100 deaths as due to the hurricane (though the study critiques the death certificate process), while the study used modeling to come up with an estimate of 2,975 excess deaths due to the hurricane. Were the study’s model assumptions reasonable?

    • BBA says:

      It doesn’t matter. It’s harmful to the President, therefore everyone’s opinion of it must be based solely on their factional and ideological affiliations. Politics is the mind-killer, truth is irrelevant, time is a flat circle.

      (Someday I should watch True Detective if I’m going to keep referencing it.)

    • I haven’t looked at it closely enough to have an opinion on whether it’s right, but it’s worth noting that their figure is for excess mortality, which isn’t what people usually think of as “being killed by.” U.S. death rates are substantially higher in the winter months than in the summer months, but it would seem odd to claim that cold kills nearly a million Americans a year.

      • Statismagician says:

        I think this is one of the few cases where excess-mortality might actually be the right methodology, or at least not a priori wrong – the thesis is basically ‘we know exactly the cause [giant hurricane; it was in all the papers], but not exactly the effects [all of Puerto Rico becomes non-functional in complex and interwoven ways].’ If there just so happens to be a significant spike in all-cause mortality right after a very clear event we’d expect to produce a lot of different negative outcomes, attributing the spike to the event isn’t nuts.

        That said, the reporting on this whole kerfuffle has definitely not been about the intricacies of epidemiological etiology.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          Just try to say that three times fast.

          • Nornagest says:

            “I am the very model of an epidemiologist” scans pretty well.

          • Statismagician says:

            Per Nornagest’s comment (my phone won’t let me reply directly) – I’ve actually done something along those lines, this was written my first week of MPH courses. Copy-pasted on phone, so formatting is probably weird.

            I am the very model of a scientist with evidence,

            I give the facts and figures every bit of their due precedence,

            I know the proper tests to run, I know to check significance

            From Student’s t to old Tukey I use them all with confidence.

            I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters epidemical

            I understand the methods both descriptive and inferential

            Concerning world infections I am able to assess the news…

            I’m bothered by poor research and by phrases which are overused.

            I’m very good at making use of graphs to show what’s right and wrong

            I’m qualified to shorten facts to make debates a bit less long

            In short, when people ask me for a simple answer I’m incredulous,

            For I am the very model of a scientist with evidence.

          • John Schilling says:

            For full effect you have to come up with a parody of the third verse as well.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That’s going in my bookmarks.

        • albatross11 says:

          Right. If you have the power go out for several months, and that leads to extra deaths that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, I think we should count those deaths as part of the consequences of the hurricane.

          • Excess mortality is an interesting number, but I think there is a distinction between “killed by” and “part of the consequences of.” Would you say that a million Americans a year are killed by winter?

            In both cases, much of the excess mortality is due to indirect effects. Someone in poor health dies now instead of six months later because he had to go out in the cold and wet. Traffic accident rates go up, but any particular traffic accident might have happened anyway. Someone commits a crime he might not have committed if hadn’t been stressed, or short of money, or … because of the cold or the hurricane.

  3. metacelsus says:

    I’m in London now. Any ideas of cool things to do? I’ve already visited Hyde Park and the Science Museum.

    • Eltargrim says:

      I enjoyed the Natural History museum on my last visit. I used to highly recommend the Imperial War Museum, but found that after its recent revamp that it no longer scratched the correct itch. I think the Greenwich observatory was worth the visit, and you can get to it by going up the Thames on a river taxi. My father raves about the Victoria and Albert museum, but I’ve never gone myself.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I loved the British Museum and the RAF Museum when I was there. The Tower of London (and Tower Bridge nearby) was also fun, and one of my friends raves about the Victoria and Albert Museum.

      If you have a spare day, you could also go out to Windsor Castle; that was great.

    • Aapje says:

      The National Gallery is great. Westminster Abbey too. The British Museum is great. The Tower of London is decent.

      The RAF museum is nice, although a little further away (30 mins by Tube/metro from the city center).

    • zzzzort says:

      All the touristy things to do in London are actually really good (except for Madam Toussaud’s, which I never understood), but definitely do the British Museum

      For more off the beaten trail things, if you’re a fan of brutalist architecture the Barbican Centre is good, also the location of the Museum of London. The Tate Modern is in a cool building with a nice view, a long visit if you like modern art but a quick fruitful visit even if you don’t. There’s always a large installation in the central space that’s worth seeing. If you’re jet lagged enough to be awake at odd hours, Smithfield market is a meat market serving the restaurant industry open in the very early morning.

    • The room in the British Museum that contains the Sutton Hoo treasure is the best collection of migration period jewelry I’ve ever seen, and it’s gorgeous stuff.

      The Museum of London is fun in part because it is closer to “daily living” historical objects than most museums.

      I used to enjoy the early morning London street markets, which tended to be antiques and lots of other things. But that was a long time ago and I don’t know if they are still there or, if so, would interest you.

    • Urstoff says:

      John Soane’s Museum is interesting because he was basically a rich, educated Georgian-era hoarder. Denis Severs’ House is also a great glimpse into life across the last 300 years. The British Museum is always incredibly, exhaustingly crowded. Ditto for the National Gallery. The Tate Modern is less crowded and worth a visit.

    • Matt M says:

      Honestly, one of the things I enjoyed the most was downloading a Rick Steves audio walking tour and simply wandering around the recommended route taking in some of the sights and hearing a bit of historical context.

    • LesHapablap says:

      London is the home of immersive theatre. When I was there last I did a Sherlock Holmes experience which was very intense. Don’t think that one is running any more, but check these out:
      Immersive Theatre London

    • bean says:

      HMS Belfast is in London. I haven’t been, but I’ve rarely seen museum ships of that prominence be bad. If it is, let me know.

  4. Plumber says:

    From “Is California a Good Role Model?“, a recent Thomas Edsall essay in The New York Times that seems almost tailor made for my obsessions of housing prices and that the current left/right labels don’t fit their historic meanings

    “…..This is a topsy-turvy debate,” Jonathan Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford, told me by email. “The left celebrates California’s rapid growth while turning a blind eye to its inequality. The right decries poverty and inequality while discounting rapid economic growth…..”,

    and I’m curious what SSC’ers think of it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’ll comment only on the Generation X aspects: Generation X did not “sit politics out”, nor will Generation X be taking the reigns from the Baby Boomers. Generation X is simply too small to matter. And knows it.

    • johan_larson says:

      Looks like there’s a new contender for the America of America. Compared to other rich countries the best of the US is really awesome but the worst of the US is some of the worst around. The same seems to be true for California with respect to the rest of the US, at least in economic terms.

      It’s odd and interesting that California has taken a left-wing path to get there, though.

    • Matt M says:

      Since when did the right discount economic growth?

      I think the right’s position vis-a-vis economic growth in California is that it has occurred in spite of, not because of, progressive policies, and that with a freer market, it would have grown even faster.

    • arlie says:

      Interesting. The Edsall essay seems plausible as a free standing essay, without checking on critical reactions and other people’s opinions.

      One thing missing from discussion of politics as it relates to housing costs is those older Californians who’ve retired in place, having bought houses well before prices became stratospheric, with their real estate tax burden set based on their original purchase price. I don’t know how large that group is currently, or what their class background looked like before retirement. But when I first moved into this area 20 years ago, it had a lot of retired working class people in that category.

      I didn’t read the other essay. I looked at the two diagrams at the start, and decided it was probably basically wrong, and not especially new either. (It seems to equate right=religious; left=irreligious, and make that its central message. That’s been claimed for decades, generally by right wing people whose religious expression centered on punishing “bad” people, with a side order of despising critical thinking, fact checking, etc. The “Moral Majority” would be an early example.)

      Going back to Edsall though – yes, that’s California. But if the other piece is remotely correct, then there’s a need to discuss the proportion of immigrants who aren’t Christian, and don’t come from cultures with a Christian default. The most rabid atheist I know comes from India, and his go-to examples of religious absurdity cite the Hindu nationalist party … unlike home-grown American atheists. In my part of California, it’s likely that somewhere around 1/3 of the techies or their parents come from non-Christian countries. That’s going to have a big influence on the kind of Christian who feels persecuted when their religious holidays aren’t primary; I suspect a lot of them have moved to other parts of the US in consequence. (Meanwhile, I happily celebrate whatever my coworkers consider to be a good excuse for a party ;-))

      This would be less true in Hollywood, or in non-urban areas – but it seems all agree that the Democrats are an urban coalition. So how much of their popularity in California comes from lots of people not being Christian, and not expecting their neighbours to be Christian either?

      • Plumber says:

        In my immediate neighborhood only the few of us with grey hair (who mostly are of working class backgrounds) mow their own lawn, the younger homeowners (who mostly work in “Tech” or for the University) have Spanish speaking workers mow their lawns for them.
        There’s a definite age and class divide.

  5. AliceToBob says:

    I recently had a conversation with a friend about whether or not Muslims (both in the West, or elsewhere) differ greatly from the general population in Western countries on any key cultural issues. I seem to recall there being discussion of these issues by the likes of Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, but having looked at the data, I find myself reluctant to draw strong conclusions from this.

    I’m aware of the Gallup “Coexist” poll from 2009 which supports the claim that Muslims differ from the general public on their acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, and sex out of wedlock. I’m also aware of the Pew poll from 2013 regarding some troubling statistics on killing apostates (and other issues).

    Yet, I cannot seem to locate any trustworthy polling data since 2013. I can imagine that the numbers on homosexuality have shifted, for example, to be more accepting; this has been the trend in the Western world in general. And I would appreciate any polling data that corroborates or contradicts the 2013 Pew results.

    Does anyone have any links to relevant data? I would rather go to the source (and not read news articles about the data).

    • Machine Interface says:

      I seem to recall a methological problem with these polls is that in order to find “Muslims”, they mostly questioned people exiting mosques after prayer — which would tend to skew the population interrogated toward more conservative Muslims and not be representative of the community as a whole.

      • AliceToBob says:

        @ Machine Interface

        For the Gallup poll, I don’t see evidence of this. Their methodology page states this wrt the data collection on British and German Muslims:

        Face-to-face interviews were conducted with British Muslims, aged 18 and older, during July 2008 in England, Wales, and Scotland in areas where the Muslim population was 5% or more based on the 2001 British census. Data collection resulted in 504 completed interviews. Face-to-face interviews followed random route protocols* within assigned primary sampling units (PSUs) to ensure that a representative population of Muslims living in neighborhoods with at least 5% Muslim penetration was obtained.

        The German Muslim population was interviewed via phone using RDD**, focusing on high probability responses from a database of Muslim first names and family names.

        The French data was disappointingly vague. I will get back to the Pew data later today and see if what you claim is true.

        * Undefined terminology in the survey, but appears to be an established algorithm for sampling. From Survey Methods in Multinational, Multiregional, and Multicultural Contexts, by Harkness et al., page 540 (found online).

        The random route procedure works as follows: From a known starting point, interviewers, beginning with the back to the starting point, go to the right, and count three (or five in some countries) households; the hitf household counted is selected for an interview and called Main House No.1. Unless refused, three attempts are made to obtain an interview. In remote rural areas, only two attempts are made. The second attempt is later the same day …

        ** RDD = random digital dial

    • I’m aware of the Gallup “Coexist” poll from 2009 which supports the claim that Muslims differ from the general public on their acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, and sex out of wedlock.

      Suppose that instead of comparing contemporary Americans to contemporary Muslims, you compared contemporary Americans to Americans c. 1950. I expect you would find that the two groups differed on those issues, perhaps by as much as modern Muslims differ from modern Americans. Which suggests that such attitudes may not be very stable over time.

      • Matt M says:

        Which suggests that such attitudes may not be very stable over time

        For Americans, at least.

        Do we have any particular reason to believe cultural attitudes among Muslims have also shifted significantly in the last 50 years?

        Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to have changed its opinions on homosexuality to the same extent the US has…

        • Gazeboist says:

          Saudi Arabia has a significantly different political apparatus which among other things enforces a particular conservative brand of Islam on its citizens because that philosophy is favored by the ruling family. Tunisia and Lebanon are probably better places to check, based on the discussion in the ACC entry.

          “Muslims” and “citizens of [repressive Muslim-majority nation]” are not populations that you can freely generalize between.

      • AliceToBob says:

        @ DavidFriedman

        Yes, attitudes on these issues may change greatly over short periods of time within a group. But comparing Americans as you propose may not be generalizable since the degree to which secularism plays a role in revising attitudes is probably significant.

        There appears to be a general argument floating out there that a large majority of Muslims possess cultural values which are incompatible with American society, and that this should be a consideration in immigration policy.

        In the past, I’ve found this argument plausible. But now looking into the polling data, I’m disappointed to find the supporting data (that I can locate) looks squishy.

        I’d be interested in any non-partisan polling data on (1) to what extent does this argument rest on sound data? And (2) do Muslims that hold such views develop more tolerant attitudes when they immigrate to the US?*

        * I used Western countries/society before. That seems too broad in an already very broad question.

    • dndnrsn says:

      You’re going to miss a lot if you don’t break this down by country. I’d predict quite a gap between Muslims in North America and Muslims in Europe, with some variation from place to place in Europe too. One sees discussions of the US where numbers are taken from European polling, or vice versa, which is deceptive.

      • AliceToBob says:

        @ dndnrsn

        Yes, I’d be happy with polling data that makes such distinctions (the polling data I mentioned does break things down by country in many cases).

        The main challenge is finding additional polling data that corroborates or disputes what I’ve already found. I’m puzzled as to why Gallup and Pew have not done any followup studies, or, if they have, why I can’t locate those materials easily. Hence the posting asking for help.

  6. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/tide-detergent-drugs-2013-1/

    Tide detergent is being stolen. A lot.

    It gets sold back to retail stores who are low on Tide for some reason.

    Article also has history of Tide detergent and why people are loyal to it.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Tide detergent, baby formula, and a few other such items form an informal black market currency set in many poorer areas of the country, as I understand it.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Are they actually currency? Are they used for trade for small transactions?

        • Gazeboist says:

          The linked article claims Tide is directly tradable for drugs at a better exchange rate than Tide -> cash -> drugs. It doesn’t say anything about other transactions.

          • albatross11 says:

            This seems implausible as hell. Dollars can be used to buy anything for sale at normal stores and prices. What would cause a drug dealer to prefer Tide to dollars?

          • Chalid says:

            It must be that Tide is easier to launder.

          • albatross11 says:

            “He was sent to prison for detergent laundering.”

          • Randy M says:

            “I know the perfect place for him, Robin.”
            “Where’s that Batman?”
            “In the Prison laundromat!”
            *BIFF!*
            “Well, looks like the Tides turning now!”

          • Thegnskald says:

            Tide is a durable dry good which we have no reason to expect to lose value or usefulness. It is also probably relatively easy to steal, but not so easy that the market would get flooded with it (you can’t carry much of it at a time). It isn’t tracked in a database, unlike many modern high-value items. And there aren’t laws against having a lot of it around, at least not yet, whereas money can get you in trouble.

            The weight and volume to dollar ratio looks like shit to me, though.

          • Matt M says:

            The weight and volume to dollar ratio looks like shit to me, though.

            Yeah, whiskey and cigarettes meet all the other criteria you list, while also being much better on this dimension…

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps Gillette razor blades? Although stores in low-income areas tend to secure those things as if they were solid gold.

          • Lambert says:

            So you’re saying I can arbitrage cash -> tide -> drugs -> cash?

          • Nornagest says:

            So you’re saying I can arbitrage cash -> tide -> drugs -> cash?

            Maybe, but at five bucks of arbitrage per Tide bottle, you’re not going to make a good living doing it unless you can get your drug dealer to buy Tide by the truckload.

          • Gazeboist says:

            So you’re saying I can arbitrage cash -> tide -> drugs -> cash?

            You’re also going to need to source your Tide from the people stealing it, not the stores themselves. The dealers only take the Tide because they can fence it back to the stores for a profit. So yeah, you could, and someone probably is, just not at the level necessary to bring the prices into alignment.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I’ve also heard that Tide is used as black market currency, but I suspect all such reports trace back to Nancy’s 2013 article (which is probably based on this 2012 article). Do you have some other source?

        Snopes is skeptical that there is even was a crime wave, but even if we believe everything in the articles, the use as currency might be limited to just a few places, like DC and Portland.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I don’t even remember my source, it has been a few years, so I can’t say if it is different.

          It wouldn’t surprise me, exactly, except that other items seem more useful as currency.

      • Björn says:

        Since the 2008 Chinese milk scandal, there is a demand for foreign baby formula in China. Foreign baby formula manufacturers have opened additional production plants for this demand, but there are Chinese who do not trust the baby formula that is officially imported into China. So there are both grey market exporters who buy baby formula in German stores, even providing proof that the specific box was bought in Germany by taking a photo in the store of the box and writing the child’s name on it. There are also professional criminals that specialize in stealing baby formula, who in the store disguise as middle class couples and who plan their thefts all over Germany.

  7. Thegnskald says:

    Weird mathy physics question:

    Suppose you have an infinite number of positively charged balls distributed evenly throughout an infinite plane.

    Would they spread out, Hilbert’s Grand Hotel-like, pushed apart by their repulsive charges?

    Or would they remain stationary, each locked in place by its neighbors?

    ETA: And if they remain stationary, would a perturbation cause them to spread out instead?

    • Aapje says:

      Is infinity expanding or is it a stable infinity? Assuming the latter, I would say locked in place.

      Also, you have a weird sex life.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I guess that is the question?

        My intuitions of what happens at a system level – expansion – conflict with what happens at a specific object level – stability.

        With relativity, we might be able to resolve the tension between the two intuitions by saying each object stays still, and relative to each ball everything else is moving away from it. But that sort of feels like a cop-out.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        Is infinity expanding or is it a stable infinity?

        Unless you’re taking General Relativity into consideration there’s no difference. An infinite plane is an infinite plane.

        If you are considering General Relativity, uh, I don’t know. There’s no gravity in 2+1D, IIRC, so I guess energy densities that tend towards infinity aren’t necessarily a problem, but I’m not at all sure whether there would be any valid solutions or not.

    • lvlln says:

      My intuition is that it would remain stationary. For one of the balls to start moving, it would need an imbalance of forces acting on it. But if it truly is an infinite number of balls (of equal positive charge) equally spaced, then for any given ball, it’s facing the exact same set of forces from every direction, because for every ball that’s pushing it in one direction, there’s one from the exact opposite direction pushing it with the exact same magnitude.

      • Thegnskald says:

        That is my intuition examining each ball individually.

        Examining the system as a whole, it is under considerable pressure to expand. I just don’t have an intuition of what that means. We could substitute in an infinite 3d space full of pressurized gas – would that spread out? Maybe? That seems like part of the description of the big bang.

        And examining the forces exerted -outward- by each ball, relativistically, everything else should be moving away.

        • quanta413 says:

          I’m pretty sure the force balancing method with an answer of “no motion” is correct. I think your intuition clash occurs because of how unstable the whole set up seems. Poke one ball, and everything is probably going to go straight to hell.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Remove one ball and almost nothing happens (all the balls feel a force towards the center, but no ball can take that center position due to symmetry). Double the charge of one ball and it all goes BOOM… but what happens when you stop the doubling? My intuition is that it should return to the initial state (assuming there’s no momentum — I think if there’s momentum and elastic collisions, the system will oscillate).

          • quanta413 says:

            Removing momentum is removing half the fun. Although we may just run straight into mathematical blow ups if we try to solve the system.

            A periodic oscillation would be a really surprising outcome of a perturbation to me. I would expect something more like chaotic behavior. Or just some sort of never-ending run off to infinity.

        • dick says:

          Examining the system as a whole, it is under considerable pressure to expand. I just don’t have an intuition of what that means.

          Infinity is usually counter-intuitive, but what’s relevant here is not really the infinite-ness of the plane, it’s the fact that there’s no edge. So, an equivalent but more intuitive scenario would be to imagine a finite number of point charges equally distributed on the 2D surface of a sphere. (Of course you’d need to ignore forces in the radial direction, and just look at how the charges move on the two dimensions of the sphere’s surface)

          In that scenario, it’s obvious that the charges will remain stationary, even when they’re under pressure to expand, because for any two charges to get further apart (relieving the pressure they feel) will push some other charges closer together. And if you change the expanding force to a contracting one, this is precisely what’s going on in an inflated balloon: each 1cm-by-1cm piece of the balloon is trying to contract, it wants to be smaller than 1 square cm, but can’t contract without further stretching some other 1cm-by-1cm part of the balloon to occupy even more than 1 square cm.

    • helloo says:

      I don’t think they can stay spreading out. One aspect of the infinite Hotel is that the forces to move are always unilateral – as in it’s not like they can refuse to move if too many people complain.

      However, for charges, the closer it is to other similar charges, the stronger the force – and it’s not like they have to all move outward to exert this force.
      So there might be some kind of wobbling/wave like action, but unlikely an “expansion” effect.

      EDIT: Actually, there could be a gradual expansion affect as the end result of greater spaced balls is lower than the initial. This though would still cause some back and forth (like a trampoline that gradually becomes more deformed). The question would be then if this converges or diverges.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Given that any expansion results in the release of potential energy as kinetic energy, if there is any expansion, I think it would become quite divergent pretty quickly.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m voting for stability.

      The infinite plane is dotted with an infinite number of spheres, and I think they both have the same sort of infinity. There’s no extra room for expansion.

    • Chalid says:

      Expands, for the usual physicist definition of infinity, which is (hand-wavingly) “what happens in the limit as the system gets very large.”

      If you consider a solid sphere of charges then every charge in it feels a force on it proportional to its distance from the center so the distance between adjacent charged particles expands uniformly with speed determined solely by the charge, spacing, and the mass of the particles. The rate at which these particles separate from their neighbors is independent of the size of the sphere; let the size of the sphere grow without limit and the same argument applies. (Ignoring magnetism, relativity, etc.)

    • quanta413 says:

      You can easily make a set up that is stationary and the charges are fixed on a lattice. Each repulsive force perfectly balanced by an opposite repulsive force.

      But my vague memory is that in the finite case, there are no dynamically stable electrostatic configurations. My intuition is that the same thing is probably true for the infinite case. So I think they should do… something if you perturb them.

      Rather than consider an infinity of charges, you may want to consider charges living on a toroidal space. Then you could simulate something like your set up. With the potential to try taking a limit to infinity by taking the size of the space to infinity. If you’re interested, I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at simulating that.

    • zzzzort says:

      There would be a negative pressure, e.g. increasing the total volume of the system would lower the energy. So it would expand, assuming the electrostatic force counterbalanced the gravitational force. This is very similar to the situation with dark energy (though people think the energy density of dark energy would be constant, while that of a field of charged objects would decrease with volume). Counterintuitively, this does not depend on there being space for the universe to expand into; it is possible for every point to move further away from every other point, called a metric expansion.

      • zzzzort says:

        As to the stability, sufficiently cold lattices of like charged particles are stable, the jargon is coulomb crystal. At lower density/higher temperature/lower charge per particle they will behave as a liquid, and then a gas.

      • Thegnskald says:

        That sounds vaguely like “There is a conversion factor between space and energy”, given that the energy available decreases, while the space increases.

        (My objections to this, based on vacuum energy meaning this violates conservation, falter somewhat as I reacquaint myself with zero point energy, and it appears energy conservation laws may not apply anyways. Groan. Another rabbit hole to go down.)

        • zzzzort says:

          Energy conservation definitely doesn’t apply at cosmological scales (so many lies I’ve told to undergraduates), with the hand wavey explanation of energy conservation is equivalent to time translation invariance, and we know the universe isn’t time translation invariant. Dark energy violates energy conservation, and in more or less the same way.

      • dick says:

        Counterintuitively, this does not depend on there being space for the universe to expand into; it is possible for every point to move further away from every other point, called a metric expansion.

        I don’t think this is a fair sort of thing to say about a hypothetical problem like this. It is possible for every point in a volume of space to get farther away from each other, if that volume is expanding, but there’s no reason to assume the infinite 2D plane described in the problem can or would expand. It’s a made-up thing for a homework problem that cannot exist in the real world; it behaves however the homework problem says it behaves.

        • zzzzort says:

          The space would expand if it were described by the physics that we know in our universe, if general relativity holds true. But if it were a classical system, then I guess it comes down to how you treat the infinities in the problem.

          The analogy to the Hilbert Hotel (and the form of the question), seems to imply that expansion should be possible as long as the type of infinity doesn’t change, where the process of mapping old room numbers to new room numbers is replaced by mapping old sphere coordinates to new coordinates (which seems a lot like a metric expansion). Since such a mapping exists, and it would result in lower energy, it seems like it would happen. But the mechanics are a bit uncertain, because there’s not a well defined theory of how this space works.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            I think in context we can safely assume that the OP meant either Euclidean space or Minkowski space. At least, I hope so: I don’t have a clue what exactly would happen in GR. We’d need to actually do the math.

          • dick says:

            The space would expand if it were described by the physics that we know in our universe, if general relativity holds true.

            Wouldn’t that depend on how massive the balls are? I find it hard to think about an infinite 2D plane in the first place.

            The more I think about it, the more I suspect that the phrase “evenly distributed” is inherently ambiguous when discussing an infinite number of things on an infinite plane, in the same sense that “simultaneously” is an ambiguous thing to say in a question about relativity. For all we know, every ball is already infinitely far from its nearest neighbor…

          • Thegnskald says:

            Short version, I am trying to figure out if “metric expansion” is equivalent to Hilbert Hotel expansion. Or rather, if Hilbert Hotel expansion is something that can replace metric expansion at cosmological constant scales.

            The version of my crackpot theory I had when I was 15ish involved space being constantly created and destroyed. I abandoned that as unnecessary a while back; a simple density distribution works.

            But I am starting to try to formalize things at this point, and the difference might matter. My crackpot theory has no room for metric expansion (at least the unbounded sort, it has lots of bounded expansion and compression, as it is basically relativistic); I can probably fit “Space can be created and destroyed” back in under certain fringe cases of high spacial distortion, however. But it is all irrelevant if Hilbert Hotel expansion works perfectly fine, so that is my preferred solution.

            I had hoped somebody would have a clever mathematical trick to say what would happen; it appears that the infinities involved break everything, and I don’t know how to correctly specify the problem framework.

            It turned into a fun discussion, though, and I enjoyed the responses.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Having thought on it a little more since writing that response, I am thinking now there isn’t actually a difference between metric expansion and Hilbert Hotel expansion, as far as relativity goes. I keep making the mistake of confusing coordinates with space; relativity shouldn’t distinguish between “There is now more space between everything because new space was created” and “There is now more space between everything because everything moved apart”, I don’t think, since it doesn’t care where the space “came from”.

          • dick says:

            I don’t know what “Hilbert Hotel expansion” means. Hilbert’s Hotel is a counting trick, a way of comparing different infinite numbers to each other, it’s not a physical process that would happen.

            Metric expansion definitely does happen, but it is not really related to infinity, and furthermore I don’t think it’s related to your original question. I think that what you really want to know is whether the point charges you described would drift apart just due to the electrostatic charges; metric expansion of space, if it happens, will make everything in it drift away from everything else, regardless of how they’re arranged or whether they hold a charge or whatever.

          • Thegnskald says:

            dick –

            Hilbert Hotek expansion would be indistinguishable from metric expansion – after some period of time, everything would look identical, in that everything is further apart.

            The difference is that Hilbert Hotel expansion only requires the particles interact with one another in order to get this result; metric expansion requires interaction with, well, the metric. It requires that the force between the particles also acts on the coordinate system.

            Hilbert Hotel expansion is unbounded; the particles will continue spreading out forever in that case.

            Metric expansion can be bounded or unbounded. My crackpot model assumes bounded metric expansion, and specifically assumes that the metric is (mostly) conserved. (So gravity implies the cosmological constant; denser space here requires thinner space there.). Zort’s other comment reminded me that energy and metric expansion are freely convertible, however – my crackpot model might already be doing this, I cannot figure out the math – which renders the exercise largely moot, as Hilbert Hotel expansion becomes equivalent to metric expansion.

          • dick says:

            I don’t think you’ve quite got a handle on this. Hilbert Hotel expansion is a thought experiment about the techniques you might use if you chose to move things – it’s not a mechanism by which things move. For it to take place, you would have to physically pick up ball N and put it in slot N+1 (or 2N, or N^2, or whatever). Are you using “Hilbert Hotel expansion” as shorthand for something? If so it might be instructive to try to define that thing clearly.

            Metric expansion, while the balls don’t technically move, is a literal physical process by which they do get farther apart. It’s not a thought experiment, we can observe it happening to stars. But as I said, I don’t think it’s the answer you’re looking for. You asked, “Suppose you have an infinite number of positively charged balls distributed evenly throughout an infinite plane. Would they spread out, Hilbert’s Grand Hotel-like, pushed apart by their repulsive charges?” If metric expansion took place they would indeed spread out, but it wouldn’t resemble Hilbert’s Hotel and it wouldn’t be due to their charge.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dick –

            To try to explain, Hilbert’s Hotel describes a characteristic of infinities: You can “create” empty spaces in an infinite set just by moving things around, without actually creating anything. You don’t need to build new hotel rooms, just shuffle occupants away from the room you need vacated.

            A metric expansion would be the equivalent of constructing new hotel rooms between existing hotel rooms.

            In one sense, the two cases are equivalent, as the end result is the same. In another, however, the mechanisms of creating rooms and moving occupants require different relationships with the system, and have different implications for how you go about modeling that system. (But at this point I have concluded that the two models would end up being isomorphic with one another; it doesn’t really matter how you model it, the end result looks basically the same.)

            Also, unrelated to this specific conversation: The symmetry that I suspect gives rise to metric conservation is a scalar symmetry. It is pretty much the core of my crackpot nonsense. Currently trying to formalize this enough to determine whether it is worth spending the next three years developing the skillset to finish formalizing it.

          • dick says:

            Hilbert’s Hotel describes a characteristic of infinities: You can “create” empty spaces in an infinite set just by moving things around, without actually creating anything. You don’t need to build new hotel rooms, just shuffle occupants away from the room you need vacated.

            Yes, I understand, but it’s still a thing you could do, not a thing that will happen.

            Consider a marble in a cereal bowl. Where will you find it? At the bottom of the bowl, because that’s the state of lowest energy. But what you’re saying is akin to, “Hey, it would be in an even lower energy state it if was on the floor.” That’s true, but just because you can imagine a state it wants to be in doesn’t mean it will necessarily reach that state; some force still has to do work on the marble to move it out of the cereal bowl.

            Same thing here: you can say, “Hey, Hilbert’s thought experiment suggests that this infinite array of charges could be rearranged in such that it would be in a lower energy state.” I’m not totally convinced that’s true, but supposing for the moment it is definitely true, it still doesn’t follow that the balls will start moving to that configuration. For any ball to move there needs to be a net force acting on it, and (it seems to me) that if you calculate the net force on any ball in the scenario you described, it’ll be zero.

            Also, unrelated to this specific conversation: The symmetry that I suspect gives rise to metric conservation is a scalar symmetry. It is pretty much the core of my crackpot nonsense.

            I don’t really know what you mean by metric conservation in this context. There’s definitely a point in discussing theoretical physics where analogies won’t take you any further and you have to switch to equations, and seems likely that you’ve reached it. How’s your DiffEQ? (Mine’s terrible, which is why I left physics for software)

          • Thegnskald says:

            Got an A in differential equations, IIRC. It has been a decade, though, and I don’t remember much of it, not having used it since – maybe thermodynamics? I don’t recall clearly if I even used it there, mostly I remember endless lookup tables from that class.

            But yeah, analogies have a limited run; they are mostly useful for communicating, and pretty lossy there. Hence our conversation; I am not literally thinking of the hotel, it is just a quick way of representing the concept I am actually thinking of, which is harder to convey.

            I’d use Xeno’s Paradox to describe how I think of the Big Bang, likewise. It doesn’t convey the weirdness resulting from a continual-collapse-upward-in-scale that my model probably predicts, but it might do a good job conveying what a fractal view of the universe means in terms of an “origin point”.

            ETA:

            Metric conservation means the sum total of spacial distortion arising from relativistic forces should be zero. My model has concentric spheres of relativistic distortion, originating from white holes (which are what a black hole ends up looking like after accumulating enough mass, in a model with concentric spheres of distortion – get enough mass and eventually the sphere outside gravity is an event horizon pushing things away, rather than in, stabilizing mass). Each sphere had a reversed polarity from its neighbors, and spacial density is just being scrunched up in bands; the total metric density is unchanged. (Except possibly within the white hole itself. Not sure there. Don’t know how to think about what goes on inside a singularity.)

    • AnarchyDice says:

      They would be locked in, but any perturbation would ripple outward throughout the infinite array of charges, oscillating endlessly unless there is friction in the system somewhere. Not sure how the harmonics would work out in an infinite array of lossless particles. Couldn’t you theoretically find any harmonic within that ripple by choosing a subset of points?

    • smocc says:

      First, the system is clearly unstable if the plane lives in 3D. As soon as one charge gets slightly above or below the plane it experiences a huge repulsive force in the perpendicular direction. You can get around this by imagining a 2D universe or filling 3D space with a regular lattice of charges.

      Second, there are two contradictory answers depending on how you approach the problem. If you look at forces, each individual charge feels zero net force because of the symmetry of the system and so will not accelerate. If you look at energy you can argue that increasing the lattice spacing will decrease the energy and so the lattice should expand.

      My current thinking is that the energy reasoning is flawed; the total energy of the system is formally infinite and so you can’t use its gradient to figure out the behavior of the system.

      If you make the lattice finite the two approaches agree. The charges on the edge of the lattice experience a net force and the lattice expands, and expanding the finite lattice decreases the energy, which is now calculable.

      This is often a problem with posing physics questions about infinite systems. Treating an infinite system as a limit of finite systems doesn’t always work, so you have to pose your questions carefully.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        The “adding up the forces” reasoning is flawed because that only works when using the conventional boundary condition for the electromagnetic field, and in this situation you can’t.

        (Even for the simplest possible problems, e.g., two charges, you need the boundary condition to rule out the possibility that there’s also an electromagnetic wave acting on the charges.)

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Strictly speaking the question is ill-formed, because you haven’t specified boundary conditions for the electromagnetic field and the usual convention (electric field tending to zero at infinity) is incompatible with your premise.

      However, I don’t think there are any solutions in which the balls remain stationary. The idea that the electric fields from the charges would all cancel out is incompatible with Gauss’s Law.

      The simplest solution would have a single point at which the electric field is zero. The ball at that point would remain stationary, and all the others would accelerate away from it. The further away from the center, the more acceleration, so the distance between any two balls would always be increasing.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        PS: I was assuming a 2D universe. If the balls form a 2D plane embedded in a 3D universe then I think that has a stationary solution in addition to the one I describe, though as smocc already pointed out it would only be meta-stable.

      • Thegnskald says:

        …huh. So… we set the boundary to be our perspective origin, basically?

        ETA:
        Incidentally, this might be exactly the sort of clever mathematical trick I was looking for. Still trying to process it.

        I am a bit puzzled trying to work out how the infinite speed at infinite distance works; that looks like metric expansion, even though we don’t have metric expansion involved in the solution here.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          The acceleration increases as you get further away from the center because the electric field increases as you get further away from the center. That’s part of the initial state of the system, but Gauss’s law restricts how much leeway you have when choosing that initial state.

          Again, this is only true in a 2D universe. In the case of a charged 2D plane embedded in an otherwise empty 3D universe, and assuming the charges are constrained to remain on the plane, there’s a simple solution where they remain stationary. I’m not sure whether or not there is also a solution where they accelerate. I’d have to actually sit down and do the math for that one.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            I’m not sure whether or not there is also a solution where they accelerate.

            I gave this a bit more thought. Technically, I think you can describe a legitimate initial state where the electric field is pushing the charges apart (analogous to the 2D universe solution) but it requires a rapidly changing magnetic field, i.e., you’re basically just prefilling the universe with powerful electromagnetic radiation and letting that push the charges apart, which doesn’t really count.

            It seems more sensible to assert, as John Schilling suggested, that the charges are initially being held in place, and require the electromagnetic field to be static under those conditions. That leads to a unique solution, the one in which the charges remain stationary even when released. (Though as previously mentioned, they’re only meta-stable in the dimension perpendicular to the plane.)

    • John Schilling says:

      If you instantly create(*) a uniform finite lattice of point charges, charges in the interior of the lattice will not move until an expansion wave reaches them from the surface of the lattice. The expansion wave will move at near c (exactly c in the low-density limit), so this is significant only in very large charged structures. But if your structure is literally infinite, the expansion wave will never arrive and the charges will never move. I think.

      The configuration is at best neutrally stable, and as others have pointed out is quite unstable if the lattice is planar but the charges are free to move in three dimensions.

      * Or slowly assemble in a rigid framework and then instantly and simultaneously release, which leads to the same initial condition with fewer conservation-law violations.

  8. johan_larson says:

    Why college in America is so expensive:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/09/why-is-college-so-expensive-in-america/569884/

    – no central control of prices
    – competition for wealthy students
    – poor choices by unsophisticated customers
    – relatively high earnings disparity between workers with and without college

    I thought this part was interesting:

    In places where higher education has not been gutted and the cost of living is low, an American college degree can still be a bargain—especially for students who don’t mind living at home and are poor enough to qualify for federal aid. Taking into account living expenses, … a student at a public university in Mississippi will likely end up with similar out-of-pocket costs as a student in Sweden.

    … the most obvious question: the affordability of college based on the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses divided by the median income in a given country. By this metric, the U.S. does very poorly, ranking third from the bottom. Only Mexico and Japan do worse.

    But the U.S. moves up one place when grants and tax credits are included. … Tuition is higher in the U.S., so the grants don’t fully cover the price, but 70 percent of full-time students do receive some kind of grant aid, according to the College Board. From this perspective, sometimes called “net cost,” Australia is more expensive than the U.S.

    Next, looking only at our public colleges, the U.S. rises higher still, ranking in the middle of the pack in Usher’s analysis, above Canada and New Zealand. … “The public system in the U.S. is working as well as most systems,” he says. “Parts of the U.S. look like France.”

    • baconbits9 says:

      Not to defend the US system, but why would you compare something to France and say “oh good, its working well”? They have an UE rate of 9%+ a decade after the great recession started and I’ve seen claims that the UE rate for recent college graduates is 11%.

      • johan_larson says:

        I haven’t read the underlying analysis the article refers to, but I would guess that the french universities are relatively affordable compared to the US university system as a whole. I don’t think they were concerned with the quality of the schools, only their affordability. The point here is that the US public university system is reasonably affordable.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The problem is not “no central control of prices” (how that’s supposed to help I have no idea). The problem is the limitless free money pouring into the system. I’ll take the opportunity to repost an essay I wrote about the subject several years ago.

      —-

      I can’t blame the universities for the mess the higher education system is in. They’re just responding to market forces. Really, everybody is. It’s just that the market has been circumvented by a well-meaning government.

      The problem is that unlimited money is flowing into the higher educational system and there is no negative feedback loop to limit it. It’s just one big positive feedback loop driving up attendance and cost.

      1) Take as a given that “you have to go to college or else you’ll have a shitty job.” More on this later. The number of students going to college has been steadily increasing since forever. Part of this is because of the nature of our increasingly specialized and technical world, and partly due to social changes, like the progress made by women and minorities. I’m not in any way implying that’s bad, I’m just saying there are more people going to school.

      2) The government first issued direct loans to poor students in 1958. This method upset congress, though, because from a budgetary standpoint it showed as a loss the year the loan was issued, even though it would be paid back later. Instead, from 1965-2010, the government guaranteed student loans made by private lenders. If the student defaulted, the government would make the lender whole. This makes the rule that student loan debt cannot be discharged by bankruptcy especially petty. The lenders were at no risk, anyway. From 1993 on the government also issued loans directly. Also, as time has gone on, loans have become increasingly easy to obtain. Originally only poor students who could show financial need qualified for government-backed loans, but those requirements were dropped in the 80s.

      3) Since there is no risk to the private lender, there is no incentive not to grant any loan request. As for government loans, there’s no political will to deny students seeking money for education. So, there’s no brake on the money flowing into the system. And the lenders aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong here. There have been some scandals involving kickbacks to schools, but it’s mostly unnecessary as people are lining up for these loans. Why would the lender say no? They’d just get called out for ruining some kid’s dream of an education.

      4) If the lender had to take a risk, they would be careful about issuing loans. Today a D student seeking a degree that might land him a $30k/year job (if he’s lucky) can get a loan for $40k. With risk involved, the lender would consult actuarial tables. What are the student’s chances of completing the degree? What are his chances of getting a job? What’s his expected income? What’s the chance of default? No such brake exists. (Note, I’m not saying degrees not tied to a high-paying job are worthless. More on this later).

      5) Without the loan, the D student would go learn a trade, instead, or get a job that doesn’t require a degree, like say work in a call center (yes, I’m aware of the current situation in which ads for low-level jobs like call center work have starting requiring degrees. It’s part of the loop and I’ll get to it later). A student seeking a degree that costs more than what’s reasonable given their earning potential would also be turned away (this would be an incentive to keep tuition costs down. If liberal arts students can’t get loans, your school doesn’t get their money).

      6) Since the number of students and amount of money they can borrow is unbounded, there’s no incentive to keep tuition costs down.

      7) How are students with options deciding what school to attend? We would hope they would decide based on the quality of the education, but that’s difficult to measure objectively. Generally it just has to be “good.” Also, many students don’t know what they want to major in when they arrive, anyway, so it’s difficult to make a decision based on the quality of a program. As long as they’re reasonably confident in the quality of the education, they’re making their decision based on amenities. How nice are the dorms? The recreational facilities? How pretty is the campus?

      8) College administrators need to attract students to their schools. It’s their job. Since students are making decisions based on the facilities, they improve the quality of the facilities. And they’re in competition with other schools for the $40,000 checks the students are walking in with. They’re going to spend it somewhere. Might as well be here. When I went to [university in a southern US state] in the late 90s when tuition was a quarter what it is now, we still had dorms without air conditioning. In [very hot state]. Six story walk-up buildings with concrete floors, dual-occupancy rooms the size of prison cells with metal beds, communal showers, one stove for the floor, and you’d all have to take turns scrubbing toilets. Today the new dorms look like condos, with private rooms and carpeting and bathrooms and recreation rooms and janitorial services. There have been huge expansions to the recreation centers and the student union. There’s a “wellness center” now. And since the budgets are so flush, there’s room for each department to get a little taste. There’s a nice new glass and steel building for the parking administration instead of the trailer they had when I went here.

      9) Since the new facilities cost more to build and maintain, plus there are new employees to maintain and administer to these buildings, tuition must increase. But it’s no problem because the students have no trouble getting larger loans. This doesn’t happen over night, but slowly over two decades. If a liberal arts degree used to cost $10k and the college tried to bump that to $15k and lenders had to make decisions about default rates, they might balk. Enrollment would drop, and the administrators would know this, so perhaps the amenities wouldn’t be improved quite so much and the cost of that degree would stay reasonable. There’s a common refrain on the Internet that you have to get a STEM degree because liberal arts degrees are worthless. That’s crap. Liberal arts degrees are not worthless. But they’re not worth $40,000. If it weren’t for the unlimited money flowing into the system, that degree would still cost an affordable $10k. This is troubling, because we need anthropologists and art history majors and all that for a functioning society, but people pursuing these degrees may be unable to repay their loans. If they stop pursuing these degrees, who will curate our museums?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        10) “But couldn’t they spend that money on improving education instead?” Why? If you double a professor’s salary, is he going to teach better? And there’s supply and demand. There is a huge glut of Ph.D.s competing for jobs. Are more students going to come to your school because you pay the teachers more? No. They come for the amenities, and now colleges have turned into “education resorts.”

        11) You can’t blame students for considering amenities when choosing a school. If it’s going to cost you $40k no matter where you go, and the education will be of similar quality, why not go to the school with the nicer dorms? It’s rational.

        12) And you can’t blame the college for improving facilities. If you’re the Director of Student Housing, do you want to build shitty dorms, or nice dorms? And the students will like them, and pay for them. Everybody’s happy. Why not? Multiply that incrementally across all aspects of college across decades. No one snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche.

        13) “But these are public universities! Non-profits!” There’s a common misconception that “non-profit” means “charity.” It does not. It just means you have trustees instead of shareholders, and the “profits” go to the employees and to improvements in the organization rather than being dispersed to shareholders. If you work at a non-profit, you still absolutely want every dollar possible flowing into your organization. It pays your salaries and pays for your benefits and expands your facilities. If you work for a non-profit, do you not still want a high salary? Good benefits? A nice place to work? Would you keep around a CEO who has no interest in expanding and improving the organization? And those things take money.

        14) Since no one is turned away at the start, you now have lots more people with degrees. That call center job that the D student back in step 5 should have taken now “requires” a degree. You don’t need a degree to do the job, but you need one to get the job. Why? Well, the hiring manager at the call center gets ten applicants for a job. Seven of these people have degrees. Why would you hire one of the three who doesn’t? Ideally there should be concern about an underemployed employee leaving, but in this market that’s less likely, and the hiring manager may not be a rocket scientist anyway. And if she hires one of the people without a degree and they turn out to be a screw-up, the boss wants to know why, reviews the hiring manager’s procedures and says, “Wait, you had seven people with 4-year degrees apply, and you picked the drop-out? You’re fired!” She’s got to cover her ass, so now that call center job requires a degree.

        15) 18-year-olds read these horror stories. “If I don’t have a degree, I can’t even get a job at a call center! I better go to college. $45k now? Well, whatever it takes…” And we’re right back to step 1.

        I don’t know how to fix it. The cost of maintaining all the new buildings and services at our resort colleges is so high now, administrators couldn’t lower tuition if they wanted to. I guess they’d have to shutter the Wellness Center? Fire the janitors at the new dorms? Close down part of the rec center and the student union? It’s not going to happen. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

        And it sucks because if you just want an education but don’t care about the amenities, what can you do? You can’t opt out. “No, I’m only paying the part of my tuition that goes for education, and I just won’t use the rec center.” If you want an education, you’re stuck paying for the massive overhead of the resort and the administration.

        The only thing I can think of is perhaps a philanthropic billionaire might want to endow a new university that emphasizes no-frills, high quality education. You could double teacher salaries and get the best and the brightest (it would be cheap, too, because the competition is paying them peanuts). Bring back the low-rent dorms with the communal showers. But make the education really world-class and attract the best and most serious students.

        Or perhaps online universities, but there’s a host of other problems with that paradigm.

        Oh and yes, I neglected to mention the deep cuts in state funding to higher education. In my state we’re down about 50% in state funding since 2008. But while cuts have increased the price of tuition, state funding doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of college. If the state used to pay half your tuition and now it pays none, that doesn’t change the fact the college has spent millions on facilities and services. It’s the free money pouring into the system that’s created the problem. Giving colleges more free money won’t make things better, it’ll just encourage them to spend more. There is a floor to government funding, but there is no ceiling to college spending.

        You gotta starve the beast. Otherwise costs will continue to soar and young people will be perpetually chained to debt. I don’t envy kids these days. I walked out of school with a Master’s debt free 12 years ago (helps I had scholarships and helpful parents). I don’t know what I’d do if I were saddled with $40k+ today. Good luck and God bless.

        • Matt M says:

          And it sucks because if you just want an education but don’t care about the amenities, what can you do? You can’t opt out. “No, I’m only paying the part of my tuition that goes for education, and I just won’t use the rec center.” If you want an education, you’re stuck paying for the massive overhead of the resort and the administration.

          Perhaps this is the solution. There’s no reason why someone couldn’t design a university this way, where basic tuition covered learning-related activities exclusively, and everything else was tied to opt-in additional fees.

          I mean, I grew up in a college town where their student union was open to the public, and when I was in high school, we would go there sometimes for bowling, arcade games, and fast food. They charged us cash at similar rates you’d expect to any other bowling alley, arcade, or mcdonalds. There’s no reason they couldn’t charge the students cash, too.

          But perhaps that’s because kids are generally bad at finance and economics (well, so are adults, but they often are forced to learn by poor experiences). Maybe a mandatory high school class called “the economics of college” where at least 50% of the course is taught by a Caplan-inspired person making a case against going, even for the smart and capable.

          If the public schools won’t do that, maybe there’s a role for private college consultants. Not in the “I help you get admitted” sense but in the “I help you do this smartly” sense. Basically, someone to play the role of the (as you say, absent in this scenario) responsible adult in the room whose job is to analyze the ROI of the proposed investment. Upper class well-educated parents can probably do this well enough, but too many of the 1st/2nd generation college going youth don’t have parents well equipped to do it. My sister was told “pick whatever school you want” and got a useless liberal arts degree from an expensive private school. Neither myself (back then) nor my parents knew enough to give her any better advice.

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps a solution is an ultra-selective university (by grades or an IQ test) started by old-school lefties (like the Weinstein brothers) who actually care about the lower classes.

          • Randy M says:

            If the public schools won’t do that, maybe there’s a role for private college consultants.

            That’s a good idea. I wonder if the people who need it could afford it, though–seems like the service would tend to be used by umc/uc for their children to get an extra edge. If you can afford to pay money to save money, do you need to?

            What are the essential pointers such a lesson should impart to an above average but not to the point of benefiting from Ivy League connections young person?
            -If you don’t get scholarships, start at a community college and transfer (?)
            -Take a full load of courses and be sure to graduate in four years.
            -Take a major that will directly help you economically–there will be room in your schedule for an elective or two that interests you but your diploma should be a selling point, not something you have to explain away.
            -Don’t let extra curricular activities jeopardize graduation (or sanity).
            -Do take time to network for a variety of purposes.
            -Buy books used. Get a roommate or two. Work a summer job. Put nothing on loans you don’t have to.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s a good idea. I wonder if the people who need it could afford it

            I (clearly) haven’t worked out the details, but I was thinking of some sort of commission-based model. Perhaps paid by the school, similar to how a home seller pays the commission of the buyer’s realtor. Maybe the consultant advertises that his fee is “10% of the money I save you.” Maybe it gets paid over time rather than all up-front. Lots of possibilities here.

            What are the essential pointers such a lesson should impart to an above average but not to the point of benefiting from Ivy League connections young person?

            Most of the ones you mention are good. I was thinking the main role of the consultant would be less personal finance in general and more helping a student understand and pick from their options in terms of majors and specific schools. Most specifically, reviewing and scenario-planning future outcomes based on school, major, and available scholarships.

            The main benefit would be to push back on what I see as three major failure modes:

            1. Students who opt to go for the “best school they can get into” regardless of other factors (one of which might be that said school is 100k, while the second best school they got into is offering a free ride)

            2. Students who think any major at a “good school” is just as good – or, conversely, who rule out good programs for the major they are interested in because the overall school isn’t rated as highly

            3. Students who pick the school they “like best” without making an effort to quantify how much that’s worth to them, exactly (as in, yes, I appreciate that you really liked your tour of Expensive Private School and found it to be a more hospitable environment than Public State, but I want you to understand that this will cost you $100k, are you sure you liked it so much better that it’s worth that?)

            Basically, when it comes to evaluating college, it seems like the sensible thing to do is to have a detailed conversation regarding the pros and cons of every available option on at least four dimensions:

            1. Cost (after scholarships)
            2. Expected benefit (directly correlates with prestige of the school, most likely)
            3. Field of study (significant input into #2)
            4. Overall perception and enjoyment of the school

            As far as I can tell, a whole lot of high school students consider 1-2 of these factors only. Maybe 3 if they’re really smart. Hardly anyone considers all four. Virtually no one considers how the four interact with each other to create a discrete option set.

          • johan_larson says:

            A college degree should be some combination of cheap, prestigious, required for your career, and relevant to the work you will be doing (or relevant to whatever more advanced studies you plan to undertake.) The more of these criteria you can meet, the better. Don’t pay big money for a degree in literature to a second-tier school if you plan to become a police officer (where college is desirable, but not required).

            Also, how likely are you to do well at whatever you study? If you struggled in high school, it’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse. This is where something like the ASVAB can help, since it gives you a no-bullshit 1-100 indication of your current scholastic ability compared to others your age. If your AFQT is below 50, you almost certainly should not be going to college, and if it’s below 66 or so you’d better have a darn good reason because you are going to be one of the worst students at all but the crappiest colleges.

          • Randy M says:

            I (clearly) haven’t worked out the details, but I was thinking of some sort of commission-based model.

            Whereas I am looking for ways that I can profit from the idea, as my wife is a tutor of high school students.
            But also, I think a lot of people could benefit from sitting down an looking at their near and long term future with reason as well as optimism.
            (Is there a word for thinking that doesn’t exclude passions but also intentionally considers trade-offs? Holistically, maybe?)

          • Matt M says:

            “Holistic” might have too much emotional baggage in the context of college admissions. Good luck getting any Asian clients!

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Used textbooks aren’t likely to be available. A lot of textbooks are e-books with access codes that expire at the end of the semester.

            A few universities insist on open-access textbooks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have other student-friendly policies as well.

            https://www.cbsnews.com/news/whats-behind-the-soaring-cost-of-college-textbooks/

          • albatross11 says:

            There are a fair number of community colleges (where you can get the first two years of your degree, though they often end up working like an extension of high school), and also commuter colleges (where most of the students are commuting from home, so a lot of amenities aren’t really all that desirable). Both of these are much more like the no-frills education you’re describing.

          • Matt M says:

            Used textbooks aren’t likely to be available.

            I made it a point to ask professors if the textbooks would just have assigned readings, or if they would have homework problems.

            In the case of readings, you could almost always get away with purchasing a previous edition, often available on Amazon for $20 or less.

          • Matt says:

            Perhaps this is the solution. There’s no reason why someone couldn’t design a university this way, where basic tuition covered learning-related activities exclusively, and everything else was tied to opt-in additional fees.

            Isn’t this what an online degree does? You are (or are attempting at least) opting out of all the services the college offers except classes. No dorms, parking, campus, aquatic center, policing, wellness center, diversity office, etc.

            It’s likely that, currently, online classes are priced artificially high to help subsidize all the frills, but if online degrees could gain cache then schools would start to compete for students on price, and this may provide one possible path away from the mess colleges are in.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, but that limits you to the “no frills” market.

            What I’m proposing is more of an “exactly as many frills as you are willing to pay for” model.

            So the beautiful pristine campus with the climbing wall and the lazy river would still exist for those willing to pay* for them – while more budget-conscious students could attend the same classes on the same campus, but would have to pay cash to access those optional facilities.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            I think you’re underestimating the degree to which an increase in administration, rather than amenities, has increased tuition prices.

      • johan_larson says:

        The problem is not “no central control of prices” (how that’s supposed to help I have no idea).

        The way this works in Canada (I think? Not an expert.) is that colleges are in principle independent, but receive a significant subsidy per student from the government. In return for this subsidy, the government gets quite a bit of control over how universities conduct themselves, and one part of the deal is a limit on how much tuition can be charged directly to students. That’s why tuition in Canada is typically quite low.

        This means there is someone, namely the government, who has plenty of incentive to put a lid on the onward-and-upward tendency of who gets a college degree and how much gets paid for it. If they let colleges expand the student base too much, it hits the government budget directly, and if they let colleges charge too much tuition, they get to hear it from the voters.

        There are a few truly private colleges in Canada who don’t take the government subsidies, but they are tiny deeply Christian schools that basically don’t count.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Tuition is lower in Canada, but I don’t know that there’s less of a trend of jobs that should require a high school diploma instead requiring a university degree.

  9. Ceofy says:

    Does anyone remember reading a story in which there’s a ruling class and a working class, and the two classes become so separated that they become different species, and the kicker in the end is that the working class species ends up eating the ruling class species? I could have sworn I’d read this somewhere.

    • Urstoff says:

      The Time Machine, Morlocks and Eloi and whatnot?

    • Matt M says:

      This is roughly how things play out with the Mogu and the Pandaren in World of Warcraft, but I’m assuming that’s not what you mean.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m not sure that’s enough to narrow it down, but it sounds like the Time Machine with the Eloi and Morlocks. I don’t recall the ending cannibalism, it’s been awhile.

      edit: beat to the punch. Always remember, refresh before posting, then manually reset the prior comments since time and date to it’s previous setting.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yep, it’s The Time Machine, complete with cannibalism.

        • Peffern says:

          Mostly unrelated, but for me The Time Machine is in that category of famous popular science fiction (along with, say, Planet of the Apes) where I’ve never actually read it, but have seen so many parodies and spoofs that I feel like I know it pretty well.

          • Nornagest says:

            I haven’t read it in something like twenty-five years myself. I read a lot of early science fiction when I was growing up, mostly Wells and Verne.

            The cannibalism stuck with me, though, along with the scene at the end on a beach under a dying star, with nothing alive on earth except squirming crab-like critters. Might have contributed to my later love for the Dying Earth subgenre.

          • Bugmaster says:

            FWIW, the original book is quite a bit more political than the spoofs/remakes give it credit for.

          • James says:

            along with the scene at the end on a beach under a dying star, with nothing alive on earth except squirming crab-like critters.

            Yeah, best part of the book by far.

          • Plumber says:

            I re-read The Time Machine again last year, it’s a quick and easy read, and I recommend it.

            IIRC, Wells’ later When the Sleeper Awakes fills in some of how the world became divided between the Eloi and the Morlocks, but it’s been decades since I read that book.

            I only skimmed The Planet of the Apes, back in the eary 1980’s, and it didn’t leave much of an impression, and I haven’t seen the movie since the ’70’s.

  10. theredsheep says:

    Does anyone know why insulin is so expensive? I googled it and found an article on Forbes which concluded: there are multiple major manufacturers, so it’s not a monopoly. There are no shortages, and demand is pretty steady. They’re always coming up with newer and better versions, but even the old kinds have soaring prices now. So (their conclusion) … maybe Medicaid needs to negotiate harder?

    Was not impressed by that conclusion. What’s the real reason? It’s pretty horrifying if you’ve ever worked in a retail pharmacy (as I have) and seen poor patients wince and shell out hundreds for a dinky little box, after insurance. Because they’d die without it. Could the can’t-say-no aspect have a distorting effect on the market, d’you think?

    • johan_larson says:

      Medicare and Medicaid are specifically prohibited from negotiating drug prices, aren’t they?

      • Jacob says:

        Yes they are. So yes they do need to “negotiate harder” (or rather, we need them to) but they are legally prohibited from doing so. That would be simple to fix, but the healthcare lobby would hate it, so it hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen soon.

      • cassander says:

        Medicare and Medicaid don’t really negotiate prices with anyone. They set prices by a complicated procedure then people take or leave them. That said, I do believe medicare part D is prohibited from attempting to negotiate volume discounts.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          It seems weird to me that volume is the deciding factor. Caremark has 90 million people on its formularies. That’s more than every single nation in the EU. A major factor might be that if Caremark declines to carry a drug, ESI might carry it, and then ESI can say “look, we give you this great new drug!” and insurance companies and other companies migrate to that PBM.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      The US is just getting reamed, pure and simple. The same drugs sell for a fifth the US price in other first world countries, and none of the manufacturers are taking a loss on those sales.

    • Matt M says:

      Does anyone know why insulin is so expensive? I googled it and found an article on Forbes which concluded: there are multiple major manufacturers, so it’s not a monopoly.

      Total theorizing here, but perhaps in this specific situation, an oligarchy can get away with monopolistic pricing more easily than a true monopoly.

      Because if it was just one company, you can bet some Senators would be dragging them to Washington demanding answers and concessions now!. But as it stands, they can all implicitly collude to raise prices while also having enough plausible deniability for any one of them to stay out of the spotlight.

    • Urstoff says:

      Here’s a twitter thread on it from Vincent Rajkumar: https://twitter.com/VincentRK/status/1037351101798985728

    • sharper13 says:

      Short version is 3rd party payers and pharmacy middlemen and their agreements with the manufacturers. The kind version is that they’re setup to use common drugs like insulin to subsidize the costs of other drugs to their patients/customers. The unkind version is that they’re getting kickbacks for putting higher-priced specifically patented versions of insulin on their approved drug schedules and stocking lists.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It is not true. Insulin is dirt cheap.

      But it is true that many diabetics don’t know this and are rationing expensive insulin and dying when they could just buy cheap insulin. (Expensive insulin is great. It really saves lives, or at least limbs. But rationing it kills faster.)

      What are expensive are genetically engineered versions of fast-acting insulin. Insulin pumps are designed to work with these new insulins. Old pumps were designed to work with old insulin, but I don’t anyone makes them anymore; I think they were always loss leaders for the insulin.

      There are three brands of modern insulin. They are off patent, but no one makes generics, because genetic engineering is hard. Three is a small number of competitors and often small enough that they can collude to rise prices. The prices have been rising 10% per year for decades. Even without collusion, it makes sense that they introduced their special insulins at a low price to get people to try it out, and to try out pumps, but raise them as they become established. (Indeed, the entry of the second and third brands didn’t slow down the 10% growth rate.)

      Also, there is a general trend that drug prices are becoming more opaque. Few people pay list price for these special insulins. Most insurance companies cut a deal to make a preferred brand cheap to the consumer. The few patients who have an allergy to that brand (or no insurance) pay list price.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        The good insulin is expensive.. in the US, and only in the US. This is flat out just the united states being taken to the cleaners because US health care provision is dysfunctional. Exact same formulations are being sold in western europe at a fifth, a tenth or even less. And not because of better subsidies, literally just walk up to the pharmacy desk and get some cash on the barrel.

        .. Uhm. One sec.. Eh.. Near as I can tell, for the average american diabetic, you would literally be better off financially getting on a plane and flying to europe every three months to reup. The price differential is large enough to more than pay for airfare. How is there not insulin smuggling happening? Or maybe there is, but the police neither notice nor care.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Alas, not getting ripped off is illegal, see subsection 381(d)(1) Title 21, since the patent evergreening process needs to be subsidized in order to be economically viable and other nations refuse to make these hard choices. The FDA currently chooses as a matter of policy not to prosecute anyone who gets a 90-day supply of their life-critical but non-emergency drug at a reasonable price, but this is a discretionary enforcement decision, not a regulatory one, and so is subject to bureaucratic caprice. And of course it is illegal to tell anyone that the option is available to them in any case.

          • albatross11 says:

            Everything about the economics of American health care seems like what you’d get if you asked Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to describe their vision of the evils of capitalism. (The mirror image is American inner-city public schools.) The whole system is so fundamentally rotten and corrupt I can’t even begin to imagine how to fix it.

            But there’s a *huge* amount of pent-up anger and fear and frustration surrounding that system, and some day, some future populist is going to exploit it to get power, and the endpoint will be a bunch of nationalized pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, and quite possibly a bunch of jailed executives of those companies. And that will be an awful mess, but it’s pretty much a predictable consequence of how the current system works.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Tragically, “more regulation” and “less regulation” are much easier goals to meet than “better regulation”.

            The current system is an awful mess, and seems reasonably likely to oscillate between a variety of awful messes of varying characteristics, given the typical nuance of the “solutions” championed by various politicians. Throwing away all your hammers because they didn’t help you cut the boards will not increase the likelihood that you successfully build a house.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Yes, but.. How to put this, where are the criminals? Do diabetics not have the social networks in place for anyone to make it their livelihood to travel to Spain, buy insulin for 30 people, fly back and sell it at x2 the spanish (but one fifth the US) price? I mean, its not like the sniffer dogs are going to indicate on you.

    • theredsheep says:

      Okay, so I’m getting “pharmaceutical companies are rat bastards.” That was, I admit, kind of my suspicion, but thanks to everybody who answered!

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Another question for the time travelers: Suppose you wanted to prevent the Great Depression, which might well prevent WW2, or at least the western part. What could you do?

    I’m not putting constraints on your resources. Take a team, take computers, take whatever you think might work. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is cause more damage than the Great Depression. Don’t wipe out the human race. Don’t destroy civilization.

    • Steven J says:

      Treat Benjamin Strong‘s tuberculosis.

    • johan_larson says:

      As far as I can remember from econ class, the Great Depression happened because the US government did two very bad things, and the rest of the world followed suit. They responded to a moderate recession (rooted in agricultural problems caused by a drought) by a) raising tariffs, and b) reducing the money supply (to “purge the rot”). When the rest of the world did the same, the result was a sharp drop in trade and a world of problems.

      What they should have done is exactly the opposite, and probably spent some money to help struggling farmers.

      I’m guessing the time travelers either need to persuade key people in the US government to do things differently, or perhaps make sure that different people are in key roles.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’ll stop off on the way to the Coolidge Administration and pick up Milton Friedman and Ronald Coase, and let them pick teams; I’m sure they’ll jump at the chance to stop the Depression. Installing them in the appropriate points would be an issue. Perhaps the old time traveler trick of meeting oneself could work — I’ll bring an aged version of Calvin Coolidge’s Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover along. And a recording of an “Annie” production; it shouldn’t be hard for old Hoover to get young Hoover to do anything to prevent “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” from being made.

      If that doesn’t work I guess I’ll let the Keynesians have a shot.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t think there is a way to seriously prevent it, given the constraints of the time. You’d have to convince existing political leaders to make BIG money drops to backstop banks, which is going to be politically controversial no matter what historical period. I don’t think there’s the political will to actually stop the Great Depression.

      You can try to mitigate the Great Depression, but that relies on convincing leaders to leave the gold standard earlier and implement the bank holiday. I don’t think you can convince Hoover to do that, period, which means you are stuck waiting until 1933, for FDR. By that time the Nazis are already well on their way to victory in Germany. And even if you can start the economic recovery relatively quickly (1930 or 1931), the German policial leadership had a really bad response to the recession, so they are going to lose their legitimacy and be forced to rely on the Nazis to bolster their position anyways. They start making those mistakes in 30 and 31.

    • cassander says:

      As with most problems in the 20th century, the solution is to shoot Woodrow Wilson before the monster becomes president. Even if you wave away the effect of a totally different course for WW1 absent his meddling, he remains guilty for the crazy quilt central bank plan that is the federal reserve despite his supposed expertise in public administration. The federal reserve was based largely on the aldrich plan that had died in congress shortly before his election. Rather than a sensible central bank with a clear mandate and lines of authority, he resurrected Aldrich’s and got congress to pass us, saddling with the system that would fail catastrophically once Strong died.

      That or you can push FDR down some stairs after he goes off the gold standard but before he pushes the NIRA and AAA though congress.

      • engleberg says:

        Okay Captain Blood, why not just lock up Morgan with a harem and a wine cellar until WWI is over so he doesn’t extend credit to the Brits after they ran out of money? At the start of 1915 according to Keynes.

        EDIT- I think most economists agree that FDR extended a nasty slump into The Great Depression, though D party loyalists stress Heinlein’s point that he probably also prevented food riots in Kansas City (Heinlein’s home town).

        • cassander says:

          Because if the Germans didn’t run out of money in 1915 without American loans, the richer brits wouldn’t have either.

    • arlie says:

      I’m not an economist. But my understanding (as a Canadian) is that this is rooted in 2 things –

      – atrocious bank (and stock market) regulation in the US (but not Canada) well before the depression started
      – major governments doing everything a Keynesian would have disreccommended, and nothing they would have favoured.

      Since I have effectively infinite resources, I go back into the past well before this started, and basically put my people in position to heavily influence political decision making. Some of us generously fund politicians who produce the outcomes we favour. Some of us publish key papers, books etc. in economics, as well as teaching many graduate students – and of course those profs get lots of grants, funding etc., as do the universities that support them, so that by the time the drought happens, “established wisdom” recommends something that (we think) will actually work. Some of us make careers in banking. Some become politicians. You get the idea….

      If we’re extra specially ambitious, we also start alternate industries in the future dust bowl states, and generally make that part of the mess a bit more disaster resistant. But it seems to have been the debt pyramid, combined with weekly capitalized banks, that really caused havoc. So that’s the important thing to prevent.

      And while we’re at it – out of pure humanitarian kindness – we implement some of the suggestions from Robert Kuttner’s Debtor’s Prison with regard to personal bankruptcy.

      • baconbits9 says:

        major governments doing everything a Keynesian would have disreccommended, and nothing they would have favoured.

        This is false for the US- prior to FDR Hoover was the record holder for peace time spending by a US president.

  12. Thegnskald says:

    Thinking on the comments about literacy…

    Is literacy obsolete? Given the availability of audio and video recording, does writing fulfill any requirement of our society at this point?

    • Randy M says:

      You’re making a big jump. There’s no “requirement”, there’s an array of activities. Some difficulties people without literacy may have had in the past are being ameliorated, some are unchanged, etc. I’m not sure what the net is, but I can say with certainty literacy isn’t obsolete.
      I’d at least rather have the option to follow roadsigns than be reliant on gps, even if gps makes is possible to navigate without literacy. And so on.

      • Thegnskald says:

        All you need for roads is numeracy, not literacy. Everything else is effectively conveyed with symbology; the words are pretty much redundant.

        • Randy M says:

          If someone tells you “Drive to San Diego” it’s nice to be able to know what the “Right two lanes San Diego Freeway” sign means without having to write it out.
          It’s nice to know that that “55 miles (trucks only)” sign doesn’t apply to you.
          Could be useful to know what “Road closed 9/22-9/26” means.

          We try to make out important signs fool-proof; being literate is still a big advantage.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Can you have numeracy without literacy ?

          • Tenacious D says:

            Shopping in a grocery store in Brazil (not knowing Portuguese) made me wonder if that was what it felt like to be illiterate. I had no problem understanding the prices, but had to rely on packaging and the store layout to find items. So I’d guess at least basic numeracy (prices, times, and speed limits) is possible without literacy.

          • Michael Handy says:

            Yes, heck, literacy basically started as a way of symbolically attaching numbers to specific goods while record keeping.

    • Matt M says:

      does writing fulfill any requirement of our society at this point?

      Just wondering – did you dictate this message to your computer, or did you write it?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you didn’t know very many functionally illiterate people growing up?

      There are a lot of people today who, for all practical purposes, can’t read. Unsurprisingly, they don’t tend to do well in modern society.

      You can argue causality a la chicken and egg; do the cognitive or behavioral issues which prevented them from becoming literate also cause them to be worse workers, or is it more directly due to their lack of literacy? I’d argue that it’s both personally but that’s intuition and not data. Either way, this is something that actually exists for a frighteningly large chunk of the population and not a hypothetical situation.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Human visual processing is better and more detailed than human audio processing, allowing significantly more compressed signals and thus faster communication for problems we’re not naturally inclined towards solving. The audio speed penalty is sufficient to render speech inadequate as the sole processing-enhancement tool, despite the advent of audio-based memory extension. We can imagine a hypothetical species capable of handling highly compressed audio data for which sound recordings would be superior to image recordings, but for humans a visual language is necessary for significant capability extension.

    • arlie says:

      I suspect that we’re on the way to literacy being obsolete for the general population, being replaced by computerized prosthetics – the device talks to you, responds to speech, and delivers audio and audio-visual media in place of text.

      I don’t believe that this will be an improvement, for anyone accustomed to reading (ahem) “walls of text” – such as books. Audio is slower than reading, audio-visual only has an advantage in cases where pictures actually are worth the proverbial 1000 words – which isn’t all that common, IMNSHO.

      But tl;dr has been a thing for longer than some adults have been alive – people proudly insisting on consuming no written text longer than a tweet or other soundbite. And half the apps I attempt to use remove text in favour of glyphs, which are apparantly easier for “normal people” people to learn and remember. (My go to example of this trend is Apple’s iPhone and iPad changes from 2017 – the apps they expect to be most commonly used are represented only by symbols, with no option to reenable the text. So you have to know (for example) that a picture of a compass indicates a web browser – almost as ‘obvious’ as egyptian or chinese hieroglyphics :-()

      Some elites will probably also do without written text – the sort of “leaders” that deal almost entirely in elevator pitches, whom technical people basically manage by telling them whatever will produce the desired decision, since they (proudly?!) don’t have time to really understand the issues.

      Technical people will continue to use written (or at least typed) text, at least until there’s a mind-computer interface available, because the bandwidth available with text is so much higher.

      But we’ll be back to medieval leadership styles, with the boss (executive, politician, etc.) having specialists to handle reading and writing – except that those specialists will be computers, reading any text they need to understand out loud, and taking dictation on the rare occassions when they need to produce written text themselves.

      We might even reach this point in my lifetime, if I last another 20-40 years.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I suspect glyphs are mostly “easier” because they don’t need to be internationalized and because they can be recognized in a smaller space, not for any literacy issues. And the text is arbitrary also; there’s no reason to associate “Safari”, “Chrome”, “Mozilla”, “Opera”, or “Firefox” with a web browser. Except Opera, the icons at least share the “circular” motif.

        • arlie says:

          Yes, I’m reasonably certain there’s an element of easier-for-the-vendor in all this glyph mania. And there’s a level of remember-the-damn-trademark for something like safari, even with its text name. (But at least you can google an arbitrary text string, unlike some random icon.)

          In the case of Apple, though, they seem to be obsessed with appearances, and always willing to trade functionality for aesthetics. And taking labels from icons in the “dock”, without removing them from other icons, doesn’t really do much for internationalization. (And as for the space issue, the work around is to drag the icons out of the “dock” into the main application area, where they become labelled, leaving a nice big empty space :-()

          • Gazeboist says:

            The designers took over Apple in 2012 or so; they’ve been trading functionality for sparkles ever since.

            A particular sort of difficulty to use is to the advantage of monopolist/oligopolist producers of technology, as well. If they can lock you into their prescribed workflow by making it difficult or even just inconvenient to access any customization options, they can ensure that you learn a workflow that no other competitor supports, and increase the barrier to learning a new one. This forces the competitor to choose between not accommodating new users and spending time and effort adding whatever un-features the incumbent chose to use. Apple has enormous power as the producer of the “default” smartphone; a status which gives it the ability to warp the entire market around its design choices. Combine that with phone companies constantly fighting their obligation to give their customers control over the hardware sold to them, and you’ve got a recipe for a market of identical user interfaces that get better or worse essentially at random.

    • John Schilling says:

      Didn’t we just have the discussion of reading speeds here? OK, that’s for the SSC audience, but even average readers seem to manage 200-250 wpm. Conversational speech is 100-150 wpm. And that’s an average for reading vs. a maximum for speech. Very intelligent or experienced readers can do much better than 250 wpm. And anyone can up their reading rate by an additional factor of 2-3 by skimming, if they don’t need full comprehension of the present material. For audio, 150 wpm is about as good as it gets outside of very specialized cases, e.g. auctioneers. Who can manage about 250 wpm. Whee.

      Text is just plain better for delivering large quantities of non-image information. And even the most informative images tend to come packaged with descriptive text.

      Text is also better for delivering very brief summaries of large infodumps, so as to decide what to read or listen to. A textbook can have a comprehensive index; how do you provide the equivalent for an audiobook?

      So, posit all of human knowledge recorded as audio and video and free to all. The illiterate will be well entertained, but not well informed. And what information they do have, will have been curated for them by others. Literate others, who will wield great power from deciding what the illiterate should know.

    • Jake says:

      I’m staring at a screen full of code right now, I can’t imagine possibly being able to write and debug any sort of complex program over an audio-only channel.

      Though thinking about it, there is a bit of a trend in some industries towards things like LabVIEW and Simulink, which are much more graphical, so there is a chance things go more that direction, but I’d doubt that you could ever completely get rid of literacy for capturing complex ideas like computer code.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I have worked with code written by people with no literacy/language in common with me. Is the ability to read and write code literacy? I am not sure. The basic operation in modern code is abstraction; writing a code base is effectively writing a language to write in. Which is more like math than literacy.

        Code is more like numeracy than literacy, although it isn’t quite either one.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve done coding interviews over the phone, which was an interesting experience, but I wouldn’t want to try it with anything more complicated than a short function written to a fairly clear spec.

  13. ldsrrs says:

    Hypothetical: In a world where info-hazards are commonplace, there is an epidemic of people who are doing apparently bad things. When someone tries hard enough to understand why, they often start doing them as well. What would you do? Would you think that it is some sort of information hazard, and try to exterminate everyone involved? Or would you think that perhaps these things aren’t so bad after all, and that you should try to understand their point of view? The latter seems to be very risky info-hazard-wise. The former goes against the principle of charity, and would, in a less extreme situation, lead to you often being on the wrong side of scientific debates.

    Comparing to the crystallized heuristics value differences model, it seems like explicit models correspond to applying charity and running the risk of getting info-hazarded, while endorsed values correspond to sticking with your current knowledge/values without trying to learn from others.

    • ldsrrs says:

      Here is a meta level crystallized heuristic which seems related to the goal alignment problem.

      Explicit model: maximize reproductive fitness
      Emotional experience: what it feels like to be human
      Reified essence: revealed preferences
      Endorsed value: let people do what they want

      The endorsed value includes biases and information hazards. The explicit model just maximizes the number of humans without paying attention to their happiness.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      Depends on what type of info-hazards we are talking about here. If its full memetic contagion hazards of anything approaching SCP levels, then the way to deal with them is in specially crafted pre-commitments and planning. Allowing others to fill in the gaps or figure out the “shape” of the hazard from a distance via repeated infections (and quarantining) of individuals. Something like, “I’m going to study x. If I don’t report back or show as unaffected after 2 hours, quarantine me and note the topic.” repeat.

      If it is an info-hazard in the sense of just being socially dangerous knowledge, then there must be something in it that is useful or helpful to the individual or else they wouldn’t get sucked into doing it (unless it is memetically contagious as above). The way to fight this is to understand it and work to figure out a superior set of knowledge or coordination that is beneficial to individuals compared to the info-hazardous knowledge and is at least neutral to society. Basically it is really a tragedy of the commons problem.

      • ldsrrs says:

        That sounds like a sensible way of dealing with info-hazards. But the problem I was trying to get at was, how do you tell the difference between an info-hazard and a beneficial new idea? How extreme does it have to be for you to think everyone affected is insane without committing the fundamental attribution error?

        • AnarchyDice says:

          That just comes down to a values question, doesn’t it? Whether the people following that idea are following your fundamental values at least as well as you are.

          If they seem to have different values after following the new idea, then it is a question of your meta-values or recognizing this and treating the ideas as values modifying.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Master-Stranger protocols and compartmentalization.

      (note: major Ward spoilers at the link; Ward itself necessarily has massive spoilers for its antecedent Worm and both works are quite long and involved.)

    • Thegnskald says:

      Sorry, too busy investigating my own belief system to see if the reason I think these other people are dangerous is due to an info-hazard I have accidentally incorporated. Indeed, the analysis paralysis has led me to suspect that the idea of informational hazards is itself an informational hazard, and I am considering petitioning the military to quarantine the entire department of Infosec as an Infosec threat.

      ETA:

      Which, thinking about it, would likely result in the quarantine/nuking of my facility, and anyone I talked to about the knowledge of informational hazards being an informational hazard, because such a thought would itself be an informational hazard in this universe.

      • Nick says:

        Sorry, too busy investigating my own belief system to see if the reason I think these other people are dangerous is due to an info-hazard I have accidentally incorporated. Indeed, the analysis paralysis has led me to suspect that the idea of informational hazards is itself an informational hazard, and I am considering petitioning the military to quarantine the entire department of Infosec as an Infosec threat.

        This gives me a funny idea: if there ever were an infohazard, conspiracy theorists would totally be the first ones compromised.

  14. ana53294 says:

    Why are there regulations on having a prescription for buying glasses? I get that in first world countries, anybody who can afford glasses can afford a visit to an optometrist. But why would it be a legal requirement, especially in countries where optometrists are few and far? What are the harms of having a wrong prescription, other than headaches and seeing badly, and how is that worse than having no glasses at all?

    For me, I always have a check up before I buy a set of glasses, to make sure I get the best use of my money (otherwise I could end up spending hundreds of euros on glasses that do not allow me to see well). So I don’t see the legal requirement as at all necessary. If you can afford and are able to visit an optometrist, you will do it, and if you can’t, surely it is better to have unsufficient glasses than none at all. It must also be much easier to just bring glasses to a village and let people try them and see if it helps.

    • albatross11 says:

      Oddly, in the US you can also buy reading glasses over the counter on your own judgment. But otherwise you need a prescription, which requires an eye doctor exam. I suspect this law is some combination of make-work/job security for optometrists and a benign paternalism that wants to make sure people who develop vision problems have someone check their eyes out from time to time, to make sure they don’t have some bigger problem.

      ETA: Similar issues surround what medicines are over the counter vs prescription only. One weirdly entertaining twist of the culture war a few years back was an attempt by Republicans to push for birth control pills to be over the counter, and pushback from Democrats opposed to this. That didn’t fit the usual political narrative, but made sense if you saw that there’d previously been a political battle over whether insurance should be forced to cover birth control[1]. The Republicans wanted to move that issue off the table, and the Democrats didn’t want to let them do that.

      [1] I think this is entirely based on moral objections, since it takes a lot of birth control pills to equal the cost of an abortion, and a boxcar full of the wouldn’t cost as much as a pregnancy and childbirth.

      • ana53294 says:

        You can buy reading glasses over the counter in Spain and the UK, too. And people sometimes buy them without a prescription, or go and get a prescription.

        Considering the low monetary cost of getting a prescription, the biggest cost is time, because it can be really inconvenient to go to the optometrist. I just don’t see why it has to be a legal requirement. It can be quite hard to get an optometrist in some really rural areas, and not everybody is equally mobile. So I don’t really see the harm in having some people who buy glasses without a check up (most people will do a check up because this allows you to buy much better suited glasses, and prescription glasses can cost hundreds).

        • When you buy glasses online you have to put in the prescription information, since without that the maker wouldn’t know what glasses to make. But there is no requirement that you show that you have a prescription from someone entitled to write it.

          So I don’t understand in what sense a prescription is required.

          otherwise I could end up spending hundreds of euros on glasses that do not allow me to see well

          Is there something very special about your glasses? Checking my standard online source, the base price for most pairs of glasses is between $6.95 and $25.95. There is extra for special features such as glasses that darken in sunlight, but it would be very difficult to get the total anywhere close to a hundred dollars.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Also extra for having a prescription outside the usual range and for shipping. Zenni is very nice but they present their prices as lower than they are, like everyone else. I rarely pay less than $60, though I grant that includes photosensitivity.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Automotive safety.

      A citizen going through a stack of reading glasses until they find some that will let them see kind of clearly is not going to have actually hit the correct prescription most of the time (because, for one thing, they may well not need the same strength for the left and right eye) and that matters for things like judging distances. So there is a public safety issue here to make sure that people who need glasses not only get them, but get it done professionally.

      • ana53294 says:

        But don’t you have to get an eye exam every time you renew a license, anyway?

        In Spain, you have to get medically examined before they renew your license, and they check whether you can see with the glasses you have, and whether you hear, and stuff like that.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Most countries have renewals of driving licenses far too rarely for that to suffice

          • ana53294 says:

            You only need a prescription every time you buy glasses.

            In Spain, you need a medical exam every 10 years until age 45 to renew your driving license, every 5 years between the ages of 45-70 and every 2 years after the age of 70.

            Do you think that prescription changes in 10 years in a young person enough to endanger driving, and that person wouldn’t voluntarily check their eyesight and change glasses? I have a very low diopter near-sightedness, and let me tell you, not seeing is very unpleasant. If I start seeing blurry, I will immediately go to the doctor.

            The only exception are kids, who are not always self-aware and do not realize there is a problem. But we already made sure that anybody who has a driving license has the right prescription, and once you get used to seeing well, you don’t ever wanna go back.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Spain is unusually strict here. My license has an expiry date on it some years after the date at which I expect all cars to drive themselves. Also, you do not need to be in a car for your eyesight to be a potential traffic hazard – bike will do.

          • ana53294 says:

            Even walking without seeing properly can be dangerous, yes. But there is no law that says you have to get glasses at all. I can choose to walk around without my glasses, and nobody can force me to wear them (although I am obligated to wear them if I drive). And, once somebody is going to buy new glasses, wouldn’t they make sure they get the right prescription, anyway?

            Spanish law doesn’t sound that restrictive to me. Your country is probably quite lax, then (or you assume self-driving vehicles in the next 10 years?). Anything can happen in 10 years, so re-checking every ten years before age 45 sounds quite reasonable to me.

        • Unsaintly says:

          From the US: I wear glasses and I’ve never had to get an actual eye exam as part of a license or renewal

          • Evan Þ says:

            Me neither. I got one eye exam when I got my learner’s permit in NC, and I haven’t had one ever again. Even when I moved to Washington State, they only made me bring in my old license and my lease to prove my new address.

          • ana53294 says:

            It’s not like the Spanish medical exam is very strict. They measure your blood pressure, make you play a silly game that looks like this (You have to maintain the balls in the lanes by moving the stick in each hand). Then they give you an eye exam with your glasses on, to check you see properly with them (or without, if you see well). Then they make you sit in a cabin, and you hear recorded sounds from your left or right, and you have to raise your right or left hand to show where you heard the noise coming from.

            The test is run by private accredited clinics, and costs around 30 euros (it depends on the clinic).

            Everything I have heard about the US makes me think the US equivalent would cost 200$, though, so it may be a good thing you don’t have it (or am I prejudiced by the slanted version of US healthcare the media gives me?)

          • Matt M says:

            Everything I have heard about the US makes me think the US equivalent would cost 200$, though, so it may be a good thing you don’t have it (or am I prejudiced by the slanted version of US healthcare the media gives me?)

            The nominal cash price would probably be $200, but most people with insurance would probably pay something closer to what you do.

            Of course, our heavily slanted media gives the impression that every medical service imaginable is completely and totally free in every European country, so hey!

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            @ana53294

            In the US, you have an eye exam in order to get your learner’s permit; they have a hanging sign with letters above the desks and ask you to read off the letters in a line. If you do it with glasses, they mark on your license that glasses are required for you to drive. We don’t have any of your other tests, though.

            (Why blood pressure? What do they do if it’s too high/low? Don’t quite a lot of people have either somewhat high or somewhat low blood pressure?)

            I agree with you on your overall point, obviously; the best needn’t be the enemy of the good. (Though I haven’t run into such regulations myself.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Rebecca Friedman

            If you do it with glasses, they mark on your license that glasses are required for you to drive.

            OK, so I wear contact lenses for the test -> no mark for me.

            Or I have the mark (of the beast) and drive around with contact lenses. Is a cop going to fine me?

            Seems like a completely useless bit of bureaucracy.

          • brmic says:

            Seems like a completely useless bit of bureaucracy.

            If you ever travel to the U.S., expect to be asked
            If you intend to engage in immoral activities whilst in the United States.
            If you have been implicated in spying activities, genocide, or terrorism, or if you were implicated with the German Nazi allies of the Second World War.

            http://www.estaform.co.uk/esta-questionnaire-usa.html

            The point of asking these questions is that, if you answer them untruthfully, you have obtained a visa by fraud or misrepresentation and can be deported if you are found out, either on this visit, or if you subsequently win the right to live in the US.

            https://www.ft.com/content/88ddba0e-4df8-11e3-8fa5-00144feabdc0

            In other words, this is pointless bureaucracy until you are involved in an accident and somebody questions whether you obtained your license by fraud, which in turn may mean you drove illegally, which in turn may mean you are assigned part of the blame/cost for the accident regardless and your insurance will not cover you.

            Also, cops are aware of the recent invention of the contact lens. They will in practice ask you to identify something far away if the have doubts about your visual accuracy. Again, the point of having the test and the mark is to make it unambiguously clear to even the forgetful, that they need to have adequate vision to drive. If their license needs to be revoked because of this, it’s also more helpful to be able to say ‘it’s written onto your license itself’ than to have to point to form C, subsection 13.4.2.3 that they signed 30 years prior, when they first got their license.

          • Aapje says:

            @brmic

            The idea that people need to be warned about very obvious things like that is…very American. If people go drive a car without being able to see sufficiently, they are not forgetful, they are moronic. There is no limit to the ability of moronic people to do dumb things, so why single out one of the 3 million stupid things that drivers can do? Is there some epidemic in countries without this rule of drivers who drive without glasses? Never heard of it, despite living in such a country.

            The insurance company can just write down in their policy when it reimburses people, the law can state that people need to have sufficient eye sight, etc. You can even put it under a more general rule and depend on judges to rule sensibly.

            Now excuse me, I lost my glasses and have to drive to the optician.

          • Matt says:

            I know a rural fire chief who is legally blind, according to a neighboring fire chief who was my instructor for an emergency vehicle operator’s course. He CANNOT get a driver’s license.

            He drives his own personal vehicles, drives his departmental vehicles, and rolls code in them. I guess he’s buddies with the local police and will not stop until he kills someone.

          • ana53294 says:

            I know a rural fire chief who is legally blind, according to a neighboring fire chief who was my instructor for an emergency vehicle operator’s course. He CANNOT get a driver’s license.

            This is why it is useful to have a medical doctor who has a lot to lose (his medical license and huge $$$ in liability) examine that the people who get a driving license are medically apt.

            I know plenty of people whose driving licenses got pulled for medical reasons (mostly for hearing loss or the loss of the hand-eye coordination required to play the game; few people lose that much eyesight that it cannot be corrected by spectacles). Once you reach a certain age, it is very frequent in Spain.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            Mandatory doctor checks after a certain age makes a lot of sense and we have that in my country.

    • A1987dM says:

      and how is that worse than having no glasses at all?

      Huh, if your prescription is +3, aren’t any glasses < 0 or > +6 worse than no glasses?

    • zzzzort says:

      wait, is this a thing? i’ve never needed a formal prescription, in the US or the UK. Is it illegal to order glasses online in Spain? Does anyone know it it’s just one of those laws that is routinely ignored. These people seem to get away without it.

    • littskad says:

      I’m pretty sure in the US, you don’t need a formal prescription, but you do need to know what your prescription is—which is generally beyond the layman’s abilities to figure out on their own—or the optician won’t know what lenses to use.

    • Why are there regulations on having a prescription for buying glasses?

      What countries have such regulations? The U.S. doesn’t seem to.

      • albatross11 says:

        I have always assumed I needed a formal prescription, and in Maryland, I think the opticians won’t fill a prescription for glasses that’s more than two years old. But I don’t know if that’s the law or just corporate policy by people who don’t want to spend a lot of effort making you the wrong glasses, and then have you return them and demand your money back.

  15. liskantope says:

    I just listened to the latest episode of Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast where he interviewed Jonathan Haidt. Previously I had heard Haidt’s name bandied about in these parts without ever forming a concept of who he is, what he does, and what his views are. Now I have a much clearer picture.

    So, those of you who also listened to this podcast, what did you think of it? (Hope I’m not opening the floodgates to an endless stream of bad culture war discourse by starting this thread…)

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Have not listened to that particular podcast, but I have heard him on many others and other things. Haidt is just an old school, out of style “liberal” that doesn’t fit into the modern Left-Right Democrat-Republican dichotomy very well. This means he is a social liberal with liberal views on freedom, but is economically restrictive. He wants taxes and welfare, etc.

      Now, I personally see this sort of person a lot in the 25+ professional community in the city I live in. My personal theory is that these people are naturally predisposed to be libertarian/Republican, but were raised in Democratic households/cities/schools and thus are under a social pressure to not be libertarians or Republicans. Usually they kind of recoil from the campus craziness and even things like public sector unions.

      For instance, when Rahm Emmanuel pulled out of the mayoral race in Chicago recently, these “Democrats” freaked out about who was going to be the next mayor, because almost all the candidates (all presumed Democratic) are unacceptable to them because they are radical black power candidates, SJWs, or the ex-police guy (who otherwise would be their obvious choice, but they have been told cops are bad for so long they cant get to that place). These people, in a vacuum, would vote for a Gary Johnson type for mayor (and be extremely happy if he won), and he would win if all the faux-Dem professionals in Chicago voted for him, but they wont, and such a person wont even run, because of the overwhelming social pressures against it.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Police departments have a tendency towards institutional scumminess that rewards loyalty over actual police work, occasionally to the point that good cops are fired to protect bad cops, and the CPD has a particularly bad case of this problem. See eg that drug dealer who decided the best way to build a successful operation was to join the CPD.

        ed:

        I’m trying to find a citation for that claim, but I don’t remember the names of anyone involved and I’m being swamped by more recent and more typical “cop executes random citizen in a fit of pique” corruption scandals.

        ed2:

        Ok, I found it. Turns out reading the comprehensive history is a better way of finding a prominent story than random googling.

    • Plumber says:

      “…culture war discourse…”

      @liskantope,

      Does anyone have a working definition of what SSC means by “culture war”?

      As far as I can tell the term probably entered use after it was used in a 1991 book on different public policy goals of religious and secular voters, and then Pat Buchanan used the term in a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention to mean close to the same thing, but the way the term is used at SSC seems to go beyond that.

      • Nick says:

        My working definition is “What would you not bring up at Thanksgiving dinner,” but YMMV.

        • albatross11 says:

          Those topics which tend to engage the readers’ identity and tribal affiliation, rather than their brains. Alternatively, the topics most likely to lead to an angry argument with little chance of anyone changing their minds or learning anything.

          Those topics *can* be discussed constructively, but they’re subject to various kinds of dysfunction, so Scott limits them on some threads.

  16. idontknow131647093 says:

    Scott! Thanks for the hat tip!

  17. Evan Þ says:

    Apropos of nothing, while skimming over the “Recent Posts” list, my eye blended together the two latest adversarial collaboration titles as “Should Transgender Children Be Mandatory?”

    I hope we can all agree the evidence shows that no, they should not.

    (Transgender children for some, but miniature American flags for others!)

  18. BBA says:

    Filed under: Things I Will Regret Writing

    Any tennis fans around? I’m utterly baffled by the reactions to the women’s final of the US Open, in which Serena Williams was penalized one game for an extended complaint to the chair umpire regarding a previous penalty, and subsequently lost the match to Naomi Osaka.

    The woke left response has been that the umpire was sexist, a male player would not have been penalized for doing the same thing, Williams is simply being attacked for being a black woman in a white man’s game, SLAY QUEEN, etc.

    The response of many sources outside the US and right-wing sources domestically is that the umpire did nothing wrong and Williams deserved to be penalized for her poor sportsmanship.

    And all the while I’m thinking, look, the ump was a dickweed. The rules around coaching are bullshit – it’s a very common violation that’s almost never penalized. If I were the referee, I’d have reversed the coaching call and I wouldn’t have penalized her for complaining about it. But, y’know, bad calls are a fact of life in every sport, and Williams is the most accomplished active tennis player today, certainly the best-known. I’m not seeing how this is societal oppression. Sometimes a dickweed is just a dickweed.

    Am I completely nuts here?

    • sharper13 says:

      I felt really bad for the poor girl (Osaka) who beat her. The crowd response to her magnificent win was boo’ing her after the match and at the awards ceremony. She didn’t deserve any of that. If Williams had an inkling of sportsmanship over selfishness, she’d have appealed to the crowd at the awards ceremony to respect her winning opponent. Imagine yourself having just won the US Open at a young age after beating the favorite and wanting to celebrate, but instead having everyone in the crowd boo you.

      The whole thing regarding Williams seems like a tempest in a teapot, with the coach admitting afterwards that she was in fact illegally trying to coach her and that the penalty was deserved. Also, I’d note that for coaching, and for the first round of complaining about it, all Williams got was warnings, with no affect on the score nor the game. It was only after her follow-up temper tantrum smashing her racquet and calling the umpire a thief that she got an actual point and (as predicted by one of the female former-player commentators watching her display) game penalty.

      But your other read is correct. If something negative happens to one group, it’s complained about, but if a similar thing happens to some other specific groups, then it’s held up as an example of how that group is treated especially badly.

      • John Schilling says:

        If Williams had an inkling of sportsmanship over selfishness, she’d have appealed to the crowd at the awards ceremony to respect her winning opponent.

        Which, in fact, she did. Her poor sportsmanship was towards the umpire, not towards her opponent.

        • Matt M says:

          She could have taken a few seconds to think about the context of what was going down and how it would affect her opponent.

          Once she threw her tantrum, there was no possible way Osaka would be able to enjoy a “clean” victory. Whether that was the intent or not, it was an inevitable consequence of Serena’s behavior, that couldn’t be remedied by a quick “oh wait I changed my mind stop booing now” at the end.

    • synecdoche says:

      Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about professional tennis and the rules thereof. All of the below is based on what I have read from other sources.

      My understanding is that the original warning regarding coaching by the umpire was correct by the rules, but often ignored. So, essentially discretionary on the part of the umpire, in the sense that we can all look away and pretend we didn’t see it happening. By itself, the original warning was nonconsequential.

      However, the followup penalties for smashing the racquet and impugning the honesty of the umpire are mandatory penalties, and there is no way that the umpire could pretend it didn’t happen. Not calling penalties on these would have been manifestly unfair to Osaka.

      Williams was arguing with the umpire to get him to retract his original warning on coaching. But the rules don’t allow that, and any grownup in the room will obviously realize that (for reasons of institutional authority) no umpire would do so. Williams was not acting like a grownup.

      Which is not to say that Williams is a bad person. Clearly an overreaction under a high-stress situation.

      However, attributing the umpire’s action to sex discrimination is nonsense. Even if Williams was penalized for something that a male tennis player would not, the beneficiary of those penalties was a woman, not a man. This would show (if true) that women’s tennis and men’s tennis are different sports (at least informally). In the same way, the fact that the WNBA and the NBA have different (formal) rules is not an indication that the WNBA is sexist: its just a different sport.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, she lost her temper and said some stuff she probably regretted an hour later. Which is standard human behavior. TV + social media will turn it into a 24-hour outrage fest, but that’s just the way they are. It has no greater significance than any other time someone blows their top at an inopportune moment, and turning it into some kind of battle in the culture war is silly.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, she lost her temper and said some stuff she probably regretted an hour later. Which is standard human behavior.

          And yet, the overwhelming majority of people don’t behave this way. If most people pulled something like this, they’d be fired instantly. Serena has done it for decades and gotten away with it, and now is basically being rewarded for it with heaps of good PR from the official arbiters of public opinion who have declared that clearly, one of the richest and most accomplished female athletes of all time is a powerless victim of racism and sexism.

          This is not acceptable behavior. I have no power to impose any sort of real consequence on her for it, but the least we can do is denounce it.

        • gbdub says:

          Honestly I’m less annoyed by the actual day of match antics and more by the attempt to justify the behavior after the fact under the veil of feminism, which just screams entitlement.

          • Matt M says:

            Not to mention that this is quite literally a zero sum contest in which both participants are women.

            It’s only “sexism” if you somehow believe that Osaka is somehow less of a woman than Serena.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            This thread is full of great examples of how rudimentary the understanding of sexism is among a lot of the loudest anti-SJW voices here.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Philo –

            Drive-by smuggery doesn’t convince anyone of anything except that you don’t have anything meaningful to say.

            If you have a point or an argument, make it. If you don’t, well, this is exactly the sort of comment I would expect.

          • CatCube says:

            @Philosophisticat

            It’s also possible that its a recognition that what current Social Justice calls “sexism” has been over-sophisticated for the sole purpose of weaponizing it as an accusation.

      • Protagoras says:

        It doesn’t matter that the beneficiary of the penalties was a woman. I’m not saying that the complaint is justified (I think Williams behaved badly, and if it’s true that a male tennis player would likely have gotten away with it, I think refs are too easy on male tennis players), but people seem to be misrepresenting what the complaint is. Essentially, the critics are claiming that Williams was penalized for being unladylike, and that having a requirement of ladylike behavior is sexist. Who gained by it is completely beside the point (and, really, Osaka didn’t gain by it; she probably would have won anyway, so all she got was for her first major victory to be tainted by controversy).

        It also seems worth mentioning that there probably wouldn’t have been such a strong reaction if the kerfuffle over the tournament policing Williams’ outfits hadn’t already gotten people stirred up.

      • Aapje says:

        @synecdoche

        ATP and WTA have standardized officiating and share referees, so officiating should be similar. However, it seems that this specific referee is very harsh in general and has given a racket-throwing penalty to Djokovic, a top 3 male player.

    • Anon. says:

      The coaching call was just a warning with zero actual penalties though, right? The actual penalties were due to her behavior later on.

      • zzzzort says:

        It was an official warning, on the sequence of warning, point game. So if it had not been given, the racquet incident would have been warning, and the arguing a point.

    • ana53294 says:

      The Spanish media’s reaction is against Serena, mostly. Although everybody acknowledges that the coaching reprimand is slightly ridiculous, they do think that she was using feminism as an excuse to act badly. Also, this is not the first time she acts unreasonably.

      I think part of the reason US media defends Serena is because of who she is. She is an African-American woman who recently gave birth, so she is a very sympathetic figure. As much as they say that the umpire would not reprimand her if she was a man, I am pretty sure the media would not defend her that much if she was a foreign white man.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t follow Tennis closely, but I am a big sports fan, and Serena’s behavior here is about as despicable as I can imagine. She reminds me a lot of one of the other people I hate most in all of sports, Jim Harbaugh. There are other tennis players a lot like her in this respect, people have famously cited the past antics of John McEnroe. I don’t watch a lot but I think Djokovic is prone to this sort of thing too.

      These are people who whine and complain about officiating all the time and do the best to use their status to bully the significantly lower-status officials. From what I’ve read, Serena has literally threatened physical violence at referees before. Then, in the heat of the moment, when there’s a borderline call to be made, these people, who have been absolute jerks to all officials for decades, are suddenly shocked, shocked, that the official rules against them and decides not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      Good. I’m glad the 49ers didn’t that PI call at the end of the Super Bowl, and I’m glad that Serena went down in flames here. I hope she goes into a downward spiral and never wins another major.

      • gbdub says:

        Harbaugh has toned it down a ton (some Michigan fans would say too much), and at this point he’s not even the most “antic-y” coach in his division of his conference (that’s probably James Franklin, though the worst antics by far in the B1G overall are from Pat Fitzgerald).

        Though part of the issue with both Harbaugh and Serena is, once you’ve got a reputation for blowing your top, refs are going to be hypersensitive to it and you have to be cognizant of that.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah. See also: Wallace, Rasheed, who late in his career, would get T-ed up for just looking at a ref the wrong way.

          In any case, I’m a Pac-12 guy and I’ve been hating Harbaugh’s antics since his Stanford days, and I don’t plan on changing my opinion anytime soon!

          • gbdub says:

            See, I’m a Michigan fan, and watched Harbaugh get a PF for a fairly mild blowup in the (highly competitive) 2016 M-OSU game from a ref who turned out to be a lifelong OSU fan and best buds with one of the OSU players (he also ref’d basketball and knew the kid in high school), meanwhile Urban spent half the game out at the numbers yelling at the refs and never got a flag (and of course the game was decided on an iffy spot on an OT 4th down, grumble grumble)

            The lack of pro refs in NCAA is appalling giving the money available to the conferences. Sometimes they really are bad enough to justify a tossed clipboard or two.

    • gbdub says:

      I’m still trying to figure out why the super racist sexist judge obviously favored the half-Japanese half-Haitian black woman over the black American woman.

      Some of the spin I’ve seen is “she didn’t deserve a game for arguing with the ref, she didn’t even cuss” and completely ignore that that was her 3rd offense… had that been all she did, she would have gotten a warning and that would be the end of it. Also what she said was as important as how she said it. She basically called the umpire’s objectivity into question and threatened his job, which is frankly as bad or worse than “aww what kind of call was that, asshole?”

      Breaking a racket is always a violation, man or woman. Coaching is apparently not called nearly as often as it happens, but her coach admitted the violation and at any rate the initial violation was just a warning.

      Serena threw a tantrum because she was getting her ass kicked (and really, Osaka beat her soundly and would have beat her soundly regardless of the reffing, Serena was in her own head) after she already got her two “free” strikes. You can’t focus on just the final, game violation while ignoring the context that lead to it.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Tennis is a young person’s racket; Serena is getting a bit old. If you were a media-savvy minority athlete coming to the end of your run, this is probably one of the best ways to build up your personal brand and give yourself a spring-board for whatever’s next.

      • gbdub says:

        I mean, this happened in a Grand Slam final, she’s not exactly in any immediate danger of fading into obscurity.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Elite sportspeople can age really fast, though. Peyton Manning was the league MVP in 2013, still an absolutely great player in 2014, very bad indeed in 2015 and out of the league in 2016. And the 2015 Broncos defense aren’t going to be carrying Serena to any slams.

          She’s turning 37 this month. The last female player of comparable stature, Steffi Graf, won her last singles slam at 29 (having gone nearly three years without one prior to that) and retired at 30. Martina Navratilova again had a last hurrah three years after the end of her real period of dominance, though in her case it came at 33. Father Time cannot be very far from chalking up another W, and she’d be a fool not to be thinking about what comes next.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, you’re not wrong.

            On the other hand, people have been predicting the eminent decline and fall of Serena (and Federer, and Nadal for that matter) for 5+ years now based on that sort of reasoning.

            They’ll be right eventually, sure. But at some point maybe we update our priors?

          • Protagoras says:

            These anecdotes can be misleading, too. A 27 year old has an off year due to bad luck or whatever, everybody takes it for a statistical anomaly and indeed they probably play a lot better the next year. A 37 year old has an off year, and everybody (including probably the athlete themselves) concludes it means they can’t play any more and we don’t get a chance to see if it’s just an off year and they’ll play better the next year because they retire.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Am I completely nuts here?

      No, not completely nuts, but your canned sports-culture reaction of going after the ref for enforcing/following the rules is exactly what gives people the tacit permission to act as she did, so you’re certainly not a neutral bystander taking an even view.

    • A1987dM says:

      I don’t know s*** about tennis, but “the umpire was sexist” — WTH? wasn’t Ms Williams’s opponent the same sex as her too? Why would being sexist lead to disfavouring a woman against another woman?

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        If the officials saw their role as favoring one woman against another, they would be corrupt no matter what the rules. But assuming they were honest, what they were doing was measuring one woman’s behavior against an impersonal standard. It’s not hard to imagine how sexism could come into play there (the word “ladylike” might figure somewhere)– though I haven’t seen much evidence that it actually did.

        • Matt M says:

          Can I just say that it’s somewhat bizarre to characterize someone favoring a woman with more stereotypically feminine behavior over one with more stereotypically masculine behavior as somehow “anti-woman”?

          • zzzzort says:

            But a large part of the definition of feminine behavior is just ‘how people expect women to behave’. And it makes perfect sense to enforce social hierarchies by disfavoring people who do not hew to their roles.

          • Randy M says:

            Feminism doesn’t seem to be terribly keen on femininity, preferring to empower females by teaching them masculine traits, believing that these are how men acquire power.

          • Matt M says:

            And what if the expectation of how people expect women to behave is obtained by observing how most women actually behave?

          • zzzzort says:

            -I would say it doesn’t much matter if the prescribed behaviors are true on average. Even if most men like pepsi and most women like coke, if some guy wants a coke that shouldn’t have to cause problems.

            -Determining how much of people’s behavior is due to their own preference and how much is due to social pressure is hard/impossible/borderline nonsensical. But if you observe that the average french peasant of the 1600’s spends all day farming and doesn’t seem to participate in politics, that doesn’t justify a social order that punishes peasants that try to leave farming and speak up about governance.

          • Matt M says:

            Even if most men like pepsi and most women like coke, if some guy wants a coke that shouldn’t have to cause problems.

            Agreed – if a man wants a coke, he should be able to have one and people shouldn’t hassle him about it. That said, someone who denied him a coke wouldn’t be acting in an “anti-male” manner. They’d just be a jerk in general.

            I think the “Ramos is a jerk” argument has a bit of weight. But the problem is that in modern society, being a jerk is essentially considered okay, so long as you’re not a racist or a sexist (i.e. a jerk that disproportionately targets protected groups), in which case you’re the worst form of evil.

            Which is precisely why Serena and her fanboys are having to make the (incredibly weak) case that Ramos is a sexist/racist. Because if she just called him a jerk, nobody would care.

          • albatross11 says:

            zzzsort:

            I think this is an important point that comes up a lot. When observe some difference between men and women (blacks and whites, gays and straights, etc.) in our society, we usually are going to have a heck of a time determining whether we’re observing some fundamental property of human nature, or whether we’re observing some quirk of our society that doesn’t really have anything to do with human nature. Looking across societies is better; looking across history is still better. But it’s really hard to determine.

            There are plausible arguments that the imbalance between men and women in STEM fields in the US come down to human-nature/biology, and are immutable. Some of those arguments are pretty plausible sounding, and in fact, I’m slightly inclined toward believing them (a combination of greater average spatial/mathematical ability for men, different interests between women and men, and maybe the higher variance for men in intelligence and other mental traits).

            But someone 50 years ago could have made a pretty convincing case about a bunch of differences between women and men at that time–about as convincing as the current case made by someone like Damore. And one good look at the US in 2018 would show that this case was mostly wrong. (The same person arguing that women would never be a large fraction of physicists or engineers, in 1968, would probably also have said that women would never be a large fraction of lawyers, doctors, or vets.)

            This isn’t an argument for or against a side in that debate, it’s a reminder that we should approach the whole matter with some epistemic humility. It’s easy to be wrong, in either direction, because what you can easily observe is your society, not all societies.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But someone 50 years ago could have made a pretty convincing case about a bunch of differences between women and men at that time–about as convincing as the current case made by someone like Damore.

            I think they could not, because the conditions they were observing were strongly effected by formal discrimination against women. That’s not the case now, which makes the case for alternate explanations considerably stronger.

    • WashedOut says:

      Am I completely nuts here?

      Not completely, but every time I hear the phrase ‘woke left’ I cringe and brace myself for some pretty nuts arguments.

      People who have been following tennis for long enough can recall the Williams sisters’ horrific track record of poor sportsmanship and mean-spirited behaviour on and off the court. Only difference now is that Serena has the cultural zeitgeist behind her so she can accuse match officials of ‘sexism’ when things don’t go her way and no-one bats an eyelid. She’s well past her prime and she knows it, she had a child recently and the complications from that have hampered her return to the sport, and to shine a light on these two facts she got outplayed by a nobody.

      As sharper13 said above – I feel sorry for Osaka, whose great effort and victory was all but taken away from her by a hysterical crowd.

      • Protagoras says:

        she got outplayed by a nobody.

        Osaka seems to have been widely viewed as a rising star, someone who’d had a bit of success already and seemed to be steadily getting better (and young enough that she might have considerable room to improve), so this doesn’t seem like a very fair description.

        • BBA says:

          Osaka now has a 2-0 record against Serena Williams, which even considering the circumstances (they previously met in Miami this past spring, in one of the first “rehab starts” for Williams after her pregnancy) is pretty damn impressive. She also won this year’s Indian Wells tournament, which combined with the US Open puts her at #7 in the world at the ripe old age of 20. I don’t think she’s going to be overshadowed for long.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Maybe she really is the next true great of the women’s game, but an awful lot of players have had some early success, played some great tennis, and then gone nowhere. Outside of Serena, the women’s game’s been chaos for years.

        • WashedOut says:

          Williams:
          Grand Slam W/L: 331/45; WTA Singles Titles: 72; Career prize money: ~$88M

          Osaka:
          Grand Slam W/L: 25/10; WTA Singles Titles: 2; Career prize money: ~$7M

          I don’t see how Osaka’s potential to achieve great things in the future impacts my point vis a vis Williams’ behaviour and the public condemnation it received.

        • Matt M says:

          At any given time, there are 10-15 tennis players (male and female) who are viewed as “rising stars.”

          Over the past 15 years or so, approximately four of them (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena) have actually achieved something resembling real stardom.

          • Tarpitz says:

            There’s a big difference between the men and women here. In the men’s game, Murray, Wawrinka, Del Potro (when healthy) et al. have consistently been the tier behind the big three (in Murray’s case, he even briefly made it a big 4). The barrier to their success hasn’t been inconsistency or failure to reach their potential; it’s been three of the absolute greatest players of all time being better than them. The same isn’t true with the endless Central and Eastern European women who’ve won slams in the Serena era. One minute they’re lights out, the next they’re ranked no.83. The last non-Williams women to play at a consistently high level over a meaningful period were Henin and Clijsters.

    • zzzzort says:

      Sometimes a dickweed is just a dickweed

      And sometimes they aren’t? I feel like you could make that argument about a cop pulling someone over for doing 38 in a 35 zone or a store clerk being suspicious of shoplifting. Any individual instance could be the result of a perfectly unbiased misanthrope, but taken collectively there’s a clear story of bias. Maybe Ramos was just being a dick, but a dynamic of white guys not wanting their authority challenged by women/black people is a pattern, and it’s legitimately hard to tell what role it played here (I don’t understand why other commenters are so focused on Osaka’s identity in this; Ramos wasn’t trying to help anyone in particular win, he was trying to maintain his authority over Serena).

      Personally, I think (1) Ramos was a dick, (2) Serena’s behavior was out of line, and (3) events probably would have gone at least somewhat differently if she were a white guy.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Ramos wasn’t trying to help anyone in particular win, he was trying to maintain his authority over Serena)

        …isn’t that explicitly the role of a referee?

        • zzzzort says:

          Also a role of police, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be abuses of that power. I think a better referee would have deescalated, even if it meant ceding come authority.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Perhaps, but demanding perfection, or even expecting consistently good judgement as a justification of bad behavior isn’t a good starting point for the discussion. Serena’s behavior is what created the situation where he could make a poor call and given that unforced errors are a part of all sports why would you consider that one error (without a history behind it) worth criticizing significantly over?

          • zzzzort says:

            I mainly object to the analysis process that many people seem to have about these issues that runs something as follows:
            -Assume a model Ramos that is a reasonable person
            -Add a plausible amount of dickishness
            -Check if the events are consistent with that model
            -If yes, then there wasn’t any bias.
            This is equivalent to having a strong prior for there not being any bias in the world, which seems like a bad prior.

            Other implicit arguments include “if Serena behaved badly, then it is impossible/excusable for Ramos to have been biased” and “if Serena personally has a high status then it is impossible/excusable for Ramos to have been biased”

            Examining Ramos’ history seems like a fair route to go.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Given only the information that Ramos penalized Serena, how much would you update in favor of tennis refereeing being biased? It seems to me that this is “the sound of one hand clapping”; there can be no update at all. Yet we get claims that this demonstrates bias; it cannot.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ zzzzort

            Why is the prior that this needs to be investigated though?

          • meh says:

            @zzzzort

            But the other common interpretation is that it could only be bias. Given the number of hostile/unfair interactions between athletes and officials of the same gender/race there must be at least some prior of refs just being jerks. Why is assuming 100% one model better than assuming 100% the other?

          • Matt M says:

            Also worth noting that Serena might very well be the single most successful female tennis player of all time.

            Given that, my prior is that she does not face constant bias against her from referees and officials.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you really wanted to examine whether there’s bias against Serena in particular, or women in general, or black women in general, in tennis refereeing, then you’d need to go look at a fair bit of background information before you could have any confidence in your conclusions.

            OTOH, if you really wanted to assert your prior model of the world (whether that’s racist/sexist white umpires, entitled black women demanding special treatment, or some other not-so-culture-warry model[1]), then you’d spend like three minutes reading one article or hot take on the matter and then confidently assert your conclusion.

            [1] My prior is closer to “Aging champion loses temper and makes an ass of herself at inopportune time, and umpire overreacts because she’s challenging his authoriteh,” but I don’t know enough to put much weight on that picture of reality.

          • zzzzort says:

            @Nybbler, baconbits, meh
            I’m not saying that there’s overwhelming evidence from this incident, that it should lead to a strong update in priors, or that the answer should be 100% clear. If the OP’s point had been ‘maybe Ramos is just a super stickler for the rules, boy it really is hard to tell when sexism is a factor’ i would have been happy. Or even ‘maybe Ramos is a stickler for the rules, and my prior is that very few people are sexist, so Ramos probably isn’t either’, I would have disagreed on the prior, but not the logic.

      • DavidS says:

        What’s your take on what synechdohe says, i.e. that the ‘you’re not allowed to call me a liar and smash your racket’ is fixed?

        It sounds like it might be a combination of a debateable call with a serious repercussion, but that the two were separated – you make a small decision which may be wrong (or biased???) and then you act entirely correctly in refusing to let the player respond by insulting the ref and smashing things

        “My understanding is that the original warning regarding coaching by the umpire was correct by the rules, but often ignored. So, essentially discretionary on the part of the umpire, in the sense that we can all look away and pretend we didn’t see it happening. By itself, the original warning was nonconsequential.

        However, the followup penalties for smashing the racquet and impugning the honesty of the umpire are mandatory penalties, and there is no way that the umpire could pretend it didn’t happen. Not calling penalties on these would have been manifestly unfair to Osaka.

        Williams was arguing with the umpire to get him to retract his original warning on coaching. But the rules don’t allow that, and any grownup in the room will obviously realize that (for reasons of institutional authority) no umpire would do so. Williams was not acting like a grownup.”

    • FoxLisk says:

      The only backlash I’ve seen in my own corner of woke lefty social media has been one level up from that; it’s been anger at the outsize backlash she has gotten compared to other examples of male athletes behaving badly towards refs/umps/whatevers. The criticism I’ve seen isn’t “Serena behaved well, leave her alone,” it’s “Serena behaved no worse than many other people do, and yet the reaction to her behaviour is vastly greater and angrier than the reaction when people who aren’t black women do it.”

      I make no claim as to how much cherry-picking is going on.

      A lot of the reaction is also actually about that cartoon that’s pretty damn easy to read as a racist caricature.

      Maybe I just live in a particularly meta bubble, though.

      • Matt M says:

        The insistence on bring race and gender into this seems like a deliberate attempt at misdirection to me here.

        Black male tennis players do exist. We could examine their behavior and their propensity to be punished to control, and determine, whether this is supposedly a race thing (black people get punished more) or a gender thing (white people get punished more).

        There are also other black female tennis players besides the Williams sisters. We could look into their behavior and history of punishment.

        The fact that nobody is actually bothering to do this, and instead is just loudly insisting that “white male players are allowed to do this” while failing to provide concrete and specific examples, speaks volumes.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      But, y’know, bad calls are a fact of life in every sport, and Williams is the most accomplished active tennis player today, certainly the best-known.

      It’s funny, because my take was basically “even if you don’t think the call was justified, consider the above”. I’ve seen worse calls and no doubt I’ll see worse calls in the future as well. What’s disturbing to me is how Serena is actively becoming a culture warrior to pursue her own ends; witness the case where she lost her high rank and argued that, since the reason she left the sport for a year and got out of shape was pregnancy, the rankings association should give her a special exemption and let her keep her rank, and that not doing so was sexist against women. She literally asked for positive discrimination and framed it as negative discrimination if that didn’t happen.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ll bet you $50 she wins that argument, BTW. When I was watching Wimbledon during a period of unemployment this summer, 100% of the ESPN crew was loudly and vociferously in agreement with her on this. It was absolutely framed as “Women shouldn’t be punished for having children.”

        Good luck pushing back on that one in this political environment…

        • Thegnskald says:

          Personally, as much as a lot of the rest of the objectives and rhetoric annoy me, I am actually okay with this one.

          In the ideal world, having children would be like serving in the military, socially speaking. It used to be, to some extent, and still is in some of our subcultures (particularly the gender conservative ones). Women shouldn’t be punished for having children, even passively. After all, what the shit are you selecting for, with that approach?

          But the flip side of that which the same people rarely talk about is that men shouldn’t be punished for participating more in having children, either. (Oh, they complain about men not participating as much, certainly. They just don’t comment on the social forces arrayed to punish men who do.) This is the double standard which makes me uninterested in having more of a stake than “I am okay with this”.

          If I were more strategic, I guess I would oppose it on coordination grounds. Meh.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Framing it as a punishment is absurd to start with.

          • Matt M says:

            What baconbits said.

            The purpose of tennis rankings is to accurately summarize who was the most accomplished tennis player over the last ~1 yr.

            Someone who was at home having a baby in 2017 wasn’t the most accomplished tennis player in 2017.

            This seems very simple to me.

          • gbdub says:

            Your body, your choice… not docking Serena’s rank is punishing the women who chose to focus on tennis.

            If raising babies is so important, who cares about a meaningless number like a tennis rank?

            Serena wants mommy points and tennis points without having to make any tough choices. That’s not noble, that’s entitlement.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It doesn’t matter how you choose to frame it, but by how those participating in the rankings choose to frame it.

            If they see it as a punishment, it is, for all relevant incentivization purposes, a punishment. What matters is what feels normal to them.

            The question is what “normal” looks like. Simply asserting your own version of “normal” and behaving as if the question is absurd doesn’t answer the question.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It doesn’t matter how you choose to frame it, but by how those participating in the rankings choose to frame it.

            If they see it as a punishment, it is, for all relevant incentivization purposes, a punishment. What matters is what feels normal to them.

            You could write this more accurately by using the term consequence or outcome without the connotations carried by punishment.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Sure.

            Imagine, for a moment, two situations:

            In both, there is a hole in a dark box.

            In one situation, the box is full of spinning gears that will crush the hand of anyone who reaches inside.

            In the other, there is an angry man who is possessive of his box space who will crush any hand that reaches inside.

            You don’t know which is the case, only that people who reach into the box get their hands crushed.

            Is it punishment? Is it just a natural consequence of reaching into the box?

            What if the box was assembled to perform a function? What if it was assembled to crush the hands of idiots who reach into dark spaces? What if it has a purpose, and the people responsible for building it just didn’t care what happened to people who reached in, since they “deserve” their fate?

            What does “punishment” mean, except a description of the perception of the intent of the agents responsible for a situation? And does it matter whether we call it punishment or not?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            What does “punishment” mean, except a description of the perception of the intent of the agents responsible for a situation?

            It means precisely that, but that is important. Framing it as punishing pregnancy implies that there is a beef with pregnancy, that pregnancy has been singled out somehow. If instead pregnancy is being treated normally as other, similar things would be, then saying that it’s a punishment seems stupid.

            I mean, to your example – if you stick your hand in a factory’s gears and it gets broken, versus if you stick your hand in a man’s face and he breaks it, clearly these are two different things.

            Anyways, as I mentioned, what annoyed me was the attempt to turn a request for positive discrimination into a request for removal of negative discrimination (i.e. give pregnant women special circumstances, that women-taking-a-break don’t get). I figured that there would be some people in favor of giving that positive discrimination, and I might even be that…but I don’t like that dishonesty.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What does “punishment” mean, except a description of the perception of the intent of the agents responsible for a situation?

            Granting this definition (for avoiding semantic arguments sake) you still don’t get to jump to the

            It doesn’t matter how you choose to frame it, but by how those participating in the rankings choose to frame it.

            If they see it as a punishment, it is, for all relevant incentivization purposes, a punishment. What matters is what feels normal to them.

            There isn’t a consensus opinion of every tennis player, or every female tennis player, or every female tennis pro, or every ranked female pro, or every ranked female pro above a level X. So you are down to either ‘these are the agreed upon rules’ or ‘every individual’s opinion is valid’.

            Take the latter to the extreme, what if Serena had said that being pregnant prevented her from practicing and competing for a year and that allowing other top pros to practice and compete for prizes was punishing those women who chose to become pregnant and rewarding those who didn’t, and that anytime a top pro was pregnant the events should be cancelled, and prize money from that year shifted to the next year so that everyone could compete for it fairly. Given your position what is the actual argument against this?

            And does it matter whether we call it punishment or not?

            It matters because it implies something must be done to redress the situation (or demands that the ‘punishment’ be justified). Calling it a punishment frames the discussion, it puts one party as a victim and one as a vitimizer, using neutral language doesn’t have that issue.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Given that Serena was attempting to create a new consensus view (as opposed to just capitalizing on culture war bullshit), then framing it as punishment is exactly right; it is an argument whichs amounts to “This feels like punishment”, which is a valid argument. If most of the women playing disagree – well, the consensus doesn’t agree with her. But I think you are objecting to the wrong thing.

            Should a tennis player lose rank while in the military? What if they were drafted?

            This is the way I am approaching the question, in the framework of other situations in which we might call the fairness of the situation into question. The answer isn’t immediately obvious to me, because it looks pretty clearly to be a situation in which how we characterize it is based entirely on our expectations.

        • Randy M says:

          Good luck pushing back on that one in this political environment…

          No problem. First, find me a black lesbian tennis player…

      • lvlln says:

        What’s disturbing to me is how Serena is actively becoming a culture warrior to pursue her own ends; witness the case where she lost her high rank and argued that, since the reason she left the sport for a year and got out of shape was pregnancy, the rankings association should give her a special exemption and let her keep her rank, and that not doing so was sexist against women. She literally asked for positive discrimination and framed it as negative discrimination if that didn’t happen.

        Wait, am I missing something? Female tennis players are ranked against other female tennis players, right? And rankings are zero-sum so for every time someone falls in the rankings, others rise in the rankings to exactly offset it, right? So as long as all female players are subject to the same rules, i.e. that if they take time off to get pregnant and have a baby, they fall in the rankings due to their absence from the sport, it seems odd to frame that as sexism, since it’s not disadvantaging women relative to men. It’s not like women are competing against men in the rankings who have the advantage of not having to take (as much) time off to have a baby. The strongest case I can see here is that fertile women are being discriminated against compared to non-fertile women (i.e. transwomen, pre-pubescent girls, etc.) because non-fertile women wouldn’t have to take time off to get pregnant if they want to have a baby.

        • Aapje says:

          A possible explanation for that is that these critics are not actually thinking things through for every situation, but are applying a generic template. So in this case they then apply the same template that they also apply for situations where women compete with men.

          • albatross11 says:

            Alternative: Serena’s secret plan is a eugenic program to make super-tennis-players[1]. For this to work, she needs the top womens’ players to be willing to have as many children as possible. Giving them some kind of boost in the rankings per child they have is All Part Of The Plan.

            [1] I assume this all goes back to the marriage between Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          a quick correction from my end: turns out I misremembered and Serena didn’t in fact participate in these arguments

          that said, basically a lot of these situations can be at least partially dismissed under the template that it’s female V female, yeah

      • BBA says:

        Did she say that pregnant women shouldn’t lose ranking points, or just that she specifically shouldn’t? The former is a decent argument, though it would require a substantial rework of the ranking system to accommodate it. The latter is obviously nuts – she’s not the first tennis player to take maternity leave.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          Well, first an apology – it seems I was wrong that Serena participated in this. Actually it was just some articles by USA Today and some other media. Unless there’s something I haven’t found, Serena seemed pretty chill about this incident.

          Anyways, the argument was that pregnant women shouldn’t lose ranking points, essentially because it was discriminatory towards pregnancy. Even though that’s basically the opposite of the truth. Just asking for the exception is, I agree, a decent argument, one especially designed to work on pro-natalists (not sure if I count myself there), but asking for positive discrimination under the guise of arguing against negative discrimination very much pisses me off.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Just as a general point, I haven’t seen anyone asking for male tennis players to be held to a higher standard of courtesy rather than that women should be held to the lower standard that’s expected of men.

      • BBA says:

        Are men held to a lower standard? I’ve seen the long list of examples of “man rants at umpire, doesn’t get docked” but you don’t get docked on the first offense of a match. Maybe that’s the issue – that penalties in tennis are rare enough that the casual viewer doesn’t get that the penalty is based on the number of offenses, not the severity of a particular offense. (Conversely, when someone points out that in, say, rugby, a player who yells at the ref gets expelled immediately… yeah, that doesn’t really work if there’s only one player on the “team.”)

        Of course, when I try to pull out the rulebook and point this out, I’m mansplaining or whitesplaining or otherwise reinforcing the white cisheteropatriarchy. And I hear this from Serena fans who don’t even watch tennis… *bangs head against wall*

        I’m not holding Ramos blameless. He did a lousy job of managing the situation and came off to the audience (most of whom are casual fans who only watch the US Open and maybe Wimbledon) as handing arbitrary penalties to Queen Serena just because he can’t take her Compton attitude.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          If you want some Hot information, check this shit out:

          https://www.reddit.com/r/tennis/comments/9epjp1/2018_us_open_code_violations_men_86_women_22/

          As you might guess from the title, men got 86 code violations during this US open and women got 22. Which is why you have to be careful with “double standards”. Not even because this disproves it, mind; maybe men deserved more violations than what they got!

          Also, in terms of Ramos himself, let me quote a comment from that post:

          – In 2017 at the French Open, Novak Djokovic was given a fault on his serve by Carlos Ramos for time violations. He then received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct after yelling.

          – In 2018 at Wimbledon, Ramos gave Djokovic a code violation for slamming his racquet into the ground. Djokovic later complained about a double standard from Ramos, who did not penalize Kei Nishikori for something similar.

          – In 2017 at the French Open, Ramos called a time violation on Rafael Nadal. Nadal thought the call was selectively enforced and said he was not satisfied with it.

          – In 2016 at the French Open, Ramos called Nick Kyrgios for a code violation for yelling at a towel boy. Kyrgios accused Ramos of having a double standard and was described as “mystified” by the penalty.

          – In August 2016 at the Olympics, Ramos called Andy Murray for a code violation for saying “stupid umpiring.”

          – In July 2017, Ramos called Andy Murray for a time violation for playing too slowly. Murray acknowledged he had been warned before receiving the violation but was still bothered by it.

          So, ya know.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Someone said this on the front page of the NYT (though, perhaps siginficantly, not a professional thinkpiecer): https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/10/opinion/martina-navratilova-serena-williams-us-open.html

    • Acedia says:

      Williams was a jerk with poor self control, but the umpire’s level of hardassery, while technically correct, was foolish and unnecessary. The final match of a major tournament is a bad time to start rigidly enforcing rules that are not normally strictly enforced.

      That said, much of the reaction from the American media is clearly just people who are upset that their beloved celebrity didn’t win pouncing on the opportunity to have their poor sportsmanship framed as social justice.

    • quanta413 says:

      No, you are actually a rare sane person. Welcome to hell.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      If anything about this affair is surprising, you need to reread The Toxoplasma of Rage.

    • dick says:

      The woke left response has been that the umpire was sexist…

      Who, exactly? I like tennis and 100% of the reaction I’ve seen was 100% against Serena. Is this a prominent opinion held by a lot of people that I’m just unaware of due to my media diet? Or a nontroversy built on some random tweet that has been promoted to being “the position of the woke left” by the sort of people who earn their living by bashing the woke left?

      • AnonYEmous says:

        Is this a prominent opinion held by a lot of people that I’m just unaware of due to my media diet

        Yeah. Like the Women’s Tennis Association CEO, via ESPN:

        On Sunday, WTA CEO Steve Simon issued a statement saying the WTA believed that some gender bias and sexism occurred in the game, and that “further review” of the coaching rule is needed.

        The WTA was founded by Billie Jean King, so no surprise that she agreed too. And probably a lot of the crowd agreed to some degree or they wouldn’t have booed Naomi Osaka. In terms of articles…I tried a CNN article, and it turned out to be pretty neutral and just-the-facts, but it had an auto-playing video which started with the words “Serena was correctly talking about the sexism inherent in that now”. And I found an NBC article talking about how tennis is suffering from its patriarchal vestiges…somehow? Not to mention, tweets, plural, often by blue checkmarks with healthy follower counts.

        I’ll admit that my Googling found that some of the usual suspects are being more level-headed about than I’d hoped. But I really wish that Serena herself would’ve been level-headed herself.

        • dick says:

          This is not nothing, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a consensus on the “woke left” either. After five minutes of googling, what I took away is that the most well-known and successful female athlete in the world made a clear accusation of sexism and only got tepid support.

      • BBA says:

        Are you American? I’ve noticed a US/rest of world divide. The Washington Post, for instance, published a piece backing the sexism narrative as its lead coverage of the match.

        • gbdub says:

          I came across a pro-Serena op-ed in the main Sydney paper (but it also had a pro-umpire op-ed from a former umpire who had docked a male player a game in a Grand Slam… the comments were decidedly on the “pro-umpire” side).

  19. vV_Vv says:

    Is Vitamin D deficiency common in people who spend most time indoor? Are supplements useful?

    I just found this article that says that actual Vitamin D deficiency is rare and for healthy people there are no benefits from Vitamin D supplementation. Is it correct?

    • Cheese says:

      Very difficult to answer currently. And you’re probably not going to find a definitive one.

      There’s a lot of problems, some of which that article points out. They include:
      -No one really being sure what level is a deficiency, so no good data on who and when supplementation should occur

      -Conflation of data of easily recognisable deficiencies – ie. third world countries, specific regions and populations with populations who may only be mildly deficient for some periods

      -A highly profitable supplement industry and a new fad status with some high profile people making lots of money

      -So many meta-analysis and reviews it is serious work to slog through them all.

      Some good starting points might be the cochrane database which suggests maybe a slight mortality benefit for older people: https://www.cochrane.org/CD007470/ENDOC_vitamin-d-supplementation-for-prevention-of-mortality-in-adults

      More recent meta-meta analysis suggest maybe not, although maybe hint at a minor role in immune function (seems quite specific though not generalised): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24690624 & https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213858717303571

      Like most popular supplements, the answer is probably not useful unless you don’t eat a reasonably varied diet (remember diet is also a major source of vitamin D) or you are a literal hermit/cover yourself up all the time. The occasional hyperbole about sun cancer messaging making us all horribly deficient and unhealthy is most likely just hyperbole – a lot of it depends on your local conditions as well (UV index, etc). Recommendations for sufficient sun exposure range from literally 5 minutes of forearm exposure for a white person in summer to an hour or two for dark skinned people (again just arms) in winter. Too much is probably also bad for you, so if one was to supplement then as suggested by the reviews then there appears to be more evidence for lower doses. My personal opinion is: just eat food, occasionally get sun.

    • fion says:

      It might not be a bad idea to get tested and/or take small supplements. The amount lost is pretty small, and the potential gain, while unlikely, is large.

      I suffered from chronic fatigue for almost a year, and I went to my doctor several times about it. We checked for diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease and various deficiencies. It turned out I had 5 nmol/litre of Vitamin D. Your article says 50-80 nmol/l is a fairly arbitrary “normal” range. I was prescribed 90 micrograms a day for six weeks and then down to 25 micrograms a day for the rest of my life.

      It should also be noted that you wouldn’t expect me to be deficient from my lifestyle. I’m very outdoorsy, and at the time I still ate fish (as well as all the other foods your article says are good for it).

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      Personal anecdote: I complained of fatigue to my doctor, got tested, had very low Vitamin D, got prescribed supplements, and felt somewhat better. Not blinded, obviously, and N=1, but the test results were certainly extremely low compared to most people who get tested (according to my doctor), leaving aside recommendations. I am not a hermit, spend some time outdoors (although not a lot, maybe 3-8 hours/week), am theoretically white though I almost never sunburn, and eat a fairly varied diet, including quite a lot of milk supplemented with Vitamin D. So yeah, it’s apparently perfectly possible to get Vitamin D deficiency by just staying indoors a lot. I would check it out if you’re concerned, especially if you’re noticing fatigue, depression, or bones breaking too easily (but hopefully not that last one). But N=1, I am not an expert.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that outdoor time went down drastically during the industrial revolution and that we evolved for an outdoor life, not working in an office or factory. So I think that many people can benefit from vitamin D supplements, especially those at risk (dark-skinned, older, indoorsy and/or living in cold places).

        Note that some people have trouble absorbing vitamin D supplements, so given that you already drank quite a lot of milk supplemented with Vitamin D, that may be an issue for you. I would suggest getting tested again to see if you are not still too low. If so, you can try sublingual supplements, upping your sun exposure or taking higher doses of supplements.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          I’ve been tested multiple times since, and the supplements solved it – but thank you. (I confess I also tried to up sun exposure, but that will vary test to test and all of them have shown me above deficiency, so I think it’s the supplements handling it.) My supplement is a pretty high prescription one, so that may be why it’s working.

          I very strongly suspect you are right about outdoor time.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Thanks to all for the answers.

      • Anatoly says:

        Coming a bit late here, but as another piece of n=1 anecdata, I’ve recently drank the cool-aid on vitamin D. In addition to attributing to it (provisionally, I leave lots of room for doubt) a significant improvement w.r.t. procrastination, I’m also interested in Vitamin D’s potential benefits for people on the autistic spectrum. There’s a clutch of papers in recent years that find low levels of D in people with ASD, and even one impressive-looking RCT (but only one!). I’d still say that overall the data is not convincing, much less conclusive. But vitamin D has the benefit of being very cheap and very, very safe, even in doses x10 higher than what’s usually prescribed. I continue taking it and started my family on it as well. If you end up trying, mind a recent article claiming that a statistical error led to commonly prescribing doses being much too low. I suspect that taking daily 500-800 IU would give little to no effect because the blood levels will hardly go up (which will be easy to test in any individual case, but you have to test).

  20. Atlas says:

    Does anyone know of research that tests the hypothesis that racial, ethnic or religious animosity is motivated in some part by observation of higher per capita wrongdoing by ethno-cultural groups? Lee Jussim’s research on stereotype accuracy is the closest thing I know of off the top of my head.

    To be clear, I don’t think that such observation is necessarily the primary motivation for “racism”, nor do I think that such group condemnation is morally justified. For instance, Trump famously began his presidential campaign by condemning Hispanic immigrants for their alleged propensity toward violent criminality, a sentiment which many of his supporters share. However, as Ron Unz, who is, to put it mildly, certainly no servant of political correctness, thoroughly documented, in reality, Hispanic immigration has not led to a noticeable increase in the risk of violent crime for white Americans, especially considering that Hispanic immigrants have often replaced black residents in major metropolitan areas. Thus, I would say that right wing attacks on Hispanic immigration as a material criminal danger, on the spectrum from Tucker Carlson to Jared Taylor to Andrew Anglin, are mostly opportunistic and based on pre-existing opposition to immigration rather than genuine fear of victimization by Hispanic criminals leading to such opposition. What’s notable about the Mollie Tibbetts case is just how rare such an incident of a Hispanic criminal randomly killing a law-abiding white citizen is; while Breitbart and the Daily Stormer report exhaustively on (still relatively rare, but certainly extant) single instances of black-on-white crime, they have difficulty finding even single cases of Hispanics committing violent crimes against whites. Which is rather astonishing given that there are about 50 million Hispanics in the US who are allegedly responsible for turning parts of the US into a Mad Max style anarchic gangland; one would think that immigration restrictions would have a new Mollie Tibbetts to point to every week at least. Yet somehow the Daily Stormer, Pat Buchanan and Steve Sailer fail to bring up any of these victims; perhaps their tongues are tied by their fear of pc censorship?

    However, I do think that in general pattern recognition of wrongdoing is a much more plausible null hypothesis for why ordinary people have “bigoted” views than the hypothesis that was advanced by my teachers in middle-high school (or for that matter in my college courses) and by mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and the Atlantic: namely, that people are randomly just infected with this totally irrational mind virus that has no basis whatsoever in factual reality. For instance, this post by Times columnist Timothy Egan fails to even entertain the possibility that “stereotypes” of Roma being prone to criminality, clannishness and begging might in fact be correct and partly explain widespread animosity towards the Roma. However, without having researched the question, I would set as the default hypothesis that these stereotypes are in fact accurate—or else they wouldn’t have developed across countries in the first place—and that they, frankly understandably, though not justifiably, motivate dislike of the Roma. I would of course like to see some sort of resolution to the issue that fairly takes into account the interests of both Europeans and the Roma and gives all parties a fair opportunity for honest flourishing. But I think that an honest appraisal of the facts is necessary for such a resolution, and it seems to me that the dominant trend in the media and academia is to block such appraisals.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I think the stronger hypothesis is that racism is rooted in perceived criminality or other negative traits.

      This doesn’t have to be related to the actual criminality of hispanic immigrants (or whoever), just the criminality of hispanics the person in question knows of, and also that it doesn’t require a pre-existing racist news source. Suppose the average person does not encounter many actual criminals in their life, and further suppose that the media prefers to report negative events (petty crime, natural disasters, war, whatever) over positive events (technical successes, improvements in the state of the economy, excellent beach weather, …). Then selectively hearing about distant criminals more than non-distant criminals of a random subgroup provides (untrustworthy) evidence that members of that subgroup are inclined to criminality in rough proportion to their local population, because most of the members of that subgroup that you can call to mind are in fact criminals, regardless of what’s going on with the actual population.

      This is really, really obvious with homophobia. If the only gay man you know of is Promiscuous Georg, who has unprotected gay sex five times a day, “gays are licentious degenerates” may start to look like a reasonable proposition. But if you hear of Promiscuous Georg and also know Bob and Frank down the street, and that a Capella group, and cousin Burt, and Jamie at the pizza place, then it starts to look like Promiscuous Georg is an outlier and shoudl not have been counted.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Trump famously began his presidential campaign by condemning Hispanic immigrants for their alleged propensity toward violent criminality, a sentiment which many of his supporters share. However, as Ron Unz, who is, to put it mildly, certainly no servant of political correctness, thoroughly documented, in reality, Hispanic immigration has not led to a noticeable increase in the risk of violent crime for white Americans, especially considering that Hispanic immigrants have often replaced black residents in major metropolitan areas. Thus, I would say that right wing attacks on Hispanic immigration as a material criminal danger, on the spectrum from Tucker Carlson to Jared Taylor to Andrew Anglin, are mostly opportunistic and based on pre-existing opposition to immigration rather than genuine fear of victimization by Hispanic criminals leading to such opposition.

      Trump and most of his supporters never claimed that Hispanics are a wicked race intrinsically prone to crime. They claim that illegal immigrants are prone to crime, which is factually true. Unz shows that the American Hispanics as a race aren’t more prone to crime than whites once you control for age and gender, which is interesting but doesn’t address the issue of illegal immigrants being more prone to crime.

      Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief (of both the leftists and the alt-righters/dead eaters), Trump and his “mainstream” supporters (e.g. Tucker Carlson) are civic nationalists, not ethno-nationalists. Jared Taylor and Andrew Anglin are true racists and ethno-nationalists, but they represent very small minority positions.

      • Matt M says:

        They claim that illegal immigrants are prone to crime, which is factually true.

        I know a lot of people like to ignore this one minor technicality, but in a strictly technical sense, 100% of illegal immigrants commit at least one crime. It’s literally impossible to be an illegal immigrant who has never committed a crime. As far as I can tell, illegal immigration is the only crime on the books that for some reason “doesn’t count” as a crime in common discourse.

        And I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to suggest that it’s not in the best interest of a country with a strong tradition of “rule of law” (or whatever you want to call it) to continuously admit people who openly flaunt said rules.

        • Montfort says:

          The idea that illegal immigrants are prone to crime is used to argue their unsuitability for residency. By definition their illegal immigration has already occurred and if it somehow recurred (trip to mexico and back?), it probably doesn’t result in additional harm in itself* (though smuggling things across the border, for instance, would). For comparison, if arguing that drug users are undesirable residents of the country, it doesn’t really make sense to point out 100% of users are criminals by virtue of using the drug in question. Instead, you would point to associated crimes, like theft, gang violence, dui, etc. If the people you were arguing against already accepted drug use, by virtue of being illegal, was enough to make you a bad citizen, you wouldn’t be having the argument. If arguing speeders are bad, the 100% argument would be worse than statistics on the cost of speeding in lives and money for similar reasons, and so on.

          The idea that 100% are criminals slightly suggests, and your second paragraph more strongly suggests, that one can use illegal immigration to predict higher future criminality. By discounting the illegal immigration itself, your opponents are asking you if the statistics bear that implication out.

          *edit: okay, I could see someone arguing that continued residence is additional harm per second, but presumably the other side of the argument doesn’t believe that and would ask for further justification.

          • arlie says:

            I’d be more convinced by this kind of argument, if I knew anyone who hadn’t broken at least one law. Most people who drive violate speed limits. Many submit iffy income tax returns, fail to declare purchases when returning from foreign trips, or similar. Those who walk any distance generally routinely jaywalk when it appears safe to do so. A large portion of my generation sampled various illegal drugs at least once. Judging by those I know, less than one in ten internet shoppers pay the state sales tax due, if it’s not collected by the vendor.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s a fair point.

            Generally speaking, I map my “concern for lawbreaking behavior” to the severity of offense. I don’t really know the exact level of offense attributable to things like speeding, jaywalking, etc. But it’s certainly lower than a misdemeanor.

            I’m not sure where illegal immigration falls either, but it certainly seems to be considered a much more serious offense than things like speeding, jaywalking, etc. It’s certainly true that a lot of people think it shouldn’t be, but that’s a separate discussion.

            In the meantime, there is absolutely no shortage of aspiring immigrants who don’t violate immigration law, that we routinely kick out and send home. Why not prioritize those who respect the law (even if the law is minor) over those who do not? Similarly, if I were hiring a chauffeur, and there were a lot of candidates, I’d almost certainly give preference to the ones who didn’t have a bunch of speeding tickets.

          • gbdub says:

            There’s also the argument (though I don’t know how justified it is) that illegal immigration supports and is associated with much more serious crime, even if the illegal immigrants are not themselves criminals – many of the people involved in smuggling immigrants are the same people smuggling drugs and other contraband, and they definitely are more likely to also be violent criminals.

            Of course, immigration prohibition in the face of high demand may be as useless/counterproductive as drug prohibition (or maybe not).

          • Matt M says:

            Right. Illegal immigration might not be highly correlated with rape, but I’d bet a whole lot of money that it is highly correlated with say, the fraudulent usage of social security numbers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt:

            I’m sure that’s true. I guess the interesting question, to my mind, is whether there is any particular association between willingness to illegally immigrate to the US and willingness to commit either violent or property crime. Once they’re here, they’re surely going to continue violating laws whose purpose is to catch and deport them, but I want to know if they’re likely to rob, rape, or kill the rest of us.

            From what I’ve understood of available crime statistics, they don’t seem especially inclined in that direction. Intuitively, I’d expect that–illegal immigrants really don’t want to get mixed up with the justice system, since if they commit a serious crime, they’ll be sent to prison, and then deported when they get out. Even minor crimes are likely to get them deported. It’s basically a class of people who face higher penalties for crime than the rest of us–it’s not a huge shock that they respond to those higher penalties by not committing as much crime. The price went up, so they bought less of it.

          • Matt M says:

            albatross,

            That logic is sound and I’m not sure I disagree.

            I feel like the problem here is that the two tribes are having two separate conversations with different definitions of criminality in mind.

            Red tribe says: “Illegal immigrants are criminals!” which is literally true in the sense that they violated immigration law, and is almost certainly true in the sense that they are quite likely to also be violating tax laws, labor laws, basic traffic laws (driving without license, insurance, etc.).

            Blue tribe says: “Not true! Studies have shown that illegal immigrants are no more likely to rape or murder than native born Americans!”

            But both of these things can be true. And I think Red Tribe has every right to object to the general/minor illegalities associated with illegal immigrants even if they are no more likely to rape and murder. But rather than acknowledge this, most proponents of illegal immigration simply cite the rape and murder statistics, and jump from that to “therefore the only possible explanation is racism.”

          • Deiseach says:

            I want to know if they’re likely to rob, rape, or kill the rest of us.

            More fun with those FBI stats and Excel:

            Arrests made by ethnicity/racial breakdown, from a list of 29 charges where number 1 is the most arrests by proportion of total arrests, thus highest place on the list, and number 29 is the fewest, thus lowest place on the list.

            White: 29/29 – Robbery, 1/29 – Driving under influence
            African American: 29/29 – Driving under influence, 1/29 – Robbery
            Native American: 29/29 – Gambling, 1/29 – Drunkenness
            Asian: 29/29 – Offences against family and children, 1/29 – Prostitution and commercialised vice
            Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 29/29 – Vagrancy, 1/29 – Gambling
            Hispanic or Latino: 29/29 – Offences against family and children, 1/29 – Rape

            If you want to know about murder, again where 29 is the lowest place and 1 is the highest place on the list:

            African-American: Number 2
            Hispanic or Latino: Number 14
            Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: Number 17
            Asian: Number 18
            Native American: Number 21
            White: Number 28

          • albatross11 says:

            gbdub:

            I think other countries manage to have pretty effective immigration enforcement (and thus, no large pool of people in the country illegally) without turning into police states or anything. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine that the US could, too.

          • It’s certainly true that a lot of people think it shouldn’t be, but that’s a separate discussion.

            The argument is about whether the willingness of someone to break immigration law by immigrating predicts his willingness to break other laws. From that standpoint, the question is how serious a crime the illegal immigrant thinks he is committing, not how serious a crime the legal system thinks he is committing.

            And it also depends on the payoff for committing a crime. The fact that someone will break a law when doing so provides a very large benefit to him and his family is weak evidence that he will engage in casual law breaking–weaker evidence than the fact that someone else does engage in casual law breaking, even if the latter is committing a less serious crime than the former.

          • I’d bet a whole lot of money that it is highly correlated with say, the fraudulent usage of social security numbers.

            A crime that produces net benefits for the rest of us, since it means money is being paid into the system by someone who can’t use having paid it in as a basis for later getting money back.

          • And I think Red Tribe has every right to object to the general/minor illegalities associated with illegal immigrants even if they are no more likely to rape and murder.

            Only if those Red Tribe members object to the minor illegalities that they and other Red Tribe members routinely commit–drinking when under 21, providing drinks to people under 21, driving over the speed limit, … . Which I don’t think they are.

            And the minor illegalities the illegal immigrants commit could mostly be eliminated by letting them become legal immigrants.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s plenty of law-n-order “the law’s the law” Red Tribers who would object strenuously to violating the drinking age or the speed limit (whether or not they have a lead foot themselves). I don’t know if they are well represented among those objecting to immigrants as law breakers.

          • quanta413 says:

            @The Nybbler
            There’s Kent Scheidegger for “the law is the law” types I guess, but I think he’s more of an exception than a rule.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            There are other mechanisms by which illegal immigration could increase the crime rate without the immigrants themselves committing crimes at above-average rates (other than illegally immigrating, that is). For example, having the law enforcement agencies and large sections of the political class openly turn a blind eye to large-scale lawbreaking is likely to decrease respect for the law across the board. Or again, more heterogenous societies tend to be lower trust societies, and lower trust societies tend to have higher crime rates.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure where illegal immigration falls either, but it certainly seems to be considered a much more serious offense than things like speeding, jaywalking, etc. It’s certainly true that a lot of people think it shouldn’t be, but that’s a separate discussion.

            You are wise to limit your discussion to whether or not illegal immigration is considered a serious offense, rather than to attribute seriousness as an absolute. But:

            It “seems to be considered a much more serious offense” according to whom, exactly? Because if there are a lot of people who think it shouldn’t be considered a more serious offense, then to that multitude it isn’t considered a more serious offense. Your unqualified certainty that it is “considered” more serious, is misplaced in a paragraph that simultaneously notes the great many people who clearly consider it less serious.

            And your criticism of illegal immigrants seems to simplify to, “these people are committing crimes that people like me consider to be serious, and that makes them much worse than people who commit crimes that other people consider to be serious”. Meanwhile, as a predictor of more generically criminal behavior, what you really need to know is whether the criminal understood the offense to be serious and went ahead and did it anyway.

            My general rule of thumb is, a crime is absolutely serious if it was a felony at common law, or of it didn’t exist five centuries ago but there is nigh-unanimous agreement that it is in the same league as the common-law felonies. Otherwise, beware tribal politics and don’t expect either effective persuasion or accurate prediction to follow.

          • Matt M says:

            It “seems to be considered a much more serious offense” according to whom, exactly? Because if there are a lot of people who think it shouldn’t be considered a more serious offense, then to that multitude it isn’t considered a more serious offense.

            Yes, this is the nature of the disagreement.

            Red tribe thinks it is a serious offense that should be severely and consistently punished. Blue tribe thinks it is completely morally neutral and should carry no punishment at all.

            And in true American bipartisan fashion, the solution we’ve designed is to catch and punish some random smattering of such people severely, while ignoring others and letting them get away with it scott free.

            What we need to have is an actual honest conversation wherein the right admits that they believe ALL illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have ZERO illegal immigration, and the left admits that they believe NO illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have open borders.

          • Plumber says:

            ^

            “….What we need to have is an actual honest conversation wherein the right admits that they believe ALL illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have ZERO illegal immigration, and the left admits that they believe NO illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have open borders”

             
            Matt M,

            I’ll admit no such thing.

            I’m pro minimum wage laws, Social Security Insurance, progressive income taxes, labor unions, welfare aid for the poor, and laws to curb the power of employers, all of which are “left” positions, but I’m very much against open borders. 

            And I’ll remind you that the U. F. W. originally opposed illegal immigration.

            Going by the dictionary definitions, I’ll accept being called “conservative” or even “reactionary”, but call me “right-wing” and I’m offended.

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ David Friedman

            (1) Regarding:

            Only if those Red Tribe members object to the minor illegalities that they and other Red Tribe members routinely commit–drinking when under 21, providing drinks to people under 21, driving over the speed limit, … . Which I don’t think they are.

            I would focus on motorist insurance. It’s a misdemeanor offense to drive uninsured, I believe, but then a car accident can be financially disastrous for all parties involved.

            I would say that having motorist insurance is a broadly accepted norm. According to the link below, 87% of US motorists were insured in 2015 (although there variance across states, but that strikes me as being correlated with income disparity more than with political affiliation):

            https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-uninsured-motorists

            So, I suspect many people would/do object to this particular illegality.

            (2) Regarding:

            And the minor illegalities the illegal immigrants commit could mostly be eliminated by letting them become legal immigrants.

            This rule seems haphazard, how does it generalize? It seems to read as: If I commit crime X which increases the likelihood I will commit future crime Y, then X should be forgiven (or perhaps not even be a crime in the first place?).

            So, perhaps I have a criminal record for stealing $400 from a corner store. Given this status, I have a hard time finding a job, and so I’m more likely to resort to illegal means of generating income. Should my criminal record be expunged?

          • Dan L says:

            @ Matt M:

            What we need to have is an actual honest conversation wherein the right admits that they believe ALL illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have ZERO illegal immigration, and the left admits that they believe NO illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have open borders.

            As has been pointed out to you before in these threads, your understanding of the left’s position on immigration is deeply flawed. Have some data.(PDF) Page 67 is the most directly relevant in this case, but some of the other questions might help illustrate the nuance.

          • dick says:

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matt M paraphrase a left-wing position in a way that the person or group whose position he was paraphrasing would agree with.

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps those people are lying (or are self-deluded).

            Look, I’m not the one who made the comparison to speeding. I’m sorry, but if your goal is to have illegal immigration enforced with the same rigor and level of punishment as speeding, you are de facto in favor of open borders.

            Maybe not in a hyper-literalistic technical sense (because after all, speeding is technically illegal), but definitely in a practical sense.

            And anyone who believes that illegal immigration is morally equivalent to speeding should in fact favor such a system.

            So don’t sit here and tell me, on the one hand, that half the country thinks illegal immigration is no more harmful or morally wrong than speeding, but on the other hand, throw polling data at me showing “nobody claims to be in favor of open borders.” Those positions cannot coexist.

          • Plumber says:

            @Matt M,

            The speeding analogy helps me make sense of the polling data.

            I’m anti speeding down streets that my kids play on, but I’m also pro my getting home faster, and anti my getting a ticket, so contradictory goals.

            I think most Americans are pro the individual immigrants that they know personally, but anti a more crowded nation (and the resulting traffic, lower wager, and higher rents).

            I want the guy ahead of me in traffic deported, but I want the guy I’m carpooling with to get to stay.

            Contradictory goals. 

          • dick says:

            “I think that group X behaves in a way that implies support for position Y, therefore I assert that group X supports position Y even if they say they don’t” is absolutely 100% not a legitimate thing to do. If it were, there no argument you couldn’t win with it: “I think that cutting taxes will lead to wage stagnation which will lead to children going hungry, and Matt M wants to cut taxes, therefore Matt M supports a policy of starving children. Why do you hate babies so much?!?!?!”

          • Matt M says:

            If you made that argument, I would explain to you why cutting taxes won’t lead to child starvation.

            You gonna explain to me how treating illegal immigration like speeding won’t lead to de facto open borders? How broadcasting that 99.9% of illegal border crossings will go wholly unpunished, and that the remaining 0.1% will be given a small fine and sent on their way won’t result in a situation wherein anyone who feels like it just crosses at will?

          • Plumber says:

            “If you made that argument,  I would explain to you why cutting taxes won’t lead to child starvation….”

            @Matt M,

            I’d still be against cutting taxes as in my lifetime (born in ’68) I’ve mostly seen how things worse get worse after taxes are cut, and that things get better after taxes are raised, and while that may just be because when things are getting worse the first thing tried is lowering taxes, but that doesn’t stop the trend, and it’s when things are getting better that taxes get raised at all, but I still don’t want to take the chance.

            “…You gonna explain to me how treating illegal immigration like speeding won’t lead to de facto open borders? How broadcasting that 99.9% of illegal border crossings will go wholly unpunished, and that the remaining 0.1% will be given a small fine and sent on their way won’t result in a situation wherein anyone who feels like it just crosses at will?.You gonna explain to me how treating illegal immigration like speeding won’t lead to de facto open borders? How broadcasting that 99.9% of illegal border crossings will go wholly unpunished, and that the remaining 0.1% will be given a small fine and sent on their way won’t result in a situation wherein anyone who feels like it just crosses at will?”

            @Matt M,

            That doesn’t sound much different than the current situation to me.

          • dick says:

            You gonna explain to me how treating illegal immigration like speeding won’t lead to de facto open borders?

            It’s not my position, and it doesn’t seem to be the position of anyone else here either, but it’s plausible that it’s someone’s position, and if that person also insists that they don’t support open borders, then yeah, I imagine they could explain it. And if you think they’re wrong, that “open borders” is a fair way to characterize their position, then you guys could argue about it.

            But that would be more of an argument about semantics than policy, and I think that arguing semantics over the internet is The Most Boring Thing In The World. So ideally, you could just skip the sub-argument over labels and go directly to the part about policy, and why you think theirs is bad. But being able to accurately summarize someone’s position is a prerequisite to arguing against it, let alone winning that argument.

          • Matt M says:

            But being able to accurately summarize someone’s position

            I am accurately summarizing their position.

            They want to make illegal immigration trivially easy to accomplish, virtually impossible to enforce, and punished incredibly lightly.

            But they also want to be able to declare that they are totally NOT for open borders.

            I refuse to participate in this obvious charade. If you don’t favor anything other than token and ineffective security measures, and you don’t favor identifying and removing those who are already here, and you don’t favor any meaningfully strict punishment for those who are somehow caught, then you don’t favor any restrictions on immigration whatsoever – no matter how much you insist otherwise.

            The fact that they don’t like my summary, because it exposes a true belief that is politically unpopular, does not make it inaccurate.

          • I’ve mostly seen how things worse get worse after taxes are cut, and that things get better after taxes are raised

            Is the relevant measure taxes or government expenditure? As I pointed out earlier, you seem to think that the expenditure of state and local governments (your examples were things like schools) went down and things got worse. In fact, the expenditures of state and local governments went up, by quite a lot, over the period you were talking about.

            In 1960, state and local expenditure was 9.6% of GDP. By 2010 it was up to 15.9%. (Source)

            In 1960, real GDP per capita was about $18,000, by 2010 it was about $50,00. (source)

            Combining those, real per capita state and local expenditure in 2010 was about 4.6 times as large as in 1960.

            I gave links to my sources, so if you prefer to compare other dates you can do so.

            The idea that problems you are unhappy with are due to state and local governments spending less money than they used to is inconsistent with the easily verified fact that they are spending more money than they used to–much more than they did fifty years earlier.

          • What we need to have is an actual honest conversation wherein the right admits that they believe ALL illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have ZERO illegal immigration, and the left admits that they believe NO illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have open borders.

            I think lots of people on the right would say that their desired position is zero illegal immigration, although the more thoughtful ones would add that the cost of getting all the way to zero is probably higher than it is worth–just as in the case of murder or traffic accidents.

            Some people on the left are in favor of open borders, but lots are not, at least if “left” means “left of center” or “Democrats.” The trade unions, which are still a significant element in the Democratic coalition, have generally opposed increased immigration. I’m not sure what fraction would favor open borders if you limited “left” to people who would describe themselves as progressives or leftists.

          • dick says:

            I am accurately summarizing their position.

            Whose? A man needs a name. Who specifically would read, “They want to make illegal immigration trivially easy to accomplish, virtually impossible to enforce, and punished incredibly lightly,” and reply, “Yep, that’s pretty much my position”? Is this the same person whose goal you said was “to have illegal immigration enforced with the same rigor and level of punishment as speeding”?

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman,

            Since you’re a college professor and I’m a plumber I’m doubtful that I’ll find any statistics that you can’t easily contradict, but how it seemed to me at the time was: after Prop 13 went into effect, the classes got more crowded and toilet paper disappeared from my schools restrooms. 

            After Reagan cut income taxes in 1981, there was massive unemployment in 1982, I encountered many more beggers year, after year, after year, and I heard more and more gunshots and sirens (I think I heard the most in 1985), and finding jobs was really damn hard for me in 1986.

            After Bush (senior) and Clinton raised income taxes, jobs were easier to come by and I heard less gunshots and sirens, and 1999 was great!

            After Bush (junior) cut income taxes, jobs became harder to find again (but thankfully the gunshots didn’t come back), and many guys I knew lost their homes 2008 to 2010. 

            After taxes were raised as part of Obamacare, jobs became plentiful (very much easier for me to find employment in 2011 to now than it was for me in 2007 to 2010 (or 1986 to 1991 for that matter).

            I’m mostly in the tank for “Tax and Spend” now, but this is where is gets wonky, as while jobs are plentiful now, so is homelessness (unlike in the 1980’s when it seemed the lack of jobs and how many beggers I encountered correlated), which is puzzling and worrying.

            It’s all related to what I’ve directly experience, and I know my experience isn’t universal as the guy who owns the shop I buy my overalls from says the Reagan years were great for him, while I remember them as being awful.

            I imagine that different life experiences would have given me different beliefs, but they were what they were, and they are what they are.

          • Matt M says:

            how it seemed to me at the time was: after Prop 13 went into effect, the classes got more crowded and toilet paper disappeared from my schools restrooms.

            That could be an artifact of having less money.

            Or it could be an artifact of the schools deciding to spend their money poorly.

            David has already given you the statistics on taxation and spending. You might also check out the statistics related to the growth of administrative non-teaching personnel relative to teachers over time.

          • Matt M says:

            Who specifically would read, “They want to make illegal immigration trivially easy to accomplish, virtually impossible to enforce, and punished incredibly lightly,” and reply, “Yep, that’s pretty much my position”? Is this the same person whose goal you said was “to have illegal immigration enforced with the same rigor and level of punishment as speeding”?

            Once again, just because they wouldn’t agree with it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

            If your demand is that I characterize the views of my opponents on terms favorable to them, I politely decline.

            Find me a prominent Democrat who vocally supports increased border security OR increased efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants OR harsher punishments to increase the deterrent effect and then we’ll talk.

            And not only do they not support strengthening any of those things (despite their current state being woefully inadequate in stopping illegal immigration), they actively advocate for all three to be made weaker.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Weaker” doesn’t mean “negligible”. It’s perfectly consistent for someone to want less border security, less deportations, and lighter punishments than what we’ve currently got and yet still want to stop short of de-facto open borders.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s already negligible. As I said, current state is already woefully inadequate in solving the problem.

          • Nornagest says:

            If you think we’ve got de-facto open borders, I think you might be a little confused about what open borders means.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            They want to make illegal immigration trivially easy to accomplish, virtually impossible to enforce, and punished incredibly lightly.
            But they also want to be able to declare that they are totally NOT for open borders.

            Proves too much, I think. For example, speeding cameras are (were?) controversial in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that everybody opposed to them wanted an “open speed” policy.

            Opposition to extreme copyright enforcement tactics might also be analogous, and there’s the same sort of tension: personally, I agree that it is preferable for copyright law to exist, but at the same time I don’t want the internet (metaphorically) shut down just so we can enforce it a little bit more effectively.

            Besides, I could easily imagine someone arguing along similar lines but in the other direction: “They want to spend ridiculous amounts on enforcement, be allowed to routinely violate civil rights, and to harshly punish people whose only real crime is to fail to file the correct paperwork. But they also want to be able to declare that they are totally NOT against immigration, only illegal immigration. I refuse to participate, etc., etc.”

            … I don’t think it’s about whether or not the laws should be enforced, so much as how far you’re willing to go to enforce them. And this sort of story doesn’t do the pro-enforcement side any favours.

          • Matt M says:

            Given that we seem to agree that in general, speeding is incredibly common, very rarely punished, and that punishment is essentially trivial…

            It seems to me that someone who constantly advocated for less preventative measures and less ability to detect speeding and lighter punishment for speeding when detected is, in every meaningful sense, calling for it to be completely legal.

            But if “legalize speeding” is generally unpopular, they’d have every reason not to say that – and to push back on anyone who accused them of it.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            It seems to me that someone who constantly advocated for less preventative measures and less ability to detect speeding and lighter punishment for speeding when detected is, in every meaningful sense, calling for it to be completely legal.

            This doesn’t seem quite right, somehow. Status quo bias, perhaps? Anyway, as a hypothetical, suppose the government proposed the introduction of the death penalty for speeding and the installation of speed cameras every ten meters along all major roads. I would assume that you would not consider opposing that policy to be equivalent to calling for the legalization of speeding.

            A year later, however, the policy is put in place, and is now the law. Does that mean that from then on any suggestion that the policy should be reversed, i.e., for less enforcement and lighter punishments, is equivalent to supporting the legalization of speeding?

          • dick says:

            Once again, just because they wouldn’t agree with it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

            Sure, and it could be true that the only reason you favor more enforcement of immigration law is that you hate Mexicans. But we have this general convention where we argue against the positions people espouse, not the ones we imagine they might secretely hold that are easier to defeat, which is known as attacking a straw man and generally looked askance upon.

            Given that we seem to agree that in general, speeding is incredibly common, very rarely punished, and that punishment is essentially trivial…

            To whom is this directed? We write something like 100,000 speeding tickets per day in America. Roughly one driver in five gets ticketed each year. Repeat offenders can and do get jail time. I hear people complain about how high the fines are. There are small towns where the police seem to do almost nothing but write tickets.

            I wouldn’t call that “very rarely punished.” Is that because you and I disagree, or because I secretly agree with you but refuse to admit it?

            Find me a prominent Democrat who vocally supports increased border security

            “When it comes to immigration, I have actually put more money, under my administration, into border security than any other administration previously. We’ve got more security resources at the border – more National Guard, more border guards, you name it – than the previous administration. So we’ve ramped up significantly the issue of border security.” –Barack Obama

          • dick says:

            It seems to me that someone who constantly advocated for less preventative measures and less ability to detect speeding and lighter punishment for speeding when detected is, in every meaningful sense, calling for it to be completely legal.

            Responding to a call for less of something as if it were a call for none of something is a canonical example of a straw-man fallacy. It’s literally Wikipedia’s first example:

            A: We should relax the laws on beer.

            B: No, any society with unrestricted access to intoxicants loses its work ethic and goes only for immediate gratification.

            The original proposal was to relax laws on beer. Person B has misconstrued/misrepresented this proposal by responding to it as if it had been something like “(we should have) unrestricted access to intoxicants.” It is a logical fallacy because Person A never advocated allowing said unrestricted access to intoxicants.

          • Dan L says:

            Oh dear, I seem to have linked the Topline version instead of the Crosstabs(PDF). Mea culpa. I do hope nobody pretended to be responding to data which was not in fact presented. I do hope nobody was caught pre-emptively declaring that the dragon in their garage is invisible.

            @ Matt M:

            They want to make illegal immigration trivially easy to accomplish, virtually impossible to enforce, and punished incredibly lightly.

            “Would you favor or oppose a Congressional deal that gives undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents work permits and a path to citizenship in exchange for increasing merit preference over preference for relatives, eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and funding barrier security on the U.S.-Mexico border?”

            Democrat: 63% favor / 37% oppose

            “Do you think current border security is adequate or inadequate?”

            Democrat: 51% adequate / 49% inadequate

            “Do you think we should have basically open borders or do you think we need secure borders?”

            Democrat: 36% open borders / 64% secure borders

            “Do you support or oppose building a combination of physical and electronic barriers across the U.S.-Mexico border?”

            Democrat: 39% support / 61% oppose

            “Do you think we need stricter or looser enforcement of our immigration laws?”

            Democrat: 51% stricter / 49% looser

            Continue on to dig into the data deeper, and there’s a reasonably consistent pattern: roughly a third of the Left is categorically against strengthening immigration control like you claim, roughly a third is in favor of strengthening controls as an end in and of itself, and the last third is on the fence and open to a wide range of policy compromises.

            In declaring everyone on the Left your ideological enemy, you are sabotaging your ability to find allies.

            Find me a prominent Democrat who vocally supports increased border security OR increased efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants OR harsher punishments to increase the deterrent effect and then we’ll talk.

            Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It’s really easy to find a Democrat willing to give a full-throated endorsement of a reform bill that includes increased border security – you literally don’t have to look beyond the highest elected office in the land held by a Democrat. Go back a few years, and you’ll find the term “Deporter-in-Chief” originated in 2014.

            But if you’re specifically limiting the evidence you’ll accept to national-level Democrats’ campaign rhetoric, then you’ll find that it still existed for decades… right up until the Republican presidential primary was decided in favor of the candidate who took the most extreme stance in recent memory. Wedge issues are a thing and the inevitable follows.

            And quite frankly, I’m worried about what that wedge is doing to the Democratic base. This is a classic toxoplasma situation, and I’m not a fan of those who are complicit in driving out the middle with these extremist false dichotomies.

          • Plumber says:

            Oh dear, I seem to have linked the Topline version instead of the Crosstabs(PDF). Mea culpa….

            @Dan L,

            I did respond based on the old data you linked to, which showed that the majority of Americans want “secure borders”.

            My assumption was that the majority would include some on the left, but thanks for the new data.

            “…And quite frankly, I’m worried about what that wedge is doing to the Democratic base…”

            As someone who votes for Democrats on the theory that things get worse slower when they’re in office, I’m worried as well.

            I don’t want open borders, and while ultimately other issues are more important to me, I don’t like that the Democratic party seems to be changing to favor open borders just to defy Trump.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dan L –

            I don’t think anybody even looked at your data, reviewing the conversation.

            I certainly never do on matters of politics. If my arguments rely on data, then we aren’t arguing over whether or not I am a prostitute, we are just haggling over price. The Efficient Politics Theorem states that all outstanding political debates that can be settled by empiricism, have been, and the remaining debates are about political principles. Empiricism is only used to try to prove the other guy’s principles are faulty.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Plumber:

            I did respond based on the old data you linked to, which showed that the majority of Americans want “secure borders”.

            My assumption was that the majority would include some on the left, but thanks for the new data.

            Yeah, you did fine. My snark was weaponized self-disappointment aimed at people who shifted talking points based on an experiment that didn’t happen, with a reference to Sagan via Yudkowski.

            (Disclaimer: I cite data that I think is pretty good, but opinion polls are volatile things that need frequent updates, and “Democrats on immigration” is an interesting topic because the data is becoming obsolete so fast.)

            @ Thegnskald:

            I certainly never do on matters of politics. If my arguments rely on data, then we aren’t arguing over whether or not I am a prostitute, we are just haggling over price. The Efficient Politics Theorem states that all outstanding political debates that can be settled by empiricism, have been, and the remaining debates are about political principles. Empiricism is only used to try to prove the other guy’s principles are faulty.

            If someone truly does believe that, then they’ve embraced a form of Conflict Theory so extreme there is nothing to offer them but pity. I hope SSC at least can offer them the door.

          • @ Matt M:

            It’s already negligible.

            You seem to be claiming that what we now have is pretty much equivalent to open borders. If that is the case, perhaps you should support explicitly open borders. The costs of enforcing immigration restrictions would disappear, along with the problems due to it being illegal–current illegal immigrants would be in the same legal situation as legal immigrants. They wouldn’t have to engage in fraud in order to work. They wouldn’t all be criminals.

            The usual argument against open borders is that it would result in an enormous increase in immigration. Are you saying that isn’t true?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the parallel between speeding and illegal immigration is more appropriate than it looks at first glance.

            In the US, we have a fair bit of casual speeding, but also a fair bit of speeding enforcement (some for revenue, some for safety). It’s easy to imagine someone who wants very strict enforcement of speed limits (maybe 10 MPH over the speed limit gets you a wreckless driving charge) feeling like the way we enforce speed limits in most of the US is practically like having no speed limit. And yet, the roads do not look like the would with no speed limit–there are a lot fewer people driving 90 MPH on the highways now than there would be with no such laws or no enforcement of them. What we have, instead, is a balance between:

            a. The desire to keep the speed on our roads more-or-less reasonable.

            b. The desire of local governments to raise revenue with speeding fines.

            c. A desire to limit enforcement costs (both the cost of police manning speed traps, and the costs of jailing people for driving 55 MPH in a 45 MPH zone).

            d. A tacit understanding that the optimal amount of speeding isn’t zero, so getting down to nobody ever driving 1 MPH above the speed limit isn’t even desirable.

            I’d say that’s a decent parallel for immigration enforcement. We don’t have open borders, and the world would look radically different if we did. What we have is fairly lax enforcement of borders and immigration law, sufficient to keep the illegal immigrant population in the US pretty steady over the last few years and to keep net migration from Mexico around 0. This is from some combination of desire to keep immigration under some kind of control, desire not to have huge enforcement costs (border patrol agents and detained families and businesses shut down by huge fines for hiring illegals). And probably a widespread belief that the optimal level of illegal immigration isn’t zero–perhaps that US society benefits from some level of illegal immigration, or at least that the sum of all the effects (on US society plus on the immigrants) is positive.

            It’s a fundamental error to go from “You don’t want to enforce the laws against X as strictly as I do” to “You don’t want to enforce the laws against X” or “You secretly believe X should be legal.”

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dan L –

            If someone truly does believe that, then they’ve embraced a form of Conflict Theory so extreme there is nothing to offer them but pity. I hope SSC at least can offer them the door.

            While we are making offensive assertions about other people, my current theory is that you “fake” accidentally linked to the wrong site so you could call out people for responding to data that didn’t exist. Nobody responded to this, so you called out people in general (as opposed to calling out specific people), pretending there was a response to your nonexistent data and that anybody had fallen for your trap.

            I don’t particularly care if SSC shows you the door, which isn’t even a concept which makes sense, because your games are so surface-level it is amusing.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Thegnskald:

            While we are making offensive assertions about other people,

            Gonna stop you here for a second: between your reaction and a quick glance at google analytics, may I assume that the “Efficient Politics Theorem” is your own invention, and that you either personally believe in it or view it as a useful tool? Because if that’s the case, I genuinely have no idea what kind of constructive engagement you expect it to engender. It’s explicitly anti-empirical and this is supposedly Hard Mistake Theory Central. If you’re going to respond to data you don’t care about in a thread you aren’t invested in by proclaiming the futility of all this fact-finding nonsense… where do you go from there? How is a flat dismissal of a curiosity-stopper the wrong move?

            my current theory is that you “fake” accidentally linked to the wrong site so you could call out people for responding to data that didn’t exist. Nobody responded to this, so you called out people in general (as opposed to calling out specific people), pretending there was a response to your nonexistent data and that anybody had fallen for your trap.

            Ah, yes. My master plan was to conceal the data that supported my point and instead publicly screw up the link while simultaneously giving more than enough information for anyone sufficiently interested to trivially find it on their own, in the case that the full data didn’t actually support my point. I decided upon this tactic (to the exclusion of actually making my point) because I have a low opinion of the SSC commentariat level of intellectual rigor (hence my choice to spend time here), and my plan was foiled only because said commentators were even less empirically-minded than I thought. Any frustration I showed was the result of my plan going to waste. You got me.

            I am trying to moderate my level of snark, but you’ve ascribed to me a really paradoxical level of competence here.

          • The Efficient Politics Theorem states that all outstanding political debates that can be settled by empiricism, have been, and the remaining debates are about political principles.

            You seem to be imagining that either data is so convincing that once presented everyone agrees on the conclusion or it is irrelevant. The real world isn’t that tidy. There are lots of cases where additional data can lower someone’s confidence that his view is true but not convince him that it is false.

            If that is your view, then this is probably not a sensible place for you to participate in conversations about political issues–you should find someplace where people are more interested in moral philosophy, less in facts.

            I assume that is the point Dan was making and you objected to. You might still find it a worthwhile place to participate in conversations on other subjects, assuming you believe there are other subjects.

            But I confess that while your efficient politics theorem is not true, it is amusing.

          • dick says:

            But I confess that while your efficient politics theorem is not true, it is amusing.

            Yeah, I assumed it was a “I think X” that really means “I haven’t thought it out very far, but let’s suppose I think X, and kick it around a bit, and I can always retract it if it turns out to have bad consequences I hadn’t thought of, since we’re all friends here” kind of thing. So it was very surprising to see Thegnskald double-down on it in such a mean way.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I found Dan L’s comment to be extraordinarily mean-spirited, and was responding to that. He got his link wrong, and then used the “opportunity” created by his own mistake to be passive aggressively rude at people.

            But the point of that was to be amusing, not to be correct. Mind, I think there is a kernel of truth in it – all jokes have to reflect some kind of truth to be funny. But no, it isn’t literally true, in the sense that people can’t change their minds based on evidence; it is more true to say that it is best to assume that those who have strong opinions on subjects have already seen a lot of evidence, and evidence cherry-picked by their opposition to support their own case isn’t likely to shift their position much. And yes, I made it up, in case that wasn’t already clear.

          • dick says:

            I found Dan L’s comment to be extraordinarily mean-spirited, and was responding to that. He got his link wrong, and then used the “opportunity” created by his own mistake to be passive aggressively rude at people.

            I don’t know what this refers to. The only candidate I can find is

            I do hope nobody pretended to be responding to data which was not in fact presented. I do hope nobody was caught pre-emptively declaring that the dragon in their garage is invisible

            which did not seem rude or directed at anyone specific to me. Even if I misunderstood and it was a dig at you or Matt M or someone else, it was still part of a larger comment that included very relevant and thorough and neutrally-discussed data on the topic at hand, which qualifies as true and necessary in my book.

          • Dan L says:

            I found Dan L’s comment to be extraordinarily mean-spirited, and was responding to that. He got his link wrong, and then used the “opportunity” created by his own mistake to be passive aggressively rude at people.

            If you’re just scanning for emotional affect, then I can see how it comes out of the blue. But the emotion is downstream of the content, and when a data-driven argument that data is being ignored in favor of preconceptions is demonstrably ignored in favor of preconceptions, I think a flicker of undirected disappointment at the sheer anti-irony is warranted. I’ll reiterate that I’m including myself in that.

            (Also, I’ll ask you pick between castigating me for getting my link wrong and accusing me of deliberately setting a trap. This is that paradox of competence again.)

            But no, it isn’t literally true, in the sense that people can’t change their minds based on evidence;

            Hold on to this for a second.

            it is more true to say that it is best to assume that those who have strong opinions on subjects have already seen a lot of evidence,

            Hard disagree. An ideal Bayesian reasoner might work that way, sure, but it stands in stark contrast to typical human behavior. Dunning-Kruger is a better starting point, and adding nuance only fuzzes the correlation.

            and evidence cherry-picked by their opposition to support their own case isn’t likely to shift their position much.

            Alright, let’s unpack this in contrast to the earlier point:

            1) You’re still doing it. You’re still deploying a fully-general counterargument against empiricism to flatten discourse into Conflict. If you want to call the data cherry-picked you have to be willing to actually engage with it beyond declaring an ignorance. I wasn’t bluffing when I told @Plumber that I would welcome better data – Harvard-Harris is probably a mediocre pollster, and we’re in crosstabs. The only reason I think this dataset is worth presenting is because it hits RVs, it’s relatively fresh for something this in-depth, and the signal isn’t so subtle that a 5-point margin of error would change the conclusion.

            At best, this looks like a nasty form of epistemic learned helplessness.

            2) Who am I the opposition to? In terms of this thread, I’ve been arguing for data and nuance. That doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of those who might be named my opposition, but even a level of sophistication leaves them making unusually broad declarations of bad-faith. That second might be true, but I don’t know if it’s a less-offensive assertion.

            3) Who am I the opposition to? On the actual issue of immigration, I’m most comfortably located in the third of the Left that is open to object-level compromise. (And is argued to not exist. Hm.) I – and those within ideological spitting distance – could easily be incentive into supporting an increase in border security (again), but that requires a good-faith overture from the Right. If we’re giving strategic advice on how to convince others, I’ll recommend the ability to pass an ideological Turing test.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dan L –

            See, the thing is – it doesn’t actually matter to me. Not a fan of either behavior. Either way, it was unnecessarily rude.

            And speaking of contradictory viewpoints, you are saying you are disappointed with people not being rational enough, but then categorically deny that they could be sufficiently rational to have a rational reason for their behavior. And my response is just… okay then.

            As for positioning, it is pretty clear you have a position, regardless of your claim as a neutral party. There is data for the other side, a neutral party would be dealing in both sets of data, or going – assuming your goal is legitimately to move things in a data driven direction – presenting evidence for both sides and pointing out everybody can do better.

            What you have done isn’t something that resembles that.

          • Dan L says:

            And speaking of contradictory viewpoints, you are saying you are disappointed with people not being rational enough, but then categorically deny that they could be sufficiently rational to have a rational reason for their behavior. And my response is just… okay then.

            I’ll take this as an admission that you have no desire to substantiate your accusing me of duplicity.

            As for the meat of this tu quoque, you’re being vague and not direct quoting such that it’s difficult to know what you’re responding to, but my guess is that you’re pointing at the tension between me claiming Dunning-Kruger is a good general heuristic and my belief that the SCC commentariat specifically could be convinced by statistical evidence. Put that way it’s obvious these points don’t substantially conflict, but I will say that there is enough tension there to have motivated my first comment in this thread in an effort to resolve it. I feel that effort has succeeded, somewhat.

            As for positioning, it is pretty clear you have a position, regardless of your claim as a neutral party. There is data for the other side, a neutral party would be dealing in both sets of data, or going – assuming your goal is legitimately to move things in a data driven direction – presenting evidence for both sides and pointing out everybody can do better.

            I’ll call that bluff. I claim that there is no data of serious quality that supports Matt M’s stance that “the left [believes] NO illegal immigrants are criminals and their desired position is to have open borders”. (Note that Matt M himself chose not to argue the statistics.) I think you’re making things up entirely in an effort to prop up a Conflict narrative, but if you can produce data for the “other side” then I’ll have to update my beliefs significantly.

        • Randy M says:

          Probably people assume that one’s willingness to break immigration law doesn’t imply anything about one’s willingness to rob, murder, assault, or rape.
          I expect there’s a very weak correlation–some people may abstain from illegal immigration out of a generalized respect or fear of law (but probably very few) and some might have committed other crimes and seek to flee to other countries by any means necessary, but in it’s probably the case that once someone has access to the US they seek economic rather than criminal opportunity.

          • Matt M says:

            Probably people assume that one’s willingness to break immigration law doesn’t imply anything about one’s willingness to rob, murder, assault, or rape.

            One’s willingness to break laws on say, insider trading, probably doesn’t imply anything about one’s willingness to rob, murder, assault, or rape, either.

            And yet, if Bernie Sanders were to give a press conference saying “Insider traders are criminals” politifact wouldn’t jump down his shit about how that’s totally incorrect because studies have proven that insider traders don’t commit murder any more often than non-insider traders do.

            Well no kidding. “Criminal” means someone who violates the law. Not “someone who violates one of the laws on this informal and not officially defined list that we’ve decided are the important laws to determine one’s ‘suitability as a resident'”

            I don’t believe we should encourage immigration from people who are willing to violate social norms, and laws are the most explicit and objective definition of social norms that exist.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And yet, if Bernie Sanders were to give a press conference saying “Insider traders are criminals” politifact wouldn’t jump down his shit about how that’s totally incorrect because studies have proven that insider traders don’t commit murder any more often than non-insider traders do.

            What if someone said “people who break the speed limit aren’t criminals”, or “people who violate century old sodomy laws that happen to still be on the books aren’t criminals”. Vanishingly few people think that every law on the books should be enforced fully, in perpetuity until it is revoked, and basically no one thinks that any punishment is acceptable once a person has been convicted of a crime.

            The “illegal immigrants are criminals” argument never boils down to a willingness to discuss penalties that don’t involve expulsion from the US, which is suspicious enough on its own, and the group that uses it never calls every US citizen who has ever broken a law a criminal unless they belong to an ethnic minority.

          • @Matt M:

            The point of claiming that illegal immigrants are criminals is to imply that they will commit other crimes, and if that claim is false then it is dishonest rhetoric. The claim is literally true–but literally true of just about all American adults as well.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Bacon –

            The set of people who are criminals for this group isn’t “Minority and has broken a law”. It is “Identifiably a member of a subculture I identify as being criminal and has broken a law”.

            Trust me. There are groups of white people they hate as well. And minority groups they don’t. And specific individual members of minority groups who are no longer identifiable to them with the group.

            They aren’t generally racist in a way they would be recognizable to a 1950s racist; they’ll prefer the black guy in a business suit to the white guy with a mullet in the Yankees cap and wife beater and athletic shorts.

            (And if you think you are talking about the white guy with the mullet, he is fine with Mexicans, he probably hates Jews and black people. Mexicans make good beer and meth, after all.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Thegnskald

            So we have a mosaic of racism now? How beautiful!

          • Matt says:

            There’s a second-order effect here that’s being missed, I think.

            We had a case locally about 10 years ago of an illegal who killed a couple of kids in a drunk-driving accident. Happens all the time with non-illegals, right? But the fact that he was illegal actually enabled the accident:

            The guy in question was fleeing the police when he slammed into the kids’ car. Maybe he was worried about getting kicked out of the country? Except…

            The guy had been arrested for drunk driving previously, multiple times, in this town. Never faced any consequences until he killed people. Because he had no roots here, he got out of jail with a court date he never needed to show up for, went back to work, and no worries for him. Apparently the second and third time he was arrested for drunk driving, they didn’t even realize they had done so before, he was a ‘new catch’ every time until he killed someone and they had to do an actual investigation.

            Maybe this doesn’t happen very often, but we’ve created a system where lots of people who are willing to break the law have nothing to lose by continuing to do so. If a citizen (or anyone documented or even just with roots here) skips town or tries to stay in town with multiple DUI convictions they’re going to pay a heavy price. This guy didn’t get even too terribly hassled until he killed two teenagers.

          • Thegnskald says:

            bacon –

            It isn’t a mosaic of racism, it is a mosaic of hatred. Some of that hatred just happens to map onto race.

            But yes, this is an improvement over racism. All the groups hate each other, but there isn’t any effective mechanism to coordinate the hatred, and we can establish anti-hatred norms even though everybody hates somebody.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Well, at this point, we’re getting into Les Miserables territory a little bit. Yes, illegal immigration is a crime; but is it a crime like smoking pot; or like shoplifting a loaf of bread to feed your starving child; or like grand embezzlement; or like murder ? Personally, I wouldn’t call someone who got caught for smoking pot in college “a criminal”, but I would definitely apply that label to Bernie Madoff.

        • Very nearly a hundred percent of adult citizens routinely commit a crime, as you can observe on almost any highway–given suitable conditions, traffic is usually moving at above the speed limit.

          The benefit to the immigrant of immigrating is enormously greater than the benefit to a driver of driving 75 instead of 65, so I don’t think the willingness of illegal immigrants to violate immigration law is evidence that they are more willing to break laws than the rest of us.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think the willingness of illegal immigrants to violate immigration law is evidence that they are more willing to break laws than the rest of us.

            What about what I mentioned above – that illegal immigrants are also certainly more likely to break a large number of other “things that are technically crimes but clearly aren’t as bad as murder.”

            I suspect that a lot of the “no human being is illegal” crowd do think it’s pretty bad to say, commit tax fraud, which a huge percentage of illegals are actively doing.

            But overall I think Bugmaster is correct – the primary source of the disagreement is over whether illegal immigration is the moral equivalent of speeding, or whether it’s say, the moral equivalent of simple assault. And it sucks that instead of having that debate, we have a debate of one side claiming they’re just like rapists and murderers while the other side claims they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and all opposition to their behavior is motivated by pure racism.

          • I suspect that a lot of the “no human being is illegal” crowd do think it’s pretty bad to say, commit tax fraud, which a huge percentage of illegals are actively doing.

            If you are referring to fake Social Security numbers then, as I already pointed out, that fraud is one that benefits the rest of us. They are paying in money that they will not get back. And they are doing it only because it is necessary to the initial crime of illegal immigration.

            Do you agree that the essential claim is that illegal immigrants are more likely than others to commit crimes that hurt other people, such as murder, assault, and rape? If so, can you offer any evidence for that claim?

          • noddingin says:

            Illegals have more disincentive to commit crime. They risk not only the penalties for that crime, but also deportation for their family.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @noddingin:
            On the flip side, immigrants in general may be more likely to commit crimes without intending to do so, due to cultural differences between their society and ours. For example, in many cultures, giving bribes to public officials is seen as a normal and even socially mandated behavior; in our culture, it’s a crime. Legal immigrants can participate more freely in social interactions, as well as obtaining various acculturation training; thus, it might be easier for them to learn how to avoid committing such crimes.

          • noddingin says:

            “committing such crimes”

            Such culturally-determined crimes, sure. But that’s a non-central example of crimes in the discussion of this issue. The anti-immigrant side begins by talking about crimes such as theft, assault, rape, etc — physical acts that are evil per se, that are crimes in all cultures.

            There’s almost a motte-bailey effect here. The bailey, ie the hard to defend meaning, is ‘Immigrants are more likely to do physical crimes such as theft of objects, assault, etc.’ When challenged, they begin talking about things that are only ‘crimes’ because some culture has written a law defining them so, such as giving a tip to some minor official — or crossing a border.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “They claim that illegal immigrants are prone to crime, which is factually true.”

        Got some data for me read about? Since it’s “factually true” and all.

        • vV_Vv says:

          “They claim that illegal immigrants are prone to crime, which is factually true.”

          It seems that this is true for Europe (for immigrants in general, but also for illegal vs. legal according to Wikipedia) but not for the US (with the caveat that illegal immigrants do commit more crimes than legal immigrants, but less than native-born citizens). I stand corrected unless somebody can refute this.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I probably can. I don’t want to. But I will give a vector to look into for anybody who actually cares about this subject.

            Are immigrants being compared to high-crime groups, low-crime groups, or the average of everybody? If legal immigrants look more like low-crime groups, and illegal immigrants look more like high-crime groups, the distinction can get lost in the average.

          • Deiseach says:

            Are immigrants being compared to high-crime groups, low-crime groups, or the average of everybody?

            Don’t know if I can answer this, but kludging together the US census 2017 estimates that “Asians” = 5.8% of the population, and “Hispanic” = 18.1%, then comparing that with the 2016 FBI stats, we see arrests (this is just arrests, not convictions, so some of the arrested may not have been found guilty) for Asians = 1.2% and for Hispanic or Latino = 18.4%.

            So brute forcing both these results together means that Asians under offend (or at least are not charged as much), with respect to the demographic, and the Hispanic/Latino proportion is about what you’d expect (or just very slightly higher).

            So comparing them with “low-crime” group for Asians, it looks like the Hispanic/Latino are just as criminal as other demographics – out of 2016 arrests, Whites are 69.6% versus share of population at 76.6% (so somewhat under represented for their demographic) and Black/African Americans are 26.9% of arrests versus share of population at 13.4% (a figure that surprises me, to be honest, I was sure percentage of population was higher but then again, I have read that it’s declining due to increased immigration from other ethnic groups and no overall growth in African American population making their relative proportion decline).

            That means that on the raw face of it, Asians are low-crime group, African-Americans are high-crime group, Whites are slightly on the lower side of what you’d expect, and Hispanics are about what you’d expect from demographics.

            Now, there’s no knowing how much of that is native-born versus legal immigrant versus illegal immigrant, maybe that data is out there but someone needs to chomp it to answer the question. I agree that we really need to break down how much of that is Jose who hopped over the border versus Santiago who legally immigrated from Chile versus Manny who’s third generation Cuban-American in order to answer “are illegal immigrants more/less/average criminal”?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Note that conviction rates don’t have much value over arrest rates, since they’re only “conviction at trial” something like 5% of the time, and defendants pleading to crimes not committed in order to receive probation instead of months of imprisonment with an unpayable bail (or just months to years of disruption and expense for the sake of a trial that’s not remarkably likely to be fair) is a pervasive and well-documented problem.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            (a) Props to vV_Vv for standing corrected in public. That’s a virtue and should be given points!

            (b) If you want to be taken seriously, re: immigrants and crime, say _in advance_ what your hypothesis is, and then look for a trial that gives evidence. If evidence isn’t matching pre-conception, don’t just keep moving goalposts / conditioning on things until you get what you want, that’s a recipe for getting garbage, and also a recipe for people (correctly) ignoring you.

            (c) Read this (in the context of public health, but relevant), on the dangers of stratifying until an answer pops out:

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273867/

            (d) Conviction and arrest rates are both highly suspect as reasonable outcomes to measure here, for lots of reasons having to do with the way the justice system works in the US.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Since this thread isn’t as active now, this seems pretty obvious to me.

          Some good people might not want to illegally immigrate because morality.

          I can’t imagine a rapist or murderer is going to draw the moral line at violating an imaginary line, however.

          Which means we should expect bad people to be over represented in illegal immigrants.

          No data, but any other result should be surprising.

          • Dan L says:

            Some good people might not want to illegally immigrate because morality.

            As is discussed elsewhere in the thread, we have no reason to believe this is a sizable group so that this:

            No data, but any other result should be surprising.

            can be expected to be swamped by other factors. Economic status is an obvious confound, to name one.

          • Some good people might not want to illegally immigrate because morality.

            “I don’t like illegal immigration, but I’ll tell you something: I don’t run stop lights. But you put me out on the road at two o’clock in the morning on the way to the all-night drugstore to get medicine for my babies, and you give me a stop light that is stuck on red, and no traffic in sight, and I’m gonna go through that red light.”

            (Dick Armey, ex majority leader, currently head of Freedomworks, in defense of illegal immigrants. The whole talk.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I think a lot of people feel a moral obligation to follow the laws of their own society, but probably far fewer feel such an obligation toward some other country’s laws. In much the same way that, if I were in Saudi Arabia, I probably wouldn’t feel a great moral compulsion to follow their laws, even though as a matter of prudence I’d probably be pretty careful not to break any laws that could lead to serious consequences. (Those guys aren’t gentle about enforcing their laws.)

          • I think a lot of people feel a moral obligation to follow the laws of their own society

            I don’t think so. As best I can tell, almost nobody feels an obligation to never drive over the speed limit or feels guilty for doing so. Most people seem to have no problem with drinking when they are twenty. No doubt some seventeen year olds in California feel that having sex is immoral, but I doubt there are very many who feel it is immoral because the age of consent is eighteen.

            Many people feel badly about breaking some laws, but not laws in general.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @David Friedman

            A lot of people feel that other people have an obligation to follow the laws because they are the law, even if they’d break every one of them themselves. These people are hypocritical and in general I’ve not found them to be the most intelligent people around either, but they’re not uncommon.

          • Evan Þ says:

            As best I can tell, almost nobody feels an obligation to never drive over the speed limit or feels guilty for doing so. Most people seem to have no problem with drinking when they are twenty.

            [Waves my hand] Hi. I had so much of a problem with drinking underage that (outside Communion wine) I never tasted alcohol till my twenty-first birthday. I feel mildly guilty when I speed, and used to feel a lot more guilty about it. We exist.

          • engleberg says:

            Most people don’t feel morally obliged to never do 56 in a 55, but most people do feel morally obliged to never do 140 in a school zone over little one speedbumps. It’s not like we’re talking about one or two people overstaying their visa by a day. Over a tenth of the 2018 US population is immigrants, imported to lower US wages by a half-century establishment consensus.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Over a tenth of the 2018 US population is immigrants

            It looks like that would still be true even if all illegal immigrants were removed, or very nearly so. I’m not sure your analogy holds up.

    • WarOnReasons says:

      as Ron Unz, who is, to put it mildly, certainly no servant of political correctness, thoroughly documented,

      Ron Unz has a history of falsifying data to prove his point, so I would not trust his “research” regardless of how politically correct are the conclusions.

      they have difficulty finding even single cases of Hispanics committing violent crimes against whites

      According to FBI statistics in 2016 there have been 128 known homicide cases with non-Hispanic white victims and Hispanic offenders (and 53 cases with Hispanic victims and non-Hispanic white offenders).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yet somehow the Daily Stormer, Pat Buchanan and Steve Sailer fail to bring up any of these victims; perhaps their tongues are tied by their fear of pc censorship?

      Please do not lump Pat Buchanan in with the Daily Stormer or Steve Sailer.

    • Deiseach says:

      while Breitbart and the Daily Stormer report exhaustively on (still relatively rare, but certainly extant) single instances of black-on-white crime, they have difficulty finding even single cases of Hispanics committing violent crimes against whites.

      Yeah, sorry, but you’re incorrect here. FBI most recent breakdown of statistics of violent and property crime is from 2016; they have an annoying breakdown where “race” and “ethnicity” are different categories, which means the “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity criminals must be folded in with the “White” race. Anyway, for 2016 as a total percentage of arrests, the “Hispanic or Latino” suspects comprise 18.4%. Matching this up with the 2016 census estimates where the “Hispanic and Latino Americans” are 17.8% of total US population, the rate of suspects (whether they’re actual offenders) matches pretty closely.

      So while Hispanic/Latinos may not be more criminal than the average, neither are they less criminal, at least as far as “suspects arrested” goes; they’re about the average that should be expected as their percentage of the total population.

      Now we get into the juicy stuff like “violent crimes”, and the FBI have the helpful/infuriating breakdown again of “race and ethnicity of victims” versus “race and ethnicity of offenders”, where the Hispanics must be folded in with White since I can’t make sense of the figures otherwise.

      So, out of 3,499 victims whose race is given as White, the ethnicity of the corresponding offenders given as Hispanic or Latino is 789. Now, maybe most of the 789 offenders attacked other Hispanic or Latino victims (as part of the White grouping), it’s hard to say because of the FBI sorting it out on ethnicity but not saying “Hispanic but identifies as white/black/mixed race/whatever”. But the fact remains that it’s not “really difficult to find even a single case of a Hispanic committing violent crimes against whites”, and that’s just for murder, not for rapes/assaults/other violent crimes.

      If you want to crunch the numbers for “arrests sorted by category of crime versus ethnicity”, here’s the table for 2016 for you and you can see that Hispanic/Latino suspects have been charged with their fair share (as a proportion of the total population) violent and other crimes.

  21. Gazeboist says:

    I have significant technical objections to the claims of the AI safety movement and am attempting to formalize them, but am having some difficulty developing my ideas into proper proofs. My thinking is based mostly on the fundamental mathematical limits that embedded agents are subject to when they model and act on the world in which they are embedded, and on the ways in which agents can benefit from interacting and cooperating with other agents. I have a summary of the ideas and arguments on github. There’s some preliminary work on the formal writeup in the results directory, but it’s just a bunch of definitions and claims, and I’m not even sure I’ve got those into the form I want.

    Is anyone here interested in working with me on this? I’m not looking for an adversarial collaboration specifically, just someone who’s interested in this stuff, willing to help me out, and able to do so. I’m coming at this stuff from a physics/CS background, but much of the later stuff will need to be built on formal economics and game theory work. This isn’t my job, and I’m not looking for a huge commitment. A work session every one or two weeks is all I have in mind, and I can be flexible.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’m not nearly smart enough to contribute anything of value, but still, here are some random monkey-noises:

      AFAICT, one thing you might be missing is some discussion of what an agent can actually accomplish in its “Universe”, as opposed to what it can compute or predict. For example, let’s say that an agent wants to move a 100kg chunk of lead 100m to the right (for some reason). The agent can predict the outcome of this action with nearly perfect accuracy (assuming it’s about as intelligent as your average high-school student). It can devise the most efficient means of doing so. However, if it actually wants to move the actual block (which is external to the agent), it’s going to need some effectors, not just sensors and predictive capabilities. What’s worse, the laws of physics may prevent the agent from accomplishing what it wants in principle; for example, accelerating the lead block faster than a certain limit might be impossible (unless you want to end up with a lead pancake or a molten puddle).

      Somewhat related to this is a problem of scaling (I think you allude to this in your section of locality). It is not necessarily the case that processing power scales linearly (or faster than linearly !) with the number of nodes, due to the fact that communication between nodes is not instantaneous (plus other engineering concerns such as power delivery and heat dissipation).

      Engineering problems (at least, some of them) can be solved through cleverness and science; unfortunately, as you point out, there may be a limit to what an agent can learn through sheer computation. To use a trivial example, if the agent has no cameras of any kind, it won’t be able to figure out the spectrum of Sirius (nor, arguably, the existence of Sirius) from first principles, no matter how smart it is.

      The proponents of AI safety movements usually answer these objections by stating that a sufficiently smart agent can essentially break the laws of physics through sheer intelligence. To put it more charitably, they believe that a). our current understanding of the laws of physics, as well as engineering techniques, is woefully lacking; b). most of the experimental data we’d need to solve (a) has either already been collected or is easily accessible; and (c) thus, the only remaining barrier to solving all these issues is our inability to correlate and process all that data — which won’t be an issue for an agent who somehow achieves superintelligence.

      Admittedly, one may also bypass these objections by asserting that we do in fact live in a simulation, and if the underlying machinery of this simulation can, in principle, become fully accessible to the agent.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Did I not mention actuators in the summary? If so that’s a mistake on my part; actuators are part of my definition of an agent, and the problem of restricted actuators are central to the argument against foom-by-AI-unboxing. The processing and prediction stuff is mostly about rebutting the claim that “intelligence” could plausibly have an upper bound high enough to overcome actuator restrictions in a short period of time.

        After a certain point, it’s hard to be charitable to “but what if you’re wrong?” as a counterargument. And the simulation hypothesis is pretty easily dismissed; to answer the original trilemma, option two (no simulations in the future) is required by the fact that the universe cannot contain a full simulation of itself.

        • Bugmaster says:

          You do mention actuators, but AFAICT only in this context: “An LBA with sufficiently powerful sensors and actuators can give itself arbitrary additional sensors and actuators…” My point is that arbitrarily powerful sensors and actuators are unlikely to exist; and, in fact, the very real limits on sensors and especially actuators in our current Universe will very likely prevent the agent from achieving quasi-godlike omnipotence.

          EDIT: what is the proper term, “actuator” or “effector” ? What’s the difference between the two ? I r t3h n00bc4k3…

          • Gazeboist says:

            There isn’t a proper term; I like “actuator” better, possibly because it’s the one I came up with when I was writing that stuff and therefore the one I use in my own head. That said, I do think there’s merit to the claim that derivative : fluxions :: actuator : effector.

            As to your actual point, I think I was a little unclear. A sufficiently powerful LBA can construct actuators and sensors with enough power to acquire additional memory, bringing it to the level of a full Turing machine. From there, it can exploit any oracle that the embedding universe has by expressing a problem needing the oracle and actually getting an answer, thus achieving “arbitrary power” within the scope of the embedding universe. Actually predicting the universe to the degree generally suggested by FAI advocates – to the degree needed to confidently produce a solution to an arbitrary problem while still having the opportunity to implement that solution, ie to get to quasi-godlike omniscience and the consequent omniscience – requires infinite, not merely arbitrary, computing power.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I’ve got to confess that I don’t understand what “oracle” means in this context. You say “it can exploit any oracle that the embedding universe has”, but I always thought that Turing oracles were impossible to instantiate pretty much by definition (though I could be wrong). Furthermore, given a finite and limited universe, even having access to an oracle (somehow) may not help you. For example, in our current Universe, the answer to the question “how can I move faster than light ?” is “you can’t” (assuming our understanding of the laws of physics is correct, of course). It doesn’t matter how smart you get, the answer is still going to be the same.

          • Gazeboist says:

            A machine more powerful than a Turing machine (eg one able to decide the halting problem over Turing machines) is generally described as a Turing machine (or whatever) which can access an oracle that answers a certain class of question, or answers them with specified resource constraints. An agent embedded in a machine of greater power than a Turing machine will be able to exploit the extra power of the embedding machine in order to access the oracle or use the embedding machine as one, in fundamentally the same way that it can extend its memory in order to escape the limits of its own processing power.

            An agent can always achieve exactly the power of its embedding universe, as long as it is initially powerful enough to begin the bootstrapping process, because it can always express a problem in the universe’s physics and watch the universe generate a solution.

          • Bugmaster says:

            That sounds good in theory, but potentially useless in practice, since the whole point of predicting things is to do so faster than the universe can generate a solution.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think you’re blending notions of power a little bit (which is probably my fault, since I wasn’t exactly clear). LBAs are limited in the kinds of problems they can solve because they have limited memory (unlike TMs, which have arbitrary/unlimited but still finite memory). TMs and TM-class machines in general are also limited in what operations they can perform; the classic example is of course the halting problem. An LBA with the right actuators and sensors can bootstrap itself to the problem-solving level of its containing universe, so it can in principle get an answer to any question the universe can answer. Often the most efficient way to do so will be to instantiate the question in the environment and watch what the universe does, but that’s not in principle necessary.

            Predictions of the state of the universe, though, are subject to a different set of limitations that relate to speed, precision, scope, and accuracy. My fundamental point with regard to prediction is that any useful prediction must make nontrivial tradeoffs among those qualities, which limits how strong an effect agents of a particular physical size can have on the world around them.

    • Björn says:

      Isn’t the best argument against the “super-ai” stuff to show in how many ways computational power is bounded?

      Single core CPU performance is bounded by the size of the circuits and the generated heat., so the future lies in parallelization, but parallelization gives you the additional non-trivial overhead of adapting your program so that it can use the parallel computing power. The neuronal network successes from 2016 are based on the fact that you can apply Newton’s method to some neuronal networks, which can be parallelised easily and makes it possible to use a shitton of parallel computing power. But this makes your electricity bill skyrocket, and you get the additional problems that no one can guarantee the neuronal network generalizes to any case, and adapting the neuronal network for similar things is hard unless you sink even more electricity and hardware into the project.

      Then you have the more mathematical borders like NP-hardness and the fact that understanding (proofing) mathematical theorems is Turing complete. The aforementioned borders make the computational power expansion linear or less in the long term, which is a problem if any “intelligence explosion” needs to have exponential growth in computational power.

      I see no use in mixing concepts of computational theory with more philosophical discussions what this or that agent can do. A universal Turing machine already is the most sophisticated computational thing in computational theory. If you assume that you can run something like that in reality really fast, things get wonky. This is just what the “Ai-safety” people are doing when they say that a super-AI will generate endless amounts of energy while using the energy super efficient. If you take the fantasy energy and the fantasy algorithms away, you get a pocket calculator in a high school.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think you overestimate the computational power, and the electrical power, required. The brain consumes about 20 watts. Even granting that it is highly specialized hardware using techniques we can’t replicate, getting basic human intelligence in under 200 watts should be doable. The question then becomes how intelligence scales; is ten times the capacity twice the intelligence? Ten times? Ten thousand times? If 200 watts looks like a human, what would 20,000 watts of intelligence look like?

        And how useful is that intelligence? Personally, I find intelligence to be moderately useful. I “do” intelligence for a living. I could make a living doing other things, though, and in my daily life, intelligence is like a small flat efficiency bonus rather than a huge multiplier. It is hard to see what benefit more intelligence would net me; I am already two or three standard deviations above normal, and it just doesn’t make that much of a difference. I mean, I think I have a unified field theory, but that could just be delusion – lots of people think that – and it doesn’t have much to do with my intelligence anyways, but rather just the fact that I ask weird questions. Even if it were my intelligence, it is still more likely delusion than fact, so what did my intelligence net me there? An elaborate fantasy in which I understand the universe in a way nobody else does yet? Great job breaking it, intelligence, that is useless.

        So yeah. Not impressed with the idea of an AI apocalypse, just for different reasons than everyone else. Also, the first good AI will look like a superstitious paranoid schizophrenic, which means that people will probably abandon the correct path because it looks like a dead end.

        • Björn says:

          The energy demands lie not in running a neural network, the energy demands lie in training the neural network. You can see that even in people, if you ask yourself how much brain power has been spent to make Magnus Carlsen the chess player he is. He has been playing chess for more than 20 years, but he was also trained by other great chess players, and he has learnt all the chess theory there is, which took hundreds of years and many people to develop. This is the energy demand that matters, not how much calories are burnt during a tournament.

          • Thegnskald says:

            2.62 megawatt-hours.

            But we could just run it on 200 watts for 30 years, and copy whatever we get out however many times we need to, instead.

            Assuming we do find a good algorithm for general intelligence, we don’t need to train it over the course of an hour and melt all our hardware. We can take our time.

        • Gazeboist says:

          The question then becomes how intelligence scales; is ten times the capacity twice the intelligence? Ten times? Ten thousand times? If 200 watts looks like a human, what would 20,000 watts of intelligence look like?

          Without a definition for “intelligence”, these questions are ill-formed. Given a decent definition of intelligence, it becomes clear that “watts” (energy/time) are the wrong unit. What you want is something like agent ticks / universe ticks, or maybe bits processed / processing time, and you also need to account for the minimum size of the agent (and/or external resources needed), the reliability and longevity of its results, and as Bjorn said the generality of the problems it can handle.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Agreed on all counts, but if your energy demands become larger than all the energy available in the Universe; or if your training time becomes longer than the age of the Universe; then it doesn’t matter how superintelligent you could’ve potentially become.

          • Thegnskald says:

            When you are asking whether the hardware can support superintelligence, watts are exactly the unit that matter.

            The poor definition of intelligence is addressed in the question; if 200 watts is what it takes to simulate a human intelligence, does equivalent hardware and software running greater wattage result in a logarithmic growth in IQ, or a linear, or an exponential growth? Assuming that everything scales at all, which it isn’t immediately obvious will be the case.

            ETA: We have some conception of what IQ means, sort of; is a standard deviation equivalent to a doubling or halving of capacity? If my brainpower were doubled – if I could think twice as fast and keep twice as many concepts in play simultaneously – what impact would that have on my operational intelligence?

            There is a big difference between the world in which a 400w intelligence has an IQ of 115 versus a world in which a 400w intelligence has an IQ of 9,000, to pick a suitably ridiculous number.

      • Gazeboist says:

        I see no use in mixing concepts of computational theory with more philosophical discussions what this or that agent can do.

        Me neither. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a potentially-interesting philosophical proposition that didn’t rest on a bad or nonexistent definition; FAI advocates’ unwillingness to define the meaning of “agent” beyond “an unspecified subset of optimization processes” is extremely annoying. That’s why I’m focusing on defining mathematically the meaning of “agent”, and then determining the limits of that kind of thing in particular.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Another issue I see with FAI proponents is that most of their arguments start with the assumption that a superintelligent agent already exists. So, it gets a bit Biblical at that point: a superintelligent agent can become even more superintelligent exponentially, because it’s already superintelligent, see ? There’s very little discussion on whether “superintelligence” — that is, quasi-omnipotence — is even possible in the first place.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I see that as part of the same issue. If “agent” is ill-defined, “intelligence” is ill-defined, so a superintelligent agent just has “more” than its creators and can therefore make an agent which has “more intelligence” than its creator, and there’s no way to figure out if an upper bound stops this process or what that bound might look like, or even if the process makes sense in the first place.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Agreed; FAI proponents are usually pretty vague on what “superintelligence” means (other than “smarter than a hundred Von Neummans put together”). But I think most of them would roughly agree that a superintelligent agent could achieve most (or all) of the following:
            * Fully simulate millions or even billions of human beings in real time (or much faster)
            * Convince any human to do anything the agent wants it to do
            * Hack any electronic device nearly instantaneously
            * Invent molecular nanotechnology and deploy it ubiquitously
            * Solve any currently unsolved problem in science or mathematics

            This still doesn’t tell us what “superintelligence” truly means, because these are just applications of “superintelligence”, not its core components. However, given that we currently have no way of achieving such powers; and that at least some of them may in fact break the laws of physics (as we currently understand them); it follows that a “superintelligent” agent must be something so advanced as to be completely beyound our current understanding of the world. Thus, setting that as a starting point in the discussion has always felt a bit disingenuous to me. Yes, I absolutely agree that such an agent could bootstrap itself exponentially to arbitrary levels of power, but FAI proponents would first need to convince me that it could get to the starting point at all.

  22. Nicholas Weininger says:

    If anyone is familiar with the facts behind https://quillette.com/2018/09/07/academic-activists-send-a-published-paper-down-the-memory-hole/ I would be interested in any independent perspectives/other sides of the story. What is the author leaving out or misrepresenting if anything? In particular, if anyone has read the paper and can point to a substantive critique of the mathematical claims, that would be very interesting. Trying to combat confirmation bias here, and also cognizant that participants in these sorts of controversies cannot generally be trusted to give honest accounts. FWIW I am much more interested in discussion of the process/academic norms question here than of the more directly CWish question of whether GMVH is actually true for mathematical ability or not.

    • albatross11 says:

      That’s how I feel, too. Peer review (and academic publishing more generally) can be a very ugly, messy process, but the story recounted in the Quillette piece is not something I would ever expect to see happen. OTOH, we have only the author’s word for what did happen, so maybe the actual story is very different in some way that explains why the paper got withdrawn.

    • ajakaja says:

      This should help. Fields medalist Timothy Gowers thought the paper was bad and should never have been published in the first place.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Thanks. From reading that post and its comments and the linked HN article, nobody comes off looking very good. AFAICT what seems to have happened is:

        1. Hill and his collaborators write a paper whose model rests on an assumption which they don’t justify and which is prima facie implausible, namely that “variability” is a heritable property of a subpopulation. Gowers gives a good account of why this is prima facie implausible. I wouldn’t be quite so quick to dismiss it as he is (and note that he also dismisses as implausible the idea that most men don’t have offspring but most women do, which as I understand it, and commenters point out, is actually the historical truth). But it absolutely requires serious evidence in order for the paper’s overall argument to be sound and they don’t provide any, and in general the paper does seem to me (a “dead” mathematician in the Erdosian sense of the word, with a Ph.D. to my name but no real research activity in 13 years) to be waaaay less rigorous than any “serious” mathematical journal should stand for.

        2. They initially attempt to publish the paper in the Math. Intelligencer which isn’t really a “serious” journal. This gets accepted and then the acceptance gets retracted for what really do seem to be discreditable political reasons; unsound though the argument may be, there is no basis in the paper that I can see for it to be regarded as fomenting or excusing bias or discrimination against anyone.

        3. Then, frustrated by that, they come up with a corrupt backdoor way of smuggling it into a real journal with the connivance of an axe-grinding editor.

        4. The rest of the editorial board of the real journal, upon discovering this scheme, understandably revolts and demands it be fixed.

        5. The fix is carried out in a ham-handed way that doesn’t really repair the journal’s editorial integrity (for which purpose they should have just fired the axe-grinding editor and put a disavowal note on the paper) but does allow Hill to continue to nurse his persecution complex.

        Ugh.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          Caveat to #2: we cannot be sure that the version of the paper accepted and then retracted from the Intelligencer was the same as that uploaded to Arxiv. It is sometimes the case that authors of inflammatory texts will revise those texts after initial criticism to be much more anodyne, and then make themselves look more martyrish by claiming the criticism was levied against the revised anodyne version.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            There are 9 versions available on the arXiv, two of them from before when he claims it was accepted to the Intelligencer. The commenter “Mathematician” similarly claims that version 2 is close to what was accepted.

        • cassander says:

          1. Hill and his collaborators write a paper whose model rests on an assumption which they don’t justify and which is prima facie implausible, namely that “variability” is a heritable property of a subpopulation.

          Why on earth is it implausible that variability varies across populations?

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            Variability varying isn’t implausible. Variability being heritable in the sense the authors need it to be is. Gowers’ key point is: “Those poor individuals at the bottom of population P [the one assumed to be more variable] aren’t going to reproduce, so won’t they die out and potentially cause population P to become less variable?”

            Suppose to take an extreme example that in subpopulation P, half the members are six feet tall and half are five feet tall, while in Q, everyone is five foot six; that height is 100% heritable; and that for “selectivity” reasons nobody, from P or Q, succeeds in having offspring unless they are at least five feet eight. Then P is clearly more variable in height than Q, and the offspring of the overall population (P plus Q) will be drawn disproportionately, and in fact entirely, from P. But they will all be six feet tall, and thus clearly less variable than the prior generation! Now you can tell a just-so story where instead of having a gene for height there could be instead a gene for variance in height and so it is that which is inherited instead. But this is implausible enough to require unusually strong evidentiary justification and as far as I can tell the paper provides none.

          • cassander says:

            @Nicholas Weininger

            the trouble with your example is that we know for a fact that male height is more variable than female, despite there being reproductive benefits to height. And this pattern repeats for just about every trait we can measure. Greater male variability isn’t a hypothesis, it’s a fact.

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            @Cassander, I’m not claiming GMVH is false generally (though do note that its truth for one trait does not imply its truth for other traits). I’m claiming that the reasoning behind the authors’ hypothesized mechanism to explain it is unsound.

          • I haven’t read the article, but I think there is a simple response to your argument. If height is precisely controlled by genes and taller men have greater reproductive success, then eventually everyone will be tall. Also smart, handsome, … given similar assumptions.

            But we observe that not everyone has reproductively optimal characteristics. The obvious explanation is that there isn’t a way in which the genes can reliably produce tall men. There is a gene that, metaphorically speaking, tries to produce tall men and sometimes fails. The taller its target height, the worse the failures. Where the optimum is depends on how large the benefit is of being tall and how large the cost is of failing to be tall–in your simple story, being short. If the payoff to being tall is very large, it pays to try to produce very tall men even with a sizable failure rate. So the bigger the difference in reproductive success between successful individuals and unsuccessful individuals, the wider the optimal distribution is.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            Greater male variability is due to the X-chromosome. If you have one X, you get whatever is encoded on it. If you have two X you get the average of what is encoded on those two. This averaging effect reduces variance.

            Now, if you look at what the X chromosome is enriched for, surprise, surprise, its stuff like height and cognitive function, which directly impact male reproductive success.

            Variability can also be a heritable property of a subpopulation if this subpopulation for some reason engages more in assortative mating. In that case it is not encoded in any genes, but in the distribution of genes over chromosomes and of chromosomes in genomes. If the assortative mating stops, recombination will break up this distribution and the variance will decline. But for the time being, it would be a heritable trait.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “But we observe that not everyone has reproductively optimal characteristics. The obvious explanation is that there isn’t a way in which the genes can reliably produce tall men. There is a gene that, metaphorically speaking, tries to produce tall men and sometimes fails. The taller its target height, the worse the failures.”

            I don’t think that’s what’s going on. Height is highly heritable, so people actually get what their genome specifies. But, height isn’t an unalloyed good. There are always selection pressures to decrease height too. Maybe the tall guy doesn’t survive the famine. But because of the higher variability of male reproductive success it makes sense to throw the dice and occasionally have a tall son who gets all the girls, hopefully before he starves to death.

            So the average height of men would still be optimal in the average environment of his population. But the environment varies and therefore the optimal height varies too. And for men it has higher benefit to try to nail that optimal height.

          • Thegnskald says:

            How variability can be inherited:

            Genetic transference to the X chromosome. (Yes, we see generic transfer between chromosomes. Google that shit.) Any allele that has a more neutral heterozygous expression will result in greater variability in men. If this is advantageous, this variability will spread. Boom. Inheritable variability. (Double points if one copy is good, one and a half copies are great, and two full copies will kill you. For men. For women the numbers would be more complex, but both “great” and “deadly” would be much less likely.)

          • aho bata says:

            @Nicholas Weininger

            There are two kinds of selection effects that can increase the proportion of a subpopulation that meets the more selective sex’s standards.

            One is selection of strictly beneficial genes, e.g. genes that raise general intelligence without any adverse effects.

            The other is selection of genes that might be beneficial but that come with an associated risk, e.g. genes that raise general intelligence but increase the risk of developing autism or some neurodegenerative disorder.

            As far as I can see the first effect would cause the less selective sex to become less variable over time, that is, they would become more uniformly good, while the second effect would cause them to be more variable — at the level of the genotype, not just phenotype (so you don’t need such things as “genes for height variability”), although any individual genes whose phenotype is “variability” would also be subject to this effect.

            If Gowers’ summary is accurate, Hill ignores the first effect, while Gowers seems not to understand the second or to be conflating it somehow with the first. How well Hill’s model translates to the real world depends on the proportion of genes that come with adaptive tradeoffs. I don’t know how tractable an empirical question that is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was high: as pointed out above, even height has tradeoffs if being short can win you the jackpot when the famine hits.

            Also, this apparently isn’t reflected in Hill’s model, but not all women find the same things attractive. People have idiosyncratic preferences; therefore, people can benefit from being idiosyncratic in random ways. Most of the time random idiosyncrasies will be deleterious or neutral, but they will be less heavily selected against in men if their only chance of success is to be in the 99th percentile in something.

          • @BlindKungFuMaster:

            I agree that an alternative explanation for a distribution of characteristics is that the distribution is superior to everyone having the same characteristics. My standard example is giraffes. If all of them have very long necks, a short necked giraffe will be able to eat from low branches and avoid the costs of carrying a long neck. So there is an equilibrium distribution of heights, in which the net benefit to all neck heights in the distribution is the same.

            The equivalent for intelligence could be a trade off between benefits of higher intelligence and costs, such as the calorie cost of a large brain. If there are some niches in which high intelligence pays enough to be worth its cost, some in which it does not, you could get a similar equilibrium.

            But that still leaves the possibility of the explanation I earlier offered, in which a characteristic in the phenotype is unambiguously positive, but the more of that characteristic the genotype is trying to produce, the less often it succeeds. And that gives a heritable distribution, which is what Nicholas was arguing was inherently implausible.

            All of which suggests that the proper response to Hill et. al. is not to refuse to publish the paper but to publish it and let others read it and offer their criticisms.

          • quanta413 says:

            @aho bata

            How well Hill’s model translates to the real world depends on the proportion of genes that come with adaptive tradeoffs.

            Loosely speaking, probably all genes have a certain amount of adaptive tradeoff. Whether or not its a quantitatively relevant amount is a much harder question.

            For those who are curious about this specific topic, you can look up stuff on antagonistic pleiotropy. That’s one name the phenomena goes by for biologists.

        • Viliam says:

          Unlike most people who quote Gowers, he himself acknowledges not being an expert on biology: “I am also far from expert in evolutionary biology and may therefore have committed some rookie errors in what I have written above.”

          The first thing that comes to my mind is that men have one copy of the X chromosome and women have two copies, so any trait that is (partially) encoded in the X chromosome will likely have different variability between the sexes. But, not being a biologist myself, I have no idea what traits exactly this refers to (other than men more likely being colorblind).

          • quanta413 says:

            Gowers is way, way off with his ideas about heritability of variation etc. He hasn’t a clue. See my post below.

            The fact that he couldn’t even come up with the example you did (which an educated academic ought to know) is not a good sign for how much he thought about this before posting.

            His caveat is just lame ass covering.

        • quanta413 says:

          @Nicholas Weininger

          Not to dogpile, but with respect to (1) Gowers shows that he is clueless with respect to biology. He shouldn’t have brought that up yet as far as I can tell that’s his primary critique. He admits he may have made a rookie errors to cover his ass and surprise! He did. His critique resembles many stupid critiques of the past that biology can’t generate randomness but only deterministic traits. Generating deterministic traits is no harder or easier a priori than “random” traits or anything inbetween. If a gene raises the mean but also the variance of a trait, it could be selected for or against depending on how selection acts on that trait. Genes aren’t a blueprint to which organisms are made to tolerance.

          In addition to the many above examples of increased heritable variability due to men lacking a full chromosome (essentially), I’ll give an extreme example of selection for a random mechanism. The number of sperm with a Y chromosome compared to sperm with an X chromosome is very close to 50/50. This ratio is the evolutionarily stable strategy in humans for well understood reasons. It’s not the only ratio you see across species. There are some species where a lot more females are born than males, although I can’t remember the name of the species off the top of my head. I vaguely remember the life history details though if you’re interested.

          EDIT: Just saw this

          Now you can tell a just-so story where instead of having a gene for height there could be instead a gene for variance in height and so it is that which is inherited instead. But this is implausible enough to require unusually strong evidentiary justification and as far as I can tell the paper provides none.

          No, it’s not that implausible because your entire model of how genetics maps to phenotype is way off. It’s pop culture level understanding. There is no “gene for height” or a “gene for variance in height”. Most genes are probably pleiotropic with respect to high level descriptions of phenotype. That means most genes affect multiple parts of phenotype. And a priori there is no reason not to suspect they influence both means and variances of traits. The mean is usually focused on, but that’s not because of biological plausibility. Your understanding of genotype and phenotype and how they are related is lacking. You are overconfident despite a lack of knowledge.

          EDIT EDIT:

          Honestly, main reason to doubt the story in the paper has any application to intelligence etc. is because it doesn’t fit our fragmentary knowledge of how intelligence is likely related to genetics (largely intelligence is probably due to having less generally deleterious mutations), and given that the variance in intelligence differs among human subpopulations I have other doubts. Also I kind of doubt the average effect of women mating is selective for intelligence in and of itself, but that’s a much more murky question.

          EDIT EDIT EDIT:
          Sorry for the negativity. I thank you for posting a criticism even though I think it is naive, because it did make me think about why the paper didn’t seem very applicable to me. I skimmed the paper and thought it looked vaguely cute but not worth reading closely, but I hadn’t really thought about why until I had to respond to your post. Now I know it’s partly because I think that the topic the author was interested in isn’t described well by this sort of model.

          • There are some species where a lot more females are born than males, although I can’t remember the name of the species off the top of my head.

            Elephant Seals.

            The argument is due to Sir R.A. Fisher. The implication is that sex ratios will be equal if the cost of producing males and females is equal. Male elephant seals are much larger than female elephant seals, so the same argument implies more females than males produced.

          • quanta413 says:

            I didn’t know that example! That’s a very interesting one. Different reason too than the example I was familiar with.

            I was actually thinking of a different species of some sort of insect (or maybe arthropod) that mostly lives its life cycle inside a plant of some sort after hatching but eggs are dispersed in clusters between plants. Because of the high level of relatedness of individuals in one plant, the optimal sex ratio shifts to produce more females. Producing more males than needed is competing with yourself, in essence. Rather different than well mixed mating.

            EDIT: Just noticed a mistake I made in higher up post about “variance in intelligence differs among human subpopuations… other doubts bla bla”. That’s poorly thought out because obviously the idea was that there was a variance in variability among subpopulations in the model, but I was thinking of different subpopulations that didn’t mate with each other until recently which is a different issue than the subpopulations in the model.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “The argument is due to Sir R.A. Fisher. The implication is that sex ratios will be equal if the cost of producing males and females is equal. Male elephant seals are much larger than female elephant seals, so the same argument implies more females than males produced.”

            Ah, that’s interesting. I always assumed that the ratio would mirror the ratio of genetic material transmitted (after controlling for childhood death), so the only way to get more females would be to have a species where females contribute more genetic material to the next generation. But the cost to the mother is another factor.

            But wouldn’t that lead to a kind of antagonistic selection? If the male elephant seal figures out how to produce only male sperm, the females are out of luck.

            I should probably read a book. Figuring this stuff out on my own is bound to leave some pretty big holes. Any recommendations?

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “Because of the high level of relatedness of individuals in one plant, the optimal sex ratio shifts to produce more females. Producing more males than needed is competing with yourself, in essence. Rather different than well mixed mating.”

            That also makes sense. If you shift to group selection, more females come in handy.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Blind Kung Fu Master

            Ah, that’s interesting. I always assumed that the ratio would mirror the ratio of genetic material transmitted (after controlling for childhood death), so the only way to get more females would be to have a species where females contribute more genetic material to the next generation. But the cost to the mother is another factor.

            But wouldn’t that lead to a kind of antagonistic selection? If the male elephant seal figures out how to produce only male sperm, the females are out of luck.

            You’re quite mixed up. Unless elephant seals are way different than humans (which I really really doubt because they’re also a mammal although apparently some mammals do use a different system…), sex is determined by a small fraction of DNA depending on which of two chromosomes the male randomly passes on (X or Y). The amount of genetic material being passed on isn’t relevant although the amount passed on is basically half from each parent (slightly less DNA is from your father if you’re a male actually).

            Males aren’t trying to make males and males don’t breed true so to speak. You need both sexes so there’s no selection pressure for more males in order to benefit males. More female descendants is (almost) as beneficial to a male in this situation as it would be to a female. Not quite the same since mothers bear more costs, but close. Or as beneficial to almost all of the male’s genes depending how you want to look at it. If you’re male, daughters are just as closely related to you as sons.

            I should probably read a book. Figuring this stuff out on my own is bound to leave some pretty big holes. Any recommendations?

            What level do you need? On the one hand, what you wrote about sex determination is way off. On the other hand, you recognize that having more relatives in your environment as competitors and less nonrelatives is kind of like group selection (which is correct!), but most people wouldn’t recognize that.

            My area of specialization roughly speaking is evolutionary theory and mathematical modeling of populations. So I can recommend fairly high level texts on that. I’m less sure for beginner material because I took a rather strange route myself.

            But I think maybe you should learn some basic genetics too. Depends on your goals and current knowledge.

          • I should probably read a book.

            I’m sure it isn’t the best source, but I explain Fisher’s argument in Chapter 1 of my webbed Price Theory, under the subhead “Economics and Evolution.”

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “You’re quite mixed up.”

            You are awfully quick asserting other people don’t know what they are talking about.

            Unfortunately you seem to have completely misunderstood what it is I was talking about. I spell it out for you:

            1) If you have a population with a stable 2:1 ratio of female to male, being a male is just better. If every kid has one dad and one mom, in this population males have twice the average number of kids.

            2) This means there is selection pressure to have more sons. Over time this selection pressure will ramp up the number of males and there will be a balance. This is the reason why usually there are equal numbers of males and females.

            3) This assumes that both sexes contribute roughly the same amount of genetic material. If however, the species is triploid and females contribute two chromosomes and males one of each type, than the 2:1 female-male ratio is stable, because while males are more likely to have kids, females still get to contribute the same amount of genetic material. I’m not saying that happens, I’m just saying this is one mechanism to get a lopsided male-female ratio.

            4) In the elephant seal example, there are more females because a female can have n>1 female babies with the same effort as having one male baby. This, as explained in 1), means that being male is just better, ie fitter, than being female. Because males aren’t paying the cost of a pregnancy and generally cannot count on having multiple babies with one female (turn over of alpha males can be pretty rapid), there is a strong incentive for males to sire these fitter sons. Because sperm determines sex, evolutionary changes in that regard are difficult to counter for the females. If there is only male sperm, it is going to be a son.

            5) This is what I called antagonistic selection. A more common term is antagonistic sexual co-evolution. In this specific scenario males want to have sons and there is evolutionary pressure to “breed true”.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Blind Kung Fu Mater

            Mea Culpa. I thought you were saying something much weirder. I’ve never heard of any species like (3) though, which is probably partly why I didn’t make the connection. Who knows though, maybe some plants do something like that. Plants are weird. Perhaps I shouldn’t post so late.

            With respect to (2) sure, but there’s also selection pressure in that population for females to have more sons as long as costs are equal. It benefits a female to have more sons in that population. A female with a novel mutation that led to sons with more sons would benefit roughly half as much as a male with a mutation for more sons (I’m guessing based on a heuristic). A female with a mutation that led to more sons immediately would benefit just as much as a male with a mutation with similar effect.

            With respect to (4) and (5) though I’m not sure which genes control the ratio of X to Y sperm. You’re obviously right that only males have sperm, but genes that affect the ratio of X to Y sperm may occur in both sexes. It is not obviously true that females can’t easily interact with the genetics of sex determination. That could only occur if all the genes controlling the ratio of sperm “sex” were on the Y chromosome. Even then, females could potentially develop ways of sorting sperm based on sperm sex.

            The ratio of X to Y sperm could be affect by meiosis though so my guess is a pretty large number of genes could have an effect, some of which females have. I see no reason why females with genes that caused there to be an uptick in Y chromosomes in sperm wouldn’t benefit from having more sons with sons. Most females are no more related to a female than most males, so it’s not obvious to me that it’s in any individual female’s interest not to have sons that have more sons. It would take a gene that increased the number of sperm with Y chromosomes spreading to a pretty large chunk of the population before it was bad for females that had that gene (Unless elephant seals tend to mate with relatives). Only at that point would having sons that have more sons be bad for a female.

            In other words, my point about sexes not breeding true was that we should expect females to be “defectors” against other females as long as they don’t pay the cost of a gene for more males right now. Because roughly speaking a female isn’t more related to a random other female than a random male.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            @quanta413:

            Now you seem to have completely dropped the assumption that sons are more costly for mothers.

            Yes, if the sex ratio is lopsided both females and males benefit from having the underrepresented sex in their progeny. You’ll get female “defectors” etc.

            But the whole point of the elephant seal example was that mothers pay an additional cost for sons. If a mother can have either three daughters or one son, and there are no further factors, you’ll get that 3:1 ratio. That is the equilibrium. With that ratio three daughters are as costly and as fit as one son is.

            But only for mothers …

          • quanta413 says:

            @BlindKungFuMaster

            No, I’m saying something different. If a gene affecting number of sons affects the balance of X to Y sperm, then even if that gene is in mothers, mothers who have it don’t pay the additional cost of sons because they don’t produce sperm. They only pay the cost once the gene is so common that most males have it. But at that point so do any mothers who don’t have the gene.

            That means that a mother with a mutation that causes her sons to have more sons because the gene affects the ratio of X to Y sperm is initially favored by natural selection if males who had more sons are favored by natural selection. Up until the point where the sex ratio is skewed too far and sons who had more sons would themselves do worse.

            This is distinct from a gene that say, caused a mother to sort Y sperm towards her eggs and X away or something to that effect. A mother would pay the cost of that gene and so would all her daughters, so it could be disfavored.

            Basically the reproductive success of any gene in an individual mother doesn’t care about the gene’s effect on other mothers.

            In reverse, a mutation that caused females to sort sperm inside them towards the optimal male to female ratio for a theoretical female is actually a beneficial mutation in a male because males don’t sort sperm. So males can also have genes that defect against the optimal male:female ratio for males as a group as long as those genes aren’t on the Y chromosome.

            Mutations on the Y chromosome are unique in that because the Y chromosome is only in males, mutations in the Y chromosome that affect sex ratio are only favored if it increases the number of sons. I think this is true even if the mutation pushes the number of sons too high even from a male individual’s perspective.

          • littskad says:

            @quanta:

            I was actually thinking of a different species of some sort of insect…

            It sounds like you were thinking of aphids.

          • quanta413 says:

            @littskad

            Thank you. Aphids seems like the right fit.

      • syrrim says:

        Fairly weak response IMO:

        Well I’m afraid that to me it doesn’t suggest anything of the kind. If females have a higher cutoff than males, wouldn’t that suggest that males would have a much higher selection pressure to become more desirable than females? And wouldn’t the loss of all those undesirable males mean that there wasn’t much one could say about variability? Imagine for example if the individuals in P were all either extremely fit or extremely unfit. Surely the variability would go right down if only the fit individuals got to reproduce. And if you’re worrying that the model would in fact show that males would tend to become far superior to females, as opposed to the usual claim that males are more spread out both at the top and at the bottom, let’s remember that males inherit traits from both their fathers and their mothers, as do females, an observation that, surprisingly, plays no role at all in the paper.

        Ok, so we take it as axiomatic that there will be an equal number of males and females born, then we can see that mating is a zero sum game. If one male gets a female as a mate, he is removing her from the pool for all the other males. So the normal evolutionary model of “higher selection pressure” doesn’t really apply: since everyone’s trying to improve all the time, one person doing this doesn’t get them anywhere in the stack. Besides that, there will already be high selection pressure applied, eg from competing tribes. So imagine you’re the spirit of evolution in one of the shitty males, and you want to get a mate. What do you do? You’d like to improve your genes in a stable, guaranteed fashion. But so does every other male, so that doesn’t move you up in the totem pole. So instead, you throw a hail mary: you pick random genes that have a low chance of getting you lots of mates, but also have a chance of getting you no mates. Let’s say this succeeds: The problem is that the people in the population in the next generation are people who succeeded: it’s not sufficient to just hang onto your succesful hail-mary, you need to throw another one to reproduce next generation too.

        Now let’s come up with genetic models for this. It’s important to remember that evolution is itself subject to evolution, and so the best ways of evolving (eg sexual reproduction) are going to win out over poorer ones. So if there are mechanisms that control how likely it is for a mutation to occur, then these mechanisms can change in the presense of selective pressure. Now how would such a change propagate only to males of the species? Easy: store it in the y-chomosome.

        This is all to say not that the paper is right or useful, but that it should be debated in the open on it’s merits and by experts in the field, not hidden away in blog posts and preprints with the brunt of the discussion concerning the well established MGVH, or it’s implications.

        • quanta413 says:

          Genes do not have to be deterministic in their effect on phenotype at a high level. Most aren’t strictly deterministic at a high level of description. And most genes affect many traits and most traits are affected by many genes. The paper is about heritable variability that is maintained which is a reasonable idea since we know natural selection can select for very precise randomizing mechanisms when there’s pressure (like sex ratio of gametes). Sometimes there may be mutations that increase variance of a trait but not the mean. It’s not that weird for a gene or genes to affect variance as well as mean.

          I went to read it a little more closely though this time…

          As for some of his other assumptions,

          1. I’m pretty sure humans for at least the past couple thousand years have not typically had half of the males or more not reproducing. Probably not even much farther back than that unless I’m missing something. I’m not sure what fraction of males we think don’t reproduce among hunter-gatherers. So his model would imply that since human females are not selective (by his definition), we should see male variability decreasing. Any current higher variability would be do to either other factors (like… having one copy of the X chromosome) or due to a distant evolutionary past or something.

          The author isn’t ignorant though. He does notice this implication and loosely ties it to the idea that a decrease in mate selectivity compared to the past may be driving a trend towards decreasing male variability. Whether or not this trend exists? Or a change in mate selectivity? Who knows. His citation is pretty loose, and I don’t think it really applies. In some countries, the male/female variability has grown over time in one way and decreased in another. I’d be surprised if mate selectivity has changed that much anywhere since we’ve started taking these measurements, so I don’t buy it.

          Seems like his description of choosy females makes more sense for animals with a consistent harem mating system. Men have had harems sometimes, but I doubt in any society that these men ever had enough concubines that things crossed the threshold of half of men not reproducing.

          2. I said this above, but I don’t think this model makes sense as a model for evolution of human intelligence neither recent nor long ago. My understanding is a lot of the genetic contribution to higher intelligence is just having fewer rare slightly deleterious mutations. This sort of thing affects both men and women and doesn’t increase variability in men in the sense he’s talking about (which requires a fat upper tail of intelligence not just a fat lower tail) because those genes are either basically adding 0 or negative.

          Also what you said about how many of those genes are shared by men and women. That would imply that any shared genes for variance in intelligence ought to be selected against by the non-choosy male population. I think the sliver of genes that affect variance in intelligence but only do so in males is probably pretty low. Your solution of storing those on the Y-chromosome works, but I don’t think that jives with what we know at the moment (which isn’t much yet).

    • David Speyer says:

      Farb and Wilkinson have each now posted statements about their roles.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        They both start by asserting that they will contradict something Hill said, but I don’t see a single point they dispute.

        • quanta413 says:

          On top of that, Rivin disputes Farb’s claim that the peer review process the paper underwent was abnormal. I see no reason to believe Farb over Rivin since the bizarre story here is largely due to Farb’s side of the story. The whole thing would’ve been a nothing burger if published as originally expected.

          • David Speyer says:

            There had to be something strange about the refereeing. Because any normal mathematical referee, on seeing this paper, would say this isn’t a math paper of the sort NYJM publishes.

            Here is the table of contents for the most recent issue. Here is the most recent arXiv version of Hill’s paper.

            Hill doesn’t have anywhere near the level of mathematical sophistication of anything else in that journal. There is one applied paper in the current volume and it is a similar level of mathematical sophistication to the others.

            Now, you can argue that it is good to be able to explain models in simple terms without a big toolkit. Maybe Hill’s article is good and the robot motion article I linked is dressing up nothing in big words. But Hill’s article isn’t the sort of thing I would expect to see in NYJM, so something is strange in its acceptance.

          • quanta413 says:

            The paper is at a lower mathematical level, but it’s not weird for referees to comment on correctness and accuracy and not worry much about an article’s suitability in a particular journal. That’s normally the editor’s job. Although the journal can decide whatever it likes.

            Rivin’s choice as editor was unusual compared to his normal choices or his colleagues, but I think that’s all that’s required to explain it. It’s not always weird or sinister for an editor to mix things up once in a while. When the journal is wide-ranging which this one is. Although it’s possible Rivin was trying to get someone’s goat. If so, he succeeded brilliantly. But I think it more likely he or Steinberger found the paper interesting, thought the journal had a broad enough coverage that one unusual article wasn’t too out of place, and sent it off for review.

            Like I said, it would’ve been a complete nothing burger if published as expected. The few people who skimmed it would have briefly paused and thought “that’s rather more applied than normal”. That’s about it.

            It all brings to mind “in academia, the politics are so petty because the stakes are so low”. Poor articles get published all the time with little comment for various political or other reasons (although I can’t judge this particular journal’s frequency of that since I’m not familiar enough with the subjects), but an article of any quality that hits the wrong buttons or is by the wrong person leads to somebody starting a petty squabble. As if they couldn’t afford server space or something.

            Usually we just don’t hear about it, because nobody but academics gives a shit about their internal politics.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, Reviewer #2 gets us all from time to time, but usually she doesn’t bring a Twitter mob with her.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Actually, only Farb says that he is rebutting “unfounded accusations of Ted Hill”; Wilkinson does not attribute the source of “some unfounded allegations.” Hill’s article has mutated into other claims and she would want to rebut those; moreover, she would not want to enumerate mutated claims, because they are potentially boundless. But I think most people in such situations just “tell their side” or “clear the air” rather framing it as a rebuttal.

    • 10240 says:

      Lot of speculation by non-biologists… but this suggests: shouldn’t the paper have been submitted to an (evolution-related) biology journal in the first place, rather than a math one? (Perhaps after consulting with a biologist.)

      • albatross11 says:

        Perhaps. The story is only interesting because of the claims of the author that his paper was spiked by external social pressure despite the normal reviewing process. If some third-tier journal somewhere accepts his paper and it’s crap, or if it rejects his paper even though it was worthwhile, those are both normal things and no story. Bad papers get accepted and good ones rejected every single day.

        Using social/political pressure to tamper with the normal peer review process sounds like a genuinely bad idea. Rejecting technical papers for social/political reasons also seems like a genuinely bad idea. To the extent that these are happening often, that’s news I think is important to get out to the world. To the extent this is just another paper getting rejected for good or bad reasons, *yawn*.

        • marshwiggle says:

          Exactly.

        • Bad papers get accepted and good ones rejected every single day.

          I wrote a paper, submitted it to a third rate journal. It was rejected.
          Submitted it to a second rate journal. It was rejected.
          Submitted it to a to journal. It was accepted.

          • quanta413 says:

            Love the paper by the way. Easy to understand, not trivial, answers something I never understood.

            I do wonder if preferences affect the tendency though like you mention. When it’s really hot or really cold outside, I do find I want the indoors to be slightly colder or hotter respectively.

  23. cmndrkeen says:

    Perception is Bayesian. When you read Scott’s post about the dangers of indoor CO2 levels, the air around you suddenly feels more stale and kinda suffocating.

    So too is perception about race and gender. When you read an essay saying that women are unlikely to achieve in math due to fundamental biological differences, that impacts your perception of them. If a woman and a man collaborate on a math project, you will ascribe more of the success to the man. If a woman applies to a job requiring serious math ability, you will view her resume with more skepticism.

    Is it at all surprising then when women’s groups feel it is threatening to women when an essay gives a biological explanation for the math achievement gap?

    Even if those essays are completely correct (and I don’t think they are), they harm women who are strong in mathematics by influencing people’s priors about them. This includes those women themselves, who will be less likely to believe in themselves and do ambitious work.

    One more thing: when people say that the reason you see fewer high-achieving women is because their abilities have lower variance, rather than lower mean, they seem surprised when this claim is viewed as an attack on women. However, the result of that claim is the same — that there is a powerful biological force keeping women out of math.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I believe that your hypothesis is known as “stereotype threat.” As I understand it, the objective evidence supporting the stereotype threat hypothesis is pretty flimsy.

      • cmndrkeen says:

        I’m talking about medium/long term goal setting and life planning, not short term performance differences on tests due to being reminded something you already know.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Do you have evidence, then, for the hypothesis in your second paragraph?

        • fortaleza84 says:

          I believe that “stereotype threat” — as the term is normally used — includes medium/long term effects.

          But if you prefer to use a different phrase, that’s fine. Let’s call it the Peter Pan Hypothesis. i.e. the belief that beliefs in inherent group differences are themselves responsible for a significant portion of observed group differences.

          So my question is this: What is the evidence for the Peter Pan Hypothesis? How would you test it? How would you measure it?

          Also, what is the best evidence against the Peter Pan Hypothesis?

          Is it at all surprising then when women’s groups feel it is threatening to women when an essay gives a biological explanation for the math achievement gap?

          It’s not a surprise to me — those women’s groups generally object to any observation which puts women in a negative light compared to men — even if those observations are true. Do they object because such observations are truly harmful? Or is it simply a matter of hurt feelings and rationalization?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I dunno about that. As soon as I read your comment, I immediately began to believe that it was flimsy.

        Which then makes me think it might not be flimsy.

      • DavidS says:

        I thought stereotype threat was ‘being told women.are bad at maths makes them actually do worse at maths tests’

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My impression is that stereotype threat is just reminding people that they’re in a group that there’s prejudice against.

          There just might be ethical issues with exposing people to microaggressions (or macroaggressions) and then testing them to see whether they don’t do as well at whatever.

    • lvlln says:

      When you read an essay saying that women are unlikely to achieve in math due to fundamental biological differences, that impacts your perception of them. If a woman and a man collaborate on a math project, you will ascribe more of the success to the man. If a woman applies to a job requiring serious math ability, you will view her resume with more skepticism.

      This is a non-trivial empirical claim about reality that I’ve seen people throw around in various contexts. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen any empirical support for this claim or variants of this claim. One could just as plausibly posit that knowing about such fundamental biological differences would lead someone to value and laud the woman more, for having had to work harder than the man to get to the same place. Or it could lead someone to put their thumb on the scale in favor of the woman, in order to “right” what they consider a cosmic injustice. There’s just as much empirical support (i.e. none) for those claims as the one you make, as best as I can tell.

      • cmndrkeen says:

        The absence of empirical evidence here is hardly surprising, as this is extremely difficult to study!

        • lvlln says:

          The absence of empirical evidence here is hardly surprising, as this is extremely difficult to study!

          Agreed! Which is why we should refrain from making claims that have no empirical backing, and be highly suspicious of people who make such claims and then use those claims as justification for other actions.

          And in the meanwhile, it would probably good to get rid of that absence of empirical evidence – that is, do that extremely difficult work of studying this issue and finding/producing empirical evidence to analyze, to lead us to actual empirically supported conclusions, without the expectation that it conform to our preexisting intuitions about what they should be.

          • albatross11 says:

            Ivlin:

            Speculation is a part of how we get more information–if only by motivating people to check it out. And in practice, it’s hard for me to imagine an equally speculative/abstract paper which predicted that women should outperform men in the hardest subjects would have the same problems. (Though maybe it would–it’s not like we have any kind of widespread survey of this kind of paper-spiking exercise that we can draw on to examine statistics!)

        • There is one fairly simple test–the relative ability of men vs women who make it through the filter.

          My sister went to Boalt (Berkeley Law School), I think in the late sixties. My memory of her account is that about ten percent of the students were women, and one year, out of the six top students (two in each of the three years), five were women. That pattern suggests that, for whatever reason, women had to be abler than men in order to get into Boalt.

          It should be possible to look for that pattern in other ways in other areas. Chess players are rated. If the sort of effect being discussed tends to keep women from going in for chess, one would expect the average rating of those who do to be higher than that of the men who do.

          • albatross11 says:

            If the overrepresentation of men relative to women in STEM fields is because of a wider variance in mens’ intelligence distribution (or other mental traits), then it’s interesting to ask why this only happens in STEM fields or math-heavy fields. It seems intuitively like you should need to be way out in the right end of the intelligent distribution to be a working biologist, but that field is much more gender-balanced than physics. And it’s not clear to me that you should need to be smarter to be an engineer than a lawyer, or an economist than a psychologist, and yet in all those cases, the math-oriented field is heavily male dominated.

            It seems to me that the most plausible single explanation is a slightly right-shifted distribution of math ability of men relative to women, rather than a higher variance. That would give you the pattern we actually observe–economics is more male-dominated than psychology, engineering is more male-dominated than law, computer science is more male-dominated than medicine, biology is more male-dominated than physics or chemistry, etc.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know enough about STEM to know if this is true – just speculation on my part.

            But it might be that in STEM fields, the methods of testing and evaluation are more objective and robust, such that those fields have been able to more credibly resist demands for equal representation as political forces have increasingly demanded gender parity.

            As a comparison, sports have done a great job resisting such demands because it’s clear and obvious that male athletes are superior to female ones. Politicians could try and force an NBA team to sign a female player if they wanted to, but their inferiority would become overwhelmingly obvious the second they hit the court. Therefore, the pressure doesn’t come.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It seems to me that the most plausible single explanation is a slightly right-shifted distribution of math ability of men relative to women, rather than a higher variance.

            If there is some threshold below which low ability does not matter, higher variance with the same mean and higher mean produce similar results. That is, if you need an (arbitrary) math ability score of 90 to be an economist, group A with a higher percentage of 90+s will have more potential economists than (similar-sized) group B, even if they also have a higher percentage of 10-s.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Agreed with Matt.

            As to biology vs physics, econ vs psych, engineering vs law, I’m really not sure those are great examples. I’m pretty sure the male dominated ones of those tend to require more intelligence at the high end. For that matter, it would be easier to switch from the male dominated one than in the other direction. I think you could find paradoxical pairings, but I don’t think the ones you listed work.

          • albatross11 says:

            MattM:

            Okay, but sports are a weird special case, because the differences in strength and size between women and men are huge. The differences in mental abilities, as best we can measure them, are quite small (small verbal advantage for women, small mathematical/spacial advantage for men).

          • Matt M says:

            albatross,

            Sports is useful as an edge case, but let’s walk through this.

            Imagine a society composed of two groups – the Supermen and the Plebs.

            Supermen are, on average, 10% better, at everything than Plebs are. Smarter, faster, stronger, more sociable, all of it. I’m not a statistician, but 10% seems like a threshold such that it would manifest itself in a clear and visible way at the upper edges of society (corporate boards, sports teams, nobel winners etc. would be all be over-represented with Supermen), while at the same time, leaving plenty of room for everyone to personally know really smart and accomplished Plebs and really dumb loser Supermen.

            Now let’s say that polite society decides that this is not actually the case. Supermen aren’t inherently better than Plebs at all. That entire notion was all a fictional invention of Supermen-supremacists to hold back and oppress the poor Plebs. There is no difference. The difference we see in outcomes is all attributable to discrimination, which must be reversed as soon as possible.

            Where would we expect to see this reversal manifest itself quickly, and where would it take longer? Presumably, it would manifest quickly in disciplines where success is somewhat arbitrary (and where the stakes in general are low), and take a lot longer in disciplines where objective measurements are easy (and the stakes are high).

            If you believe that Engineering is more objectively evaluated than Biology, you would, therefore, expect Engineering to resist such demands for reversal, while Biology complies more quickly and easily.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Another fairly simple test is to look at broad social trends as cultural pressure eased. The percentage of female doctors (a difficult and well compensated profession) has been rising for a while and the percentage of females among college students is higher as well. You have to posit extra misogyny in certain fields to suppose that it isn’t some innate trait keeping women’s participation from rising.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @albatross

            Know that whichever it is, it is most likely a result of more objective standards being applied.

            Feminists are already openly arguing in favor of making stem less objective because women do worse on objective tests. See, e.g.

            http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2332858417743754

          • Aapje says:

            Over-representation doesn’t have to reflect a difference in ability. It can also (partially or fully) reflect a difference in interest.

            For example, imagine a society where men are judged more on their status and money-earning, while women are judged more on looks. One would then expect men to sacrifice more to get status and a high income, making it seem that they better at being CEOs, while in actuality, they may be better at: “be willing to work 80 hour weeks for decades to achieve very high income and status.”

          • John Schilling says:

            If the overrepresentation of men relative to women in STEM fields is because of a wider variance in mens’ intelligence distribution

            The overrepresentation of men relative to women in STEM fields is at least in part because more men than women want to partake of most STEM fields. That’s going to make it very difficult to deconvolve other effects. And if you’re going to even try to pull the hypothesized greater male variability out of that morass, the last place to do it is at the barely-made-it margin where you are closest to the center of the distribution function.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @John Schilling

            If that we a major reason it would be easy to see in statistics: If men dominate STEM because they prefer it they will have a disproportionate share of the worst performing STEM students.

            By way of example:

            Math School: 1000 Students, 900 Men 100 Women. If preference predominates, we would expect the bottom 100 students in GPA, admittance tests (SAT/ACT) and exit tests (GRE) should have >90 men. Over several student bodies this effect would be shown to be statistically significant.

          • cassander says:

            @idontknow131647093 says:

            >If that we a major reason it would be easy to see in statistics: If men dominate STEM because they prefer it they will have a disproportionate share of the worst performing STEM students.

            the people in stem classes are self selected. the people who do worst at it don’t take stem classes to begin with, or fail out. though I’d actually bet a fair bet that if you look at the rates of people who fail stem classes, it would be overwhelmingly male.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @idontknow131647093

            If interest is independent of ability, that claim does not hold; if an interest-granting oracle randomly samples 900 from the male population and 100 from the female population, I expect the bottom 100 to be 90 men, 10 women.

            If interest is strictly dependent on ability and the populations have the same mean and variance, it is true.

            If interest is related to ability in some more complex way, that perhaps differs between genders, this test can tell us nothing.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @cassander I don’t see how self selection on ability would change the % of anything at any level, in your situation it would seem the population %s would be similar at all rankings within a school.

            @The Nybbler I think you are right with regards to my initial statement, which leads me to revise it more closely to what I wanted it to mean: If there is a kind of deterrent effect against women that causes them to be disinterested in STEM (or encourages men to enter it), as some feminist theories posit, this will most likely affect the marginal student (the classic is an freshman engineer who graduates in another major, usually business for men). Under that model, we would expect men to cluster at the bottom, because lower performing men would either be more encouraged to sign up, or stay in comparatively.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Women were quite deliberately chased out of some fields in STEM. Computer Science for example had a lot of women at the start, but that fell off a cliff, and that was driven by internal politics more than anything else: The men in the field did not want to be working in a womens occupation, because they accurately judged that this would do large amounts of damage to their prestige and earnings, so they set out to get rid of as many of them as they could.

            That does not still hold, but if you ignore the historic impact of blatant and overt sexism, you will just not have an accurate picture of reality.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Thomas –

            That is quite a series of remarkable claims all wrapped up in a neat little bow.

            I am pretty sure you are just mischaracterizing the history of IT with regard to the now obsolete job of “calculator” (among other jobs that would now be characterized as data entry related), but if there is something more to the claim, please surprise me.

            ETA:
            The specific claims I’d like to see evidence of:
            Large numbers of women in early computer science (if it isn’t just going to be people who move punch cards, please don’t bore me with that)
            That men specifically tried to chase them out.
            That men specifically tried to chase them out for prestige-related reasons – this seems implausible on its face, suggesting these mathematics sorts were politically saavy enough to both see the advantage in it, and cooperate to achieve an ends.
            That the women involved were successfully chased out, because this seems implausible on its face as well, even given all the other stuff happened. It just sounds like “Oh those dainty women, they couldn’t handle the rough and tumble politics.” Which seems like the sort of thing you might believe if you had met neither early century working women, nor the sort of women who end up in computing, the shared set of which sounds particularly unlikely to let themselves be quietly chased off.

          • bean says:

            I think idontknow131647093 is onto something. If there’s an interest gap between men and women of similar ability, then it seems logical to expect that the population who fails (say) the basic weed-out engineering course is going to be disproportionately male relative to the population of the course.

          • Protagoras says:

            I thought there were some statistics showing that men were disproportionately represented at the bottom of STEM fields, due to women being more likely to drop out of STEM majors than men if they got mediocre grades. Though a difference in interest levels is not the only thing that would explain this phenomenon (if I’m correctly remembering the studies that found this, and if the studies were accurate).

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            That is an extraordinary set of claims, as Thegnskald points out. We know computer programming (which was very different, but still recognizably programming and debugging) was female-dominated in the ENIAC era. But the ENIAC programmers were selected at the tail end of WWII, when a lot of men were busy elsewhere. We know when the US Department of Labor started keeping statistics (IIRC late 1960s), programming was male dominated. Margaret Hamilton has indicated that the profession was male dominated in her time in it, which began in the early 1960s. As far as I know, no one has pinned down when the changeover happened, and certainly no one has conclusively demonstrated the reasons for it.

            The claim “Men chased them out to help the prestige and earnings of the profession” sounds like a mash-up of two strands of very modern feminist reasoning (“chased out” and “female-dominated professions lose prestige and financial value as a result of being female-dominated”). Furthermore, the profession didn’t become at all prestigious until much later — after the personal computer revolution, certainly.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            I did over egg the argument badly, but the solid facts are that it started majority female, had healthy (and climbing! see those bureau of labor statistics) numbers of women in it until the pc era, and then female participation very abruptly fell off a cliff.

            Pretty much exactly when it became a generator of great fortunes. Which is where I start putting an incredibly hostile gloss on things, because this is not what biological factors look like – this is a cultural campaign of exclusion.

            The kinder read on things is that the entire profession of coder got run over by a marketing juggernaut – The personal computer sales pitch was just incredibly gendered in the professions infancy, so a whole lot more boys were handed one as teenagers, with predictable results, and the media portrayals that defined the popular conception of the computer geek ranged from “quite incredibly misogynist” – the revenge of the nerds films have so much rape in them. Just so much rape – to “the only women in the movie are there to be explained at”

            So an entire generation of women were informed in no uncertain terms that computing was a boys club. Resorting to biology to explain the ratio after that is, well, not necessary?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            but the solid facts are that it started majority female, had healthy (and climbing! see those bureau of labor statistics) numbers of women in it until the pc era, and then female participation very abruptly fell off a cliff.

            It started majority female, when there literally six programmers in 1945. Even by 1950, programming occupations were not considered significant enough to mention by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As I said, Margaret Hamilton mentions in an interview that the profession was male-dominated at least from 1959.

            According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1976 edition), by 1960 census we have a whopping 9000 male computer specialists (not broken down further), and 4000 female computer specialists. In 1970, 207,000 men; 51,000 women. In 1972, 259,200 men, 16,800 women. According to the 1982 edition of the Abstract: In 1981, 1,087,500 men, 38,500 women. This is the early PC era, with the IBM PC being released in the middle of 1981. One estimate is that only about 1.8 million PCs — total — had been sold by the end of 1981. These aren’t people who grew up with PCs; those won’t enter the labor force until the late 1980s.

            What we see is not men driving out women. What we see is a field expanding, but unevenly. The number of women doubles; the number of men quadruples.

            _Revenge of the Nerds_ was 1984; as I recall, it has rape by fraud (played for laughs), but hardly “so much rape”. Then there’s _Weird Science_, where it’s the nerds who are there to be explained to by a woman. And _Real Genius_ where you have a 3-man, one-woman ensemble. The idea that _Hollywood nerd movies_ drove women out of the field is even more unlikely than the idea that the men in the field did.

          • quanta413 says:

            If I had to eyeball it from teaching (not a very large sample size, very biased sample, etc.), I’d say men are perhaps a little more likely to be among my worse students in physics. But I think it’s probably either because men are somewhat less conscientious, or it’s just noise.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Oops, I read the wrong data from 1972 and 1981.

            1972 has 276,000 computer specialists, 16.8% women (46,368).
            1981 has 627,000 computer specialists, 27.1% women (164,900).
            1982 has 751,000 computer specialists, 28.5% women (214,000).

            At this point occupational categories change. If we follow the detailed occupations of “Computer Programmer” and “Computer Systems Analyst” (which made up “computer specialists” in 1982) and assume “Computer Systems Analysts, scientists” is essentially the same as “Computer Systems Analyst”, we get

            1983 719,000 total 30.7% women (220,700)
            1984 817,000 total 33.4% women (272,500)
            1985 893,000 total 31.8% women (283,700)
            1986 934,000 total 34.2% women (319,100)
            1987 974,000 total 34.5% women (336,400)
            1988 1,049,000 total 31.0% women (324,800)
            1989 1,127,000 total, 33.8% women (380,900)
            1990 1,199,000 total, 35.2% women (422,500)
            1991 1,221,000 total, 33.8% women (413,100)
            1992 1,243,000 total, 31.1% women (386,600)

            Thus through the PC era we see a rise at the beginning followed by fluctuations with no trend, with a possible drop starting the Internet era. I’ll stop there for now because I’ve been typing these by hand from scanned BLS reports, and I’ve probably made mistakes and will make more.

            I think the “driven out by mid-1980s Hollywood nerd movies” and “driven out by the PC era” ideas are not supported. Continuing through to the dot-com bust (which definitely drove women out, but wasn’t sexist) might show more, but I don’t think it’s going to substantiate men driving women out. Especially since I was in the industry at the time, not doing any woman-ejecting.

          • John Schilling says:

            Computer Science for example had a lot of women at the start, but that fell off a cliff, and that was driven by internal politics more than anything else:

            I thought that was driven by the first wave of computer science hiring occurring during the period when most of the male candidates were fully occupied with Extreme Nazi-Punching, and the second wave occurred during the culturally conservative 1950s.

            The men in the field did not want to be working in a womens occupation, because they accurately judged that this would do large amounts of damage to their prestige and earnings, so they set out to get rid of as many of them as they could.

            Citation very much needed for this explanation.

            For that matter, citation needed for women being “gotten rid of” at all, for their numbers “falling off a cliff”. My understanding is that the absolute number of women employed in computer science(*) rose almost monotonically through the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and that only their relative participation declined as men joined the field even faster.

            * NOT hand-calculation in lieu of computers not being available yet, because we don’t need elaborate theories of discrimination to explain the calculators not all being rehired as coders any more than we do to explain John Henry never being employed as a steam-drill engineer.

          • 10240 says:

            But it might be that in STEM fields, the methods of testing and evaluation are more objective and robust, such that those fields have been able to more credibly resist demands for equal representation as political forces have increasingly demanded gender parity.

            I don’t think this is a reason. The same disparities also exist in countries where such political pressures don’t exist (e.g. Hungary), as well as in contexts where participation is purely a matter of choice, or depends on objective tests.

            Furthermore, while the assessment of the correctness of a result is the most objective in math, the importance of a result is just as subjective as in biology.

            If that we a major reason it would be easy to see in statistics: If men dominate STEM because they prefer it they will have a disproportionate share of the worst performing STEM students.

            Interest and ability are very hard to separate. If you are more interested in something, you are more likely to study and understand it properly, so you are going to be better at it. So if there is an innate difference in interest but not talent, once you have to understand complex math, it will translate to a difference in ability. Vice versa, if you are not good at something, there is a good chance you’ll lose interest.

          • Matt M says:

            only their relative participation declined as men joined the field even faster.

            Isn’t this what really matters, though? Why should the absolute number be the one we focus on, especially in a quickly growing industry and especially during an era where female workforce participation in general was also growing very quickly.

          • Thegnskald says:

            MattM –

            I think you are responding to a response to the argument that women were chased out.

            Pointing out that the absolute numbers of women didn’t decrease is a strong argument against the idea that men moved in and pushed all the women out.

            The relative representation doesn’t matter to this specific discussion, even if it matters a lot to the broader question of women in STEM.

          • Matt M says:

            I suppose that’s fair if you take “chased out” very literally. I was thinking of it more metaphorically.

        • Matt M says:

          One way to be sure you won’t get any more empirical evidence is to demand that the issue never be discussed.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          If one assumes for the sake of argument that actual ability gaps do exist (not an outrageous hypothesis), it’s hardly a surprise that some people would come up with difficult-to-falsify hypotheses that explain away the evidence for such ability gaps.

          And stereotype threat is conviently difficult to falsify.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            And stereotype threat is conviently difficult to falsify.

            not to be that guy but actually stereotype threat studies usually fail to replicate and I don’t think anyone without a lot of political investment in progressivism takes it seriously any more

    • Matt M says:

      Perception is Bayesian. When you read Scott’s post about the dangers of indoor CO2 levels, the air around you suddenly feels more stale and kinda suffocating.

      So too is perception about race and gender. When you read an essay saying that women are unlikely to achieve in math due to fundamental biological differences, that impacts your perception of them. If a woman and a man collaborate on a math project, you will ascribe more of the success to the man. If a woman applies to a job requiring serious math ability, you will view her resume with more skepticism.

      I disagree with this comparison. Scott’s post about CO2 levels identifies many ways in which one might remedy the situation. You might feel stuffy in a closed environment, but you won’t feel stuffy in a large, well ventilated, open space – because Scott specifically tells you that these places are unlikely to be affected by this problem.

      Similarly, if you read a study that says that, on average women aren’t as good at math due to variability, that doesn’t tell you anything about the comparison between male author and female author, and any decent reasoner should be well aware of this qualifier and should apply it to their analysis – thereby not ascribing more of the success to the male than the female.

      I suppose it’s possible that this level of nuance in analysis might not be capable by the very stupid, but it’s really not that advanced or nuanced. It’s not difficult to explain to someone that variability explains why there are few female math geniuses relative to male math geniuses, but that this does not mean that the female geniuses who do exist are inferior to the male ones. Just as “indoor space = CO2 = stuffy” does not mean that all indoor spaces have high CO2 counts and are stuffy.

      • cmndrkeen says:

        If you believe that biology dictates that it requires a 1/100 event for a woman to be the best mathematician in the world, will you not be skeptical if someone reports that the world’s best mathematician is female?

        If the math paper of the century is cowritten by a man and a woman, will your belief not impact how you percieve whose insights were most important?

        • Matt M says:

          If you believe that biology dictates that it requires a 1/100 event for a woman to be the best mathematician in the world, will you not be skeptical if someone reports that the world’s best mathematician is female?

          I’ll be as skeptical as the statistics indicate that I should be.

          It’s also ~1/100 chance to flip a coin and have it land heads 7 times in a row. If I saw that happen, I might ask to examine the coin to see if it’s a trick coin or something. But weird random things happen frequently.

          Last year, I lost my car in what was supposedly a 1-in-500 year flood event. All the skepticism in the world ain’t bringing my car back.

        • Randy M says:

          If you believe that biology dictates that it requires a 1/100 event for a woman to be the best mathematician in the world, will you not be skeptical if someone reports that the world’s best mathematician is female?

          Yes. And rightly so.

          Skepticism, of course, is the same as flat out disbelief. And, upon confirmation, I will then be skeptical of the original belief.

          In each case, that skepticism only extends to a degree warranted by the strength of the evidence.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Depends on the distribution and how often people have claimed that a woman is the top mathematician. If the latter claim is rare enough there isn’t much reason to be skeptical that the woman being claimed to be at the top than any individual man named. If the claim is rare enough it might actually make you more likely to believe the one time you hear it.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with baconbits.

            When I get hit with a “once in every 500 years” flood every three years or so, I do indeed start to get very skeptical.

            Not skeptical that a flood happened, but skeptical that the people who declared it to be supposedly so rare have any idea what they’re talking about.

          • Randy M says:

            True, it’s just one data point, so the skepticism would be small. To update your prior, you would prefer to have a list of the previous (as many as possible) top mathematicians.
            But to learn that a particular outcome is the 1% is surprising. Even if you should encounter 1% events periodically, the 99% is the way to bet.

          • Randy M says:

            @Matt M
            The difference is, in your scenario, we know for a fact that a flood occurs, and so it is only the statistic that is questionable.
            Whereas in the mathematician scenario, we don’t really have any more reason to believe the study showing “top mathematicians are 99% men” or the subjective evaluation “x, a female, is the top mathematician”, but we should consider that they are both evidence, however sparse, against the other.

          • For a while, one of the world’s best chess players was a woman. The criteria for math aren’t quite as tidy, but I don’t think mathematicians would have a hard time recognizing a woman equivalent of Gauss or Von Neumann.

          • cmndrkeen says:

            Randy M: And that skepticism harms the person you are skeptical of!

            DavidFriedman: That’s not obvious to me – Georg Cantor killed himself because the mathematics community was dismissive of his findings.

          • Protagoras says:

            Hmmm? Cantor died of a heart attack at age 72, according to wikipedia at least. Where did this story of him killing himself come from?

          • cmndrkeen says:

            Protagoras: Oops, you’re right. Don’t know why I thought Cantor killed himself! Apologies, DavidFriedman.

            Still, he was hospitalized for depression in 1884 and switched from math to philosophy and literature for a long time due to intense criticism of his work.

          • cmndrkeen says:

            DavidFriedman: A better response to your argument (though not a perfect one):

            Gauss and Euler lived in time periods where women had almost no freedom, even rich women.

            In fact, during Von Neumann’s time, the world did produce Emmy Noether. She had an extremely difficult time getting universities to accept her, despite the support of David Hilbert. Noether’s Theorem is one of the most profound bits of physics I have learned, and something I still wrestle with (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noether%27s_theorem).

          • Randy M says:

            Randy M: And that skepticism harms the person you are skeptical of!

            No it doesn’t.

          • quanta413 says:

            Maybe it’s just my bias against the more pure forms of mathematics, but as successful as he was Cantor doesn’t strike me as nearly as important and influential as Gauss and Euler.

          • littskad says:

            @quanta413

            Cantor doesn’t strike me as nearly as important and influential as Gauss and Euler.

            Good Lord, you have high standards. That said, Cantor’s work is absolutely fundamental in the modern understanding of the infinite, and has unexpected applications in just about every area of math.

          • quanta413 says:

            @littskad

            Sure, Cantor’s work is important to mathematical foundations. But it’s not that my standards are high. It’s that Gauss and Euler are really high standards. I wish I’d die 1/100 as successful in my field as Cantor. I figure that’s about 1/10000 as important as Gauss or Euler. (Numbers just illustration of rough idea, not meant to be taken seriously.)

            Unless I’m missing something, Cantor’s range was much smaller than Gauss or Euler’s. It’s mostly foundational math with not 0 but not that much application outside of its range (well… compared to Gauss or Euler). In the sense that you’ll not use it much if you’re not in those fields, not in the sense it doesn’t lay logical foundations. Gauss and Euler both made major contributions to multiple branches of mathematics and physics. It’s hard not to use their work if you do any physical science or engineering. Or large chunks of math.

            But like I said, maybe my bias. I think set theory is interesting and logically important, but I don’t rate it as highly as graph theory, differential geometry, physics, individually much less all combined.

            To be fair to Cantor, Euler and Gauss did live earlier. That has significant advantages in these sorts of comparisons.

        • 10240 says:

          If you believe that biology dictates that it requires a 1/100 event for a woman to be the best mathematician in the world, will you not be skeptical if someone reports that the world’s best mathematician is female?

          Not if I have no reason to believe that the people who evaluated her work were biased against men.

    • Matt M says:

      However, the result of that claim is the same — that there is a powerful biological force keeping women out of math.

      Also keeping them out of jail and homeless shelters.

      “High variability” in and of itself is not typically considered a desirable trait, at the individual level at least.

      • cmndrkeen says:

        A female professor does not care about this. She cares about whether she can get tenure, not the fact that some other woman somewhere is less likely to be homeless.

        A women’s group that cares about high-achieving women will not be mollified by your statement.

        • Matt M says:

          A women’s group that cares about high-achieving women will not be mollified by your statement.

          Well if high-achieving women were the only demographic that mattered, your concerns might be relevant.

          You seem to be focusing entirely on one aspect of this question, which is how this might harm high-achieving women, while completely ignoring how it might

          1. Benefit low-achieving women
          or
          2. Harm or benefit men

          Those things also seem relevant when asking the question “Should we ban discussion of this topic” do they not?

          • cmndrkeen says:

            When determining whether to ban discussion on something, a whole host of factors are important (including whether we want to start a precedent for banning discussions).

            All I’m saying is that essay harms someone, and it is unsurprising when groups or individuals concerned about that harm say so.

          • 10240 says:

            “It’s understandable that women’s groups suppress the paper because it’s in their interest to do so”, that’s a pretty low standard. Yes, it’s understandable, but the important question is whether it’s good, legitimate, or not morally repugnant. (A much more salient reason than yours that it’s in women’s groups’ interest to suppress such research if their goal is to increase women’s representation is that if people believe, rightly or wrongly, that the cause of women’s low representation in STEM is discrimination, then they are inclined to engage in affirmative action to increase women’s representation.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      This appears to be a re-invention of stereotype threat. Which has not been very robust to replication.

    • albatross11 says:

      cmdrkeen:

      In living memory, we had a whole social order that said that women were unsuited for science and professional work, that they were mostly unsuited to becoming doctors or engineers or lawyers. My mother in law has harrowing stories of how she was treated as a PhD student in psychology, and she’s not remotely alone. There were authority figures arguing that most women shouldn’t and couldn’t go into these fields. Many colleges wouldn’t even allow women into those departments.

      And yet, somehow, we’ve seen women reach parity or better across most fields, including medicine and law and accounting and biology and psychology. That’s happened over the last 50 years or so.

      If the massive social pressure and social messaging against women being successful in those fields didn’t keep them out (despite plenty of active harassment and opposition), why is it plausible that a fairly obscure mathematical paper would manage the trick?

      • cmndrkeen says:

        I think this is the best response my post has received so far. Your argument is that women shouldn’t care about the influence of these essays. What about if the dean of the school makes this argument? What about the fact that battling arguments of this kind is part of why women have managed to get into fields previously denied them?

        • baconbits9 says:

          His argument isn’t that women shouldn’t care about these things, its that they have demonstrated that they don’t.

          • Matt M says:

            At the risk of defending someone that I think might well be a troll, I think this analysis is missing something.

            While it’s true that particularly ambitious women have been “fighting the power” and succeeding in male dominated occupations for many decades, this doesn’t necessarily mean everything is fine.

            Perhaps there are women out there who excel in math, but are also not incredibly ambitious. Or perhaps they are very conscientious or shy or what have you. In a world with perfect gender neutrality, they’d enter math and be, well, not the greatest mathematician in the world, but pretty darn good. But because they don’t want to rock the boat, they go become a good biologist instead. Presumably, this is a sub optimal outcome that we’d like to avoid.

          • gbdub says:

            Part of what’s missing from the “obviously it’s sexism” argument is an explanation for why math/physics/engineering, of all places, are where anti-female discrimination has held out. The men who go into those fields aren’t exactly the alpha jocks you’d expect to be hardcore masculine stereotypers. Furthermore, math and physics at least do almost all of their practice in academia, which is dominated by social progressives.

            Absent that, some sort of difference in average / peak skill and interests seems to be a more plausible explanation. Basically, discrimination has gone down more or less equally across society, but women only pushed into the fields where they have the most skill and interests.

          • baconbits9 says:

            While it’s true that particularly ambitious women have been “fighting the power” and succeeding in male dominated occupations for many decades, this doesn’t necessarily mean everything is fine.

            I don’t think his argument was that particularly ambitious women were making it happen, the point made was that women had matched or exceeded men in some of these fields, and it isn’t simply women on the fringe of ambition making it.

          • Matt M says:

            it isn’t simply women on the fringe of ambition making it.

            How do we know that?

        • albatross11 says:

          My point isn’t so much that women shouldn’t care, it’s that I don’t think there’s any reason to think that allowing this kind of article to be published is going to discourage any substantial number of women from pursuing STEM careers.

          We have this worked example, where there were massive social messages from high-status people saying women shouldn’t (for example) go into medicine and law. Despite that, women reached parity in both fields a couple decades ago. That seems like pretty strong evidence that women can and will, in fact, ignore such social messaging when there aren’t actually rules keeping them out of those fields.

          In fact, right now, the high-status people are all telling women and girls that they can be whatever they want to be, that all fields are and should be open to them. It’s *really* hard to imagine how allowing people to discuss mathematical hypotheses about the cause of the male/female imbalance in STEM fields would have a lot of impact on womens’ choices of field.

          And the other side of that is that we’re talking about suppressing research papers. Having the suppression of scientific research be a normal operation we do to accomplish social goals seems like a terrible idea, to me.

          A lot of useful information that comes out of science is very uncomfortable. Lots of people would be happy to suppress the most discomfort-indusing information. But then we end up blind, as a civilization.

        • 10240 says:

          What about the fact that battling arguments of this kind is part of why women have managed to get into fields previously denied them?

          Arguments that fewer women than men are good at X weren’t the big obstacle for women. False factual claims such as “no woman is good at X” were, as well as attitudes that were not justified by the (possibly true) factual claims (e.g. factual claim=”fewer women than men are good at X”, attitude=”no woman should be admitted”).

          Women didn’t succeed by suppressing true or plausible factual claims, or arguing that true claims were false, or arguing that plausible claims were false without evidence. They succeeded by arguing that false claims were, in fact, false, and by battling attitudes not justified by facts.

    • gbdub says:

      Is it at all surprising then when women’s groups feel it is threatening to women when an essay gives a biological explanation for the math achievement gap?

      If stereotype threat is true (evidence is apparently sketchy), aren’t women’s groups also at fault for priming women to believe that they will be under constant threat of discrimination, and that any career setback is likely due to rampant structural sexism?

      • cmndrkeen says:

        See my reply to fortaleza84. I don’t care about priming.

        • gbdub says:

          Yes you do, it’s what your whole original post is about. Call it something different if you want, but your response to Fortaleza was not responsive to them, and certainly isn’t to my post.

          My argument applies equally to medium long term planning as it does to short term priming, and that’s the only difference you offer between “priming” and “the suspiciously priming like thing you are worried about”

          • cmndrkeen says:

            I am arguing that the impact of perception matters in two ways:

            1) Others’ perception of you
            2) Your own self-perception, which I believe impacts ambition and the decision to invest in yourself

            Neither of those has much to do with performance on standardized tests when someone does or does not briefly remind you of your race/gender.

          • gbdub says:

            Neither of those has much to do with performance on standardized tests when someone does or does not briefly remind you of your race/gender.

            That’s how priming is studied but it’s not the only way priming and stereotype threat would work in the wild, if they are real effects.

            It’s obviously also not what I was talking about, my objection would certainly cover the “impact of perception” in both the ways, particularly 2, you note.

            That’s about as charitable as I can be, either engage with arguments or don’t, but don’t play silly semantic games to avoid the question.

          • cmndrkeen says:

            Apologies, most people use the word priming to refer to something “measured” as a short term effect. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priming_(psychology), where all the entries I bothered to read are short term.

            Let’s go back to the definition you used. Yep, if you are constantly concerned that you are under threat of discrimination, this is likely really distracting, and many feminists believe that treating women as victims is counterproductive.

            In fact, the popular “Lean In” movement focuses on ambition rather than victimhood. “Circles are a place where women can be unapologetically ambitious.” (https://leanin.org/circles).

          • gbdub says:

            Thank you. I’d also suggest the Wikipedia page on “stereotype threat”. I think that tracks pretty closely with your 2).

            Note that yes, a lot of the studies (which are by necessity short term) involve some sort of stereotype intervention followed immediately by a test, however the actual effects are hypothesized to be more long term (no one really worries about the sort of artificial scenario of priming tests, the whole point is that the tests are intended to extrapolate to real world stereotype effects, which would by necessity be more medium to long term).

            Much of the weakness in evidence, as I understand it, is in demonstrating a link between short term priming and long term perception/stereotype effects.

            That is, the evidence for short term priming is stronger than the evidence for longer term effects due to “perception” changes caused by exposure to derogatory information such as a study showing lower peak female skill.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      It would be nice if we could collectively forget we ever considered women to be less likely to achieve greatness in mathematics and let everyone thrive according to their abilities unburdened with any preconceptions.

      Unfortunately, the world we inherit has women statistically underperforming men, and why this is so is a great question of our age of enormous political significance. We cannot afford to hamper the pursuit of truth with regards to this question, as it won’t stay unanswered, and a false answer can and will cause societal damage.

      • Aapje says:

        Unfortunately, the world we inherit has women statistically underperforming men

        By some metrics…

        There are also quite a few metrics where men underperform compared to women.

      • It would be nice if we could collectively forget we ever considered women to be less likely to achieve greatness in mathematics and let everyone thrive according to their abilities unburdened with any preconceptions.

        It wouldn’t be nice if what we were forgetting was true, since the false belief would lead to the conclusion that women were being discriminated against in mathematics and policies to eliminate that nonexistent discrimination.

        • cmndrkeen says:

          DavidFriedman: Whenever I hear this argument, it feels a lot like God of the Gaps.

          Sure, science has now disproven 99 crucial parts of the biblical story, counter to practically everyone’s firmly held beliefs, but the 100th? Haha, where’s your science for that one?? Therefore, God did it, and we should sit on our hands and bask in the warm feeling that everything is the way it should be.

          Sure, women overcame a widespread belief in biological inequality and achieved parity in 99 fields, but the 100th? Haha, where’s parity for that one?? Therefore, there’s an innate, insurmountable biological difference, and we should sit on our hands and bask in the warm feeling that everything is the way it should be.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            I know exactly what you’re talking about, all of the people disagreeing with me (always on the retreat in the face of surmounting evidence) also worship and sacrifice to the Gaps.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, women overcame a widespread belief in biological inequality and achieved parity in 99 fields, but the 100th? Haha, where’s parity for that one?? Therefore, there’s an innate, insurmountable biological difference, and we should sit on our hands and bask in the warm feeling that everything is the way it should be.

            This is a straw man (or at least a weak man). More often, the arguments I see are more like “disproportionate participation alone is insufficient to demonstrate discrimination. Parity, near-parity, or even super-parity in similar fields in fact suggests that discrimination is unlikely to be the primary cause of the apparent disparity. Therefore, the causal factor is more likely some combination of differing interests and skill levels, which may have an innate genetic component”

          • a reader says:

            Parity, near-parity, or even super-parity in similar fields in fact suggests that discrimination is unlikely to be the primary cause of the apparent disparity.

            Especially if the more-than-parity in the other direction, the preponderance of women, can be predicted – as Scott observed:

            So this theory predicts that men will be more likely to choose jobs with objects, machines, systems, and danger; women will be more likely to choose jobs with people, talking, helping, children, and animals.

            Somebody armed with this theory could pretty well pretty well predict that women would be interested in going into medicine and law, since both of them involve people, talking, and helping. They would predict that women would dominate veterinary medicine (animals, helping), psychology (people, talking, helping, sometimes children), and education (people, children, helping). Of all the hard sciences, they might expect women to prefer biology (animals). And they might expect men to do best in engineering (objects, machines, abstract systems, sometimes danger) and computer science (machines, abstract systems).

            That article is a must read:

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/

          • lvlln says:

            The reason the “god of the gaps” fallacy is a fallacy is because it presumes “god did it” as the default explanation for anything we don’t know, despite the lack of evidence for a god.

            So your attempt at creating a parallel between it and Friedman’s point just fails completely, because he’s not presuming that there’s an innate, insurmountable biological difference despite the lack of evidence for a difference. Neither is he calling for everyone to sit on their hands and bask in the warm feeling that everything is the way it should be.

            Ironically, the “god of the gaps” fallacy has a tight parallel to the very common argument that any gender disparities must be evidence of discrimination or systemic bigotry. Much like how “god of the gaps” presumes without evidence that some god exists who does things that we can’t explain, that latter argument presumes without evidence that, without bigotry, the genders would be identical in some given measure. In fact, this isn’t just evidence-less faith, it’s faith that specifically denies the current best scientific evidence.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You have perhaps seen this chart?

            This does not show a single exception or even a very few exceptions.

            The fact that removal of formal discrimination resulted in women’s participation in certain professions going to gender parity (or even domination by women, as with veterinarians) while other professions changed little if at all is evidence that there is some relevant difference between those professions with respect to women; that is not a “god of the gaps”.

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          Exactly my point, although I spoke too obliquely to steer away from culture warring in open.

    • WashedOut says:

      When you read an essay saying that women are unlikely to achieve in math due to fundamental biological differences, that impacts your perception of them.

      The (now approximately 40 year old) scientific understanding of the biological differences in professional outcomes in STEM fields is that the difference exists mainly at the interest level, rather than the ability level. The “achievement gap” you mention can thus be a reflection of fewer women entering the field, but the way you’ve worded it makes it sound like there are equal numbers of men and women in the field and the men are producing higher quality work than the women, a claim which lacks support.

      The other half of perception-being-Bayesian is that people’s priors get revised upon contact with new evidence. Whatever latent ‘skepticism’ exists of a woman’s math ability should last up until the moment her aptitude is demonstrated. I would also caution against conflating skepticism with the less interesting but more plausible feeling of never having met/worked with a female math PhD before.

      • AG says:

        “Interest” does not exist in a vacuum, though. Consider representation on the screen. Do we claim that fewer Asians have an interest in acting? Perhaps individuals have been less interested, because their prospects were not good. There are many testimonials that they never imagined that such-and-such career could be a possibility for people who look like them, until they saw someone else do it.

        I don’t have the link now, but there was a study showing that young girls’ interest in STEM fields were most influenced by whether or not there was a woman STEM role model in their lives. Increased representation increases interest.

        (note that this is different from a claim of discrimination, which would be the bailey)

        • albatross11 says:

          Interest doesn’t exist in a vaccuum, but I am somewhat skeptical of Hollywood representations being a major driver of differences in interests. It seems plausible to me that women might have an inherent tendency toward being more interested in people jobs than abstract-thing jobs, but that absolutely could be an artifact of our society that won’t apply always and everywhere.

          • AG says:

            I didn’t mean “we need more depictions of women scientists.” Minority actors were inspired to become actors by seeing other minority actors. Similarly, girls are more likely to become interested in STEM if an adult in their social circle (a parent, relative, family friend, etc.) is also in STEM. Although seeing lots of awesome lady scientists in the news would be cool, too. The change of narrative about Hedy Lamarr has been good.

        • WashedOut says:

          Consider representation on the screen. Do we claim that fewer Asians have an interest in acting?

          No, but people who are high in trait conscientiousness and low in trait openness would be dissuaded from pursuing a career in acting, especially in Hollywood. My understating is that this is generally the case for Asians.

          • Tarpitz says:

            I would put a big chunk of it down to acting being in almost every way a staggeringly terrible career choice, and Asian cultures generally having stronger antibodies against same.

          • AG says:

            No, because the advice for a lot of Asian-American actors is that you have to go to Asia to have a career. There are plenty of dreaming hopefuls overseas, when they’re the majority demographic. It’s not an Asian cultural thing.

    • a reader says:

      @cmndrkeen:

      Perception is Bayesian. When you read Scott’s post about the dangers of indoor CO2 levels, the air around you suddenly feels more stale and kinda suffocating.

      The air around me didn’t. I took more care the next days to refresh the air in my room, but the air didn’t feel any different.

      So too is perception about race and gender. When you read an essay saying that women are unlikely to achieve in math due to fundamental biological differences, that impacts your perception of them. If a woman and a man collaborate on a math project, you will ascribe more of the success to the man. If a woman applies to a job requiring serious math ability, you will view her resume with more skepticism.

      That could easily prevented without silencing science: make people who evaluate candidates not know that it’s a man or a woman, see only the initials (that could also prevent race/ethnicity discrimination).

    • LesHapablap says:

      Essays that pose those sorts of explanations may harm the perception of women. But then so do essays that call to ban those essays. If I read essays about how we can’t publish research about sex differences because it might hurt women’s feelings, it changes my perception of them:
      1. sex-differences research must be fairly rigorous, because otherwise the objections would be against the research methods themselves
      2. if authorities in academia are willing to suppress research to help out women, then it is possible they are tipping the scales toward women during the hiring process, and perhaps some women don’t deserve their awards/tenures

      So even if you are right that this sex-differences research is a harm to women, there’s no way to fix it. Suppressing the research is also a harm to women and a much greater one, since it implies that academia is willing to suspend their integrity to support women.

    • DavidS says:

      I’m not sure what you think happens if you don’t publish the essay. If this sort of thing is a problem (others give good reasons to be doubtful) then surely we can only get round it by making sure people don’t know there’s a gender discrepancy in the first place, or by convincing them it’s there for reasons that no longer apply.

      If people think there’s a discrepancy due to discrimination, that’s surely more off-putting: people can know how good they are at maths compared to their peers, so can overrule the prior of ‘how likely am I as a woman to be good’ with more accurate data. Whereas they can’t do this for discrimination.

      It’s possible it would have that effect in terms of how others see them, but I suspect only on the margins especially if the field is male-dominated (which would fit with a ‘women tend to be less good, so fewer of them get in’ model).

      A belief that one sex is worse at something on average is only going to be an issue if people hold it but society also forces jobs in that area to go to both sexes equally. In that case the corrolary is that sex is a good guide to competence in that field.

      But the better solution is probably not to force job distributions (even if you’re sure ability is equal, as a difference in interest or in another ability could mean that in one sex all the best maths people do maths whereas in the other they choose to do other things).

  24. ugn says:

    Hello, I’m new to this site but I’ve found it very thought-provoking and it occurred to me that it might be a good place to ask a question that’s been bugging me:

    Is there a cogent counter-argument to making pharmaceutical sales illegal?

    One opposing narrative that I’ve found is roughly the “reduced sales would reduce R&D which would reduce innovation” but I don’t find that very convincing since I am taking no stance on price, just a stance against misaligned incentives. There’s also a study that suggests drug spending is not correlated to innovation but it seems to make some mistakes in terms of conflating countries’ HQ domiciles with their end markets / centers of R&D (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866602/).

    I found one older post related to this topic but it didn’t seem to focus on the question of whether it should legal or not… https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/02/17/pharma-virumque/ – maybe I missed the point.

    • Utility Monster says:

      Does “criminal gangs are worse than drug companies” count as a cogent argument? If not, how about “many fewer people die if the drugs they’re taking are what they’re supposed to be?”

      Like yeah, there are problems with drug companies and misaligned incentives. But if you make something illegal, not only are the people who do it criminals by definition, but it gets wrapped up with a bunch of other criminal activity.

      There’s a reason that the movement to decriminalize all drugs has traction. i don’t know how you end up swinging so far the opposite way.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Have you misstated your question, or are you proposing making it illegal to sell medicine? The argument against such a ban would be that medicine helps sick people and capitalism is a generally effective system for ensuring they can get it.

    • Cheese says:

      Do you mean sales as in ‘marketing, advertising and other sales associated costs’? I’m assuming you don’t mean making selling pharmaceuticals illegal as that is probably a bit ridiculous.

      If you mean advertising well then that is an interesting question. It would be interesting to compare countries which allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription requiring products (pretty much only the US I think) to those that don’t. You would however have to untangle the effects of that from the various subsidy schemes which would differ place to place. Advertising to doctors is obviously another point you’d have to look at – i’m unsure of the relative spend compared to consumer advertising.

      • ugn says:

        As per above, I meant to ask specifically about sales representatives… Advertising strikes me as more benign (more regulated).

        The study I linked to attempts to untangle some of those effects you mentioned.

    • AKL says:

      Without taking a position, some potential answers come to mind:

      (1) Prescribers are busy, and on net direct to prescriber sales and marketing might make them more informed.
      (2) More patients will receive treatment. Obviously this is not without downside but plausibly at least is net-good. And to the extent that patients are over-treated, likely only a bare minority of the effect is due to advertising / sales activity.
      (3) Many sales calls are about informing prescribers of patient assistance programs, compliance statistics, etc. E.g. “encourage your patients to register with our patient assistance team. It will save them 75% off the cost of their medicine and improve adherence by 50%.” Again these things are at least plausibly net positive.
      (4) Philosophically, should we outlaw otherwise-legal activities because [the authorities] determine them to be utility negative on net? Should it be illegal to advertise fatty foods? Illegal to cut down a tree in your yard if the majority of your neighbors object?

      There are of course reasonable arguments that pharma sales and marketing should be severely restricted or prohibited, but I think it’s far from a slam dunk (both on philosophical and empirical grounds).

  25. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose you put parachutes on 100 young dudes and made them static-line jump under ideal conditions with zero training. How many would end up fine/hurt/dead? Anyone know?

    • CatCube says:

      Probably quite a few would end up hurt or dead, depending on parachute design. Modern skydiving parachutes are actual wings, and have to be flown to a landing in a downwind/base/final setup just like a light aircraft. This includes facing into the wind on final approach.

      I once accidentally turned the wrong direction off of my base leg to downwind (even I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking). That was very memorable. The ground starts going by really fast, and after doing so I realized that my landing was going to end up being on the paved ramp, rather than the grass field I was aiming for. I fully expected to break one or both of my legs doing a PLF, but managed to only scrape up my hands getting dragged across the pavement, and got banged up and was sore for a couple of days. That was after knowing how to at least do a parachute landing fall, and realizing that I made a mistake in time to minimize the consequences.

      • gryffinp says:

        You say that modern skydiving parachutes are “actual wings, and have to be flown”. Do they really not make simpler parachutes that don’t particularly need to be flown? If such exist, I’d think we could give them to our rookie jumpers given the scenario’s call for “ideal conditions” outside of their lack of experience.

    • Statismagician says:

      According to this Norwegian study, at least 20 injuries, probably more and probably heavily weighted towards the ‘splat’ kind of injury.

      EDIT: I’m apparently blind; that’s the rate per thousand jumps.

      • CatCube says:

        That study also indicates that the “splat” kind of injuries are rare, not weighted towards. (Assuming by “splat” kinds of injuries, you mean a malfunction resulting in a nonfunctional chute, rather than screwing up the landing.)

        In civilian skydiving, most deaths occur under a perfectly good parachute. Malfunctions are very rare, and having both your main and reserve malfunction are even rarer. The kinds of people who skydive are thrill-seeking, and a great part of the fun is flying the parachute after it’s open; however, if they misjudge the distance to the ground while flying it, they will either make a low turn or accidentally catch the ground while close to it, and impact the ground or another obstacle with high vertical or horizontal speed.

        If you’re just freefalling to 2500′, then quietly flying your parachute to landing, skydiving probably isn’t much more dangerous than riding a motorcycle–I had an instructor claim it was safer (“Your jump is safer than the drive here”), but don’t recall the statistics offhand to be sure that’s true.

        • Statismagician says:

          Yeah – since the specification is zero training, and those figures are for at least somewhat-trained paratroopers, I was thinking they’d be pretty optimistic. Haven’t thought about it enough to make a useful estimate, though.

        • gbdub says:

          Paratrooper chutes don’t require the same degree of skill to fly though, right? They typically use plain round or squared round designs rather than the wing-like skydiving chutes.

          • bean says:

            Correct, although there are still techniques for making a safe landing and dealing with malfunctions. (I may have read both the military static line and free-fall parachute manuals.)

          • gbdub says:

            How much less likely are injuries if you’re not fully rigged up with a week’s worth of fighting gear? I thought part of the issue with paratrooper injuries was that the amount of extra weight taxes the load limits of the chutes (and the average ankle).

            My best guess is, assuming benign conditions, an unweighted static line jump with an untrained individual (who is at least smart enough not to screw with things too much) would, at worst, result in a twisted ankle or knee from a bad landing – it would definitely not be fatal unless the chute failed, which is pretty rare in static line jumps right? I mean, unless the person was deathly afraid of heights and died of heart failure.

    • sfoil says:

      How “ideal” is ideal? If they’re not carrying anything, using a basically idiot-proof/minimally maneuverable parachute like the T-10, in daylight with zero wind onto an endless expanse of powdery snow, I think the number of injuries is around zero.

      The number one cause of static line parachute injuries is hitting the ground the wrong way under a good chute, and the number one thing taught in static line training is how to hit the ground properly. If the drop zone is anything short of absolutely ideal — i.e. the ground is basically pretty hard — I would expect about 50% of the jumpers to get “hurt” (sprains to ankles and knees) with about 10% of them breaking bones (same). If they’re wearing helmets there won’t be any fatalities. If they try to maneuver (or have to because they start drifting into the trees around the drop zone), more will get hurt the way CatCube talks about, trying to turn too close to the ground.

      • johan_larson says:

        How “ideal” is ideal?

        Daylight, no wind, dropped from 5000 feet onto a grassy field.

        • sfoil says:

          If you have them chant “keep your legs and ankles together before you hit the ground” a few times I doubt more than 10% would get hurt.

      • Chipsa says:

        Current T-11 has a desired rate of fall of 5.8 m/s. This is about the same as falling 1.7m, or about 5 feet. If you can jump down that far, you’ll probably be ok.

        This assumes the jumpmaster makes sure everyone is fastened into their harness correctly.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      Depends a bit on how you define ‘zero’, but your description sounds a lot like my first jump in the army and none of us died. Few bruises and sprains.
      Of course, we had general army training from obstacle courses and stuff which meant we knew how to fall. Also a brief blackboard introduction on what to do.

  26. proyas says:

    Have there been any verifiable instances where someone broke another person’s neck using the “sleeper hold plus forced neck jerk” move that is common in action movies?

    • dick says:

      Well, a 2010 study found 26 cases where a patient died due to the “cracking the neck” part of a chiropractic manipulation, mostly due to tearing of an artery leading to a stroke. So it certainly seems plausible that someone doing the same thing but much harder could cause incapacitation, though not necessarily a literally broken neck.

    • sharper13 says:

      I don’t have much info on that portion, but having done research on the sleeper hold (AKA rear naked choke hold) for a scene I wrote, I can tell you that while you really can knock someone unconscious after about 3-10 seconds of shutting off blood flow, you then either kill them by holding it way too long, or else they wake back up 3-20 seconds later, somewhat more upset at you.

      So all those movie scenes of knocking someone out, laying them down and just walking away to infiltrate some place are unrealistic. You’d need to have something to really quickly restrain and gag them before they woke back up if you wanted the same actual effect.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Holywood has failed me. Watching the hero or villain trying to gag and ziptie someone in less than five seconds sounds hilarious.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        1) How long do you have to hold to kill them by stroke or cardiac arrest?
        2) Given the importance of grappling in historical armed martial arts, it’s noteworthy that the gorget (neck armor) goes back to the earliest-known solid plate armor, the Dendra panoply.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m pretty sure that styles of grappling in which people are wearing armour are less about choking the other guy, or even joint locks. They’re more about pinning the other guy so you can stab him in the eye or something like that.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s certainly a common goal, and it’s behind a lot of Western wrestling (you can see recognizable wrestling moves in 15th-century longsword fencing manuals). But joint locks still work, and there’s some stuff you can only do in armor: the style of jujitsu I study has some throws that historically involved grabbing an opponent by the helmet straps, and some breaks that benefit from rigid torso armor. There’s even one that historically involved trapping the opponent’s arm between the dome and the crest of your helmet: unarmored, you use the back of your neck (which works okay, IME) or your forehead (which doesn’t, again IME).

            Choking, maybe not.

        • Nornagest says:

          At least a few minutes if it’s a perfect choke, which it rarely is (it’s a tricky hold, and even advanced students sometimes have trouble with it). Things get a bit dicier if they’re older or have circulatory problems, though. Conventional wisdom in my corner of martial arts is to never choke anyone over fifty all the way out unless you’re willing to risk killing them. Or, if you’re over fifty, to tap out before you fall unconscious.

          That’s probably erring on the side of safety, though.

        • dndnrsn says: