Uncategorized


People who didn’t watch it live after I linked to it can now see it here.

Two people I’ve been reading for years and have been recently cited by Scott Aaronson as the most worthwhile writers on COVID-19 are Greg Cochran and Robin Hanson. Interestingly, the two of them have not seen eye-to-eye on this very issue. Since both of them have been on Bloggingheads in years past, I suggested the two discuss it there both in the comments at Overcoming Bias and in a twitter thread both were participating in. Both ultimately agreed to some sort of debate, although with the opposite of enthusiasm on Greg’s part.

Hanson himself had a livestreamed debate with Zvi Mowshowitz for Less Wrong on his proposal, as well as an even more recent discussion of his proposal for a group I hadn’t heard of before called The Stoa. News has been changing rapidly with time, and Hanson’s own focus in his proposal has shifted to the impact of small-dose variolation rather than merely shifting infection temporally to better fit our medical resources, with the dosage effect being something Cochran has acknowledged as a real possibility in his most recent podcast with James Miller.

I usually put up a blog post after every one of those podcasts, but recently they’ve been coming so quickly that I always figure there would be another one, and had actually thought I’d wait for the promised debate before making this post. They’ve had five podcasts dedicated to COVID-19 so far, on February 09, February 23, March 15, March 21 and March 29. His first blog post on it was February 06, and his blog has basically been dedicated to the topic ever since. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a single post summing up his thinking from a sequence of prior posts like Hanson’s most recent. As Cochran himself would tell you, his predictions have been rather accurate while people who thought he was overly pessimistic were contradicted by events, even if they later pretended they hadn’t actually made such incorrect predictions. For a point of comparison, Hanson’s first post suggesting controlled infection (without his later insight on dosage/variolation, which turned out to swamp the availability of ventilators) was on February 14.

UPDATE APRIL 01: The debate is set for tomorrow, April 02, hosted by Presans, here. Zvi also has a post on the topic, reflecting on his earlier debate with Hanson.
UPDATE APRIL 02: The “debate” featured a surprising amount of agreement, perhaps because Hanson had shifted his focus to the large benefits of variolation compared to infection “in the wild”, which helped further distinguish his proposal from other plans to permit “herd immunity” (though most of those don’t so tightly link infection to isolation). It wasn’t a complete consensus, as Cochran recalls too many medical hopes not panning out and instead of having variolation as the “Plan B” thinks we should be pursuing backup plans for every letter of the alphabet simultaneously. Presans has indicated that their recording will be available on the internet at some point, and I’ll link to that when I can.
UPDATE APRIL 06: It’s now on youtube.

Miller actually uploaded this nine days ago, but I only just found out about it now. I’ll update this when Greg puts his own post up.

I’ve blogged previous such interviews here, here and here.

The paper is here, via Brandom Warmke. It cites Glenn Loury’s “Self-Censorship in Political Discourse” (which I previously blogged here) along with Timur Kuran’s book “Private Truths, Public Lies” (which I blogged here) containing his theory of “preference falsification”. More than a decade ago I wrote about what it actually means to be politically correct vs incorrect, and liked Hopefully Anonymous’ very generic definition, which would fit with Loury and Kuran’s framework. Moller’s explicitly rejects Loury’s generic version in favor of one that is explicitly describing efforts from the left-wing, defined in terms of “marginalized” groups being protected from insult/offense. I still prefer a general theory to a specific one, but Moller’s take could be helpful in detailing the phenomena as it tends to occur on contemporary college campuses. He uses The Bell Curve as an example (which I previously discussed in relation to Loury), specifically the very heated objections to discussions of groups with lower average IQs than whites compared to the lack of reaction to discussion of groups with higher than average IQs. I found that notable because Steve Sailer has written that much of the objection to IQ is a triple-bank-shot from Jewish intellectuals worried about people noticing their higher average IQ. I never found that convincing, so in that respect at least I’ll side with Moller.

UPDATE: Sailer recently repeated his theory that Jewish IQ is a more taboo subject, and I objected in his comments citing Moller.

The Age of Em is Robin Hanson’s first book. A normal economist might have started with a more popular topic rather than something niche, with the title even containing the short term “em” he coined for emulations and that most people would find meaningless. He actually sent me an advanced version not intended for publication but instead for critique prior to writing a version for a popular audience, but given all the distractions available on the internet I never got around to reading that. He doesn’t seem to have had any shortage of such critique as the book is full of caveats and responses to possible objections. The typical big-idea book tries to get away with impressive boldness and devotes relatively scant attention to possible counter-arguments. This is not a typical book. It’s sort of like a non-fictional version of scifi, as it’s focused on a technology that doesn’t currently exist and may never come into existence, but there are no characters or made up burdensome detail or even a real plot. Hanson has complained that there is so much more history than futurism, so this book represents the thing he thinks there isn’t enough of. I’d say the reason isn’t because the idea hadn’t previously occurred to anyone but him, but rather that a market for reader attention will be inclined that way even if an ideal sort of futurism might be more “useful”. I should note that Hanson is one of the thinkers I most respect, and I think he’s more likely to be correct than Yudkowsky in the AI foom debate over whether emulations will come first, but like the little girl doing a book report on a text concerning penguins, I found there was more than I was eager to know. (more…)

Via Robert Wright, whose Bloggingheads site has many episodes featuring him. Long time readers know I declared him my homeboy years ago, and said everyone in America should read “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment”. I’m pretty sure I’ve also said something to the effect that Kleiman was the heir to James Q. Wilson, even if he was decidedly liberal while Wilson was a conservative (specifically, an old-school neo-conservative from back in the days when they focused on domestic/urban policy). I’m not sure who the heir to Kleiman is now, which really scuttles my plans for who to put in charge of drug policy after an uprising of bloggers (blogging still exists, right?) places me in charge. I suppose it reflects my ignorance to declare “We shall not see his like again”, but it can feel that way when a giant passes from the scene.

UPDATE: One of Kleiman’s co-bloggers at “The Reality Based Community” (which he founded), Keith Humphreys, responds here. Gabriel Rossman has a thread here on his interactions with Kleiman, starting with his obituary. Jacob Sullum has another obituary here. German Lopez has one at Vox, and Ed Kilgore at NYMag.

UPDATE 2: Harold Pollack, also a contributor to TRBC, has another obituary at The American Prospect.

Robin Hanson responded to a Washington Post article (possibly inspired by Spotted Toad) on the increasing percentage of males 18-29 who report not having sex in the past year with some speculation on whether that was attributed to women of that age group (who reported a smaller increase in celibacy) shifting toward older men or to that subset of 18-29 year old men with more partners. It struck me that since the source of this data was the General Social Survey, which asks respondents their age as well as the number of partners, it should be answerable directly rather than guesses from respondents to a twitter poll. My initial attempt to do so was stymied by a newer GSS interface which generated errors when I tried to construct variables, but an anonymous commenter elsewhere pointed me toward the old interface which was still working. The parameters I used were as follows:
Row: PARTNERS
Column: AGE(r:18-29; 30-39; 40-49; 50-59)
Control(s): YEAR
Selection filter(s): SEX(1), YEAR(2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018), NUMMEN(0), PARTNERS(0-8) (more…)

In June of 2018 I came across the paper A Unique, Stand-alone Second Amendment Implies That Both Heller and Mcdonald Were Wrongly Decided by David Weisberg. I found it more interesting than the corpora analysis Neal Goldfarb was doing in the Language Log post which led me to it, and I decided to email him. I forgot about our exchange until reading another Goldfarb post inspired me to go back to it and then turn it into a blog post. My two emails are after the jump (with the addition of links that I didn’t include then but think would be helpful now), his reply will be added if he grants permission. UPDATE: Permission was granted, and they appear below. (more…)

I decided to read Sam Quinones’ Dreamland after coming across Spotted Toad’s post on it (which links to a review by sociologist Gabriel Rossman that people should read for a better overview than mine). Toad characterizes the epidemic as resembling a free-market economist’s dream, and there’s a passage within the book where Quinones writes something similar, which he has repeated in interviews:

And—this is my bigger point—what we are seeing is the end result of 35 years of exalting the free market, exalting the private sector, exalting the consumer and the individual, despising government, despising the public sector, despising the community assets that the public sector can and should provide. The end result of that is heroin—a drug that turns people into narcissistic, self-absorbed, intensely individualistic hyperconsumers. That is the point.

At the time I started this blog I identified as a libertarian who was particularly incensed by the war on drugs. I wasn’t some hippy who wanted to decriminalize soft drugs like pot because I or people I knew used them recreationally (I’m just a boring beer drinker); I knew that the War on Drugs was primarily waged against the dealers of hard drugs. I had heard arguments that the laws were supplements to laws against crimes with real victims (something I reviewed William Stuntz discussing more recently), but rejected the conclusion that the laws should remain on the books. Over the years I have taken my libertarian leanings in a more meta/decentralist direction and decided that identifying with an ideology like libertarianism doesn’t pay epistemic rent and serves as a motivation to selectively evaluate evidence in a way that a more agnostic identity like consequentialist does not (leaving me free to lean libertarian to the extent that the lessons I learned earlier still hold). And as a consequentialist, it’s hard to look at this huge rise in deaths from overdoses and just shrug it off as the result of the free-will of all those individuals, assign them the responsibility (I won’t say “moral blame” because I gave up belief in objective morality even when I was still a libertarian). I still have too many issues with paternalism to embrace it, but I can see that certain drugs are novel enough for us to lack evolutionary adaptations to them (like certain populations with alcohol), and thus for pessimism to be warranted about free access to them.

All this throat-clearing aside about my own views, I should address the actual contents of the book: (more…)

Via Steve Pinker. His work is better known, but I thought “The Nurture Assumption” had the best writing of any popular science text I’d come across. It was enough for me to suggest it to my mom, who did not care for its central message. As far as I know, Harris wasn’t writing much in her later years, but it is still sad when such a person passes.

William Stuntz died in 2011, before this book could be published. Since then, the high rates of incarceration & crime for which he indicts our criminal justice policy continued to decline (there was a brief uptick attributed to “the Ferguson effect”, but it’s gone back down since then). Many of the fundamental defects he points to remain though, and as with Mark Kleiman’s “When Brute Force Fails” it suggests that we could have much less of both. (more…)

The sub-title of Jim Manzi’s “Uncontrolled” is “The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society”, but multiple passages of the book actually consists of caution how small such payoffs can be. The sociologist Peter Rossi formulated the “Iron Law of Evaluation“: The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero. Manzi’s background is in consulting for business rather than social policy, but the same logic applies in that there are abundant ideas undertaken because they sounded good when an evaluation would show them to have little effect. Manzi phrases things differently: he says questions of human behavior are plagued by high “causal density“, in contrast to the simplicity of questions in physics which can be controlled in a lab. Mencius Moldbug would claim this is why one must then rely on “wisdom” rather than the “cargo cult science” found in academia, but I find Manzi more persuasive. Reality is one and our methods of obtaining knowledge can work in other fields, even if it is more difficult (as Manzi phrases it: “The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it moved uphill through topics of increasing complexity and holism”). This book isn’t an in-depth introduction to epistemology & the philosophy of science, but it does provide a bit of an intro so a layman can understand that such issues exist. (more…)

Agnostic has a post up in which he uses the GSS to look into some stats on gun-ownership, which inspired me to do the same to investigate some questions he might be interested in. The variables are OWNGUN and MARRIED, with SEX as the control variable. (more…)

There’s an unfinished draft of a post I last updated in 2010 intended to be a review of Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”. Reading Mark Koyama today made it concrete that I’m certainly never going to bother converting the notes I wrote into something coherent or checking the book out again to revisit anything, since I can just link to others. A book by a certain Irish farmer/economist is another story since it’s obscure enough I still feel some sense of obligation and probably won’t find anything worth just linking to instead. Pseudoerasmus might be the best person to link to, but he’s more occupied critiquing Polanyi’s descendants.

I don’t normally review fiction on this blog, but Starship Troopers is enough of a “novel of ideas” that this seemed the best venue to discuss it. Set aside all the scifi trappings, and the core of the book can be found in a later speech he gave which is sometimes reprinted under the title “The Pragmatics of Patriotism“. Because that speech was made much later when civilian-military relations were at a different point, the tone was more defensive, whereas a book published in the 50s might share Hans Morgenthau’s sense that WW2 vindicated cynical “realism” about the persistence of war over idealist pacifism. I noted when reviewing Morgenthau that the modern world actually does bear a lot of resemblance to that hoped for by idealists. Perhaps some kind of small military on the part of an economically dominant first-world will always be necessary to prevent anyone else from fulfilling a power-vacuum, but war between states (whether due to “dirt theory” or something else) seems to be on decline. (more…)

Next Page »