A Swedish news team went to Gotland to film a segment on the problem of amateur treasure-hunters disturbing archaeological sites. To collect footage, one of them borrowed a metal detector and went around an archaeological site in what they figured was a treasure-hunter-like way. Just after filming finished, the metal detector started beeping – and thus was made the largest discovery of Viking treasure in history, 148 lbs of silver worth millions of dollars.
Remittance men were the embarrassing or redundant children of wealthy European families, promised a regular income on the condition that they stay away from home. They ended up in American, Canada, and the British Empire, and were common enough to make up an outright majority of some Old Western towns.
Nintil takes a stab at explaining the constancy of the rate of GDP growth. Short version: GDP depends on population (which grows smoothly), capital (which accumulates smoothly), and productivity (which grows in fits and starts that are somewhere between random and autocorrelated but when averaged across all technologies approximates smooth). Also, processes driven by exponential growth are naturally smooth-looking.
Early 18th-century London looked a lot like the setting of the average superhero comic – plagued by crime, weak on policing, crying out for a charismatic figure to take matters into his own hands. Enter Jonathan Wild, the “Thief-Taker General”, who won public adoration by catching all the worst criminals and bringing them to justice. Spoiler: he was secretly a mob boss who arranged all the crimes, then arranged to “solve” whichever ones benefitted his reputation.
Great moments in censorship: In 1953, the USSR non-personned former spymaster Lavrentiy Beria. In response to “overwhelming popular demand”, the Soviet Encyclopedia sent its customers a supplement containing three pages of “expanded information” on Bergholtz, Berkeley, and the Bering Sea – to replace the three page article on Beria that book-owners were to tear out of their encyclopedias.
After a decade of stunning victories fighting malaria, progress against the disease has stalled over the past five years. Here’s a WHO report on the problem which doesn’t really give any satisfying explanations beyond a bunch of different trends in a bunch of different countries.
A Florida teenager was convicted of fraud after somehow convincing everyone he was a doctor, founding his own medical center, and treating a bunch of patients there. This ABC video interview with him doubles as a hilarious and fascinating psychological study into somebody who’s pathologically incapable of admitting wrongdoing.
Lanchester’s Laws are used to predict number of casualties based on the size of armies. In ancient times, casualties scaled linearly with army size; nowadays army size gets raised to an exponent of 1.5 or 2.
The Energy Desert is an area from about 10^12 to 10^25 electron-volts – eg between 20th century particle accelerators, and ones billions of times better than that – where many theories predict that nothing interesting happens. Offered as an explanation for current particple physics stagnation – the reason we haven’t discovered anything lately is because there’s nothing to see anywhere near our current technology level.
Game theoretic cooperation used to explain *spins Wheel O’ Phenomena* replication of primaeval RNA in hydrothermal vents. This is pretty neat.
“Social policy bonds are non-interest bearing bonds, redeemable for a fixed sum only when a targeted social objective has been achieved.” A weird kind of prediction market on good outcomes that also incentivizes creating them.
Some undercover cops decide to pose as drug dealers. Some other undercover cops decide to pose as drug buyers. One drug deal later, hilarity ensues.
The big genetics news this month was the claim that two babies born in China were CRISPRed to make them immune to AIDS. Leading US biologist George Church has seen the data and seems to think it’s for real. Most scientists condemned the action (though it’s hard to tell how organic that was, since several started out cautiously supportive, then switched to condemning it after they themselves were condemned for not condemning it enough). On the other hand an earlier survey shows that 60% of Americans, 70% of Chinese, and almost 100% of Chinese with AIDS believe that gene editing to prevent AIDS and other serious diseases is potentially (though not necessarily in this case) acceptable. Have not heard of any attempt to see how many other genes were damaged in editing attempt, but this seems like potential next step. After claim that the scientist involved went missing, he has since become un-missing and promised to say something in his own defense at some point. There’s some good debate about the ethics of this here.
How did restaurants get so loud? I SAID, HOW DID RESTAURANTS GET SO LOUD? Seems to be combination of minimalist design removing sound-absorbing stuff, plus sinister motive in preventing long conversations to get people out earlier and so increase throughput and profits.
Suicide is declining basically everywhere except the United States. Or at least this is how the article presents it – it doesn’t look at a lot of other western First World countries, and it seems to hint at a “there is a developmental stage where suicide rate plummets, the US had it fifty years ago, and China, India, etc are having it now”. Also, although looks at rising US death rates usually mention whites as uniquely affected, the second graph here suggests that whites and Native Americans follow one (worsening) pattern, and blacks/Asians/Hispanics another (improving) one. What do whites and Native Americans have in common? Ruralness?
Mic.com is dead. This may seem like a small thing, but now all the terrible social justice clickbait websites have to journey all the way back to Mongolia to elect a new Khan. We’re saved! Everyone is saved! Related: BoingBoing discusses the sinister side of Facebook’s pivot to video.
Noah Smith and Random Critical Analysis debate health care – specifically, Noah subscribes to the popular belief that US health care is uniquely expensive because it is uniquely inefficient, vs. RCA’s believes that richer countries have more expensive health care, and once you measure this more accurately the US is exactly where you would expect on the trend line. Noah starts with a Bloomberg article that offhandedly calls RCA “unconvincing”. RCA responds with a gargantuo-mega-post containing almost 300 graphs proving himself right, to which Noah tweets a 23 word response. See also the discussion on the SSC subreddit.
This month in free speech: Marc Lamont Hill was fired as a CNN commentator – and almost lost his tenured professorship at Temple University – for giving a pro-Palestine speech at the United Nations. Opponents claimed that his call for a Palestinian state “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” was a “dog-whistle” calling for the extermination of Jews. I think it’s important that everyone remember free speech for everyone stands or falls together – so I’m happy that some rightist defenders of free speech have expressed concern about this, and also disappointed that some leftists tried to exploit the severity of this case to trivialize right-wing free speech concerns.
Catherine Olsson on Twitter explains an experiment that takes advantage of Pokemon-addicted children to solve a long-running debate about how the brain processes visual information.
The world’s most-traveled sailing vessel is the Spanish navy’s training ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano, which has voyaged more than two million nautical miles over ninety years.
Seen on Reddit: “TIL there was an early 1900s act named ‘Sober Sue’, whose draw was she never smiled. A theater offered $1000 to any one who could make her laugh, attracting big comedians. Crowds came out to watch them try, and fail, giving them a free show. Later it came out that Sue suffered from facial paralysis.”
As far as I know not actually done as a gimmick by anti-transgender activists but sounds like the sort of thing they would think up: 69 year old Dutch man says he identifies as a 49-year-old, asks court to change his legal age.
Strong evidence that increased school spending can improve school outcomes. My argument against this has always been secular doubling or tripling of spending that hasn’t done much, but I guess there could be two causes of school spending – secular cost increases, and actually useful stuff, and the second one is actually useful.
In 2012, English royal Kate Middleton was in the hospital recovering from severe morning sickness. Some Australian radio comedians called the hospital doing an outrageous Queen Elizabeth impression, and the hospital fell for it and talked to them as if they were the real Queen. Then one of the nurses involved committed suicide, leading to a closer look at the ethics of radio comedy.
Although NYC leads the country in anti-Semitic hate crimes, none in the past two years has been affiliated with any kind of far-right group; they are mostly perpetrated by anti-gentrification activists who see Jews as “hyper-white”. No data about how nationally representative this is compared to far-right anti-Semitic crimes like the recent Pittsburgh shooting. Suppose it were representative: given that we frequently hear calls to crack down on far-right ideas out of fear of inflaming anti-Semitism, and that we never hear calls to crack down on anti-gentrification speech or the discourse around whiteness out of fears of inflaming anti-Semitism (and most people would be horrified by the idea that we should), should this challenge the way we think about hate-crime-incitement as an exception to free speech?
Scott Weiner’s SB-827, the California bill that would have upzoned huge swathes of the state and marked a major victory against the housing crisis, failed to make it out of committee last year. Now a modified version is back, and already has high-up supporters including the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and LA.
Some commenters reading my post on science slowing down referred me to Growth Econ’s post of the modelling of economic regimes where idea productivity remains constant as you add more researchers.
Quebecois locals commemorated the 1996 Sagueney flood, which killed ten people and displaced thousands, with the insensitively-named Ha! Ha! Pyramid
How Different Studies Measure Income Inequality is a good article on how most ways of measuring inequality find less dramatic results than the famous studies by Piketty et al. It also argues that real median incomes have increased about 40% since the 1970s (contra the common argument that they have been basically flat as all growth goes to the top 1%). Related: Today’s young adults are earning much more than their parents did at the same age. File this under “I keep hearing different things about economics statistics and have no idea who’s right, aaaaaaaah”.
If you blog about effective altruism, you can now semi-automatically cross-post posts from your blog to the EA Forum. And if you’re trying to figure out where to send your end-of-year charitable donations, you can find donation guides from 80,000 Hours and the Open Philanthropy Project.
“Popular” social media site Tumblr bans most porn, leading to an attempted exodus and also suddenly a bunch of people care about corporate threats to free speech online for the first time. @sknthla on Twitter has an interesting perspective.
City Journal makes the case that that California high-speed rail project that everyone knew was going to be an expensive boondoggle has already started being an expensive boondoggle – before any construction has even started, projected costs have tripled and the finish date has been pushed back a decade.
Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke once held the world record for beer drinking, and “suggested that this single feat may have contributed to his political success more than any other, by endearing him to an electorate with a strong beer culture”.
Tiny brain: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a beloved holiday song everyone can guiltlessly enjoy. Glowing brain: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a misogynistic hymn to rape culture. Galaxy brain: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Also, this joke.
New review suggests sex hormones do not significantly affect decision-making; has anyone looked into this enough to have good opinions?
Do proton pump inhibitors, a popular heartburn medication, affect cognition?
Did you know: the Punic Wars officially ended in 1985.
For a long time, Bangladesh – whose garment industry has become almost synonymous with sweatshops – has been used as a critique of capitalism. And for an equally long time, capitalists have said this is a process countries have to go through and in a few years Bangladesh will reap a reward of economic growth and development. So it’s relevant to hear that Bangladesh is booming, with per capita income tripling in a decade, poverty rates cut in half, near food self-sufficiency, and the UN graduating them out of “least developed country” status.
Dylan Matthews’ Vox article about why it’s not worth trying to get along with political enemies, and kbog’s critique of same. Linking this not because I think the article is good and want you to read it, or because I think the article is especially bad and have forgotten that hate-linking incentivizes bad behavior. I’m linking it because it makes basically the argument I warn is driving people’s behavior in the last part of Against Murderism, and people kept objecting that I was straw-manning and nobody really thought that. I argue against these things because it’s what lots of people actually believe, and although sometimes it’s said quietly and scattered across a lot of places, if you wait long enough someone will just turn the whole thing into a Voxsplainer.
Here, have a neat animated gif about how the same facts are compatible with multiple different interpretations (but see also this thread).
Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, is widely believed to be the oldest person ever. Scientists were puzzled by her health and long life, which was an extreme outlier even among record-holding supercentanarians. Now a Russian gerontologist presents evidence that Calment was a fraud – she died at a normal age, and her daughter assumed her identity for financial reasons. This was great to see a few days after reading Gwern’s list of open questions, where he expresses bafflement on how Calment lived so much longer than theory would predict possible. Remember, your strength as a rationalist depends on your ability to notice your own confusion