I’ve previously blogged Broadberry’s critique of Acemoglu & Johnson’s “Why Nations Fail”. The discussion at Greg Cochran’s review of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs & Steel” got me googling, which is how I found this more formal writeup from Broadberry.


I was planning on reading this years ago, but it was in too much demand for the local library system to have many available copies, and my reading habits drastically dropped after I stalled on blogging about one book. Perhaps over that time I continued reading enough of the “heuristics & biases” literature that too much of it was already familiar. Or worse: I came in knowing that the “replication crisis” had already devastated much of the priming literature which Kahneman declares we “have no choice” but to believe. (more…)

Cochran’s post is here, the direct link is here although this file may be more listenable.

Since I highlighted the last time, it only seems right to do so again. Greg’s post is open for comment here, the direct link is here, and an annotation of the interview for those who don’t feel like listening for 2+ hours is here.

Just as Greg looked askance at one of my favorite bloggers (Robin Hanson) last time, he delivers a similar verdict on Scott Alexander this time, and by extension all of Less Wrong. Speaking of which, the Chicago Less Wrong meetup group (which I intermittently attend) is inviting the 100 or so Slate Star Codex readers in the city who wanted a meetup. It will be on the University of Chicago campus, on the assumption that anyone who might be interested already lives in Hyde Park. And you don’t need to respond by bringing up Schelling Points, I know.

Other people have spent plenty of time on it. I don’t have any particular expertise, as I disliked both major presidential candidates and couldn’t be enthusiastic about either winning and didn’t invest much time on the subject prior to the election. But I was predicting (along with the polls, prediction markets and many people who’ve been accurate in the past) that Clinton would win, and I’ve even made multiple bets on the subject. Here is one I made online, which I unsuccessfully attempted to replicate. So I was wrong about this election and his odds in the primary, although I could without any dishonesty excuse some of that by noting that it was very close (Trump seems like he still lost the popular vote) and it could have gone the other way with a slight fluctuation, so one shouldn’t update too drastically either way (Scott Alexander wrote that shortly before the election, further back I was considering linking to this from him on Trump rather than giving my own thoughts). Now that my poor track record of prediction has been established, feel free to discount my further prediction that he will be a run-of-the-mill bad president more along the lines of George W Bush than Nixon (the latter being more interested in governing after a long career of struggle in politics without being able to rely as much on a famous name). This will be exacerbated by unified government, which I had been worried about happening in Dem form. His supporters who had high hopes in him will be disappointed, as Trump himself has less interest in many of their goals than they do, and many will require the cooperation of people who will not be forthcoming with it. Coordination is hard, as Robin Hanson likes to say. That’s enough from me, and I hope to not have to talk about politics for a while.

UPDATE: I recommend both Scott Alexander’s followup, and Matthew Yglesias on one of the angles Scott would regard as neglected. Hat-tip for both from Tyler Cowen.

Earlier this month James Miller interviewed Greg Cochran, but I only listened to it recently. James reports that the full interview was about 6 hours long, but he edited it down to about a third of that. Greg makes frequent digs about the foolishness of smart people today, including economists, a class which Miller is a member.

Among those economists he would consider fools is Robin Hanson, who recently had a diavlog with sociologist* James Hughes on the predictions in Robin’s book “Age of Em”. In response to James’ critique, Robin justifies his approach to futurism here.
*Even more foolish than economists, perhaps somewhere near today’s cultural anthropologists who voted against anthropology calling itself a science. Not that Greg would consider sociology a science if any of them voted to do so.

Years ago I griped about the unavailability of this member of Mencius Moldbug’s canon. It was published shortly after copyright started to become serious business and had not yet had its “public domain day”. However, I found it is now hosted at archive.org. I have not yet read any of it, nor am I really all that eager to.

Years back I criticized Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, specifically on the subjects of Greenland and Easter Island, and gave an update when new evidence on Greenland supported my critique. I had less criticism for his take on Haiti (or the other places discussed in the final section of the book). The more recent the history, the less we have to rely on Diamond’s often implausible speculation. But now it appears that by relying on the conventional wisdom, Diamond also exaggerated the environmental plight of Haiti. Hat-tip to Marginal Revolution.

I’ve talked a little about the hierarchy of the sciences and what kinds of evidence are convincing. Greg is an actual scientist who has worked in both “hard” and “soft” fields. I’ve copied the following from here:
Obviously not. Jefferson said ‘error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.’ Milton said ‘who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? ‘ – but I’ve seen it put to the worse time and time again.

Jefferson and Milton were both wrong. Or, more exactly, they were in the ball park when talking about certain kinds of people working certain sorts of problems, but not in general. The truth game works best if your errors can be rapidly and unambiguously detected, as in mathematics. People who like to bullshit don’t even go into math: they’ll never get away with it.

Helps if the topics don’t inherently invoke lots of emotion: ultimately easier to think straight about electrons than than people, even though we’re pre-adapted to understanding people. And to be fair, electron behavior is simpler. One equation to rule them all. Also having strong practical applications is good at sorting out the bullshit: you can argue that there’s really a place for cavalry in modern warfare, but it’s hard to continue to do so after the machine guns have spoken, especially if you’re dead. And, for various reasons, certain cultures, in certain times and places, have been more inclined in this direction that the general run of humanity.

So, why isn’t sociology science? There is no logical reason why it couldn’t be – but it’s not. Reasons? several. Experiments are harder than in chemistry:bullshitters aren’t immediately flushed. And the topics rouse emotions. So most of the people who enter the field aren’t inclined to play the science game, and they don’t. Which is the problem with social psychology: the sort of people who go into it aren’t budding Hari Seldons, and there is no way to change them. (or is there? Brain surgery? electroshock?) Naxalt? Sure, but there aren’t enough. The field as a whole is unsound.

How could you fix the unscientific sciences? You would have to control entry, screen admission, so that only people who liked – needed!- to play the game could enter. Not just brains – people with the sort of personalities you find in astronomers or physicists – maybe even exaggerated versions of such personalities, since the temptations to go off the rails are so much greater in the social sciences. That for starters.

Steve Sailer made an argument against the “#OscarSoWhite” view by claiming that, the past few years aside (law of small numbers and all that), the share of nominations blacks received is roughly in proportion to their share of the population, particularly if one’s denominator includes more English speaking countries (since they provide many actors for Hollywood films, and as a bonus I don’t have to type out “African-American”). He provided no data for his assertion, and I figured that would be simple enough to check out. He phrased vaguely in terms of a “generation”, but I’m going to keep things simple with just this century. Per wikipedia, they have received 10 nominations for best actor, 4 for best actress, 6 for supporting actor, and 9 for supporting actress, for a total of 29. With 16 years and 5 slots for each of 4 categories, there are a total of 320 nominations. Thus their share is about 9.1%, weighted more toward men than women, and with male nominees more likely to be leads than women.

Wikipedia puts their share of the U.S population at 12.61% of about 322 million, while in the UK it’s 3.0% of roughly 63 million, it’s an uncommon enough reported ancestry in Australia (population of about 24 million, where I am not counting aboriginals) not to have data and the same goes for New Zealand’s 4-5 million, and in Canada 2.5% of about 33 million. I’m not going to bother counting the Republic of Ireland. Totaling some more precise population figures, I get about 447.98 million in total population while the black population is about 43.4 million and a share of about 9.7%. An additional 2.4 nominations would be necessary to make it proportional, so perhaps two years of 0 in a row is reasonable grounds for irritation.

A bigger gap is for U.S born hispanic americans though, who have not received any this century. Adding in those born in Mexico (3) and Puerto Rico (2) (excluding those whose parents were non-natives like Lupita Nyongo or Joaquin Phoenix) gives us a total of 5. I wasn’t initially going to include the extra two in the consolidated list of latin american nominees, as Argentina & Columbia provide far fewer immigrants, but I didn’t apply that standard anywhere else, so the total is 7. For asians I’ll exclude Ben Kingsley and Hailee Steinfeld as they’re sufficiently white-passing that their nominations this century were for white characters, and any Middle Easterners (who are still caucasians as far as government statistics are concerned), leaving just the japanese actors Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi at 1 nomination each. Both have grown as a share of the U.S population (currently at 17.4% and 4.75%, respectively), but even discounting for that seem distinctly underrepresented.

For those curious, wikipedia’s list of lists does not include Jewish nominees, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising as it doesn’t categorize by religion.

I have often cited this post on politics always being divided into two sides (the government and opposition, in parliamentary terms). For an example of that paradigm’s use beyond marginal internet cranks, the POLVIEWS index of left vs right begins with Federalists and their opposition. I was reminded of that while reading this comment on a discussion of Apocalypse Now that got very off-topic. Some of it goes as follows: (more…)

From “The Trial of Ruby McCollum”:
“In a way, but in a limited way, these men [who “poured out all the resentment of the centuries”] had a point. But by the measuring stick of history their contention has no standing for the reason that force is lacking to back it up. From the cave man to the instant minute, to the victor has gone the spoils, and the primest spoils are women. We will know that the blessed millennium has arrived when this is no longer so.”

An amusing read from the perspective of the present, which is in fact a new millenium and significantly different for some of the social issues which concerned Hurston, if not quite measuring up as “the blessed millennium”.

Last year I got into a discussion at agnostic’s about the extent to which Ed Gein inspired Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates of Psycho fame. I referenced Bloch writing “The Shambles of Ed Gein” about the real case, but had been unable to find it online. I’ve finally read it and placed a transcription here. It was surprising to read that Bloch didn’t subscribe to any daily newspaper at the time, and thus got his info from word-of-mouth which just focused on murder & cannibalism rather than the more distinctive traits common to Ed Gein & Norman Bates. There wasn’t even an element of cannibalism in the movie, and the most distinctive thing about the real case to Bloch (murders happening in a small town community where everyone knows everyone’s business) isn’t given much focus in it either. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t say to what extent that differs (though I’ve hear the depiction of Norman is closer to middle-aged Ed than fairly young Anthony Perkins). So I’ll concede a bit to “Robert the Wise” on some of those similarities in character being mere coincidences, but as there are no first-hand accounts of Bloch saying Calvin Beck was an inspiration I am not willing to wholly concede.

Robin Hanson is writing a book on the mind with Kevin Simler (my hat-tip goes to Robert Koslover). Simler’s name wasn’t immediately familiar with me, but he has a blog titled Melting Asphalt. It contains exactly the sort of material you’d expect to find from someone writing such a book with Robin. Reading over his old posts (he helpfully has his personal favorites along with the most popular ones listed on the sidebar), it appears he’s also written at Less Wrong & Ribbonfarm. I had already come across the essay Ads Don’t Work That Way, but the one I’d most like to point others to is Music in Human Evolution. It attempts to tie together music/dance, “confrontational scavenging” and burial/cannibalism among the earliest hominids to leave the trees for the savanna. Sounds strange, but comes across as quite plausible.

Via Scott Alexander (aka yvain), Jai Dyhani discusses what he calls “The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics“, something I’ve been fuzzily groping at and griping about for years. It most obviously seem strange beginning with a consequentialist view of the act/omission bias, but I’m not aware of any explicit moral theory under which it makes sense. Since, as I said, Jai puts it better than I could, I’ll just give his summary here:

“The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics says that when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it. At the very least, you are to blame for not doing more. Even if you don’t make the problem worse, even if you make it slightly better, the ethical burden of the problem falls on you as soon as you observe it.”

An obvious example of how that could be politically relevant is EITC vs the minimum wage. But for me I’ll always remember when I got in a huge argument with a family member over employment law. My main issue was a sort of reciprocity, since I don’t see the relevant symmetry being broken where others do. But I also knew in my gut that I’d never hired anyone and while it would be easy to lay judgment on employers, I was no less guilty of not hiring people.