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Links 1/19: Linkguistics

If ant trails accidentally form a circle, ants can get stuck in an ant vortex forever, spinning themselves to death.

Maybe you’ve heard of Buran, the Soviet space shuttle. But maybe you didn’t know the story behind why it was built. NASA screwed up the space shuttle design process so completely that it was a bad match for pretty much all of its stated goals. The Soviets figured the Americans couldn’t really be that stupid, and so the shuttle project must just be a cover story for some amazing secret military capability America expected from having a space plane. They decided to build an exact replica so that after the amazing secret military capability was revealed, they could do whatever it was too.

New California law tries to fight “puppy mills” by declaring that pet shops can only sell rescued animals. In favor of this until someone convinces me it will have horrifying unexpected consequences.

Neo-Andean architecture in Bolivia.

Razib Khan discusses intelligence and reproductive fitness. Obviously great, but the real highlight, as with so many things, is the Von Neumann biographical tidbits. I often hear him brought up as proof that geniuses aren’t all socially inept, but apparently ‘When he proposed to [his wife], he was incapable of expressing anything beyond ‘You and I might be able to have some fun together, seeing as how we both like to drink.'”

Scientists claim to have engineered an improvement in photosynthesis that could boost yields of some crops by 40%. Really curious what priors we should have here over whether four billion years of plant evolution just missed a great idea for no reason.

RIP Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption and other works on child-rearing and psychology that inspired me and many of the other people here.

This week’s PayPal crackdown is on *spins Wheel O’ Mildly Unpopular Groups*Satanists?

From the subreddit: What are some well-functioning, useful systems? It’s amazing how well basic infrastructure just works, despite everything.

Related: when a vital Bay Area highway collapsed and everyone freaked out about not being able to get to San Francisco, the local government hired “a contractor with a proven track record of rebuilding damaged freeways well ahead of schedule” and offered to pay them $200,000 extra for every day before the target date they finished. The highway was completely repaired in less than a month, in only half the government’s projected time estimate. This makes me confused about every government project that fails, goes late, or goes over budget – is it just that the officials involved weren’t as desperate? If there are known “hire these people when you really need it done right” companies, why don’t we just hire them for everything?

I can’t believe I’m turning into one of those people who relates to the news primarily through what the celebrities involved are wearing, but the highlight of the Ukranian Church getting autocephaly was definitely Metropolitan Epiphanius’ outfit. Also, the tomos of autocephaly as physical object. How come the Eastern Orthodox are the only people with good aesthetics? Related: pics of the new Coptic cathedral.

It’s Still The Prices, Stupid: Why The US Spends So Much On Healthcare. Team of economists argues that the specific way that US healthcare costs more than other developed countries’ is not because of higher consumption but because the same things cost more. Seems like a direct challenge to RCA’s actual individual consumption theory of health costs, interested to hear his response.

Related: Kevin Simler has a really interesting graph for why AIC is a better indicator for development than GDP

Washington Post is skeptical of the claim that Jeanne Calment faked her age; they make some good points about the evidence in her favor, but did they have to call the skepticism around her record “a Russian conspiracy theory”? And some provocative context for the debate: Errors As A Primary Cause Of Late-Life Mortality Deceleration And Plateaus (h/t ANDKAT on Discord)

Elon Musk reveals final design of Starship test rocket; 1950s cartoonists discovered to be 100% right about everything.

Impossible Foods unveils Impossible Burger 2.0, which critics say tastes even more like real meat; will reach restaurants in mid-March.

Team of psychologists including people named “Ditto” and “Zinger” find liberals and conservatives have the same amount of political bias. Glad we’ve settled that; let us never speak about this issue again.

For the past few years leading pseudoarchaeologists have been claiming that a pyramid in Indonesia is 30,000 years old, which would make it 20,000 years older than any other known building, and limit potential builders to pretty much Atlantis and Lemuria. As usual nobody paid attention to them. But now a team of scientists has investigated and found parts are at least 9,000 and “could even” be 28,000 years old, according to an an article in Scientific American which seems less surprised than I would expect. Has Scientific American gone the way of the History Channel, or is this important?

Traffic robots in Kinshasa.

Why were the early American treasure hunting superstitions exemplified by Mormon founder Joseph Smith so similar to the Tibetan terton treasure-hunting tradition?

An embroidered computer sounds like some kind of hokey ploy to get more Women In Tech, but is actually pretty neat.

How have results on implicit association tests changed since 2007? I am usually kind of skeptical of this sort of thing, but this mostly fits what I would have guessed.

Several people pointed out my post on conspiracies accidentally recapitulated ESR’s idea of the “prospiracy”, so here is a link as atonement for the unintentional plagiarism.

New York Times points out that the number of monarch butterflies in California has declined 97% since the 1980s. This really hits home; I lived in California in the 1980s, I remember seeing monarch butterflies everywhere, and I never thought about where they all went until now. Scientists blame loss of habitat for milkweed, the plant the butterflies subsist on.

Related: more evidence that insect populations around the world have declined by 75%+. This is really scary and may literally represent the death of more than half the animals on earth (by individuals). Nobody knows exactly why it is happening, though one promising candidate is global warming since it’s hard to imagine what else affects everywhere in the world (including perfectly pristine wildernesses) at the same time. Some evidence that temperature variation has gotten outside the limits that insects’ physiology can tolerate. I would have hoped that each insect species would just move a few miles more polar and be fine, but apparently climactic adaptation is much more complicated than that and this doesn’t work. Again, it is kind of surprising that we are still alive after an eco-disaster of this magnitude.

Related? Bird and fish species all over the world are dying off due to thiamine deficiency. No one is entirely sure why so many animals all over the world are thiamine-deficient all at once, but it is being blamed for declines of up to 70% in various seabird species. Is this connected to the insect decline? Does anyone know how to check how much thiamine insects have?

www.decriminalization.org is the new hub site for a campaign to push towards decriminalizing drugs throughout the US.

Houthi rebels strapped a bomb to a drone and killed six Yemeni soldiers in what I think might be the first fatal drone attack by a non-state actor.

The big story in polling this month is the NPR poll showing Trump has a higher approval rating among Latinos than whites. Margin of error is enough to even these out but still not enough to rescue the standard racial narrative. This of course contradicts several previous polls (though all of those were pre-shutdown and the shutdown has changed a lot), as well as conflicting with the same poll’s observation that whites are still more likely to vote for Trump if they get a chance. Some good comments (scattered among many awful ones, as usual) from Marginal Revolution. [deleted a related link about racial bias in European countries based on comments providing evidence it was false]

New international study finds that doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough, recommends educating doctors on the need to do this. I find this interesting because all the overweight people I know say they dread going to the doctor because their doctors never do anything else. “Help, I’ve been stabbed!” “Well, we’ll get to that, but first, have you considered that you’re overweight and need to diet?” There’s probably something really profound to be said here about different perspectives and sources of knowledge and whatever. See also the comments on Reddit, some of which are from primary care doctors.

Adam Fortunate Eagle is a Native American activist who, as a stunt, travelled to Italy, declared he had “discovered” it, and claimed it in the name of Native America. I feel like this is the obvious first thing to do if you are a Native American activist, and that all of the other Native American activists must have been kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.

WhatsApp limits ability to forward stories to a maximum of five people in order to prevent the spread of “fake news”. This kind of scares me because I heard of similar techniques being used in authoritarian countries like China to prevent protests from being organized and antigovernment ideas from spreading. I continue to be worried that worries about “fake news” risk being a perfect cover for increasing control over the media.

Hamilton fans and Hamilton detractors are locked in an eternal struggle to be more ridiculous and overdramatic than each other. Detractors have taken the lead recently as anti-Hamilton playwright Ishmael Reed raises funds to produce his new play The Haunting Of Lin-Manuel Miranda, about a bunch of Dickens-style ghosts explaining to Miranda why his play is bad and wrong. Bonus: Reed has never seen or listened to Hamilton.

The only useful commentary on Gillette’s controversial mid-January commercial is this Voxsplainer of the shaving industry from before the commercial even came out. It points out that Gillette has no idea how to compete with new low cost mail-order razors (even going so far as, in 1998, claiming it had a patent on the idea of “razor” and suing them in court) and has been flailing from harebrained idea to harebrained idea for years. It concludes that “The ludicrousness of today’s open [razor] market means, mostly, having the option to pay a lot of money for something or not a lot of money for something, without ever really approaching a concrete, evidence-backed reason for the decision.” See also this chart of Gillette profits. Alienating X% of your customer base, in exchange for inspiring Y% to keep buying your overpriced product forever in order to “own the cons”, makes sense under those circumstances.

This month in great names: leading Indian Air Force officer Aspy Engineer.

Another survey on expert predictions of AI timelines. I have only skimmed it, but right now I don’t find it very useful because of its decision to focus on in what year X percent of human tasks can be automated – for example, 90% will be automatable in 25 years and 99% in 50 years. I challenge the claim that any scientist has a principled idea of what “90% of human tasks” means, let alone an intuitive understanding of the difference between 90% and 99% of human tasks, and the survey didn’t ask about anything concrete.

Snopes introduces new “Factually Inaccurate But Morally Right” fact check result (THIS IS SATIRE). Also, I think Babylon Bee has successfully broken the “no conservative humor outlet is ever actually funny” curse.

Grant-writing is taking up an increasing amount of scientists’ time and energy, optimizing for grants is distorting research projects, and evidence shows that which grants get funded is basically random – there’s very low correlation in two raters’ assessments of grants, nor in raters’ assessment of grants vs. how useful that research ends up being. This has inspired a proposal: why not just assess grants as being above some basic standard of competence, and then use a lottery to determine which ones get funded? See paper, Voxsplainer, and MR post. Excited about someone trying to extend this to college admissions.

Related: this paper on competition (paper, LW post explaining paper) on some complicated ways of modeling a competitive process (like job interviews, college admissions, or grant funding) and how sometimes adding more competitors can make the average winner less skilled.

I don’t understand most of these cryptocurrency predictions for 2019, but anybody who does a bunch of gradeable probabilistic predictions for a field they’re an expert in gets a link here.

A really really pretty map of US wind patterns right now.

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542 Responses to Links 1/19: Linkguistics

  1. James Green says:

    I think it’s a mistake that they get called “Houthi rebels”, this is simply a war between North Yemen and South Yemen. It’s a reversion to how things were before Saleh managed to capture all of South Yemen in the fallout surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union/communism-in-general. That is, I wouldn’t call them a non-state actor.

    • blumenko says:

      The Yemen Arab Republic was a secular nationalist movement, the Houthis are religious, and Saleh himself switched sides away from the Houthis.

      • Watchman says:

        But it’s still pretty much a north-south split. And remember ISIS took much of their military leadership from the socialist Ba’ath party in Iraq. In defined tribal societies tribes often take on political or religious identities in ways that are not logical unless you realise that the key identity here is Houthi/Sunni and the declared affiliation is secondary.

      • Tenacious D says:

        But the YAR started with a coup against a Zaydi (i.e. same sect as the Houthis) kingdom/imamate which ruled a similar area to what the Houthis hold now. At that time south-eastern Yemen was the British Aden colony/protectorate. And both the 1994 conflict and the present one have broken down along similar geographic lines. The north-south divide (or perhaps more accurately highlands vs not-highlands) has been pretty durable in Yemen.

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    Now you know what to plant in your garden.

  3. ManyCookies says:

    Babylon Bee is super hit or miss for me, even more than The Onion. When they’re good they’re great, but there’s also a lot of “Dems can’t speak on [controversy] because abortion” or “Lmao two genders” headlines without a punchline or joke. Dunno if that’s my political affiliation and I don’t notice when The Onion does the equivalent, but even then I feel they put in a bit more effort into their full partisan articles.

    (Also a lot of Christian Living headlines I don’t get, but that’s obviously not their fault.)

    • Peffern says:

      I am a Clinton liberal and my best friend and roommate is a fundamentalist Christian. He shares Bablyon Bee articles and I find them reliably funny. Perhaps he is cherry picking them based on what I will like, but regardless they clearly do have some good ones.

      • Clutzy says:

        I dont go to the frontpage on my own, but anytime one is trending I tend to love it. Then I click around and enjoy like 2/3 or 3/4 of the content. Some because of the pure comedy, and some because it reminds me of people I know.

        • melolontha says:

          Did you guys find the Babylon Bee article that Scott linked funny, or just the headline/concept? Obviously ‘the headline is 99% of the joke’ is a common complaint about the Onion too (and in fact I’m not a big fan of the Onion anyway) but I think their articles are usually better written than this, even when largely redundant.

          • Peffern says:

            I can only speak for myself but as a fan of the Onion I only really care about the headlines.

          • ninjafetus says:

            Heck, some of the Onion is only headlines with no accompanying article! Still great, though.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            90% of Onion articles are the writers just restating the same joke from the headline over and over again.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yeah I think the concept of just reading headlines is best. I just read a bunch of the headlines of Babylon and they were pretty funny. I read the article Many Cookies linked to Babylon about Elizabeth Warren and it was lame, even though the picture of her dressed as an Indian I found kind of funny. Comedy is hard, but works better when just one sentence.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            I’ll be entirely honest and say I didn’t actually read the article, I’m evaluating on their headlines and photos.

    • bean says:

      (Also a lot of Christian Living headlines I don’t get, but that’s obviously not their fault.)

      I do get a lot of that stuff, and it’s also hit-or-miss. Some of it is very good, and some of it is really rote and just not that funny. (Although Christianity is large, and it’s possible that I’m not in the right place to enjoy it.)

      But overall, it’s pretty good satire.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I grew up in religious fundamentalist circles and was homeschooled.

      Babylon Bee is 100% pure comedy gold that I find incredibly relatable.

      • SamChevre says:

        Similar, but church schools (Amish-Mennonite). But I’m also a Catholic, by conversion–so I find Eye of the Tiber equally funny.

        For example, I think I know this guy.

      • I’m curious. Opponents of home schooling often portray it as religious fundamentalist parents trying to make sure their kids are not exposed to evolution or other ideas inconsistent with their religion.

        Does that describe your experience? I believe polling evidence shows that religion is not the most common motive for home schooling, but I’m curious as to whether their picture accurately describes those cases where it is.

        • EchoChaos says:

          > I’m curious. Opponents of home schooling often portray it as religious fundamentalist parents trying to make sure their kids are not exposed to evolution or other ideas inconsistent with their religion.
          >
          > Does that describe your experience? I believe polling evidence shows that religion is not the most common motive for home schooling, but I’m curious as to whether their picture accurately describes those cases where it is.

          I have also seen that portrayal. It doesn’t match my experience at all, either in my family or the other homeschooling families I associated with. The majority of them were primarily after better schooling, although there was more religious instruction than public schools, of course.

          My father has multiple advanced degrees including a doctorate and my mother was a schoolteacher before teaching me.

          I was taught OF evolution in quite a bit of detail, although they don’t believe in it, but it certainly wasn’t “not exposed”.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I was also homeschooled, by my conservative Evangelical Christian parents. I’ve heard that portrayal too, but it doesn’t match me either. My parents homeschooled me because I’d taught myself to read at age three and my parents both saw I’d be bored stiff in kindergarten. I’ve never asked why they homeschooled my sister too, but I think it was because they were already used to doing it.

          Through eighth grade, my science (and history) classes were basically “turn me loose with some book more or less related to science (or history), sometimes an actual textbook, and let me read it.” Sometimes those books covered evolution, so I got as decent a grounding in that as anything else. You might’ve noticed I didn’t mention experiments… that was the main reason I got into a more formal biology class in ninth grade, taught by a friend’s mother at the local church; they barely mentioned evolution.

          Unlike EchoChaos, some of my homeschooled friends probably were closer to your stereotype – though their parents would’ve described it in more positive terms as “raise them in a nurturing Christian environment where people aren’t constantly taking secular ideas for granted.”

          • Thanks to both of you. My experience of homeschooling, both ours of our children and that of another family I knew a very long time ago, doesn’t fit the religious pattern at all, but I was curious about those that did.

            Evan’s sounds like home unschooling which is what we did.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @DavidFriedman, I think I was giving you a faulty impression of my homeschooling. History, science (through eighth grade), and English were taught by “send me off with a book on the subject,” but other classes like math, spelling, grammar (which Mom called a separate class from English), and (briefly) Latin were much more regimented. Mom and Dad got a textbook in each subject, assigned me daily problems, and went over the lessons with me. I did well in each subject, but hated the work. It was sixth-grade Mathcounts with some other homeschoolers that turned the tide and finally got me to like math.

            My parents later regretted just much work they assigned me in the early grades; they used the same half-regimented approach with my sister but assigned less work. That’s more or less my attitude, too – there were a lot of useful-in-the-future things that I wouldn’t have studied or memorized so well on my own, but I think I could’ve done it with less daily problems.

          • EchoChaos says:

            > Unlike EchoChaos, some of my homeschooled friends probably were closer to your stereotype

            I wonder if that’s generational. I’m in my mid 30s and although all the other homeschoolers around me were Christian (more Mormon than fundamentalist, though), I never once heard that as a reason.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I was homeschooled as well, and although the homeschoolers we knew were almost all religious, specific religious teachings were not the reason any of us got into it.

            The majority of the group got into it in order to provide a better environment (less peer pressure, less exposure to drugs and other bad influences). A much smaller group got into it because of troubles at school. My older brother was struggling with homework and his grades were falling, right around the time that we were introduced to it. A few others came from troubled homes (staying with members of our group), and one because he got expelled from school for bringing in a pipe bomb (he said by accident).

            A younger generation that had ties to the original group got into it even more, which I think was significantly for different reasons. Our collective grades and test scores (SAT, various tests based on grade) were high and as a group we had few problems. Since a lot of the education was decently high quality and we got far more 1-on-1 attention, we seemed to excel quite a bit (selection effects may have been huge here, but the same effects would be in place for the next group coming in). Last I heard, there was still a large and thriving group of homeschoolers within the same general community as ours.

          • Since a number of home schooled posters have chipped in, I thought I should say a bit about the first home schooling family I encountered, in 1963.

            The father was Frank Meyer, an ex-communist libertarian-conservative and a senior editor of National Review. He lived in Woodstock, N.Y., with his wife and two sons. At the time I got to know them, John was the under-21 chess champion of the U.S., Eugene the under-14 (I think) champion. Frank and John came to Harvard because John was looking at colleges. They had dinner with a faculty member who was a friend of my parents and invited me to join them.

            It was probably the oddest conversation of my life, because it turned out that I and the Meyers had a bunch of odd interests in common, including Kipling, Tolkien (this was before he became well known), and Avalon Hill war games. My parents were spending the year abroad, so I ended up spending spring vacation with the Meyers.

            It was Frank’s opinion that they could have been forced to send the two boys to school if anyone had noticed and wanted to, but nobody did. Not surprisingly, they were very well self educated—the family’s problem when I knew them was running out of wall space for bookcases. I don’t know what happened to John, but Gene ended up running the Federalist Society.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “Aieee! She’s gone 1/1024th savage!” Schumer shrieked before running away.

      Warren was reportedly 1/1024th offended by the 1/1024th insult, which, if one does the math, makes it approximately 1/1,000,000th of an offense — a literal microaggression. Warren and Schumer later apologized to each other and smoked a peace vape.

  4. yourinnerchild says:

    Re: the puppy mill ban, is there any danger that mills will commit a one-time puppy holocaust as their main source of revenue is choked off and rescue orgs are unable to handle the sudden increase in volume/buy off all excess supply?

    • Nicholas Conrad says:

      Also, there is bound to be circumvention, whereby puppy mills illicitly funnel desirable looking puppies to pet shops, but now the chain of provenance is broken, and well meaning buyers can no longer distinguish which are really rescues and which are phaux rescues.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Won’t the market price be for rescue puppies? If it costs $200 to buy a rescue puppy, and $2000 to buy a breeder-made puppy, the pet store cannot charge $2000.

        • Cliff says:

          Breeder sells puppy to rescue org for $2,000, rescue org donates to store, store sells for $200

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Maybe I am slow, but why is the rescue org paying $2000 for the puppy?

          • Randy M says:

            Is that like paying to rescue slaves, thereby rewarding enslavement?

          • acymetric says:

            @Randy M

            No, it’s a scam. The rescue and the breeder are colluding (the rescue is funneling donated money to the breeder by purchasing the dogs for high cash amounts). I’m un-convinced that this is remotely common, because it doesn’t quite make sense if you dig deep enough.

          • Randy M says:

            Right, yeah, it doesn’t make sense that a rescue shelter would ever pay for an animal. If you are charging for something, you aren’t giving it away, which means you are housing it and caring for it. Unless you find a breeder saying “buy these dogs or I kill them,” but that seems to verge on extortion.

          • acymetric says:

            @Randy M

            One of the other threads linked to an article suggesting that rescues are running out of dogs, and are paying breeders high prices for new dogs to keep their population levels up to keep donations coming in. I find this highly dubious for lots of reasons, and suspect that if it is really happening at all it is extremely isolated.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Abrupt changes are often bad, but this law had a 1 year lead time.

      The premise is that there is an ongoing slaughter already. Radu claims 3 puppies slaughtered for every one sold. So even if the end of the regime kills all extant puppies, it doesn’t take a long time to make up for it. (The premise being wrong is a common failure mode, but I would say that it is different from unexpected consequences.)

      • Radu Floricica says:

        My numbers are totally made up. I was just illustrating how purely commercial incentives lead to horrible outcomes when the merchandise is alive (and cute).

        Offtopic, this could be a pretty good example of how people are caricaturing libertarians – of which I’m a rabid one, btw. We don’t want dead puppies. We’re just screaming till our throats are sore that bad incentives lead to bad outcomes, and we have a pretty good body of work documenting on how a lot of political constructs lead to very bad outcomes.

  5. Clutzy says:

    This makes me confused about every government project that fails, goes late, or goes over budget – is it just that the officials involved weren’t as desperate? If there are known “hire these people when you really need it done right” companies, why don’t we just hire them for everything?

    As a Chicagoan who’s father works in politics in the outskirts my number 1 answer is corruption. A lot of contractors consistently miss deadlines and do poor work, but they keep getting bids. These are the most connected firms, typically. The only way a firm breaks into the graft that is government work is by being much, much, better than the corrupt ones. Sometimes this is a “soft corruption” because the city/county/state openly admits its looking to hire minority owned firms and since there are not many, the bad ones keep getting work. But yea, consistently bad contractors keep getting work because favors.

    A number 2 answer would be: Just look at that contract incentive. Its basically the opposite of a normal work contract that pays a set amount (and sometimes you can even milk more by taking extra time). By incentivizing speed with money you let the contractor pay overtime, particularly overtime to its best employees.

    And finally, sometimes its just cheapness. The IT guy at a government near my hometown won the contract just by underbidding by like $1k. He’s not that good. Same with the counsel retained by a lot of governments. These are, generally, people who don’t have enough clients, so they take on the one consistent client.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      > Sometimes this is a “soft corruption” because the city/county/state openly admits its looking to hire minority owned firms and since there are not many, the bad ones keep getting work.

      Doesn’t that open the way for constituents to sue?

      • EchoChaos says:

        Probably not. There are legal requirements for minority firms and if the only ones in your area are incompetent, c’est la vie.

        • Furslid says:

          The minority owned firms seems like an incentive to create weird corporate relationships. Any minority with extra capitol to invest could be the silent partner of a competent non-majority contractor. Or a minority owned shell contractor could bid and subcontract the work to a non-minority contractor.

      • JG28 says:

        If only. In certain urban/suburban areas, local government/quasi-governmental orgs (HoA’s, etc.) take special pleasure on stepping on constituents’ necks knowing us peasants have no reprieve

    • Deiseach says:

      By incentivizing speed with money you let the contractor pay overtime, particularly overtime to its best employees.

      Yeah, that contract is not “build it in one month for 800 grand”, it’s “win the contract by bidding 800 grand, then build it in one month by throwing money at it”. Except that in that case it was not called a budget over-run but incentive payments.

    • Twirlnhurl says:

      In addition to soft corruption (and occasionally explicit corruption), I think an important reason we shouldn’t expect many public infrastructure projects to be built this fast is due to issues related to building consensus about the peoject itself:

      In this particular case, the bridge was replaced essentially “like for like”, so the new bridge was an exact replacement of the original bridge. That means that the engineers pretty much just had to dust off the old drawings, double check the calculations, and figure out the fastest way to build it, with very few financial restrictions. Any permitting and project review were expedited by the local agencies because everyone knows the replacement will work if it is identical to the old one and everyone wants it to happen quickly. As you can see, there are very few places where a project like this has opportunity for delay.

      When a new infrastructure projectis being designed under more conventional circumstances, there are many more opportunities to slow the project. The government agency may have several internal factions that do not have a consensus about what they want. Should it even be a bridge? Do we care if a park is in the shadow of the bridge? The possible solutions are endless, and owners frequently don’t know what they don’t know when a project starts.

      By necessity, infrastructure projects have to be planned long before anyone from the public seems to care, so when public input arrives, it is usually late in the design process. This can lead to a difficult choice for governments–do you stick to the original plans or do you listen to the public input that came too late to have been integral to the design that would result in costly changes and a better project?

      For projects with any level of controversy, local constituents and environmental groups may have opportunities to sue the government agency responsible for the project adding months or years of delay to the project.

      If the projects are eligible for federal funding, preparing for those programs can be time consuming and can impose additional requirements to the design*.

      New projects often require property acquisition, which can be very time consuming and can also lead to lawsuits. Projects often have design review phases that can be like conversations with weeks or months between comments and responses.

      So as you can see, this bridge replacement can’t be taken as a model for general infrastructure construction, because it did not have the time consuming obstacles to overcome that most infrastructure projects do have.

      Also, it should be noted that many of thses possible sources of delay may be better than the alternatives on at least a few dimensions. In the 1950s and 60s, many of these sources of delay did not exist. The downside is that many early expressways were built with little regard to the people they displaced or the neighborhoods they destroyed. The famous stories about Robert Moses in New York had corollaries in most other American cities at the same time. We probably do spend way too much to build things too slowly, but building faster has costs to politicians and the public too.

      *I work for a consulting firm that does a lot of infrastructure projects. I’ve heard stories about a project that had months of delay because the client needed the consultant to prepare documents to apply for a federal grant that everyone knew the project would be unlikely to win. (The client already had all of the funding arranged from local sources.) It makes sense that the client would need to be able to say that they tried to get federal funding, but it easily added three months to the design phase of the project.

      • Clutzy says:

        What are these infrastructure projects with little public input?

        There are generally 2 kinds of projects: ongoing maintenance (sewers, roads, etc), and new projects that come up in response to public pressure. I’ve not heard of a public project that didn’t have a lobby pushing it.

        • Twirlnhurl says:

          It isn’t a question of there being somebody to lobby for a project. Most projects have one or many lobbies in their favor, but after the project begins to look real, lobbies often arise to oppose them.

          Opposition lobbies tend not to arise until a plan appears to be moving forward or until visual renderings of a project are released. It is difficult to build a coalition to oppose a project until project impacts become more obvious.

          • Clutzy says:

            My dad is obsessed with local government and maybe that clouds what I know but I think the opposition always seems to manifest about the time that people find out how freaking expensive something is going to be.

            For instance, in my hometown the library wanted to build a new library. And no one really cared until they announced the cost: 3.5 Million. Then everyone was like, “yea the old library is fine, also there is an empty grade school right across the street if you want more room, so just use that.”

  6. Nicholas Conrad says:

    Really curious what priors we should have here over whether four billion years of plant evolution just missed a great idea for no reason.

    This strikes me as false dichotomy. It’s not a binary choice in evolution to have a good gene or have a crappy one, it’s a question of trade-offs. Most of the hugely successful species humans cultivate are substantially altered from their wild populations, and wouldn’t fair particularly well without our symbiosis. This variant probably requires more water, making it extra vulnerable to drought, or some analogous teadeoff that will make it successful in partnership with humans, but would make it less fit without them.

    Edit: Having gone and read the link now, Scott’s bewilderment is more understandable.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think that’s what I’m asking – should we assume (even if the article doesn’t mention it) that there must be some tradeoff (even if it’s something easy for us, like water), or can we just think maybe they solved a problem evolution didn’t?

      • Nicholas Conrad says:

        Even if the researchers can’t identify a downside (and they certainly frame it as a free lunch), I don’t think we should accept that as evidence that there is no fittnes advantage to passing the chemicals through three parts of the cell. After all, we’re still not sure what some of our own organs are for.

        Unless there is a reason to believe the current routing is in the peek of a local maximum trap, it’s difficult to imagine so many species coalescing on the same sub-optimal route. At the very least, if this specific route wasn’t somehow advantageous we should see several different routes of equal fitness emerge in different species.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Maybe it helps to know that there is already C4 and C3 photosynthesis, with C4-photosynthesis being more efficient and showing the same trade-off (higher ATP consumption) as this newly engineered pathway.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C4_carbon_fixation

      • googolplexbyte says:

        Evolution gets stuck in local minima. Look at our eyes. We and other vertebrates have inverted retinas, which gives us a blind spot, while Cephalopoda have non-inverted retina so no blind spot.

        Rather than flipping our retina the right way round, we just spend a little brain power filling in the blind spot.

        Scientist could create a transgenic solution that flipped our retinas the right way round and claim they increased our visual field 20% with no trade-off.

      • epiphi says:

        can we just think maybe they solved a problem evolution didn’t

        Very much yes. Evolution is not an efficient market- natural mutagenesis can only take small steps towards a better phenotype and all the intermediate phenotypes have to be sort of decent to survive.

        RuBisCO is possibly the most abundant enzyme on earth, is present in the common ancestor of modern-day plants, is janky as all hell with the atmosphere’s current oxygen concentration (instead of progressing along the Calvin cycle, it produces toxic byproducts 20% of the time!), and is a personal pet peeve of mine.

        That said, it’s not easy to evolve a better RuBisCO!

        From a 2014 paper by Romain et al., “Stability-activity tradeoffs constrain the adaptive evolution of RubisCO“:

        The C3 to C4 transition is preceded by a sustained period in which stability of the enzyme is increased, creating the capacity to accept the functionally necessary destabilizing mutations, and is immediately followed by compensatory mutations that restore global stability.

        We’re hoping that we can do better- the paper your link is about (“Synthetic glycolate metabolism pathways stimulate crop growth and productivity in the field“) is a really promising result for more efficiently dispersing the toxic byproducts of RuBisCO’s failures.

        As Hamish Todd mentioned, there’s an ongoing project (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the past 10 years) to create C4 rice. It’s not trivial- although C4 photosynthesis has evolved many times, it takes major structural changes to the cell to wall RuBisCO off from oxygen so it can focus on fixing carbon (i.e. do its damn job). I do think we can do better than evolution here. It just might take us another decade of genetic engineering.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think anyone else has said this yet, so….

        Humans are breeding (and now engineering) things for growth in controlled environments. Since we can provide enough water, sunlight, appropriate temperatures and reduction in pets (to varying degrees at least) there is some room for selecting more specific traits that might have had serious trade offs in the past 100 million years but don’t now because they are in a totally different, and much less dynamic, environment.

    • andrewnwest says:

      Other explanations are possible. If the original system is A and the human-designed system is Z, and you can get there through steps B to Y, each and every one of B through Y have to have reproductive advantages over the prior steps.

      Evolution has no foresight, which is why it often finds weird looking solutions. For a similar but opposite example, the giraffe’s laryngeal nerve travels up its neck then back down again, when there’s an obvious shortcut. The slow extension of its neck over evolutionary time meant that each increase in length left more offspring on average, but the design we see today is clearly inefficient. Another example is wheels – they’re very rare in nature because it’s very hard to have interim steps that are still useful. Pullman has some ideas about this in the Dark Materials trilogy, there are types of bacteria that use them in their flagellum, but that’s it as far as I know.

      We have foresight, so we can skip steps B through Y and put the end product directly in. Similarly, if we wanted to improve a giraffe, we could connect the laryngeal nerve directly. Not that we can easily change designs like this yet, but that’s one of the reasons why RIPE is so interesting.

      I forget the type of photosynthesis – RIPE are looking at it too – but the idea is that the chamber photosynthesis takes place in is totally enclosed, so oxygen can’t get in. This resembles the ancestral environment before the great oxidation event, where Rubisco evolved. There are plants that have this, but are less efficient in other ways (I forget the details again). There’s no route for normal plants to take to develop this enclosed chamber because there’s now no evolutionary benefit to a partial enclosure.

      Evolution is great at finding local maxima but not global, because there’s often no path from the local maxima you’ve just found to the global one.

      • Paul Torek says:

        You totally nailed it.

        I mean, it’s possible that crop plants gain some evolutionary advantage from the usual photosynthesis routine – drought resistance? Lower phosphorous requirements? Luckily for them, now they have human caretakers. But my priors would favor “local optimum”, because there are plenty of other examples.

    • LTK says:

      According to the coverage on Ars Technica, the inefficient version uses more ATP than the optimal version, which might compensate for whatever energy is lost in the process. Either that or the plant has a fitness advantage if it can generate energy with a lower up-front energy investment, even if the total gain is lower than if the process was more efficient.

    • Hamish Todd says:

      I used to work on the C4 rice project (if I had my way (funding), would still be on it!). This aspect is, as you’d expect, well-discussed, and C4 rice is a somewhat exceptional case.

      The argument is as follows. 30 million years ago the concentration of O2 in the atmosphere increased. Not by much, but enough for plants to have to take notice of it. So since then, all plants have had to evolve in response to it.

      The most encouraging (and biologically fascinating) discovery is this: at least 70 plants independently evolved C4 photosynthesis, mostly “starting” from C3 photosynthesis, which is what rice does. And they are not 70 closely-related species, or anything like that.

      This allows us to say: “C4 is better than C3 photosynthesis in some objective sense. It is not that rice would already have evolved C4 if it could have, and we should be timid because it hasn’t. It is that 30 million years just isn’t that long. It is luck of the draw, at this point, which plants will be C4, and rice has been unlucky, so let us help it.”

      Happy to answer questions. I said a bit more in the r/slatestarcodex thread on this https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/acx5x5/fixing_photosynthesis_by_engineering_it_to/

  7. bbrown says:

    Here’s a profile of C.C. Myers, the guy behind the company that rebuilt the highway in a month.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    I can’t believe I’m turning into one of those people who relates to the news primarily through what the celebrities involved are wearing,

    Really? I’m pretty sure you’ve been doing that for some time. 🙂

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    Related: this paper on competition (paper, LW post explaining paper) on some complicated ways of modeling a competitive process (like job interviews, college admissions, or grant funding) and how sometimes adding more competitors can make the average winner less skilled.

    Zvi Mowshowitz’s response seems worth mentioning here.

    Edit: Nevermind, Scott already linked the LW crosspost of this in the OP.

  10. Enkidum says:

    Grant-writing is taking up an increasing amount of scientists’ time and energy, optimizing for grants is distorting research projects, and evidence shows that which grants get funded is basically random – there’s very low correlation in two raters’ assessments of grants, nor in raters’ assessment of grants vs. how useful that research ends up being. This has inspired a proposal: why not just assess grants as being above some basic standard of competence, and then use a lottery to determine which ones get funded? See paper, Voxsplainer, and MR post. Excited about someone trying to extend this to college admissions.

    Every PI I know who’s considered “successful” spends >50% of “their” time (i.e. the time they aren’t spending doing admin work or teaching) on grants. This strikes me as insane. I really like this general idea, anyways.

  11. DeWitt says:

    Grant-writing is taking up an increasing amount of scientists’ time and energy, optimizing for grants is distorting research projects, and evidence shows that which grants get funded is basically random – there’s very low correlation in two raters’ assessments of grants, nor in raters’ assessment of grants vs. how useful that research ends up being. This has inspired a proposal: why not just assess grants as being above some basic standard of competence, and then use a lottery to determine which ones get funded? See paper, Voxsplainer, and MR post. Excited about someone trying to extend this to college admissions.

    This incentivises, by a lot, hurrying through getting past the minimum bar for competence and flooding the process with ideas in order to stack the odds in your favor.

    Mind, this may or may not work, but if I can think of this in a minute’s worth of time I can see it all going much worse if people have months to break the system, which they will.

    • ana53294 says:

      The current process favors proposals that are safe and can reliably turn out results. The time investment needed to write a proposal means that only ideas that are orthodox and common will be written. Another issue is that people who get grants under the old system tend to be old. Most of the Nobel Prize breakthroughs in the 20th century were made by young people who don’t have the experience or the track record to write such proposals.

      This process would mean that some truly innovative ideas can be thrown into the hat, and tested. And younger researchers stand a chance.

      • DeWitt says:

        I realise, and agree, that the proposal in the OP’s link would solve a number of problems.

        Even so, when the question is ‘why not X’, I figured I’d supply a reason why it might have issues of its own.

    • Enkidum says:

      Make the threshold very high, just lower than the current superhuman levels.

      Writing a grant is currently a multi-week (even month) process. There is no “flooding the process” possible.

      Also generally speaking you are allowed only one entry per competition already, though what difference that makes given the time commitment is unclear to me.

  12. Evan Þ says:

    I’m not sure I believe the explanation proffered by “Errors As A Primary Cause Of Late-Life Mortality Deceleration And Plateaus”. Considering the tiny numbers of supercentenarians, the error bars are going to be huge. Minuscule differences in the percentages of erroneously-recorded ages could lead to huge differences in the resulting numbers.

    Plus, even if we believe their explanation about relative death rates, that still leaves the individual documented-and-verified cases to be argued over on their own individual merits. No matter what the numbers might say about overall birth certificates, Jeanne Calment and Sarah Knauss stand or fall on their own individual evidence.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Impossible Foods unveils Impossible Burger 2.0, which critics say tastes even more like real meat; will reach restaurants in mid-March.

    But does it have the nutritional profile of meat?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Soy protein was a worse amino-acid profile than either meat or milk protein. Ranking (best to worst) would be mixed source > meat > milk > pea > soy

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I could not find the price.

      My wife has a small fit if I buy ground turkey instead of ground beef. But I could probably get away with buying this if she can cook it exactly the same way.

    • andrewducker says:

      This one is also awesome, has more detail, and allows you to see the different information at different heights.

      Fascinating to see that winds may be very different at different heights.

      • kieranpjobrien says:

        It’s what makes wind, and offshore wind, such an attractive option in much of the world. Winds at ground level are unstable and often too gusty. Winds at 100m+ are far more stable (both in terms of speed and length of time). Makes building a largely renewable electricity generation system partially viable. Turbines are reaching 300m or thereabouts to the tip nowadays with far higher output and stability in that output, and turbines that large can only really be built offshore.

  14. Anonymous says:

    New international study finds that doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough, recommends educating doctors on the need to do this. I find this interesting because all the overweight people I know say they dread going to the doctor because their doctors never do anything else. “Help, I’ve been stabbed!” “Well, we’ll get to that, but first, have you considered that you’re overweight and need to diet?” There’s probably something really profound to be said here about different perspectives and sources of knowledge and whatever. See also the comments on Reddit, some of which are from primary care doctors.

    The doctors are frequently fat themselves. They don’t know how to lose weight themselves, what business do they have telling patients to do it, if they’ve either no clue or have tried and failed? And the ones who *do* know how to lose weight are committing heresy against the established official ways to lose weight (this being caloric restriction and exercise) that doesn’t work long-term for the vast majority of people. “The Biggest Loser” show is perhaps the best example of how it doesn’t work – people inevitably gain the weight back, and are long-term metabolically damaged to boot.

    For example, if your doctor recommends intermittent fasting? That’s bloody 180 degrees opposite of the “eat many small meals a day” official line. If he recommends cutting carbohydrates as much as you can? That’s opposite the official recommendation to base your entire diet around carbohydrates. I won’t even get into eating more meat, instead of toxic plant foods.

    I have heard that some doctors are aware of the actual proper ways to lose weight, but only use it themselves, because if they were recommend it to patients, they’d be investigated by the Inquisition and risk losing their licenses. Fortunately, there also exist some who are brave enough to go against the false orthodoxy. I expect that in due time, as the proponents of the official lines die of chronic diseases caused by the very dietary advice they promote, the authorities will adopt recommendations that are actually an approximation of truth.

    (Nevermind the issue that obesity isn’t an illness, but a symptom of illness – metabolic syndrome – not all obese people are ill, “only” 80% or so.)

    • bullseye says:

      Several years ago I was diagnosed with fatty liver syndrome. The cure is to lose weight. The doctor didn’t tell me *how* to lose weight, but he didn’t need to. The way to lose weight is to eat less. It’s really hard to eat less (I’ve since gained the weight back), so people build up layers of bullshit on top of it, but that’s really what it’s all about.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s oversimplified to the point of being wrong.

        Fatty liver is caused by alcohol and fructose (glucose too, but to a much lesser extent because the liver doesn’t have to do all the work itself, as pretty much any cell can metabolize glucose) intakes exceeding ther liver’s capacity to metabolize these substances and transport the resultant lipids to adipose tissues. Cutting fructose (sugar is 50% fructose) and alcohol will at the very least stop it from progressing, if it doesn’t cure it outright.

        Caloric restriction (“eating less”) will help, through this mechanism, since you will presumably eat less of the offensive carbohydrates. But the very fact that you couldn’t keep the weight off is precisely the point I’m making – pretending to be an inmate in a concentration camp is not healthy, and it is not sustainable for the desired effect.

        For a much better mode of weight loss, you might try eating LESS OFTEN, rather than less. If you continue to eat often, but reduced amounts, your insulin will remain high, you will have very limited ability to burn fat, and your metabolism will slow down as the you train your body to deal with the decreased intake and inability to make substantial use of stored energy.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Fatty liver is caused by alcohol and fructose (glucose too, but to a much lesser extent because the liver doesn’t have to do all the work itself, as pretty much any cell can metabolize glucose) intakes exceeding ther liver’s capacity to metabolize these substances and transport the resultant lipids to adipose tissues. Cutting fructose (sugar is 50% fructose) and alcohol will at the very least stop it from progressing, if it doesn’t cure it outright.

          But if you don’t have liver disease, you should just cut out fructose other than whole fruits and drink 1-2 servings of wine a day (depending on sex), right?

          • Anonymous says:

            If you don’t have FLD, you’re obviously consuming under your phenotype’s tolerance for these substances. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t any other issues with your diet, but your liver is apparently up to the task of dealing with what it is getting.

            Get an abdominal scan if you’re unsure.

        • bullseye says:

          I guess the doctor told me to lose weight with the expectation that I would cut back on fructose then?

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m 99% sure he would expect that you’d cut sugar severely, and that’s the major source of the problem. (I didn’t get the impression that you had alcoholic fatty liver disease.) Fruits less so, because the indigestible structure of fiber makes quick absorption impossible – fructose from whole fruits is released slowly, in contrast to refined sugar, which is much more quickly shunted into your bloodstream, and your liver is thus overloaded momentarily.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_4Q9Iv7_Ao

          • bullseye says:

            I remember him being mildly surprised that I didn’t drink much alcohol. But, come to think of it, I drank a lot of high fructose corn syrup.

    • DeWitt says:

      Do you have anything to back these dramatics up? Anything at all? This reads like hyperbole much more than anything resembling objective truth to me.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes. I’ll post links when I finish work. This calculator is a pain to use even for simple text, much less inlined links.

      • Anonymous says:

        Physician obesity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268640/

        According to the 2007 Physicians Health Study, 40% of the 19 000 doctors were overweight and 23% were obese.

        But hey, that’s better than the average American, at least.

        Biggest Losers metabolically damaged after 6 years: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21538

        Now that I research the topic, I am unable to find any sources for the “many meals a day” thing. Healthline calls a persistent myth the belief that small, frequent meals are helpful for weight loss: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-myths-fasting-and-meal-frequency
        If I find anything on that front, I’ll add it in later. I’m certain I heard it somewhere that some agency semi-recently came out with a many-meal recommendation, on the grounds that people aren’t meeting their RDIs.

        The WHO recommends limiting caloric intake from fat to 30% or less, implicitly recommending basing dietary intake around carbohydrates (humans can’t metabolize unlimited amount of protein to glucose for energy, unlike, say, cats): https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet

        This recent Canadian recommendation is also good evidence of how much the nutritional authorities hate meat and animal fat: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/food-nutrition/educational-poster.html

        The official recognition that low-carb diets might help with obesity isn’t even a month old: https://www.lchf-rd.com/2018/12/18/low-carb-diet-in-2019-american-diabetes-association-standards-of-care/

        As per my hope for the future, I am paraphrasing Planck: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Max_Planck

        A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

        Metabolically healthy obese people exist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolically_healthy_obesity

        Bonus: Researchers literally paid off to defend sugar and blame fat in the 60s: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html

        • DeWitt says:

          I didn’t really intend to dispute the claim that there’s obese doctors around or the various dietary matters. Whatever else the case might be, it’s a given there’s going to be fat doctors and that dietary advice X will work better than dietary advice Y.

          No, you keep talking about some Inquisition(big scary capital letter) and an orthodoxy and that doctors would surely give better dietary advice if only this weren’t the case.

          All of this is a very strong claim and I’m inclined not to believe it unless there’s a reasonable percentage of doctors stating that they are, in fact, afraid of losing their job for giving out unorthodox dieting advice. The comments on the reddit thread Scott linked have not a single doctor saying as much around, so as best I can tell you’re just in the wrong here.

          • Anonymous says:

            To clarify, I don’t think it’s the topic of nutrition that has some sort of special amount of avoidance of unorthodox advice, but rather that it’s part of the general trend of doctors not wanting to give out what is in their eyes untried, untested and officially unrecognized treatment. Reasonable, because in many fields of medicine the official line isn’t particularly wrong (say, treatment of infectious diseases, surgery, etc.). But unfortunate because in the case of nutrition, literal primitives who have never heard the word ‘science’ have a better grasp on how to feed humans than the entire establishment.

            That said, it’s not inconceivable, and I’m open to considering the alternative hypothesis, that the doctors are simply convinced by the establishment line, rather in fear of breaching it. It’s a consistent explanation too.

          • DeWitt says:

            You should really, really, really not write in such strong terms as you did in your initial response when you have so little to base your opinion on. A little humility goes a long way, and the way you’ve been talking implies you’re much more certain than you really are.

            Have you even read the thread linked in the OP? At all? Presuming the doctors posting their experiences aren’t lying completely(not impossible), most of the answers are along the lines of ‘people don’t fucking listen even when I do’ and such.

            Which.. I really have no issue believing either.

          • Anonymous says:

            You should really, really, really not write in such strong terms as you did in your initial response when you have so little to base your opinion on. A little humility goes a long way, and the way you’ve been talking implies you’re much more certain than you really are.

            I will try to restrain myself next time. Your input is appreciated.

            Have you even read the thread linked in the OP? At all?

            No. I don’t read the reddit.

            Presuming the doctors posting their experiences aren’t lying completely(not impossible), most of the answers are along the lines of ‘people don’t fucking listen even when I do’ and such.

            It’s harder to change a man’s diet than to change his religion, yes.

          • 10240 says:

            @Anonymous Do you think that most studies support your claims? If so, to what extent can what you call “false orthodoxy” be considered orthodoxy at all? Is it that most scientific studies support your claims but doctors and governmental organizations still promote the opposite? (Though I presume that scientists studying nutrition are part of the “entire establishment”, and it’s unlikely that a treatment that is supported by many studies would be considered untried and untested.) Or if most studies support the “false orthodoxy”, then what is your reason to think think that the minority of studies that support your claims are right and the majority is wrong, rather than vice-versa?

            Regarding your links about low-carb diets, the questions of what is a good diet for someone with a healthy weight, for someone who wants to lose weight, or for a diabetic, shouldn’t be conflated. Also, low-carb can mean a low percentage of carbohydrates in the calorie intake, or a low absolute intake; in the latter case, it doesn’t imply much about fats.

            I know (and care) little about nutrition, but my impression is that there is a lot of pseudoscience around it, and a lot of people who decide that they know it better than everyone else. Your comments and some of your links do little to convince me that you are not one of the bullshit-peddlers, and that we should listen to you rather than to the “establishment” or to anyone else.

          • Anonymous says:

            @10240

            Do you think that most studies support your claims?

            Hard to say, given the unreliability of studies in general. There are studies that support these claims, and studies that support the opposite view, too. Nutrition is unfortunately on the bullshit side of the study reliability spectrum, along with sociology.

            If so, to what extent can what you call “false orthodoxy” be considered orthodoxy at all?

            Because the mainstream agencies, national and international, promote it. See:
            https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/
            https://www.choosemyplate.gov/
            https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet

            Is it that most scientific studies support your claims but doctors and governmental organizations still promote the opposite?

            I have not conducted a thorough review all the studies out there, nor even most. From what I *have* seen, pretty much everything backing the mainstream option is low-impact epidemiology. Some minor mere association is established, and heralded as causal and large.

            (Though I presume that scientists studying nutrition are part of the “entire establishment”, and it’s unlikely that a treatment that is supported by many studies would be considered untried and untested.)

            Or if most studies support the “false orthodoxy”, then what is your reason to think think that the minority of studies that support your claims are right and the majority is wrong, rather than vice-versa?

            Because the mainstream position makes no sense.

            We’re built to consume a large amount of carbohydrates? That amount of carbohydrates was never available before the advent of agriculture, which was long after the development of anatomically modern humans. It’s not even an essential nutrient, because we can synthesize enough and more from protein and fat.

            We’re built to consume mostly plants? If that were true, our digestive systems would resemble those of herbivores and omnivores, but they instead strongly resemble hypercarnivorous predators. We can’t even digest fiber, or break down phytates.

            Regarding your links about low-carb diets, the questions of what is a good diet for someone with a healthy weight, for someone who wants to lose weight, or for a diabetic, shouldn’t be conflated.

            Given the percentage of deaths stemming from cardiovascular issues, I posit that just about everyone (except maybe some ultra-religious, fasting-heavy types) on the standard diet will eventually be diabetic. Unless cancer kills them, which is probably also caused by the standard diet, but the mechanism is unclear.

            Also, low-carb can mean a low percentage of carbohydrates in the calorie intake, or a low absolute intake; in the latter case, it doesn’t imply much about fats.

            It does, actually. Humans have limited gluconeogenesis capacity, unlike cats. We can properly digest about 3-4 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, and some of that is not going to be converted to glucose because we need it for repairs. Protein has about 4 kcal per gram, so that yields a severely hypocaloric diet. You actually need to eat either carbohydrates or fat to make up the energy difference. (And nevermind that polyunsaturated fatty acids cannot by synthesized by humans and must be ingested, or you will die.)

            I know (and care) little about nutrition, but my impression is that there is a lot of pseudoscience around it, and a lot of people who decide that they know it better than everyone else. Your comments and some of your links do little to convince me that you are not one of the bullshit-peddlers, and that we should listen to you rather than to the “establishment” or to anyone else.

            You are entirely correct that nutrition is bullshit science. Do your own research, do your own experiments, because your health depends on it.

          • Anonymous says:

            @10240

            On the topic of established orthodoxy, I was in the clinic today, getting a tetanus shot, and while waiting I was reading through the various leaflets lying around. One of them was this one (location info redacted).

            One side has a so-called “codex of health practices”:
            – begin your day with breakfast,
            – make sure you have diversity in your diet,
            – always take with you healthy snacks,
            – eat 5 meals a day at fixed times,
            – grain products – main source of energy,
            – limit fat consumption (especially animal fat),
            – drink 2L of water a day,
            – avoid snacking between meals,
            – eat a lot of fruits and vegetables every day,
            – be moderate about your sweets consumption and limit your salt intake,
            – exercise, be active, take the stairs instead of the elevator,
            – spend time in fresh air,
            – don’t forget about rest,
            – first and foremost think positively, because everything begins at the head!

            On the other side, there’s a fairly close approximation of the “live well, eat well” plate from Canada. This is what I mean by the orthodoxy. This is what doctors and government authorities are telling people to eat, in order to be healthy and not obese.

            Also, while I was getting “examined” by the doctor (she just asked me if I was sick in the last month), I asked for a note for my Dad so he can get tested for diabetes under insurance. I specifically asked for HbA1c and fasting insulin (and CRP, but that’s more for his other issues). She tells me to my face that the basis for diabetes testing is a blood glucose test, on the basis that she’s a diabetologist and she knows better.

            HbA1c has been used for diagnosing diabetes since 2010. Granted, perhaps not in our country, but she ought to bloody well know that it’s a much better measure for diabetes than glycemia – it shows you average glycemia over the last 3-4 months. Why she thought that it wasn’t worth testing fasting insulin, I haven’t the faintest clue. That would have shown even better the current stage of metabolic illness, via measuring insulin resistance.

            This is part of why I consider normie docs useless for anything related to chronic illness. They might have good reasons to be useless, but that isn’t making them any more useful.

          • 10240 says:

            We’re built to consume a large amount of carbohydrates?

            @Anonymous I know little about what prehistoric humans ate, but others have suggested carbohydrate sources such as fruits or seeds, and I’ve seen claims that popular claims about prehistoric diets made by paleolithic diet people are dubious. I don’t know who is right. Also, our environment and activities are different, as are our goals: the evolutionary goal of prehistoric humans was to reproduce and make it to 50 or so in a dangerous environment where food shortage was always a risk, while today survival to 50 is very likely, food is abundant, and our typical goal with regards to health is to survive into old age and stay reasonably healthy. It would take a very detailed understanding of nutrition, prehistoric diets etc. to be able to determine the health consequences of diets based on such arguments better than based on empirical observation.

            Given the percentage of deaths stemming from cardiovascular issues, I posit that just about everyone (except maybe some ultra-religious, fasting-heavy types) on the standard diet will eventually be diabetic.

            Not only diabetics get cardiovascular diseases.

            Unless cancer kills them, which is probably also caused by the standard diet, but the mechanism is unclear.

            The validity of the claim is unclear too.

            Protein has about 4 kcal per gram, so that yields a severely hypocaloric diet. You actually need to eat either carbohydrates or fat to make up the energy difference.

            We were talking about weight loss diets. If it’s a low calorie diet, it may be low on both carbohydrates and fats.

            Do your own research, do your own experiments, because your health depends on it.

            Well, the reason I’ve never really delved into the topic is that I have a normal weight, closer to underweight than overweight.

          • Anonymous says:

            @10240

            I know little about what prehistoric humans ate, but others have suggested carbohydrate sources such as fruits or seeds, and I’ve seen claims that popular claims about prehistoric diets made by paleolithic diet people are dubious.

            The mainstream paleo diet is complete bullshit, yes. It takes everything that contemporary hunter-gatherers eat, makes a list, and tells people to pick-and-choose, without regard for traditional methods of preparation, or the actual composition of the diets of individual HG groups. And then there’s the issue that the supposed ‘paleo’ nuts/vegetables/fruits/whatever are cultivars that have been thoroughly bred to have very little in common with the original plant’s composition.

            Hell, even I eat what I could best describe as an imitation paleo diet, because there’s no mammoths anymore, and grassfed stuff is way out of my price range, nevermind the price of wild game meats. But it’s at least closer to the proper human nutrition than anything else.

            Also, our environment and activities are different, as are our goals: the evolutionary goal of prehistoric humans was to reproduce and make it to 50 or so in a dangerous environment where food shortage was always a risk, while today survival to 50 is very likely, food is abundant, and our typical goal with regards to health is to survive into old age and stay reasonably healthy. It would take a very detailed understanding of nutrition, prehistoric diets etc. to be able to determine the health consequences of diets based on such arguments better than based on empirical observation.

            Fair.

            Although as far as missionary records go concerning the deaths of uncivilized Eskimos, they did apparently commonly live to their 80s, contrary to Ancel Keys’ claim that they seldom lived past 50. Of course, as with any primitives, the bulk of their numbers are killed by accidents, violence and infection.

            Not only diabetics get cardiovascular diseases.

            Part of that is because they don’t call pre-diabetes diabetes, even though it’s just the earlier stage of the same illness.

            The validity of the claim is unclear too.

            We’ll see. Back in the XIX and XVIII centuries, when primitive peoples were more common, the various medical professionals serving in the colonies did note the absence of malignancy in primitive peoples, even when the European settlers did get cancer fairly reliably.

            Well, the reason I’ve never really delved into the topic is that I have a normal weight, closer to underweight than overweight.

            If you’re over 40, I would suggest at least a HbA1c test and a CAC scan. Just being thin is no protection. Where about 80% of the obese are metabolically ill, about 40% of normal weight people are also.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      It’s somewhat ironic, because in evidence-based bodybuilding circles the way to lose weight is pretty well known. Summarizing anything is risky, of course, but about 80% of the benefits would be in two pieces of advice: eat a kg a day of vegetables and fruits; and have the occasional day (one at a time) of protein-sparing fast, i.e. eat as little as you can, but include protein.

      I think the problem is not in giving good advice, but in the multitude of existing tips that either don’t work or have limited applicability. Complicated by the fact that average diet is so bad that almost any change leads to some improvement, even something as basic as “drink diet instead of sugar” (which is not bad advice, it’s just… elementary)

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s somewhat ironic, because in evidence-based bodybuilding circles the way to lose weight is pretty well known. Summarizing anything is risky, of course, but about 80% of the benefits would be in two pieces of advice: eat a kg a day of vegetables and fruits; and have the occasional day (one at a time) of protein-sparing fast, i.e. eat as little as you can, but include protein.

        Yeah, bodybuilders are sorta the engineers to the doctors being scientists. But I wouldn’t take too much advice from bodybuilding, because they are optimizing for things other than health. Bodybuilders want to be lean and muscular. Often at any price, including their lifespan.

        I think the problem is not in giving good advice, but in the multitude of existing tips that either don’t work or have limited applicability. Complicated by the fact that average diet is so bad that almost any change leads to some improvement, even something as basic as “drink diet instead of sugar” (which is not bad advice, it’s just… elementary)

        Yes. If you do *exactly opposite* of what the “food pyramid”/”choose my plate”/”live well, eat well” propaganda says, you’ll likely be much healthier than if you were to follow that advice.

    • J Mann says:

      I have heard that some doctors are aware of the actual proper ways to lose weight, but only use it themselves, because if they were recommend it to patients, they’d be investigated by the Inquisition and risk losing their licenses.

      It seems obvious to me that:
      1) Almost any weight loss program works if you do it,
      2) It is difficult for most overweight people to maintain most weight loss programs over time, and
      3) While it is probably that some weight loss plans offer slight improvements in overall compliance or effectiveness, that’s mostly a rounding error in the face of factor (1).

      I’m skeptical that there’s an “actual proper way to lose weight,” beyond (a) picking a healthy weight loss program, (b) doing it, and (c) not quitting.

      More generally, based on my interaction with primary care physicians, most of them seem (a) perfectly happy to suggest behavioral changes to their patients and (b) highly skeptical that the patients will actually succeed in long term behavioral changes.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s not really a “healthy weight loss program”. Losing weight means maintaining poor nutrition: specifically, a shortage of macronutrients.

        Your body is going to signal you about this shortage, and this is going to be felt as hunger or pain or cravings or lightheadedness or any number of other things. Getting around (or through) this is the hardest part. Second hardest is not fooling yourself (i.e. almost anyone trying the “many small meals” thing is going to end up overeating; it’s too hard to track unless you’re literally measuring)

        • Randy M says:

          There’s not really a “healthy weight loss program”. Losing weight means maintaining poor nutrition: specifically, a shortage of macronutrients.

          This seems to be playing terminology games rather than saying anything about reality.
          If you have excess zinc (or whatever) a healthy amount of that nutrient is zero.
          If you have excess fat, a healthy amount is… well, I won’t say zero, but certainly a shortage compared to someone leaner.

          Nutritious is relative to the individual. Since science can’t determine exactly what every individual needs, they issue guidelines. Don’t mistake the map for the territory.

          Your body is going to signal you about this shortage

          Your body’s signals are important to pay attention to, but in some cases may not be calibrated for the environment you find yourself in. In other words, you might be hungry even when overweight because your body suspects food is scarcer than it is, not because it would be healthier to load up.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My body signals me the most about needing to eat more when I am done eating dinner. If I wait 20 minutes, it stops.

          • A1987dM says:

            If you have excess zinc (or whatever) a healthy amount of that nutrient is zero.

            That only sounds plausible to me about nutrients which are soluble in fat but not in water (of which zinc isn’t one), and even for those I wouldn’t be that sure.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know off-hand why that would be; is it because we can’t store the water soluble ones?
            But if so, how could we have an excess?

        • Anonymous says:

          Your body is going to signal you about this shortage, and this is going to be felt as hunger or pain or cravings or lightheadedness or any number of other things. Getting around (or through) this is the hardest part. Second hardest is not fooling yourself (i.e. almost anyone trying the “many small meals” thing is going to end up overeating; it’s too hard to track unless you’re literally measuring)

          Fixing the signals is the key issue. A proper anti-obesity program is one that lets you maintain proper body composition by listening to indicators – “eat” vs “don’t eat”, “drink” vs “don’t drink”, etc. The modern western diet, unfortunately, completely messes up the signals, due to the very high carbohydrate intake, and resulting blood sugar fluctuations… and our silly habit of eating at fixed times of day, instead of whenever you’re hungry.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t really believe it. There’s every reason for us to have evolved a signalling system that is biased towards weight gain (because weight gain in periods of abundance means survival in periods of scarcity). So in condition of constant abundance, one would expect that most people would, by obeying those signals, end up over the weight that is ideal under those circumstances.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fair enough, but I disagree, based on personal experience. The difference in hunger levels between the standard diet and a paleolithic-ketogenic diet is incredible. I eat two meals a day usually, and don’t feel hungry for 6-10 hours in between them.

      • Anonymous says:

        1) Almost any weight loss program works if you do it,
        2) It is difficult for most overweight people to maintain most weight loss programs over time, and

        These two points are in contradiction. There is no point to a weight loss program that doesn’t stick. It’s just torturing yourself. But yes, short term, just about anything works.

        That said, I’m not actually pessimistic here. Nutrition used to be better (not good – better than today), until the government started issuing recommendations based on flimsy evidence. And the people seem to have on average yielded to these recommendations at least partly, which led to the worsening of the general condition of the average Joe. Get rid of the faulty recommendations, or even better, replace them with something actually healthy, and in a few decades, you’ll see some improvement.

        More generally, based on my interaction with primary care physicians, most of them seem (a) perfectly happy to suggest behavioral changes to their patients and (b) highly skeptical that the patients will actually succeed in long term behavioral changes.

        Part of that is because the behavioural changes suggested are a) ineffective, b) difficult and/or c) worse than the disease. Very few people have the determination to long-term follow on something that drains their will and energy, while giving very few, if any, benefits. I can totally believe that Joe Q. Obese, after a round of caloric restriction and exercise, may prefer to just be obese, rather than simulate being in a gulag indefinitely.

        • J Mann says:

          We may not disagree by very much.

          1) Almost any weight loss program works if you do it,
          2) It is difficult for most overweight people to maintain most weight loss programs over time, and

          These two points are in contradiction. There is no point to a weight loss program that doesn’t stick. It’s just torturing yourself. But yes, short term, just about anything works.

          They are in conflict certainly.

          I’d generalize it to (a) almost any weight loss program will work short term and (b) almost no weight loss program works long term. (And there is no voluntary weight loss program known to work long term).

          My personal theory is that losing weight is like quitting smoking. If you really want to do it, you basically need to keep trying and try to build a strategy that works for you. (Pharma helps with quitting smoking – with any luck, we’ll get there for weight loss soon).

  15. Nornagest says:

    How come the Eastern Orthodox are the only people with good aesthetics?

    I don’t know, but a friend of mine keeps trying to convince me to go to an Orthodox church with her. Neither of us are Orthodox. My running theory is that they put something in the incense.

  16. AlphaGamma says:

    While Aspy is perhaps the best first name I’ve seen with it, Engineer isn’t a particularly uncommon Parsi surname- for instance, there was a famous cricketer named Farokh Engineer.

    In general, Parsi surnames can be excellent because they adopted them relatively late- and often in English- so they have a different set of occupation-based surnames. See also Nari Contractor (another cricketer), Gary Lawyer (a singer), etc.

    • J says:

      So basically you’re saying that Aspy Engineer’s name comes from Parsi, a language in which one may reliably deconstruct its identifiers to gain semantic meaning.

    • Rachael says:

      Cool, that’s really interesting. It’s entertaining that they sound so unusual when logically they’re no different from traditional occupation surnames like Smith, Wright and Cooper.
      I assume those surnames were adopted sometime in the 20th century. I wonder if some of the cultures which still don’t have surnames will adopt occupational surnames in the digital age, leading to surnames like Blogger, YouTuber or Spammer.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Thanks, I was wondering what sort of Indian community adopted surnames late and in English. I don’t think it’s normative among Parsis, though: sample surnames that jump to mind include Gandhi (Prime Minister Nehru married his daughter to a Parsi thus surnamed, presumably on the theory that it would help win elections) and Bulsara (Freddie Mercury’s family – sorry Queen fans, his ancestors didn’t have the occupation “Roman deity”).

      • Protagoras says:

        Many cultures historically had long periods during which aristocrats had surnames but commoners did not. I don’t know if the Parsis were an example of that, but the frequency of that pattern means that famous people with surnames are not strong evidence that surnames are widespread in their culture.

      • JulieK says:

        I think a lot of Parsis have surnames in the form X-walla, where X is something they make or sell.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Occupations aren’t the only source of Parsi surnames. Bulsara means that Freddie Mercury’s family had an ancestor from the town of Bulsar (also known as Valsad, in Gujarat).

        Gandhi is simply a common Gujarati surname- some Parsis adopted surnames from the surrounding non-Parsi population. Although Indira’s husband Feroze Ghandi initially spelled his name Ghandy, and changed the spelling later in life.

    • albatross11 says:

      Yeah, I saw a doctor whose last name was Contractor a few times.

    • bullseye says:

      I had a neighbor named Merchant, which I thought was strange because her father is from India. Then I saw this and thought, “oh, he must be a Parsi”. But he’s Muslim. Are there other Indian ethnic groups with English last names?

  17. doug1943 says:

    Stop it!!!! This &%$&*^$& site is intellectual cocaine!!!! All those interesting links!!!! And the intelligent discussion!!! I’ve got exams to write, and my tax return is due tomorrow!!!! I’m going Cold Turkey on this site for …. well … a few days.

  18. simbalimsi says:

    Levels of racism throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

    This is levels of racism against black people. I wonder what the result would be if the question was instead for example Afghan or Syrian.

  19. simbalimsi says:

    The big story in polling this month is the NPR poll showing Trump has a higher approval rating among Latinos than whites. Margin of error is enough to even these out but still not enough to rescue the standard racial narrative. This of course contradicts several previous polls (though all of those were pre-shutdown and the shutdown has changed a lot), as well as conflicting with the same poll’s observation that whites are still more likely to vote for Trump if they get a chance. Some good comments (scattered among many awful ones, as usual) from Marginal Revolution.

    I find this quite normal rational human behaviour with regards to economy (and seen it in other countries but similar contexts). A new latino immigrant causes job loss pressure not on random whites but on other latino immigrants who just made it there. All that screaming from right wing whites about latinos taking away their jobs is actually latinos taking away jobs from others. A counterpoint is, if the established latino doesn’t lose the job to the newcomers, they might actually promote to manage them. Still, from a job safety perspective, this result is not surprising for me.

  20. liskantope says:

    Aw, I glanced at the title and for a moment got my hopes up that it would be a linkpost linking entirely to linguistics articles, which (as far as I see) not a single one is. 🙁

    Guess the wordplay for “link” had to get around to the lingu- root sooner or later.

  21. Levantine says:

    Entertaining links, and I notice that you strangely lost an interest in the Cuban embassy sonic attacks mystery.

  22. RalMirrorAd says:

    Related: when a vital Bay Area highway collapsed and everyone freaked out about not being able to get to San Francisco…

    What immediately comes to mind is the issue that if public officials strictly prioritize ‘fast and cheap’ You would end up with a paradigm where infrastructure projects built are fast and recklessly and constantly need repairing. The person who pays for the road has to have some basic understanding of whether a contract that’s submitted is feasible or safe. The saving grace here may have been the contractor’s prior reputation. But i can imagine a similar approach to buildings resulting in quickly-build but not long-lasting roads and bridges.

    The only useful commentary on Gillette’s controversial mid-January commercial

    I hope this stuff is true. Just as I hope there is some regulatory or market mechanism based explanation for why Disney or Electronic Arts, or Nike or Dicks sporting goods or Twitter or PayPal would seemingly leave money on the table in order to take a firm side in the culture war.

    Because rather frightening to think it’s solely a function of some “Gramsci’s long march” making its way to the business sector.

  23. Thomas says:

    So the US has, since 2000 fewer beds, doctors and nurses per capita with rising demand. And prices are higher. Sounds like normal economics. Plus, our administration costs are higher.

    The hospital I work at recently built a new building. They had to spend years arguing with the state and fighting off legal challenges from other nearby hospitals to get permission to build. And at that, they did not get permission to add new beds. So we split the current hospital in half, closed part of the old building down and built the new building. I wonder what the process is in other countries. Is it normal to have to get the permission of competitors and the state to build a hospital?

    • Aapje says:

      I don’t think that ‘normal’ exists in a meaningful way when it comes to this.

      In The Netherlands, it seems to be similar to building for private non-profit organizations: typically the party that wants to build something goes to the bank for financing, makes sure that the land is zoned for the activity (or gets the zoning changed), tries to gets subsidies where possible, gets the government to build roads and other infrastructure, etc. Presumably, some or all of the insurance companies need to give their go ahead to ensure that the hospital will actually have clients or the bank will say: njet.

    • howanitz says:

      I don’t think you can really think clearly about healthcare costs in the US, which certainly has issues with top heavy administrations in many levels, without considering how the majority of people get healthcare insurance (through their job) and how that creates perverse incentives and prevents a true free market.

      Two quick examples:

      1) If I am not happy with my doctor, I can fire him, and go to another doctor. I also have easy choices with hospitals and clinics, as well as pharmacies. I have no recourse if I don’t like my insurance company if I don’t wish to leave my job.

      2) Recent news item – it has been illegal for pharmacists to tell customers they can get a better deal on their meds by NOT using their insurance benefits. Companies were getting kick-backs from the pharmacy companies for overcharging customers. Example given at end of show – producer was paying $283/month for medicine; found out it only cost $40/month for same medicine at Costco if he did not use SelectAccount.

    • johan_larson says:

      That sounds sort of like how things were in the airline industry before deregulation. If you wanted to serve a certain route you needed to prove to the government that the route served a need. You couldn’t just start flying the route to test the market.

      As I understand it, you don’t have to do that anymore. There’s still plenty of regulation in how you run an airline, but you don’t need permission to serve a specific route. For heavily-used airports, you may need to buy landing slots, though.

    • rcafdm says:

      I’m going to respond to this paper on my blog later, but I thought I’d take moment to respond to some points raised here…..

      So the US has, since 2000 fewer beds….with rising demand

      The length of hospital stays has been falling throughout the OECD and the US, in particularly, has shifted towards outpatient procedures. Although I maintain the demand for healthcare has increased dramatically with rising (household) incomes, demand for beds clearly decreased in the US and the vast majority of other developed countries over the past several decades. Indeed, despite rapid increases in spending, inpatient activity hasn’t increased appreciably in most developed countries, and appears to be mostly driven by idiosyncratic factors ( r ~=0 with health spending )

      doctors…

      Physician density has increased in the US and doesn’t appear to be that different from the likes of Canada, UK, etc. Physician density is associated with somewhat higher spending cross-sectionally, but not so much in time series and it, along with other oft cited measures, are thoroughly mediated in multiple regression by other measures like income, consumption, technology, etc. I don’t think it’s a good indicator of volume (quantity) of health consumption generally because countries tend to augment physician labor differently (non-physicians practicing in traditional physician areas, technology, assistants, paraprofessionals, administration, etc).

      nurses per capita with rising demand

      Nurse density has also increased and is actually above the OECD average.

      And prices are higher

      The relative price of healthcare increases with incomes and OECD data indicates our healthcare prices are comparable to other very high income countries. Setting aside potential unmeasured quality improvements, all of the major domestic price indices indicate the health share of GDP would have actually decreased in the long run had demand stayed the same, i.e., they all imply the quantity of health consumption is rising faster than incomes. It’s also clear the increase in compensation for physicians, nurses, or even the industry as a whole explains basically nothing (health share of employment has increased rapidly and the average health wage is at the national average today).

      ~RCA

    • Cliff says:

      Many states still have “certificate of need” laws that require you to get competitor approval (essentially) to build any medical facility. Many states have also repealed these laws, which used to be mandated. The only argument in their favor is that it encourages building in rural areas with low access, since you can’t build anywhere else, but evidence doesn’t seem to really bear this out.

    • Winja says:

      So far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there’s nothing normal about the economics of the healthcare industry. It’s fucked up regulations, backwards incentives, and utterly opaque pricing signals all the way down.

  24. Anon. says:

    What’s the state of the evidence on the obesity – everything horrible connection? How do studies determine causality, since presumably you can’t get IRB approval or funding to make people fat?

    • Anonymous says:

      Obesity is the body’s way of mitigating high blood sugar (which is texic) caused by a diet rich in carbohydrates. As long as the pancreas isn’t yet shot, insulin will be produced, excess glucose removed from the bloodstream, and packed into cells either directly or as fatty acids. OTOH, you can be metabolically healthy and obese, it’s just not likely. The ability to get fat is quite limited without carbohydrates.

      • Anonymous says:

        *toxic

        Fukn’ calculator.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Minor nitpick – you can and will get fat on any diet that has too many calories, even pure protein. So the proportion of carbs likely isn’t the cause – it’s the sheer quantity of carbs. We’re built to eat half a kg of vegetables with a bit of meat. Now we’re eating half of kg of refined carbs that have 3 to 10 times the caloric density for the exactly same meal, satiety-wise. And that’s without dipping it in oil.

        • Anonymous says:

          Minor nitpick – you can and will get fat on any diet that has too many calories, even pure protein.

          On pure protein, you will die. Humans don’t have unlimited gluconeogenesis capacity, like felids, and require exogenous fatty acids as well. This is a well known phenomenon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_poisoning

          So the proportion of carbs likely isn’t the cause – it’s the sheer quantity of carbs.

          My direct experience contradicts this. It looks to me like the mere presence of carbs, particularly fructose, in an overcaloric diet is the trigger for an order of magnitude more energy storage. Among the many diets I’ve tried, two are instructive:
          1. The overcaloric all-meat diet, about 60% fat/40% protein. Weight gain was about +0.3kg per week.
          2. As above, except I added one apple and one onion per day. Weight gain was about +3.4kg per week.

          We’re built to eat half a kg of vegetables with a bit of meat.

          No, we’re built to eat primarily animal fat and meat, possibly with a side of nearly-indigestible vegetables. Check how human digestive tracts compare to actual herbivores (foregut and hindgut types) and obligate carnivores. You will find that humans have digestive systems optimized for highly carnivorous nutrition.
          https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Comparisons-of-digestive-tract-anatomy-It-can-be-seen-that-the-human-digestive-tract-is_fig1_276660672
          http://www.paleodiet.com/comparison.html

          Now we’re eating half of kg of refined carbs that have 3 to 10 times the caloric density for the exactly same meal, satiety-wise. And that’s without dipping it in oil.

          Yes. This is very bad. Especially if the oil is a seed oil.

          • Anon. says:

            Maybe your anecdotal evidence is not very reliable?

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, how dare I actually test theoretical concepts in practice?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            On any “just one macro” diet you will die, long term. Incidentally, different time-frames is why vegan diet is so popular – on a weeks/months timeframe you feel better, then the deficits start to show up.

            > My direct experience contradicts this.

            I’m… skeptic. Plural of anecdote is not data etc. But there is a possible explanation – a completely zero-carb diet leads to a lot less water retention. That’s why Atkins was successful – in a couple of weeks you lose A LOT of water-weight. Another interesting fact: a common trick in bodybuilding contest prep is to manipulate the glicogen content in the muscles, first by glicogen depletion (no carbs for a few days, a couple of hellish workours) and eating a lot of carbs immediately after. Glicogen drags a lot of water with it, thus a lot of weight. And apple doesn’t seem much, but it may be the extra water that makes the difference.

          • Cliff says:

            An apple a day is not going to make you fat. What you were experiencing is malnutrition from an all meat/fat diet which makes you lose weight. The apple allowed you to gain weight because it removed some of the extreme malnutrition. Yes you can eat all ice cream and you will lose weight. Check the guy with the Twinkie diet, he lost plenty of weight eating only Twinkies.

          • Anonymous says:

            On any “just one macro” diet you will die, long term. Incidentally, different time-frames is why vegan diet is so popular – on a weeks/months timeframe you feel better, then the deficits start to show up.

            Correct. Protein and fat is required. Carbs are optional.

            Plural of anecdote is not data etc. But there is a possible explanation – a completely zero-carb diet leads to a lot less water retention.

            That does not explain why I had gained several centimeters in my waist, unless you’re saying that this water will concentrate around the belly. The difference was noticeable; trousers started to be tight.

            An apple a day is not going to make you fat. What you were experiencing is malnutrition from an all meat/fat diet which makes you lose weight. The apple allowed you to gain weight because it removed some of the extreme malnutrition.

            No.

          • caryatis says:

            It amazes me how often I see SSC commentators citing personal anecdotes as conclusive evidence. It’s not that your experience is worthless, but how you approach the question “Should I do X” should be different from how you approach the question “Should most people do X,” which in turn should differ from how you approach the question “How does X work anyway?”

          • Anonymous says:

            It amazes me how often I see SSC commentators citing personal anecdotes as conclusive evidence. It’s not that your experience is worthless, but how you approach the question “Should I do X” should be different from how you approach the question “Should most people do X,” which in turn should differ from how you approach the question “How does X work anyway?”

            It really shouldn’t. That’s basic human nature, and absent any canines in disguise, we’re all human here.

            That said. I do have good reasons for all three of these questions. But I don’t always have time to write multi-page essays about insulin metabolism – and I unfortunately don’t have a hait of meticulously cataloguing sources of information I learn from, I just move on to the next lecture/study/book, and refinding the exact tidbits needed is a chore. I find “I experimented with this and this was the result” to be entirely adequate a response in lieu of that.

            (The mechanism for carb-enabled obesity is simple: You eat carbs, your insulin spikes a lot, you go into excess storage mode. You don’t eat carbs, your insulin spikes a lot less, you store much less. But that probably has approximately zero meaning to anyone who isn’t at least nutrition hobbyist.)

          • caryatis says:

            @Anonymous Do you understand how powerful the placebo effect can be? Do you understand that it’s possible that, even if you think you’ve held all aspects of your own life other than your diet constant, you might be wrong? Do you understand that, even if the mechanism you postulate works exactly the way you think it does for you, other people may operate differently?

          • Anonymous says:

            @caryatis

            Do you understand how powerful the placebo effect can be?

            I’m frankly skeptical that placebo effects are real.

            Do you understand that it’s possible that, even if you think you’ve held all aspects of your own life other than your diet constant, you might be wrong?

            Yes.

            Do you understand that, even if the mechanism you postulate works exactly the way you think it does for you, other people may operate differently?

            Only if other people are lizardmen in skinsuits.

          • Cliff says:

            I’m frankly skeptical that placebo effects are real.

            Then you must be a HUGE fan of oxygenated water

        • The Nybbler says:

          We’re built to eat half a kg of vegetables with a bit of meat.

          Certainly not vegetables. Most of them are indigestible to us without significant processing, and most of the ones that aren’t were bred that way by us. Fruits, maybe… but fruits are notorious for containing fructose.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Hunter gatherer means mostly gathering, with the occasional protein windfall. We’ve spread through Europe, which means we did a lot of digging and scraping – fruits aren’t really in season all year long here.

          • Cliff says:

            Vegetables can easily be digested by cooking or grinding and have been for tens of thousands of years at least.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Lists food sources for four different hunter-gatherer groups:

            https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/

            Three of the four got half their diet from meat, and the remaining one had nuts and seeds, not green or root vegetables, as their major food source.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hunter gatherer means mostly gathering, with the occasional protein windfall. We’ve spread through Europe, which means we did a lot of digging and scraping – fruits aren’t really in season all year long here.

            Fruits are indeed not in season. And they were doubly so not in season 30ky ago, when humans were already spread throughout Europe, still during the Ice Age. There isn’t nearly enough digestible plant matter in subarctic climates to provide even a remotely significant part of a pre-agricultural human’s diet. Nevermind that outside of the tropics, fruits were not the sugar bombs that we are accustomed to today.

            The Nybbler is quite right – hunter-gatherers tend strongly to rely on hunting if their environment supports it. This can obviously change, such as it had to when we have hunted the various megafauna into extinction. Fueling our large brains, which developed before the advent of fire use, requires a lot of energy. Animal fat provides that energy. And the larger an animal is – the more body fat percentage it tends to have, so it’s entirely rational to hunt the big ones first. I expect that paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate even more meat than contemporaries, because they had access to more.

            https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/in-a-few-centuries-cows-could-be-the-largest-land-animals-left/558323/

            https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/71/3/682/4729121

          • caryatis says:

            @Nybbler: from your article:

            >The Hiwi [tribe with high-meat diet] are not particularly healthy. Compared to the Ache, a hunter–gatherer tribe in Paraguay, the Hiwi are shorter, thinner, more lethargic and less well nourished. Hiwi men and women of all ages constantly complain of hunger. Many Hiwi are heavily infected with parasitic hookworms, which burrow into the small intestine and feed on blood. And only 50 percent of Hiwi children survive beyond the age of 15.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Hiwi are unhealthy compared to the Aché. However, the Aché also get most of their calories from meat. Humans being somehow built for eating mostly vegetables just doesn’t make sense, unless this building has happened _very_ recently.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Wasn’t really trying to start a discussion on vegetables vs meat here. If I were to have an opinion, I’d say it depends heavily on particulars, with extremes like the Eskimo eating more fat than anything else.

            But saying we’re meat eaters that occasionally eat a fruit is… huge retconning. Everything I know on the subject says that in most societies, gathering makes a pretty big part of the daily callories. We’re very much not meat eaters with a sweet tooth for dates – are you guys seriously saying that?

            Of course you can find examples for anything, because we’re extremely omnivorous. But saying that we can’t really digest carrots is pushing it a bit.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Everything I know on the subject says that in most societies, gathering makes a pretty big part of the daily callories.

            I just gave you four examples otherwise, and one where the main calorie source was nuts and seeds.

            The wild carrot is edible but not very nutritious.

          • Nornagest says:

            I can’t be bothered to dig up my source right now (it’s different than OP’s, though), but the last time I looked into this I found a survey of a couple dozen different contemporary forager cultures that had them getting anywhere from 30-70% of their calories from animal sources if you throw the Inuit and their cultural relatives out as an obvious outlier. The average, IIRC, was about 55-60%. None of them were anywhere close to vegetarian.

            Part of the confusion is that “gathering” in a lot of places includes animal sources, like snails, insects, and clams, so it can be simultaneously true that a culture gets most of its calories from gathering and that it subsists on a meat-based diet.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Ok, let’s accept those facts. They’re mostly anecdote, but so be it. The upper limit I’ve seen in this conversation is 70% meat, right? A google suggests game comes with 120-180 cals/100g. A bit of a google suggests calories for vegetables go around 12 to 30. It’s debatable how many starches they had access to before agriculture, and also how many calories they had. For fruit, google isn’t super friendly either, but I’m not going to include the 80cals/100g that modern banana have. Let’s put a somewhat arbitrary upper limit for vegs and fruits of 40cals/100g.

            Taking averages, we have 150 cals for meat and 30 per veggies. To keep a 70-30 calories split, you need to eat twice as much vegetables as meat, by weight. By volume, probably more.

            I stand by my assertion. We are very much not carnivores with a sweet tooth for dates. Even in the best hunting environments, we’d still eat more vegetables by weight. At least until agriculture manage to pack more calories in carbs, which is kindof why we have the whole diet issue.

  25. ilikekittycat says:

    RE: the growing number of poorly explained animal apocalypses that are part of life on Earth in the 2010s – what’s missing in your neck of the woods?

    In the Southwest it’s horny toads (little miniature dinosaur looking things that shoot blood out of their eyes to try to distract you into dropping them.) If you asked me in 1989 I could have gone into the scrub behind my house and found one in 15 minutes, and they were very popular things to catch amongst boys because they were so “gross.”

    I haven’t seen one in the wild in probably a decade.

    • Cerastes says:

      Very likely linked to the insect decline. They’re obligate ant specialist, and you can only keep them alive more than 6 months in captivity if you supplement their food with formic acid.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I’ve been told (have no citations) that it’s because of the rise of fire ants in their territory. I’d assume that somehow the fire ants were actively killing the horny toads, but maybe it’s just that the fire ants have a sufficient defense against them.

        Either way, I wonder if the rise of fire ants in the south is a counterexample to the overall declining insect narrative.

    • Chlopodo says:

      Have you asked people who are the same age now that you were in 1989 how often they see them?

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Yes. This whole thing has been an on-again-off-again multi-year effort with my young nephew to learn about whats in the desert. We’ve found a gila monster and a red racer, which are fairly uncommon reptiles, but he still thought I had exaggerated the horny toad until he figured out Youtube and saw one

    • Phigment says:

      Anecdote here, from East Texas:

      It’s fire ants. A while back, fire ants started taking over everything, and drove a lot of different species into obscurity.

      A few years ago, the fire ants got the stuffing kicked out of them. My understanding is that the fine people at Texas A&M have been conducting biological warfare upon them, but I can’t really back that up.

      In any case, at my ancestral family farm in East Texas, the fire ants suddenly went all but extinct, and shortly afterwards a whole lot of other species started showing up in large numbers again.

      Red ants, especially, have moved in and made themselves right at home, forming enormous colonies all over the place and generally making a mess; they’re much more into giant, sprawling constructions than the fire fire ants were. (I still like the red ants better.)

      However, beyond the red ants, I’m seeing lots of other critters; scorpions are making a comeback, and I’ve seen a number of horny toads in recent years, compared to zero in the previous decades.

      Not sure whether the fire ants were killing the horny toads, or the horny toads can eat red ants but not fire ants, or what, but it’s been a pretty startling transformation. And cool.

    • erinexa says:

      I wrote a final herpetology paper on this, and just went back and read it to refresh my memory. Anecdote and correlation supports the fire ants eating the other ants problem, and it’s 100% true that fire ants wipe out other insect species both through competition and predation. But what’s really interesting about horny toads is that there’s no evidence that they can’t just eat the fire ants instead. Limited experiments show that they don’t actually choose a single species of ants, they just eat the biggest ants they can find. At the time (2012) it was still A Mystery as to what was preventing them from just adapting to a new perfectly good food source.

  26. In regard to the “puppy mill” law, government supported foster care is a rapidly growing and important part of adolescent and child sex trafficking. My guess is the law will work for a short while until corruption sets in.

    • Murphy says:

      Citation? Beyond foster kids just having a higher rate of abuse in general. You seem to be allegeding some kind of organized US government supported child sex trafficking ring.

      • ana53294 says:

        I understood the OP saying that the financial incentives and the setup of the current foster system encourage abusers/dishonest people to become foster parents.

        He was not saying that the US Government was running a child sex trafficking ring.

  27. Murphy says:

    >Excited about someone trying to extend this to college admissions.

    This is sort of the case for *some* college admissions in Ireland.

    Under the CAO system students apply to courses, admissions are based on points scored in end-of-highschool exams. Places are allocated in order of points scored. For the last few places there’s often a few people with the exact same points, in which case it’s allocated randomly between them.

  28. onyomi says:

    Wait, why are puppy mills evil? Doesn’t this amount to just saying dog breeding is evil?

    • TooDamnSexy says:

      The term is historically used to mean places where dogs are bred en masse in substandard conditions and it’s thus an animal welfare argument.

    • AppetSci says:

      The 2008 BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed paints pedigree dog breeding as pretty evil. Selecting for certain pedigree traits that can carry congenital disorders, such as deafness and hip problems to breathing problems and epilepsy. An interesting documentary.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There’s a difference between breeding animals with unhealthy traits vs. mistreating the animals you’ve got.

        My impression is that you just can’t make money from breeding purebred animals, so you need to buy from someone who has a different source of income.

        My opinion is that shows for purebred animal shows are one of those things people do to make each other crazy.

        • Randy M says:

          There’s a difference between breeding animals with unhealthy traits vs. mistreating the animals you’ve got.

          Do you mean morally? What would that be?

          Kick a dog, and he hurts for a day.
          Breed a dog with a bum hip, and he hurts for a lifetime.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      One possible outcome I can imagine that might be “bad” is an increase in pit bull ownership as a large fraction of rescue dogs are put bulls or pit bull mixes even when listed as other dog types by the rescue org.

      • acymetric says:

        There are an awful lot of people who would disagree that this is “bad”, except in the sense that people who are bad at owning dogs shouldn’t own any breed of dog to begin with, which this does not change.

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          There are a lot of people who have the opinion you mention, and most pit bulls can be great dogs. The problem with pit bulls is they were originally bred for fighting, so when they fight, they tend to be particularly good at it. They aren’t more inclined to do it than a Chihuahua, however when they do the outcome is likely to be different.

          that people who are bad at owning dogs shouldn’t own any breed of dog to begin with, which this does not change.

          There is a difference between owning a dog like a rottweiler, German Shepard, or pit bull and a golden retriever or a lab. Someone who is bad at owning and controlling a fighting dog could do fine with the later. Different dog breeds can have radically different tempermants and fighting abilities.

        • Windward says:

          As someone who’s volunteered in dog rescue on and off for the last decade (and who got attacked by a pit bull under other circumstances) the way I think about it is this: people who are likely to want a “tough” or “mean” or “scary” dog are, for current cultural trend reasons, more likely to get a pit bull than a labrador. Because of this, if I’m looking down a row of kennels at the animal shelter, the pit types have a higher probability of Tragic and Messed Up Backstory and/or Ancestry than the retrievers do. If we all decided that Great Pyrenees were scary, we’d probably have an upswing in the population of vicious Great Pyrenees dogs and news articles about their depredations.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      My understanding (sorry if I’m mistaken) is that puppy mills optimize the production of puppies. If market research shows that (numbers made up) you can sell best puppies between 3 and 8 weeks and you have a total windows space of X puppies across your clients, with sales of Y per week, you will breed so that the windows are always stocked – regardless of how much extra puppies or expired puppies you get. And you end up with some pretty horrific statistics, like 3 dead puppies per puppy sold.

      Breeders may occasionally have the same problem, and may or may not resort to euthanasia to solve it, but generally the ration should be below 1:1 or a lot less.

      • At a slight tangent, “rescue” nonprofits have the problem as well. The following is from my Law’s Order.

        Some time back, my children decided that they wanted kittens, so we took a trip to the local Humane Society. It was an interesting experience. We ended up spending several hours waiting in line to receive one of a small number of permissions to “adopt” a pet, filling out forms, and then being interviewed by a Humane Society employee to make sure we were suitable adopters.

        What was puzzling about the experience is that kittens are a good in excess supply. The Humane Society has more of them (and of cats, puppies, and dogs) than it can find homes for and, although it does not like to say so, routinely kills surplus animals. Rationing goods in excess supply is not usually a problem. Yet the Humane Society was deliberately making it costly, in time and effort, to adopt a kitten, and trying to select which lucky people got to do so, despite their knowledge that the alternative to being adopted was not another adoption but death. Why?

        Part of the answer was that they gave out only seven adoption permits in each two-hour interval because that was as many as they could process, given a limited staff and the requirement that each adopter be suitably checked and instructed. But that raises a second question. Since they did not have enough staff to process everyone who came, why insist on extensive interviews? Better owners are no doubt superior, from the standpoint of a kitten, to worse owners, but almost any owner is better than being killed, which was the alternative.

        So far as I could tell, the only real function of the process was to make the employees feel important and powerful, handing out instructions and boons to humble petitioners. That suspicion was reinforced when the woman interviewing us insisted very strongly that cats should never be permitted outdoors, stopping just short of implying that if we would not promise to keep our new pets indoors, she would not let us have them. On further questioning, it turned out that she did not apply that policy to her own cat.

        We left the center petless, obtained two kittens from a friend (and very fine cats they have become), and I wrote an unhappy letter to the local newspaper with a copy to the Humane Society. The result was a long phone conversation with one of the women running the shelter. She explained that there were two models for such shelters: one in which animals were given out on a more or less no-questions-asked basis and one involving the sort of “adoption procedures” I had observed. When pressed on the fact that the real effect of her shelter’s policy was to discourage adoptions and thus kill animals that might otherwise have lived, she responded that if they followed the alternative policy, nobody would be willing to work for the shelter, since employees would feel they were treating the animals irresponsibly. That struck me as a kinder version of the explanation I had already come up with.

        • Murphy says:

          I think you’re going a little too far towards the assumption of homo-economicus there.

          People get emotionally attached to the kittens they’ve helped care for in a shelter. Also young, cute and emotionally stable kittens are also in high demand but they have an extreme excess of flea-bitten old bad-tempered moggies.

          If they can get people to accept older cats as some kind of compromise by first getting them to commit time and effort then that’s what they’ll do.

          Similar to you we got sick of the process and found some non-shelter kittens on offer for few quid (probably just enough to discourage people who are looking for snake food) from a family who hadn’t spayed their cat early enough.

          Generally they seemed better socialized and healthier than the hissing little monsters we saw in the shelters.

        • Winja says:

          “So far as I could tell, the only real function of the process was to make the employees feel important and powerful, handing out instructions and boons to humble petitioners.”

          Given that most animal rescue organizations are largely run by bored doctor’s wives looking for something to do beyond sitting at home day drinking Chardonnay, this is basically a forgone conclusion.

        • Windward says:

          I’m not saying that it *isn’t* that, but I think that animal rescue groups (like a lot of other well-intentioned organizations) have a dis-affinity to accepting the “good” (let alone the “okay”) over the “ideal.”

          I will say, though, that this is probably location-dependent; I know places hereabouts where I could go and buy a shelter dog for $20 and spare it from its fate. (Only practicality prevents me from carrying out this plan regularly tbh.)

          But as far as I can tell, that tends to be the divide between the “rescue group” and the “animal shelter.” The former is a charity, and the latter is a government agency.

    • Cerastes says:

      Think of it like factory farms vs “traditional/idealized” farms. In both cases, animals are bred for a purpose (food or pets), but the former uses economies of scale to mass-produce far beyond demand with no concern for welfare.

      The other angle is that there’s a limited number of homes, and bred dogs take up room from adopted pets. IME, truly ethical dog breeders (and I know a fair few) make a tiny impact on this because, due to genuinely caring about the animals and their welfare, they’re necessarily restricted to a small output (the biggest I know produced less than 2 dozen dogs a year, and had a 30 acre property for them with kennels and runs bigger than my house). Plus many price their animals far above rescue fees, and none sell to chain petstores. They’re such a small market share they won’t substantially depress the number of rescues (plus all the ones that I know have a “we’ll take the dog back if you ever need to rehome it” policy).

      • onyomi says:

        Think of it like factory farms vs “traditional/idealized” farms.

        If I’m understanding the law correctly it sounds more like groceries being allowed only allowed to sell the meat of animals that died of natural causes, but not animals that were bred to be meat.

      • Murphy says:

        Got a dog a couple years ago, unusual breed with the traits we were after.

        What astounded me was how few of the well-bred ones end up in rescues. They have a breed rescue linked to the breed club. We asked the breeders about it. They laughed.

        …It’s had 2 dogs from the breed since 1983.

        We were having trouble even getting a puppy until we dropped by one of their events. it was only after they’d met us face to face that we got a few breeders emailing back to let us know they’d have puppies.

        They’re protective of their pups and ,remarkably, seem to know almost all the lines such that if you name mom and dad they know which are cousins off the top of their heads.

        Meanwhile if I wanted a bull-breed that’s “softer than you think” … that definitely didn’t end up in a rescue over aggression issues those are stacked to the rafters in every rescue in the country.

  29. bean says:

    Re automation of tasks, a strong case can be made that we’re already way over 90%, without any AI at all. At one point, the vast majority of the population had to work as farmers. That’s down to a tiny fraction today. If that doesn’t get us to 90%, we can look at things like automation in manufacturing and IT.
    So I’m very much with you. They definitely need to be clearer about their baseline, and how they’re measuring things.

    • Winja says:

      I recently read the book “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome” and at one point the author points out that Patrician types would have needed a number of slaves just to make a multi-course meal because everything had to be done by hand.

      With the advent of electricity and things like toasters, blenders, cuisinarts, etc. the preparation of a meal that required the labor of a small team in the ancient world can now be done by one or two people.

  30. Nick says:

    How come the Eastern Orthodox are the only people with good aesthetics?

    Scott do not even get me started.

    Also, I think Babylon Bee has successfully broken the “no conservative humor outlet is ever actually funny” curse.

    I think their headlines are consistently hilarious, and the articles themselves only sometimes. Still, they’re way better written than, say, Eye of the Tiber’s.

  31. DutLinx says:

    I very much disagree on the worries over Whatsapp’s recent change. From what I can tell, it seems like the best way to curb malicious actors while not interfering with everyone else’s ability to communicate.

    Remember these “five recipients” can include groups and that these groups can reach 256 members. That means you can still reach a lot of people if you are in a group with them. You just can’t reach thousands or millions of almost-strangers who don’t want to receive your messages.

    • rlms says:

      Yes, the news-of-dubious-veracity in question here is “this outsider in our village kidnaps children, let’s lynch him” which seems a lot more deserving of censorship (given that the lynchings do happen) than “Hillary Clinton kidnaps children” or other central examples of news-of-dubious-veracity.

  32. jefftk says:

    finds that doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough, recommends educating doctors on the need to do this

    All the study seems to show is that people aren’t being told to lose weight and exercise more? But this doesn’t tell us they would be healthier if they were told that. I’d love to see randomization here, where some doctors are told to push this harder than they otherwise would and we see if that helps. My expectation is this wouldn’t help: almost everyone responds to doctors telling them to lose weight by not doing anything, and being pushy about it probably makes people pay less attention to their doctors overall.

    This recommendation is based on the idea that people should lose weight and so doctors should tell them to do so, but it’s missing the links between “tell them to” and “they try to”, and from “they try to” to “they succeed”.

  33. Jaskologist says:

    Also, I think Babylon Bee has successfully broken the “no conservative humor outlet is ever actually funny” curse.

    Back in the 90s when talk radio was dominated by Rush Limbaugh and conservatives in general, the question was “why can’t liberals manage to be funny?” The failed attempt that was Air America Radio bolstered that talking point.

    Then Jon Stewart rose to fame, and people started asking the opposite. And now we’re getting tired of his acolytes, so I guess this is just one of those cyclical things.

  34. johan_larson says:

    How come the Eastern Orthodox are the only people with good aesthetics?

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with that. I mean, when you’re outdoing the ancien regime and the Vatican in the elaborate and ornate you may have gone a step too far.

    • Deiseach says:

      For all the aesthetic horrors that Vatican II inflicted on the Church, I have to admit I’m glad they brought back the Gothic chasuble because I don’t much like the fiddle-back design. I was happy with Benedict’s attempt to re-institute somewhat, by rolling back a bit, changes to the liturgy and vestments. Though the cappa magna may be a bit much?

      Of course, that’s all gone by the wayside again with Francis, but mostly I think the Orthodox got it right by not changing a whole heap after the first millenium 😀

      I grew up with a newpaper photo, framed and hung on the bedroom wall, of Paul VI at his coronation wearing the fanon seated on the sedia gestatoria (the identical photo to this, actually), which probably coloured my view of the matter 🙂

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The aesthetics of the Renaissance Catholic Church are obviously superior to anything the Orthodox have. The Orthodox advantage is not changing, which was bound to make their churches aesthetically superior as Western art changed in horrible ways.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Didn’t know what the sedia gestatoria was – turns out it was replaced before my lifetime by the far less classy sounding Popemobile.

        In 2002, Pope John Paul II requested that the media stop referring to the car as the popemobile, saying that the term was “undignified”

        Well, he wasn’t wrong, but given that that’s still the name of the Wikipedia article, I guess he wasn’t able to make anything else stick.

  35. JulieK says:

    I wasn’t able to open the article on healthcare costs.
    Re “the same things cost more,” how precisely do you define “same things?”
    I’m currently visiting NY from Israel, unfortunately to help my mother with a health issue, so in the past two weeks I’ve visited a lot of (middle classes suburban) health care offices, and they seem to be spending more money on the same things than a typical Israeli clinic – more spacious, carpets and comfortable chairs in the waiting rooms, etc. I think private hospital rooms are a lot more common in the US than in Israel – just counting hospital beds wouldn’t show that.

    • rcafdm says:

      International price indices typically do not account for that sort of thing (room size, privacy, etc) and most of the oft-cited international price comparisons lack even a semblance of rigor. IMO these qualitative/experiential differences likely do contribute something to higher relative prices for healthcare in the developed world. There has clearly been a large push towards private rooms in US hospitals over the past several decades (most doubles have been converted to singles and spiffed up substantially, 3+/room is virtually unheard of here but is still common in low-income countries) and similar trends are happening in other high-income countries (likely in accordance with long-run growth in material living conditions). I have little doubt that prices are substantially higher than Israel on more of an apples-to-apples basis (even accounting for qualitative factors), but healthcare is still a relatively labor-intensive business (not just physicians and nurses!) and the wages are substantially higher, so that shouldn’t be terribly surprising either. For the most part, healthcare prices track fairly well with income growth, especially amongst more labor intensive categories (e.g., surgical procedures), but they don’t explain why high-income countries, such as the US, spend an increasingly large fraction of their incomes on healthcare.

  36. Aapje says:

    If there are known “hire these people when you really need it done right” companies, why don’t we just hire them for everything?

    Because there are not enough of them to build everything? Such performance may not even be sustainable for those companies over the long term, because it may be due to lucky circumstances, like having some key people who are much better than average, in a way that you can’t really hire for (because those qualities are not visible in a job interview and/or common enough to even have these people apply to most job openings).

    Note that this contractor has actually gone bankrupt recently (although 10 years after that freeway project).

    Elon Musk reveals final design of Starship test rocket; 1950s cartoonists discovered to be 100% right about everything.

    I still prefer the Tintin rocket design.

    Adam Fortunate Eagle is a Native American activist who, as a stunt, travelled to Italy, declared he had “discovered” it, and claimed it in the name of Native America. I feel like this is the obvious first thing to do if you are a Native American activist, and that all of the other Native American activists must have been kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.

    Seems like poor trolling to be honest. This is too late, as modern people no longer tend to support colonialism.

    It’s also weird to go to Italy, because while Columbus was Italian-born, he lived most of his life in Iberia and Spain financed his expedition to America. Both the Republics of Genoa and Venice denied him.

    If the claim is that all of Italy is to be held responsible for the actions of a person who was merely born and raised there, but had no government or (significant) private support from that place, then this seems like a not-so-progressive move.

    See also this chart of Gillette profits. Alienating X% of your customer base, in exchange for inspiring Y% to keep buying your overpriced product forever in order to “own the cons”, makes sense under those circumstances.

    That chart still shows Gillette as being far bigger than the undercutting competition. I don’t see how a niche strategy necessarily makes sense. It seems very risky.

    Why not start a new brand ‘Wokeskin’ if that seems like a decent market? Then the mass market brand can stay mass market.

    This has inspired a proposal: why not just assess grants as being above some basic standard of competence, and then use a lottery to determine which ones get funded?

    We have been talking about this for a while in The Netherlands. Good to see that the US is catching on.

    • Jiro says:

      The Gillette ad was created by social justice feminists and any non-ideological explanation for it will probably fail.

      • Watchman says:

        It was however presumably approved by someone senior in the company. Public image tends to be pretty important, lest the bunch of politicised ideologues designing your next marketing campaign turnout to be on the unacceptable side of the current debates.

        And despite only being woke due to having a small child who believes I should get up, I can’t actually see anything particularly feminist rather than just challenging in the Mail’s examples of prior work.

    • Erusian says:

      That chart still shows Gillette as being far bigger than the undercutting competition. I don’t see how a niche strategy necessarily makes sense. It seems very risky.

      Why not start a new brand ‘Wokeskin’ if that seems like a decent market? Then the mass market brand can stay mass market.

      The calculus is something like: Everyone buys razors. A certain number are progressive (and they are generally wealthier than the conservative ones and more likely to try new products). A certain number are against progressivism. The vast majority don’t care. The hope is that those wealthy razor buyers and tastemakers adopt Gillette, and if they don’t, then at least it will stir up some controversy which gets eyeballs on their product.

      Additionally, don’t underestimate the degree to which the C-suite at a major company is playing status games. If it succeeds, they get to be behind that brilliant, progressive marketing campaign. If it fails, they still get to be behind it, but now with some muttering about middle America and Trump. Unless the company actually crashes, they are very, very good at spinning stories about how it isn’t their fault (or it had positive effects in the long run) and moving on to their next C-suite position (or perhaps being demoted to a directorship).

      Imagine you instead oppose it in a room where most people support it. You are now the wrong sort of person, having violated a taboo. This probably stunts your career growth and makes your colleagues talk less well about you. Even if you are right, it won’t necessarily help you personally. Plus you never get results back for things the company didn’t do.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        That’s basically the conservative’s problem in corporate america. There can be 7 closet conservatives in a meeting, but if 3 are pushing feminist agenda, they have no choice but going along with if for the simple fear that they’re in utter minority.

        • Erusian says:

          That’s basically the conservative’s problem in corporate america. There can be 7 closet conservatives in a meeting, but if 3 are pushing feminist agenda, they have no choice but going along with if for the simple fear that they’re in utter minority.

          The issue is that high skill workers tend to be (often elite) university educated and university educated people tend to be more leftist. (And so do their friends.) So a company that uses a preponderance of high skill workers will have a progressive majority. And a company that has a conservative ethos will have to practice tolerance of progressive priorities to attract them. But a progressive company won’t have to practice tolerance of conservatives in turn.

          Keep in mind, Gilette isn’t a razor company. It’s a marketing/brand/supply chain company. Lots of business majors and the like. They almost certainly subcontract the actual transportation and production. I’d be legitimately shocked if any of them have ever worked in a steel mill. So it fits that bill.

          This is also why, when companies resist activist pressure, it’s usually in industries where either there aren’t many high skill workers (Hobby Lobby, Chick Fil A) or the skills are gained somewhere else than college (Central Steel). Because those companies do not need to attract those progressive workers and because they tend to sell to people who are not from those elite progressive circles, progressive elite pressure has relatively little power.

          Neither their workers or customers will abandon them, so they feel free to do as they actually wish. Which is usually to ignore them if it doesn’t benefit the bottom line.

          If a conservative wants to have a world-changing effect, I’d suggest setting up practical training institutes for corporate skills. If they’re looking for something more individually pragmatic, it’s best to look for one of a company in one of those immune sectors. For example, Gallo Wine pays its managing directors high six to low seven figures, is probably immune to progressive activist pressure, and is a huge company. There are numerous companies like that, though they’re not trendy almost by definition. Or they could go into startups. Activist investors will make it harder to get capital and they’ll be less likely to get board memberships. But the churn of the market will boost you up if you are successful regardless, especially if you service one of the relatively immune markets.

  37. Robert Jones says:

    Re von Neumann, it’s difficult to be sure whether that proposal was awkward (leaving aside the question of whether the anecdote is accurate, which it may not be as no source is given). It appears the lady accepted, and perhaps it made perfect sense within the context of their relationship. I could see it being sweetly understated.

    • SteveReilly says:

      I was thinking the same thing. It’s a pretty funny line that worked. If it’s the best evidence we have that he was socially awkward, then he definitely bucks the trend of socially inept geniuses.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Two marriages doesn’t sound so bad.

      If anything, it’s the threat of child support (or prison) that puts a brick wall in front of any above-average procreation of successful individuals with even a shred of executive function.

      It’s basically illegal to be highly reproductively successful. I’m not commenting on good/bad, just stating a fact.

      • EchoChaos says:

        What would you consider “above average”?

        The average woman has 1.9 children in America these days, and there are plenty of successful women with executive function who have 3 or more.

        Even if you’re just referring to men, 3 or more children is not exactly uncommon amongst the very successful.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I considered clarifying a bit more in my original post, but I decided against lengthening the post too much.

          We’re talking about von Neumann level of performance, so no, I’m not referring to 3 children here. Male reproductive success is, biologically, defined by the fact that he can have more offsprings during a lifetime than a female can. Women have two hard limits: how many children their biology allows (10-20 over a lifetime), and how many they can successfully raise to reproduce themselves.

          Like another commenter said, male upper limit is around Ghenghis Khan levels. But even without taking it to slightly ridiculous historical levels, it’s pretty obvious that a plain cad/rake/don juan can easily surpass female limits. A truly successful male, that doesn’t rely solely on sexual selection but on real status/value should easily go even over that – especially if he has a charming personality. Think Richard Feynman, if von Neumann sounds too much on the spectrum (not to say he was).

          Now… imagine a contemporary Richard Feynman without executive function and focused on sexual success. How many children could he have until he was either bankrupt or in debtor’s prison? 5? 10? Have a shot at honestly answering the question.

          • EchoChaos says:

            That’s not “above average”, though. That’s top 1% stuff.

            “Highly reproductively successful” is a really fuzzy way to say that.

            But even then, you have a better chance of success with a very religious young wife than with sleeping around due to the ubiquity of birth control and abortion.

            I personally know multiple families with 10+ children in my religious community. The number of cads who are actually (not theoretically) successful at having 10+ children is probably lower than the number of religious fathers that do the same.

          • albatross11 says:

            There have been a few cases of fertility doctors basically giving their own sperm to all their patients. (“The sperm we’re using for your child comes from a great donor–he’s a doctor!”). This offers the opportunity for a pretty ordinary guy to be in the top 1/10000 or something. But it’s probably illegal and certainly unethical.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think “cads” tend to want to optimize for children.
            Wanting children tends to cash out in wanting to see and be around your children, not just be aware that they exist somewhere, even for men.
            Coupled with that, men often have a desire for sex with a variety of women. But those who seek optimize for that find not reproducing maximally to facilitate it due to laws and norms that justifiably punish such behavior.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Randy M

            I agree.

            My point is that even if you are just focused on “I want to propagate my genes because I’m a Feynman focused on ‘reproductive success'” your optimum path is as a religious father marrying a young and very religious woman.

            That is somewhat caused by legal structures, which makes those GOOD legal structures. I don’t want Genghis Khans, I want J.S. Bachs.

      • JulieK says:

        I would hope that for most men in this category, it’s not the threat of child support, simply their own character- most men provide for their own children without being forced to do so.

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s basically illegal to be highly reproductively successful. I’m not commenting on good/bad, just stating a fact.

        “Basically illegal” is such an absurd exaggeration that your claim to factual accuracy is unwarranted and your objectivity is highly suspect.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Thanks for phrasing what I was trying to say better.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          See the reply above. Law varies from country to country, but in most of the western world having over 5 child support requests leads to perpetual poverty. In some (I understand US especially) this carries a real risk of prison – not from the debt directly, but from any misstep in handling the payments, occasionally simply from bureaucratic reasons.

          • John Schilling says:

            Using the online calculator for the state of California, I find that a rakish techbro with a million dollars per year of self-employment income and ten illegitimate children, all with zero-income unmarried mothers, will generally be expected to pay $206,000/year in child support. This will reduce his estimated disposable income from $521,000 to $315,000/year. That’s an expensive hobby, but it’s not “perpetual poverty”. Looking at the UK, Canada, New York, and Texas all give generally similar results

            If we’re talking about a salaried employee at $80K/year, just under half of that will go to child support – again, for ten children, not five.

            Reproductive success does not come without economic cost. But if you were under the impression that “most of the western world” had set that cost at 20% of the father’s income per child no matter what, or anything remotely like that, you were simply wrong. And the truth is easy enough to find that I have to assume you don’t care about being wrong.

            As a result, I don’t much care to trust you.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            US law prohibits employers from garnishing more than (IIRC) 50% of an employee’s paycheck for court orders and similar. There would be a point where additional children, no matter how numerous, would no longer reduce take-home pay.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Reducing garnishment doesn’t remove the obligation to pay; it just means our hapless Don Juan would be writing checks. Or going to jail, because jailing men indefinitely for contempt is the state’s favorite way to collect child support payments.

          • bullseye says:

            I used to know a guy who had had so many wives and children he couldn’t remember how many. I don’t know how he avoided child support, but it might have been because he was already in poverty.

            Also, I had a friend who was descended from a rich guy in a small town in Mexico. This guy owned eleven houses: one for himself and his wife and the others for his mistresses. I didn’t ask which woman my friend was descended from.

      • rlms says:

        If anything, it’s the threat of… prison

        Could you elaborate on this?

        In any case, I don’t believe sperm donation is particularly highly regulated; I expect you could get a few hundred children that way if you put your mind to it.

        • Cliff says:

          There is a pretty limited pool of people who would be accepted as sperm donors, and they are retired well before fathering “several hundred” children. One reason being that their children will tend to be in the same geographic area and siblings who are raised apart tend to be attracted to each other.

          • rlms says:

            That’s true for regular sperm donors, but not for hypothetical ones that are really trying to maximise their number of children (by lying on forms and travelling around).

      • The Nybbler says:

        If you’re talking Ghengis Khan levels of reproduction, you’d need Ghengis Khan levels of wealth. But when above average means 3 or more, it’s not at all illegal or impractical for successful people.

        Child support guidelines do make the “leave a trail of bastards” method impractical; leave three with three different women with no other children and that’s 100% of your income.

      • Watchman says:

        If you’re successful supporting more children is surely easier? Or are you defining successful in a way different from the way society does, which is to give successful people money?

        • Radu Floricica says:

          In most legislations I’m aware of (granted, not many) child support is relative to the parent’s income. So it doesn’t really matter that you could, in theory, pay for raising 100 children in decent or even very good conditions without feeling the strain. In reality you’re at less than half income after 3.

      • March says:

        I’d expect someone who wants to go for Genghis Khan levels of offspring to understand that that is (and has always been) a high-risk approach.

        Can’t expect baby mama’s families to sit on their asses and go ‘ah well, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, let’s not get in the way of his dreams.’ Can’t expect all your offspring to have good, stable homes. Can’t even expect all of them to survive if baby mama gets kicked out in shame.

        The threat of having to pay child support is pretty civilized in comparison.

    • dmcdougall says:

      The marriage in question happened in 1930… This sounds like high wit for the 1920s! I can imagine this line delivered in a screwball comedy by Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, or Cary Grant.

  38. Quixote says:

    Proposing a change to the grant writing process is thinking about ti all wrong. If grants are awarded at random among projects over some minimally qualified level, then the right solution isn’t to change to a different random process. Its to just fund all of them. Spending on science research has high enough positive externalities that its not a bad place to put wasteful spending, and it would be no less economically stimulative than any other gov jobs program. Plus sometimes scientists invent or discover really great stuff. There are very few options to society that can have the kinds of massive excess returns as new technology. We should just take all the bites at the apple.

  39. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So, I need help from the rocket scientists here:

    Elon Musk’s Twitter said that the final rocket would “obviously” have windows. Why is that obvious?

    I’ve always been a little puzzled by windows on spacecraft. No matter what materials you use to make them, they’re still going to be much weaker and more brittle than the rest of the rocket. Even the earliest spacecraft had external cameras, and the technology has only improved since then. Why not cut out the middle man and just have a screen on the inside which can display a camera feed from the outside?

    The only thing I can think of is that it’s a manual backup in case the cameras fail and you need to land it by eye. That sort of makes sense for something like the Space Shuttle which is supposed to be able to land like a plane, but how are you going to land a retro-futuristic rocket that way? There’s probably some good reason that I’m missing but it seems inexplicable.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      The “will have windows” comment was probably an indication that the tweet is tongue in cheek.

      But to answer seriously, the payload – whatever vehicle the rocket will carry – will have windows. The rocket itself no. The payload will be either inside or on top, and if on top it may have some form of protection covering it during the travel through atmosphere.

    • Incurian says:

      This was a minor plot point in Apollo 13 (or it might have been Armageddon, I don’t remember), and it’s possible he’s referencing that.

    • bean says:

      Why not cut out the middle man and just have a screen on the inside which can display a camera feed from the outside?

      1. That’s not actually equivalent to a window. With current display technology, you’re limited to the camera’s field of view. You can’t really press your nose to the glass and just gaze on how cool Earth looks from space. That’s kind of important from a human factors perspective.
      2. The window isn’t going to fail when the power goes out, and that might be important in certain cases, depending on what the window is for.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Ok, so it seems like I was on the right track with the window as a manual backup. I don’t really know enough about spacecraft disasters to say whether or not a window would help, so the smart money would be to assume that the engineers who design them know what they’re doing.

        On the ‘wonders of the universe’ side though, while I’m not unsympathetic it doesn’t sound like a good reason to include them. Especially if this thing is eventually supposed to fly between the Earth to Mars where virtually the entire trip the only thing you’re going to see through the window is the dark vacuum of space.

    • John Schilling says:

      That sort of makes sense for something like the Space Shuttle which is supposed to be able to land like a plane, but how are you going to land a retro-futuristic rocket that way? There’s probably some good reason that I’m missing but it seems inexplicable.

      You’re probably not going to land the rocket that way, but landing is only a tiny portion of the mission. For all the other parts of the mission, it’s actually quite helpful to e.g. look at the fuel pressure trending towards zero, ask “is that a bad sensor or a bad leak?”, and then just look out the window to see if there’s a leak. There’s other ways to do that, but they aren’t obviously superior to windows.

      Also, the point of a manned Mars transport is to deliver sane humans to Mars, and if you’re going to have people living in a giant sardine can for six months, having windows will definitely help on the sanity front. Again, there are other ways to do that but now you’re trading off against e.g. thousands of cubic meters of extra interior volume.

      Also also, Elon is running short of his own money and will eventually have to turn a profit. If your plan is to have other people pay you real money to ride in your spiffy art-deco rocket ship, check out the consensus of all airlines everywhere on the wisdom of “…but it will be cheaper and safer if we don’t have any windows in the passenger compartment; that’s not a problem, is it?” as a marketing strategy.

    • tmk says:

      Putting people in a spacecraft at all is rather inefficient. If we already decided to put people in there, we want them to be able to look outside.

    • Basil Elton says:

      There was at least one case where 2 Soviet spacecrafts (Soyuz 7 and 8) were trying to dock, but the automated radio docking system got broken. So the crew of the active one have tried to home in on the passive one using directions from Earth, crosshairs drown on the window, and another on the wall for a sunbeam, with one guy monitoring all this and shouting commands over to the other guy who was piloting. They failed to match velocities though, but probably only because the main engine was disabled on the hardware level from working with the auto docking system offline.

      Also you can take photos and videos through windows using any equipment you can fit in the cabin. With camera-and-screen solution you’re limited to capabilities of that camera. Ofc that mostly mattered before the first space stations, but that’s when all the crewed spacecrafts except for Shuttle were developed.

  40. ConcernedObjector says:

    That “Levels of racism throughout Europe and the Mediterranean” map is likely fake.

  41. Dojan says:

    For an even more awesome display of weather patterns, see windy.com

    This is an amazing tool for digesting meteorological data. I have used it (among other tools) to plan several oceanic crossing in small sailboats.

    • Incurian says:

      Can you say more about crossing the ocean in small sail boats?

      • Dojan says:

        “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.” – Captain Jack Sparrow

        Long distance sailing is a great challenge, lifestyle and community. While the actual ocean crossings are usually a fairly small part of the overall lifestyle, it is kind of defining in terms of what the boat is like and what gear and skills are required. While people have crossed oceans in just about anything, to do it safely and comfortably you want a seaworthy vessel that you know fairly well, sails and gear for both calm and stormy conditions, a few friends that you trust, and plenty of provisions. After that you just need to find a weather window and get out there! Knowing where you are going is not required, but will make for a speedier journey.
        Like most stuff in life, when you zoom in enough it’s all comprised of thousands of tiny details. I could talk for days on the relative merits of skeg-hung rudders vs foils, trysails vs a fourth reef point, how to plan provisions for a four week crossing, how to navigate in the dark by lighthouse alone, how to sleep in a constantly rocking bed. But ultimately, those are the trees that obscure the forest as it were. What makes me come back to the ocean again and again is that feeling of holding your own in amongst the awesome forces of nature, and that whatever action or decision I make now *really matters*, in a very physical way, that makes those skills and intuitions seem real and meaningful. Also the ocean is an incredibly beautiful place. Dolphins and bioluminescence and starlight, or dolphins *in* bioluminescence *under* starlight. Life of Pi doesn’t do it justice.
        I have done some 36’000 nautical miles, including three Atlantic and two Pacific crossings, around 10k of which I was the skipper.
        Ask away if there are questions!

        Check out https://vimeo.com/182391203 for some inspirational footage (no affiliation).
        Check out my profile on CrewBay

        • Incurian says:

          I don’t yet have any specific questions, but this topic seems ripe for some “effort posts” in the open threads, if you’re up for it.

          Also, I should say that part of keeping my question open ended (and also not just googling “sailing”), is that I have so little knowledge on the subject that I don’t think I’m likely to know the right questions to ask. From the perspective of someone who has been there and done that, what are the most interesting aspects to you (both the trees and the forests)?

          Paging Bean. Maybe he knows enough about sailing to know what questions to ask.

          • bean says:

            Paging Bean. Maybe he knows enough about sailing to know what questions to ask.

            Not really. I don’t know much about modern sailing, and I’ve only been out in a sailboat once. I know some about sailing in the age of sail, but he’s not running a 38-gun frigate.

            But I’d love to hear more. Dojan, please talk about this at greater length.

      • Winja says:

        I, too, would be interested in hearing more about this topic.

  42. SamChevre says:

    Another possible explanation for “the contractor to hire if you want it done”: signalling.

    My team at work is somewhat like this, and we’ve also hired contractors of the same type. One really key feature is what it means to everyone else that you got SamChevre’s team on a project: it has heavy executive scrutiny and co-operating will pay off; delaying tactics will be either ignored or get you yelled at. In the building a freeway context, what it probably means is that “you didn’t do enough environmental studies” will get you laughed at, rather than delaying the project. “It’s too noisy at 7:00 when I’m still asleep”, similarly. Note that this isn’t something the contractor does: it’s something that hiring the contractors whose reputation is based on high-speed work signals–obstacles will be bulldozed.

    ETA: it also means that the project has enough executive visibility that “do you want A or B” gets answered today, not next year.

    • Murphy says:

      There’s also where the project sits in everyone’s todo list.

      Does Tod drop everything to run the numbers about something when someone calls him for this project…. or is this project in the set of things that he drops when someone else on a much higher priority project calls and demands numbers for that project ASAP.

      If you are Tod there’s also your past experiences with the people involved. When Karen badgers you that XYZ absolutely positively MUST be done by date X and it’s absolutely VITAL…

      ….then when you put the extra hours in to get it running for them ahead of time… you can still see the activity logs and it sits unused for 3 months because it wasn’t really urgent at all and the person was merely a graduate from the “I have no idea what I’m doing” school of project management.

      The next time Karen tries the same shit her word is worthless. Her project is going to the back of the queue with exactly normal priority and it’ll be done when it’s done. If it’s genuinely important this time then she shouldn’t have lied last time. If it’s gonna fuck her career in some way she’s fucked it herself. Other people have work that needs doing and their projects aren’t automatically less important.

      • SamChevre says:

        Does Tod drop everything to run the numbers about something when someone calls him for this project

        Yes, exactly this. If I tell Tod I need it by EoD today, I will probably be staying late to use it. And if I don’t get it, Tod’s manager will be asking why it didn’t get done tomorrow morning.

        But the reason it’s that way is that I’m very careful to only ask for fast turnaround when it’s absolutely necessary, and I work on projects that are high-visibility and so the rank the people who are asking why it’s not done escalates really fast.

        • Murphy says:

          There’s nothing wrong with a high-priority rush-job.

          unfortunately the world is filled with crappy managers who are basically practicing cargo-cult management. They see the important and capable managers rushing the people around them and then try to copy them without realizing that the people they’re playing “hurry up” with may notice that the work isn’t genuinely urgent.

          It’s unsurprising then when some managers end up capable of getting things done in an organization and some end up mired even when they try to copy the methods of the successful ones.

      • spkaca says:

        “XYZ absolutely positively MUST be done by date X and it’s absolutely VITAL…”
        My example: the time an angry man stopped by my desk and told me LIVES are AT STAKE if his business case wasn’t approved IMMEDIATELY… and a year later project spend was still zero.

        • acymetric says:

          At my old company, I had to learn to do the end-around. Told by plant manager that 3 projects must be complete and delivered to their respective sites in a time frame where it is only possible to have one complete. MISSION CRITICAL. MUST HAPPEN.

          Solution? Go to the field engineers, find out who is scheduled to be where when to install what. “Oh, that job? I’m not going out for that install until August, no reason to have it at their door in May, it’ll just sit in storage collecting dust and they’ll probably lose some of it.” Backburnered.

  43. C.H. says:

    Responding to what happens to government projects – the answer is bureaucracy and government bigwigs taking their sweet ass time to respond to issues/proposals that really should have a decision turnover measured in hours rather than weeks.

    See this post for an example of what happened to Toronto’s Union transit station renovation: https://www.reddit.com/r/toronto/comments/agmaqo/union_station_10_year_challenge/ee7eqe7/

  44. wfenza says:

    “New international study finds that doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough” is not what that link says. Good doctors would never tell anyone to lose weight because all available evidence shows that attempts to intentionally lose weight don’t work, and when it does work, it’s bad for you. I’ve covered this on my blog before, but the short version is that CDC data shows that while stable-weight thin people are indeed healthier than fat people, the people that, by far, have the worst health outcomes are formerly fat people who lost weight.

    The study linked in the OP, however, does not recommend telling doctors to counsel their patients to lose weight. It recommends counseling patients (including thin patients) to eat healthier and exercise. Healthy eating and exercise are really, really good for you no matter your size. Even moderate exercise can cause significant improvement in health outcomes compared to little/no exercise, and should be recommended to everyone. Likewise, “healthy eating” is kind of an ambiguous term, but almost everyone could benefit from eating more vegetables and fewer sugars & starches. Importantly, though, this has not been shown to cause significant weight loss in overweight and obese people, but it does improve their health to be nearly on par with stable-weight thin people.

    So please note that “healthy lifestyle changes” =/= losing weight. The conflation of these two things may be part of why people get so annoyed when their doctors tell them to lose weight.

    • Anonymous says:

      Likewise, “healthy eating” is kind of an ambiguous term, but almost everyone could benefit from eating more vegetables and fewer sugars & starches.

      I just hope those vegetables are cooked.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      but the short version is that CDC data shows that while stable-weight thin people are indeed healthier than fat people, the people that, by far, have the worst health outcomes are formerly fat people who lost weight.

      Is this correcting for the fact that lots of old people die by wasting away?

      Reading the link, it seems built to be vulnerable to this instead of correcting for this:

      Stokes actually looked at more than 10 years of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and death records of American adults between the ages of 50 and 84

      • acymetric says:

        Yeah, there are several problematic diseases with the system “sudden/rapid weight loss”. They also probably need to break down age groups differently.

        It would not be shocking to me that an overweight 80 year old would probably be better off remaining overweight than engaging in some kind of diet/activity regimen that results in appreciable weight loss. I am less confident that would be true (at least it is true for a lower percentage of people) at age 50.

  45. Maryana says:

    How come the Eastern Orthodox are the only people with good aesthetics?

    Aesthetics has been the — for lack of a better term — brand differentiator of Eastern Orthodoxy since its earliest days. The Primary Chronicle, the earliest written record of the Slavs*, has a cute anecdote about how the Slavs chose Orthodoxy as their religion:

    When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgar bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks (including the Emperor himself) led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.’

    * Authorship and authenticity very much in dispute, but the theory that the PC was mostly Orthodox Church propaganda seems to me to make the branding case that much stronger.

  46. CatCube says:

    I don’t have time to write much about why some government construction projects work well and most don’t because I’m going to be tied up…in the board to pick a contractor for a government construction project.

    The basic answer (and this is purely my own hypothesis from participating in the process a few times) is that the government contracting process is not intended to pick the best contractor, or the cheapest contractor. It is intended to appear to be fair. Those of us in the system try real hard to get the best or cheapest contractor as appropriate (depending on the type of work, the cheapest contractor can be really expensive, but for uncomplex projects that’ll often do), but we’re very limited by the arcane rules that govern.

    Since I don’t have time for a full treatment until this evening, let me give an example from another board I sat on from a few years ago:
    We were choosing a contractor by the Lowest Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA) Source Selection method. This is where when writing your Source Selection Plan you set up some objective measures that are basically “yes-or-no” questions, then check if each submitted proposal meets them. At the end of it, you rake all of the proposals that don’t meet at least one of the technical factors into the trash, and the lowest price of all of the remaining proposals is selected.

    For obvious reasons, I’ve got to munge the details as Scott does with his discussions of patients. We had a fabrication of some welded structures we needed done. For this one, we had several factors, but one was a requirement to provide us with “Three projects, similar in type and complexity and valued at over $250,000 conducted in the past 5 years.” The intent of this factor was to avoid getting bids from “Billy Bob and His Truck Welders” because this job, while a simple fabrication project, did require some complex welding to tight standards, and we’re emotionally attached to our projects and don’t want to be somebody’s first rodeo.

    The Team Leader that chose the $250,000 had done so more or less because it seemed like a good balance, given the proposed value of our job (quite a bit more than that). He had also done research during the design phase, including calling several fab shops, with one in particular (Fab Shop A) that had done great work for us in the past, and asking about several aspects of the design to ensure that it was constructable and efficient.

    We got Fab Shop A as one of the bidders…and when we went to evaluate their proposal, they had two projects over $250,000 in the past 5 years and one project that was a huge one (way bigger than $250,000) for us 5.5 years ago. We didn’t know if they made a mistake, if they didn’t have a third one in the past 5 years over $250,000, or they thought showing us one of our own big projects would impress us. We agonized over it for about 45 minutes, and gave them an “Unacceptable” excluding them from the bid.

    After we brought the contracting specialist back in after rating all of the proposals, he saw that we had excluded Fab Shop A and asked why. He explained that they were significantly cheaper than the other proposals–prices for the proposals are hidden from the engineers evaluating the proposals–and they seemed that they could do the work. We explained that they didn’t meet the standard, even though based on our past experience with them–we even consulted them in the design!–they absolutely could do it. We called the lawyer in to see if there was any wiggle room that we could use and she confirmed that we would have to exclude them.

    Why did we have to do this, even though it was manifestly in the best interest of the taxpayer to have them do it? It would be unfair to the other contractors who did what we asked in the proposal. A court would absolutely have ordered us to award to the other contractor.

    • Deiseach says:

      From my limited experience with local government procurement (and thank God I’m not doing anything like it anymore in my current job), your story chimes very well with what I saw, CatCube.

      You’re totally right that had you awarded Fab Shop A the job, a disgruntled and rejected candidate would have hauled you all into court to explain why, how and gimme that instead. And would have won.

      You have to be scrupulously fair because you are dealing with the public purse and there have been too many instances in the past of “Cousin Joe or Big Donor to local official/party” getting the contract, and it’s also true that there are so many regulations on top of regulations because people will go to court at the drop of a hat.

    • Jiro says:

      Why did we have to do this, even though it was manifestly in the best interest of the taxpayer to have them do it?

      It would be in the short-term best interest of the taxpayer, but not in the best interest of the taxpayer. This is another case where doing something (violating the bid rules) would be Pareto-optimal but create bad incentives. The choice is Pareto-optimal because the current situation has already begun, so the bad incentives won’t affect it.

      I see libertarians argue something like that a lot–“both parties are made better off by this transaction! So how can you object to it?”

      • Radu Floricica says:

        The correct answer in this is to use a higher level of abstraction. For example set better rules for the selectors or selection process, and then give them/it more latitude in selecting the offers.

        I know it seems impossible (or at least very hard), but well… it’s the correct solution. A random suggestion: blind the bids and send them to several evaluators in different parts of the country.

        • CatCube says:

          The problem with sending the bids all over the country is that the evaluators won’t know anything about the work being done. The office that generated the requirements at least understands why they did what they did.

          Of note, they do blind the prices. The technical personnel can see absolutely no pricing information, and if you’re using “Best Value Trade-Off” where you can select a higher-priced bid if they have a better proposal, the people evaluating the technical quality of the proposals don’t know the price tradeoffs–that is done by a non-technical contracting expert.

    • Murphy says:

      Sounds like the criteria were set a bit too arbitrarily. But once set… ignoring them probably would have been bad. There may even have been company C similar to A who could bid even lower who dropped out when they couldn’t meet the 5 year bit.

      For another window into awarding big government contracts (in this case school books), I’d recommend Feynmans “Judging Books by Their Covers”

      http://gama.fizika.unios.hr/~zglumac/ZFeynmanJudgingBooks.pdf

      • Simulated Knave says:

        The comment re “dropped out because they couldn’t meet the 5 year bit” reminds me just how awful it is that so many modern job postings claim as “requirements” things that they will not actually require.

        Really, looking at how job hirings work is a pretty good demonstration of why there are a lot of strict rules about contracts.

        • Nornagest says:

          Except that almost everything in your average job posting is at least individually negotiable, and it sounds like everything in a government contract’s requirements is not.

          • Simulated Knave says:

            Depends on the job posting. Many are effectively not, whether due to computerization, government regulation (for government jobs), or the person who controls hiring being dumb.

          • Nornagest says:

            Fair point on government jobs, but IME the rest doesn’t make much of a difference. Usually, out of 5-10 things listed in the job description, 2-3 are truly non-negotiable (if the ad is for a Ruby developer, you’d better know Ruby) and the rest are aspirational, and this is well understood by everyone involved in hiring. Think of the posting as a description of the ideal candidate. Recruiters and hiring managers know that they’re not going to get their ideal candidate unless they’re spectacularly lucky; it follows that you don’t have to be ideal. Closer is, of course, better, but don’t assume that a job asking for three years of experience actually requires three years in the same job elsewhere.

            Keyword filtering can make it a good idea to do some SEO-type stuff to your resume, especially if you’re planning to apply to a lot of jobs cold, but that’s as far as I’d go there.

          • Simulated Knave says:

            I get how it WORKS. I’m just saying, relying on people’s willingness to ignore the listed requirements and apply anyway is at best wasteful and at worst may screen out some good candidates who guess wrong about what the employer is actually looking for.

    • Cliff says:

      If you liked Fab Shop A why didn’t you make sure they could meet your requirements before deciding on your (arbitrary) requirements?

      • aristides says:

        Not the original poster, but you’re not allowed to do research on the specific potential contractors in order to set the arbitrary requirements at a bar you will know they reach. I’m not saying this never happens, but it is against the regulations since it could lead to favoritism and nepotism. Often courts will look at the arbitrary requirements you had for similar contracts, and you would have to provide a reason you used different arbitrary requirements this time that’s not, I wanted this company that does good work to be eligible.

      • Deiseach says:

        If you liked Fab Shop A why didn’t you make sure they could meet your requirements before deciding on your (arbitrary) requirements?

        Because then your local (and maybe even national, if it gets enough attention) papers, radio and TV stations will go to town on “CORRUPTION SCANDAL IN CITY HALL! Insiders at the Department of Ironing Boards had a cosy arrangement with a favoured business to provide services, and when the latest large infrastructure project PAID FOR BY YOU, THE TAX, RENT AND RATES PAYERS, OUT OF YOUR HARD-EARNED CASH LET US NOT FORGET, was due to start, they set up a fake ‘contract bid’ ENSURING THAT FIRM AND NO OTHER would be awarded the contract! Read more on pages 4-12 about how our investigate reporter broke the story where POSSIBLY BRIBED WE’RE NOT SAYING THEY WERE BUT DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS public servants not alone let the firm in question know IN ADVANCE what the specifics of the bid would be, thus giving them a huge advantage over their rivals for the contract, but DELIBERATELY SET IT UP SO THEIR PALS WOULD BE THE ONLY ONES ABLE TO FULFIL THE REQUIREMENTS”.

        Then the reporter sits back and waits for their Pulitzer, and good luck trying to explain that no, Firm A really was the only realistic choice.

      • CatCube says:

        Aristides and Deiseach are exactly correct. If you read a story in the newspaper alleging that we did what you said we should, would you trust that we did it for honest reasons?

        • Incurian says:

          I could tolerate arbitrary levels of corruption if the results weren’t terribly expensive or of low quality. That is to say, maybe they should only go back and audit the contracting process if something ends up going wrong.

        • Cliff says:

          Really, I don’t see the problem. If you relaxed (entirely arbitrary) cutoffs to ensure that a fab shop you knew was good and cheap would be able to submit a bid, and then they had the low bid of many other bids, who could complain? Not to mention the total impossibility of anyone ever knowing about it.

          • John Schilling says:

            The cutoffs are for necessarily for things that can be unambiguously measured. These metrics are at best correlated with but not identical to the competence and honesty that you are looking for, and as soon as you start using them as metrics, Goodhart’s law starts to apply.

            If you set your cutoffs for these flawed metrics high enough to exclude every single incompetent+dishonest contractor, you necessarily also exclude many honest, competent ones and possibly the most honest and competent one. If you don’t set your cutoffs high enough to exclude all the incompetent+dishonest ones, you find that it takes only one bidder with the advantage “can lie and promise a price he has no intention of meeting” to underbid all the honest and competent contractors and then you’re legally required to go with the crooked one.

            Not to mention the total impossibility of anyone ever knowing about it.

            If your plan is for civil servants to routinely engage in procurement fraud because they can never ever get caught, then A: they can in fact get caught, e.g. in the discovery phase of a losing bidder’s protest lawsuit, and B: if they did have this imagined immunity, they would predictably put it to uses other than the one you would favor and to the general detriment of the republic.

    • Meister says:

      Why isn’t there any opportunity to amend a bid that is initially rejected? I would have thought that phase one of the process would include a quick validation of each bid to see if it meets minimum requirements, with feedback and/or requests for documentation handed back to the bidders. Seems silly that someone can get excluded on a technicality and that’s just the end of it.

      • CatCube says:

        Sometimes there is (entering into negotiations), but typically only if none of the bids come back as awardable. Again, look at it from the perspective of the other contractors: “We managed to comply with the terms on the first try, why are you favoring the other offerors by giving them another bite at the apple?”

        You could ask the quite reasonable question of “Why should we give a fuck about paying more to be fair to somebody bidding on a government contract?” to which I can only reply, “Write your Congressman.”

        Really, however, as alluded to above these rules got added piecemeal over decades to patch specific corruption that had occurred. To avoid corruption we are required to be scrupulously fair between offerors, and often that means that we are required to do things that we know in the moment are non-optimal; this is to guard against people who will use those scenarios to steer work to their buddies.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Really, however, as alluded to above these rules got added piecemeal over decades to patch specific corruption that had occurred.

          That’s the opposite of what you said before. You were right the first time:

          It is intended to appear to be fair.

    • Tenacious D says:

      The basic answer (and this is purely my own hypothesis from participating in the process a few times) is that the government contracting process is not intended to pick the best contractor, or the cheapest contractor. It is intended to appear to be fair.

      Coming at this from the private sector side of things, I’m inclined to agree with your answer. I’m not involved in awarding sub-contracts for the projects my company works on (design-build of industrial wastewater treatment systems, fwiw), but in observing the people who are it seems like they usually know who they want to go with before getting bids. Getting bids keeps the preferred sub/supplier honest and allows for pleasant surprises if one of the other bidders can come in with a great price and strong references. The project managers who evaluate the bids are in the best position to know for each contract whether the best price or fastest delivery is more vital to the success of the overall project. Since there is much less of a principal-agent problem at play, they can have some discretion in the decision rather than prioritizing a process that is transparent and unbiased.

  47. nacht says:

    regarding unintended consequences on the Puppy Mill ban- there was a great investigative article in WaPo
    Article link text

    Puppy Mills (to me) refers to: A business charging $3000-$10,000 for a designer dog keeping the breeding stock in deplorable conditions, then dumping them on the side of the road when they cannot breed any more… or just killing/starving them. This has been found in many backwoods places, while down the road may be a very responsible and ethical breeder who treats the mother dogs like queens. You just don’t know.

  48. JulieK says:

    I’m pretty sure I read about a Native American man claiming to have discovered Europe back when I was in high school (25 years ago).

    • Watchman says:

      The problem here is that if a guy called Adam did this {assuming your earlier example had a similar westernised name) then we automatically have rather good evidence that he had prior knowledge of where he was going, and is lying about discovering the old world, since his name indicates his ancestors had contact there. The fact that he presumably took a plane with a stated destination (if his plane said Constantinople and ended up in Italy that would be a different matter) is also a bit of a concern. Note no European discovered China or India because. Knowledge of their existence was already there…

      If it turned out Christopher Flying Eagle Columbus discovered the New World (and had the decency to tel us he’d done it, for which he gets partial credit – full credit for realising he was nowhere near China…) then we might have some reasonable suspicions about that being a real discovery as well though.

      Anyway, the important question is now which band (there never having been a single. Native America) now own Italy, and are they a better bet than the current Italian government?

      • bullseye says:

        People who say that Columbus didn’t really discover America use an very narrow definition of “discover”; he didn’t discover America because he wasn’t the first human being here. (No one has ever claimed that Columbus was the first person in America, but whatever.) Under that definition, Eagle’s claim to have discovered Italy is no more absurd than the claim that Columbus discovered America, which I assume is Eagle’s point.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Well, then your person wasn’t the first, since Scott’s link is about 1973.

    • rodan32 says:

      The real trick would be doing it in 1491. I appreciate it as a stunt and as a statement, and I appreciate anything bringing more visibility to native cultures and their struggles. But we tend to minimize how big a deal it was for Columbus to do what he did, when he did. We can debate his morality all day long, and of course the consequences of that contact are still with us. But we can also recognize courage and luck.

      It’s like Nathan Bedford Forrest, to take an even more extreme example. You ought to understand the whole man. Slave trader, Confederate, KKK, the Fort Pillow massacre. . . but also understand his later denouncement of the Klan and public advocacy of equality for blacks. Better to know the whole story than to bury it.

  49. Deiseach says:

    I wondered about that highway story – as the saying goes “You can have fast, cheap or good, pick two” – but the linked article throws a lot more light on it:

    A contractor with a proven track record of rebuilding damaged freeways (most notably the Santa Monica Freeway after the 1994 Northridge earthquake) well ahead of schedule, C. C. Myers, Inc., submitted a winning bid of $876,075 to repair the damage to the I-580 connector. The bid was estimated to cover only one-third of the cost of the work, but the firm counted on making up the shortfall with an incentive of $200,000 per day if the work was completed before June 27, 2007.

    Ordinarily this is the kind of thing that results in budget over-runs; to win the contract, Company X claims they can do in in Y days for Z amount of money. They can’t, but “it’ll take longer and cost more” is baked into expectations anyway. The only difference here is that the arrangement was made that this time, instead of letting the budget over-run, the idea of “incentive payments” was created to cover the extra money.

    I’ll agree they were fast, but it’s plain that it was a case of “fast and good but not cheap”, and the gimmick of “this isn’t a budget over-run, it’s an incentive payment” obscures that a little. Getting enough bodies and machinery on site to clear the rubble away fast and get the construction done was always going to cost a ton of money, and in this case the need for fast work was so pressing that the state government took the hit on expense. The taxpayers might balk at “this will cost umpty million” but present it to them as “for every day of delay cut away, we pay an extra 200 grand” and they’ll be so happy to get their connection back that the idea of “the stated cost is under a million, this is a great price, and a couple of hundred grand is worth it to get this vital infrastructure back up and running” was entrenched in their minds. It probably did end up costing umpty million which everyone involved realistically expected it to do, but I’m willing to bet few members of the public sat down and totted up “if it knocks twenty days delay off, at 200 grand a day, on top of what they’re already contracted to earn, how much will the end total be?”

    Somebody check my figures, but if $870,000 was only one-third of the true cost then the actual cost was around $2.6 million, yes? Makes that “pay $200 grand a day to incentivise speed” look not so much an incentive, if the company was fixing its figures to come out with that total in the end: “yeah it’ll take three months at $800 grand but with incentive payments we can get it done in one, okay?”

    • aristides says:

      I’ve done some work with government contracts, and this is almost certainly it. In fact, it’s usually pick one, not pick two. When the government prepares the contract and bidding, they really only optimize for one of the three, and then had acceptable margins of error for the other two. Most of the contracts I’ve worked on were optimized for low cost, leading to delays and questionable quality. Infrastructure is almost always optimized for quality because we want it to last for decades, so it’s over budget and delayed. This is the first I’ve heard of a contract optimized for speed, which goes with the general ethos of the government that we have the time, no rush.

    • zzzzort says:

      The incentive structure at least makes that trade-off more operational. Having infrastructure under construction is costly for society, both due to disruption and opportunity cost of not using that highway or whatever. If anything, it seems too low. Ideally the rental cost of the Santa Monica freeway would also be around 200k/day, and 200k/day would be something like a limit on how much you could make from tolls.

    • tomlx says:

      Somebody check my figures, but if $870,000 was only one-third of the true cost then the actual cost was around $2.6 million, yes?

      Not quite:

      The deadline to finish the project was beaten by over a month, with the contractor earning the $5 million bonus for early completion.

      Makes that “pay $200 grand a day to incentivise speed” look not so much an incentive, if the company was fixing its figures to come out with that total in the end: “yeah it’ll take three months at $800 grand but with incentive payments we can get it done in one, okay?

      Of cause the “incentive payment” gets priced in, but that has the intended effect of the lowest bid being from a contractor delivering it fast. I think this should be used more often (with less crass relation between incentive and bid) to prevent the “lowest bid, never finish” failure mode.

  50. eqdw says:

    New California law tries to fight “puppy mills” by declaring that pet shops can only sell rescued animals. In favor of this until someone convinces me it will have horrifying unexpected consequences.

    So did they just make puppy breeding illegal? Am I not allowed to get a specific breed of dog from a reputable bloodline now?

    Or did they create a formally sanctioned monopoly for dog breeders?

    • acymetric says:

      Dog breeders already had a monopoly…where do you think the dogs in pet stores were coming from? (Either reputable breeders, or disreputable breeders aka puppy mills). This is an attempt to reduce the incentive to be disreputable by reducing the market for puppy mills.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        So this is credentialism?

      • acymetric says:

        Not really (it would be credentialism if pet stores could buy puppies from credentialed breeders, but they can’t buy them from anywhere). This is an attempt at demand reduction/supply substitution.

        (I don’t know if those are real things or if there are better ways to describe this…someone else help!)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yeah, I had forgotten what the law actually was, and was responding to your use of the word “reputable.” Still, I find your choice of words suspicious.

          • acymetric says:

            Why would that be suspicious? Do you disagree that some places that breed dogs treat the dogs reasonably well and breed a reasonably sustainable number of dogs, while others engage in inhumane practices, breed far too many dogs trying to maximize profit at low cost, and then kill any excess dogs produced (or release them as strays who end up roaming around or in shelters)? Is it wrong to call the latter disreputable?

            More succinctly: There are practices that should be considered acceptable for breeders, and practices that should be considered unacceptable. Even if we disagree at the object level of what is acceptable, isn’t calling a breeder engaging in unacceptable behavior by whoever’s definition reasonably considered “disreputable”?

            I certainly don’t think I come across as a shill for Big KCA.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            If you mean “good” and “bad,” use those words. If someone has a “bad reputation” and that doesn’t drive away his customers so you want to do it with force, it sure sounds like you want to impose your values on the customers. If so, own it. (And saying that pet shop customers don’t know what goes on at the breeder is the opposite of talking about reputation.)

            Is KCA a typo for AKC? Scott’s link says that AKC opposes the law, so it sounds the opposite of you. Indeed, “Big” suggests mass production, not artisanal breeding!

          • acymetric says:

            Stop saying “you” like I crafted the law. I’m just explaining the rationale behind it, not commenting one way or the other what my viewpoint is.

            Also, consider that I was responding to the question regarding “reputable” in the parent post.

            If you mean “good” and “bad,” use those words. If someone has a “bad reputation” and that doesn’t drive away his customers so you want to do it with force, it sure sounds like you want to impose your values on the customers. If so, own it.

            I don’t think opponents of the law would deny that this is what is happening. I certainly didn’t in my post explaining what the law is intended to do. If you want to make a point, make it. Enough with the passive aggressive semantic sniping. Especially since I haven’t even claimed it was a good law, you’re sniping at the wrong person.

      • gleamingecho says:

        Attempts to reduce the incentive to do [X] often create the incentive to do [Y], with the result often being, “[Y] sucks; we should have just stuck with outlawing [X].”

        The further downstream you get from the illegal act you are trying to disincentivize, the higher the chance for rent-seeking and unintended consequences.

        • acymetric says:

          Do you have anything specific in mind for this case? Otherwise this basically reads as “sometimes when you do things bad things happen” which is trivially true, but not necessary a strong case against doing any particular thing without some kind of supporting analysis.

    • The_Other_David says:

      If the law only makes it illegal for PET SHOPS to sell pets from reputable breeders, I believe finding a breeder directly through the American Kennel Club would still be an option.

    • Cliff says:

      Does anyone else remember reading an article that we are actually running out of rescue dogs in the U.S. and rescue organizations have resorted to going to dog auctions and paying thousands of dollars (donated to them) for dogs from breeders and saying they “rescued” the dogs from the breeders? Seems like that could be the equilibrium?

    • AG says:

      Looking forward to the Emmy-Award Winning drama dealing the cruel violence and crime family dynasties involved in the Black Market Puppy Trade.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I suspect it’s a Gentry thing. WE buy puppies from individual breeders; THEY buy puppies from the pet store at the mall.

      • acymetric says:

        I mean, that probably has a lot to do with why some people buy expensive dogs from breeders (although there are legitimate reasons to buy a specific breed from a recognized breeder).

        That isn’t really what this is about though…this isn’t “buying at breeders” vs. “buying at the mall”, it is “rescue a dog” vs “buy at the mall”. The problem with pet stores is that the incentives are terrible and the dogs are frequently not well taken care of either by their source or by the pet shop itself.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          You misunderstand me. I’m trying for an explanation of why this is only about “rescue a dog” versus “buy at the mall”, and not also about “rescue a dog” versus “buy from a breeder”.

          • acymetric says:

            Because of the three options, “buy at the mall” probably had the highest chance of being a puppy mill dog. Now those chances are (legally) 0. Assuming this isn’t circumvented (yes, I know, but we’re talking about the intention behind the law here not necessarily how it could play out negatively), most people who bought dogs at the mall will still do so. The number of those that are from puppy mills will go from X to 0 (in a perfect system), where X is the number of puppies in pet stores that are from puppy mill stores.

            This means the demand for dogs from puppy mill stores that used to be Y will now be Y – X. Assuming X is any significant amount of Y (and I would guess that it is) this would drive a lot of puppy mills out of business entirely.

            TLDR; It isn’t about buy at the mall vs. rescue. It is about “mall store gets puppies from mill” vs. “mall store gets puppies from rescue” in an effort to drive puppy mills out of business.

  51. JPNunez says:

    Scott Alexander : how can these people claim to have outwitted four billion years of evolution?!?

    Also Scott : hahaha check out these ants walking in circles, they are so dumb

    • Murphy says:

      What 30 million year claim are you referring to?

      The ant thing is kind of perplexing to me as I’m curious how it doesn’t get defused by the ants normal mechanism for shortening routes. Normally ants following a trail move a little left or right of the trail, permutations that give a slightly shorter route end up with a stronger trail. Gradually the route to and from a regular food source gets more efficient and more efficient routes around blockages are found.

      https://images.slideplayer.com/47/11694636/slides/slide_3.jpg

      Why then don’t the ant mills contract to a point (the inside of the mill being the shortest/fastest route) and stop. (minus the rare case of something like a liquid in the middle of the circle preventing this)

      • JPNunez says:

        Someone downthread mentioned 30 million years and I got the numbers mixed up.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The ant thing is kind of perplexing to me as I’m curious how it doesn’t get defused by the ants normal mechanism for shortening routes. Normally ants following a trail move a little left or right of the trail, permutations that give a slightly shorter route end up with a stronger trail.

        Probably because the trails don’t have direction, so rather than the shorter trail getting more pheremone, the center of the trail does. Also possibly ants slow down as they turn more sharply.

      • JPNunez says:

        Very bad guess which I don’t want to check the math of:

        Each ant is in a random walk of the path, so in one iteration they will walk to the right of the path, then they will walk to the left, thus cancelling each other out; the inner path being faster is cancelled out by the longer path being able to be occupied by more ants, which does not necessarily happen in regular ant pathfinding.

        I don’t think the pheromones not having direction matters, as we don’t see ants circling the wrong way.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      > He writes that small swirls like this are deadly for individual ants but meaningless for the entire colony, which can comprise hundreds of thousands of ants.

      This is what saves the article and makes it all right. It’s a fun example on how a local maximum fucks up with the individual but ends up being a net positive for the individual’s genes. Much less surprising for asexual ants than it would be for us, but still interesting.

  52. meh says:

    Only a few pages in to the political bias paper. I have no reason to doubt the results, but am interested in the methodology. They quote for example

    For example, Lordet al.(1979) recruited participants with strong attitudes either in support of or in opposition to capital punishment and asked them to rate the methodological quality of fictitious but realistic empirical studies examining whether the death penalty deters homicide. Two versions of the studies were created: one with results supporting the deterrent efficacy of capital punishment, and one with results showing that capital punishment actually increased rather than decreased homicide rates.

    But doesn’t this rule out the participants having a model of the outside world beyond the contents of the presented studies?

    Aren’t we back at ‘Your Strength as a Rationalist’?
    https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5JDkW4MYXit2CquLs/your-strength-as-a-rationalist

    i.e. 10 people who are skeptical about evidence that 2+2=4 at the same rate that 10 other people are skeptical 2+2=5 is not really an identical bias.

    They start to hint at this two paragraphs later, but it is not complete. Maybe they return to it later in the paper? Can anyone who is further along comment on how such factors can be ruled out?

  53. John Schilling says:

    If there are known “hire these people when you really need it done right” companies, why don’t we just hire them for everything?

    Aside from the fact that there aren’t enough of those companies to do everything, there is the slight problem that they are rarely if ever the lowest bidder on a competitive contract. And that’s a legal and political problem. I recall when the same company was hired to rebuild I-10 after the Northridge Earthquake, with the same objectively stellar results, and I remember the letters and editorials afterwards castigating them and the politicians who hired them for being greedy profiteers for e.g. asking for $200k/day in performance incentives instead of doing the work at cost as their civic duty. I don’t think there were any serious lawsuits that time, but that was before the era when every major contract came with legal protests as a matter of course.

    As I’ve mentioned here before, the lowest bidder for any contract is always a liar, and they won’t stop lying when they get the contract. The subsequent lies are predictable, and almost inevitably result in the contract winding up far behind schedule and over budget. Yet, we have laws that require most government contracts go to the lowest bidder. So, unless there’s some emergency that justifies an exception from that law, we can look at C.C. Meyers and say that we know they can do the job in two years for two billion dollars, and we know that the other guys will all take five years and five billion dollars, but one of the other contractors says they can do it for one billion dollars, so legally the government has to give the deal to the company they know will take longer and cost more.

    And we can sometimes do it the better way, if it’s the sort of emergency where everyone will agree we can dispense with procedural safeguards because we need to get it done fast and because we’re going to be paying close enough attention to know fairly quickly if this isn’t actually the right thing to do. And because judges have some latitude to apply common sense and will handle protests and lawsuits that would delay vital reconstruction efforts differently than they would handle allegations of corruption in ordinary government contracting.

    But we don’t have the bandwidth to pay that close attention to every government contract, and there’s a reason we have laws saying that contracts automatically go to the lowest bidder. Possibly we could come up with a better system if we worked at it, but “let the legislature hand out gigabucks to whoever they want, so long as they pinky-swear that they ‘know’ these are the people to hire when you need it done right”, has some very ugly failure modes.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      It begs the question why other countries don’t suffer from this?

      I can think of a few solutions off the top of my head:

      1) Contracts include a minimum and a maximum payout. The contractor cannot receive more than the maximum from the government in question. By default, The government selects the contractor with the minimum of the average of the two payouts.

      2) Any contractor that fails to achieve a minimum set of specifications for the work upon exhausting the maximum payout is disqualified from submitting any future contracts. [possible exceptions for natural disasters or terror attacks]

      3) The ultimate payouts for contractors are factored into future bids. So for a new bid, instead of taking a straight average of the min and max, they take a dollar weighted average of how far along the min-max dollar spectrum said contractor

      As an example let’s say on a new bid contractor A has a 1 billion to 3 billion min-max spread. But they previously bid on a contract with the same 1-3 billion spread and completed the project at 1.5B, so the submission value of their bid is now {[(1 + 3)/2] + 1.5} / 2 = 1.75 as opposed to 2, so completing the project closer to 1B makes their future bids more competitive. (These are dollar weighted so that small contracts don’t skew the results on bigger ones) Likewise if it had taken the full 3b last time any new bids [using the same dollar amounts] would be {[(1+3)/2] + 3} / 2 = 2.5

      The advantage of the above, with the exception of the issue of defining a terror attack or hurricane/natural disaster, is that it’s almost entirely formulaic. So the government officials are still able to operate in a mostly braindead fashion as long as they have people that can do weighted averaging. The only other nuance might be whether you divide dollars by time or not.

      Maximum bids protect the taxpayer from sleezy contractors and contractors that meet obligations become more competitive in their contracts and visa versa.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It begs the question why other countries don’t suffer from this?

        Why do you believe that to be true?

      • ana53294 says:

        Every European country has massive building project that cost over budget and took a lot longer than expected.

        Spain, France, Germany, and it’s better not to mention the cost of the not yet built Heathrow runway…

        Every Olympic stadium ever will also be over budget and mostly useless.

        • AG says:

          Sure, every country has at least one boondoggle project, but it’s worth see what the median or frequency is, and if/why the US is worse across the board than other countries. It does appear that the US is particularly bad at standard infrastructure projects.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            This. I’m also thinking about it in terms of ‘Dollars per mile’ of road, or bridge, or railroad or subway. Not just vanity construction projects.

          • ana53294 says:

            I can name dozens of cases in Spain where plenty of money was wasted.

            I am not sure it is fair to compare Spanish per mile prices and US prices. Although Spain is more dense than the US, it is less dense than California. Much of the middle of Spain is empty land with few people there; the land there is flat and not really valuable. Most construction costs I have seen include the cost of expropriations. And most of the trainlines built in Spain were built in the middle of nowhere, whereas most new trainline construction projects I have heard of for the US are East or West Coast projects.

            So, if we want to compare Spanish train per mile construction, we shouldn’t compare building a train in Castille to building a train in California. California should be compared to the richer regions of Spain, such as the Basque Country, and there the price per mile is much higher than the Spanish average.

            Americans are also a lot more litigious than Spaniards. The only Europeans who are as litigious are the Brits, probably because they have a similar legal system.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I see this as a big problem, and you’ve got interesting ideas toward fixing them. I hate to be negative because somebody needs to be thinking about solutions, but I still feel the need to talk about where these are weak.

        I think there’s a problem with your #2 and #3 suggestions: it’s difficult to maintain a durable concept of identity for the contractors. Most obviously, a contractor who had a negative outcome can abandon this corporate entity and re-incorporate as a new entity. But perhaps we could factor in some kind of Bayesian average, so a new/young contractor will be assumed close to that average, while more experienced ones can generate a track record that they can do better than the average.

        And having been involved with (non-governmental) contracts in the past, the problem of change requests (and what even constitutes a change) is always going to come up. The contractor is going to argue that it’s not their fault that it’s late, it’s the government’s fault because they changed requirements mid-stream. In the software field this always happens because details that the customer didn’t anticipate are always uncovered, and something has to be done about them.

      • Furslid says:

        What about just requiring that companies have insurance for meeting (or at least coming close to) their bids. Governments only accept contracts from companies that are insured. So if a company tries to bill 5 billion after contracting for 1 billion, their insurance has to pay the government enough to make the payment. Insurance companies would be very invested in keeping bids honest.

        • CatCube says:

          Too much argument about who’s responsible for the overrun. How much of that $4bb is due to underbidding and how much is due to either differing site conditions (which is a huge component of these that the Contractor isn’t responsible for), or the Government either changing their mind or not being able to make a decision (cf. the Aurora VA hospital).

          And if the answer is parties negotiate and if they can’t agree a court decides, then I’m not sure how that differs from what we do now except we’re adding another bond requirement that we eventually end up paying for.

          • If the government changes its mind about what it wants, it has to negotiate the change with the company. But if it doesn’t change its mind, the company and government should be bound by the contract they agreed to.

          • CatCube says:

            And that’s no different that what we have now. If the company doesn’t have a signed change order for the cost overrun, they don’t get paid for the cost overrun. If they do, they get paid for it. The insurance adds no protection to anybody, and is only a cost center.

          • John Schilling says:

            But if it doesn’t change its mind, the company and government should be bound by the contract they agreed to.

            If the government doesn’t change its mind, then you are probably living in Narnia, because that really does take a combination of omniscience and incorruptability.

            Real governments basically always change their mind before any significant contract is complete, and if they aren’t inclined to do so the contractor will encourage them to do so by working to maximally perverse rule. The ability to change the contract allows the contractor to increase his profit, the bureaucrat to exercise his power, may or may not offer real advantages to the end user, and the costs will be borne almost entirely by taxpayers who aren’t paying attention.

            A proposed reform that offers benefits only if the government doesn’t change its mind is a thing of too small a value to be worth fighting for.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Also worth considering: some considerable proportion of underbidding stems from contractor incompetence, not malice, or from misalignment between the incentives of the contractor firm and its employees. Cases where the contractor underbids, the government successfully refuses to overpay, and the contractor goes bust, necessitating the hiring of a new, more expensive contractor to finish the work, are a very real occurrence. Moreover, the threat of this happening incentivises government to effectively bail out underbidding contractors, thus further incentivising malicious underbidding.

          • Furslid says:

            @CatCube – I’d think that differing site conditions should have some specified amounts in a contract or an arbitration process in the contract. Some of the risk of differing site conditions could be passed on to insurance as well.

            @Tarpitz – That’s the reason for insurance. A profit driven insurance company has strong incentives to determine the competence of contractors. The government doesn’t need to bail out incompetents if an insurance company will have to pay for completion.

            @CatCube – The cost of insurance is a big issue. I’m not sure that it would be cheaper overall. We still have an area with out of control costs and broken controls. I think you’re implying that cost overruns don’t get routinely paid, and this doesn’t seem to be the case.

          • CatCube says:

            @Furslid

            You can’t really put any valid amounts for differing site conditions in a contract. If we knew what the differences would be, they wouldn’t be “differing site conditions”, they’d just be “site conditions”.

            And they’ve got an arbitration process: the parties negotiate the new work and the new price. If they can’t agree then they’d either go to formal arbitration (if specified in the contract, but which AFAIK isn’t allowed for the Government) or to the courts.

            They also do have insurance for a contractor going out of business or otherwise not performing the work: Performance bond These are very standard (required by the Government), and one of the things we expect to see from the winning bidder within 7 days of us choosing a contractor.

            And the reason they end up paying overruns is that the overruns are negotiated into the contract. It’s literally illegal for the Government to pay more than the contracted amount, and if you see a news story saying that so-and-so project was originally budgeted for $X but cost $2X, then change orders for the additional $X were negotiated and signed by both parties (or the Contractor sued the Government and won.)

            What I’m trying to say is that everything you’re proposing is either routinely done right now, or won’t work as cost control.

          • Furslid says:

            @CatCube- Those are good points. I still disagree with you on differing site conditions. Yes, we can’t predict what the differences will be in site conditions. However, we can come up with a reasonable probability distribution for them. Insurance is the standard solution for this type of risk in other areas.

          • CatCube says:

            @Furslid

            Even granting for the sake of argument that you wanted to settle differing site conditions with insurance, why should the contractor be the one to purchase insurance? The owner is the one who is choosing the site, is in charge of site investigations, and if the building already exists, has the as-builts. They’re in a far better position to either discover or eliminate the differences, and communicate those to their offerors.

            Returning to whether insurance is the right vehicle, the most common differing site condition is geotechnical, so I’ll put out a tag for @WashedOut and see if he wants to chime in. However, determining what that cost could be would be so complex, and so dependent upon the owner’s investigations that I’d question whether any insurance company would want to take it on–I think they’d reasonably think that the best people positioned to both discover and cover the cost of the differing conditions would be the people paying for the building, which is who covers it now.

            Otherwise, they’ll be writing a policy that either covers so little as to be useless (a policy that only pays out if very specific differing conditions occur) or a policy that has unknown actuarial value (if it covers everything). For what I mean on that second one, what if they discover after turning over the first bucketful of dirt that they’re building on Love Canal II?

    • LesHapablap says:

      Atul Gawande’s Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance has a fantastic chapter about how one cystic fibrosis treatment center in the US has FAR better outcomes than others. The chapter is called “The Bell Curve” and you can read it by itself if you aren’t keen on the rest of the book, but the book is a really quick read.

    • “Lowest bidder” isn’t well defined for a complicated contract. Suppose company A offers to do the job for two billion, completion in a year. Company B offers to do it for 1.9 billion, completion in no more than a year, with an additional payment of a hundred million for every week less than a year it takes. Which is the low bidder?

      It sounds as though the problem you are describing is the failure to enforce contract terms. What prevents a contract in which the low bidder has no recourse if costs go above the bid, and owes substantial damages if it does not complete in the specified time? That would seem the obvious solution.

      • John Schilling says:

        Company A is the low bidder because Company B did not submit a compliant bid. If the government had wanted to include a performance bonus, they’d have included that in the request for proposal and they’d have told the bidders what it was going to be (or what function was going to be used to calculate it).

        Government contracting rarely accommodates “we can’t give you exactly what you want, but we think you’ll like this alternate offer even better and maybe even pay extra for it”. If you can’t give them every single thing they specify, your offer gets roundfiled even if you’re giving them 99% of what they ask at 10% of the price. If you can give them every single thing they specify, you get compared with all the other compliant bidders on raw price alone and with no credit for offering early delivery or extra features. There are some exceptions, but they are usually codified in advance and in sufficient detail that there is no ambiguity.

      • SamChevre says:

        What prevents a contract in which the low bidder has no recourse if costs go above the bid, and owes substantial damages if it does not complete in the specified time?

        The key thing that prevents this is the inevitable need to change something, at some point, in any project. On any substantial project, there will be change orders–and the cost of the changes will be negotiated, since they were not part of the original contract. Changes MAY be costly, and MAY cause delays: not paying what the contractor needs to make the project profitable will guarantee delays.

      • Tarpitz says:

        The threat of bankruptcy for the defaulting low bidder, which is such a gigantic nuisance for the government officials concerned that they will go to great lengths to avoid enforcing the terms of such a contract.

        • sharper13 says:

          This goes back to… maybe the people in charge of designing, awarding and managing government contracts aren’t selected for people who are looking for the best results at the lowest cost, but instead for people who are looking for the maximum political benefit regardless of costs?

    • JPNunez says:

      Well, if the guy really got a $1.5 million bonus for finishing early…wouldn’t that be a cost overrun and thus, actually bad? I doubt the bonus-for-every-day-early was expected to be used for more than a week of early delivery.

      Maybe the reason he doesn’t win every bid is that he is just too expensive. Maybe even with costs overrun in other bidders.

  54. Watchman says:

    Re the Indonesian temple, I’m intrigued to know how they’re coming up with these dates. Dating stone is really tricky, and dating stone that still seems to be deeply-buried is not something I’ve seen attempted. As no methods are mentioned here that is a concern.

    A best guess is that they’ve analysed the soil they’ve sampled, probably using C14 dating, although other methods are available. Which strikes me as a very bad idea: if the pillars are man-made they’re unlikely to automatically date to the age of the soil round them since at least one end has to be dug into that soil for the pillar to stand up… Archaeologists tend to excavate to establish the relationship of physical objects to datable layers, and not to try to date objects by surface analysis only (they may use comparative morphology to make suggestions around a shape, but that clearly doesn’t work here). It might be significant that these conclusions are being presented in a geophysical conference not an archaeological one…

    As to the dating, I’m sceptical. A community capable of megalithic construction could probably exist in upland Java in 1500 BC (comparable to sites such as Cipari) but anything much before that seems unlikely. Jungle is not a natural environment for producing societies that can produce the surplus required for large building projects, so if such a society existed it would need to have cleared the landscape to create an agricultural surplus, and presumably created an ordered landscape focused on ritual sites. The analogy here would be Stonehenge in England, centre of a complex landscape now being understood, and part of a network of sites that may have covered the southwest quarter of the island of Britain, which is archaeolgically visible.

    Indonesian archaeology is nowhere near as advanced as that of the UK, and jungle and rice fields are less easy to investigate than a generally dry and not covered by thick vegetation landscape, so it’s possible western Java could support a megalithic culture capable of large sites a few thousand years earlier. I believe there’s jungle clearings dated to 10000 BC in Sumatra which could indicate suitable activity for such a culture (albeit on a different island), so it seems reasonable to entertain the possibility of a megalithic complex built around then, although to suggest the onus would be on the proposer of that idea to show a society of sufficient complexity may have existed in western Java.

    26000 BC however? That would be the earliest complex culture by over 10,000 years. Hardly likely in a jungle area (early complex societies tend towards river valleys and lakes in semi-arid areas as far as I can see), with limited technology for cutting the jungle back. The evidence for the obsidian-using (and presumably trading) paleolithic cultures in Indonesia is all coastal and on small islands, not over 30 miles inland (in a straight line), so it would be remarkable if these cultures were able to coordinate to produce such a site. Remember, Indonesia has actual living examples of neolithic jungle cultures in Papau, and these indicate the default mode seems to be small bands of hunter gatherers with very limited cooperation with neighbours. Without evidence for a society that doesn’t conform with this model, I’m going to suggest what we have here is geoscientists failing to understand the archaeological principle of stratification and using soil dating for human remains inappropriately, and hope the findings aren’t influenced by the pseudoarchaeologists and/or any attempt to assert some sort of nationalistic primacy in civilisation.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You’re not taking into account that 26,500 years ago, sea level was 120 meters below current level, making Sumatra, Java and Borneo the mountains of Sundaland. These all remained part of the Asian mainland until sea level rose within <30 meters of current level. Since civilizations appear to emerge very close to sea level, most of the evidence for a Pleistocene Indonesian civilization would be deep underwater.

      • Watchman says:

        Yes, but there’s not much of an additional shoreline on the southern side of western Java, which is where we are talking about. It’s a steep drop to the ocean floor.

        Also see my comments about jungles. Assuming that Sundaland was generally fertile, it would have been a jungle, and the evidence for complex societies with stone-age technology in jungles seems minimal (I think the Central American and Amazon examples were metal users).

        I’m not ruling out a lost civilisation in the now sunken world of Sundaland, but to have the complexity to build a megalithic site in what are now the mountains of Java surely it would have to leave traces in the intervening space (which helpfully is the most developed bit of Indonesia, around Jakarta). Otherwise we’re assuming a society capable of building a magalithic site at some remove from their own lands, which is basically an argument for a real Lemuria.

        Edit. Meant to acknowledge that you’re correct I didn’t consider sea level though. The problem with prehistory is there’s always another factor…

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Also see my comments about jungles. Assuming that Sundaland was generally fertile, it would have been a jungle, and the evidence for complex societies with stone-age technology in jungles seems minimal (I think the Central American and Amazon examples were metal users).

          Fair. I don’t have paleoclimate data, but my prior would be that jungles didn’t disappear during the Last Glacial Maximum, and Indonesia would be fertile from volcanism.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think the Central American and Amazon examples were metal users

          It’s a little complicated. The Inca and, later, the Mesoamerican civilizations had gold, silver, copper, and even bronze (probably discovered there around 1200 AD), but they didn’t use bronze as a structural metal to the extent that the Eurasian Bronze Age did; more for ornaments, some small tools, and as a store of value. Independently, some Great Lakes cultures worked native copper, which is abundant in the area, but there isn’t clear evidence of smelting or alloying there.

          I’m not aware of any significant pre-Columbian metalworking in the Amazon area.

        • Dack says:

          Assuming that Sundaland was generally fertile, it would have been a jungle,

          There are other theories.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundaland#Savanna_Corridor_Theory

    • bullseye says:

      The Maya had stone cities and pyramids before they had metal.

      I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that there was a civilization much older than the ones we know about, but there are a lot of shaky claims along those lines out there.

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s almost necessary to have civilization before you have (significant) metal, because there isn’t enough native copper or meteoric iron to matter and bronze requires stable long-distance trade routes and specialization of labor. The interesting thing about the Mesoamerican civilizations is that they endured so long without ever taking the next step, and I’m not sure how much of that can be attributed to resource limitations.

        Indonesia has both tin and copper in significant quantity, so I’d be surprised if any large indigenous civilization didn’t fairly quickly develop bronze and start leaving a distinct archaeological mark.

      • MrApophenia says:

        It certainly doesn’t seem like there is strong (or even vaguely plausible, apart from maybe this pyramid I guess?) evidence for lost civilizations, but given the hundred-plus thousand year history where we had anatomically modern humans and basically know absolutely nothing about what they were up to, it seems likely you could fit some weird stuff in there.

        Give it fifty thousand years and it seems like even relatively sophisticated civilizations could have had all evidence of their existence wiped out.

        (Which of course means we’re never actually going to find out, if so.)

        • Watchman says:

          Anatomically modern humans were not necessarily mentally modern humans. We cannot assume humans were automatically evolved to a point where complex society was possible just because they had the physical form of modern humans. We even have possible evidence that it is not necessary: there is still a minority of humanity who absent effective coercion will disrupt rather than participate in complex society. It may be the reasonably simultaneous development of complex societies in the stone age partially reflects the evolution of humanity to a point where cooperation on a large scale became feasible.

  55. A1987dM says:

    New international study finds that doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough, recommends educating doctors on the need to do this. I find this interesting because all the overweight people I know say they dread going to the doctor because their doctors never do anything else.

    (emphasis added)

    So, basically doctors in most countries don’t often tell their patients to lose weight but those in the US do?

    • fnord says:

      It’s an international study, but US data (in fact, the lack of comparable data for other countries is highlighted in the press release).

      Per my other comment, my guess is that the problem is that the study is counting people who haven’t seen a doctor recently.

  56. nathan98000 says:

    For a further exploration of the paper on political bias, it’s worth noting that prominent psychologists Baron and Jost have written a critique:
    https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~baron/papers/dittoresp.pdf

    And Ditto et. al. have responded to the critique:
    https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~baron/papers/dittoresp.pdf

  57. ana53294 says:

    A system that just works: laws.

    I remember when the smoking ban was being introduced, it was hugely controversial in Spain. Associations of hoteliers and restaurateurs lobbied for months, saying this would ruin them. Smokers complained and said they were being singled out. Bars in Spain where really smoky then; I usually would cry because of the smoke.

    During the campaign that proceeded the law, many said they would break it. Organizations to pay any fines together were created.

    And then the day came… And people just stopped smoking in bars and restaurants. Even in places where the only police is the local municipal policeman who turns a blind eye on such infringements and people ignore plenty of other laws, people mostly followed the law. And the government didn’t do much to enforce the law; a couple of restaurants got fines, but it’s not like there was an army of inspectors looking for places where people smoked.

    Plenty of laws with poor enforcements are followed, if they don’t present a terrible inconvenience.

    • Walter says:

      Law is downstream from culture, for the most part. Smokers lost when people made up studies about second hand smoking. After that it was all a rearguard action.

    • gleamingecho says:

      Suggested edit:

      A system that just works: smoking laws.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Plenty of laws with poor enforcements are followed, if they don’t present a terrible inconvenience.

      That caveat is doing a lot of work. Cf. speed limit laws, which are disobeyed so often that the speed camera business is profitable.

      In general, laws probably “just work” only if people already believed the law was encouraging virtue. If they don’t, laws are probably just ignored, or in some cases, broken only if the individual believes they can escape detection.

    • A1987dM says:

      What other people said. In addition to speed limits, I’ll mention copyright infringement and (in certain places) soft drugs.

      Another thing about smoking bans is that breaking them would have obvious, immediate victims. If you drive 5 mph above the limit or sing “Happy Birthday to You” in public without paying royalties, you’re rather unlikely to meet anyone who gives a damn, but if you smoke in a bar you will annoy some non-smokers, who formerly would have had to suck it up but now have the option of asking the publican to throw you out and calling the police if they don’t.

    • DavidS says:

      Depends where. True here in the UK, but in both France and Greece I’ve seen lots of smoking in allegedly no-smoking areas after the ban (in a family holiday to one of them, I think Greece but not sure, my brother started leaving a restaurant to smoke and was stopped by the proprietor who said it was fine to check inside: after saying ‘does anyone here care?’ and the other patrons saying ‘nah’.)

      I think this fits with the point made above that the smoking ban works because there are people who don’t like smoking and who will be empowered by the law to complain. That’s the enforcement, especially combined with the clear-cut nature of whether it’s occurring (e.g. people also want to police people being anti-socially noisy but you can debate what counts: whereas smoking is more or less smoking)

  58. blumenko says:

    Re: Satanists. The black metal movement has a longstanding segment which is affiliated with Neo-Nazis. I don’t know about the specific record label mentioned, but the comments claim it doesn’t have “excessive amounts” of NSBM (national socialist black metal) and then blame it on faggot Jews.

    • Walter says:

      People always misunderstand the slippery slope that defenders of free speech are worried about.

      Censors always be like ‘Look, we aren’t going to expand the definition to oligarchs or whatever, we promise we will stop at Nazis. It is like Batman killing just the joker. Trust us, we will not be like ‘today nazis, tomorrow catholics’.

      And they are sincere about this. But it isn’t what we worry about.

      The problem with ‘sure, go ahead, censor nazis but no one else!’ is not that they will try and get a second group added to the ban list, it is that they will just call everyone they don’t like nazis. And good luck proving the negative.

      • If you want to make that kind of argument, you should engage with the fact that e.g. incitement to racial hatred was criminalised in the UK in 1986. That is more than enough time for any inevitable slippery slope effects to kick in. There are occasional incidents of dubious enforcement of such laws in the UK, together with more serious problems with libel. But I think you would struggle to build a strong case against the law based on actual historical experience rather than theoretical problems that could arise in future.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Law has a definite advantage over the current topic: it’s written. You can always go back and check the definition of a nazi, and while terms may change meaning, that happens slowly, maybe in decades and not always in the same direction. What Nazi means for a content aggregator or ISP…

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Hasn’t that happened, though? Britons complain about Muslim rape/grooming gangs and get punished for “inciting hatred” against immigrants?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, that’s a particularly strange case to cite of a slippery slope that never happened.

          • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

            If you’re referring to Tommy Robinson, he could easily have avoided that outcome by simply waiting until the trial was over before reporting on the grooming. It’s very much a possibility that Robinson’s conviction was politically motivated, but still it’s hard to shake off the feeling that this was suicide-by-cop on his part…

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Can’t you say that for anyone engaging in civil disobedience? “They could have just followed the rules”?

            For the record, I slot Robinson more into the “this is an example of no free speech in your country” instead of “this is an example of anti-white bias in your country.” It’s bullshit, but a different flavor of bullshit.

        • Walter says:

          This comment was in response to someone saying it was ok to censor satanists because they were nazis, just like I was describing.

          • blumenko says:

            I am not saying that. I am saying some Satanists are actual Nazis i.e. they say they are National Socialist, praise Hitler etc. I don’t know about the group that was cut off is. Maybe PayPal knew they were Nazis and there is no slippery slope, that is just what there stated policy is, or maybe PayPal is stretching the definition. I don’t know.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          They sentenced a man to jail for having his dog do a Nazi salute as a joke. The UK is proof the slippery slope happens.

          • The Nybbler says:

            He was fined 800 pounds, not sentenced to jail. Also it was his girlfriend’s Nazi dog.

          • divalent says:

            @The Nybbler:
            Although the law would have allowed up to 6 months of jail time, if the judge decided to impose that.

            IMO, the existence of such law is often sufficient to suppress speech (via self-censorship), and particularly a law that is actually used to punish people.

        • IrishDude says:

          That is more than enough time for any inevitable slippery slope effects to kick in.

          An Englishman was recently investigated for liking/retweeting un-PC tweets:

          A Twitter user is planning to complain to the Home Secretary after police investigated him for retweeting a poem which suggested transgender women are still men.

          Harry Miller is furious at his ‘Orwellian’ treatment by an officer who rang to check his ‘thinking’ after he had ‘liked’ a limerick which includes the lines: ‘You’re a man. Your breasts are made of silicone… And we can tell the difference… Your hormones are synthetic.’

          In all, the company director – a former policeman – had posted about 30 tweets on transgender issues when he was called by a police officer, who introduced himself as ‘representing the LGBTQ community’ after receiving a complaint.

        • Simon the Sage says:

          This argument would have a lot more weight if the UK government wasn’t doing stuff like prosecuting people posting rap lyrics to social media but this seems seems to be the exact type of thing people warn about.

          https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-merseyside-43816921

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          All the examples in this subthread seem like the sorts of things that if you took your Tardis back to 1986 and said, “under this law, would anyone ever be punished for doing X?” all the people in favor of the law would laugh at you for paranoid alarmism.

        • The Nybbler says:

          @Conrad Honcho

          They’ll laugh at you TODAY. And if you point to examples, they’ll say those are DIFFERENT, that bloke was kind of an asshole after all…

        • deciusbrutus says:

          ” There are occasional incidents of dubious enforcement of such laws in the UK”

          That is sufficient for the slippery slope argument to be true.

      • Temple says:

        Maybe true in theory, but read the literal comments on the page — seems where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The other issue of the slippery slope argument is that if you believe in banning speech for Nazi’s why the hell wouldn’t you believe in a slippery slope? Why aren’t you in favor of restrictions for Stalinists or devotees of Pol Pot? Why shouldn’t we track pedophiles and rapists and limit their ability to be such awful things? Why shouldn’t Nazi sympathizers also be limited, even if just to lesser extents than actual Nazis?

        Why would you just stop at Nazis, what are you an unprincipled piece of crap?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I looked at the band itself and I didn’t see any of that – I don’t know if the article about censorship just attracted that kind of commenter.

      • Steerpike says:

        It’s understandable that an outsider would get that impression. Even a dedicated metalhead unfamiliar with Moribund Records would be forgiven for taking the company at their word. However, Paypal’s decision almost definitely has to do with the label’s release of what many would classify as hate music rather than anything to do with Satanism. “Hate music” is a vague term so here are some examples. They’ve released a number of albums from the band Meat Shits including Sniper at the F– Parade (WARNING: cover is what appears to be a photograph of a severed head so NSFW is probably an understatement; assume similar warnings for every other link in this post) and Violence Against Feminist C—s. Note that the former album is a reissue of an album originally titled The Second Degree of Torture and the liner notes make it clear the message is antigay and not ironic or mere shock value. Moribund has also released albums by Fornicator and Whore who have artwork and lyrics that are reasonably construed as misogynistic (from what I remember, interviews with mutual vocalist Rob Fornicator substantiate this). It’s also of note that those Meat Shits albums were recently streaming on Moribund’s Bandcamp page but were taken down either by Bandcamp or because Moribund realized posting such music would eventually cause problems with Bandcamp and voluntarily took them down.

        I feel safe saying Moribund Records is being disingenuous so they come off more sympathetic. I suggest amending your post to point out it’s unlikely Paypal is targeting Satanists.

        Having said all that, I also want to point out that a recent interview with Robert Dethrage, mastermind of Meat Shits, shows him to have mellowed out somewhat and he along with the members of Fornicator and Whore have not committed murder; something which probably doesn’t sound significant but which isn’t true of other metal bands (e.g. Burzum, Dissection, NME, Emperor) whose work you can readily get from major vendors like Amazon. Paypal is within their rights, but that doesn’t put their choice above criticism. You’d think metalheads would be concerned by these sort of decisions as it’s easy to imagine the same justifications being used against wide swathes of other metal music. A metal aficionado could tell you that Deicide’s “Kill the Christian” and Cannibal Corpses “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” aren’t to be taken as endorsements of violence (the former expresses antireligious sentiment in an exaggerated way typical of metal and the latter is akin to a horror movie or true crime book), but do we really expect censors to distinguish between these and the type of music distributed by Moribund?

  59. Lambert says:

    Speaking of BFR, why *were* 50’s planes so shiny?
    Is it like anti-flash white, designed to minimise radiative heating from nukes?

    • Another Throw says:

      Paint is heavy.

      When you have inefficient 50’s engines and not very lightweight 50’s airframes, the effects of the added weight of the paint is more important than it being slightly more of a pain in the ass to buff bare metal.

    • youzicha says:

      World War 2 era planes also often used unpainted shiny metal (e.g. look at photos of the P-51 Mustang or the B-29 Superfortress), so I think atomic flash is not the reason.

      Some random webpage says that painting or not painting is a tradeoff between maintainance cost and weight:

      Until just after the Second World War, most aircraft exteriors were left unpainted, or decorated with only the airline emblem. Even in recent times some airlines have avoided using paint on their aircraft.

      “Those planes would start to tarnish over time, meaning airlines had to spend time and money polishing them frequently,” Hansman said. “So most airlines now use light coloured paint.”

      But paint is more than aesthetic; it affects the weight of the aircraft and protects the integrity of the airframe, according to the US Federal Aviation Association.

      “While the lighter weight of a polished plane saves fuel costs, the savings are more than offset by the higher cost of washing, polishing and painting a polished fuselage throughout its service life,” says Boeing. The maintenance of polished planes is said to cost S$82,000 more per year than fully painted planes.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        In addition to having weight, paint affects the aerodynamic friction of the aircraft directly. I think with modern paint and application methods the smoother surface provides a greater benefit to fuel use than the added weight costs.

    • John Schilling says:

      Another Throw has most of it. Note that American Airlines traditionally used bare aluminum in their livery to save on weight and thus fuel costs.

      The other part is, in the 1950s, “everybody knew” future wars in the air would be fought by radar-guided missiles from bignum miles away, so the fact that your shiny aluminum airplane was easy to spot with the quaintly antique Mark I eyeball was deemed of no great importance. By the mid-1960s, everyone who was paying attention had learned better.

    • bean says:

      Note also that the Navy, who had to operate planes in a corrosion-heavy environment, didn’t use bare metal paint schemes.

  60. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Unfortunately the healthcare prices article doesn’t really engage with any of RCA’s points. It’s not really trying to do anything except check if the empirical trends from the original “It’s the prices, stupid” paper still hold. Which they do, but RCA’s criticism was not that the trends had stopped holding.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Short summary of said criticism is that the metrics the paper uses–number of doctor visits, hospital bed count, etc.– don’t correlate with health spending across countries in general or within countries over time, and if you look at measures that do correlate with health spending–MRIs, knee replacements, etc.– the US does do more of them. So the US’s extra health dollars are buying stuff, and basically the same stuff other countries buy when they get extra health dollars.

      • baconbits9 says:

        In 2000 the US had fewer physicians per 1,000 population, physician visits per capita, and acute care beds per capita, as well as fewer hospital admissions per 1,000 population and acute care days per capita (data not shown), compared to
        the median OECD country

        The US was still not devoting more real resources to health care than
        most other OECD countries in 2015 or 2016. At that time, the US had 26 percent fewer hospital beds per capita, 20 percent fewer practicing nurses, and 19 percent fewer practicing physicians per capita, compared to the OECD median country

        Notice the difference? By their numbers MD visits per Capita in 2015 was identical for the US and the OECD average. That the US would have the same number of MD visits with 20% fewer doctors and nurses implies that comparing number of doctors+number of nurses as if they are “real” resources (basically commodities) is not a good idea. That the OECD trimmed beds per capita by over 20% from 2000 to 2015 (the US also trimmed by ! 15%) does not support the idea that the US is under-investing in real resources.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Also it looks to me as if it would take 125 years at current graduation rates to get that many practicing nurses if none every died or quit nursing. What am I missing here?

        • rcafdm says:

          It’s also kind of silly to argue the US isn’t using more “real resources” when (a) the health share of employment is clearly much higher in the US and (b) has grown substantially over the past several decades (largest sector in the entire country now).

          More generally, this whole line of critique (“X can’t explain US”) is fundamentally flawed because health spending is clearly growing much faster than disposable incomes and household consumption throughout the developed world and the metrics they’re proposing explain basically none of it (the US can’t reasonably be called an outlier when r=~0 and US is within the normal range of variation). Crude measures like health FTEs actually have much more predictive value than they stuff they cite!

          Sometimes they’ll cite things like MRI density, which were once quite strongly predictive of spending, but they seem to implicitly assume demand for particular technology is infinite. In reality, at some point, rich countries like the US meet ~100% of latent demand and the prices on said technology falls enough for poorer countries to buy it relatively cheaply…. to the point that these measures fail to correlate meaningfully with health spending or income levels (the differences between countries start to become highly idiosyncratic). As time passes, technological variables (and probably most inputs) get less and less positively associated (and sometimes even negatively as high-income countries switch to wholly new categories of technology, treatment, etc). They really need to evaluate them on an annual basis and constantly update these indicators with newer and better technologies to try to explain spending patterns throughout the developed world on an on-going basis). The stats carried by OECD and company are pretty thin vis-a-vis cutting edge medicine at the moment, but some indicators can be found elsewhere (e.g., organ transplant rates) and gaps in these databases clearly doesn’t mean it’s not explained by cutting edge medicine…. a post for another day!

          ~RCA

  61. fnord says:

    I don’t think the actual results of the survey are as simple as “doctors don’t tell people to lose weight enough”, and hence I don’t think it’s inconsistent with your anecdotal experience.

    Per the paper (and consistent with what I can see of the actual questions asked by the NHANES survey), what people were actually asked was “during the past 12 months have you ever been told by a doctor or health professional to: [do intervention]?” Presumably, people who haven’t seen a doctor in the past 12 months would answer “no”.

    So it’s not necessarily the case that doctors aren’t telling the people they do see about lifestyle interventions. It could simply be that people aren’t seeing doctors in the first place (whether because of the specific obesity-related issues you mention or any of the many other reasons people don’t see doctors).

    • caryatis says:

      I agree. It may also be the case that fat people are told to lose weight once (or not at all) and find it so aversive they fear it ever after. Opinions that amplify the self-loathing voice in your head tend to stick with you.

  62. Virriman says:

    Potential issues with the anti-puppy mill legislation:

    It’s definitely going to be disruptive for scrupulous (non-abusive) breeders. Those that make a living selling most of their product to pet stores will need to change up their entire business model. Those who use pet stores as a fallback during a slow season of face to face sales lose a safety net. It might be good for independent breeders in the long run by outlawing a middleman, but it will definitely cause them grief in the short run. Not sure if this rises to the level of “horrifying”, but even utilitarians should hesitate to push a bunch of innocents in front of trolleys in the hopes of achieving uncertain benefits contingent on second order effects (even if maybe the trolleys won’t hit them if they’re lucky).

    It’s irreversible. Let’s be honest – even if the law had minimum impact against puppy mill operations, nobody is going to reverse it. More likely is that nobody is even going to try to verify the law’s effectiveness. If it makes puppy mills worse, anyone making that claim will be ignored or drown out by calls for even more legislation.

    It takes a mechanism for fighting puppy mills off the table. As retail businesses with fixed locations and a lot of repeat customers, pet stores need to guard their reputations. If a puppy mill gets busted by the authorities, none of them want to be outed as a primary buyer, so they have an incentive to vet their vendors.

    With the pervasive influence campaign aimed at convincing people to adopt pets rather than purchase them, surely we can’t treat store bought pets as the “default”. The people who ignore the campaign and choose to purchase their pets from a store anyway have made a conscious decision and aren’t going to be “nudged” into another default behavior by this legislation. Those kinds of customers will simply seek out breeders online. Unlike the stores, individual customers have neither a reputation to protect nor the experience dealing with multiple breeders that could help them notice red flags. This is the mechanism by which the law could INCREASE the number of puppy mills.

    More generally this legislation shares too much of the same logic as the war on sex trafficking for comfort. Did outlawing brothels or shutting down Backpage cut down on sex trafficking? I doubt it, but the collateral damage certainly made social conservatives happy. Just as sex work is conflated with sex trafficking, pet breeding is getting conflated with puppy mills. Both issues have extremists devoted to pushing that conflation and stoking a moral panic in the hopes that the conflagration gets large enough to burn their enemies – (sex work and pet animals as for profit industries respectively). My guess is that this legislation will do little to achieve its stated aims, but the collateral damage will certainly bring a smile to a certain kind of animal rights activist.

    • Mary says:

      Here’s another issue: it’s breeding domestication OUT of dogs and cats.

      The more you neuter and otherwise refuse to breed the tame animals, the more future cats and dogs will be descendants of feral animals.

      Also, of course, fraudulent rescue charities rely on puppy mills for their supply, so that will operate against success.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Unlike the stores, individual customers have neither a reputation to protect nor the experience dealing with multiple breeders that could help them notice red flags.

      Puppy mills are cartoonoshly evil; they only sell to pet stores because pet stores don’t seem to care about buying pets from cartoonoshly evil businesses, whereas most people do, because they buy pets because they want to love and cherish them. This isn’t a matter of red flags, because these places are basically dog concentration camps, and pet stores have basically no disincentive from moving the jew tooth gold.

      Tell me you’d be happy to walk into here and give the person running the place your money in exchange for one of these animals. Go ahead.

      • Dack says:

        It’s kind of the opposite of a concentration camp if you think about it.

        They are not gathering up all the dogs in order to rid the world of them. They are generating as many dogs as possible in order to disperse them into the world.

  63. ksvanhorn says:

    If there are known “hire these people when you really need it done right” companies, why don’t we just hire them for everything?

    Public choice economics, Scott. Read up on it. Once you realize that people in government are self-interested individuals just like everyone else, these things start making a lot more sense.

    • Furslid says:

      I’d also add that super-competence isn’t cheap. To be incredibly competent and reliable costs more money (top of the line equipment, redundant equipment, large staffs, etc.) It’s often a better use of resources to get a cheaper, slower option. If I’m ordering something online, I trust fedex for shipping. If I needed an organ for transplant delivered I’d use a “hire these people when you really need it done right” and have a dedicated courier.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Since this was +1’d, I’ll bite:

      In what ways is it in the self-interest of the organization choosing the contractor to pick ones that fail to deliver, are behind-schedule, or generally incompetent?

      Is this an outcome that voters are known to reward?

      • John Schilling says:

        The decision isn’t made by “the organization”, but by individual people within the organization. These people have interests which differ from those of the organization – that’s pretty much the whole point of public choice economics. And almost never are the people who award contracts actually elected officials.

        To the extent that elected officials do care about any of this, they mostly care about avoiding the appearance of incompetence or corruption. And for reasons others have already noted, appearances are only weakly correlated with reality in such matters.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I was intending to use the phrase “the organization choosing the contractor” to refer to the committee that chooses such projects, not the government/society in general, but I can understand the ambiguity in my wording.

          I admit to being somewhat ignorant on this subject. I’ve seen this concept batted around before and I’ve always found it a little confusing. Or at least, I’m not sure if the insight is so obvious that it doesn’t feel like “insight”, or if I’m missing something significant.

          So, I understand that in any employer/employee relationship, the employer wants results and the employee just wants the appearance of results. He wants good enough appearances, at least, to convince his employer that he should remain hired on. I get that.

          But its not like the employer isn’t incentivized to monitor the actual outcome. If the boss says “make ten pizzas”, and the employer thinks “Ah, I don’t actually care about ten pizzas, I just care about the appearances of there being ten pizzas, enough to convince my boss…” Well, okay?

          Is the insight here that “sometimes people swindle you?” This doesn’t explain the supposed systematic nature of the lousy contracts that Scott was describing though.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The people are the employer. The government is the employee. The contractors are subcontractors. The people, as the employers of the government, have trouble monitoring the actual outcome because they individually lack resources. What are they going to do, watch the [redacted]? Any attempt to collectively monitor will be colonized and corrupted.

            In this case you can see that the reason shit actually got done is because the problem was so blatant that even the people could see whether or not it was being fixed.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The people, as the employers of the government, have trouble monitoring the actual outcome because they individually lack resources. What are they going to do, watch the [redacted]?

            I understand that there’s a cost to shifting through all the available information, when vetting the best employee or contractor. For example if I need a repair, sometimes I just call the first number that Google gives me rather than meticulously parsing through the reviews and doing price comparisons. My time is money, after all, so I have to factor in time and energy spent both in vetting and outcome-monitoring in the “best outcome” equation.

            Is this the intended insight? What are the proposed solutions to this problem? It just seems like a unavoidable trade-off that happens everywhere and all the time.

          • Tarpitz says:

            If the US is anything like the UK in this respect, the officials who make these decisions are essentially unfireable, advance primarily through a combination of seniority and not asking difficult questions rather than actual merit, and in some cases are pushed for promotion to other departments for which they have no relevant experience because it’s the only way for their manager to get rid of an unusually inept underling.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The problem is that in a democratic system, the payoff for sifting through the information is vastly less than in a personal household autocracy. Each individual person only contributes epsilon to The People, so individual efforts to monitor The People’s employees amount to a fart in a thunderstorm. Even if you meticulously parse through the candidates for your state legislature and decide that one’s a crook and a fraud and another is a thing-getter-doner, you will wind up with the first almost as often as you would if you paid no attention and didn’t bother to vote. Any monitoring of the people’s employees has to be done at scale, and our tools for doing so are not functional.

            As far as proposed solutions, the [redacted] have some.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The problem is that in a democratic system, the payoff for sifting through the information is vastly less than in a personal household autocracy. Each individual person only contributes epsilon to The People, so individual efforts to monitor The People’s employees amount to a fart in a thunderstorm.

            I don’t understand the relation between the influence-problem and democracy. It seems that its the number of people you are competing against for influence, not the internal structure of the particular organization you are dealing with, that is the problem.

            For example, I can’t effectively “punish” Walmart for making what I think is a bad decision, because millions of other people would still shop at Walmart.

          • Guy in TN says:

            As far as proposed solutions, the [redacted] have some.

            Let’s be clear on what the problem is first: We are getting bad outcomes because there’s very little payoff to shifting through information + voting, because of low levels of voter influence.

            It seems to me that switching from a “democratic system” to “market system with dispersed property” accomplishes little in solving this collective-action problem, since you just replace the votes with dollars.

            And is the other solution (I’m assuming since you left it redacted) switching to a system of highly concentrated power, where the decision-maker doesn’t have to listen to votes or dollars? So we “solve” the problem of people with information having little influence…by giving them no influence at all?

            Not wanting to strawman you since you havn’t spelled it out, apologies if I’ve misread you here.

          • suntzuanime says:

            That’s true, you cannot effectively monitor Walmart and force it to produce results. You are not Walmart’s employer. You are its trading partner. You cannot demand results from Walmart for exactly that reason. It’s the stockholders who employ Walmart, it’s the stock market which demands results from Walmart. The stock market is a more or less functional method of collectively monitoring, with the caveat that it can only effectively monitor for profitability. You don’t enter into the equation except inasmuch as you can be interacted with to generate the profit the stock market demands. If Walmart could make more profits by telling you to go hang, they would so tell you, and you would have no recourse.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m just explaining to you here why democracies are especially bad at this, why it’s not just a matter of “sometimes people swindle you”, why it’s specifically *public* choice economics where this issue comes up. If you despair of finding someone virtuous to rule who would promote the public good, if you would prefer utter ineffectiveness and waste to effectiveness that you can’t pretend to be the boss of, that’s fair.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            For example, I can’t effectively “punish” Walmart for making what I think is a bad decision, because millions of other people would still shop at Walmart.

            You can “punish” Walmart by not giving them your patronage anymore. If lots of other people agree with you that Walmart is making poor decisions, then their bad decisions can result in significant punishment. This is true even if only a minority of people, say 20% of their customers, think they are making bad decisions. (BTW, even if you’re the only one who thinks Walmart makes a bad decision, being able to not give them more of your money is still a nice benefit to you.)

            Suppose Walmart and Target are two options for providing household goods. The government system would have us vote for those two options, and whichever one got 51% of the vote would then provide 100% of the services. If 51% prefer Walmart’s good providing solution and 49% prefer Target’s, then 100% of people get Walmart as the provider. The preferences of 49% of the populace are not satisfied.

            Contrast that against a market, where the preferences of 100% of the populace are satisfied, as both Walmart and Target exist and can each cater to only the subset of customers who prefer the services they provide. Any customer can switch providers to a competitor the minute they don’t feel like they’re getting a good deal, and this create strong incentives for Walmart, Target, or ANY business in the market to attempt to make good decisions and provide good deals to current and prospective customers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Guy in TN

            The Principle Agent problem exists for all organizations that have more than one person involved, but the degree to which it is a problem depends on the degrees of separation between costs/benefits and actionable power.

            Take a hypothetical company with 1 million shares each held by 1 person, that pays out 100% of its profits in the form of dividends. If that company has a budget overrun that costs $1 million in profits then every shareholder has borne $1 in cost, there might be a coordination problem getting enough of them together to act, but their incentives and their power are reasonably aligned.

            If instead we have a majority stakeholder with 500,001 shares of stock then the overrun cost him $500,001 dollars. He has the incentive plus the power to make changes to the structure.

            Under a democracy you have a major shift in the incentive/power dynamic. The people who pay the most taxes don’t have extra votes, so while their incentive to monitor spending might be high* the individual power to alter the actions are low.

            These issues only get worse as you look deeper into the structure of democracy. Even when there is an alignment of voting power and incentives the people elected often don’t end up with direct power of the processes themselves, and to get the right combination in to have that power becomes another coordination problem. Another level is when individuals are benefiting from the cost overruns have just as many votes as the people suffering from them, this is not the typical case in a corporation with contractors holding blocks of votes within the company.

            *It typically isn’t high as they don’t lose out directly in the form of forgone dividends, it is unclear exactly who ‘pays’ for each individual program. In the end the incentive drifts from opposing individual programs to opposing broad government spending.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @IrishDude

            Contrast that against a market, where the preferences of 100% of the populace are satisfied, as both Walmart and Target exist and can each cater to only the subset of customers who prefer the services they provide.

            I don’t see the difference from states here- you can always choose what country you live in, many have very open immigration policies. Its true you are born into a state, but you could also be born into a city that only had a Walmart (I was!). So in both cases there’s costs involved in switching from your starting position.

            Any customer can switch providers to a competitor the minute they don’t feel like they’re getting a good deal, and this create strong incentives for Walmart, Target, or ANY business in the market to attempt to make good decisions and provide good deals to current and prospective customers.

            Some business find themselves the sole provider in a given area too, though. Like my electric company, or my trash pickup company. I’m not sure its realistic to expect there to be a vibrant market of multiple competing entities for every service. And once again, this problem isn’t unique to states.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            The people who pay the most taxes don’t have extra votes, so while their incentive to monitor spending might be high* the individual power to alter the actions are low.

            If we assume that most government spending acts on average as a transfer of wealth from high-tax people to low-tax people, wouldn’t the low-tax people have a huge incentive to monitor wasteful spending, since they would be the primary beneficiaries of it, had it not been wasted? I agree that the high-tax people care about not increasing spending in as much as it relates to higher taxes, but I don’t understand how you can so easily say that they have more incentive not to waste money than the welfare recipients.

            But even this narrow analysis of direct costs/benefits misses the complexities involved in taxation/spending’s role in maintaining social stability (which you may disagree with, but most others don’t, which is what matters here. Notice how even the rich rarely vote for the Libertarians.)

            Using “dollars spent” as a proxy for incentives doesn’t seem defensible. (For example, a person with no money on Medicare life-support would be classified as having “no incentive” to maintain taxation/spending, despite their life literally depending on it). The best choice, given the many variables involved, is to give each person 1 non-transferable influence-unit, which corresponds to their roughly equal share incentive in maintaining government functions.

          • For example, I can’t effectively “punish” Walmart for making what I think is a bad decision, because millions of other people would still shop at Walmart.

            When you decide Walmart is providing poor quality goods or service you stop buying from them, not in order to punish them but in order to protect yourself, so it’s worth doing even if it has no effect on Walmart. If lots of people reach the same conclusion you do, Walmart is worse off, which gives them an incentive to change their behavior–but that’s not why you do it.

            Voting against a political candidate doesn’t provide any analogous benefit, so you have a much weaker incentive to evaluate the information and act on it.

            The argument only applies to behavior by Walmart that affects the customer. If you think Walmart should pay their employees more and stop buying from them for that reason, the situation is analogous to voting against a candidate–your action has only a trivial effect on Walmart’s behavior, even if they know why you did it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Does public choice theory really rely on the assumption that only the incentives of the wealthy matter, since they are the ones who are able to “express” it in the form of spending dollars?

            Is this right?

          • baconbits9 says:

            If we assume that most government spending acts on average as a transfer of wealth from high-tax people to low-tax people, wouldn’t the low-tax people have a huge incentive to monitor wasteful spending, since they would be the primary beneficiaries of it, had it not been wasted?

            You have to make multiple assumptions here. Even if the average dollar is a transfer dollar, it doesn’t mean the marginal dollar is and you have to argue that the size and scope of the government has no relationship to their ability to tax and transfer. Even then you are still stuck with the coordination issue, which is magnified by the way spending is spread out. The ‘ideal’ outcome for voters would be to limit wasteful spending in all areas but their local ones where they would gain the most from transfers + the wasteful spending.

            I agree that the high-tax people care about not increasing spending in as much as it relates to higher taxes, but I don’t understand how you can so easily say that they have more incentive not to waste money than the welfare recipients.

            Even granting your proposition the welfare recipients have a much lower individual incentive as the spending is distributed across many more of them, making coordination more difficult.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Voting against a political candidate doesn’t provide any analogous benefit

            It doesn’t provide an analogous benefit, but only because you are switching from buying something for individual consumption (e.g. items at Walmart) to buying something collectively for mass consumption (e.g. a bridge over a river). In the latter, your benefit materializes not incrementally, but only if you can get enough other people to agree with you (just like with voting).

            The disconnect between action/reward you’ve highlighted is one that comes with paying into any large-scale project, state-ran or private.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbit9

            Even granting your proposition the welfare recipients have a much lower individual incentive as the spending is distributed across many more of them, making coordination more difficult.

            Which is countered by the diminishing marginal utility of money, making the money much more valuable the poor (remember my Medicaid life-support example?)

            I’m not sure what the exact ratios are of course, but one could easily imagine for a billionaire one incentive-unit being equal to $10,000, and for a poor person the same incentive-unit being only $1.

            Does public choice theory rely on their incentive-units being the same dollar amount?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            The ‘ideal’ outcome for voters would be to limit wasteful spending in all areas but their local ones where they would gain the most from transfers + the wasteful spending.

            Why would the ideal outcome for the recipients of the transfers to have >0% of it be waste? (Particularly in transfers they personally benefit from?)

          • baconbits9 says:

            Using “dollars spent” as a proxy for incentives doesn’t seem defensible. (For example, a person with no money on Medicare life-support would be classified as having “no incentive” to maintain taxation/spending, despite their life literally depending on it).

            The patient relying on Medicare has an incentive to perpetuate the medicare system, in the same way that the contractor who gets payed more for projects that go over budge has an incentive. The patient doesn’t care about efficiency, or utility or functionality, they care that they get their treatment.

            Public choice theory is about explaining why there are few checks when it comes to government efficiency and why highly inefficient systems exist despite an overwhelming majority of people agreeing that government waste is generally wrong.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Why would the ideal outcome for the recipients of the transfers to have >0% of it be waste? (Particularly in transfers they personally benefit from?)

            Because the whole is much larger than the individual. Imagine if the US government had a program to tax everyone $100 and transfer everyone $100. The whole country gets together and decides to scrap this program, except for Bob who is particularly persuasive. He convinces them to scrap everything except the transfer to him plus some tiny fraction of the tax that would pay for his $100. Everyone else gets a 99.9999% reduction in taxes and Bob gets $100 and a 99.9999% reduction in taxes.

          • John Schilling says:

            If we assume that most government spending acts on average as a transfer of wealth from high-tax people to low-tax people, wouldn’t the low-tax people have a huge incentive to monitor wasteful spending, since they would be the primary beneficiaries of it, had it not been wasted?

            Which poor person specifically, and which spending program should they monitor? There’s a huge coordination problem there.

            Assume we have a hundred million poor people, who collectively stand to benefit from a trillion dollars of government spending. That’s $10K each, which is a big deal for a poor person. And we’ll make it easy, and assume that even one hour of investigating is enough to uncover fraud, waste, and abuse that will increase the efficiency of a government program by 10%, and that a hundred gadflies sending letters is enough for congress to do something about it.

            But that trillion dollars is spread over a thousand billion-dollar programs. If a poor person picks one and spends an hour working it, the poor-people community as a whole gets $100E6, which is a pretty big deal, but our hero gets a whole dollar as his share. That’s maybe a tenth of minimum wage. And he only gets that much, if at least 99 other people picked the same issue to get involved in – but if a full 100 other people did so, he’d have gotten the same dollar for nothing. So his marginal expected return for an hour’s political activism is maybe a shiny new penny.

            The obvious solution would be for poor people to coordinate their efforts so there’s the right number of people working on each issue, arrange extra rewards (even if they have to be non-monetary awards like status) for the ones who do the hard work, and since it really requires more than an hour at a time you should probably pool your pennies to hire some specialist experts to work full time and supplement with part-time volunteers working for status/exposure. But at that point some of these people will realize they might as well run for office themselves, and you’ve just reinvented the Democratic party – and learned the hard way that public choice economics also applies to the differing incentives of the people you task with performing dedicated specialized oversight of government programs to make sure they aren’t corrupted by public choice economics.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Which is countered by the diminishing marginal utility of money, making the money much more valuable the poor (remember my Medicaid life-support example?)

            It is a large assumption that it is countered by this (ie that the marginal utility is strong enough to overcome the difficulty in coordinating), and you skipped over the first two objections. There is basically no reason for a poor person to think that rooting out corruption will lead directly to more money in their pocket, just the same as there is little to no reason for a rich person to think that rooting out individual instances of corruption and inefficiency will lead to lower taxes.

            Your example of the medicare recipient is what Public Choice Theory is about, your recipient, or a drywall contractor, or a lobbyist, has a strong incentive while there is a break in what would normally be a counter balancing factor.

          • Clutzy says:

            ^^ Concentrated benefits with diffuse costs is how most “graft” usually exists. And if its only a few places, taxpayers don’t notice. But then so many groups have their little fiefdoms of graft that the tax burden ends up becoming quite substantial and the budget quite wasteful.

            Like, lets say there is a small town that is running fine, but they mayor wants a secretary (not really needed) and a new city hall (also not needed). He gets a construction firm and architecture firm on his side and they spend some money on campaigning and convince people this is needed (and most barely care because it costs like $5 in taxes per person per year). Then those 20 or so people get a ton of taxpayer cash and benefits.

            Now repeat this for the library, fire station, police, etc etc. And again repeat for seniors, single mothers, single fathers, the handicapped, nonsmokers, smokers, etc.

            And eventually it gets to the point that even those interest groups that get a lot of stuff would be better off if the town went to the old system, but each group isn’t willing to be the rubes that give up their benefit first.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            The patient doesn’t care about efficiency, or utility or functionality, they care that they get their treatment.

            If the argument is that people are often selfish and more care about personal utility more than net-utility, that makes sense. Like, when you poll people everyone claims they want “utility”, but then when you look at their collective-actions you see a net utility-decrease, because too many people are defining utility as “benefits for myself”.

            I don’t know why you would call this “public choice theory” though since it relates to all aspects of life…

            Your example of the medicare recipient is what Public Choice Theory is about, your recipient, or a drywall contractor, or a lobbyist, has a strong incentive while there is a break in what would normally be a counter balancing factor.

            I’m still not understanding where what this “break” is, that allows for an incentive to waste. In the medicaid recipient example, why wouldn’t the public care that the dollars actually arrive at their target? Is it because when they buy “government”, they are buying too many other things at once?

            you skipped over the first two objections.

            I didn’t understand those objections at all. If you fleshed them out some more, it would make it less of a Gish Gallop.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @John Schilling

            I agree that because governments are such large entities, people have a significant coordination problem when trying to influence them in making positive changes. But the same issue would apply to a large enough corporation, no?

          • John Schilling says:

            But the same issue would apply to a large enough corporation, no?

            The corporation only(*) gets to be “large enough” if it is efficient enough to outcompete all other corporations in the same market. And if it stops being efficient, it will eventually stop being large.

            Also, the corporation gets to partition itself and use tools like “Alice, you’re now in charge of cleaning up the notorious Division X. If you can cut its $500E6 burn rate by ten percent without compromising deliverables, we’ll give you a five million dollar bonus”. That’s comparable to the amount that can be safely grifted from such a budget, so it brings the agent’s interests back into alignment with the organization’s. Why the government can’t use the same sort of tool, is left as an exercise for the student.

            * Barring a monopoly, which usually requires government support

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m still not understanding where what this “break” is, that allows for an incentive to waste.

            The break is the break in who gets the benefits of stopping waste.

            Lets say you go to buy a new car, the car owner wants to sell to you at the highest price he can get and you want to buy at the lowest price you can get. These incentives push in opposite directions*, however if Bill Gates showed up and told you he pulled your name out of a hat and he would pay for any car you wanted then your incentive for keeping the price of a car down is practically gone and when the car salesman offers you undercoating for an extra $1,500 you just take it in stride and the price of the car goes up by more than the value of all the extras the car ends up with have to you**.

            The break happens when the person who should be monitoring the price to value ratio of the good loses his incentive to monitor it.

            *not necessarily equally as the professional car salesman probably has an advantage over the amateur car buyer.

            ** that is how much you would have spent of your own money.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @JohnShilling

            The corporation only(*) gets to be “large enough” if it is efficient enough to outcompete all other corporations in the same market. And if it stops being efficient, it will eventually stop being large.

            If the standard for a successful corporation isn’t “maximally efficient”, but merely more efficient than any given alternatives, why isn’t this same standard extended to governance? It seems like a double standard, criticizing the state for not achieving the most efficient imaginable outcome, while being fine with private power if it achieves the most efficient practical outcome.

            Could we not say that yes, the state has inefficiencies, but unless someone comes up with a better plan and is able to implement it, the state is sufficiently “efficient”?

          • Skivverus says:

            If the standard for a successful corporation isn’t “maximally efficient”, but merely more efficient than any given alternatives, why isn’t this same standard extended to governance?

            Sometimes it is; immigration/emigration comes to mind. Coups and invasions also come to mind, but those are analogies to different features of corporate ecosystems (takeovers and buyouts, respectively).

            Mainly, though, I’d say the issue is switching costs: switching products is relatively* easy. Switching jobs or moving is harder. Switching both job and residence due to moving to a different state is harder still, and don’t get me started on cultural or language barriers.
            Far easier to try pointing out the issues that would make you switch if it weren’t such a pain.

      • nameless1 says:

        It’s enough to not have self-interest in choosing the ones who do deliver. Failing to deliver should be seen as the default case, because entropy, laziness etc. Look. If you do work, any work, for any customer or purpose, and if you just follow the rules, you will still inevitably find situations that require setting the rules aside and coming up with a creative idea, or working overtime or making others do so. Just not doing these and going on “by the book” is rather a guarantee for failure.

  64. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Is “enlightened treasure hunters finding scriptures” unique in Buddhism to Tibet? I seem to remember reading years ago that one of the differences between Theravada and Mahayana is that the latter has sutras that aren’t in the Pali Canon, and they had to justify their existence as “these are words of Gautama Buddha that nagas recorded and hid in their treasure caves.”

    • Nornagest says:

      That’d make a pretty good RPG concept.

    • nameless1 says:

      Some Mahayana practitioners believe that about some of the texts. This is not the whole story. Obviously, western scholars are interested in texts. This gives the impression that the texts were super-important which is not really true. Buddhahood being a state of mind, most Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioners believe that the historic (fourth) Buddha recognized some students attained it, anointed them to make their own teachings, who did this in turn with their students, forming a lineage extending into the current era. So there are the original texts or claimed original texts, there was and is something like a master-apprentice relationship, there are the texts written by the apprentices who became masters and there are just oral teachings of the apprentices who became masters. While the teacher’s authority rested on such a lineage going back to the historic Buddha, they did not have to justify that everything they teach come from the Buddha’s own words, the sutras. It was enough to say that having their teacher ascertained that they are enlightened, now they can teach whatever is needed out of their own experience.

      The hidden texts in Tibet (terma) were simply hidden because of the persecution during King Langdarma. Which makes sense. I think one difference is that we are not finding Bibles from the period where Christians were fed to lions, but find these stuff in Tibet that the Tibetan climate might be better at preserving them. Think Andes mummies and suchlike.

  65. Lambert says:

    Is the way in which contractors are chosen by non-government organisations (businesses, nonprofits, arms-length bodies etc.) significantly better?

    • John Schilling says:

      It is more flexible, which allows one to steer clear of obviously-bad moves like buying from the lowest bidder, and exploiting opportunities like the guys you hadn’t known could give you almost everything you asked for at a much lower cost.

      The down side is that it is more flexible, which allows one to e.g. curry favor with one’s brother-in-law by steering money to his overpriced firm, or rake in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for telling your boss that for sure this contractor is offering us a great opportunity and doing anything else would be an obviously-bad move.

      The first sort of thing can result in an amazingly successful corporation or NGO, the latter in a slow slide into bankruptcy or some more exciting failure mode. When applied to governments, that is one of the leading causes of “failed states”, which are much more troublesome to deal with than failed corporations.

      • JG28 says:

        The down side is that it is more flexible, which allows one to e.g. curry favor with one’s brother-in-law by steering money to his overpriced firm, or rake in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for telling your boss that for sure this contractor is offering us a great opportunity and doing anything else would be an obviously-bad move.

        This problem is just as, if not more, prevalent in government contract bids.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Indeed. There’s probably some supposedly objective metric for scoring tender documents, but in practice the civil servant doing the scoring has enormous scope for skewing the result. One might suggest anonymising the tenders prior to scoring, but in practice any tender document inevitably contains enough information to identify the contractor to any remotely knowledgeable person.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tarpitz

            Anonymising won’t work if the civil servant already decided who should win. They can just write the tender to the strengths of the company they want to win.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          A private organization decides how much it effort it will put into fighting the internal waste, fraud, and abuse that is inevitable in any organization.

          The government creates insane policies to fight these that often end up costing more than the WFA would ever cost in the first place.

          A private organization can just fire people for WFA which helps keeps things sane. Civil service protections are probably a Good Idea to stop Andrew-Jackson-style spoils systems, but the other side is that you then need to somehow formalize the anti-WFA programs; other people have commented here already about how hard that is.

    • Eric Rall says:

      The big problem with government contractors is corruption and the measures that have been put in place to control it. Historically, there have been big problems with elected officials and civil servants handing out contracts in ways that are in their own interests (most blatantly in exchange for kickbacks, favors, campaign support, or lucrative post-government employment, but there are other more subtle ways) but not necessarily in the interests of taxpayers or voters as a whole. And while overt bribery is illegal, it can be difficult to prove, especially when there’s no explicit quid pro quo.

      The response to this has been to make the contractor selection process as rules-based as possible, with competitive bidding against fixed requirements, rules for qualifying contractors to bid, etc. This does reduce corruption, but at the expense of discretion that could be used to improve efficiency (such as exercising professional judgement to accept a higher bid from a more reliable contractor). This can hurt things pretty badly when the requirements change, perhaps because of a new administration with different priorities, or because the original requirements turn out to be impossible.

      There are also a ton of ways for agency costs to still bleed through the rules: the agency costs can be baked into the rules, especially if there’s a plausible non-corrupt reason for the rules (e.g. pro-union politicians passing rules requiring contractors to pay “prevailing wages” (usually based on standard union wages) to their employees, or NIMBYs adding environmental/community-impact reviews to the approval process). And whoever writes the requirements against which the prospective contractors bid has opportunities to both 1) write the requirements to be easier to follow for their preferred contractor, and 2) write the requirements to their own advantage at the expense of efficiency.

      Agency costs are also a problem in non-government organizations, but they become worse with the size of the organization, the degree of difficulty for the organization’s owners to exercise effective oversight, and the breadth and subjectivity of the organization’s goals (narrower and more objective goals making it easier to rationalize a decision made out of self-interest as really being in the organization’s interests). The government tends to have it worse than most non-governmental organizations on all these fronts.

      • Eric Rall says:

        2) write the requirements to their own advantage at the expense of efficiency.

        An interesting case study in this is specifications for drywall finish levels in government buildings.

        A little background: the surface of interior walls is generally made of manufactured panels of drywall, which is a big slab of gypsum plaster wrapped in paper (or a paper-like substance) for stability, nailed or screwed to the wooden frame of the wall. Where two panels meet, there’s a seam (called a joint) that needs to be closed to make a continuous wall, and the standard way to close it is to bridge the gap with tape for stability (traditionally paper, although fiberglass mesh tape has been overtaking paper in popularity) and cover the tape in manually-applied plaster. The nails and screws are countersunk (the heads are driven below the surface of the panel, leaving small divots), and these divots are also manually covered in plaster.

        There are six standardized levels of how nice a job you can do plastering the joints: Level 0 is no plaster at all, just the panels butted together. Level 1 is just tape and enough plaster to get it to stick. Level 2 is the joints and divots filled roughly with plaster. Level 3 knocks down or sands out tool marks from a Level 2 finish and feathers out the plaster with an additional thin coat for a flatter finish. Level 4 is an additional round of sanding and feathering. Level 5 is a level 4 finish plus a skim coat of plaster over the entire surface of the wall for a completely flat and uniform finish. Level 5 is about 10-20% more expensive (for the entire process of hanging, taping, and plastering, including materials) than Level 4.

        Each additional level is more work (and more dry time between coats, requiring more calendar days of work) and requires more skill to do properly, both of which make them more expensive. Residential and commercial construction usually specify a level 3 finish for walls that are going to have a texture applied, or level 4 for walls that are going to be left smooth, with level 5 reserved for luxury residential construction and for rooms where harsh direct light will be shining across the walls (e.g. art galleries). Government buildings commonly specify level 5 as a matter of course.

  66. Winja says:

    I’m mildly bummed that my link to a pants-on-head conspiracy sight that has a document name-checking Scott didn’t make the cut for this week’s entry.

    🙁

  67. JohnNV says:

    I’ve hired contractors both in government and private contexts, and in my experience, the private contracting has a few advantages:

    1. Government typically sets a compensation at the median wage for that position’s experience level and credentials, whereas private organizations tend to pay based on perceived quality. The result is that the government tends to contract with only those with skills in the bottom-half of the distribution because those in the top half have found better-paying opportunities

    2. I’ve found private organizations to be more flexible. They are open to bringing someone on to help solve a problem and modify the requirements based on the feedback from the contractor about the best approach. Government organizations aren’t really able to do that because of contracting rules, they have to state the requirements in advance, and if a new, more efficient approach is discovered over the course of the contract, they can’t change the terms of the original contract without an entirely new contracting process which isn’t usually feasible in a reasonable timeframe. So in the vast majority of cases, they stick with the approach as envisioned at the outset of the project.

  68. 23Skidoo says:

    Houthi rebels strapped a bomb to a drone and killed six Yemeni soldiers in what I think might be the first fatal drone attack by a non-state actor.

    Um, don’t the IS’s weaponised drones count? IS successfully used them on a fairly large scale in Iraq and Syria. Some links:

    https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2018/07/Islamic-State-and-Drones-Release-Version.pdf
    https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2017/05/24/types-islamic-state-drone-bombs-find/

    • The Nybbler says:

      Maybe they count as state actors; they call themselves a state and they did control significant territory.

      • Lillian says:

        The same is true for the Houthi, who also call themselves a state and control significant territory. Specifically they claim to be Yemen’s legitimate government, and control about half of the populated part of the country. It’s only about a quarter of Yemen’s total area, but much of that is god forsaken desert that nobody lives in. In fact the part of Yemen controlled by the Houthi used to be its own country.

  69. LepidopteristBB says:

    Scott, I don’t know if you are reading the replies anymore in such a long comment section but I can personally attest to you that the doomsday claims about the monarch that Xerces and its trusting pawns in the media are spinning is completely false. It’s true that wild milkweed has declined in some places due to drought and more aggressive agricultural maintenance, but this has been offset by more gardeners than ever planting the hardy and universally available tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). CA has the perfect climate for it.

    Xerces arrives at its doomsday numbers, which it uses to beg for donations, by cooking the books–they only count the old traditional overwintering colonies on the coast (which we know have been shrinking–as winters warm, monarchs sense the need to diapause or hibernate less and less; in most of SoCal, they do not overwinter at all and in fact are active all year, sometimes breeding all year). They don’t count smaller clusters, monarchs that are flying throughout the winter as in southern California/Texas/FL, or the peak summer breeding population (which truly offers the best population estimate for the monarch).

    It is true that a lot of CA butterflies are in a desperate downward spiral from climate change and fire (look up Hermes Copper and Unsilvered Fritillary for the best examples), but D. plexippus is not one of them. I’ve lived in metro Los Angeles for most of my life and can truthfully attest that as a child, monarchs were a rare annual treat for me, typically in October when a few migrants would pass through and come to my neighbor’s bottle-brush tree. For the past five years or so, they have been abundant in my neighborhood and most others throughout the entire year.

    • Guy in TN says:

      It’s true that wild milkweed has declined in some places due to drought and more aggressive agricultural maintenance, but this has been offset by more gardeners than ever planting the hardy and universally available tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

      Citation? Seems utterly implausible that a few gardening do-gooders could offset by more than 1% the mass changes to agriculture and roadside ROW maintenance.

  70. Brett says:

    That essay on Buran is excellent, although the essay linked within it to the problems of Space Shuttle development was even more so. Not to mention a serious eye-opener – this bit from the OMB office in 1970/71 made me grimly chuckle:

    Since the Shuttle is not an economic system under optimistic assumptions, the importance of whether or not all of the payload benefits are realized becomes less significant. The important factors are really such considerations as national prestige, continuation of a manned space flight program, and advancement of technology. Any of the reusable vehicles discussed in this paper (even a 10’ by 20’ glider) provide this type of intangible benefit.

    For me, the biggest tell is that they’re now treating the Solid Rocket Boosters as expendable for SLS (they were recovered and reused in the Shuttle Era). That kind of suggests that they should have taken the approach the Soviets later did with Buran, and launched it atop a Super Heavy Lift Booster instead (which would have the added benefit of underwriting the cost of a Super Heavy Lift Booster you could use for other stuff).

    Also this-

    The original idea for the space shuttle came from inside NASA. In early 1969 the Apollo program was nearing its climax, a new president was inaugurated, and the NASA administrator Thomas Paine asked his department heads to “outline bold objectives … worthy successors to those of Apollo”. The plan they eventually recommended in the summer of 1969 was bold indeed. It called for a funding of $5-6 billion/year to develop: a re-usable space shuttle, a space station (starting at a crew of 12 and expanding to 100), a space-tug for near-earth applications; a lunar orbiting station; a lunar surface base; a nuclear space shuttle to ferry things between LEO-GEO-moon; and finally a manned flight to Mars in the mid-1980s. The first step of the plan was the space shuttle, because launching all the rest using expendable rockets would be unthinkably expensive.

    $6 billion/year (in 1960s dollars) would have been higher than even their peak funding in 1966. Needless to say, this wasn’t going to happen. NASA made the same mistake when Bush Sr gave a big speech and started up the Space Exploration Initiative in 1989, proposing this colossally expensive space plan that had zero chance of ever being funded.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The second quote makes my heart hurt.

    • bean says:

      NASA has been making that same mistake continually since the end of Apollo. We’d probably have a much better space program today if not for that, which appears to have permanently damaged their ability to live within their means.

      Re the Shuttle, the big problem was that they tried to make it do everything, which made it much larger and more expensive than it had to be. There are a lot of options if you don’t force the designers to include heavy-lift satellites and personnel launch in the same vehicle. I’d suggest that separating the booster is the best option, so you can either fly people or heavy cargo, but not at the same time. Now that you only have to put half as much stuff in orbit, your development budget will go somewhat further.

      • Brett says:

        Something like that did get proposed by George Low, the deputy NASA administrator at the time of this decision. From the Shuttle essay:

        One interesting possibility was championed by George Low, the deputy NASA administrator. He proposed a program centered around a small cheap space station and a smaller gliding space plane launched using Titan III-L expendable rockets:

        The glider itself would look somewhat like the shuttle, but would be smaller. It would carry a payload of 12 feet by 40 feet and a payload weight of about 30,000 pounds. It would have sufficient propulsion for on-orbit maneuvering but would not have the engines or propellant tanks required to propel itself into orbit. It would make use of current technology in avionics and other on-board systems. The glider would be placed into orbit with a two-stage vehicle of the Titan IIIL class. The glider and its payload would be reusable but both booster stages would be expended. The requirement for a 15 ft. by 60 ft., 65,000-lb. payload, could be met with the same expendable launch vehicle.

        The Martin Marietta company liked this idea very much, since they were the ones producing Titan III-L. The Flax committee was willing to endorse it, provided the orbiter was scaled down even further, to a 10,000 lb payload.

        And in retrospect, this does seem like an excellent idea. Putting the engines on the booster rocket instead of on the orbiter does mean that they are not reusable, but on the other hand, that lets you use the booster rocket alone to put cargo into orbit instead of having to waste payload capacity and maintenance budget on the orbiter. When the Soviet Union developed their shuttle-clone Buran they did it this way, and given how expensive it turned out to be to refurbish the shuttle after each flight, NASA probably wished they did too.

        That said, most of NASA was hostile to the idea at the time, considering it “useless” (even though the booster itself would still have value, and a small, reusable space plane designed to carry people up would have use if you could use the savings to build a space station for the shuttle to ferry people to). I think either version would have been better than the Space Shuttle IRL, although the smaller version might have actually made more sense – it’s just a crew hauler plus maybe some cargo they can bring up with them to the space station, with anything big being launched separately.

        From the essay, though, it sounds like making the shuttle economical was basically always going to be trouble. They needed at least 50 flights a year for it to be competitive as a launcher to the then Titan-III rockets, and that was a flight frequency they never achieved.

  71. suitengu says:

    My current favorite theory about the Gillette ad is that they’re trying to break into the untapped market for passive-aggressive gifts.

  72. John Schilling says:

    Elon Musk reveals final design of Starship test rocket; 1950s cartoonists discovered to be 100% right about everything.

    OK, having had a chance to check my primary reference for this sort of thing, I find that few if any 1950s cartoonists, filmmakers, or other fabulists were ever daft enough to imagine a rocket like that ever flying to Mars. Well, not successfuly – Tom Corbett seems to have crashed one there in 1952. And the inaccurately-titled “Abbott and Costello go to Mars” has the protagonists crashing a similar rocket into New Orleans and thinking they have reached Mars.

    Science Fiction has no problem with e.g. Han Solo flying his spaceship directly from Mos Eisley to Alderaan the fourth moon of Yavin if it fits the need of some fantastic plot, but by 1950 Mars was close enough to being within actual reach that people seem to have felt the need to either approximately do the math, or copy someone who had done the math.

    And the math is pretty clear that giant V-2 knockoffs are for going no farther than the Moon, and even that is iffy. For interplanetary voyages, you really want to use an actual space ship, with some sort of, oh, call it a shuttlecraft, for planetary takeoff and landing.

    Or a teleporter beam if you’re too cheap for shuttles. Anybody know if Elon is working on a teleportation project we don’t know about?

  73. ugly hedgepiglet says:

    Regarding Razib’s point on heritability of IQ — I was expecting him to say something about genetic/mutational load. I haven’t given too much careful thought to this, but…. we know that IQ is highly polygenic. I forget where I came across the theory that most of the alleles are deleterious mutations of small effect. In this case, then you will get a hit on intelligence by the accumulation of mutations that are hard to filter out (38 de novo mutations occur per offspring on average). As an analogy, schizophrenia is heritable (although not as much as IQ I gather), it persists in the population, and some experts also argue that it is not a single thing. Similarly, less-than-perfect intelligence is heritable, persistent, and there are many kinds of it. If a valuable trait has a few genes of very large effect, you would expect them to go to fixation. If there are thousands and thousands, then…I don’t know, you do the math and tell me the answer.
    I probably got this idea from Cochrane or Harenpending; I don’t remember.

  74. Lillian says:

    Buran isn’t the only time the Soviets crippled themselves on account of their inferiority complex with respect to America. An even bigger one is how they wrecked their native computer industry by copying an IBM computer and declaring top down that everyone had to use it since it was obviously better. This not just strangled local innovation, but actually caused the Soviets to fall even further behind. The problem is that adapting and producing foreign designs has its own development cycle, and quality control still remained an issue, so whereas before they were producing computers that were merely inferior to those of the West, after they were producing computers that were both inferior and a generation behind.

    • spkaca says:

      That was an interesting article, thank you. Fascinating to consider in conjunction with the Buran article. It strikes me that both examples of a tech-inferiority complex affected the USSR from the early 70s – just after the Moon landings. Apollo often gets criticised for its cost etc, but if it gave the US such a critical psychological ascendancy in the Cold War, maybe it was money well spent.

    • bean says:

      While that article is interesting, and there’s a delicious irony in the Soviets shooting themselves in the foot that would later trip them up and bring down their empire, I’m skeptical. It reads way too much like the sort of self-justifying “Russia Is The Best!” stuff I’ve seen elsewhere. We have a couple of unverified claims from various people involved that they would have beaten the west if not for those meddling bureaucrats. No numbers. No statements by western computer historians. Nothing beyond the word of people who have every incentive to make themselves look good. And they sort of gloss over the bit where every one of their computer teams was doing something completely different. Given the difficulties of enforcing coordination in the USSR, saying “everyone copy the West” might have actually been the best solution.

    • My question is why the Soviets gave their shuttle the name of the wife of an Abbasid Caliph–the woman medieval eggplant recipes were named after.

    • cassander says:

      the part I’ve always loved about the story of the soviet semi-conductor industry is how the vacuum tube industry kept lobbying to strangle it of funds. Wonderful example of how the military industrial complex is a result of bureaucratic imperatives, not capitalistic ones.

  75. Lillian says:

    Traffic robots in Kinshasa.

    That’s just a traffic light with extra steps.

  76. Douglas Knight says:

    Traffic robots:
    Ordinary traffic lights require drivers to know the conventional meanings of the colors. Whereas, humanoid traffic robots have more differentiation by turning and presenting either a frontal view with spread arms or a side view with arms pointed at the drivers.
    But google images says that people haven’t settled on a conventional meaning of these two postures, either, so maybe there is no natural interpretation and this is not an advantage. (Kinshasa: red chest; Indore: green chest)

  77. Does anyone know how to check how much thiamine insects have?

    I looked up 4 species (data originally from this hard to read page?), and saw no pattern – silkworms are unusually high in thiamine per calorie, crickets are low, and two others were ordinary.

  78. 10240 says:

    How have results on implicit association tests changed since 2007? I am usually kind of skeptical of this sort of thing, but this mostly fits what I would have guessed.

    Are you less skeptical of it because the result matches your guess? That sounds like confirmation bias.

  79. akarlin says:

    Another survey on expert predictions of AI timelines.

    These are a dime a dozen by now. I wish there was an expert survey on things like human genetic editing for IQ and radical life extension timelines.

  80. yaolilylu says:

    Re construction timelines: The problem with rewarding for early completion is that you might compromise quality. You can set up codes and inspections to counter that, but they are hard to enforce and just incentivize the contractors to figure out how to cheat the inspections instead of actually do quality work faster.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      While the pressure to rush the job is certainly higher, keep in mind that all contractors are currently encouraged (in the same way) to cut costs by using inferior materials, rushing completion (less paid time for workers), and otherwise cutting corners. These incentives are not limited to that particular type of contract.

      I believe the correct solution is to fine poor construction or withhold funds if the work is not done correctly. Both of those can be spelled out clearly in the contract as well.

  81. bulb5 says:

    Chicago tried the puppy mill ban, and breeders found a way around it by setting up “non-profits” to deal the dogs to stores. And proposals to cramp down on that practice may be unconstitutional because it regulates interstate commerce.

    But also, if people want purebred dogs, why force them to go straight to a breeder instead of working through an intermediary? Or is the purpose of the law to stop people from buying purebred dogs in the first place?

    • Simulated Knave says:

      At a guess, because people who want specific dog X are likely already going to breeders. Pet stores are for the clueless who just want a random puppy.

      Basically, the online vs in-person shopping model. 😛

  82. spandrel says:

    It concludes that “The ludicrousness of today’s open [razor] market means, mostly, having the option to pay a lot of money for something or not a lot of money for something, without ever really approaching a concrete, evidence-backed reason for the decision.”

    I use those old style double edged stainless razor blades, with a stainless steel holder. The excellent Japanese blades are about $0.20 each and last longer than the disposable plastic crap, and are 100% biodegradable. Russian blades are only $0.09 each, and work pretty well.

  83. thomasbrinsmead says:

    Australian Indigenous activist Burnum Burnum made a tongue in cheek claim of England in 1998, relevant to the story on Adam Fortunate Eagle. So he’s not the first. Nevertheless, worrying about the temporal priority of the activity is definitely missing the point.

  84. dark orchid says:

    I’m not sure if this is the context behind that snopes joke, but https://www.snopes.com/news/2019/01/25/lesbian-couple-transition-son/ doesn’t feature any of the usual true/false/… badges, but does include this line: Nothing is technically inaccurate about the quoted portion of RedState’s story, but it is worded in a way that can be read as insensitive to the plights of transgender persons.

    In case anyone wonders, I’m with snopes and against RedState on this one, and in the UK (where this is happening) the waiting list and process for underage transition is so long that I think it’s unlikely anyone could transition “on a whim”.

    (edit: typos)

  85. jasoncrawford says:

    Apropos of Von Neumann and his marriage proposal, my favorite passage on geek dating is from the New Yorker profile on Mark Andreessen, about him and his wife:

    When the couple met, in 2005, at a New Year’s Eve dinner thrown by the leading investor in eHarmony, they talked for six and a half hours. She told me that Andreessen satisfied most of the criteria on her checklist: he was a genius, he was a coder, he was funny, and he was bald. (“I find it incredibly sexy to see the encasement of a cerebrum,” she explained.) For his part, Andreessen felt that “she was spectacular! My biggest concern was that she wanted to live a jet-set life.” In one of the seventeen e-mails he sent her the next day, he asked, “What’s your ideal evening?” She responded, “Stay home, do e-mail, make an omelette, watch TV, take a bath, go to bed.” Before their second date, he delivered what she calls “a twenty-five-minute monologue on why we should go steady, with a full intellectual decision tree in anticipation of my own decision tree.” They were married nine months later.

    From Tomorrow’s Advance Man

  86. quirkyllama says:

    I don’t understand how 1C change in climate can be blamed for large insect population changes. Multiple lines of prior reasoning suggest that animals should be quite robust to such a small change.

    Every species now alive has survived multiple ice ages. 18,000 years ago, glaciers covered all of Canada, much of the upper mid-west (as far as Kentucky!), most of NY, as well as Scotland and parts of N. Europe.
    This is a massive shift in climate which not only eliminates any insect life under the ice, but clearly indicates a huge climate change. If Manhattan is under 100ft of ice, Philadelphia is a lot less habitable as well.
    This happened not once, but a freeze-thaw cycle perhaps as many as a dozen times in the past million years. Every species now alive survived this process in more-or-less it’s current form (especially the last few cycles which were <100K years ago).
    If 1C over 20 years causes a 75% drop in insect populations, it seems like a 5-10C drop in temp over 100's of years would cause mass extinctions. I'm not aware of any evidence of a large-scale insect extinction associated with the ice-ages.

    In many cases, we know it cannot be the speed of the change that matters. There are many geographically isolated islands and ecological niches where it's clear insects have been indigenous for millions of years. They clearly did not die off in these locales with every ice age. So we have proof points that they can survive relatively large swings in climatic temperature.

    The other problem with 1C killing so many insects, is that it's a relatively small % of natural variance. Insects don't experience the global average temperature- they experience their local average temperature. This can vary widely based on randomness, El Nino and other cyclical effects. If 1C global change killed 75% of insects, we'd expect El Nino to measure even larger changes when a locale experiences an unusually warm (or cold) year. As far as I know, no one has ever observed this at scale, nor would we expect this from our priors about evolution. In fact, it's quite unusual to observe animal species that are very sensitive to small changes in temperature- except at the very edges of their natural ranges.

    My best guess is there's our measurements of insect biomass are off.

  87. imoimo says:

    The implicit bias study link didn’t work for me, but googling the doi got me the (pay-walled) article with title and abstract at least. For others with the same issue: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797618813087?journalCode=pssa

    Also why does this fit what you would’ve guessed? I think you’ve argued implicit bias tests measure the associations we pick up from media rather than our actual beliefs, in which case I’d expect implicit bias to remain pretty constant rather than mostly decrease (as in the study).

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