Open Thread 156

This is the biweek-ly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Comment of the week: superkamiokande from the subreddit explains the structural and computational differences between Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas.

2. There’s another SSC virtual meetup next week, guest speaker Robin Hanson. More information here.

3. As many areas reopen, local groups will have to decide whether or not to restart in-person meetups. I can’t speak to other countries that may have things more under control, but in the US context, I am against this. Just because it’s legal to hold medium-sized gatherings now doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I would feel really bad if anyone became sick or spread the pandemic because of my blog. I don’t control local groups, and they can do what they want, but I won’t be advertising meetups on the blogroll until I feel like they’re safe. Exceptions for East Asia, New Zealand, and anyone else who can convince me that their country is in the clear.

4. Some people have noticed that my toxoplasma post seems disconfirmed by recent protests, which reached national scale even though the incident was very clear-cut and uncontroversial. I agree this is some negative evidence. The toxoplasma model was meant to be a tendency, not a 100% claim about things always work. Certainly it is still mysterious in general why some outrageous incidents spark protests and other near-identical ones don’t. I think it’s relevant that everyone is in a bad place right now because of coronavirus (remember, just two months ago Marginal Revolution posted When Will The Riots Begin?), and that 2020 is the peak of Turchin’s fifty-year cycle of conflict.

5. Speaking of protests, the open threads have been getting pretty intense lately. I realize some awful stuff has been going on, and emotions are really high, but I want everyone to take a deep breath and try to calm down a little bit before saying anything you’ll regret later. I will be enforcing the usually-poorly-enforced ban on culture war topics in this thread with unrecorded deletions. I may or may not suspend the next one or two hidden threads to give everyone a chance to calm down. I hope everybody is staying safe and sane during these difficult times.

6. If you haven’t already taken last week’s nootropics survey, and you are an experienced user of nootropics, you can take it now.

1,211 thoughts on “Open Thread 156

  1. Spwack

    Hi there! Are you finding yourself with a lot of free time and limited ways to spend it? Looking for a somewhat-cerebral distraction from, you know, *gestures at the whole world vaguely*? Ever wanted to try role-playing games, but never had the time/opportunity? Well, why not try the Endless Dungeon

    I’m looking for more players to bolster the ranks of an on-going play-by-post dungeon-exploration game. It’s designed to be accessible for new players with little/no experience, without any hand-holding or limitations to tactics or creativity. The commitment required is minimal, a single post per day is plenty, and you’re welcome to give it a brief poke and abandon it as you like.

  2. Galle

    4. Some people have noticed that my toxoplasma post seems disconfirmed by recent protests, which reached national scale even though the incident was very clear-cut and uncontroversial. I agree this is some negative evidence. The toxoplasma model was meant to be a tendency, not a 100% claim about things always work. Certainly it is still mysterious in general why some outrageous incidents spark protests and other near-identical ones don’t. I think it’s relevant that everyone is in a bad place right now because of coronavirus (remember, just two months ago Marginal Revolution posted When Will The Riots Begin?), and that 2020 is the peak of Turchin’s fifty-year cycle of conflict.

    My guess would be that the killing of George Floyd reached a national scale by piggy-backing on the riots. Before the riots, it was something people might be vaguely aware of but wasn’t a national conversation. But “city riots over unjust killing of citizen by police” is exactly the sort of controversial issue that the toxoplasma model works with, with strong arguments in favor of both sides. So the left and right both took strong positions on the riots (“justice for George Floyd” versus “law and order”) and shouted at each other over them enough to make it a national issue, and then people mostly stopped rioting but George Floyd didn’t stop being dead, so the clear-cut, uncontroversial issue managed to become part of the national conversation.

  3. noyann

    Apropos’ed by DavidFriedman mentioning his Embedded Economics, here is a list of SciFi works with remarks on their economics.

    1. Ventrue Capital

      First, thank you extremely much for the list!

      It’s awesome.

      Second, I notice that most of the books are science fiction as opposed to fantasy, and anti-market rather than pro-market.

      I wish that both of those were the opposite.

      FWIW I run an anarcho-capitalist D&D game online; and I intend to use the phrase “Capitalist Sorcery” a lot, starting immediately.

      1. noyann

        You are welcome!

        The makers of that page have some discussions, maybe you can ask there.

  4. Rebecca Friedman

    As my father said, none of the above. As a teenager I got along with my parents very well; I think when I was sixteen my mother was literally my best friend (I had a lot of friends, but my childhood best friend and I had drifted apart, none of the others were at that trust-implicitly level yet, and Mom shared practically all of my interests and was the one person I could always talk to). Being a teenager was pretty awesome for me – I had discovered online gaming, specifically MMOs, and it gave me a filter that for the first time let me find really compatible potential friends. I’m sure I must have had disagreements with my parents somewhere in there, but they usually sounded like “You should really put more time into studying for the SAT.” “Grumble grump OK.” Pretty much, for everything I was doing, my parents had my back and I knew they did. So why would I rebel?

    So – zero for defiance. Probably zero for self-absorption; somewhere around fourteen was when I realized my parents’ friends (who were frequently also my friends’ parents) could be potential friends for me, and started deliberately cultivating friendships with adults, which I think hadn’t occurred to me in that sense as something I could do before. So in that respect at least I was less self-absorbed at that age. Definitely wasn’t moody. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with status either, though I’m not sure I would have noticed because I was probably higher status then than I ever had been before – again, online games, being very helpful within a group small enough that you encounter the same people repeatedly turns out to be rewarded with status. (Also, it’s hard to be high-status when you’re painfully shy, and I was just getting over that.) But I remember more being shocked that anyone would treat me as high-status than feeling any particular need to get people to.

    Risk-seeking, no way no how not my thing – then or ever. But note that facet of my personality is pretty extreme, so that’s probably not much data; I expect I’m well below the 5th percentile for risk-seeking.

    Estrangement from and contempt for family… pretty firmly covered above; almost exact reverse of the stereotype. (Only almost because it wasn’t a change – I liked them before, too, I was just more able to do stuff with them as I got older and more capable. Like playing harp with Mom’s early music group, which I think I took up as a teenager, or sitting in on Dad’s classes at the university, which honestly was a lot of fun. Or learning how to do lapidary work from Dad… I had a great childhood, and most of it was due to my parents.)

  5. Le Maistre Chat

    The Sumerian King List survived to the present on baked cuneiform tablets. It often gives a terse clarification of who a king was by stating “the [occupation]” or “the son of [predecessor]”. So when it gets to the hegemony being in Kish for the third time (modern historians estimate the 2400s BC), we get:

    “Kug-Bau, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish.”

    So my question is, what’s the minimum population at which, even without specific evidence, we can assume an ancient town had an inn where travelers could get liquid bread and lodging on the free market rather than having to negotiate personal hospitality?
    (Cf. the dynamic between the two strangers, Lot and the town square in Genesis 19:1-3)

    1. Lambert

      On an important enough trade route, I suspect you don’t need any more town than it takes to support the inn.

      (Source: am near 3 trade routes of varying levels of ancientness. Lots of pubs.)

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        Yeah, I didn’t want to complicate things by mentioning rural inns. I’ve read definitions of the English word where it has rural connotations. If a petty merchant traveled by ox cart, they’d need lodging every 12 miles.
        Caravanserai is a Persian word and given what else we know about their economy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were well-established by the time of Cyrus or at least Darius.

    2. FLWAB

      “Kug-Bau, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish.”

      To be clear: was the King a woman who kept a tavern, or was the King a man who kept a tavern for women? If the former, how many female kings are on that list? I wouldn’t have expected any.

      1. 10240

        According to the linked Wikipedia page, she was a woman, and she was the only queen on the list.

        I’d ask: How small does a place have to be for a tavern keeper to become queen?

        1. bullseye

          A tavern keeper becoming a monarch strikes me as even stranger than a woman. Maybe tavern keepers had higher status than we’d expect?

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            Hard to say, because she was such an outlier that she was eventually worshiped as a goddess in the Hittite Empire.
            The relevant Sumerian nouns are not masculine, but specialists generally think she’s the only woman on the King List. However, there’s the intriguing case of Enmebaragesi, whose son Aga of Kish was defeated by Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, G. offers the forest monster Humbaba “my sister, Enmebaragesi.” Not sure if literal or sexist joke.

          2. Erusian

            Tavern keepers often brewed too and brewers were wealthy and important in ancient societies. In a society that primarily produces grain, people who manufacture products from that grain have a lot of economic sway. And beer has the added advantage of being beer and also lasting a lot longer than bread does.

          3. DavidFriedman

            Maybe tavern keepers had higher status than we’d expect?

            In ancient Ireland, a hospitaler, someone who offered hospitality to all comers, was high status — I expect Deiseach could give more details.

          4. DavidFriedman

            @Chat:

            I don’t think knighthood existed in ancient Ireland.

            A hospitaler had nemed status, roughly speaking “noble,” and I think that was the only way of getting to that status in one generation.

  6. thepenforests

    Just got laid off, looking for job advice.

    Background: I have a PhD in physics with a focus on computational work (ie simulations). Since then I have two years of experience working as a software engineer, mostly with Java, but some C# and a tiny bit of Javascript as well. I’ve also picked up some of the usual ancillary skills: git, jenkins, jira, etc.

    To be honest though, I’m really looking for a job in anything but software development at this point. I don’t really like the work, and I’m not that good at it either. I feel like my actual comparative advantage lies more on the softer side of the skill spectrum: things like taking in large quantities of information, synthesizing it, writing up summaries for audiences of varying levels of technical sophistication, giving presentations to audiences of varying levels of technical sophistication – or heck, even just explaining things to coworkers. I’m *really* good at those things, and even on my best day I’m just a mediocre programmer.

    That being said, it’s not like I’m opposed to technical work, or even all work that involves programming. If it’s a job where I’m asked to *use* code in the course of doing my work, then awesome, sign me up. But a job where my actual goal is to *produce* code, as a product that the company will sell? No, not my thing.

    In general I feel like I have a pretty valuable skillset, and I don’t really doubt that I could provide a lot of value to a lot of companies. But I also don’t really know where to start looking. My pitch is basically “well-rounded generically smart person with solid soft and technical skills”, and I don’t know what you do with that. I’ve heard “data scientist” from some of my friends, but I don’t know, that just seems like consigning myself to a life of using SQL to extract minute trends out of vast, inscrutable datasets. Which, ugh. But maybe I have the wrong impression of data science – or maybe working with vast, inscrutable datasets is more enjoyable than it sounds.

    Anyway, all advice is appreciated, including straight-up job recommendations, outside-the-box advice, or advice that basically says “you’re looking at all of this in entirely the wrong way you idiot”.

    (Oh, or just generic advice: stuff like how to write good resumes or LinkedIn profiles, what to do/not do at interviews, how to negotiate a salary, etc)

    1. SamChevre

      Have you considered becoming an actuary? That is one of the many professions that could fit your interests.

      What kind of work/life balance and location are you looking for? I really dislike McKinsey, but you sound like the kind of person they hire–and their alumni tend to do very well.

      1. thepenforests

        Right, good questions. I live in a small-ish Canadian city, which I know is going to heavily limit my options. I’d prefer not to move if at all possible, but I won’t entirely rule it out (I’ll be staying in Canada no matter what though, so in practice moving would likely entail either Toronto or Vancouver).

        Work/life balance: pretty damn important to me. Like anything, it’s negotiable to some degree, but only to a point. Again, I know this might limit my options.

        Yeah, I don’t really like McKinsey either. Probably not the way I want to go. But becoming an actuary is an interesting idea, and one that I hadn’t considered before. That’s at least going on the list – thanks.

        1. SamChevre

          I am an actuary – but Canada is a very different market than the US for actuaries. I’m happy to answer questions–this name at gmail.

          I’d also say don’t overlook the trades: if you prefer smaller cities and staying in one place, electricians and plumbers can make a good living–and being able to explain things clearly to people, figure things out quickly, etc are valuable skills there too. (My brother is an electrician.)

    2. thisheavenlyconjugation

      Have you considered quant finance? I think it’s one obvious option based on physics PhD, with having some ability to program being weak further evidence in its favour. Something else that would probably fit your pitch is product management.

    3. anonymousskimmer

      Free-lance science journalism (Quanta, Nautilus, Science News, Science Daily, Wired, etc…)?

      If your background was in the biological sciences I know of a person who works from home on medical write-ups for https://primeglobalpeople.com/ , I don’t know if there are similar agencies for people with a physics background.

    4. Erusian

      What do you want to do? There’s a distinct lack of a goal or objective in this post. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going then every wind is bad.

    5. Statismagician

      Analytics management? Large companies have more data than they know what to do with, and somehow the same technically clueless MBA-types get put in charge of managing the analysts who do the actual coding with predictably silly results. Someone who knows enough programming to talk to programmers and enough business to talk to internal/external clients can be very effective.

      Data science is what you make of it – there are people doing Excel manipulation on the output from a select *, and there are people writing ten thousand line nested-macro programs in R. YMMV, though; I do like working with vast, inscrutable datasets but you really have to like figuring out puzzles that could have been avoided in the first place with even ten seconds of critical thinking in the system design phase.

    6. a real dog

      FWIW the data scientists I’ve known are more about R and machine learning than SQL.

      Get a cozy position in some megacorp’s R&D department and hack away. I’ve never met a data scientist who was good at programming, so aversion to that should not be an issue.

      1. Lambert

        Some fields that are regarded as being hard:
        Engineering, Law

        But if you can manage it, I suppose there’s not too much competition.

      2. Belisaurus Rex

        Life sciences are highest demand, but physics is a second best because it is assumed that you’re competent at everything else.

    7. souleater

      Hey! I’m a Mechanical Engineer/Data Scientist who uses SQL to extract minute trends out of vast inscrutable datasets! AMA!

      I LOVE data science!

      You’re not in a client facing roll, so you’re working with professionals who value your time and expertise.

      Coworkers from the CEO on down come to you with questions about their data, you’re the expert who is helping them. Its not just sitting in the dark at a computer, you need to understand your coworker’s needs and be able to communicate well.

      Being the Data Guy means that you have deep, intimate knowledge of your data. You are your company’s expert, and, while I always had a boss, they can’t really micromanage me because what I do is as much art as it is science. It requires spending a lot of time working with your data and understanding it.

      My job typically involves people coming to me with questions or problems they have, and its my job to understand their technical background, figure out how to leverage my data to solve their problem, or how we can get the data to solve their problem. Build a solution, Then I’ll use Power Point, Excel, or MATLAB and present or deliver the results to them.

      When you’re doing data work, you become really attached to your data set. You know its strengths and weaknesses, you care about making sure good data is coming in, and you’re building your own tools to extract the data in a clear and concise way. I think of my data the way someone else might think of a potted plant, or sourdough starter… It takes on a character of its own.

      Also, Data Science is a weird field in that you need technical skills, but having a background in something other than CS is a real plus. For example, if I had a chemistry dataset, I would want to hire a chemistry specialist with data experience over a CS major because understanding what the data means is more important to the job than just technical skills.

    8. yodelyak

      I am currently unemployed, have found that doing food delivery for an hour a day helps get me out of the house and feeling useful. Not sure if getting mopey/low-energy/straight-up depressed is an issue for you, but I’d recommend being very proactive about keeping adventure in your near-term future to ensure your overall health stays good. Unemployment can be a real drag otherwise.

    9. SolipsisticUtilitarian

      IT-Consulting is a field which is the perfect fit for people with both technical and social skills, but who do not want get their hands too dirty with the actual work of implementing stuff (I am being a bit cheeky here, but fundamentally it’s true).
      Not every consultancy requires crazy work hours, at least in Europe 40 hours per week are common, but travel is still required.

      Regarding data science, your apprehension is not unfounded. The common saying is that 80% of the work lies in data acquiring and preparation, which is fairly boring on a day to day basis.

  7. proyas

    In time travel fiction, often the plot revolves around killing Hitler, since it would save the lives of so many people. However, this overlooks the fact that it would also butterfly away the births of many different people. For example, if WWII never happens, then there is no Baby Boom. The 1950 world population might actually be LOWER than it was in OTL. So even something as purely good as killing Hitler is a tradeoff.

    If you wanted to maximize the utility of the human race, wouldn’t the smartest strategy be to use your time machine to go back to 64 million BC, and to set up a human colony on Earth, complete with all the knowledge and technology of the future? Knowing about the World Wars and other catastrophes would make the colonists less likely to repeat those mistakes, and if they had medical technology from the start, an inestimable amount of suffering and death will be prevented.

    Returning to utility maximization, it might be the better choice to preemptively stop the 100 billion humans who have ever lived from coming into existence and mostly led lives of suffering, and to instead bring about an alternate reality where humans suffer little and don’t have holocausts or world wars. By the time the alternate timeline returns to 2020 AD, well over 100 billion humans will have lived and died, and in much greater comfort than those that have in OTL.

    1. cassander

      Knowing about the World Wars and other catastrophes would make the colonists less likely to repeat those mistakes

      Have you met people? Since when do we learn from history?

      1. Matt M

        Heh. Letting Germany know in advance how close they actually come to winning a war against the entire world might not be for the best!

        1. baconbits9

          Overly enthusiastic time traveler: Hey, you are going to lose this war, don’t start it.

          Hitler: Ze Blitz does not work? How could it fail?

          OETT: Oh the blitz is wildly successful, it over runs almost all of Western Europe! But England holds out until the US enters the war and eventually they land at Normandy and push to Berlin.

          Hitler taking out notebook: So they land at Normandy huh?

          OETT: Yeah, pretty big deal, lots of effort went into concealing that from you. You know it probably wouldn’t even have happened if not for Dunkirk anyway.

          Hitler: Dunkirk?

          OETT: Oh yeah, after you smash through Beligium over 300,000 troops are trapped near Dunkirk and it takes a massive operation by the British to save them. Without those troops a lot of historians think Britain has to capitulate.

          Hitler: So Britain holds out on her own?

          OETT: Oh of course not, its your war with Russia that costs the most in lives and equipment.

          Hitler: I see, I see, and what mistakes do historians say I make there?

    2. matkoniecz

      So even something as purely good as killing Hitler is a tradeoff.

      Main risk in killing Hitler is risk of Nazism still appearing, but with more competent leader, resulting in III Reich actually lasting for longer time.

      1. cassander

        If Hitler had died in early 1941, he’d have gone down in history as one of the most skillful leaders in history.

        1. Tarpitz

          Hitler sometimes seems to me like a kind of weird accidental savant. I think a rational leader in his position and with his values (if they’d somehow got themselves into that spot in the first place) would probably have made a lot of the same/similar risky, high variance, high upside (upside from his perspective) decisions, because when you’re in a bad spot you have to play to your outs. But I don’t get the impression that’s how Hitler thought about it at all. He really thought things were going to pan out the way he wanted.

          1. cassander

            Sometimes I think hitler should get credit for realizing that if he wanted to achieve his goals, a high risk high reward strategy was the only way out. Other times, I think he was just letting everything ride on black, unable to really conceive that he could fail if he mustered sufficient will. However much he was doing the former, he definitely shifted towards the latter as time went on, but in fairness there, the fall of France would have gone to anyone’s head.

      2. Le Maistre Chat

        Main risk in killing Hitler is risk of Nazism still appearing, but with more competent leader, resulting in III Reich actually lasting for longer time.

        The really powerful app would be to replace Nazism per se with a non-Communist militaristic dictatorship that Jewish German scientists feel comfortable working for (too CW?).

    3. MisterA

      The interesting thing about this is apart from the raw numbers, as you point out, killing Hitler changes all the births after that point. So even if it turned out to result in an unquestionably better universe, you’ve still wiped everyone who was conceived after that moment out of existence, and replaced them with a whole different population of humans, for all of history following the moment you changed things.

      There’s an interesting (and borderline unplayable) tabletop RPG called Continuum where the players are time travelers, that really tries to wrestle with the implications of the idea. One of the things they point out is that even if you could change history without wiping out reality due to a paradox, it would be the worst crime any being could commit – you’re eliminating every sentient being in existence from that point in history forward, not just on Earth but in the entire universe, committing a number of murders so large it needs to be expressed in scientific notation, in hopes of saving a few million lives lost in a war or to prevent some personal tragedy.

      As a result, a lot of what the player faction does is try to prevent changes to history, which is pretty typical for a time travel game; it takes it to some unexpected places, though. Like the fact that so many attempts to kill Hitler or prevent his birth have occurred that there is no actual original Hitler – just time travelers from the future forced to have their appearance altered to fill the role of Hitler in history, to ensure his atrocities are committed and that the past doesn’t change. It’s a dangerous job, as other time travelers are constantly showing up and trying to kill you. There’s a whole faction of time travelers called the Thespians whose job it is to fill the roles of assassinated historical personages – whole guilds of professional Hitlers and Stalins and Ghengis Khans ensuring that history occurs properly.

      1. Randy M

        This is a subplot in the novel Pastwatch. The future society that invents time travel realizes that it will wipe out everyone currently alive and everyone they’ve ever known personally. ultimately they vote to go ahead and do it in order to make the past a better place; the ecological catastrophes dooming their present world help make this plot a bit more convenient. They don’t choose Hitler, however, but Columbus as the pivot point.

        It’s interesting how the book supposes erasing slavery from the past would be a fixation of future.

        The concept of the side effects of time travel is why I would oppose every chance to travel back in time any more than 2012.

      2. Fahundo

        One of the things they point out is that even if you could change history without wiping out reality due to a paradox, it would be the worst crime any being could commit – you’re eliminating every sentient being in existence from that point in history forward, not just on Earth but in the entire universe, committing a number of murders so large it needs to be expressed in scientific notation, in hopes of saving a few million lives lost in a war or to prevent some personal tragedy.

        I don’t understand how this is fundamentally different from someone deciding to do or not do something in the present, culminating in lots of people not being born. Most choices aren’t going to be on the same scale, but what if for instance, we could cause another baby boom by fighting a world war right now? Basically anything we don’t do is wiping out possible futures, and I’m not sure why time travel would change the moral calculus here.

        1. MisterA

          A lot of this depends on exactly how the time travel works, I guess. If there’s just one timeline, that can be changed by time travel, then it sort of has all those choices ‘baked in’ already – all the choices everyone in history ever made are already there, until someone with a time machine comes along and reshuffles the whole deck.

          Of course, if that were the way it worked then all the choices the time travelers could make should really be baked in already too, so the idea that nobody has free will except for time travelers is weird.

          This is why the only version of time travel that actually makes sense is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Predestination Paradox.

      3. tossrock

        There’s an interesting discussion of this in Ted Chiang’s Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom. The story’s central premise is the existence of a technology to see into alternate branches of the multiverse that forked at the time of the creation of the device.

        Because the weather is a chaotic phenomenon where even single-atom changes can ultimately propagate into radically different states, and because conception is a 1-in~300M effectively random event sensitive to extremely minute variations, even a single forking event (ie, a single atom difference) will ultimately lead to entirely different people (genetically speaking) being born in the forked timelines.

        So, even if the time travellers faithfully recreated all the historical roles, they would never be able to fix history such that the same people were born.

        1. LesHapablap

          Somebody here on SSC, way back when I first started reading it, posted some math showing that moving one gram of matter a distance of 1cm was enough to change the results of a lottery-ball-drawing on the other side of the planet just from its gravitational effect. I thought that was pretty cool.

    4. Dacyn

      For example, if WWII never happens, then there is no Baby Boom. The 1950 world population might actually be LOWER than it was in OTL.

      Plausibly, the Baby Boom did nothing except compensate for the fact that fewer children than normal were born during the war. (I haven’t looked at the numbers though)

  8. Lambert

    Everybody likes to talk about going back in time and killing hitler/stalin/wilson.
    But how many QALYs would you save if you just stated studying the relationship between smoking and cancer several decades early?

    1. silver_swift

      This only has data from 1990 until 2016, but with some very rough extrapolation based on global population I got about 69 million deaths from lung cancer between 1960 and 2020.

      The second world war caused between 70 and 85 million deaths, same order of magnitude.

      However, understanding the relation between smoking and cancer will not eliminate lung cancer altogether and the deaths from lung cancer will on average be much older people than the people that died in WWII (which means you get fewer QALY’s by saving them), so my guess is that if preventing the rise of Nazi Germany is on the table and doing so doesn’t cause significant other disasters, that should still be the higher priority.

      1. Tarpitz

        doing so doesn’t cause significant other disasters

        I think this caveat is, uh, doing rather a lot of work. It’s pretty easy to imagine a no-Nazi world involving a hot war between the USSR and the West, and if nukes are developed at a stage where the outcome is still in question – or worse, before the outbreak of said war – that could be really bad. We may well have got really quite lucky to live in a world where only two nukes were used in anger and the prospect of more is limited.

        Is there any plausible early-mid 20th Century intervention that could leave us with a better regime in China, thus potentially alleviating both Mao’s lunacies and whatever nastiness the coming decades may have in store?

        1. Lambert

          TIL that the KMT had soviet support till 1927. Chiang studied in Moscow.

          Maybe weaken the Beiyang generals to make life easier for the KMT. I’m not a fan of one-party nationalism, but Mao sets a pretty low bar.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            TIL that the KMT had soviet support till 1927. Chiang studied in Moscow.

            Chiang had deep bipartisan support in the United States (he and his wife were Christians) starting July 25, 1928. I guess that was a geopolitical turn away from the USSR?

          2. citizencokane

            Soviet Marxists in the 1920s thought that China was nowhere near ready for a socialist revolution at the time. According to the Soviet Marxists, the most realistic next step for China was a bourgeois democratic, anti-imperialist revolution that would do away with the semi-feudal influence of landlords and warlords, modernize the country, and achieve a progressive capitalist social-democracy…eventually setting the stage for socialism. Soviet Marxists therefore supported Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People,” which included a plank that people have translated as “welfare rights” or “social-democracy.”

            That said, Soviet Marxists in the 1920s still supported Chinese communists, mainly because experience ever since the revolutions of 1848 has shown that bourgeois liberal parties tend to chicken out from fulfilling their own program at the last minute because usually, in order to overcome their ancien regime on the right, the bourgeois liberals have to mobilize the masses as allies, and the bourgeois liberals run the risk that the masses will, once mobilized, come forward with their own demands that infringe on the classical liberals’ own program. So, classical liberals will often make the revolution only halfway and find it preferable to reconcile with their former enemies on the right in order to guard against their old footsoldiers/new enemies on the left. So, the thinking goes, the left has to be organized to foreshadow to the liberals the futility of turning on the left and to pressure the liberals to follow through all the way on achieving the goals of the bourgeois revolution.

            So, the official policy of the Soviet government in the 1920s was to support both the communists and nationalists and demand that they both get along with each other. The Chinese communists did not always share this view and had a more “ultra-left” adventurist view (influenced by Chinese anarchism, which was a powerful influence at the time) that China was ready for socialist revolution already in 1925, so you had the abortive Chinese revolution of 1925-1927 and the counter-revolution from the KMT and the Long March exile afterwards.

        2. Nancy Lebovitz

          This would be earlier, but would eliminating Marx, or possibly Marx and Engels, be reasonably expected to have a good effect?

          1. Tarpitz

            It doesn’t seem likely to me. The broad strokes of communism seem likely to be an inevitably appealing idea in an industrialising world. Getting rid of Marx might eliminate the bonkers world spirit stuff and various other specifics, but I doubt they change much about the overall thrust of the 20th Century political movement – certainly not in a reliably good way.

        3. silver_swift

          I think this caveat is, uh, doing rather a lot of work.

          Well, yes, but that gets you into the normal discussions on whether killing Hitler is actually a good idea. Which I was trying to avoid.

      2. Nancy Lebovitz

        People referred to cigarettes as coffin nails as early as the late 1800s, but a fast search doesn’t turn up what specific damage cigarettes were believed to do.

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          King James I said smoke was “dangerous” to the lungs, even secondhand.
          Jeremy Bentham cited A Counterblaste to Tobacco as the sort of irrational antipathy utilitarianism opposes. Oops.

    2. ana53294

      I’d say that if you’re going back in time to fix a public health hazard, do the research on lead and convince the government not* to use it in every critical piece of infrastructure.

      At least the people who smoke do it to themselves; poor people in neighbourhoods full of lead pain don’t choose it.

      *EDIT

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          Nah, go back in time and convince the Romans to use lead instead of something else cheap but safer. Muwahaha!

    3. acertainidiot

      Not many. The relationship was established back in the 1920s in Weimar Germany, ironically, and they did wonders in suppressing smoking in the first anti-smoking campaign. But then the Nazis took power and ended it.

      The links were also brought up in the 1950s by the British. But that led to little action. (Worth noting that the leadership of the UK during this period at this time were heavy smokers, which certainly played a role)

      The mistaking you make is assuming that exposing such a relationship through science by itself will enable an increase in QALYs. It took many decades not because the science was missing, but the political will was missing.

    1. metacelsus

      The only differences will be de novo variations that arise during embryonic development. These will be a very small fraction of the variation expected between non-monozygotic twins. I do not expect this to make any difference for twin studies of heritability.

    2. edmundgennings

      metacelsus is correct, but to the extent that there are meaningful genetic differences between twins, it means that genetic effects would be more extreme. If twins are only 99.5% the same genetically, and previous some trait such as eye color variation is measured as being 99.5 due to genetic variation, based on twin studies, we should instead treat it as being 100% genetic. And similarly for other traits. But in practice, the differences are going to be small enough that that we do not really need to do this. Measurement error in any trait is going to swamp this.

    3. Viliam

      I would still expect that identical twins have much fewer differences between their DNA than two siblings.

      But of course, many people will take this as evidence that identical twins are a social construct and genetics is pseudoscience.

    1. Tarpitz

      I realise I’ve lost track of the putative Kim Jong-un health issue story: is it significant that KYJ was the one making the statement? Is the consensus that KJU’s health was and remains impaired, and she’s taking a more prominent public role as a result?

      1. baconbits9

        I have a vague (and possibly wildly inaccurate) impression that authoritarian regimes often have a high ranking person, but not the highest ranking person, make such pronouncements as they can then be turned into a scapegoat later if (when) things go horribly wrong.

        1. John Schilling

          Kim Jong Un is not going to throw his sister under the bus. Almost everybody in North Korea is expendable, from the regime’s point of view, but KYJ isn’t.

          1. Matt M

            Why not? Aren’t the vast majority of power struggles near the top of the NK hierarchy among closely related members of the Kim family? Like didn’t KJI get his position by murdering his uncle? Or am I misremembering here?

          2. broblawsky

            Based on my reading of The Great Successor, she’s the smart one, and KJU knows it. She has the diplomatic chops, the strategic skills, and the PR expertise. She just can’t actually take over due to her lack of a Y chromosome. That makes her invaluable.

          3. John Schilling

            Why not? Aren’t the vast majority of power struggles near the top of the NK hierarchy among closely related members of the Kim family?

            No; those are just the ones you hear about, because “Kim Jong Un has random disloyal politician purged” is not newsworthy.

            And, the non-Hollywood version of the Game of Thrones is not won by the ruthless lone-wolf psychopath what will kill anyone who gets in his way. In the land of Every Man for Himself, the man with one good ally is king. Kim Jong Un has one good ally, and her name is Kim Yo Jong.

            And a whole lot of less-good allies, as well. But you can’t generalize from “he killed his uncle” to “he is a ruthless psychopath with no allies who will kill anyone”.

          4. Matt M

            I’ll trust ya’lls judgment on this, but just to be clear, my model is less “ruthless psychopath who kills everyone” and more “calculated dude who will absolutely set up his most powerful rival/ally to fail just in case he needs a good reason to purge them”

          5. ana53294

            Kim Yo Jong is also married to the second son of the number two guy after Kim Jong Un, which presumably makes the number two guy less likely to organize a coup.

          6. Tarpitz

            the non-Hollywood version of the Game of Thrones is not won by the ruthless lone-wolf psychopath what will kill anyone who gets in his way.

            In fact, I’d say that such prominent winners of the Westerosi Game of Thrones as Aegon I and Jaeherys I were notable, among other things, for having unshakeable allies in the form of their sisters.

            Granted, they also tended to marry them…

          7. cassander

            @John Schilling says:

            And a whole lot of less-good allies, as well. But you can’t generalize from “he killed his uncle” to “he is a ruthless psychopath with no allies who will kill anyone”.

            What about “He killed his uncle with an AA cannon” though?

          8. Lambert

            Meh. East India Company was executing insurrectionists by canon over 150 years ago. And we’re not even regarded as the Bad Guys™.

          9. John Schilling

            What about “He killed his uncle with an AA cannon” though?

            Tyrion Lannister killed his own father; there were still plenty of Lannisters he would not have killed (whether for sentiment or strategy) even if he had the chance. “Ally” and “relative” are not synonyms.

            And besides, it was only a quad-mount heavy machine gun. Stories grow in the telling.

    2. John Schilling

      Is the empty Inter-Korean liason office getting exploded CW?

      No, that’s just the ordinary sort of war. Or at least a warning of such.

      It’s a reminder that there’s still a whole lot of unfinished business between the Koreas. The Old Normal, pre-2018, was that the North Korean economy staggered towards oblivion under crippling sanctions, and everybody worried about whether the Kims would hold a nuke-fest in the final days of their regime. The New Normal is that the North Korean economy staggered towards oblivion under crippling sanctions, and everybody naively assumes that the Kims will negotiate away their nuclear weapons before that happens. Or at least not hold the nuke-fest, because look at all the happy fun openness since 2018, how could the North possibly nuke their cousins in the South?

      North Korea, sensibly, prefers the Old Normal. If the happy fun openness of the New Normal isn’t actually going to lead to a relaxation of sanctions, then what’s the point of the liason office? If everybody assumes that North Korea is going to give up its nuclear weapons Real Soon Now, no matter how many times they explicitly tell people that this will not happen, then what’s the point of the liason office?

      I wouldn’t read too much into KYJ being the one to make the announcement. There probably is a secondary agenda of boosting her political profile in case she does need to take over. But she’s effectively been House Kim’s minister of propaganda for nine years now, and she was the diplomatic force and public face of the 2018 thaw in inter-Korean relations, so this was basically her job.

  9. taylor-gl

    I have never posted to SSC before, though I do read SSC. I was told I should post this here by a friend:

    I recently rewrote the Enchiridion, the Stoic manual of life, in plain English. You can see it here. Is this something people on here are interested in? And do you have any notes? Thanks.

    1. souleater

      I don’t know if people in general would be interested in this, but I strongly suspect that people who are also SSC readers would be interested in this.

      I’m genuinely very excited to read this, thanks for sharing!

      1. Lambert

        If you’re very excited to read about stoicism then I think you’re doing it wrong.

        1. souleater

          I know you’re joking, but I’ve actually never quite understood this aspect of Stoicism.

          Like… my sense of the philosophy is that you are in control of your own thoughts, and emotions, so don’t let sad things or bad things get you down. I think that’s very insightful, and a useful tool in building a good life.. but if you can choose to not be sad… why wouldn’t you chose to happy?

          1. Beans

            I had always interpreted it not as being about choosing your emotions, but 1. being conscious of your reactions, so that you are able to realize when they are unproductive or stupid and 2. be aware of the instability of things and the fact that much of what happens is not in your control, in order to result in 3: the understanding that a lot of your mental tumult is unjustified and does not actually help with anything, which is a necessary prerequisite to 4: giving yourself permission to lay down your anxieties and get into a less freaked out reality tunnel. We won’t put down the burden until we see that we’re carrying it in the first place, and that it’s dumb and isn’t good for anything. All these little thought exercises in stoic writing are invitations to try and get this into our heads. But there’s no direct choosing of a target emotional state: rather, a choice of perspective and reflection which, ideally, results in the desired emotional change naturally over time

          2. Viliam

            If you are overhyped about something, you will later be disappointed.

            If you think something will make your life great, you may be sad when it is over.

            …if you can be happy without making any of these mistakes, then of course, be happy.

          3. taylor-gl

            Choosing to be happy is different than choosing to be excited. What is the point of being excited if you already have everything you want? Letting your emotions run away with you like that is a sign you’re doing something wrong, in my interpretation of Stoicism. If you’re too excited, you’re allowing your emotions to depend too much on externals.

  10. johan_larson

    Do we actually need a COVID-19 vaccine long-term? It seems to me that there is a steady state where COVID-19 is a pervasive disease. Most people catch it sometime during their lifetimes, typically quite early in life. Fortunately the disease is not dangerous to the young. It sometimes causes no symptoms at all, and other times has flu-like symptoms. So for most people it would just register as a flu sometime in their youth, and they would then be immune. Sometimes someone would catch a bad case of it, and would need hospital care. Very occasionally, someone would manage to avoid catching the disease until old age, would need hospital care, and might die from it.

    If this is correct, then the problem with the disease is not that it is so dangerous in total, but that we are seeing it for the first time and getting the infections (and potential deaths) all at once. And in particular, old people are exposed to the disease without having had the opportunity to catch it (and build immunity to it) earlier in life.

    Is this right? I’m only an armchair epidemiologist.

    1. Nancy Lebovitz

      The other aspect is that a vaccine is less needed if more is known about how to treat COVID-19 so that it’s a less serious disease.

    2. Clutzy

      Probably we do. Just like with chickenpox. I had it as a kid, but vaccinations are recommended as I age in case of re-emergence. Strong B cell responses deteriorate over time for most viruses.

    3. anonymousskimmer

      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200521112613.htm

      Studies have shown that antibody protection wanes over time. For seasonal coronaviruses where disease is mild, there have even been reports of reinfection after as little as 80 days.

      When we know more about these things, we will be better able to understand how SARS-CoV-2 infections will continue over time. However, vaccines are not infections, therefore it is likely that some of the vaccines candidates will be better at inducing long lasting immunity and protection from infection,” said Professor Kellam.

      1. johan_larson

        It seems strange that a vaccine could provide a subject with better immunity than actually having caught and fought off the disease. There’s not a lot of training that is better than actual experience.

        I suppose a vaccine could be better than catching the disease if we include costs. Getting a shot every ten years for life might be cheaper than catching the disease once and dealing with the effects and possible treatment.

        1. Matt M

          That was my understanding as well. That if it’s true that immunity for this disease fades in a year, that doesn’t mean “now we have to wait until an effective vaccine” so much as it means “there will be no effective vaccine.”

        2. Cliff

          Isn’t most training better than actual experience? If you want to learn to play a sport for example, you don’t just go and play the sport over and over. You learn far more, faster with targeted training. There’s a reason practice isn’t just scrimmage.

        3. anonymousskimmer

          Various parts of a virus are more amenable to mutation without having loss-of-function. If your native immune cells generate antibodies against an easily mutable viral motif then you will quickly lose protection as the virus mutates in the population. Good vaccines consist of viral motifs that do not easily mutate without rendering the virus non-dangerous.

        4. matkoniecz

          It seems strange that a vaccine could provide a subject with better immunity than actually having caught and fought off the disease. There’s not a lot of training that is better than actual experience.

          Well, if I want to avoid death by avalanche then learning about how to avoid them is better than getting crushed under tons of snow and getting rescued.

          From my poor understanding of vaccines – they deliver characteristic parts of infection, without infecting (or with extremely weak infection). That may allow to deliver bigger dose of identifiable material without going through infection.

          This is my naive understanding, please yell at me if I am wrong.

          1. Gerry Quinn

            They may also include nasty toxins called adjuvants that stimulate a greater response.

        5. John Schilling

          It seems strange that a vaccine could provide a subject with better immunity than actually having caught and fought off the disease.

          If the vaccine is just an attenuated virus, then almost certainly recovering from the actual disease would provide strong immunity (assuming it is a complete recovery, rather than one that leaves you systemically weakened).

          But both the actual disease and an attenuated-virus vaccine will result in a broad immune response against any viral protein that the immune system can even recognize. A tailored vaccine, by any of several modern techniques, might narrowly target a specific protein that testing has revealed to be the most effective target. That could plausibly work better than natural immunity.

    4. Biater

      I guess it depends on your definition of “actually need a vaccine.” The world has survived with much worse diseases for a long time (measles, mumps, rubella) and we have diseases that kill more people than COVID will this year as well (malaria) that w haven’t beat.

      It’s just that there will be a million fewer people this year without a vaccine while massive quarantines affect much of the globe, and I am getting really sick of never leaving the house.

      1. albatross11

        +1

        A vaccine means that a whole lot of the world can return to normal that isn’t going to return to normal (no matter how many politicians or media types say they should) when there’s a disease with maybe a 2-3% chance of killing them off. If you’re a healthy 70-year-old who’s retired and enjoys travel, you’re probably not going to be taking a lot of trips, cruises, etc., until either you confirm that you’ve had the virus and are immune, or you’ve gotten the vaccine.

        My in-laws are pretty upset about this. They’re in their mid-70s, are still healthy and robust enough to travel, and love traveling. They’re worried that by the time C19 has been resolved (say, another two or three years if no vaccine comes out quickly), they will have burned through the last few years that they’ll be able to do much traveling.

    5. Kaitian

      You’re talking about the far future, but right now we have millions of people at risk of dying from Covid. They could be saved if a vaccine is developed soon.

      Measles is about as deadly as Covid overall, although it kills more children and is more infectious. No-one questions that we should vaccinate against it. Chickenpox is like Covid in that getting it as a child is mostly harmless, although it can have long-term effects that cause pain. The vaccine can prevent that.

      So Covid seems in line with other things we vaccinate against. I guess there is a hope that we can treat it like smallpox and mass vaccinate in areas where there are cases, so the illness will end up eradicated and we won’t have to add it to the standard vaccine schedule.

      Also dangerous coronaviruses have appeared a number of times in the last 20 years, if we manage to vaccinate against this one that’s also good practice for the next one, which might well be worse.

    6. noyann

      > Do we actually need a COVID-19 vaccine long-term?

      Yes. Somebody will object to a 7-fold increase of apoplexy (the “7” if from another source I don’t rememember) in young adults.

      On the one hand, the base rate is low, no need to get agitated. On the other hand, this figure only catches the immediately clinically visible lesions, while micro-lesions that lower local brain function just a little have not been investigated (AFAIK).

      No state worth its taxes / nobody aiming at reelection will tolerate a statistical dumb-down of their people/electorate before/in their most productive life period. Or at least will not want to be seen to do so.

      1. Harry Maurice Johnston

        On an unrelated note, did anybody else find it jarring to have people in their 30s and 40s described as “young adults”? Or is that normal nowadays?

        1. Kaitian

          In the context of covid, and often in other medical contexts, young just means “non elderly / pre menopause”. But even in other contexts, 30s and even 40s can be young, e.g. a 38 year old US president would be young.

    7. Vitor

      Fortunately the disease is not dangerous to the young.

      This is not true, for reasons given by other commenters, but also because a substantial amount of the population has prior chronic conditions that puts them at much greater risk.

      At most, you could make the case that we don’t need a vaccine urgently (i.e., to solve the current epidemic). But long-term, we need it at least as urgently as we need insulin, beta blockers, etc.

    8. DalisInferno

      You make some good points. There are some countries, however – notably Australia and New Zealand, that can/have eradicated the disease. It is doubtful these countries will fully open up to the world without a vaccine coming, or total eradication (which seems unlikely).

      1. LesHapablap

        We have been assured here in NZ by our government that we definitely won’t open our borders to any country that hasn’t also eradicated until there is a vaccine, whether it is 2 years or whenever, because they don’t want the hard lockdown we went through to go to waste.

        I think they need to be more flexible than that and not get attached to the sunk costs.

    9. Purplehermann

      If immunity doesn’t last, then no. Elderly people will either stop being part of civilization or die.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        I’m pretty sure that’s wrong– the death rate for elderly people would go up, but catching the virus or dying from it isn’t 100%.

        One thing we have no idea about yet– there hasn’t been enough time– is whether being exposed to the virus and not catching it or not getting very sick from it means it will never give you serious trouble.

        1. keaswaran

          My understanding is that with other coronaviruses, you have near total immunity for about a year, but after a few years it fades to near total susceptibility.

          1. Nancy Lebovitz

            For what little it’s worth, I don’t get nearly as many colds as I used to, but I used to get the same cold (similar symptoms and duration) three or four times, and then probably not get it again.

          2. albatross11

            I think you lose sterilizing immunity (you can still get and pass along the virus), but you get less sick in subsequent infections.

        2. Purplehermann

          If you assume that you can get it again on something like a yearly basis, and it isn’t less server after the first time, then I’d say both catching it and dying would be pretty much a given, barring extreme measures.

          The world isn’t going to keep social distancing forever, and with the infectiousness of covid19 it will infect people way more often than the flu.

          If you keep getting a sickness, where you have a 10% chance of dying every year (because you’re older) you’re going to die sooner.

        3. John Schilling

          the death rate for elderly people would go up, but catching the virus or dying from it isn’t 100%.

          If death + serious disability is in the 5-10% range, and if participation in normal social life makes it at all likely that one is going to contract COVID-19, that could well drive a norm that people retire from normal social life at 70 or so. So much for looking forward to joyful years of playing with the grandchildren post-retirement.

          Or maybe the geezers fatalistically don’t care, or maybe it divides along tribal lines.

    10. John Schilling

      Do we actually need a COVID-19 vaccine long-term?

      Yes. Society is fixed, biology is mutable. It will be much easier to develop a vaccine (or cure) for COVID-19 than it will be to convince moderns that sometimes lots of people die of deadly infections and there’s nothing you can do about it but that’s not reason to hide under the bed until the scary germ goes away. I’m not sure the latter is really possible at all. You can convince half the moderns, maybe two-thirds, but that way leads to really ugly culture-war issues.

      1. zero

        Man it’s really going to suck when we run out of antibiotics for things not to be resistant to, assuming we can’t get phage therapy going.

        1. Garrett

          Indeed. As a libertarian, this is one of those few coordination problems where government intervention makes sense as it doesn’t make a lot of market sense to develop a new effective therapy and then almost never use it. They’d have to price it at a million dollars a dose or something to recoup their expenses, and then would have almost no insurance company cover it.

      2. MisterA

        It will be much easier to develop a vaccine (or cure) for COVID-19 than it will be to convince moderns that sometimes lots of people die of deadly infections and there’s nothing you can do about it but that’s not reason to hide under the bed until the scary germ goes away.

        Maybe I am misunderstanding something here, but isn’t the fact that it’s easier to develop a vaccine than to do that also evidence for the fact that there actually is something you can do about it other than just let lots of people die, and in fact an argument for hiding under the bed until we can make the scary germ go away?

      3. albatross11

        John Schilling:

        Getting to herd immunity likely means 30% or so of the population doesn’t ever catch the virus. There are ways of substantially reducing your personal risk of catching the virus that are actually doable right now, for many of us, which give us a better chance of ending up in the other 30%. That’s not “there’s nothing you can do about it.” Further, if a vaccine becomes available in a year or so, then that’s another point at which people who avoid catching the virus for the next year can avoid ever having to roll a saving throw against drowning in our own lungs. Even just better treatments coming along over the next few months can improve our odds.

        Now, I’ll acknowledge that our inept leadership and dysfunctional government means that we as a country couldn’t do anything about C19, in much the same way that the Haitian government couldn’t do anything about its cholera outbreak a few years back. I wish we were a more functional society, and if I knew how to fix that, I would[1].

        Still, I suspect I think of this the way people who are seriously into guns think about crime and social disorder. Sure, you’d *like* to live in a society where violent crime was so rare it was silly to feel the need for a gun, and where civil disorder/rioting/looting/arson just never happened. But since you live in a society that *isn’t* able to prevent those things, you’ll take what steps you can to protect yourself, recognizing that perfect safety isn’t available, but that you can avoid dangerous parts of town, carry a gun concealed when necessary, put good locks and lights and maybe an alarm in your house, etc.

        In much the same way, I can avoid crowds, minimize my time spent indoors with possibly-contagious people, wear a good mask (KN-95s are attainable at this point) in public, use curbside pickup or delivery instead of going into stores, get carry out instead of eating in restaurants, etc. And I will definitely be advising my high-risk relatives and friends to do the same, as best they can. This isn’t some kind of inability to understand risk, it’s a recognition that there’s stuff I can do to lower my risk, and an unwillingness to volunteer myself as a human sacrifice to the dysfunction and ineptitude of my society.

        And of course this will have broader social consequences. Just as an inability to get urban crime under control led to white flight and all its attendant social damage, our inability to protect our citizens from C19 will lead to a lot of businesses not surviving the next few years. The politically connected ones have gotten and will keep getting bailouts, of course, but many of the others will just collapse. But just as people in my parents’ generation saw the social damage but still moved to the suburbs after the third time they got mugged in their neighborhood, I can see that this will happen, be sad, and still not go risk my own life and health to support those businesses.

        Or, I guess maybe I’m just hiding under my bed till the scary germ goes away because I don’t understand risk. That’s probably it, really–what else could explain why someone wouldn’t do the stuff that you wish they’d do?

        [1] I think C19 is going to end up demonstrating, to anyone willing to look, how dysfunctional our society has become relative to a whole bunch of other ones. Taiwan and New Zealand and Australia and South Korea are all places that seem to have done very well with this virus, despite being substantially free, democratic, wealthy first-world countries. But somehow, they could pull it together whereas we couldn’t.

        1. Elementaldex

          I find it interesting that all* the countries you point to as being actually competent are islands. Maybe that is the actual difference?

          *I think its fair to treat S. Korea as an island given the impermeability of their boarder with N. Korea and Australia despite being a continent has all the features of an island which seem relevant to combating a pandemic.

        2. LesHapablap

          New Zealand was successful mostly because we had more notice than almost anyone else. We reached 100 confirmed cases at least 10 days after almost every other country, and 20 days after the US.

          That 20 days made a huge difference: when the US hit 100 cases it was March 2nd and nobody really knew what was going on. Italy was just in the news with 1800 confirmed cases.

          March 23 NZ hit 100 cases, and Italy was all over the news with 64,000 cases and the hospitals completely overrun. NYC had locked down on March 20th (with 5600 confirmed cases), so there was now plenty of precedent for shelter-in-place. The NZ government announced on the 23rd that the lockdown would start on the 25th.

          That’s the big reason why NZ was more successful. But that’s not to say that the NZ government doesn’t work a lot better than the USG: we aren’t anywhere near as rich, and we don’t have the economies of scale, but we have a lot less regulatory bloat.

        3. John Schilling

          That’s not “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

          To the people insisting on e.g. lockdown until vaccine, it’s close enough to nothing as makes no difference. All risks are either “Perfectly Safe” or “Intolerably Dangerous”, and private precautions against COVID-19 are not seen as effective enough to move it into the “Perfectly Safe” category. So they round to “nothing you can do about it”.

          1. albatross11

            John:

            I feel like you’re spending a lot of time responding to a weakman argument here.

            Yes, there are pro-lockdown people who are innumerate. (Also anti-lockdown people.). Yes, the phenomenon of some of my Facebook friends condemning the “covidiots” for protesting the lockdowns/going to the beach one week, and cheering the BLM protesters for packing into big crowds and chanting for hours the next, was kinda embarrassing to watch.

            But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done, or that sensible policies to slow or stop the spread of the virus aren’t possible. It’s hard to the the US having the institutional competence and coordination across administrative boundaries to handle this well, but it could be done. And if it’s not done, there are still sensible things people can do to reduce their own risk, which aren’t magic talismans anymore than carrying a concealed gun is a magic talisman against crime, but which are prudent risk-reducing measures.

    11. keaswaran

      If a single infection provides total immunity, or if catching it during the phase of fading immunity from a previous infection means that one doesn’t experience bad effects, then we don’t long-term need a vaccine. But if immunity fades, and reinfection as an old person is just as bad as first infection as an old person, then yes, we need a vaccine.

  11. Lord Nelson

    I was an extremely well behaved teenager. My biggest fallout with my parents happened not over acting out or relationships or other “typical” teenage drama, but over the fact that I wanted to go to the local state school instead of my dad’s religious alma mater. We compromised by setting my sights a bit higher (dad really hated the local state school) and I ended up applying to some Ivy Leagues.

    Aside from that, my teenage years were filled with undiagnosed mental health issues–autism, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy levels of perfectionism. When people told me to enjoy my teenage years because they were the best years of my life, I thought “I certainly hope not because I already want to kill myself.”

    I did go to prom, but only because I was coerced.

    1. Matt M

      I think “did you go to prom or not” is the ultimate scissors statement that separates out the normies from the weirdos. (I did not).

      1. johan_larson

        That would be an interesting question to put on the next annual SSC survey.

        Does it translate internationally? Do most countries have some sort of party at the end of high school that you are expected to go to as a couple? Canada does, but really, we’re America Light.

        (I did not go.)

        1. Deiseach

          Do most countries have some sort of party at the end of high school that you are expected to go to as a couple?

          Over here it’s the Debs (short for “Debutantes”) but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as the American prom, though I don’t know what modern attitudes are (we’re Americanising our culture so much, it could well be that Kids These Days do think of it as their equivalent of the prom). Held in the final year of school, age range 17-19 years old. Tradition in my day was “girl asks the boy, pays for the tickets, boy purchases corsage and other things”. That could be changed as well 🙂

          I didn’t go to one because it was cancelled by the school due to a dispute between our Leaving Cert year and a new teacher; things got to such a pitch that the principal tried threatening us that we would not be permitted to sit the final year Leaving Certificate examination (this is a Very Big Deal) unless we backed down and formally apologised to the teacher (they probably couldn’t have done this, but they were relying on pressure from the school and from parents to make us back down), but “the people united will never be divided” and we said “Okay, so we won’t sit the defining examination of our entire school careers that we have been told is the making or breaking of us for the entire rest of our future lives depending on how well we do in it!” (because the teacher was definitely in the wrong and I was one of the witnesses to it) so they had to give in: no apology from us, continued firm backing of the accused student and belief that she was the victim, and we got to sit our state exam as normal. If you’re ever wondering why I’m pro-union, this is why 😀

          In retaliation, they cancelled the Debs. But there is strength in unity, so those who wanted a Debs got together and made all the arrangements themselves and had one despite it all. I still didn’t go because I had no interest in going to any such social functions, and even if I had, the whole “get a dress/date/motivate yourself to attend” was impossible.

          But non-attendance was not a big deal in the way I’m led to believe (if the movies and novels are telling the truth, and surely they would never lie!) that it is in American life?

        2. thisheavenlyconjugation

          Present day UK has proms taken from the US; most people go to them and you don’t really go as a couple IME.

        3. Lambert

          Yeah. The American prom-specific stuff’s not here so it’s more like a crappy semi-formal do for people who don’t quite know their way around a bar yet. At least it was a good excuse for me to invest in a dinner jacket.

      2. bullseye

        I am certainly a weirdo, but I went to prom.

        My prom story:
        I knew a girl who dated a boy for the sole purpose of getting a prom date. Then another girl started dating me a couple of months before my prom. I told the second girl what the first had done, and the second girl told me I was “evil” for suggesting that she might be doing the same thing. After prom I never heard from her again.

      3. Aftagley

        I had to miss prom because I was competing in the National Ocean Science Bowl that weekend.

        I’d say my girlfriend was pissed, but that’d be a lie – she was team captain.

      4. Eric T

        I’m a massive Weirdo, went to both Junior and Senior prom entirely because I was in a relationship at the time.

        1. Lord Nelson

          At someone else’s wedding, of course.

          The only time I’ve danced was at a friend’s wedding. My own wedding had no dancing because my husband hates it.

          I did propose bringing in two DDR machines for my own wedding, mostly as a joke but also because I really enjoy DDR, and was told “absolutely not.”

      5. DavidFriedman

        I did, junior and senior. For the senior prom, one of the students organizing things paired me up with a girl who didn’t have a date, someone I knew but wasn’t particularly close to.

        And I think I was a wierdo by most definitions.

      6. AG

        Did not go to prom, but went to a pre-prom dinner with one friend group, attended the alt-prom event with a different friend-group, and then the after-prom party, flitting between both groups. Very satisfied with that choice, I wouldn’t make my breakthrough on pop music and dancing until a few years later, so prom itself would have been me annoyingly refusing to participate.

      7. Statismagician

        Did not go to prom, because I’d accidentally conned my way into skipping a grade and didn’t know anybody else who was going.

  12. bean

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    First, I finished up my series on the Tomahawk cruise missile, with a look at the blocks which have formed the mainstay of the US arsenal since the mid-90s.

    Second, my series on coastal defenses continues with a look at the Third System, built by the US from the early 1800s to the Civil War.

    Third, my extremely long-running series on Soviet/Russian battleships continues with the only ships to actually see metal on the slipway.

    Fourth, merchant ships have returned, with a look at specialized tankers, most notably Liquid Natural Gas tankers.

    Lastly, my tutorial for Aurora is close to wrapping up. Start here if you’re interested.

    1. Dack

      Second, my series on coastal defenses continues with a look at the Third System, built by the US from the early 1800s to the Civil War.

      That link directs me to this page.

    1. MilesM

      I don’t think having “forensic reviewers” is feasible.

      One of the reasons why you have peer review – rather than independent review – is because other working scientists are the only ones who (if you’re lucky) actually understand new research well enough to be of any use. (And even then, it can be really hard to find someone who’s a genuine expert on the exact subject matter, especially if the research is in any way cross-discipline.)

      And if a large group of people with such an eclectic breadth of knowledge that they could conceivably carry out such a task actually existed, you’d probably want them putting their time to better use. (also, you probably couldn’t afford them)

      That said, the actual editor that is assigned to handling a particular paper and the reviewers should be expected to perform basic sanity checks on what’s been placed in front of them. You should be able to tell certain claims are really implausible/seem too good to be true if you really are a qualified reviewer.

    2. anonymousskimmer

      The check for fraud is replication. Granted this can’t distinguish between fraud and a mere failure to replicate, but scientifically this distinction is unimportant. If a big name has a bunch of papers that fail to replicate they’ll hopefully become less of a big name.

      1. AlphaGamma

        There is at least one journal which won’t publish results until an editor has replicated them. Of course this is very labour-intensive and doesn’t work for every field- and the journal in question has a very low impact factor.

        1. metacelsus

          Orgsyn is very well-trusted and well-regarded in the chemistry community. Impact factor isn’t a good measure of its impact.

      1. Ketil

        Earlier rewrite provided link claiming the problem with peer review is the peers.

        Sure. Peer review only works up to the standards in that particular field, it just means that your article has survived exposure to that particular echo chamber. For many fields, you have certain standards of evidence and reproducibility, and peer review will point out if you break them. Peer review increases the quality of articles a lot and improves communication of results. Review is a big effort, and often takes months or even years. I’m not sure it is worth it in general, and for cutting edge work, it’s all unpublished (and thus not peer reviewed) papers on Arxiv these days. Maybe we should spend our efforts on reviewing Arxiv papers with a certain number of citations?

    3. SamChevre

      I do not think that forensic reviewers would need much specific knowledge of the field. (I’m basing this partly on having worked as an auditor in a financial services context.)

      Peer review is designed to detect “this question is ill-formed/there’s an alternative explanation that should be considered.” It seems to me that forensic review would be designed to detect “this data is made up/this data and this analysis don’t produce the stated results.” That doesn’t require nearly as much understanding of the specific field.

  13. blacktrance

    I share a first name and initial with one of the people banned from SSC meetups. (I assume I’m not actually banned, because the worst thing I’ve done is this.) Since I peripherally participate in the in-person rationalist community, I’m mildly concerned about the reputational effects of being mistaken for being on a list with some terrible people.

    1. souleater

      It would be easy to include a hash of the individual’s last name, so as to prevent this sort of error from damaging reputations

      1. Lambert

        What if you get a SHA256 of 9F542590100424C92A6AE40860F7017AC5DFBCFF3CB49B36EACE29B068E0D8E1 ?

  14. Belisaurus Rex

    Since idioms change so often in real life, it is jarring to read modern phrases in some scifi/fantasy. For example, one would not have a horseman “roll up” to a battlefield. (Or maybe you would; I was surprised when first learning Latin that “circiter” -> “around” has both of the meanings it does in English: literally surrounding, but also that one amount of X might be around the same as another. Maybe a lot of phrases are older than I think).

    Some authors do good in creating their own phrases. I like how GRRM uses “Bannermen” instead of “Vassals”, and when a character “Calls his bannermen” it feels natural.

    Compare with The Lensmen series, where the author for some reason thought that it would be futuristic for people to replace “OK” with “QX”. See also anything with “cyber” in it.

    People of SSC, do you have any examples of surprisingly old, good, or bad phrases or expressions?

    1. eyeballfrog

      I remember years ago looking at reviews of some fantasy book I was reading, and one was complaining about how the words used were too modern for the sword and sorcery setting. The one that stuck out to me was “backpedal”. That seemed like a perfectly natural word to me, but apparently it’s quite new. It only rose to popular usage in the last ~50 years.

      1. pdbarnlsey

        Presumably it relies on the existence of semi-modern bicycles, which is pretty recent.

      2. anonymousskimmer

        “paddle” wheel ships have been around for at least 1500 years. An in-universe argument could be made that the word derives from this usage.

        But yes, the online etymology dictionary traces this word to bicycles in the late 1800s.

    2. m.alex.matt

      Bannermen/man is a pretty old word for more or less the same thing we use ‘vassal’ to mean, with an emphasis on those vassals who provide strictly military service in return for land.

      It’s also what we translate the term for soldiers of the Qing dynasty Eight Banners Armies into.

    3. Ninety-Three

      I’m still annoyed at pre-medieval fantasy Age of Decadence for using the phrase “carbon copy”, which refers to a nineteenth century precursor to photocopiers (hell, carbon wasn’t even named that until the late eighteenth century).

      Every use of “quantum” everywhere ever is terrible. It’s the technobabble equivalent of those people who treat the word “lol” like punctuation, it’s not just that it doesn’t have meaning but that the text would be more readable if you deleted the word entirely, with no replacement.

      1. SystematizedLoser

        The setting details of Age of Decadence provide a plausible path for the people of its current time to be saying “carbon copy”, but you do have to assume some degree of linguistic longevity for that phrase.

      2. bullseye

        Nineteenth century? I remember carbon copies! Still in use in the 1990s, and maybe the next decade too.

    4. Well...

      I was surprised to see the phrase “decked out” in Moby Dick. A ship was decked out in … I don’t remember, whale bone or something.

        1. Well...

          I figured that might be it. We also have the song “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly” whose English lyrics were written about the same time as Moby Dick, so it’s possible the “deck” thing is just a coincidence.

          I’m sure there’s an easy internet search to find out for sure, but wild speculation is supposed to be the point, isn’t it?

    5. sfoil

      In the American military you will quite frequently hear the phrase “smoking and joking” used to refer to groups of soldiers loafing or “standing around bullshitting”. Imagine my surprise when I found a contemporary account of a successful Union attack against a Confederate depot during the Civil War where the author described the Federal soldiers as literally “smoking and joking as they walked” onwards. This might even be where the phrase came from.

      Not quite what you’re talking about but I was shocked at the similarity to modern tactical language used in Antoine de Jomini’s Art of War from 1838 (though the definitive English translation, from which the US Army ripped off all of its terms, was from 1854). I specifically remember the use of the term “decisive point”, and the names of different troop formations were identical to modern use.

      Neither one of these is that old, I suppose, but they are older than I would have thought.

      Telling archers to “fire” in settings where nobody has heard of gunpowder.

    6. AG

      Funny thing is, though, that you don’t see this bent towards historical accuracy when it comes to subtitle translations. Localisation for immediate audience understanding is so much higher priority that replacement of idioms with local language versions is the norm, regardless of class/character connotations. Like a Japanese or fantasy character saying “let’s bury the hatchet.”

    7. kenziegirl

      Not fantasy, but there’s some wacky slang in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I seem to remember John Hughes wanted to avoid using 80s or recognizable slang so the film wouldn’t feel dated. So they made up their own. In my mind it makes it sound immediately dated, so I wouldn’t say he was successful.

      1. Fahundo

        Wow, it’s possible I watched it and assumed it was using actual period slang. I can’t recall any examples though.

      2. John Schilling

        In my mind it makes it sound immediately dated, so I wouldn’t say he was successful.

        Not even John Hughes could make “Fetch” happen. Gretchen Wieners never had a chance.

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          Man, I love that movie.

          “So, you’ve actually never been to a real school before? Shut up! Shut up!”
          “I didn’t say anything.”

    8. silver_swift

      Tangentially related:

      While most of Brandon Sandersons setting specific idioms are quite bad (Calamity, not every rusting thing a culture does has to be related to the blustering local magic system in some starving way!), but I’ve noticed that some of those idioms have slipped into my personal vocabulary.

      Specifically, storms/storming as a replacement for fuck/fucking and not by a breeze or a stormwind for ‘not nearly’.

      Airsick lowlanders is also quite fun to say, but it hasn’t caught on to the point that I find myself using/thinking it unintentionally like the other two.

  15. GearRatio

    T-mobile outage prediction thread!

    I’m officially abandoning my usual conspiracy-mindedness and going with “some guy hit a button wrong, like that one time with the stock market”.

    1. Aftagley

      I have no clue if anyone else is experiencing this bug, but apparently any text message sent within a 10 minute window are being infinitely repeated.

      I’ve received ~100 copies of the same 2 texts today. One is “cool beans” the other is “you shouldn’t disrespect your aunt like that.” Ever 10 minutes. All day. To borrow a site metaphor, imaging a boot stamping on a human face forever saying “COOL BEANS YOU SHOULDN’T”T DISRESPECT YOUR AUNT LIKE THAT”

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        I’ve accidentally built circular networks, and they are hell on routing, and would have the result you see here.

    2. rumham

      I am worried about the state of the network as a whole. Wednesday we had national comcast outages, servers from clients overseas not connecting, AT&T slowdowns (though these might be local) and now T-mobile. Perhaps the BGP routing tables are getting too long? Any other ideas that would account for all of this in such a short time?

    3. Nicholas Weininger

      Matthew Prince (the Cloudflare guy) says that, like so many other complex distributed system outages, this was a bad config push.

  16. Aftagley

    I’ve spent my COVID getting into baking and had the same realization I did when I first started home-brewing – I can make stuff with very little difficulty in my home that is roughly 100x better than what I’d get in the grocery store for maybe 1/3rd the cost. It’s crazy. A loaf of bread that I’d have to pay $5-$8 dollars for in a fancy bakery costs maybe $1 + around 45 minutes of work. I find this shocking because I always assumed I was missing something, that there was some vast chasm of experience or equipment between your average dude with an oven an a professional baker, but (at least for bread) that’s apparently not the case.

    So my current list of “High-Quality Stuff that’s Fun and Easy to Make at Home” so far consists of Bread and Beer. What else, in your opinion, am I missing?

        1. Don P.

          Dave Barry has a book “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months, with Tools You Probably Have Around the Home “

    1. GearRatio

      The bread gap is really truly huge, and I can’t agree with you more on it. I’m doubly blessed in that my wife does it, so for me it’s like magic perfect bread just appears on the counter every few days in a way unassociated with covid free time I won’t always have.

      If your bread-making skills follow the same improvement curve my wife’s did, then you are in for a treat – it got to fantastic quick, and then kept mysteriously rising to this very day.

      1. Belisaurus Rex

        You leave it in the oven and sit there reading a book/watching tv/work your actual job from home/anything else?

      2. Aftagley

        Right, what Belisaurus Rex said. It’s the most low effort 45 minutes of work I’ve ever done. I put on a podcast, I weight out some flour, sourdough starter, salt and water and stir. Then I cover it and wait for a while. Maybe I knead if if I’m feeling especially fancy.

        All in all, the time investment of making a loaf is pretty equivalent to me getting in the car, driving to a bakery, waiting in line then driving it home.

        1. drunkfish

          If you’re in the mood for jacking up the effort, I highly recommend trying this: Every half hour, stretch and fold the bread in half four times. Do this ~6 times total. *much* better bread in my experience.

          (yes, I know this totally contradicts the point of it being low effort, but meh. I work from home nowadays anyway, so getting up for 2 minutes every half hour doesn’t really bother me)

        2. AG

          Huh, every time I do bread (usually steamed buns) I have to budget like 3 hours on a weekend. But that’s always doing from scratch, I don’t have starter.

          Your process sounds closer to the convenience of making rice.

        3. Aftagley

          For weekday bread I use Jim Lahey’s No-Knead bread recipe (modified for a sourdough starter). It is literally as easy as cooking rice, you just need to start 24 hours in advance to allow time for the slow fermentation.

          It doesn’t result in the best bread I’m capable of producing, but it’s up there with anything you could buy in a bakery. Call this 95% perfect bread. For more complex bread preps, it can take up to an hour or so of actual work.

          usually steamed buns

          You’ve got me interested, can you link me a good recipe?

          1. AG

            Er, so I’ve been using a recipe for my dough that was meant for baking, but it’s been fine steamed, too. Worked with both sweet and savory fillings. I just use the steam basket accessory that came with my rice/slow cooker.
            I also tried this recipe, which worked out pretty well.

            Otherwise, I have not actually tried this page yet, but it seems promising for a dough that’s a bit more customized to the task.

        4. keaswaran

          And I think this is why bread baking took off during the pandemic. The issue isn’t spending a lot of your time doing the work – it’s spending a long period of time close enough to your kitchen to do the 30 seconds of work that are needed once in a while.

          When your social and work life used to involve going to different places at different times, the one-time cost of going to the bakery on the way home is much less than the cost of being tied to the home for several hours. But now that your social and work life take place on the computer at home, the time in the kitchen is no longer a problem.

    2. SamChevre

      Marmalade: you can make incredibly good marmalade really easily.

      Start in the evening. f you like the slightly bitter English-style marmalade, use 1 lemon, 3 oranges, and 1 grapefruit (if you want it just sweet, leave out the grapefruit) . Take out the seeds (just cut in half and squeeze with your hand), chop in a food processor or by hand the pieces are no bigger than grains of rice. Add 2 parts water for each part fruit, soak overnight, bring to a boil in in the morning and each morning for the next 2 days (3 boils altogether). Add equal parts sugar, boil until it gels. You will have about 8 pints of the best marmalade you’ve ever eaten.

      1. Aftagley

        bring to a boil in in the morning and each morning for the next 2 days (3 boils altogether).

        Just so I’m clear (I’m totally doing this recipe) I boil it in the morning, then (I assume) put in a container and refrigerate until the next morning whereupon I boil it again? Three questions:

        1. Do I add any more water at any point? I assume not, but I’d like to be sure.

        2. Do I bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat or do I let it boil for a certain amount of time?

        3. Do I add the sugar before the third boil or do I boil it three times then add sugar and boil it again?

        1. SamChevre

          You can refrigerate, although I don’t bother–I just leave it in the same covered pot (so the inside is disinfected by the steam) the whole time and have never had any problem.

          You do not need to add water at any point.

          The third time you boil it, you can either let it sit again for up to 24 hours, or add the sugar once it’s up to a boil. Unless you have a huge pot, though, I’d do final boil for half of it at a time.

          Details of how I do it: I have a 10-quart stainless steel pasta pot (do NOT use an aluminum pot). I generally grind the fruit Wednesday night, bring it to a boil every morning while making coffee, and make the jam sometime on Saturday. For the final boiling with the sugar, I do about half of the fruit and sugar at a time, in a 10-quart pot–it foams up quite a bit. I just ladle the boiling marmalade into clean glass canning jars (widemouth pints) and put the lids on–I put the lids in a bowl of and pour boiling water over them a few minutes before. It will keep for at least a couple years that way.

          1. SamChevre

            Re-reading, I’m realizing that I’m assuming you’ve made jam or jelly before.

            It isn’t hard, but a few tips in case that’s not the case:

            The final boiling with sugar will take 10-20 minutes at a full rolling boil. You can stir or not–not stirring lets the bottom layer caramelize slightly to make “amber marmalade”–I prefer to stir it. It will foam wildly, so you want a pot that’s no more than 1/4 full when you start. When you stir there will be a burst of steam and foam, so use a long spoon and don’t put your face nearby.

            To test for doneness, put a spoonful on a plate–it should thicken.

    3. Oldio

      Salsa. Throw some peppers, tomatoes, and onion and garlic if you want in a blender and blend it up- better than from the grocery store. Use bell peppers for mild salsa, Anaheims for hot, and Jalapenos for an in-between.
      If you don’t have a blender than it is actually significantly more work.

      1. Well...

        I started doing a drier kind of salsa in the food processor.

        – 1/4 of a white onion
        – 1 or 2 fresh jalapeno peppers
        – a dozen sprigs of cilantro
        – juice from half a lime
        – salt to taste

        (Scale that however you want)

        I very coarsely chop the onion, peppers, and cilantro into pieces that are about an inch long so I only have to do a few pulses in the food processor to get them down to finely chopped. That way it doesn’t get soupy.

        I make a bunch of this and just keep it in the fridge. I can take it out any time and dip chips and stuff in it, or I can heat up a small buttered tortilla in a skillet, add shredded cheese and a spoonful of the salsa to the tortilla, then fold it over and brown it on both sides for a quesadilla snack.

        1. Vitor

          So basically pebre? You’re missing tomatoes and a dash of oil though. Garlic optional. vinegar instead of lime is up to you.

          You haven’t lived until you’ve tried this. Good on bread, with sausages, in soup, etc etc.

          1. Well...

            I used to make it with tomato but decided it just made it soupy without adding much. Never made it with garlic; not going for that kind of flavor profile.

          2. Vitor

            Well… you should only use the firm fleshy part of the tomato, and throw away the seeds and the liquid.

          3. Well...

            My cheap self won’t let me throw away any significant quantity of something I know to be edible under normal circumstances; if I must have tomatoes I just chop them separately and use them as a garnish.

      2. cassander

        Back when people did things, someone used to regularly bring tortilla chips to the DC meetup, but not salsa. I was never able to find out who and punish them appropriately.

    4. Lord Nelson

      Cakes.

      While wedding planning, I tried every cake within a 30 Mile radius, most of which were priced in the 100+ dollar range. At least half of them were no better than a box mix, and another quarter were no better than a good magazine recipe.

      Edit to add: aside from the winning bakery (which cost close to 500 dollars), I did not find any cakes that I liked better than my own apple spice recipe, stolen from a magazine a decade ago.

      1. cassander

        It’s shockingly difficult to buy decent baked goods for money. I bake, and when I do, people always are surprised and usually say something like “You don’t seem like the sort of person who would like baking.” I don’t like baking. I don’t mind it, but what I like good cake and it’s not that hard to make.

        1. baconbits9

          Bakeries work on the principle of pleasing their regular customers (like almost every other business), which means predictable, consistent production of a handful of high margin goods. Standard cakes are incredibly high margin for their ingredients (flour, water, sugar, salt, leavening) and skill level. If you want high quality baked goods you need to find a place that has high effort high volume goods (a french bakery that makes it own croissants and doesn’t buy partially frozen ones to bake toast every morning).

          It is my opinion that almost all eating out and purchasing of cooked goods is to avoid cleaning up after and has little to do with the time and effort of actually cooking.

          1. Aftagley

            It is my opinion that almost all eating out and purchasing of cooked goods is to avoid cleaning up after and has little to do with the time and effort of actually cooking.

            I basically agree with you. The only things I don’t bother cooking are:
            -Fried goods: just not worth it. Too much difficulty to do this on a stove top.
            -Asian/African Ethnic Food: If i could buy single-use spices I would cook more, but I don’t need a whole jar of say, star anise that I’ll only use once a month.

          2. cassander

            I don’t mind cooking and cleaning, I mind shopping for groceries and then watching them go bad. I eat out to get variety that I can’t get in my home.

          3. baconbits9

            I don’t mind cooking and cleaning, I mind shopping for groceries. I eat out to get variety that I can’t get in my home.

            Funnily enough the lockdowns have made me hate grocery shopping. I used to take the kids with me so it was just an errand, but now its an errand that I have to use my kid free time to do.

      2. ana53294

        The kind of sweet baked goods that I am willing to buy, because they are too much effort (baklavas, layered cakes, etc.) tend to only be sold in specialized stores. The exception is in Russia (at least, in Moscow), where you can buy really, really good complex cakes in any supermarket. I always buy them when I visit.

        Sadly, stores in the UK and Spain never have cakes more complex than simple spongecakes, brownies or apple pie. And I can make a very good brownie myself, thankyouverymuch.

        I only ever buy panettones, croissants and the Spanish King Cake (that one is quite laborious to get right, and, since it’s only eaten once per year, totally not worth figuring out). They’re mostly too much time and effort for comparable or even inferior results. Everything else, homemade is better.

    5. Well...

      Basically any food you can prepare well that isn’t a huge pain has the potential to be high-quality, (at least somewhat) easy, and fun.

      We’ve taken our recycling to the next level and now are filling those plastic bag recycling containers in the front of supermarkets with stuff we would have thrown in the regular trash a year ago.

      We also discovered that a lot of products’ packaging can be very useful if repurposed. The biggest winners are jars and plastic tubs for obvious reasons. Plastic milk jugs can be washed, cut, and reused in a variety of ways, especially in the garden and garage.

      “Easy” means different things to different people but I find woodworking both easy and hard at the same time. I make and/or repair a lot of stuff around the house, and as my skills have improved so has the quality of my work, in everything from bird feeders to furniture.

      Along those lines, I don’t know if this counts as “making at home” but there’s a lot of DIY home & auto maintenance and repair stuff that’s easy and fun, much of which people normally pay a lot of money for someone else to do. (Though I do think there are some situations where calling a pro is warranted, even for the brave and motivated individual who’s normally willing to learn to work on his property by reading a forum or watching a Youtube video.)

    6. Clutzy

      Here’s an anti-recommendation: Chicken Paprikash.

      My GF demanded we try this amazing new recipe she discovered. It was not very good.

    7. jewelersshop

      Pie crust. Use a recipe with vinegar in it; I think Pioneer Woman’s was the same as the one I’ve been using for years.

    8. Lambert

      Beer bread.
      I think the best one I made was with some brown Leffe I had lying around, but stouts work well too.

    9. DavidFriedman

      If you want to make it even easier, take a look at the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The title is an exaggeration, but it really is a way of having fresh baked bread at very little cost in time. And some of the breads are quite good — I’m particularly fond of the rye.

    10. LesHapablap

      Pizza is the obvious next step. It’s easy to make truly awesome pizza. Two tips:
      -if you’re using premade pasta sauce, there are lots of brands to choose from. Choose the one with the least amount of added sugar.
      -You may need to bake the crust by itself for a bit before putting toppings on unless you have a wicked pizza oven.

          1. drunkfish

            Definitely culture war and disgustingly wrong.

            But I’d be interested in a recipe so that I can prove you’re so wrong.

      1. keaswaran

        Here’s the recipe of the year from King Arthur Flour. It is definitely a winner (at least when made by my boyfriend).

    11. Vitor

      Pesto. Different types of chutney. I hear homemade ketchup is also miles better than any commercial stuff, but I haven’t tried it since I am under the (possibly wrong) impression that all ketchup is disgusting.

    12. A Definite Beta Guy

      I have not had success with bread yet, but I have not tried very hard.

      -Stocks, both chicken and especially beef. I do a lot of whole chicken, though, so I tend to have leftovers.
      -Home made tomato sauce
      -Cakes, very easy to make at home, very good
      -Simple cocktails
      -Home-made pizza is pretty solid. It doesn’t beat every pizza, but it’s damn close for how little it costs.

    13. AG

      Hummus is surprisingly easy, so long as you have a food processor of some sort. I have an immersion blender that came with a chamber accessory that turns it into a food processor. Bonus points, adding white miso paste to my otherwise plain hummus made my tongue register it as cheese spread.
      You can also make tahini at home for super cheap, because it’s basically just sesame butter. Buy sesame seeds in bulk from a grocery, toast them on the stove. Blend with oil in the proper ratio.

      You can make fritatta in a slow cooker, though the texture may be unsatisfactory compared to baking methods.
      I’ve also used my slow cooker for braising, which is great. (And as per above, making stock. Speaking of which, miso soup is fairly easy to make at home.)
      Finally, use a slow cooker or stew pot thermos for hong/lu dou tang, a sweet mung bean soup, which you basically can’t find in grocery stores at all (only the ingredients), and only higher end Chinese restaurants offer at the end of a multi-course meal.

    14. mitv150

      Things I’ve made myself that are worth it:

      Beer (although the explosion in the last two years of nano breweries has reduced some of the variety advantage)

      Bread – particularly sourdough

      Mayonnaise – this is a 3 minute process, is very customizable, and is delicious. I’ve started making an eggless version that is indistinguishable.

      pizza dough – i live in an area with not great pizza, so this is worth it for me. wouldn’t be in other places.

      Traditional recipes that have been commodified, are superior when made at home, and are relatively easy to make – caesar dressing, hollandaise, alfredo, buffalo wings,

      Things I’ve made myself that are not worth it:

      yogurt – turned out exactly like good whole milk greek yogurt from the store. No money saved here.

      Things I haven’t decided on yet:

      kombucha (still brewing)

      1. SamChevre

        Strongly second mayonnaise and hollandaise. And with mayonnaise comes aioli, basil mayo, etc.

    15. DavidFriedman

      Granola.

      I am currently on a low glycemic index diet, as one of the recommendations from Bredesen’s book. I once got, I think from Whole Foods, a version of granola that had no grains and not much carbohydrate, but I don’t think they always have it — and we have been quarantining since mid-March, so I’m not shopping there or anywhere else, other than delivery.

      My daughter in law pointed me at a webbed recipe for something similar. It’s easy to make and very tasty. I modified it by adding coconut chips and omitting the Erythritol, which is a sweetener. All of the ingredients can be ordered online for delivery.

      It’s very good. I mix it into fruit salad as well as having it with fruit and milk.

    16. andrewflicker

      Fancy cocktails- it doesn’t take much work or expense to make cocktails better than what you’d get in 95% of bars, for a fraction of the per-drink price. I often recommend people start with brandy sidecars, fancified gin-and-tonics, and manhattans, depending on what they like- but if you have more developed tastes already, just buy the bottles necessary to make the thing you like, save tons of money compared to buying them out, plus you impress your house-guests.

      If it’s that you like the “going out with a date / friends” experience, do dinner out and retire home for the cocktails- impressive, classy, less worries about getting home tipsy, and so on.

      1. SamChevre

        I’ll second this as well – pick a cocktail you like that’s not tiki, and you can probably buy everything you need to make a dozen of them for what 3 of them would cost in a bar–and it’s easy to make them serious cocktail bar quality rather than random neighborhood bar quality.

  17. wearsshoes

    Regarding toxoplasma, I think that your thesis still holds up. Uncertain evidence about a dispute’s flashpoint event is not the only thing that can create a toxoplasmic situation. Toxoplasma can also happen about uncertain evidence over the validity of various responses. Here is how I would state it: As you mentioned originally, in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, the debates were mostly over whether the killings were justified; clear-cut in one case and more dubious in the other. You, and the public debate, found the debate focused around the killings, rather than their aftermath. Mainstream opinion about appropriate response was fairly unanimous: have a debate, allow nonviolent protests, condemn riots.

    In the George Floyd case, the evidence is as clear-cut as the Eric Garner case. But now the public debate centers more strongly on whether the protests are justifiable, whether police should be employing tear gas and nonlethal ammunition to disperse them, whether ‘abolish the police’ is an effective slogan. The right to protest has become more politicized because of COVID-19 and public figures and institutions being inconsistent in their responses to anti-lockdown protests and Floyd protests. More media time has been given to justifications of anti-state action, and an abandonment of the unquestionability of nonviolent doctrines. All the same phenomena exist as before: nuance-destroying incentive gradients, debatability being a logical precondition to debate, the arms race nature of oppositional escalation. The sides are just fighting over different strategic ground.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Yes, the fact the model failed to predict wasn’t “people are hotly debating the protests”, it’s “there were lots and lots of protests over this”.

    2. Wency

      I would think it’s still relevant to toxoplasma that Floyd was the centerpoint and not, say, Breonna Taylor. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 7 reasons why she would be a more sympathetic victim than Floyd, and none in his favor, yet Floyd was the one who triggered everything.

      Still, it would seem this case is mostly about the power of visual media, since we have a video with Floyd and not with Taylor. But it’s absolutely true, and worth pointing out, that our controversy cycle never does seem to highlight the most clear-cut cases, even if sometimes the cases it highlights are more clear-cut than others.

      1. Dan L

        Still, it would seem this case is mostly about the power of visual media, since we have a video with Floyd and not with Taylor.

        +1. Toxoplasmic effects may be relevant at the margins, but having such an evocative primary source available is going to drown out other factors even if most won’t watch it themselves.

        1. Matt M

          I’m also quickly coming to the conclusion that “chokehold deaths” are far more outrageous to the public at large than shooting deaths.

          It seems a little counter-intuitive… but in the case of every shooting death, the cops basically make the following argument: We were entering a situation where it wasn’t clear if the person was going to be violent or not, despite our warnings to the contrary, they made a sudden movement that, in a split-second, we interpreted as a threat to us, so we fired. That “split-second decision” (or lack thereof) is what’s key and what drives many people to sympathize with the officer, and therefore produces less outrage.

          Even in the worst shooting (say that of a fleeing, unarmed victim) a cop can nearly always plausibly claim that the victim said or did something that caused the cop to momentarily feel unsafe and choose to use lethal force. And I think even the most generally anti-police person can empathize with that feeling. One split second bad decision. That sucks and we want to hold them accountable, but it’s not necessarily deliberate and intentional.

          However, in the case of a chokehold, it’s not one momentary split-second decision. It’s a continued decision that plays out constantly over several minutes. Rather than “99% of this interaction I kept peaceful and then in one moment used lethal force and even if in hindsight I wish I hadn’t it seemed reasonable at the time,” the opposite is now true. 99% of the interaction is force and violence and an intentional deprivation of oxygen from the victim. It would have taken a split-second of the officer feeling differently to save George Floyd, not to kill him. This is what causes the public to suspect a callous indifference to human life. Someone in a chokehold is already incapacitated. There was nothing George Floyd could have conceivably done in minute two of being choked that represented a threat to the officer such that continued application of the hold was justified.

          I don’t really know whether or not banning chokeholds makes officers less safe, or will reduce the number of people killed by cops, but I do think it will probably lead to less rioting and unrest, because of what I just described above. Even if we replace every chokehold death with a shooting death, the public will be less outraged, IMO.

  18. jonm

    In the last year or so, the internet has noticed that some people lack an inner voice (where you are able to hear your thoughts literally vocalised in your mind) or a mind’s eye (where you are able to literally see things that you imagine).

    Does anyone have an inner nose or mind’s touch and taste? I certainly don’t but apparently we shouldn’t assume that our experiences match those of other people. Do people with who are blind and deaf have inner versions of these other senses?

    1. Statismagician

      Taste and touch, yes, if I understand you correctly. Not so sure about smell, but my sense of smell has never been particularly strong.

    2. Randy M

      I can’t exactly imagine scents on command, but memories of scents can accompany other memories or even strike unbidden.

      Now, I’ll be impressed if anyone can imagine a smell they’ve never smelled before, the way one might imagine a picture never seen.

      1. FLWAB

        I can imagine any scent I’ve smelled, but am helpless to imagine a smell I’ve never smelled before. However, I don’t think it’s comparable to imagining images. I can certainly imagine a scene I never saw before, but I can’t imagine a color I’ve never seen before no matter how hard I try.

    3. Pierrot Lunaire

      What do you mean by “hear”, exactly? I am very, very verbal inside my mind, but I don’t think I’m hearing a voice as it would be if I was hearing someone talking. More the concept of words. Similar to reading to myself.

    4. Beans

      I can definitely mentally simulate any sensory input that I haven’t forgotten about already, it just tends to be a little “low definition”.

    5. Vitor

      Touch definitely yes. It’s pretty detailed as these things go, but not vivid. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it’s projected by default onto a sort of inner body map, which just floats around wherever in my consciousness. The sensation only overlaps my actual body (in “real” space, where my proprioception is) if I concentrate. I had never consciously thought about that, so thanks!

      My inner sight is very easy to call up but usually lacks detail and emotional impact. Very washed out in a weird way, almost as if every visual pattern was replaced by an abstract marker for it until I deliberately focus on it to “unpack” it. The “body map” I mentioned above is kind of visual if that makes sense. For example, if I want to feel the touch of a steel knife against my palm, I’ll imagine a hand and a knife (visually, free floating), and then make the knife touch the hand. But I have to remember to place the sensation on my literal palm, or it’ll be somewhere else (in empty space where I imagined the hand).

      Smell and taste seem to be much weaker. I can recall my reactions to e.g. bad smells, but the memory of the smell itself lacks any substance. Sound is a bit stronger, but still not as strong as vision.

    6. Gerry Quinn

      I can easily pull up a smell or taste, but it’s not nearly as ‘real’ as an imagined sight or sound.

      I think maybe vision and hearing carry a big linear bit-stream, and that data component is just as real whether it’s coming in by way of the senses, or you conjure it from imagination or memory. While the more subtle qualia of things like the scent of a rose, for example, have to stand by themselves.

      If you imagine the sound of your mother’s voice, maybe you can imagine it just as sound, but there will be meaningful words attached to it as well in the imagined sound.

    7. Murphy

      mind’s touch and taste

      If I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner and not really sure what I want I’ll run through the imagined taste/feel of each option until I hit on one which seems to hit the spot.

      That or when I’m cooking and a dish doesn’t seem quite right I’ll do similar tweaking it a bit with each of the things I could add to it.

      I can certainly do something similar with smell but typically don’t much.

      Touch, a little but as others say, it’s not very vivid.

      One I think is a bit unusual is my feel for numbers. I was a bit math obsessed as a small child and one of the long term effects of that is a feeling of “wrongness” when numbers don’t add up or make sense without having to apply conscious effort to it. Like a faint mental version of nails on a chalk board.

    8. ana53294

      Which makes me wonder how the erotic fantasies of people who can’t visualize or imagine touch look like. Or is it that people just watch porn instead of fantasyzing? Or they can’t fantasyze?

      I can imagine all senses in my mind, although more weakly than when I’m really experiencing. The one that is most vivid is proprioception: imagining myself standing, walking, etc.

    9. Well...

      How well can y’all hear inner voices with different timbres and accents? Like for example if you’re remembering lines spoken in a movie by a foreign character, or something a foreign coworker said, or something your mom said, etc.

      1. Tarpitz

        Pretty accurately, I think. I’m an actor, and generally fairly good at voices and accents even by the standards of other professional actors (though not exceptional within that group). I’m guessing I’m probably naturally better than most people at this – it’s not something I’ve ever really had to work on.

        1. Well...

          I’m good at doing accents too but I’m not sure this has anything to do with how well I can recall them in my head (which I’d also call “pretty accurately”), since I can also pretty accurately mentally recall the voices of people I cannot convincingly imitate out loud, like those of small kids, most women, or Barry White.

      2. FLWAB

        Very easily, as evidenced by the fact that as soon as I read “y’all” in your comment my mind read the rest of it in a pronounced southern accent. And when I reached “timbres” I tried to change the voice and it instantly became Larry the Cable Guy.

    10. Dog

      I have inner imaginative versions of all my senses. If I’m coming up with new cooking ideas I’ll call up the smells and tastes of different ingredients and mentally combine them to see if they go together. Oddly enough, I think I never even tried to imagine a smell until maybe 10 years ago when I started cooking – it just never came up.

    11. DinoNerd

      I can imagine smell and touch, somewhere close to real. (Complete with mild physiological responses.) I don’t have an inner voice at all, and have almost no mind’s eye. I do think with words, but I can’t answer questions like “was the voice male or female” – the answer would be “what voice?”. And it’s fairly easy for me to switch the language and continue the thought, so this is not quite thinking in words.

    12. keaswaran

      I think I’m much better at touch than many of the others. I can barely imagine any scent, except maybe some very strong and distinctive ones, like lemon, or skunk. Sometimes a scent comes to my mind unbidden, but it’s hard to intentionally imagine.

      The other thing I find is that I can’t imagine what pain feels like when I’m not currently feeling pain.

  19. Tatterdemalion

    I know that the third amendment has often been described as the “runt piglet” of the US constitution, because it’s hardly ever litigated.

    But if you were to rank the other amendments in order of importance/how much they matter to you, what order would you put them in?

    (I really want to phrase this as “if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take seven amendments with you, which ones would they be”…)

      1. Tatterdemalion

        The whole caboodle – 1 through 27. Although you can make 18 a special case if you want.

        Incidentally, am I the only person who worries regularly that I’ll get 18 and 19 mixed up and say something that implies that I support the repeal of womens’ suffrage?

        1. Dan L

          You can’t drink at 18, but you can at 21. …but glancing at state laws, that mnemonic was never as broad as I thought while still losing steam by the day.

        2. Matt M

          “Repeal the 19th” is a relatively common meme in far-right internet circles, and yes, plenty of women participate in it too. I think they’re only about half-joking.

          Electoral maps of “Here’s how it would be if women didn’t vote” do, in fact, look favorable to Republicans…

        3. AlphaGamma

          @Matt M- here in the Netherlands there is a political party, with representation in Parliament, that favours restricting the franchise to male heads of households.

          They now allow women to join, and in fact have female representatives at local level.

        4. Aapje

          They were a bunch of legal challenges that pretty much forced their hand, though.

          They get about 2% of the votes in national elections.

          Interestingly, they have a pretty good reputation for keeping an eye on the constitution (they don’t just pay very good attention to what the Bible literally says), having experienced representatives and not being opportunistic, but rather consistent.

    1. eyeballfrog

      I would think the 3rd amendment is hardly ever litigated because it’s so clear about what it’s proscribing. Its only case law, Engblom v. Carey, involved a very particular setup that caused the NY government to violate the 3rd amendment in a non-obvious way. Still, I definitely wouldn’t want the government to forcibly quarter soldiers in my house, so I like that it’s there.

      1. achenx

        There was a 3rd amendment case a couple years ago in Nevada regarding police that had set up in someone’s house in order to surveill some neighbors. The state court rejected that claim as “despite what they look like, police don’t count as soldiers”. I get that line of thinking but I wonder if it could theoretically go the other way.

    2. Trofim_Lysenko

      10th
      2nd
      13th
      6th
      4th
      1st
      5th
      9th
      14th

      With importance dropping off sharply from there. That precedent has rendered the 10th a dead letter pisses me off to no end, up there with the creep of “interstate commerce”

        1. Trofim_Lysenko

          I still haven’t come down firmly on the topic one way or the other, so I’m OK defaulting to universal suffrage by default, but I’m at least partially sympathetic to arguments for at something like the conditional franchise of Heinlein’s Terran Federation. Under ye olde “disparate impact doctrine” and arguments of the sort, any sort of preconditions or requirements for earning the franchise are the next best thing to presumptively invalid per those sorts of amendments, thus I bite the bullet and they get lower billing.

    3. Evan Þ

      First the Bill of Rights, from most important to less:
      1, 13, 4, 6, 5, 9, 10, 2, 8, 7, 3. Juries have lost most of their importance IMO as they’ve lost most of their original powers, so I rank those amendments further down.

      14 is an oddball because it incorporates all the Bill of Rights. If pushed, I’d have to rank it really near the top since it applies the great and glorious First Amendment against the states – but I really don’t like having to put it in the same spectrum as the others.

      Then the other beneficial amendments, still from more to less important: 15, 17, 19, 22, 21, 20, 25, 24
      Then the ones I don’t really care about: 23, 27, 12, 11
      Then for the actually harmful: 26 (the voting age should be slightly over the age of majority so voters have some experience), 18 (a bad idea as well as invasive), 16 (drove the growth of government power).

    4. chrisminor0008

      Not that it’s the absolute most important or anything, but I think the 17th amendment was a mistake and its impact drastically understated. It fundamentally changed the US from a federation of states into a centralized government of the whole of the people. Now instead of the US federal government having body representing the people and another body representing the states, we have basically two houses of representatives, just with slightly different apportionments. And it led to people today complaining that the president is not elected by popular vote.

      1. cassander

        I think the 17th is much more a symbol of that transition than a cause. The ability of state houses elected every 2 years to control senators appointed every 6 was inherently minimal. Had the 17th never been passed, the senate would look more like the supreme court today than it currently does, but federal power wouldn’t be fundamentally altered.

      2. Evan Þ

        Perhaps, but it freed state legislators to be elected on the basis of state issues rather than on national party affiliation. For decades, state legislators had campaigned prominently on the basis of who they would support for Senate; the Seventeenth Amendment freed state legislatures from those concerns.

      3. Konstantin

        Keep in mind that before the 17th Amendment, it wasn’t unusual for Senate seats to remain vacant for years as a result of partisan gridlock in state legislatures. I think that problem would be even worse today.

    5. Well...

      What do you constitutional scholars think of the adage “The second amendment ensures all the others?”

      To me it seems intuitively correct but I don’t see that reflected in anyone else’s answers. What am I missing?

      1. anonymousskimmer

        It didn’t stop the North from ultimately preventing Southern secession.

        And I didn’t see the British overturning the Magna Carta during the last 800 years (though Cromwell was whatever).

        Heck, the lack of a 2nd amendment didn’t prevent the colonists from successfully rebelling in the first place. Much of that was thanks to alliances with European powers.

        More recently, her boyfriend being armed didn’t prevent the police from illegitimately killing Breonna Taylor (and likely did the opposite).

        I think people taking rights seriously is what keeps rights as rights. Abolishing them is outside of the Overton window. Guns may play a roll in keeping them out of the Overton window, but guns are not the primary reason for this. Tradition is. Stare decisis is. Oaths taken and firmly believed in to protect and defend the Constitution are.

        1. Trofim_Lysenko

          Your first and third points contradict each other, especially when you factor in that in fact English Common Law laid out protections of the right to bear arms (which the 2nd Amendment is basically just a stronger and more expansive version of) and the role that the culture and practice of firearm ownership and use in the colonies had on the formation of American units, their employment of skirmishers, and the early portions of the rebellion. I’m not going to say that it was decisive, because it wasn’t, but it played a non-trivial role.

          The fourth point is a pure non-sequitur.

          If you’d like to take this up in the next CW thread, I’d be happy to oblige you.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            No. I don’t want to argue with you or anyone else about this. Just pointing out examples that seem to me to show that the 2nd amendment does not “ensure” the others. Though it may *help* support the continuing existence of the others (as does the 1st amendment).

        2. Lambert

          You do know that most of the Magna Carta has been repealed and superceeded by newer laws?

          1. anonymousskimmer

            The system works then? The fundamental limitation on the King did not revert.

            I did not know of the early history of the Magna Carta, but it strikes me as not too different than the overturning of the Articles of Confederation for the Constitution.

            I concede that this is not a good example, as arms were ultimately used to help “ensure” the Magna Carta (along with foreign allies).

            I still think that my other four observations stand as indicators that the right to bear arms does not “ensure” the other rights, but at most merely supports them.

      2. keaswaran

        I would think that the 1st amendment and 4th amendment are far more important for actually protecting other rights than the 2nd. At least, in recent years, it seems that far more rights have been won by people assembling peaceably and speaking in public than by people using guns, and far more rights have been threatened by authorities unreasonably searching and seizing than by actions that would have been stopped by a gun.

        1. Well...

          Speech and peaceful protests indeed have a greater history of expanding/securing new rights for people who did not have them before. But I think that’s different from ensuring rights you already have on the books.

          Knowing that your populace is armed doesn’t make infringing on their rights impossible, but it makes it very costly both politically/logistically/etc. and in terms of actual money. Yes, unreasonable searches and seizures are a big thing, but I imagine they’d be much worse without a 2nd amendment.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            Yes, unreasonable searches and seizures are a big thing, but I imagine they’d be much worse without a 2nd amendment.

            I truly don’t know. I thought the major impediment to unreasonable searches and seizures is that the judge throws out the evidence, and in extreme cases throws out the entire prosecution- with prejudice. At the trial stage guns are definitely not involved.

          2. Trofim_Lysenko

            Speech and peaceful protests mostly work in two scenarios:

            1) The government is unable to bring effective force to bear due to lack of political control. E.G. liberal democracies with relatively robust civil rights norms and/or lack of popular political support for the use of force to maintain the status quo. In other words, where you’re already most of the way there, reform wise. E.G. 20th Century India, 20th Century US. 18th to mid 19th Century Alternate Timeline Gandhi gets ignored or militarily crushed.

            2) The protesters or third parties acting on their behalf can make a credible threat of force to check an attempt to crush them outright. E.G. the threat of US or NATO reponse providing top cover for the early stages of the Soviet Union’s breakup and the Color Revolutions, until it progressed to the point where scenario 1 took over.

    6. broblawsky

      S-tier: 1st, 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, 26th
      Freedom of speech\press and universal suffrage are the cornerstones of actual democracy. Without those, everything else falls apart.
      A-tier: 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th
      Making sure that criminal and civil trials are implemented fairly is also essential. The 9th amendment is just a good idea on the basis of future-proofing the Constitution.
      B-tier: 16th
      It’s almost impossible to implement a modern state without an income tax; there’s no other good way to raise sufficient revenue.
      C-tier: 12th, 17th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 25th
      Essential modernization for having a functional state. None of these are necessary, but they are useful.

      I’m not going to list what I consider F-tier to avoid CW issues.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        I interpreted these as the Support tiers from Fire Emblem games.
        You can’t marry the 1st, 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th.

  20. Logan

    Maybe the “toxoplasmosa” isn’t between the right and left arguing about George Floyd, but between the cops and protesters arguing about the protests.

    In the early days, George Floyd was just another name, not necessarily bigger than Eric Garner. For some reason, the cops didn’t immediately charge the cops involved in an appropriate way (most everyone agrees on that, even Trump). The protesters respond by burning down the Minneapolis police station (why didn’t the cops acquiesce before it got that bad?). Now that the police station has burnt down, cops in every city in America are on edge, which causes them to crack down on (possibly small?) protests more than seems necessary, which causes the protests to grow, which causes the cops to crack down harder. I’m basing this on my own city, based on the account of the chief of police. When asked to explain videos of police violence, he responded that after Minneapolis, protecting the police station was considered a top priority.

    Personally, I’m much more interested in reading news about police brutality against protesters than news about police killing black men, so maybe I have a non-representative view of what’s fueling the protests. My news feed has plenty of apparent villains continuing their villainy as a direct result of how upset I am at their villainy, i.e. toxoplasmosa.

  21. Chalid

    When it comes to risk of coronavirus transmission, “outside” is better than “inside.”

    One could imagine this being due to better air circulation, or the effect of UV in sunlight, or greater spacing between people, or probably other things too. Any chance that we have any idea what actually matters?

    1. noyann

      Larger personal distance plus dilution through more, and more turbulent airflow would be my guess.

  22. Urstoff

    Anyone know where I could find a (preferably searchable) list of all books published by Penguin Classics? Their website is pretty atrocious, and the closest thing I could find was a pdf catalog that’s already several years old.

  23. Well...

    It’s a wonder I passed from age 13 to age 20 without going to prison or the grave or getting anyone pregnant.

    Well, I did get arrested once at 18, but I was legally an adult and didn’t live at home anymore. That was kind of a culminating event. In the years that preceded it I cheated on tests, played hookey and took the train downtown, I bought alcohol while underage, I loitered and trespassed, I got drunk in public, I drove drunk, I did whatever drugs my friends handed to me (which fortunately were all things that grew out of the ground), I committed pranks on unsuspecting strangers. I got into fistfights with my brother that on a couple occasions escalated to the use of improvised weapons. I stayed over friends’ (and girlfriends’) houses all night without telling my mom where I was. I had unprotected sex.

    I don’t know how my mom survived it. I guess it drove her a bit crazy. I don’t think I would have done as well in her shoes.

    1. Elementaldex

      How are you doing now? Most of those things correlate with poor life outcomes but my very low information guess would be that you are a reasonably adjusted/successful adult.

      1. Well...

        Happily married, 3 kids, own a nice house in a good school district, I love what I do for a living and it pays really darn well, I have lots of friends because I make friends easily and tend to keep them, … yeah I’m not the right guy to trot out in front of your kids as a warning.

  24. Jon S

    @Well… a couple months ago I asked about the vulnerability of the power grid to intense solar flares and you said you’d ask a contact who might know. Did you ever get an answer?

    1. Well...

      I did not get an answer. I gather that my contact was busy and I didn’t want to hassle him, and by now he’s probably forgotten about it (as I admit I did until I found your OP) and we don’t have the kind of relationship where I’d bug him about it again after all this time. I apologize.

  25. Forlorn Hopes

    I have a strange question, but this might be the place to ask it.

    If I’m a 1950’s mad scientist, but specifically a mad sociologist. What popular 1950s ideas might I base my inventions on?

    Ideally they’d result in tangible creations. For example, one idea I had was town planning. Creating an idealised white picket fence suburb that due to the power of mad science mentally influences everyone living there until it turns into pure Stepford Wives; at least until some do-gooder comes to thwart the mad scheme.

    1. Randy M

      Psychohistory, although not tangible, would be the ultimate pay-off.

      Anyone have any info on whether Assimov considered that possible or just an interesting plot device?

      1. Forlorn Hopes

        Psychohistory is a good idea. I wonder if there was a real world equivalent, some actual sociology professor with some new method for future predictions I could crib terminologies from.

        Any others? The more ideas the merrier.

    2. Ninety-Three

      It’s technically from the early sixties, but the Milgram experiment seems perfectly on-theme here. Perform enough variations on the experiment that you discover exactly what components of authority people respond to, and then the right tone of voice plus outfit will have people launching nuclear missiles at your command just because you seem like you’re in charge.

    3. Forlorn Hopes

      Thank you everyone. Though the lack of ideas for tangible creations means I may have to go back to the drawing board :/

  26. Tatterdemalion

    More nominative determinism: for five years, the manager of German football club VfL Wolfsburg was one Wolfgang Wolf.

  27. Wrong Species

    Consider three things:

    1. Anatolia and Constantinople are very defensible territories
    2. Gunpowder tilted the playing field away from nomadic horsemen and towards centralized states
    3. The settling of Anatolia by the Turks led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire

    So if the Byzantines had won the Battle of Manzikert, then it’s not implausible that we could have had a Rome well in to Modernity.

    Imagine that they won and made a deal with the Sultan to keep Turks away from Anatolia and the Caucasus. The emperor puts out all the other fires around the empire. If they can hold on for a bit, the Seljuk Empire will decline in the next century. After that comes the Mongols. They don’t have a chance in hell of beating them militarily but maybe they can survive by becoming vassals while the Mongols deal with other matters. Wait for their empire to disintegrate. Then if they survive the Timurid Empire and the Mamluks, maybe the Safavids as well, they get to the 15th century, gunpowder becomes prominent and the threat of nomadic empires lessens dramatically. And then after that, it’s hard to say, since it was the Ottomans that became key during this time. How plausible does this sound to you? What other surprises would they have to watch out for? And if they make it the early modern period intact, how much longer do you think they’ll survive?

    1. Statismagician

      I thought that the actual Byzantine response to Mongols was to pay them to go away, which seems to have worked tolerably well in lots of other places too. Constantinople is probably the most fortified city anywhere on the planet across this whole time period and easily supplied by sea; unless you’ve got heavy siege artillery or happen to be technically allied to the defenders taking it isn’t really a viable option even if you are the Mongols.

      1. Wrong Species

        Sure, but if the Mongols overran Anatolia, then they have the exact same problem of nomads in their backyard but with Mongols instead of Turks. To survive, they would need to prevent that from happening. Constantinople is very defendable but not impregnable. If that is the only territory the Romans have, then it’s only a matter of time before someone manages to take it. After all, that is what happened.

        1. Statismagician

          Very true. I thought we were positing that Rome keeps Anatolia, Thrace, and Greece at least up until the Mongols show up – I could be wrong about this, but my recollection was that the Ilkhanate expansion stopped somewhere in eastern Anatolia rather than going all the way to the Bosporus, so I’m picturing a stronger Empire keeping them at least that far away from the capital. Possibly not if they end up having to fight the Golden Horde in Bulgaria at the same time, but this Empire has more political and financial capital and might possibly be able to coordinate somewhat with the rest of Eastern Europe.

          What will be really interesting is what Russia and Northern Europe look like with significant religious and cultural influence coming up from Constantinople, and how Constantinople no longer being tied into the Indian Ocean trade networks so tightly changes the development of world trade patterns. I could imagine Orthodox Baltic states and Egypt as the center of gravity for the Muslim world.

          I have no idea what happens when the colonial expeditions start up, my impression is that a lot of that was down to basically chance – possibly some Italian adventurer ends up talking to Thomas Palaiologos and South America speaks Greek in the new timeline, who knows?

          1. Wrong Species

            History could potentially diverge quite a bit during the modern period. With the Byzantines still functioning as a bulwark against Middle Eastern expansion, you don’t have any groups like the Ottomans conquering Eastern Europe and terrorizing Western Europe. I can’t imagine that the Byzantines would end up powerful so its history could play out like a longer version of the Ottoman later history. We could be talking about Rome as the sick man of Europe.

          2. Statismagician

            I don’t know about that – my read on the Ottoman decline is that they ran into the same problems holding a multi-ethnic empire together in the face of proto-nationalist sentiment that Austra-Hungary did, but sooner and more severely because there was even less common identity holding things together (by design, which was very adaptive in the Renaissance and abysmally maladaptive in the modern era). Byzantium will never reach the fantastical heights of wealth and power that the Ottomans did, but I think they’d never get as low either – ‘literally the Roman Empire’ is a solid cultural bedrock to build from. Plus they won’t have to deal with anything like as much territory, which will help further.

    2. Wency

      The Byzantine political system and culture was broken. They were low in asabiyyah, and even by medieval standards their transitions of power were extra messy. That seems to me like the reason why they went away. Manzikert by itself wasn’t even that big a disaster; Anatolia was lost because the internal response to Manzikert was to accelerate the internal chaos, instead of banding together to defeat the common enemy. It would be like if the Romans had responded to Cannae by starting a civil war, and Carthage consequently emerged victorious and rendered Rome a rump state. Would it really be Cannae that won the war for Carthage?

      So I really have to think that if Manzikert hadn’t done it, something else would have. Perhaps there still would have been something like a Fourth Crusade. But I guess if the ERE lasted far enough into the modern era, the terminally ill Byzantine state still would have been propped up by great power political calculations, just like the Ottomans were.

      But unlike the Ottomans, who were a real threat to Christian Europe in the 16th century, the ERE would have already been a punching bag for Catholic Central Europe by this time, and I don’t know that anyone (Russia, France) would have been able to prop them up. I have to think, amid one of their civil wars, they basically end up getting partitioned.

  28. Statismagician

    My suspicion is that ‘teenager’ as a distinct stage of development humans go through is ~50% aping of teenagers on TV and in movies, ~45% legitimate problems that young-but-not-infantile people face in today’s world, and only ~5% actual underlying biology (numbers not based on anything rigorous). Historically people aged about 12-20 seem to have been lumped into a broad ‘youths’ category and are basically treated like small adults who don’t know a lot yet (modulated across the category as you’d expect); apprentices or farmers’ children don’t seem to have been anything like as displaced or depressed as modern teenagers are.

    I didn’t have anything particularly like a ‘normal’ teenage phase, nor did my younger brother. Our close friends didn’t either, particularly, or at least not that I noticed – I think even a moderate amount of genuine parental involvement plus outlets for real competition and mastery and/or productive work are enough to let teenagers skip to being junior adults. Treating school as a vaguely silly day-job you still have to work at rather than the be-all-and-end-all of existence helps immensely, too.

    1. Matt M

      My suspicion is that ‘teenager’ as a distinct stage of development humans go through is ~50% aping of teenagers on TV and in movies, ~45% legitimate problems that young-but-not-infantile people face in today’s world, and only ~5% actual underlying biology

      Generally agree with this. People mostly act the way they think people expect them to act. Grow up being told “when you’re a teenager, you’ll be a rebellious jerk” and sure enough, when you become a teenager, you’ll find yourself being a rebellious jerk.

    2. thesilv3r

      As a farmer’s child, growing up in a community of farmers’ children, I will assure you that some mix of

      defiance, self-absorption, moodiness, status obsession, risk-seeking, estrangement from and contempt for family

      was fairly common across my peer group. And yes, while we did participate in the public school system which may indicate some distance from that agricultural society, we also were involved in day-to-day farm/work operations from around the age of 11.

  29. AG

    Japan/China also have 反抗期 to describe “the rebellious age,” so it’s not just a Western concept.

    For me, I didn’t go out much (having friends over/going out to hang with friends” were special occasions. I did break some of my parents’ rules, but all under their noses, and then I was living dorm life for half of high school (special dual-credit program). From my perspective, though, it was a particular parent that got super moody in a way they hadn’t been before, while the rest of us in the family were pretty chill.

  30. drunkfish

    Looking for an alternate-history or scifi book with a specific premise: What does the industrial revolution look like on a planet without accessible fossil fuels?

    I was talking to a friend about how industrialization might proceed under different assumptions, and it occurred to us that there’s no obvious reason you need to have lots of coal underground, and possibly no need for oil either. If a planet doesn’t have easily accessible energy-dense fuels, my first instinct was “maybe you just never industrialize”, but that feels too pessimistic about human creativity. I’m interested in reading a book (or essay or short story or whatever) that explores how you might develop a ~modern society without coil/oil/gas. Thanks!

      1. Lambert

        Food is just a fancy kind of biofuel.
        If you can feed it to your GM oxen, you can throw it in the recieving end of a fluidised bed gas turbine.

      2. drunkfish

        Cool thanks! I have a much easier time imagining post-fossil-fuels than never-fossil fuels (probably because people often discuss the former), but that still sounds like an interesting question to explore. And I could totally see biofuels being the answer to my original question anyway. I was assuming no fossil fuels meant no energy-dense-things-to-burn, but biofuels totally fill that niche too. Hell, maybe you can industrialize on wood alone.

        1. Lambert

          You could probably get to 1750 or 1800 level England with charcoal instead of coal. Not sure whether bessemer-smelted steel would make economic sense, so you might not get much of the 2nd industrial revolution.

          I daresay forestry would be much more important. You’d see the Amazon and the Congo felled for fuel. I’d not want to be any kind of whale in this timeline either.

          1. Tenacious D

            “Harvesting the Biosphere” by Vaclav Smil has some stats on just how much wood would be required for industrialization. To use charcoal (with modern conversion efficiencies) to make the amount of steel used in 2010 would require doubling the amount of wood harvested annually.

      3. cassander

        I love the windup girl, it’s a wonderful novel, but the science is nonsensical. People seem to have forgotten that nuclear power is a thing, and one of the main plots revolves around an algae that somehow makes springs stronger. I also have a very hard time imagining that genetically modified animals can power factories more efficiently (in terms of carbon emission per unit of power) than small motors.

        But it’s still a wonderful novel that everyone should read. I wish there was more stuff like it out there, and I especially wish that Bacigalupi would spend less time on YA stuff and more time on books for adults.

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          What’s wonderful about it? I was so pissed off at the stupidity of the concept (85% of what people eat just produces heat) that I gave up on it.

          1. cassander

            I love the aesthetic even if it’s totally nonsense. The world building is internally consistent, and the details are fun. I’ve read it a couple times, and have always found it compelling all the way through, even if parts are patently silly.

    1. John Schilling

      What does the industrial revolution look like on a planet without accessible fossil fuels?

      Slower and/or with more inequality, but probably about the same in the end. There’s nothing you can do with coal and oil that you can’t do with biofuels, charcoal for metallurgy in particular. You just can’t do as much of it, so the advantages (and disadvantages) of industrialization propagate rapidly through the population.

      The major industrialized nations might wind up looking, in this hypothetical world, like the colonial possessions of the major industrial powers did in our own history – an elite with all the fancy toys, defended by soldiers with all the fancy guns, but the rest of the population is still agrarian peasants. Some of whom will be aggressively growing biofuels rather than food.

    2. matkoniecz

      I wonder how feasible would be to heave small scale metal processing (via charcoal), primarily for military use. And limp till harnessing of a nuclear power.

      1. Lambert

        That’s mostly how things were till they developed coking during the first industrial revolution. The chinese even had blast furnaces relatively early.

        Good luck separating the enriched uranium, boron-free graphite or heavy water needed to get a reactor going.

        1. John Schilling

          Good luck separating the enriched uranium, boron-free graphite or heavy water needed to get a reactor going.

          Why would e.g. gas centrifuges require fossil fuels?

          If you heard somewhere that the energy requirements are so massively immense that only a major industrial power can dream of such things, that really only applies to first-generation enrichment techniques like gaseous diffusion and (especially) electromagnetic separation. So the no-fossil-fuel world might develop nuclear energy a technological generation or two after our own, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t get there in the end.

    3. fibio

      Go read Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Late in the novel it features a space program run without access to fossil fuels reserves.

    4. eric23

      Windmills, hydroelectric dams, and concentrated solar power would still exist. Eventually nuclear power and solar panels too.

    5. jmo

      Iceland is the first nation to industrialize on the back of its geothermal resources? Or Japan? They also have a ton of geothermal potential. There is even a town where you can cook your dinner in the hot water that bubbles out of the ground.

  31. AlesZiegler

    Scott, I am surprised that you take Turchin seriously. My understanding of his theory is completely based on your review, and based on that, I concluded that it is total bull§hit.

      1. rocoulm

        He mentions it in the body of this post, too, under point 4.

        …and that 2020 is the peak of Turchin’s fifty-year cycle of conflict.

  32. rahien.din

    The structure of the first amendment has always bugged me. It seems like a couple of disparate concepts lassoed in together. I realized why it makes sense to group freedom of assembly in with freedom of speech.

    The sharing of information is necessarily an act of communion. If I decide to share information with you, this is to form an association with you. To say that I may not associate with a person is to say that I may not share information with them, and vice-versa. Therefore, freedom of association and freedom of speech are inseparable.

    This means that espionage is a form of unlawful involuntary association. It is not simply that one has accessed privileged information – it is that the information-holder’s right to determine their association has been violated.

    1. Logan

      Everything in the first amendment is about Freedom of Thought. It lists a variety of tools that 18th century governments would use to control the beliefs of its citizens and bans them. Religion and press are kind of obvious, speech and association are tools used by disorganized groups to coordinate and signal-boost.

      Suppose the government has laws against homosexuality, and a couple people think this is wrong. In a democracy, the opinions of the citizenry should affect the laws (by definition), but what steps lie between my thoughts and the law? First I need to be free to say that I believe what I do, and others need to be free to hear me. Then other people who believe the same thing as me should create a mailing list and then have weekly meetings and figure out how to advance our movement. Then we should be able to tell the government what we believe and ask them to draft a law about it, so that we can vote out the people who vote against it.

      Everything in the first amendment is about making it legal for voters to decide for themselves how they will vote.

    2. digbyforever

      It’s more poetic than legal, but Akhil Reed Amar’s book on the Bill of Rights describes the First Amendment as a sort of roadmap for policy change: ideas and morals originate in houses of worship, then the people can write or speak about the ideas, then get together, and petition the government for those changes. (And he also notes that if the government fails, the next amendment protects the right to “alter or abolish” the government through arms.)

    3. keaswaran

      The 14th amendment is in many ways even more varied. Birthright citizenship and the due process clause in a single amendment?

  33. The Pachyderminator

    I’ve reported most of the posts in this thread. This is, like, the quintessential culture war topic. You people are BURNING THE COMMONS.

  34. Telomerase

    So, SARS-CoV-2 has killed 8800 Indians, most of them over 65.

    46,000 Indians, mostly young people, die every year from cobra bite.

    Half a million people worldwide die from malaria.

    1.6 million annually die from TB, mostly due to B3 deficiency.

    At least in equatorial countries with young populations, I think at this point we’re seeing some seriously Ineffective Altruism. Not sure what vitamin is good for cobra bite though.

    1. Space Hobo from Hobospace

      I heard Thain hammer massage, also known as tok sen is effective against cobra bites, when applied pre-emtively directly to a cobra.

    2. Jake R

      46,000 Indians, mostly young people, die every year from cobra bite.

      Wikipedia puts it at 11,000 fatalities per year from all snakes, but I understand there’s some difficulty getting good estimates. That said this is ludicrously higher than I would have guessed. The US has had 25 fatalities in the last 10 years. Several of those are exotic snake keepers or religious snake handlers who refused treatment. I know we don’t have many venomous species compared to India but still those numbers are ridiculous.

      1. Kaitian

        Medical treatment is much worse in India than it is in the US. That and there’s more dangerous snakes I guess?

        That said, I’m pretty sure some of the Indian victims are handling snakes for religious or entertainment purposes as well.

    3. Matt M

      seriously Ineffective Altruism

      This is a great phrase, and I intend to steal it from you and apply it liberally 😉

    4. Aftagley

      So, SARS-CoV-2 has killed 8800 Indians, most of them over 65.

      46,000 Indians, mostly young people, die every year from cobra bite.

      Looks like the most recent numbers put this at 9.5k, and wikipedia’s conservative estimate of snakebite deaths is only around 11k. I’m confident COVID will surpass this by the end of June.

      Half a million people worldwide die from malaria.

      Which is a number not too far off from how many people have died from COVID (450k). Again, in only a few months.

      1.6 million annually die from TB, mostly due to B3 deficiency.

      You think we’re going to see less deaths than that internationally from COVID in 2020? I’ll take that bet.

    5. Doesntliketocomment

      It’s not altruism though. If India becomes a reservoir of COVID-19, then it will eventually reinfect other countries. Snakebites aren’t transmissible*, so no matter how many snakebites occur in India, it doesn’t affect the first world.

      *Unless the snakes themselves were inadvertently transported, say perhaps on a plane…

        1. Garrett

          Yes!

          Unlike polio, we have decades of experience working on sort-of similar viruses. In addition, there are a lot of endpoints which would be acceptable which weren’t acceptable with polio. For example, if we could mitigate the disease so that people who caught it “merely” felt lousy for a week or so, it would no longer matter if large amounts of the population were exposed to it. Indeed, cutting deaths down to “comparable to the flu” levels would probably do it.

          Alternatively, a vaccine or treatment which drastically reduces transmission rates, even if individual incidences of the disease remain as dangerous would also be acceptable.

          Finally, should a vaccine with a good safety profile and even moderate effectiveness be produced/certified, the mechanisms to quickly and widely distribute it already exist.

          Hope abounds!

        2. eric23

          People still travel to countries where polio, yellow fever, etc are endemic. They just get vaccinations first.

    6. keaswaran

      You have to look not at total deaths from each cause to estimate the effectiveness of the measures, but rather at total deaths prevented divided by effort spent preventing said deaths. Infectious diseases spread exponentially, so it’s quite plausible that a *lot* more deaths have been prevented than the number that have occurred. Snake bites and lightning strikes and car crashes spread linearly, so it’s not plausible that the number that have been prevented is hugely more than the number that have occurred.

    7. Biater

      Don’t look at the stock; look at the flow. Every day in India is worse than the day before. Wait 6 months and then you can tell if they over-reacted. If it does seem an over-reaction then, I will literally take it as a miracle.

      The first Italian died of Covid around Feb 28th, and by the last day of Feb, they had 1000 deaths a day (near).

  35. AG

    So apparently there are Opinions on how to cut a sandwich?

    It seems a little one-sided, that the diagonals are the ones preaching while the straight cuts don’t care, but are there benefits to slicing a sandwich to begin with?

    1. anonymousskimmer

      Yeah, I always ask Subway to refrain from cutting my foot-long in half. Cutting in half makes it more difficult to eat when rolling the wrapper back while eating (though presumably it’s easier to eat when taking the sub all the way out of the wrapper to begin with – given this is unhygienic in that you have to touch the bun you’re going to eat with your bare hands, obviously I am right 😀 ), as you suddenly have to deal with a cut off chunk that can easily fall out of the wrapper when you get near the half-way point.

        1. anonymousskimmer

          If you asked them to, sure. But that would mean more effort for me in that I’d have to unwrap the second one after finishing the first.

          A secondary consideration to asking them not to cut it is that this avoids cross-contamination of mayo or mustard from the knife (yes, you can ask them to use a fresh knife).

          1. anonymousskimmer

            Half a long sandwich is easier to handle than all of one.

            I have relatively large hands (~XL).

            I concede that this is a better alternative for those with smaller hands.

          2. Ventrue Capital

            FWIW when I get a foot-long sandwich from Subway I ask them to cut it into four pieces (and when a get a 6″ sub I ask them to cut that into two pieces) because it’s much more convenient for me to hold and eat a smaller piece.

    2. Beans

      but are there benefits to slicing a sandwich to begin with?

      I’ve never understood it. My mouth is not small enough for any sandwich to be too big to bite, and the only way for one to be would be for it to be extremely thick, in which case slicing it will definitely get an awkward result. Better to make normal sized sandwiches and not slice them, because there’s no point.

      1. L (Zero)

        If you don’t cut a sandwich, then the only way to start biting onto it is through the crusts. When it’s sliced, you can start biting into what was originally the middle, and then perhaps even leave behind crusts. I can totally understand why it wouldn’t be a big deal to some people to just start eating from the crust, but the preference against crusts is pretty commonly attested.

        1. Aftagley

          +1

          I want to have crusts be a supplemental feature to my sandwich bites, not have it be all crust right away.

        2. Beans

          Are we talking about normal sliced bread sandwiches here? Not some fancy thing made with a crusty loaf cut horizontally? In stereotypical sandwich-bread-made sandwiches, the crust is so innocuous to me that I don’t even notice it, so it never came to my mind to try and avoid it.

      2. Harry Maurice Johnston

        Depends whether you’re wanting to hold it with one hand or two, I guess. I find holding an uncut sandwich in one hand awkward. The filling tends to want to escape.

    3. souleater

      I’m a bit of a messy eater, and corner to corner cuts result in a triangle shaped sandwich.

      The benefit of this is I can bite off each corner of the triangle sandwich, and this results in less bite-cross section for food to drop out of.

      You also tend to have a more horizontal bite profiles with a triangle sandwich, whereas with a square sandwich you have a semicircle bite mark. the problems with this include less structural integrity, and having to take many small bites instead of 3-4 regular ones.

      My estimation, is that a triangle cut sandwich made on standard bread requires 6-8 bites, whereas a square cut requires 12-16 bites.

      1. AG

        Doesn’t a straight cut have more corners, though? (Assuming a rectangle slice to begin with. For an oblong-shaped slice straight cuts and diagonals alike would have the same number of “corners.”)

        1. souleater

          Yes, but I would need to either take an uncomfortable small bite of each corner, or take a normal size bite and leave a tiny peninsula of sandwich that is likely to lose foor

    4. Well...

      I was going to take a break from SSC but dammit you had to go and write this.

      You don’t have to be a messy eater or have a small mouth or hate crusts to find that if you bite into one side of a squarish sandwich that the two flat sides on either side of your mouth have touched your cheeks, and possibly deposited dabs of wet ingredients onto them.

      A straight cut gives you crisp 90˚ corners to bite into, which is an improvement, but a diagonal cut gives you 45˚ corners which is even better. Then, once you’ve made that first bite, you have created more sharp corners you can bite into. Your cheeks stay clean.

      But of course it’s also just aesthetically pleasing. Slicing a sandwich lets you see what awaits you inside, and nothing can hide in the middle that way. And it looks nice. Easier to pick up with one hand, etc.

      PS. As for Subway, I imagine if you asked them to wrap the two halves separately they’d have to charge you for two 6″ subs.

      1. souleater

        Well… I sure feel called out!

        Not liking the sides to touch my cheeks is also a good point

          1. souleater

            Well… To be honest I actually just wanted to use your name to start my comment, No actual offense taken!

      2. Beans

        You don’t have to be a messy eater or have a small mouth or hate crusts to find that if you bite into one side of a squarish sandwich that the two flat sides on either side of your mouth have touched your cheeks, and possibly deposited dabs of wet ingredients onto them.

        A normal square sandwich gives you four inviting corners to bite, so you don’t have to mash your face directly into one of the edges!

    5. thesilv3r

      I don’t know about sandwiches, but for my son’s toast I settled on triangles based on the overall density of crust being more even. If you cut into squares you end up with a corner on each piece that is all crust, reaching peak density of crust on presumably your final bite, which made him less likely to eat all the toast. By going with triangles, the amount of “crust-per-surface area” is more evenly distributed, making him less likely to give up at a given point based on getting a mouthful that was entirely crust.

      As for myself, I stick with no cuts unless it is a toasted sandwich, and then its usually a rectangle cut to let a bit of heat out of the middle while minimizing spillage from things falling out of the corners.

      I honestly didn’t realise I had put this much thought into how I cut my bread…

  36. Edward Scizorhands

    Eric Garner was pretty gruesome, too. But people didn’t have lots of free time.

    Even if everyone agrees on the basics, people will make their own controversial statements to thrive in their in-groups. I can think of examples for both left- and right-wing groups, but this is CW free, so post them I shan’t.

  37. Freddie deBoer

    An admonition for no culture war posting and right near the beginning a large, anti-protester thread.

  38. eliasgoldberg

    I agree with your post, and I also think that a country at 14.7% unemployment is more likely to experience protests and riots about any given outrage than a country at 3.5% unemployment. Unemployed people are starting from a higher base level of uncertainty, fear, and anger, and also they have a lot more time on their hands.

  39. Nancy Lebovitz

    Two quotes I’ve been trying to track down.

    Criticism, at its best, is an effort to identify the qualities which accompany success.

    I love this quote and I remember the shock of seeing it. The modesty is so good because it’s about trying to understand what works rather than focusing on what’s wrong by whatever standard. It’s also modest because it accepts that it may not be possible to fully understand success.

    The other quote is approximately: A man should consider revolution as cautiously as he would consider doing surgery on his father.

    I thought this was Edmund Burke, but searching doesn’t turn anything up.

    1. episcience

      I found a quote by Rashid al-Ghannushi online (can’t find the source, unfortunately) which reads:

      Just like in medicine, when the normal medicine no longer works, one resorts to surgery. And the revolutions is like the surgery: It’s painful, and it’s the last resort for nations.

      Is this what you were thinking of?

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        Thanks, but I don’t think that’s it.

        The image of a man doing surgery on his father is very vivid.

    2. SamChevre

      If the first quote is not exact, it sounds like something from one of C S Lewis’ essays (not An Experiment on Criticism, though) where he talks about the dramatic unities.

      ETA: corrected the name of the essay.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        The first quote is almost certainly not exact.

        I’ve read a fair amount of Lewis and and strongly influenced by An Experiment in Criticism, so it might be from Lewis.

      2. SamChevre

        Thinking it over further and looking at my bookshelf–might it have been from Dorothy Sayers “A Note on Creative Reading” (quoted by Alan Jacobs), or somewhere else where she made a similar point.

        Or if you read somewhere a reference to “Aristotle’s three Dramatic Unities — unity of time, unity of place and unity of action”, do not (as some writers do who should know better) dismiss Aristotle as a tedious old classic of two thousand years ago who tried to tie up dramatic form in red-tape of his own manufacture. What he said was a statement of fact about the plays he had observed to be successful, and he meant exactly what your favourite dramatic critic means when he says: “The interest in this play is too much scattered, and confused with side-issues. There are far too many scenes, and the story drags on over a period of three generations, so that we have to be continually consulting the programme to know what year we have got to.”

  40. aristides

    I had the self absorption for all of middle school, and right after that ended, switched to moodiness all through high school. I never had any of the other qualities you listed, and only had a brief period of being rebellious from my family when my parents were getting divorced while I was already in college. Because I was already out of the house, my parents didn’t even notice that I was mad at them beyond the fact that I decreased my calls.

  41. caryatis

    Scott, re: meetup timing, do you have any idea of what criteria you would use to determine that it is safe to meet again? Seems to me we should make the decision based on local data, not country-level (at least for a large country like the U.S.).

    1. keaswaran

      I’m guessing that part of his assumption is that, although local data will diverge from national level data, it is unlikely that any locality will reach a level deemed safe unless most other localities that people can easily travel there from are also deemed safe.

  42. Matt M

    Card game update:

    On the advice of some/many of you, I went out and purchased a Keyforge starter set. Played two games this weekend with my fiance. First impressions are as follows:

    Pros:
    Was easier to learn than Magic, although still a little more difficult, complicated, and less intuitive than I might have liked.
    Fiance seemed to enjoy it more
    I do like the “declare a house” gimmick and the fact that the multiple different houses sort of have you in a “many different fantasy genres/settings collide” framework

    Cons:
    Our two decks are *very* unbalanced. I think you guys did properly warn me about this but I didn’t fully appreciate the implications. Yes, I understand that chain bidding can partially mitigate this, but one of the decks is simply not fun to play. It’s not the sort of deck any halfway intelligent person would ever intentionally design, it has multiple cards that are basically useless (more specifically, the cards themselves aren’t necessarily useless, I can see how they might be useful in specific contexts or combinations… but the deck doesn’t have the right other cards to enable that). In a normal CCG, we could mitigate this by taking like the 3-4 worst cards in the bad deck and subbing in almost anything else, but in this game that isn’t allowed. I went ahead and ordered a couple more decks in the hopes of getting something decent, but overall it strikes me as kind of lame that there’s a decent possibility any particular deck is just bad. And by “bad” I don’t mean “not fully optimized” but I mean “has combinations of cards that just don’t go together and that no sane person would ever assemble.”

    1. Randy M

      It’s not quite the money pit MtG is, but it does want to keep you buying more, for sure. IOW, the easy solution is to buy another couple decks… hoping to get a more even power level. If that’s within your budget and you don’t mind, great, but it’s understandable if it’s a turn-off.
      And if you took out a couple cards from each deck, well, that’s not exactly playing as intended, but it might do the trick.
      Or it’s possible you need to understand the game better to see the nuances of the bad deck, but I’m not doubtful of your ability to grok it quickly.

      1. Matt M

        And if you took out a couple cards from each deck, well, that’s not exactly playing as intended, but it might do the trick.

        Yeah, I’m definitely considering that as an option. Neither of us are ever going to play competitively. So nothing’s really stopping us from treating this as a normal CCG and assembling two custom-built decks from our common pool of cards…

      1. Act_II

        Sadly, the naming process was modified to prevent this kind of thing after the first printing.

    2. a real dog

      Note that some cards have non-obvious uses – pay special attention to the rule that you execute as much as you can. E.g. a card that lets you “ready a creature and fight” can be used to ready a creature and let it do whatever if it has no targets to attack. This can be your main aember engine in e.g. some combat-heavy Brobnar deck. In general, the decks require some exploration to bring out their strengths.

      I haven’t played a deck without viable win conditions yet – the imbalance is mostly in how fast and reliable the condition is, and how good the deck is in disrupting the opponent.

    3. FLWAB

      One intersting thing you can do to divine bad decks from good ones is to use the Website Decks of Keyforge. They’ve created an algorithm to judge Keyforge deck quality through a SAS (Synergy and Anti-Synergy) score. It works surprisingly well in my experience. Plus if you find out you have a deck that gets an 80+ SAS score then you should consider selling it online: tourney players will pay big bucks for quality decks. 60ish is a normal deck, <50 is a bad deck, 70< is a great deck. If your bad deck scores higher than 60, you might just not know how to play it. Some decks are weird but powerful once you understand how they work.

      You could also balance things out by playing with some of the tournament rules. For instance, you play Adaptive rules where the first round you play with your deck, then you swap decks with your opponent and play a second round, and if you need a tiebreaker round then you each bid chains for which deck you want.

      1. Matt M

        Interesting. My “good deck” got a 63. My “bad deck” got a 50. Which is about in line with my expectations. That the good deck is essentially a decently balanced normal starter sort of deck, but that the other one is notably poor and lacking in many key areas.

  43. philarete

    I very rarely post to the comments on SSC, but some time back I asked for recommendations for popular mathematics books with a good blend of mathematics and history of mathematics, in the vein of John Derbyshire’s Prime Obsession and Unknown Quantity. I want to thank whoever recommended Euler’s Gem, by David Richeson. I finally got around to reading it, and it was exactly what I was looking for.

    If anyone has any further recommendations, I’d love to have them. My level of mathematical ability is probably at the level of 1-2 years of college mathematics.

    1. Logan

      I liked Poincare’s Prize by George Szpiro.

      It made me very interested in algebraic topology, and then I took a class on it and found out algebraic topology fucking sucks. To this day (despite 10 years of math education since), the only algebraic topology I actually understand is what’s covered in this book, and yet still I am praised for knowing more algebraic topology than most analysts. That’s either high praise for the book, or a strong indictment of analysts. I choose to believe it’s both.

      1. Nicholas Weininger

        FWIW I also found algebraic topology extremely difficult to understand when I took a course in it, until I read Allen Hatcher’s book on it on the recommendation of a friend; I found Hatcher’s explanations much, much more intuitive than either the prof or text of the course.

        To the OP’s question, I’d also recommend Ribenboim’s _Fermat’s Last Theorem for Amateurs_ (though you need to be an amateur who really likes number theory to enjoy it) and David Bressoud’s _Proofs and Confirmations_, about a fascinating conjecture (now theorem) in algebraic combinatorics.

    2. yodelyak

      Asimov’s “realm of numbers” is very readable, and nicely small and well-organized, and goes from counting numbers through calculus and geometry and more, all at the readable English level. It’s probably lighter on history than you want, if memory serves. Also good is “Indra’s Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein”–that’s great for number theory, again not so much history though.

  44. Neike Taika-Tessaro

    I don’t recall ever being particularly difficult for my parents. It’s not a huge surprise, though, mum asked almost nothing of me and left me to my own devices (in the most positive possible way), so I would have had to try hard to have a problem with her.

    I always regarded the romantic drama my class mates were up to with incomprehension. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in romance, I very much was; but the associated drama was completely foreign to me. Needless to say it took a very, very long time for me to even have my first partner, and when I did, it was by converting long-term friendships I had online into romantic relationships.

    (…you’ll notice I mentioned my mum in that first paragraph, not my dad. To explain: I did and continue to have a problem with my dad, but that’s been a permanent thing, from before my teenage years, and we are not on speaking terms now. I formally cut him out of my life in a very angry email in 2014, i.e. when I was around thirty. I probably should have cut him out of my life when he tried to scam me out of money in 2009 (yes, literally!), but I forgave him a lot of antisocial behaviour.)

  45. Nancy Lebovitz

    If a vaccine against coronavirus comes out, how soon do you think you’ll try it, assuming availability?

    1. Matt M

      Not until well after it becomes officially mandatory and some sort of checking/verification process is fully in place.

      I can’t explain why without waging CW.

      1. rahien.din

        Hopefully you are able to explain it soon, I would be interested to know. Would ‘t challenge you.

      2. Belisaurus Rex

        I expect it to be rushed, perhaps for political reasons, and want some guinea pigs to try it first. Things like thalidomide have happened before, and having millions of people get vaccinated with something untested all at once is not ideal.

    2. philarete

      Personally, I’d participate in a stage-3 trial if it were available in my area, and I’ll be first in line to get a vaccine when it’s available.

    3. broblawsky

      If the FDA approves it, and I don’t have good reason to believe the FDA’s process has been corrupted, I’ll take it ASAP.

    4. keaswaran

      I would think that I’m somewhere low down the priority list of people who need it (after people in vulnerable medical groups and people who work in industries that require physical contact), and I would treat that low priority as the main reason to delay, rather than prudential concerns about unknown safety issues.

    5. Garrett

      On one hand, I’d prefer to wait a year or two simply because it will be an unknown vaccine and unknown process and the FDA etc., haven’t shown a large amount of competence recently. (I don’t have a problem with the annual flu vaccine because the same process for the same virus family has been used year after year).
      OTOH, I’m immunocompromised and volunteer in healthcare so I’m at higher risk of exposure, morbidity and mortality overall.

      1. Act_II

        I thought the problem most people have with the FDA was that it puts too many barriers in the way of drug approval. But wouldn’t that mean that an FDA-approved vaccine is highly likely to be safe? The tradeoff they’ve made is that they leave more good drugs off the market to improve the safety guarantee of the drugs they do approve.

        1. Garrett

          The usual complaint, is as you noted, is about the FDA delaying the approval of medications for various reasons. This is especially maddening in cases where the approved treatments aren’t effective for a condition and a drug has been approved for use elsewhere. At the same time, there are very few proposed drugs which might be such a significant improvement over the existing therapies as to be worth a huge amount of money. A drug which treats Alzheimer’s disease might be one.

          In this case the incentives swing the other way. The cost of the pandemic in the US is on the order of a trillion dollars per year. I worry that in this case the FDA will be coerced into approving something which otherwise wouldn’t meet its normal safety threshold while trading on its historical reputation. And I have no idea what unknown-unknowns might be missed.

    6. Nancy Lebovitz

      My feeling is that I’d wait two months just to get more information about safety and efficacy. This is a feeling, not a thought-out position.

      One of my friends said he wanted to wait three months, but he doubted he would actually wait that long.

    7. John Schilling

      I’m at fairly low risk for either contracting or transmitting COVID-19, so I don’t feel any personal urgency. Exactly how long I’d hold off is going to depend on the source and nature of the vaccine. Several months, almost certainly.

      But then, most of the people who are desperately eager to run out and get themselves vaccinated are going to be waiting several months as well; it’s not like three hundred million doses are going to poof themselves into existence just because the FDA issued an approval.

    8. 2irons

      Is it ridiculous to say – given my age and health, I’d rather catch Covid-19 than be vaccinated against it?

      1. zoozoc

        I don’t think it is ridiculous at all. Depending on your age and health, the risks for COVID-19 are extremely low. There are still unknowns regarding COVID-19 effects long-term, but the short term effects are well known at this point. A vaccine potentially will have more short-term unknowns and the same long-term unknowns as COVID-19.

        So the choice is definitely getting the vaccine or maybe getting COVID-19. If the risks are equal, then not vaccinating is better. It is only when the risk for COVID-19 is higher by some amount that getting the vaccine is better.

        1. thisheavenlyconjugation

          What are some comparable cases where a vaccine was found to be worse than the disease?

        2. cuke

          I’m laying out my thinking here in a concrete way in case it’s helpful to see where your reasoning might differ. I don’t presume to having any right answer about any of this.

          My understanding is that the potential long-term effects of getting Covid-19 pertain to organ damage as a result of the disease running its full course on the body. There’s no reason based on what we understand about how vaccines work to imagine that a Covid-19 vaccine would pose anything like an equal degree of risk of harm as that. The processes in the body are not the same.

          Some small percentage of people do have out-sized reactions to vaccines that have been in circulation for a long time and because this is going to be a rushed and very widely used brand-new vaccine, we can imagine there will be a larger percentage of adverse events than say the flu or tetanus vaccines.

          But if the vaccine undergoes multiple tests for safety in a large number of people (which it will), it seems unlikely that the percentage of adverse events will be anywhere near the proportion of harm the disease itself can cause to people who are nonetheless young and healthy.

          The CDC estimates broadly that one in a million vaccine doses will produce a severe adverse event. A couple of large studies of Covid show that of people in their 20s-mid-40s, about 14% who get it are hospitalized, 2% in the ICU, and 0.1% died.

          A vaccine that produced death in a tenth of one percent of people given it, would not be approved — that would mean the vaccine would kill 300,000 of people in the US, for instance.

          Evidence so far seems to be that people who wind up in the ICU for Covid-19 do suffer long-term health consequences, so that’s 2% in the younger age group compared to adverse vaccine events of .0001%. Even if we multiplied that one in a million rate several times, it wouldn’t come close to 2%. We also don’t how many of the people in the 14% hospitalized who don’t go into the ICU also suffer from long-term health consequences because we don’t have the research yet to tell us, but we can imagine some of them likely will. I have also heard now a number of stories of young healthy men who have gotten Covid-19 who were not hospitalized (ie, categorized as “mild” cases by the statistics) but who months later cannot run or do other aerobic activities they previously enjoyed. Maybe they will eventually recover 100%, but we don’t know that yet.

          So if I imagine myself as say a healthy 30 year old, I think I have an over 2% risk of long-term health damage if I get Covid and maybe 0.0002% chance of having a comparable degree of adverse outcome from getting the vaccine. That’s a pretty big spread in risk difference.

          If a Covid-19 vaccine has some totally other long-term mystery effect like causing permanent organ damage in significant numbers, I think that would be a surprising result given what we know about how vaccines work generally. But of course there’s a lot we don’t know.

          1. cuke

            Another factor to weigh, however your own moral calculus weighs it, is that getting the vaccine helps protect vulnerable people you come into contact with while just waiting to get the disease eventually will likely entail you infecting other people who couldn’t yet get the vaccine.

            In any population, there are a certain number of people who cannot get a vaccine at that time — maybe because they’re going through chemo or radiation for cancer or have some other immune-impairing condition. So there’s an important public health dimension to having as many people who can get the vaccine get it, all else being equal (ie, if the risks of each path to you personally were literally equal).

          2. Nancy Lebovitz

            There’s the risk (probably not large) of an adverse reaction, and the other risk of thinking you’re protected when you’re not.

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            The CDC estimates broadly that one in a million vaccine doses will produce a severe adverse event

            I was going to complain that this was wrong, but I checked and the CDC does say that.

            Some vaccines are more dangerous than others, but I think those are for really dangerous diseases, like smallpox.

      2. DeWitt

        Yes.

        I got infected with Covid-19 in April, as a healthy man in his mid-twenties with no risk factors at all. It was still the nastiest cough in my lifetime, I developed shortness of breath, and I feel like my actual stamina has taken a hit since then – I can’t cycle or run quite as far as I used to. If I had a chance to retroactively make myself not catch it and get myself vaccinated within a year, I’d take it for sure.

        1. matkoniecz

          Note that if you are healthy man in his mid-twenties with no risk factors at all and you had so bad reaction, then you are unusual.

          The question of unusually bad side effects of that not-yet-created vaccine remains open.

          1. TomParks

            For most who catch this, the effects are minimal, but the number of people who get it bad, even those young and healthy, is nontrivial. (To be open, my feeling for the odds is influenced by a couple of quite healthy people in my extended family who got it bad: A 20-something who ended up in the hospital and a 50-something endurance athlete who said it was the worst lung disease he’s ever had. Anecdata, of course, but I can’t unknow it.)

          2. DeWitt

            I didn’t get hospitalised, and didn’t even quit working, but I definitely can’t recommend trying to get the virus early just to ‘be done with it’. People my age getting hospitalised are rare, I agree, but is it that rare for them to just have a bad case of symptoms?

    9. Konstantin

      Probably after there is a clear consensus among public health agencies and academic institutions that it is safe and effective. I would be extremely suspicious of any vaccine approved by the FDA this fall, as there is a strong incentive for Trump to push them to rush it out at that time.

    10. proyas

      I’ll wait at least a year after the first million people are vaccinated. I am not an anti-vaxxer and get my yearly flu shots religiously, but I’m not enthused by the notion of being injected with something that will be the product of a rush job.

      Fortunately, I have the luxury of doing this since my age and good health make me almost immune to the worst effects of COVID-19, and because I have no old people in my social circle that I could infect.

      1. johan_larson

        he product of a rush job

        OTOH, whatever is eventually approved will probably be the product of the most closely-watched vaccine trials since the polio vaccine. There are going to be a lot of eyes on this.

        1. cuke

          I agree with this, that how much scrutiny there will be on this vaccine balances somewhat the “rush job” aspect. Also, seems like there will be multiple versions of this vaccine made and manufactured in multiple countries. It would be devastating for a pharma company that produces one of the vaccines to wind up killing thousands of people, quite apart from what Trump wants.

    11. L (Zero)

      I’m a tad anemic or something and always have a comedown when I get a regular flu shot. So in this high risk case, I wouldn’t do it immediately. It would be nice if I could wait at least a month.

    12. TomParks

      As soon as it’s easily available, I’d roll up my sleeve for the needle. (For example, I would not drive or wait in line for hours. I would make an appointment or pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket, per person in my immediate family.)

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        I’d probably do it as soon as I was asked, which would be after they had gotten all the (1) necessary and (2) eager people out of the way first.

    13. Doctor Mist

      I really don’t know. I’d really like immunity, but I was reading that the normal delay for something like this would make it available in 2038. It makes me really nervous to think about accelerating the process from eighteen years to one or so.

      1. cuke

        The mumps vaccine took four years and this one is being tested and trialed by many different entities at once, so it’s unique that way. In this case, multiple simultaneous trials replaces slower sequential work over time. I hear you though, anytime a process has this much urgency behind it, there’s reason to worry something important may get screwed up. Part of what time does is allow problems to surface and get addressed one at a time and so it does seem like we can’t entirely substitute for time.

    14. Murphy

      After looking at the approximate risk levels for typical phase 1 vaccine trials and comparing to risk of death or serious lung injury from COVID should I contract it given my age, sex, weight etc even phase 1 seem like a decent bet but wasn’t fully certain.

      So definitely happy to get it from phase 3 onwards. Probably phase 2.

      Serious adverse events are pretty rare to the point that even throwing in some cynical multipliers for rushed projects it still looks like a decent payoff.

      1. Matt M

        Serious adverse events are pretty rare

        What exactly is “pretty rare?” Because if you’re young and healthy, serious damage from COVID also seemingly qualifies as “pretty rare.”

  46. hash872

    Are there any audio tools that I could use to capture pitch, word speed and tonality of an actor in a movie, TV show, other recording etc.? Like, I’d be playing a movie on my computer, and the application would capture that data for everyone speaking. I’m aware of basic pitch, speed analyzing apps, but I think they’re typically meant to be handheld recorders for a person and wouldn’t really track a recorded film. Is there anything out there? Preferably open source?

    1. AG

      Word speed could be captured if you can get a hold of a closed-caption file that includes the time stamps of each line, and do a basic word-count/time calculation.
      Pitch could maybe be done with just a fourier transform analysis.

      Tonality is completely subjective, so no idea there.

  47. Bobobob

    My wife and I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday, our first book-buying excursion in three months. I’ve never been so glad to be in a large faceless corporate chain store.

    It’s difficult to find science books that venture onto unfamiliar ground, but I was intrigued by The True Creator of Everything: How the Human Brain Shaped the Universe as We Know It, by Miguel Nicolelis (he’s a Duke University neuroscientist and the imprint is Yale University Press, which satisfies my “not total bullshit” priors). Maybe if a bunch of other people here can read it, we can compare notes a few weeks down the line. Heck, maybe even Scott can read it, and post an essay.

    The Amazon blurb: “Renowned neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis introduces a revolutionary new theory of how the human brain evolved to become an organic computer without rival in the known universe. He undertakes the first attempt to explain the entirety of human history, culture, and civilization based on a series of recently uncovered key principles of brain function. This new cosmology is centered around three fundamental properties of the human brain: its insurmountable malleability to adapt and learn; its exquisite ability to allow multiple individuals to synchronize their minds around a task, goal, or belief; and its incomparable capacity for abstraction.”

    1. CarlosRamirez

      Reminds me a little of Prometheus Rising. The short version is that whatever anyone calls ‘reality’ is to a large extent constructed by themselves. Everything sentient is in a reality-tunnel, so to speak, with the ‘rational’ (George Gurdjieff, who was quite influential in this book, calls what we consider rationality the False Intellect) and ‘objective’ viewpoint being just another reality-tunnel.

      1. Belisaurus Rex

        I like to imagine the ego tunnel as a sealed room, where instead of windows its all TV screens. You have no way of knowing if what you’re looking at is what’s really out there, or how much it has been edited.

    2. Deiseach

      I second Anteros’ request that you review it, because the second I see “revolutionary new theory” on a pop science/pop anything book, I know to pull on the wellies because they’ll be slinging the bullshit soon.

      Blurbs are terrible at the best of times, but I am raising my eyebrows so high at “organic computer” and “explain the entirety of human history, culture, and civilisation” that I’m getting a free facelift. Not helped by the tendency to compare the human brain to Latest Snazzy New Technology; had people been writing such blurbs back in the day, doubtless we’d have breathless enthusiasm about how the human brain has evolved to become an organic abacus/wireless telegraphy pole/punchcard sorter.

      Three fundamental properties to explain the history of life, the universe and everything, huh? Tell me more! Can I do it in yoga pants? Does it come in multi-flavoured smoothies? Somebody please review this because I have a burning need for snark and anybody decent and civilised would do a better job of being fair to this production 🙂

      1. Bobobob

        OK, now I am *definitely* going to review it, because I can’t let “yoga pants” and “smoothies” be the last words about this guy’s life work.

  48. Oldio

    I thought the toxoplasma was about the riots in minneapolis/making exceptions to social distancing for BLM/the dozen other controversial issues going on with it, not George Floyd itself.
    I live in a pretty red bubble and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the officers should be arrested and charged, but there were plenty of toxo claims with the initial protests/riots(were there police provocateurs involved? Who started the looting? Is antifa there? etc., etc.). To say nothing of having thousands of people at memorial services when it’s still illegal for churches to meet rubbing a whole lot of people the wrong way.

  49. Deiseach

    I wasn’t an “ordinary” teenager but oh boy, when I hit 14, all the teenage moodiness, yelling, door-slamming etc. kicked in with a vengeance.

    Hormonal changes do have a lot to do with it, the body and brain are growing and changing and nothing is the same as it used to be and it hasn’t settled down yet in the new configuration.

  50. sourcreamus

    In this case the toxoplasma is not that what happened to Floyd was wrong, everyone agrees with that, but that it is representative of how black people are treated by police and society in general.

  51. Garrett

    I went from age 12 to age 30 pretty much overnight and stayed there for a while. Causes can be speculated about. Ultimately, this limited my development of ability to form interpersonal (especially romantic) relationships. My adolescence and early 20s was mostly comprised of me trying to wall off everything in order to make it *through* to the other side.

    My parents were excellent people, though in many ways the wrong parents for me. My mother and I had personalities which clashed continually and I only learned ways of effectively managing that shortly before she died. My father and I have always gotten along okay, but are sufficiently different people that we have very little in common and so it feels like there’s a gulf inbetween us, though I suppose we both continue to try.

  52. Purplehermann

    I had a disagreement with a friend on intellectual property, and am looking for more perspectives.

    Is intellectual property a good thing, a bad thing, a mixed bag?

    Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?

    1. a real dog

      Intellectual property in the sense of attribution – very good thing.

      Intellectual property in the sense of monetary rights – a fossil of a bygone era when information could not spread freely. Between Patreon, Kickstarter and digital distribution platforms (where you just pay for convenience and support for the authors) I think you could just axe most copyright laws and the culture would adapt without much issue. Perhaps you’d get less AAA games and blockbuster movies, but that doesn’t sound like much of a loss.

      1. JohnNV

        I’m going to come down on the other side of this. The copyright/patent system isn’t perfect, but creators and innovators deserve to be compensated for their innovations, and if you remove that right, you’d remove a lot of the incentive to innovate which makes everybody worse off. And yes, I think it’s wrong to pirate content same as stealing any tangible item. If it’s not worth the price to you, don’t consume it.

        1. Purplehermann

          Does your opinion change where the creator is dead for 90 years?

          When stealing tangible objects, the other person now is worse off – they’ve lost that item. Content doesn’t work like that. Why isn’t this an important distinction?

          1. matkoniecz

            Why isn’t this an important distinction?

            It is, that is why it is useful to distinguish “piracy” and “theft”.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            I would sign up for a coalition whose mission it was to reduce the length of copyright, unless that coalition was full of people who couldn’t stfu about wanting to end all copyright.

            So I have not been able to find a coalition.

          3. JohnNV

            Yeah, I agree copyright is broken, but I don’t think the solution is no copyright at all, I fully agree that 90 years beyond the death of the creator is too long. But on the second point, I’m not sure that there is or should be a distinction. If I shoplift something from a store with a price tag of $10, that’s what we say the amount of the theft was. Nobody asks how much it will cost to replace the item, it’s not relevant. Even if the store got the item for free as part of a promotion with manufacturer, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to take it, and I don’t think you’d find many people arguing that it is.

        2. baconbits9

          The copyright/patent system isn’t perfect, but creators and innovators deserve to be compensated for their innovations, and if you remove that right, you’d remove a lot of the incentive to innovate which makes everybody worse off.

          Not really because almost no innovations are once offs who are perfectly complete. IP laws serve to protect first movers at the expense of people who would have improved on those works. In fact it isn’t the innovators who typically benefit the most, its the management who does. Record labels are advantaged more than musicians, the founders of Microsoft more than the coders, and the owners of Marvel and not the actual writers and cartoonists making the comic books.

          1. Lambert

            I’m not happy that the labels are taking such a big cut, but i’d rather the artists get something rather than nothing.

          2. JohnNV

            They make nothing from selling their creation. Some people may choose to pay when they could otherwise get it for free, but that’s charity, or tips. Look, I wrote a book – I get 15% of the sale price of each book. The cost of printing and distributing it is (I’m guessing) another 40% so that means the publisher is making more than me on each sale of the book. And you know what? I’m OK with that. I have no idea how to print, market, and distribute a book. And it’s not like I could find someone else to offer me a better rate on a debut book. If it sells well (it didn’t), I could potentially negotiate a higher rate for subsequent books. With no copyright at all, I don’t bother writing it, the publisher has nothing to publish, and the government loses out on the tax revenue they would have gotten from my income. But honestly, if the instant I publish something, it could legally be copied and pasted for free, people who do it as a hobby (like Scott) would be OK with that, but people who do it to earn a living will find something else to do.

          3. Aapje

            @Lambert

            Musicians make most of their money from live shows, festivals, etc. Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

          4. baconbits9

            They make nothing from selling their creation.

            How? You have leaped from ‘I create something’ to ‘someone else has a copy of it and is distributing it for free’, there are a whole bunch of steps in the middle you are skipping to get to your assumed answer.

            I’m OK with that. I have no idea how to print, market, and distribute a book

            If it takes skills and knowledge to print, market and distribute a book how come it is the words on the paper that deserve the copyright? ‘I wrote a book, I deserve money if someone wants to read it’ completely falls apart if you say ‘someone only wants to read my book if it has been professionally distributed’. Now it is not clear how much ‘value’ your book has because of the quality of your writing vs the quality of everything else that went in.

            Additionally how did the publisher get a copy of your transcript? Why are you giving it to them without an agreement to get a portion of the sales?

          5. Edward Scizorhands

            Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

            You would still need some other IP right to stop me from performing my Billy Joel tour. And without copyright I could sell all the Billy Joel T-Shirts and CDs live at the event.

            “Artists make most of their money through live performances” strongly selects for artists whose audiences are middle-aged empty nesters and have boatloads of disposable income to recapture their youth.

            Even Taylor Swift sold the rights to her world tour to Netflix and that would not have been possible without copyright. Netflix could just film it themselves and broadcast it for free.

          6. Aftagley

            Musicians make most of their money from live shows, festivals, etc. Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

            … I think this is putting the cart before the horse.

            Back in the 90s, before pirating music was widespread, musicians made the vast majority of their money selling their music. Sure, they made some of it from live shows, but selling records was the primary revenue source. Once it went away, basically nothing stepped up to replace it.

            I think you’re trying to draw too much meaning from the hellscape that is the post-2000s music industry. It’s not that touring is the primary revenue source, it’s arguably the only revenue source unless you make it mega-big.

          7. baconbits9

            Even Taylor Swift sold the rights to her world tour to Netflix and that would not have been possible without copyright. Netflix could just film it themselves and broadcast it for free.

            They could? They can tap into her mic feed and set up multiple cameras and perform sound checks, etc, etc, etc at her concerts without her permission?

          8. baconbits9

            Back in the 90s, before pirating music was widespread, musicians made the vast majority of their money selling their music. Sure, they made some of it from live shows, but selling records was the primary revenue source. Once it went away, basically nothing stepped up to replace it.

            Prior to the invention of vinyl almost 100% of an artists income came from avenues that were not related to selling records. If someone is putting the cart before the horse it is those who are starting in the 50s and extrapolating from then.

          9. Aftagley

            Ok, let me make sure I’m following you – so you’re claiming the horse was originally before the cart, then the 1950s / recording era started and the cart was put in front of the horse. This cart -> horse situation managed to hold on for a half century, but was eventually destabilized by music piracy whereupon the natural horse/cart order reestablished itself?

            Jokes aside – you’re probably correct here, but it certainly looked like that 50 year period had an atypically high amount of amazing music.

            Your system only rewards people who can both write great music and have the abilities/desire to tour and perform music live. I’ve seen multiple artists I love either quit the music industry or fade back into the more-stable nether world of production and ghost-writing because they don’t enjoy touring. Is there any way to compensate people who enjoy creating, but not performing music in a world with rampant piracy?

          10. baconbits9

            Your system only rewards people who can both write great music and have the abilities/desire to tour and perform music live.

            Why? You think people who write great music and people who can preform great music can’t come to an understanding under normal contract law?

            Jokes aside – you’re probably correct here, but it certainly looked like that 50 year period had an atypically high amount of amazing music.

            How do you distinguish this from survivor-ship bias due to the fact that way more music made it to the present from that era than normally would have?

          11. AG

            Is there any way to compensate people who enjoy creating, but not performing music in a world with rampant piracy?

            UBI plus the ways any internet influencer makes their money off of un-copyrightable content?

          12. Aapje

            @Aftagley

            Piracy is not a counter-argument, because we are discussing the merit of the current system (which doesn’t stop all piracy), not the merit of a perfect system. If some consider the laws to be unjust and they are broken, then this is just as much a consequence of the system you are defending, as the actions of people who do follow the law.

            People also don’t get to defend our current drug laws by arguing that zero drug use is the best outcome. That is not actually the result of those drug laws.

            Either you need to defend different drug laws/enforcement (and their consequences), or you have to accept all the consequences of the current laws, including those that result from lawbreaking. The same goes for copyright laws/enforcement.

            Also, to what extent is the fairly low income from streaming and such, a result of increased competition (not just in the music business, but all entertainment, of which there is now way more available than in my youth)?

      2. matkoniecz

        I think you could just axe most copyright laws and the culture would adapt without much issue

        Copyright around entertainment media may be the most visible but is not the only important part – and may be the least important part.

        For example, what about software? Losing AAA games is not so important but harming Windows and Linux and MacOS and every single other OS not licensed under MIT/PD sounds dangerous.

    2. Lambert

      I’d argue it’s too much of a good thing.

      Copyright lasts too long and patents are too broad. Ceterum autem censeo DMCA esse delendam.

      1. Ketil

        I’d argue it’s too much of a good thing.

        +1. I’m strongly negative on tech/IT patents (lawsuits over round edges on a phone and a zillion other idiot cases that stifle innovation and only benefit lawyers), agnostic on patents in general, and for pharmaceuticals in particular, and moderately positive on trademarks.

        1. Belisaurus Rex

          Trademarks is as close to a perfect system as you can get in the legal world. It’s not very exciting though because the concepts are so fundamental/obvious.

          The real problems with Trademarks are that the Trademark Office is underfunded and has to deal with thousands (millions?) of bootleg Chinese application per day.

          In my opinion, Copyrights are too easy to get for how much of a pain in the ass they can be to the party on the other side. At least with patents and trademarks, you need to put in some effort to get protection.

        1. Cliff

          There’s the huge, existing problem of orphan works. No one knows who the owner is now but everyone is too scared to produce the work because if they do someone may pop up and claim statutory damages of $150,000, attorney’s fees, etc.

          Also the only reason copyright exists is to incentivize the production of artistic works. Infinite copyright duration is certainly not necessary for that.

          1. Ketil

            Also the only reason copyright exists is to incentivize the production of artistic works. Infinite copyright duration is certainly not necessary for that.

            I don’t think this is true. Arguably, the thought that your grandchildren could benefit from collecting royalties might be a motivating factor for an artist, but factoring in future extensions of the copyright term is getting preposterous. Yet, time and time again copyright has been extended retroactively to cover works by artists long dead and buried.

            I think the main reason copyright exist – at least in their current form – is that powerful organizations and individuals lobby in their favor.

          2. bean

            Arguably, the thought that your grandchildren could benefit from collecting royalties might be a motivating factor for an artist

            I really doubt this. Most people who create content for money are doing so so that they can get paid. Unless you’re already massively successful, the chances of your grandchildren getting paid for anything you do are minuscule, and if you want to benefit them, you’ll put some of the money you get from immediate royalties in a savings bond or something.

            The big issue with long copyrights is that nobody has the time horizon where they’ll write something with 100-year copyright that they wouldn’t with 50-year copyright. Corporations certainly don’t, and neither do individual human authors/artists/whatever. At which point, the long copyright terms are just rent-seeking by Disney and others with holdings from long ago.

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            If I buy and develop a piece of land, I assume that it will generate rents 50 years from now. Maybe I won’t be alive for all 50, but my ability to sell it in 10 years depends on the next person being able to generate rents as long as they want.

            If there is a jubilee that undoes property ownership every 49 years, I’ll be less likely to develop land. (Particularly close to the 49th year.)

            (PS: I don’t like old copyrights being extended. And I think copyrights are too long.)

          4. anonymousskimmer

            If I buy and develop a piece of land, I assume that it will generate rents 50 years from now. Maybe I won’t be alive for all 50, but my ability to sell it in 10 years depends on the next person being able to generate rents as long as they want.

            This is a stereotypically masculine-centered understanding in that permanence of labor is assumed (vs. the impermanence of stereotypically feminine-categorized labor).

            People still decorate their homes and offices even though they know the work will be transitory. Likewise various renters perform minor maintenance and major landscaping on their rental properties. They do this despite not profiting at all when their tenancy ends (and possibly owing money from their security deposit to undo the modifications they’ve made).

            10 years from now the next person can pay the depreciated rate plus the underlying land value, and you’ll still have made a profit from the 10 years of rent.

            Even though patents expire, the unpublished research (e.g. all of the dead ends and promising leads not followed) leading up to that patent are still valuable.

          5. zoozoc

            Also regarding land ownership vs. copyright

            Land is a physical thing. The arguments for land do not follow for copyright. In fact, I would argue that current copyright law decreases artistic output because people are not able to build off of other’s works. It would be like if patents lasted 100 years. Instead of innovation building off of other technology to the benefit of everyone, more stagnation would happen as only the original inventors could build off of their innovations.

          6. Doctor Mist

            Land is a physical thing. The arguments for land do not follow for copyright.

            Edward Scizorhands was not talking about land. He was talking about developing land, which is much more closely analogous.

          7. Edward Scizorhands

            There are a few different questions going on.

            1. Why do we need ownership for thought-stuff?
            2. Why doesn’t ownership of thought-stuff last forever, like it does for land?

            1 is because we want people to develop thought-stuff, the same way we want people to develop land, and the regime of private property has been effing awesome for wealth creation so we go with what we know works.

            2 is because ownership of land is simpler than ownership of thought-stuff to discern.

            Permanent land ownership is reasonable because if I want to build something on a particular piece of land, it’s trivial to find out who owns it. If someone designed a system of “finding out who owns this land?” 200 years ago there’s a good chance it would still be perfectly functional today. Lots of developed land is still extremely valuable 50 or even hundreds of years later, and we reward people who a good job at creating something long-lasting by letting them capture that value when they sell it to others.

            (And if land went “free” it would actually go to the government, not public domain for the public to do whatever they want.)

            Every state has a property tax so if someone abandons land you can easily buy it from the state. And land is unlikely to be subdivided into thousands of tiny pieces such that you have to negotiate with everyone to build something — and even then we have eminent domain.

            Things built out of thought-stuff can be composed of things that were originally built by tens of thousands of other people and we often have no idea who those people are, and IMO the only significant downside that IP law has for innovation is that there can be major uncertainty about someone showing up to claim ownership of one of those tens of thousands of pieces of thought-stuff.

            (So while I significantly support the concept of IP laws, but would like reforms. Ideas include shorter copyright terms, compulsory licensing, a requirement to actively register works to get the full length of terms, or safe-harbor provisions that allow someone to claim abandoned goods by giving notice of their intent to use.)

          8. John Schilling

            2. Why doesn’t ownership of thought-stuff last forever, like it does for land?

            Because ownership of thought-stuff is a contractual right, and contractual rights basically never last forever even if you do trade them from one person to another. See e.g. stock options. The right to buy 100 shares of XYZcorp for $50 a share any time prior to 1 January 2021 is a valuable thing that you can own, buy, sell, sue people for defrauding you of, etc. It is property. And on 1 January 2021, it is worthless property that no court will bother with. So too with copyright. So too with any private IP contract you might negotiate in place of the default copyright – you can negotiate any terms you like, but courts won’t enforce “forever” or “until hell freezes over” or any other such thing.

            For that matter, even property ownership usually doesn’t last forever. It lasts for life and until probate has been cleared up, then the heir has their own new and independent interest in the land, independent of whatever interest their dead ancestor had. About the only eternal possessions are real property and material goods owned by corporate entities, a special case that is much easier and less disruptive to deal with than e.g. eternal copyright.

    3. fibio

      Intellectual property rights are a vital part of every modern economy and one of the cornerstones of the innovation industry the Western World favors. That said it is a very broad term and it’s enforcement is rather behind the times, with both patents and copyrights having long tail effects that are neither beneficial to the world at large or the rights holder.

      I personally believe that it is unethical to pirate media, especially these days when streaming is so prevalent that it’s basically free. I’d put it in the same moral area as shoplifting. Technically wrong but generally meaningless to both the victim and the perpetrator.

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        +1. The modern economy depends on people making thought-stuff. The amazing things that happen over the next 50 years aren’t going to be people making socks or collecting bars of gold.

    4. matkoniecz

      Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?

      Depends.

      If it is outright impossible to legally buy something in your country? I see no problem with piracy.
      If you pirate just to avoid paying, while book/movie/whatever costs 0.4% of your monthly income? Then it sounds like you should pay.

      In between there is plenty of gray area for “author died 90 year ago, copyright is owned by massive corporation” where piracy may be illegal but I see nothing clearly unethical. Or “Spotify pays author basically nothing” where it may be legal but I am not convinced that it is ethical.

      And there is plenty of fun legal cases where either legal or ethical status is not clear – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Portrait_Gallery_and_Wikimedia_Foundation_copyright_dispute or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_selfie_copyright_dispute

      Also, what you mean by “pirate”? For example in Poland AFAIK it is perfectly legal to download copyrighted music, images, text – though sharing it is illegal.

      Is intellectual property a good thing, a bad thing, a mixed bag?

      Mixed bag as everything else. There is plenty of bad behavior (patent trolls, copyright extending over 50 years past death of author (“The Mickey Mouse Protection Act”), absurd DMCA takedowns).

      But someone copying a book that someone else made? And without any agreement or permission selling it without giving anything to real author? That should be illegal. The same for images, software, maps and other works.

      There is additional problem of that rules are often hard to enforce against major corporations (for example Facebook maps are breaking copyright due to insufficient attribution of real source of data – and it is basically impossible to enforce that).

      1. Purplehermann

        I’m specifically interested in personal download and usage.
        If it’s actually property, why shouldn’t copyright extend forever?

          1. Purplehermann

            Yes, I would like an explicit reasoning.

            If it is property, why should property last only so long? When I buy a painting I expect to own it unless I sell it (or lose it etc).

          2. matkoniecz

            In short: overall benefits of copyright depends on copyright length, and “infinity” is certainly not an optimal position.

            For start, have fun with deciding who owns copyright to original Bible text. Or works of Homer. There is no benefit in this absurdity.

            If it is property, why should property last only so long?

            Because it is a special kind of property I see no problem with special rules for it.

          3. zoozoc

            As others have said, the issue with copyright is not the person is owning a concept or artistic rendering of something. For example, it is against copyright to take the painting you bought and upload a picture of it on the internet.

        1. bean

          If it’s actually property, why shouldn’t copyright extend forever?

          Simple answer? It’s not property. The basic logic behind IP, at least in the US, is laid out in the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

          We give people rights to their creations to encourage them to create more. That’s it. It’s a utilitarian decision, because we want more books and movies and patentable innovations. It’s not because of any moral right the creator has. And after we’ve given the creator long enough to pay back their initial investment, if they can, we have whatever it is enter the public domain. The patent system is the best at implementing this, while copyright has been grossly extended.

        2. AG

          Because the downloader has not taken the author’s property? They’ve duplicated it.

          If you own a painting, and someone else creates a duplicate of it, you still own the original painting.

          1. Belisaurus Rex

            So if Edison copied your painting and then told everyone it was his, and started making merch and selling T-shirts with your painting on it, you’d be ok with that because you still have the original?

          2. AG

            Yes? I don’t buy things just so I can sell them, I buy things so that I own them. I buy a DVD, I don’t care if my neighbor buys the same copy of the DVD.

      2. Fahundo

        If it is outright impossible to legally buy something in your country? I see no problem with piracy.
        If you pirate just to avoid paying, while book/movie/whatever costs 0.4% of your monthly income? Then it sounds like you should pay.

        What about pirating things you’ve already bought? For instance, I buy a show on Amazon Prime, they let me stream it but not download it, I’d prefer to have my own copy, so I pirate it anyway. Well, ok, maybe I never paid for the right to download it, so what if I bought it on iTunes, and now I can download it, but can’t freely copy it to another device when I want?

        Or what if I own a physical copy of a console game from 15 years ago, but today I can play the same game on an emulator at higher resolution, perhaps with texture packs?

        I find it increasingly common that a pirated version of something gives me more freedom or ease of use than the paid-for version.

    5. nes1983

      My reading of I David D. Friedman’s book is that he would probably say that it’s a good thing, with a lot of caveats. One caveat being that intellectual property grants a kind of monopoly, and so the usual downsides of monopolies apply. Importantly, production of copies will be below the optimum level (you’ll need to read the book to understand the terminology; sorry).

      The other caveat is the practicality of enforcing the digital copyright. So, he might say that: if intellectual property was enforceable at a reasonable cost, it would clearly be a good thing (with some caveats, but still). But what’s the correct trade-off in a world where it can’t be enforced at a reasonable cost? Well, that’s harder to answer.

    6. Jake R

      I’ve read lots of impassioned arguments for abolishing intellectual property. They make a lot of good points, but in my opinion none of them do a good job of explaining why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book. That’s a deal-breaker. That said I am against the indefinite extension of copyright, where congress grants a ten-year extension every ten years. The authors death +50 years standard seems more than reasonable to me, and I have no ethical problem pirating anything outside that window.

      1. Purplehermann

        Do you think differently on areas that will get created regardless, like philosophy, art, science etc?

        1. matkoniecz

          science

          Here anything funded by government should be obligated to be published on open license, in open access journals.

          Abolishing copyright is not needed to do that.

        2. Jake R

          I don’t think “will get created regardless” is a boolean quantity. Some people will make art and science without financial incentive, but more people will make more and better if someone is willing to give them $1000 to do it.

      2. Ketil

        bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book

        Because you hire someone to do it? While I’m as much a sucker for novelty as anyone, it’s not like I can manage to hear/read/watch even one percent of one percent of the available music/books/films that exist. I can’t even over my lifetime manage one thousandth of the books that get published in a single year. Do we really need an artificial government monopoly to ensure that we get more? And if yes, could we imagine other ways to ensure this?

        1. Jake R

          The Witcher 3* had a budget of $81 million. I don’t have $81 million. If the answer is “Kickstarter for everything” I’m on board, but even then there is a gap. The number of people willing to invest money after seeing a proof of concept or some general ideas and then wait years before receiving a product is pretty small. The most successful kickstarter ever was a little over $20 million, so at best I would expect to get games 1/4 as good as Witcher 3. Generally I think there’s a lot of value left in the model where people can create a thing and then sell it after it exists. I don’t see how that works without some sort of intellectual property protection.

          *My favorite game ever is not Witcher 3, but I couldn’t find budget numbers for Shadow of the Colossus.

          1. anton

            As with most everything there are trade-offs both ways. While witcher 3 may or may not have been made without copyright protections, witcher 3 mods will for certain never be made with copyright protections. While witcher 3 mods are not likely to be much good and maybe not worth the risk of witcher 3 never being made in the first place, the same thing can’t be said (from what I have heard) of steam engines. So it’s not clear to me on the balance which option is better.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            Star Citizen looks like a traditional on-going game that calls all its sales “crowdfunding” for PR purposes, and I would do the same thing if I were in their boat and could get free headlines.

            (It also seems to tilt the market in favor of established creators, but I’m not sure this is a good argument because only established creators would be able to raise $85 million in venture capital.)

        2. Edward Scizorhands

          You can hire people, right now, to make your favorite video game or your favorite book.

          IP regimes are not stopping you. Just like capitalism allows communism to exist within it. You can create your project and pay for it and put it in the public domain to show others how it’s done.

          I can’t even over my lifetime manage one thousandth of the books that get published in a single year

          You don’t want most of them, but other people do.

      3. AG

        why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book

        Because people already do even though IP law currently exists?
        Cave Story. Cory Doctorow novels. Worm, Unsong, Northern Caves, etc. Fan films. Freeware. All pop culture from before IP law was put into effect (the Iliad, operas, Shakespeare, folk mythology).

        1. Jake R

          I think it’s great when someone is willing to spend thousands of hours producing something for my enjoyment with no compensation, I just don’t think it’s very reasonable to expect it of them.

          I also can’t help but notice how everybody is jumping on the book example without giving much regard for video games, which frequently have 8 figure budgets.

          1. Jake R

            @AG
            I feel like the quality of the games on that list largely prove my point. CD Projekt Red spent $81 million and 3.5 years developing Witcher 3. Even if they did that out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they thought it was fun, or for whatever reason Scott wrote Unsong, I still think it would be unreasonable to expect them to.

          2. Dan L

            I also can’t help but notice how everybody is jumping on the book example without giving much regard for video games, which frequently have 8 figure budgets.

            A glance at the Steam charts show they’re dominated by free-to-play multiplayer games. Epic is… unlikely… to be different. IP is effectively a non-issue in those models.

            Would IP protections disincentivize your Witchers? Undoubtedly, though now you’re talking about what is (unfortunately*) an increasingly narrow market segment. Something will inevitably be lost no matter what one does, though I bet your Stardew Valleys and maybe even Disco Elysiums will be fine. Dwarf Fortress, of course, soldiers on regardless.

            *For of all sad words/ of tongue or pen/ the saddest are these/ Freespace 3.// It might have been.

          3. AG

            Some of the greatest, most enduring, pieces of art of all time were created under the patron system, before IP law was significantly implemented. Even today, opera houses making lavish productions of entirely public domain works don’t make up their money in ticket sales, and so are basically funded by patrons.

            So it could also be how your big budget video game still gets made, because a billionaire simply wants to play a big budget video game, or reap the status benefits of getting a big budget film made.

            The logic behind ad revenue/sponsorships still applies in a world without IP, so content would also continue to be produced with that level of support. It would be easier for some kinds of content, too, since said producers wouldn’t have to wrestle with copyright strikes anymore.

          4. Lambert

            Most of ‘all time’ happened before IP law became a thing.
            It’s unfair to compare 3500 years of literature before the Statute of Anne with the 300 years after.

          5. Edward Scizorhands

            We probably lost several works of Shakespeare because the lack of IP protection meant that he kept his works hidden. People would try to memorize his plays and put on the same play at competing theaters. It’s the same way guilds worked hard to keep their inventions secret and tried to monetize them through second-order effects.

            We want these things public! We want them published! We’ve probably lost some incredible things because they were hidden and ultimately died with their creators.

            The things we lost, or that were never created, are Bastiat’s unseen.

          6. anonymousskimmer

            @Edward Scizorhands

            OTOH now that copyright (in the US, at least) is immediate with the creation of the work and doesn’t require publishing anymore, works can still be lost by dint of never being published.

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

            Kafka wrote: “Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread”.[168][169] Brod ignored this request and published the novels and collected works between 1925 and 1935.

            Today wouldn’t Brod have been breaking the law in publishing these works whose copyright was still owned by Kafka’s estate?

          7. baconbits9

            We probably lost several works of Shakespeare because the lack of IP protection meant that he kept his works hidden. People would try to memorize his plays and put on the same play at competing theaters. It’s the same way guilds worked hard to keep their inventions secret and tried to monetize them through second-order effects.

            Now you are assuming that the works we got would remain in a world where Shakespeare spends decades in a legal battle with the heirs of Saxo Grammaticus over Hamlet. Likewise we wouldn’t have the Iliad if Homer had to go back and get permission from every storyteller he had heard a version from before preforming his variation.

          8. Edward Scizorhands

            Today wouldn’t Brod have been breaking the law in publishing these works whose copyright was still owned by Kafka’s estate?

            A copyright violation, but, yes. He’d still be allowed to retain ownership of them, sell them, make them available to others to study and describe, and once the copyright had lapsed they could be openly published.

            Or the estate could have been paid money. They don’t necessarily have Kafka’s same interests.

            I think if someone wants their private unpublished writings destroyed, they ought to be destroyed. We encourage creators to contribute to the public domain, and IMO this is more ethical than forcing them to contribute to the public domain. But destroying all the copies should be something Kafka took care of doing before he died. A will isn’t some magic computer program that you unleash as a doomsday weapon after your death.

            where Shakespeare spends decades in a legal battle with the heirs of Saxo Grammaticus over Hamlet

            Even the US copyright terms, which I think are too long, would not last for over 300 years.

          9. baconbits9

            Even the US copyright terms, which I think are too long, would not last for over 300 years.

            The point is that almost all of Shakespeare’s works are derivative to some significant extent, you can’t claim that copyright would give us more Shakespeare without considering this.

          10. John Schilling

            So it could also be how your big budget video game still gets made, because a billionaire simply wants to play a big budget video game, or reap the status benefits of getting a big budget film made.

            No billionaire wants to play a video game badly enough to pay serious video-game development money just to make it happen. If he did, he wouldn’t be a billionaire.

            Paying for propaganda wrapped in serious video-game production values, that’s another matter. I don’t think it is an improvement if all big-budget video games are some billionaire’s professional propaganda, even if the message is just “Billionaire X is high status”. Which it often won’t be.

      4. anonymousskimmer

        That said I am against the indefinite extension of copyright, where congress grants a ten-year extension every ten years.

        Now that Disney has leveraged their extended monopoly sufficient to purchase rights to Star Wars, the Marvel cinematic universe, etc… they have no need to lobby to extend their mouse monopoly anymore. The extensions therefore will probably end.

      5. DavidFriedman

        but in my opinion none of them do a good job of explaining why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book.

        We know that intellectual property can be created without IP laws because it has been. Consider all the works written before copyright law existed. For current examples, consider fanfic, open source software, and blogs. SSC is one example of very useful intellectual property whose creation does not depend on IP law.

        There are a lot of different ways it can happen. Some people write books for the fun of it, or to spread their ideas, or for the resulting status, which can take pecuniary forms. One result of being a novelist may be a job teaching at a university. One result of my books and articles is that people pay my expenses to go to interesting places around the world and give speeches, and sometimes pay for the speeches as well.

        Historically, one way of supporting authors is patronage. English books from a few centuries back sometimes start with a glowing tribute to some noble you have never heard of — who has probably been feeding the author for the last few years. The Orlando Furioso, one of the great works of Renaissance Italian poetry, includes a scene predicting what a wonderful person the descendant of one of the characters will be. Her name will be Lucrecia Borgia — which suggests who Ariosto’s patrons were.

        One modern version is Patreon. Another possible one, that I don’t think I have seen, would be for a firm such as Apple to sponsor the production of popular works — which would contain the artists’ thanks to the sponsor.

        Another way is first mover advantages. Back before the U.S. had a copyright treaty with the U.K., British authors got substantial royalties for U.S. sales, in part because the fixed cost and time lags in the printing technology of the time meant that the authorized publisher, who got the text from the author long enough before the book came out in England to have type set and books printed when it did, got all the early sales, which were typically most of the sales. If a pirate edition came out, the authorized publisher, with its fixed costs already paid, could bring out a cut rate fighting edition to keep the pirate from ever making enough to cover its fixed costs.

        That approach doesn’t work with modern printing technology, but there are still advantages to coming out first.

        None of this implies that we wouldn’t have less IP without IP law, but it’s clear that we wouldn’t have none at all.

        And in some ways, IP law hinders the production of IP, because old IP is sometimes an input to new. My current non-fiction book project is a collection of short works of literature that contain interesting economic insights, each to be accompanied by an essay of mine exploring the economics. It currently exists, in draft form with only some of the essays, as a web page.

        I probably can’t produce it as a book, because that would require permission from a large number of different copyright holders, requiring a lot of time and effort finding them and negotiating the permission. I can do most of it as a webbed page because most of the works are already webbed.

        One of my favorite pieces, a Poul Anderson story obviously written to make the economic point, used to be webbed in full, is now webbed only in part. If the author were still alive I expect he would be happy to give me permission to include it in my book for a proportional share of the royalties, as two other authors I have communicated with were, but unfortunately he isn’t and I haven’t had any luck with the agent who currently controls the rights.

        The chapter on property in my Hidden Order discusses the tradeoff between property and commons. One of the costs of treating something as property is the transaction cost of letting someone other than the owner use it.

        So that particular book would be easier for me to produce if there were no copyright law.

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          The Orlando Furioso, one of the great works of Renaissance Italian poetry, includes a scene predicting what a wonderful person the descendant of one of the characters will be. Her name will be Lucrecia Borgia — which suggests who Ariosto’s patrons were.

          Great Merlin’s ghost!
          (For SSC readers who haven’t read the poem, the prophecy that Ariosto’s sponsors would be amazing is put in the mouth of Merlin’s ghost. Having encountered it in his tomb, the warrior woman Bradamante takes it as an order to convert Ruggiero to Christianity and marry him.)

        2. AG

          Another possible one, that I don’t think I have seen, would be for a firm such as Apple to sponsor the production of popular works — which would contain the artists’ thanks to the sponsor.

          We see this on the regular with public broadcasting and live performance contexts, like symphony orchestras, operas, theater, and other large scale events. “This program was brought to you by/made possible by generous support from…”

        3. nes1983

          Wait, but after all that — what’s your hunch? In balance, is intellectual property good for the world or bad?

          1. DavidFriedman

            I don’t know. Levine and Boldrin make the argument for one side, and they could be right, but I haven’t looked into the historical evidence myself, or seen any attempt by someone else to debunk their account of it.

            I think it’s clear, for reasons I explore in Law’s Order, that traditional copyright makes more sense than either patent or the ways in which copyright has been expanded in recent years, because it covers something that works better as property. But whether it works well enough so that, given zero marginal cost, it is better as property than as commons I don’t know.

            The answer probably depends on a lot of details of the setting, such as how large first mover advantages are — hand set lead type vs photocopying, to take one example.

    7. ana53294

      I think that for scientific research, copyright is definitely a bad thing, and I think pirating is ethically warranted.

      The research would still be made, the papers still written and peer-reviewed, even if copyright on the papers did not exist.

      As for other forms of copyright, I favor a life + 25 years term.

      For patents & miscellaneous, more flexibility on derivative work (EU plant variety laws allow a lot more derivative breeding, whereas Americans patent a lot of plant varieties, thus making step improvements impossible).

      Thus, I think that substantial and significant improvements on somebody else’s patent should be exempt from the previous patent, as long as the improvement is substantial enough.

      1. anonymousskimmer

        As for other forms of copyright, I favor a life + 25 years term.

        I want a solid term of years, not an amorphous “life +”.

        Say X and Y marry. X works their butt off supporting Y through school and while writing their novels, while going further and further into debt. Y finishes a novel that gets best seller status and then dies immediately thereafter from a bus accident at the untimely age of 25, but not before incurring even more medical debt. X uses the royalties to pay off the debt incurred by X and Y, but then has nothing left. X spends the next 25 years treading water on the royalties and their minimum wage jobs, but then at the age of 50 the royalties end when the copyright ends. X ends up on the streets.

        Make the copyright 50 years or 60 years flat and X has less of a problem.

        1. Edward Scizorhands

          +1. Making copyright length depend on the creator’s life is just weird. 50 years? Great, fine, let’s do it..

        2. ana53294

          Yeah, but with a solid 60 year term, you could get Y, who wrote a book, and at age 80+ is living in a super expensive care home, while Warner Bros. makes a super-duper expensive blockbuster based on their book while Y gets nothing.

          I don’t see why X, who didn’t write the book, should be prioritised over Y, who did.

          If you want to have a fixed number of years, make it an even 100 since publication. Then we won’t get situations like that. Plus, it’s easy to calculate.

          1. Edward Scizorhands

            If something is still quite valuable IP at year+60, it was very likely to have been quite valuable and generating rents during the intervening years.

          2. Randy M

            Most 100+ year olds aren’t relying on their current income to support themselves. Is the point to allow the creator to make maximum profit off the work or to have exclusive creative control during their lifetime?

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            It’s not like Beverly Cleary will be 101 and then suddenly realize “oh, shoot, all my royalties disappear today.”

            (I mean, I assume if we made copyright length 50 or 60 years, we would do that going forward, with some reasonable grandfathering for people who didn’t expect the expiration of their rights to happen in the next few years.)

        3. Jake R

          This is reasonable, but I would amend it to “Life or 50 years, whichever is longer.” I don’t have a very rational argument for this but it seems weird to me that under your system if Jane Austen had lived long enough she’d have had no say in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Plus I doubt the difference actually matters all that often.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            Yeah, this seems a good compromise.

            Though theoretically it could incentivize assassins, the copyright holder could avoid this by giving up copyright, or making licenses available to nearly anyone for a nominal amount.

          2. Lambert

            Doesn’t need to be a traditional assassin, since you’re playing the long game.
            You could bribe the chefs at the restraunts they like to add extra salt and saturated fat to their meals. Or stand next to them while puffing on a cigar.

        4. bean

          In theory, I agree, but I think some form of “life +” is probably a political/PR necessity, to avoid old and sympathetic authors whining about stuff. I’d go with 50 years or life + 5, whichever is longer.

          1. Thomas Jorgensen

            Let them whine?

            Futureproofing! We really do not want copyrights to become perpetual again just because someone cures aging, after all.

            Books that still sell after 50-60 years have at that point made their author so much money that if they have problems, that is on them. Actually, same goes for 20. Most books are pretty ephemeral, and as far as actual earnings go, any term beyond a decade is almost entirely about making Hollywood pay up when they do an adaption.

            25 years would more than suffice

          2. bean

            I’m rather skeptical on curing aging, but that’s a reasonable point. Less sure on 20 yrs vs 50. There are lots of long-running series that are more than 20 years old, and where, because it’s a long-running series, the author is still making money off the early books.

          3. DavidFriedman

            Books that still sell after 50-60 years have at that point made their author so much money that if they have problems, that is on them.

            Would that it were so.

            My first book will be fifty in a few years. It still sells — 53 copies of the paperback in the past month, a similar number of the audiobook, and I’m not sure about the kindle. But it never sold enough to make me rich, or even come close to supporting me at the average U.S. salary.

            And I expect there are a fair number of other books like that, selling something on the order of a thousand copies a year for many years.

    8. keaswaran

      I think we tend to think of “intellectual property” in too monolithic a way. Even under current law, there are important distinctions between trademark, copyright, and patents (in terms of both duration and rights granted). It may well be natural to subdivide these further (perhaps software should be classified differently from either copyright or patent? perhaps copyright in musical melodies should be treated differently than copyright in text? perhaps visual trademarks should be treated differently from slogans and brand names? perhaps pharmaceutical patents should be treated differently from business processes?) And all of them could naturally have the set of rights changed (the duration extended or reduced, mandatory licensing).

      Some copyrights and patents could also naturally be replaced by automatic purchase by the government at some fixed price (some people describe this in terms of prizes, like the one for the invention of a means to measure longitude several centuries ago).

      All of this is just to say that intellectual property can be just as heterogeneous as other kinds of property, and could be subject to many modifications, just the way that real estate has easements while chattel property like furniture and clothing generally doesn’t.

    9. rahien.din

      It is unethical to pirate books etc.

      But it is not because the victim has lost physical property – they haven’t.

      Nor is it because the pirate is withholding money that they definitely would have provided if not for piracy – every person has first rights to their own mind. Empirically punishing thoughtcrime is a gross violation of ethics.

      Nor is it because of the downstream effects on the arts industries. It may be that art was in a state of artificial scarcity, and the digital era has punctured a bubble. If people only value art to the degree that they would pirate it but not purchase it, this may be unwise, but it is simply the invisible hand moving.

      Piracy is unethical because it is espionage.

        1. rahien.din

          Piracy is definitionally espionage : unlawful access to privileged or confidential information.

          That is its only undeniable criminal aspect.

          Any of its material effects may be imaginary, may be simple bubble deflation, and/or may be an opportunity to compensate artists in a more risk-healthy fashion.

          1. Aapje

            That is nonsense. Copyright protects the way in which something is expressed, not what is expressed.

            It’s perfectly legal to write a book that contains all the information contained in a copyrighted book, if it is expressed differently.

          2. rahien.din

            Writing a book that contains all the information of another book, just expressed differently, is called plagiarism.

            And it is certainly illegal according to copyright law.

          3. baconbits9

            link text

            Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit. In other words, because you are not giving attribution to the owner of the original work or idea — you are presenting the idea or thought as your own.

            Plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal but quite common in academia.

          4. rahien.din

            I stand corrected about plagiarism vis-a-vis copyright law.

            But you have helped to show how copyright law is essentially a legal framework for regulating aesthetic, to the exclusion of ethical concerns regarding content. This means copyright law is conceptually irrelevant to 1. the OP’s question of the ethics of piracy, rather than the legality thereof, and 2. my idea that piracy is an informational crime, rather than an aesthetic crime.

            If anything, this increases my certainty that our definition of and legal approach to piracy are misguided.

          5. Aapje

            An example of a case where the difference was relevant was a court case about phone books. This is publicly available information, but the claimant alleged their phone book was copied by the accused. The evidence that was presented, was that there were the same errors in both books. Therefor, the claim was upheld.

          6. rahien.din

            Aapje,

            This seems to indicate that copyright protects what was expressed, rather than how it is expressed.

      1. AlexanderTheGrand

        People may value art enough to buy it, but they value having the art AND their money more than having just the art, and thus pirate anyways. Rational buyers don’t always pay the price they think an item is worth, they pay at most the price they think the item is worth.

        1. rahien.din

          That is true for some acts of piracy.

          But there is a class of items that you would partake in or enjoy, but would not willingly pay for. This is easy to see if you enlarge “enjoy but not pay for” beyond “piracy,” noting all the times we all do this. For instance, I will never pay for the New Yorker, but I will read it in the dentist’s office. And yet this is not piracy. Thus, for some acts of piracy, the pirate is fully justified in claiming “I would not have paid for this, even though I would pirate it.”

          You may contend that it is impossible to determine whether that is the case. It might even be impossible for the pirate! But we are not allowed to say “Regardless of what the market says, this work is worth $X, therefore the artist has a right to your money and your mind.” We are not permitted to convict the pirate by a priori voiding their rights to their money and their mind.

          Piracy is unethical, but the reason is not “The artist has not gotten sufficient material benefit, therefore the consumers are delusional.”

    10. boylermaker

      I don’t think that there is any moral reality to “intellectual property”–as someone points out upthread, my having a recording of a song doesn’t keep someone else from having it, which is different from tangible property where you either have it or you don’t (I can’t remember the technical economics term for this).

      You should still, however, not lie. So in the absence of laws, I would say:

      1) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by boylermaker: wrong; this is a lie
      2) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (but not paying her royalties): fine
      3) Making a movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, based on the novel, again not paying J.K. Rowling: fine
      4) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: A reimagining, under my own name, a reimagining that makes it clear it is a different book from the one J.K. Rowling wrote (think Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality): fine
      5) Publishing 2 Harry 2 Potter, my sickkkk Harry Potter fan fiction, under my own name: fine

      I think that piracy is wrong because laws have moral force even when their content is morally neutral, and so I don’t do it.

      I think that there probably should be some, maybe even a lot, of IP. It is a legal fiction that is useful because giving people temporary monopolies over ideas incentivizes them to spend time coming up with the ideas. But I think the position that maximizes the common good is probably less IP than we have now.

      Patents are great, but should probably be a bit shorter. I am confused by the situation with patenting genes and bioprospected molecules and don’t have an opinion on that.

      Copyright is a bit iffier. Authors should be able to copyright their works, and I’m willing to be talked into the idea that the copyright should last past their lifetimes, but probably by only a couple of decades. They should not be able to copyright their characters or worlds (i.e., for-profit fan fiction, like The Aeneid or the works of Shakespeare, should be fine).

      EDIT: I had forgotten about trademarks; my instinct is that using other people’s trademarks tends to fall into the category of lying, so I am more favorable to trademark-protections than I am to copyright or patent protections.

      1. Matt M

        I don’t think that there is any moral reality to “intellectual property”–as someone points out upthread, my having a recording of a song doesn’t keep someone else from having it, which is different from tangible property where you either have it or you don’t (I can’t remember the technical economics term for this).

        This isn’t really the moral argument though. IMO, the moral argument is thinking of it in terms of a contract. The creator of a work makes said work available conditionally, and one such condition is “you can consume it personally, you can even sell it or give it away, but you can’t copy it, retain the original, and give the copy to someone else.”

        Issues like whether it’s tangible or whether the person buying the copy would have bought an original are completely beside the point. The person making the copy is violating their agreement with the creator (or the creator’s agent). The person benefiting from that violation is in a moral position roughly equivalent to someone buying stolen goods. Or purchasing blackmail secrets. Or something like that. You are directly benefiting from someone else’s clear moral/legal violation.

        1. boylermaker

          I find this to be a compelling argument that you shouldn’t pirate under the current legal regime.

          I don’t think that in the absence of any IP law, the contract would be there by default, though. To give an example of what I mean, I think that if there were no laws against taking physical property, and you invited me to your house and left me alone in the room, it would be immoral for me to take your stuff: there is an implied hey-don’t-wander-off-with-my-sofa that comes along with your invitation to your house.

          But in the absence of any IP law, if you sold me a book, or told me a story from your past, or showed me a painting, and didn’t make me sign an explicit contract beforehand, I think I’m morally in the clear to publish an edition of your book, or make a movie based on your story, or a copy of your painting.

          1. Matt M

            I dunno, I think in current western society, this part of the contract is pretty implicit and does not need to be explicitly stated. But part of that is because in current western society, we generally assume the law reflects commonly held social values.

            I.e. in a society that was exactly like ours except IP law didn’t exist, you may be right. Except that it’s a contradiction because a society exactly like ours would have IP law.

            It’s like the classic libertarian philosophical question: In a world just like ours but Ron Paul becomes President, can he solve all of our problems? No. On the other hand, any world in which Ron Paul becomes President is a world that looks very different from ours and is well on the way to solving most of the problems we’re currently complaining about…

        1. boylermaker

          Hmm, well, if by “errors” you mean typos, then I guess I would say that if you are doing #2, you should make a good-faith effort at error-correction. All editions have typos, though, so I wouldn’t find their presence to be morally suspect.

          If you mean things like changing Dumbledore’s opening speech to “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! By the way I am straight as an arrow and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” … I think I would consider that to fall under #1 (it’s a lie to say that J.K. wrote that).

          1. Nancy Lebovitz

            The obvious case is sloppy OCR.

            The annoying example I know of is a Russian copy of Sheckley’s “Protection”, which unfortunately damaged the last line by correcting the final word.

            Decent news– that one didn’t turn up in a fast search.

            Here’s a copy without that error:

            https://lingualeo.com/es/jungle/robert-sheckley-protection-49722

            Sheckley was a clever writer with some rationalit or rationalist-adjacent topics who seems to be pretty much forgotten.

            Some stories: the misfortune of getting therapy from a mind machine designed for aliens. Being unable to sign a (grossly unfair colonialist) contract with aliens because their language changes so fast. Dealing with a make-anything machine which won’t do duplicates.

            He’s probably best remembered for “The Prize of Peril” a story about “reality” tv where the contestant is being hunted.

          2. boylermaker

            Well, I definitely think there is some degree of sloppiness where it becomes immoral to present OCRed text as that of the authors. I think there is probably some gray area, and it’s pretty context dependent. So if you are presenting text as OCRed to people who know what OCR means and can see the original images if necessary (like the Biodiversity Heritage Library project, say), I think you can get away with a lot more garble than if you are doing OCR to print out a book for your grandma.

            It probably varies by text, too: the amount of garble needed to pervert the original meaning is higher for Harry Potter than for a collection of epigrammatic poetry, which is higher than for a calculus textbook.

      2. Nick

        If you intend your list to be exhaustive, you should include translations, which are an interesting case in themselves.

        1. boylermaker

          I tend to think that translation is so difficult that all translations fall under #4. But I don’t feel so strongly about this that I would object to a separate category.

      3. Vitor

        what about the following?

        Occultist classics collection, volume 7:
        The Satanic Bible, by A. LaVey
        Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
        The Equinox of the Gods, by A. Crowley

        1. boylermaker

          I’m OK with it. What do you see as the potential problem? Is it that the publisher is making a public statement that Harry Potter is occult? That doesn’t seem to be a problem, as it is a very expensive way of making a statement that is so common and easy to make in other ways that there is a whole wikipedia article about it:

          Or am I missing the point?

      4. Belisaurus Rex

        The “long” term of patents is actually quite short for drugs. Your R&D, FDA approval, building factories, etc all eats into the patent term.

    11. Erusian

      Yes, it’s unethical to pirate books, videos, etc. Perhaps not on the ultimate, fundamental level, but in the time and place we currently inhabit it is illegal and immoral. Someone is harmed, indirectly many more people are harmed, etc. You are effectively making an isolated demand for rigor to justify theft. You don’t demand all rights hold up to the standard of strict ethical scrutiny on a society-wide basis when it comes to (for example) your identity. You do so with intellectual property because you expect to be in a position to steal it and unlikely to possess it.

      The main virtue of intellectual property is that it incentivizes the creation of intellectual products. If you take it away without substituting some other form of allowing workers to profit from their intellectual labor in line with how much other people want it, then you have done a net negative (plus or minus some fiddling on the edges). It does this at the expense of your right to freely use knowledge but only with knowledge you would not have otherwise, so the harm is relatively minimal (and you eventually get the right to use the knowledge after it expires).

      The answers people have provided so far are intensely problematic. If it’s something people do for love, you’ll get a loss less intellectual property and it will almost exclusively come from the rich. If it’s something that requires people to purchase, then you’re going to see much greater control of the wealthy over intellectual products and effectively a return to the patronage system. If it’s something that only works with first mover advantage, then it can only be done by well resourced companies and not individuals and opens a whole bunch of loopholes a well resourced company can smash the little guy with. Intellectual property concentrates power in the hands of artists relative to other systems. Even if they sell their rights to a corporation, at least they’re getting paid, and they have the option of doing it on their own if they can.

      There may be a better system but simply abolishing intellectual property would be a huge net negative.

      1. Evan Þ

        …and you eventually get the right to use the knowledge after it expires.

        I would believe this a lot more if copyright terms weren’t already in the ballpark of the average lifespan.

        If it’s something people do for love, you’ll get a loss less intellectual property and it will almost exclusively come from the rich.

        In that case, how do you explain the plethora of fanfictions freely available online without any compensation for their writers? Surely not every fanfiction writer is a member of “the rich” (except perhaps by a global scale where we all qualify too).

        Now, if you’re saying high-quality works, or works with higher startup costs than text, will almost exclusively come from the rich – then I’ll believe you. The world without copyright will lose some works, but let’s not overstate the case.

        In my ideal world, copyright would last somewhere between ten and thirty years, and not prohibit fanfic. In the current world, I don’t view fanfiction as unethical, and I don’t view it as unethical to make copies of out-of-print works older than thirty years or so. It remains unethical IMO to make copies of more modern works. Yes, there’re a lot of grey areas.

        1. Erusian

          I would believe this a lot more if copyright terms weren’t already in the ballpark of the average lifespan.

          What other property rights expire ever? Do you eventually get to live in a mansion because it exists today? Can I eventually assume George Washington’s identity because it’s very old?

          In that case, how do you explain the plethora of fanfictions freely available online without any compensation for their writers? Surely not every fanfiction writer is a member of “the rich” (except perhaps by a global scale where we all qualify too).

          Now, if you’re saying high-quality works, or works with higher startup costs than text, will almost exclusively come from the rich – then I’ll believe you. The world without copyright will lose some works, but let’s not overstate the case.

          You do realize that fanfiction relies on works that are produced under the intellectual copyright regime by definition, don’t you? Citing works that only exist because of a system is a funny way to criticize that system.

          Yes, the copyright system does indeed encourage people to produce work and then eventually let other people play with the characters after it runs out. That is a benefit of the system. And some people get antsy and violate the law, meaning another benefit of the system is there’s plenty around for them to use. How is that an argument against it?

          In my ideal world, copyright would last somewhere between ten and thirty years, and not prohibit fanfic. In the current world, I don’t view fanfiction as unethical, and I don’t view it as unethical to make copies of out-of-print works older than thirty years or so. It remains unethical IMO to make copies of more modern works. Yes, there’re a lot of grey areas.

          That’s nice. Why? What’s your consistently applied moral/legal calculus and what would its effects be.

          1. Aapje

            Copyright is not property, but a monopoly right. That propagandists came up with the word ‘intellectual property,’ doesn’t mean that it is actual property. It means that they were good at spreading their propaganda.

            I don’t understand your comparison to the identity of George Washington. I can change my name to George Washington. What I cannot do, is defraud people by misleading them, so they think that they are dealing with the other George Washington. However, this has nothing to do copyright.

            For example, imagine a world without copyright, where I voluntarily want to give the writer Hunter S Grease Gun a billion dollars. It would still be illegal for someone else to mislead me into believing that he is Mr Grease Gun, so I give my money to the wrong person.

          2. Erusian

            Copyright is not property, but a monopoly right. That propagandists came up with the word ‘intellectual property,’ doesn’t mean that it is actual property. It means that they were good at spreading their propaganda.

            How is it not property?

            I don’t understand your comparison to the identity of George Washington.

            Do you own your identity or not?

          3. Aapje

            How is it not property?

            I outsourced arguing it.

            Do you own your identity or not?

            No, identity is a set of (perceived) traits that I have, not something I own. I can’t buy the identity from an old woman and then replace my identity with hers, collecting social security from the government.

            I think that you have an extremely weird and unworkable idea of what property is.

      2. boylermaker

        Question for the people who argue for a right “to profit from their intellectual labor” that is more than just a legal fiction:

        I see the popularity of mousetraps, so I spend some time creating a better one. The patent allows me to profit from my intellectual labor by preventing somebody else from coming around and using my idea to make their own competing line of shiny-new-mousetraps just like mine. This is right and just.

        I see the popularity of coffeeshops, so I spend some time figuring out where exactly in my city is the best place to open one. Why should anyone who likes be able to put a coffeeshop across the street? This will reduce or even eliminate my ability to profit from my intellectual labor! And yet no one (I think) argues that the second-coffeeshop-owners are in the wrong.

        What is the distinction between the two types of intellectual labor such that one merits protection and the other does not?

        (I agree that there are lots of good consequentialist reasons, but some people on this thread seem to be arguing for a moral basis for IP, and it’s their responses I’m mostly interested in.)

        1. Erusian

          You’re responding to me so despite not arguing for a moral basis, I will point this out.

          I see the popularity of mousetraps, so I spend some time creating a better one. The patent allows me to profit from my intellectual labor by preventing somebody else from coming around and using my idea to make their own competing line of shiny-new-mousetraps just like mine. This is right and just.

          No, it can’t just be a better mousetrap to get a patent. It has to be something new and innovative. You have to invent an entirely new way of trapping mice. You can get patents on specific devices in the mousetrap instead, but not the whole mousetrap then. Because this doesn’t give you a right to your intellectual labor but the product of your intellectual labor, which is the invention etc.

          I see the popularity of coffeeshops, so I spend some time figuring out where exactly in my city is the best place to open one. Why should anyone who likes be able to put a coffeeshop across the street? This will reduce or even eliminate my ability to profit from my intellectual labor! And yet no one (I think) argues that the second-coffeeshop-owners are in the wrong.

          You have a right to the research. If they stole it, you have a case. But that’s not a patent. Further, you have a right to the coffeeshop you designed in all its particulars. The person across the street cannot copy your shop exactly. They must content themselves with supplying coffee of their own recipe under a logo of their own design etc.

          You do not have a right to coffee (which is a natural product) or buildings or the concept of a coffee shop (which wouldn’t be patentable in the first place) or a location. And that gives them space to compete. They still aren’t allowed to do something like call their coffee shop by a similar name or steal your secret coffee recipe.

          The proper analogy here is someone seeing a mousetrap in action and inventing one entirely different. In which case they’ve created their own intellectual property.

          What is the distinction between the two types of intellectual labor such that one merits protection and the other does not?

          None. Your position is a strawman. You have changed “a right to own the product of my intellectual labor” to “a right to profit from the product of my intellectual labor.” You can put in the labor to create Burrito On A Stick (real patent, look it up) but if no one buys it you have no right to make money. Likewise, if you solve cancer and then the next day someone comes up with an entirely unrelated cancer cure you both get patents and then get to compete with each other.

          1. boylermaker

            Aha, maybe we’re getting down to the root of things!

            I don’t understand what the difference is between “a right to own the product of my intellectual labor” and “a right to profit from the product of my intellectual labor”.

            If I own a car, and somebody takes my car, then I don’t have it any more. But if somebody encounters my idea, or my research, or my new invention, so that now THEY have the idea/knowledge/understanding/concept/etc, I still have that idea, or that research, or that new invention; they just also have it now. Presumably it is OK for somebody to see my revolutionary mousetrap and understand how it works, no? That isn’t theft in the way that their gaining my car would be. What IP prevents is NOT them having the idea, it’s them to profiting off it.

            So I don’t understand what it means to “own” an idea that is different from simply “monopolizing profit from that idea”.

          2. Erusian

            What don’t you understand? I don’t understand your contention.

            I can register a patent right now for an innovation no one wants. It will be mine and I will make no money off of it, unless someone wants it in the future. Likewise, I can make a paper airplane right now and it will be mine yet I will make no money off it unless someone comes and buys it.

            Perhaps here’s a more intuitive way for you to think about it. Imagine I own a chicken. The chicken lays an egg and it immediately grows into an identical chicken. Someone steals the new chicken. Have I been robbed? How can I be robbed when I still have the chicken? I still have the chicken they just have an identical chicken now.

          3. boylermaker

            To the chicken point, I think I would say that you have clearly been robbed because a moment ago you had two chickens and now you had one.

            Whereas if you have a great idea for a Specific Revolutionary Device which you patent (Your Number of Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas = 1), and I come along and read your patent, Your Number of Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas is still 1. But mine has gone from 0 to 1.

            This isn’t just true of patents, it’s true of all mental concepts, whether they be inventions or ideas or strategies or theses or whatnot. Your having it is independent from whether other people have them. This isn’t true of chickens: two people can’t both eat the same chicken wing, for instance.

            But only some small subset of the mental concepts count as Intellectual Property, for which we award people with monopolies on the ability to profit from them. You’ve outlined pretty well what the boundaries are between something-that-is-patentable and something-that-isn’t. But what I want to know is more meta, I guess.

            1) Does the difference between something-that-is-patentable and something-that-isn’t reflect a moral difference between ideas-that-I-cannot-profit-from-without-permission-regardless-of-what-the-law-says and ideas-that-I-can?

            2a) If yes to 1, what is that moral difference?

            2b) If no to 1, doesn’t that mean that we are doing an injustice to all the people who do intellectual labor to produce non-IP-able ideas for which they have a right to a monopoly which the cannot legally attain? Because our society certainly doesn’t act like it, if we do.

          4. matkoniecz

            Whereas if you have a great idea for a Specific Revolutionary Device which you patent (Your Number of Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas = 1), and I come along and read your patent, Your Number of Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas is still 1. But mine has gone from 0 to 1.

            Whereas if you have a great unique idea for a Specific Revolutionary Device which you patent (Your Number of Unique Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas = 1), and I come along and read your patent, Your Number of Specific Revolutionary Device Ideas is still 1 0.

          5. Erusian

            1) Does the difference between something-that-is-patentable and something-that-isn’t reflect a moral difference between ideas-that-I-cannot-profit-from-without-permission-regardless-of-what-the-law-says and ideas-that-I-can?

            You seem to be confused. You can profit from the idea of the patent all you want. If someone makes a bold new innovation and you read the patent and have a separate innovation, you can profit from that. You simply cannot profit from their innovation. Further, I’m not sure what you can’t patent if it’s a true innovation. I mean, technically it might be a copyright but I assume you consider those species of the same bird. What would some examples be?

            The key thing of a copyright/monopoly/whatever is that it needs to be an innovation, something that would not exist if you had not done the intellectual labor. Indeed, this is why you cannot patent things retroactively. You already created it and distributed it so the patent is not needed to incentivize you to create it and distribute it. It’s also why you can’t patent things you discover, like a plant. It already existed. I’m not sure if they’re morally different but they practically have an obvious reason.

            2b) If no to 1, doesn’t that mean that we are doing an injustice to all the people who do intellectual labor to produce non-IP-able ideas for which they have a right to a monopoly which the cannot legally attain? Because our society certainly doesn’t act like it, if we do.

            Who does intellectual labor to produce non-IP-able innovations? If you write an original story you automatically have the IP to it, for example.

          6. anonymousskimmer

            @Erusian

            Some things are non-patentable because based on prior art they are obvious, but possibly thanks to the sheer amount of prior art no one thinks to try them.

            I know of one instance of this at my workplace (from before my time). A person proposed a known technique as a possible solution to a problem with using commercially available tools for a particular important use case, this idea was tried, it worked, they published, and all of the commercial companies thanked them very much for publishing the solution with respect to these kinds of tools. The specific solution was already known as an idea though, and the particular application to these particular tools was simply something no one at the companies making these tools thought to try. As such it couldn’t be patented (though could have been retained as a trade secret had my workplace been a private company and not a government agency).

          7. Erusian

            Some things are non-patentable because based on prior art they are obvious, but possibly thanks to the sheer amount of prior art no one thinks to try them.

            Techniques are patentable. The fact that no one had done it and it could be retained as a trade secret is effective proof it was non-obvious.

          8. anonymousskimmer

            Not according to the supervisor who told me about it. My agency would have patented and licensed this if it was patentable.

            This wasn’t invention of a new technique, this was a novel application (and testing) of a known scientific fact.

          9. Erusian

            This wasn’t invention of a new technique, this was a novel application (and testing) of a known scientific fact.

            I see. So there was no innovation then. You were simply making use of what had already been invented, so you were not doing labor that produces intellectual property. Similarly, someone who discovers an unknown plant and then uses it to heal a disease cannot patent that.

          10. anonymousskimmer

            1) There was no guarantee it would work.
            2) You have to do labor to publish a paper. This involves expense and time.

            This labor has simply been deemed non-patentable.

            (This was application of scientific fact, not application of a prior invention. Scientific facts are non-patentable.)

            Similarly, someone who discovers an unknown plant and then uses it to heal a disease cannot patent that.

            Yes, even though this discovery took time, effort, and risk. It has been deemed non-patentable by our system. Though at least in this medicinal case there is some protection of profit via the expense of the FDA regulatory process.

          11. Erusian

            1) There was no guarantee it would work.
            2) You have to do labor to publish a paper. This involves expense and time.

            This labor has simply been deemed non-patentable.

            (This was application of scientific fact, not application of a prior invention. Scientific facts are non-patentable.)

            Yes, even though this discovery took time, effort, and risk. It has been deemed non-patentable by our system. Though at least in this medicinal case there is some protection of profit via the expense of the FDA regulatory process.

            Yes? I’m not sure what you’re gesturing towards here. Surely every effort isn’t worthy of a monopoly.

          12. Clutzy

            As a patent attorney I can tell you many things about this:

            1) There are many things that have been done, but nobody does now because they were not popular or industrially plausible at the time. An example is a rubber technology a client brought to me that he thought would make a good tennis surface made from old tires. Done in the 50s, abandoned, now prolly a good idea. Not patentable.

            2) Things that were speculated about but never done. If the person speculating was right about what your final product would do, you are often toast.

            3) Things that are indeed new combinations of old products that happen to make the examiner grumpy. So you don’t get a patent.

            4) Which may be the example: Laws of nature/Abstract ideas. AKA Section 101. No patent attorney can credibly claim to understand this jurisprudence.

          13. boylermaker

            OK, I’m starting to understand.

            So in a world without IP law, you would still say (it sounds like), that if you come up with a new idea (invention/technique/short story, etc), that you have the right to profit from it (assuming the idea is actually profitable, of course). If I see your invention/observe your technique in action/read your short story, there is no IP law to prevent me from profiting from it myself by making knockoffs/using your technique/adding your story to an anthology without consulting or reimbursing you. But you would still say that it would be immoral for me to do so, correct?

            Is that also the case if I independently come up with your idea? It seems very unlikely that I would write the same short story, but history is lousy with people who invent the same device or technique simultaneously. Does one of us have the moral standing to forbid the other to use the independently-arrived-at idea, just because one of us had it a few minutes or days before the other?

          14. Erusian

            So in a world without IP law, you would still say (it sounds like), that if you come up with a new idea (invention/technique/short story, etc), that you have the right to profit from it (assuming the idea is actually profitable, of course). If I see your invention/observe your technique in action/read your short story, there is no IP law to prevent me from profiting from it myself by making knockoffs/using your technique/adding your story to an anthology without consulting or reimbursing you. But you would still say that it would be immoral for me to do so, correct?

            I suppose? I’m less dealing with morality than consequentialism. If you have a world without IP and people can knock it off freely, you have a hugely reduced incentive to innovate.

            Is that also the case if I independently come up with your idea? It seems very unlikely that I would write the same short story, but history is lousy with people who invent the same device or technique simultaneously. Does one of us have the moral standing to forbid the other to use the independently-arrived-at idea, just because one of us had it a few minutes or days before the other?

            If you invent the exact same thing? No. The chances of that happening simultaneously are tiny to the point the default is to assume some form of theft. If you invent a different thing that has the same effect? Yes, and in fact that is the case under current patent law. For example, we could both invent devices that through separate mechanisms trap mice and get separate patents and then compete with each other on the mouse-trapping market.

          15. anonymousskimmer

            @Erusian

            Yes? I’m not sure what you’re gesturing towards here. Surely every effort isn’t worthy of a monopoly.

            boylermaker said:

            Does the difference between something-that-is-patentable and something-that-isn’t reflect a moral difference between ideas-that-I-cannot-profit-from-without-permission-regardless-of-what-the-law-says and ideas-that-I-can?

            Erusian said:

            The key thing of a copyright/monopoly/whatever is that it needs to be an innovation, something that would not exist if you had not done the intellectual labor.

            I’m kind of gesturing toward this. Someone decided on the fundamental (but amorphous) boundaries between protected art and non-protected art. Why is this division morally right when I can show an example of unpatentable work that probably would have gone on for many years being uncreated had it not been for the intellectual labor in linking a scientific fact to an application? In terms of morality I think you’re limited to claiming a utilitarian balance between restraining monopoly over every minor modification versus freedom to steal any idea. David Friedman’s third type of morality.

            So there is no moral difference between these ideas, the morality is focused solely on the expected effect of a particular patent and copyright framework on the speed of generation of useful novelty.

            Yep, there we are: Erusian said:

            I’m less dealing with morality than consequentialism.

            @boylermaker

            Is that also the case if I independently come up with your idea? … Does one of us have the moral standing to forbid the other to use the independently-arrived-at idea, just because one of us had it a few minutes or days before the other?

            Under current patent law I believe the second party/company has the right to personally use the invention, but cannot sell or license the invention to other parties without a license from the holder of the earlier patent application. OTOH simultaneous invention may be considered possible evidence that an invention does not merit patent protection: https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2019/02/14/simultaneous-invention-secondary-evidence-obviousness/id=106272/

          16. Erusian

            I’m kind of gesturing toward this. Someone decided on the fundamental (but amorphous) boundaries between protected art and non-protected art. Why is this division morally right when I can show an example of unpatentable work that probably would have gone on for many years being uncreated had it not been for the intellectual labor in linking a scientific fact to an application? In terms of morality I think you’re limited to claiming a utilitarian balance between restraining monopoly over every minor modification versus freedom to steal any idea. David Friedman’s third type of morality.

            So there is no moral difference between these ideas, the morality is focused solely on the expected effect of a particular patent and copyright framework on the speed of generation of useful novelty.

            What is non-protected art? We have one vague anecdote that the person said was just applying known knowledge in a new way and which they admitted they could have kept as a trade secret (another form of Intellectual Property!) if they wanted. Where is this boundary you have repeatedly claimed exists but have not shown?

            You have not proved the conclusion you state.

            Yep, there we are: Erusian said:

            This seems like you’re trying to use something I’ve openly said from the beginning and reiterated multiple times as a “gotcha”. I’ve said that I am defending it in consequentialist terms. And elsewhere I’ve argued property rights generally make mostly consequentialist sense.

          17. anonymousskimmer

            @Erusian

            I didn’t quote you as a “gotcha”, just as an acknowledgement that I now understood where you are coming from. This unfortunately means that you and boylermaker/me are talking at somewhat cross-purposes.

            I’ll state the non-patentable invention clearly (as clear as I can make it having heard this second-hand): Single-cell DNA amplification (necessary for single-cell genomics) ran into an issue in that trace DNA contamination of the enzymes used for DNA amplification overwhelmed the femtograms of DNA present in the single-cell. Thus the preferentially amplified DNA was garbage: carryover from the DNA amplification reagents.

            Someone mentioned in a meeting that UV light is known to cross-link DNA, and that UV treatment of the DNA amplification reagents might eliminate the contaminating DNA as substrates for amplification. This turned out to be the case. The work was published, and Qiagen (the maker of one of the phiX kits used for DNA amplification) thanked them for publishing this information, and used that technological insight to make their REPLI-g single cell kit (as did other companies making competing DNA amplification products, and presumably single-cell RNA amplification products as well).

          18. Erusian

            @anonymousskimmer

            What is your purpose then? As someone who basically thinks patent law is a net positive, I’d be happy to talk on your terms. However, be warned we might get somewhat deep into what the concept of “property” is.

          19. anonymousskimmer

            @Erusian
            My purpose was attempting to answer the question posed by boylermaker in the negative: “Does the difference between something-that-is-patentable and something-that-isn’t reflect a moral difference between ideas-that-I-cannot-profit-from-without-permission-regardless-of-what-the-law-says and ideas-that-I-can?”

            No, this does not reflect a moral difference between the ideas. It doesn’t necessarily even reflect an “obviousness” difference. It merely reflects a handful of rules-of-thumb that law-makers decided to codify into law in an attempt to crudely optimize between monopolies that hinder advancement of the “useful arts”, monopolies that further advancement of the “useful arts”, and complete freedom to use ideas however you want without compensating anyone for the ideas.

          20. boylermaker

            I should say, I’m on board with the idea that patents are beneficial, and if that’s enough to give IP moral weight, then great. What I was more interested in is the idea that maybe IP reflects some moral reality independent of that. Getting somewhat deep into the meaning of what property is was my hope, because it seems to me that our intuitions from physical property are useless, and I don’t currently have any way of thinking about “IP” except in a legal positivist way.

            But it sort of sounds like everybody on the thread thinks that respecting IP is moral mostly (solely?) because of the beneficial effects of the laws that enact it.

      3. Purplehermann

        Re: “isolated demand of rigor”

        Piracy is normal. Social convention seems to be that we treat thieves differently than pirates (of IP, for personal consumption). Most humans seem to be pretty much ok with others who pirate.

        “Theft” as understood intuitively by a lot of humans, isn’t normal or ok at all.

        Driving 5 miles above the limit seems to be considered just fine, regardless of legality.

        So based on societal norms, piracy looks more like going a bit above the speed limit than stealing.

        The question is what piracy is morally more similar to.
        It seems fair to say that calling (personal consumption, IP) pirates immoral is holding them to an isolated demand to obey the law if anything.

        1. Erusian

          Piracy is normal. Social convention seems to be that we treat thieves differently than pirates (of IP, for personal consumption). Most humans seem to be pretty much ok with others who pirate.

          Social convention is not a rebuttal to an isolated demand for rigor. The specific example from the article is someone who holds one standard of ownership of cows when it’s in their favor and another when it isn’t. You can easily imagine a society doing so at scale that is still committing the sin. Ancient Greece, for example, where stealing your cows was terrible but stealing other people’s cows was heroic.

          It seems fair to say that calling (personal consumption, IP) pirates immoral is holding them to an isolated demand to obey the law if anything.

          No. I require you not steal intellectual property or any other form of property. This is consistent. You require that I not steal any form of property you possess but reserve the right to steal intellectual property. This is inconsistent. It may be justifiable, but it’s not consistent.

          1. Purplehermann

            You require that I keep the law in regards to pirating, but not (I am assuming) that I keep the law with regards to the legal speed limit. This may be justified, but is inconsistent.

            I require that you keep laws that are considered, by social convention, real laws, but not those which aren’t. This is consistent.

          2. Erusian

            You require that I keep the law in regards to pirating, but not (I am assuming) that I keep the law with regards to the legal speed limit. This may be justified, but is inconsistent.

            Ah, there we go. Your assumption is wrong. I require you not to go over the speed limit or else to suffer the fine. That the law is often broken might be a reason to revisit whether the law should exist but it is a law.

            I require that you keep laws that are considered, by social convention, real laws, but not those which aren’t. This is consistent.

            No, it’s not. Saying, “I require X except for Y” means that Y creates an inconsistency. Doubly so when Y is not a clear line but something as vague as social convention. That isn’t to say it can’t be justified but it does need justifying.

            Again, isolated demand for rigor. When you like a law or you (and there is no book of social convention so it’s a personal judgment on your part) consider it “not real”, it’s real and everyone should follow it. When you don’t like a law or decide it’s not “real”, you demand it be justified extremely thoroughly.

          3. Purplehermann

            “Or else to suffer the fine”

            Only if a police officer sees and decides to enforce the law (which they generally don’t in this case).

            When you write require, do you mean you consider it a moral imperative on my part?

            ‘I require X but not Y’ is more accurate and not inconsistent.

            For example, i require you to eat apples but not oranges.

            (Obey “real” laws but not “legal fiction” laws.)

            This is not an isolated demand for rigor.

            A personal judgement being required (though you could ask a few random people to get a feel for societal opinion) to discern whether something belongs in category X or Y is orthogonal to an isolated demand for rigor.

            You’re operating from a premise that all laws are equal, despite the normative view being different from yours, and because laws are based on what society thinks is right this seems like an odd stance to me.

            As for a consequentialist justification of differentiating between laws that are considered real and those that aren’t:

            Following the law is generally a good thing, as breaking the law can a) cause harm to you, if indirectly and b) damage the general strength of law (because of others’ perceptions)

            If a law isn’t considered real then your chances of a) go down a lot and because you didn’t break a “real” law people don’t look at this and generalize to “real” laws that it’s ok to break the law. (Schelling points I guess).

          4. Fahundo

            No. I require you not steal intellectual property or any other form of property.

            Piracy isn’t stealing though. It’s more like when Jesus fed 1000 people with 2 fish.

          5. Erusian

            Only if a police officer sees and decides to enforce the law (which they generally don’t in this case).

            Sure. And that probably means it’s a bad law but it’s a consistent position to say “follow the law” whereas “follow the law except X, Y, and Z” is inconsistent. Now, it might be justified but it is inconsistent.

            You’re operating from a premise that all laws are equal, despite the normative view being different from yours, and because laws are based on what society thinks is right this seems like an odd stance to me.

            Yes. I mean, obviously the punishments aren’t equal and you prioritize enforcement but all laws are laws. Care to make the case they’re not? (Not being snarky, I’m actually curious to your position.)

            As for a consequentialist justification of differentiating between laws that are considered real and those that aren’t:

            You can make a broader case about the majesty and respect for the law, which I do. However, rather than coming down on the police state perspective my feeling is there should be less law. I’d like a world where every person who’s fined for dangerous driving has social sanction because that only happens in severe cases. I absolutely do not like cops acting as arbitrary tax agents under the aegis of law.

            Piracy isn’t stealing though. It’s more like when Jesus fed 1000 people with 2 fish.

            Do you wish to expand further on how it’s not stealing?

          6. Purplehermann

            Anything the state says is a law is a law technically, but that doesn’t say anything about whether you should listen to the law.

            If the moral case for following laws hinges on there being negative consequences to not following the laws because they are laws, then where those consequences don’t exist then there is no imperative to follow them (at least not due to their being law).

            If it is based on a societal contract that everyone will keep a law, and society considers a law ok to break, you don’t have to keep that law (at least not due to their being law).

            Laws that are generally not taken seriously by society can be broken without the usual negatives that come with breaking a law (due to its status as a law). These are “fake” laws. Technically a law, but without the grounding of “real” laws.

            If you accept this, then requiring justification of a law considered “fake” by society on its merits before obeying it, while at the same time accepting a general case for “real” laws and obeying them based on their being (real) laws is perfectly consistent (or justified if you prefer the term)

    12. SamChevre

      For those who support intellectual property/oppose piracy, does “can I get this otherwise” make a difference?

      For me it does: if it’s available on reasonable commercial terms, I will try to get it legally–but if the producer won’t sell it to me, I have no objection to copying it.

      1. Erusian

        No, it doesn’t. The right to disallow people from accessing your property is part of owning property. Whether the person continues to assert claim does matter, though. If it’s an out of print book and the author gives up claim to their rights then it’s not theft. And I imagine it weakens it if they’ve made mention they don’t mind, no matter what the legal technicalities are.

        1. Evan Þ

          But copyright is to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts”; copyright-holders should not have the right to impede that progress by refusing to make their works available.

          What would you say about a politician who published a too-revealing book some time back, but now wants to keep it out of the public discourse by asserting his copyright claim to keep it from being reprinted or even excerpted?

          1. Erusian

            But copyright is to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts”; copyright-holders should not have the right to impede that progress by refusing to make their works available.

            Copyright justifies a government monopoly (which is otherwise forbidden) in order to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. It’s not a system where whatever will in that specific moment in the judgment of that specific judge will promote science or art best and it never has been even intended that way. That standard would be far, far too arbitrary to be useful and actually be counterproductive to its stated purpose.

            What would you say about a politician who published a too-revealing book some time back, but now wants to keep it out of the public discourse by asserting his copyright claim to keep it from being reprinted or even excerpted?

            I’d agree with it. I also don’t think being a public official means that I get the right to snoop around Barrack Obama’s basement, looking for evidence about the IRS tax scandal.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            Without IP protections, every distributor of thought-stuff has to homebrew their own crazy enforcement system, or keep their best works hidden and try to profit off the second-order things it can generate. This was the problem the founders wanted to deal with: guilds kept lots of things secret for decades because that was the way they had to make money.

            As comparison, we have “theft of services” where society has agreed to enforce a common and simple set of rules instead of requiring everyone who makes a living providing services to bodge together their own expensive way of stopping people from getting their labor for free.

          3. Evan Þ

            Copyright justifies a government monopoly (which is otherwise forbidden) in order to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

            Yes, and I’m arguing that the government should delineate the borders of its monopoly to better serve that end. You’re right that a case-by-case judgment would be arbitrary; Congress should make this exception up front.

            I’d agree with it.

            I’m surprised. What if the book revealed political views which would be very pertinent to the election? Suppose Wilson was running in 1916 on a platform of “Keep us out of European wars,” but someone turned up a ten-year-old book where he’d written that the US joining European wars was a wonderful idea and politicians should lie to get in office so that they could bring the country into them – would you still be fine with letting Wilson ban people from reproducing or excerpting that book then?

          4. Erusian

            Yes, and I’m arguing that the government should delineate the borders of its monopoly to better serve that end. You’re right that a case-by-case judgment would be arbitrary; Congress should make this exception up front.

            I’m not against specific reform, fully considered. For example, I believe this purpose is partly served by the fact patents are public. But I’d be interesting in hearing the specific reforms before I say I’m for or against them. I am certainly not arguing the system is perfect or couldn’t use reform.

            I’m surprised. What if the book revealed political views which would be very pertinent to the election? Suppose Wilson was running in 1916 on a platform of “Keep us out of European wars,” but someone turned up a ten-year-old book where he’d written that the US joining European wars was a wonderful idea and politicians should lie to get in office so that they could bring the country into them – would you still be fine with letting Wilson ban people from reproducing or excerpting that book then?

            Yes. I’d also be fine with arresting thieves that broke into his house to steal the manuscript. Standards do not cease to be standards just because they are inconvenient. And a politician does not lose their rights by stepping into the public arena.

            I do not, as a voter, have a right to know anything I want to know about a candidate. Indeed, such a standard is incredibly impossible. The moment Clinton stepped into the Presidential race did the public gain the right to scrutinize every action of hers as Secretary of State? No, of course not, that would have violated a fair number of laws. It would have presented huge practical issues too.

            Certainly, I’d prefer candidates that didn’t lie and if a candidate lied I’d prefer to know. I’d prefer to have Trump’s tax returns too. Alas, they have rights too. Perhaps we could carve such exceptions, if we chose, but we have not.

    13. salvorhardin

      From a deontological perspective, I’d attach no moral weight to intellectual property claims. People’s right to do what they want with information they know outweighs any moral interest a creator might have in controlling their creation, and the contractual argument fails because do-not-redistribute contracts are a class of antisocial and obnoxious contracts that shouldn’t be enforced, like noncompetes.

      From a consequentialist perspective, the evidence is mixed but suggestive that there’s significant social welfare benefit to granting creators financial compensation to incentivize them to create more. So the question is what’s the least restrictive way to do that. I would suggest it would be something like making all IP rights have the character of standards essential patents: limited in term to <= 20 years and must be licensed to all comers on fair, reasonable, nondiscriminatory terms. So you can demand uniform royalties from licensees during the patent/copyright term but exert no other control over them. Note that this would remove one important current way in which IP rights *decrease* innovation and creative work production, namely that rightsholders can use their discretionary power to deny people licenses to remix, build on, adapt, etc their works.

    14. AG

      (I am not against IP Law entirely, but think that at this point burning it all down and make new laws from scratch as situations arise would be more efficient)

      For pro-IP people:
      Why does IP Law not apply to food recipes, and should it?

      1. Lambert

        It’s the kind of thing that falls under patent law. It’s just that most recipes are unoriginal or obvious. Also trade secrets are a thing.

        1. Belisaurus Rex

          Coca-cola, KFC, etc are all trade secrets.

          If Coke was patented, it would’ve expired by now.

          1. Lambert

            But other things, like using vitamin C to make bread quickly from soft flour, were patented.

          2. nkurz

            @Lambert:
            While I do find a few patents for adding Vitamin C to bread, and while it is sometimes used as a dough conditioner, I don’t think it ever was a big thing. Perhaps you are confusing “carbonic acid” (CO2 in water) with “ascorbic acid” (Vitamin C)? Making “unfermented bread” by adding pressurized CO2 to a special bread making apparatus was a big thing in the late 1800’s: Bread for the million!.

          3. Lambert

            It’s added to at least 80% of bread in the UK, where wheat doesn’t produce much gluten for whatever reason.

          4. SamChevre

            For adding vitamin C to bread dough, the key thing to look for is “Chorleywood process”.

    15. John Schilling

      Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?

      In roughly the sense that it is unethical to purchase stolen property, yes. It is reasonable to assume that whoever purchased the book or whatever in the first place, did so under at least an implied contract to not put it up for downloading on a pirate site. Now on to the broader issues:

      1. I think most of Team Abolish Copyright vastly overestimates the amount of high-quality information that will be generated in the copyright-free utopia dystopia of their dreams. Books will look like bad fanfiction, or late-period “too big to edit” Weber or Clancy, or be released on the schedule of The Winds of Winter. Software will have the “user-friendliness” of the worst sort of open source. And lots of stuff just won’t be made at all.

      2. What is created, isn’t yours to do with as you please just because there’s no IP law. Some of it will be trade secrets, never released to the public. What is released, will often be released under very restrictive licenses. The first five pages of every book will be tear-sheet contracts for you to sign in blood and send in to the publisher, when you buy the book and if you dare sell it on. Movies may not be released outside of theaters for years. Most things digital will come with DRM From Hell, will not run on general-purpose computers and will give the creator the ability to remotely brick your expensive specialized hardware. Code will be obfuscated, and user interfaces cryptic enough to require paying the creator for expert training.

      3. Even with IP law, participation is voluntary. As a creator, you can make your work open source or public domain, or you can negotiate whatever restrictive license you want with your customers. As a consumer, you can go open source or try to negotiate a better deal with the creator. Or, you can go with the standard contract. Mostly, it’s easier to go with the standard contract.

      4. I don’t think any ethical system, or any legal system this side of anarchy, bars the government from saying “most people who enter into contract X (say, buying a book) will if left to their own devices come to an agreement something like Y. Negotiating that every time, and enforcing it using kludgy private methods, imposes huge transaction costs, so we’re going to say that unless both parties specify otherwise standard contract Y applies. And then use our reputation and our efficient court system to enforce it so you all don’t have to bother with the DRM”. This leads to much better results for most people.

      I don’t think it is a coincidence that the greatest surge of human innovation and creativity ever, roughly coincides with the adoption and broad adherence to intellectual property law. If you break it, you may not like what you find on the other side but you will definitely find it very difficult to rebuild.

      1. baconbits9

        2. What is created, isn’t yours to do with as you please just because there’s no IP law. Some of it will be trade secrets, never released to the public. What is released, will often be released under very restrictive licenses. The first five pages of every book will be tear-sheet contracts for you to sign in blood and send in to the publisher, when you buy the book and if you dare sell it on. Movies may not be released outside of theaters for years. Most things digital will come with DRM From Hell, will not run on general-purpose computers and will give the creator the ability to remotely brick your expensive specialized hardware. Code will be obfuscated, and user interfaces cryptic enough to require paying the creator for expert training.

        Actually the exact opposite happens, we get long and drawn out periods from movies to DVDs now because of copyright, without it the first mover advantage is to get your production into the hands of as many people as quickly as possible to mitigate against the copiers.

        1. Edward Scizorhands

          Of USB? Definitely. You cannot put the USB logo on your own “looks like USB but isn’t” port.

          1. AG

            Every cell phone and music player had their own proprietary plugs and ports, and Apple continues to defy USB standardization with their lightning connector nonsense. We also have a ridiculous number of charging adapter tips.
            That’s what I’m talking about.

        2. Lambert

          Headphone jacks are just a smaller variant of what Ma Bell used back in the day. The 1/4″ jack on professional audio equipment is the same as what the operator would plug in when you asked to be connected.

          Standards like USB make sense because they let you commoditise your complement.

          I suppose trademark law might stop people from passing off inferior technologies as USB or USB compatible, but that’s a different thing from the core idea of IP law.

          1. AG

            As per the above wrt charging adapter tips, I can easily think of a world where every manufacturer decided to force a monopoly on which cables were compatible with their specific speakers/guitars/etc. Does IP Law help or hurt this kind of thing?

    16. thesilv3r

      I’m okay with Patents as a concept, 20-25 years seems alright as an incentive to gain a short term monopoly but there is a *lot* of screwing around which makes the system unhelpful (trolls, patents which don’t actually give the information required to replicate, etc.). It definitely needs some kind of reform, but not necessarily tearing down.

      As to copyright, I think most of my thoughts are covered in comments above, but to add some further nuance: 80 years after death is crazy, Inter Vivos Trusts in Australia and the UK have a vesting date of maximum 80 years after creation. It seems weird to me that the business world can deal with this artificial limitation on structures which often contain entire businesses and investing strategies, but when it comes to the ownership rights of a creative work we have to factor in things like lifespan, etc.

      I will acknowledge, I’m not sure what trust vesting law looks like in the US and from a quick glance it is managed at a state level so I’m too intimidated to be honest.

    17. Murphy

      Gonna go with mixed bag.

      Some good, some bad, probably mostly good on average over the long term.

      Copyright definitely 100% has an unreasonably, insanely long term.

      Patents are definitely 100% badly implemented. In theory they’re supposed to be about revealing how the invention works but if you ever try to implement something from a patent, they’re mostly useless jibberish. If you could take 2 independent teams of engineers, 1 with access to the patent and one without, tasked with re-implemting the thing and either the team without access implement it very closely or the team with access cannot implement it, both cases should be strong grounds to invalidate a patent entirely either for reasons of being obvious or reasons of the patent itself being useless. but that doesn’t happen because they’ve just become a way for corps to exercise speculative invoicing.

      Also re: patents, there also needs to be some kind of system brought in to neuter people who pick some popular app/product/item and wall in the real innovators with patents, the kind of companies that pick a recent popular product then have a few people sit round for 20 minutes playing “what would it be cool for this thing to also do” and lodge 50 patents on every vague idea they think of without implementing it. I don’t mean “neuter” figuratively, I mean we need a system whereby such people are abducted by sinister teams of people in dark vans, taken to dark sites and physically neutered/spayed.

      Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?

      A little bit, sure, roughly on the level of letting someone into a pay bathroom without them paying while you’re exiting.

      1. Purplehermann

        Are you coming from a virtue ethics, deontological, consequential or other value system to reach the conclusion that stopping these people from reproducing is the correct response?

        1. Murphy

          Who said anything about the main point being to stop them reproducing?

          it comes from a basis of detesting such parasites. for it’s own sake. It’s also acceptable if the sinister teams of people in dark vans just never bring them back or just bring back enough to serve as a warning to others.

    18. Logan

      Intellectual property makes sense in general. Regarding the particular issue of “piracy,” no it’s not immoral. Rather, current copyright law is immoral in the sense that it outlaws normal behavior. The law doesn’t reflect reality, and laws that are as divorced from reality as current copyright law serve only to turn regular citizens into criminals. Copyright law, in many particular facets of its current form, lacks the consent of the governed. Remember, it’s not just books and movies, many memes are illegal under current copyright law (many of them include copyrighted images used without permission). Like half of youtube is illegal. Basically all technically feasible means of watching movies with friends during the Coronavirus quarantine are illegal.

      Consider the case of a copyright on the poem The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. “so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens” That was the entire poem, and I may have broken the law by typing it here. In any case, I wouldn’t pay money to read that poem, because I memorized it in high school. No law can change that fact. It’s simply not a reasonable thing to charge money for. In a world where people own computers and have the internet, very few copyrighted works make more sense to buy or sell than The Red Wheelbarrow. The concept of buying and selling books and movies and music just becomes untenable.

      In many cases this can be overcome. Spotify saved the music industry, Netflix has saved TV and Movies (and created entirely new categories of narrative moving image). These services offer a better user experience than piracy, and they allow for the continued creation of content, which is very good news. What if an industry can’t adapt? Consider the parable of the 4-hour movie. Many artists want to make 4-hour movies, it’s a rich art form, but theaters won’t show them, and neither wi