A Two-Miles-per-Hour World: “The following series of maps depicts the speed at which news traveled to Venice, fron 1500 to 1765. The isochronic lines represent one week, and give a broad indication of the time required for letters to reach their destination.”
The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student: “Over the last two weeks, the news has been dominated by coverage of two very different instances of campus turmoil at Yale and the University of Missouri. In both cases, students are protesting over what they see as administrations that turn a blind eye to the problems faced by marginalized students on their campuses. …For many observers, these incidents only proved what they already knew: College students are getting increasingly fragile and prone to meltdowns. Too emotional and skewed in their thinking, they latch on to petty issues and scream and cry until they get their way. …The true story of college students and mental health has to do with a hollowing out of the United States’ mental-health services, with overtaxed counseling centers, with a fundamental shift in the role that colleges serve, with changes in the composition of the nation’s student body.”
Trump breaks the rules of political lying: “1. Lies about policy are fine; lies about trivial, personal, or easily verifiable claims are not. …2. Lies are fine as long as an “other side” is provided. …3. Nine lies are fine as long as the 10th is retracted. …[Trump] recognizes that capitulating to the mainstream media is far worse for any conservative than clinging to a lie. …They have no power over him at all, and now everyone knows it.”
Cargo cult linguistics: “The transmission of influence [from linguistics to French literary theory] seems to have been something like this: the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was influenced by the linguist Roman Jakobson during WW II in New York, and after the war, Levi-Strauss in turn brought some of the ideas and terminology of semiotics and structuralism back to Paris. This contributed to the intellectual compost in which thinkers like Barthes, Foucault and Derrida germinated. …I think it’s fair to call this “cargo cult linguistics”. Just as some post-war islanders in the South Pacific engaged in ritual imitations of the airstrip activities of foreign armies, in the belief these actions would bring them cargo, so some post-war philosophers in Paris engaged in ritual imitations of the analytic practices of linguists, in the belief that these actions would bring them insight. The islanders carved wooden radio sets and sat mumbling in imitation control towers; the philosophers invented semiotic terminology and sat disputing in Parisian cafes.” That sound you hear is the dropping of the mic.
Labov’s Test: “…how could one prove … that a given statement is hopelessly unclear, and hence bullshit? One proposed test is to add a “not” to the statement and see if that makes any difference to its plausibility. If it doesn’t, that statement is bullshit.”
Everything you need to know about Labour’s rolling crisis: “What is going on? I see it as evidence of two deep cleavages in British and Western politics. The first is the gulf between instrumental and expressive politics. The former involves winning elections in order to wield power and change things. The latter involves seeking fulfilment and personal satisfaction by interacting with symbols, attending events, declaring positions—in short, signalling things about oneself. With the decline of mass classes and monolithic ideologies it has become increasingly hard to combine the two sorts of politics.” This is the divide between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, and part of the reason Bernie Sanders’ campaign irks me so. Sanders supporters are complacent about Democratic control of the presidency (when Republicans dominate nearly every branch of government) and significantly underweight how much GOP control would make them unhappy. It’s also why so many Kentucky voters who got health care access with the Medicaid expansion voted for Matt Bevin (who promised to eliminate it) because they identified with his Christian values.
Yes, Mass Shootings Are Occurring More Often: “Their analysis of the data shows that from 1982 to 2011, mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Since late 2011, they found, mass shootings have occurred at triple that rate—every 64 days on average.”
It’s a Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill: “Abstract: In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations (“Death Stars”) in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout.” A universe that fails to see technological progress for 25 millenia is probably actually a dystopia.
The Anti-Utopian Instinct and the Conservative Revolt: This is the only explanation for the enduring appeal in the GOP campaign of well-known blowhard Donald Trump. “Besides gaining much of their electoral support with vapid rhetoric, [Donald Trump and Ben Carson] are both winners in realms more meritocratic than politics––unlike, say, Jeb Bush––and share at least one substantive quality: Both seem like world-weary pragmatists averse to utopianism, at least in comparison to their rivals. …And an anti-utopian impulse is a not-unreasonable reaction to a bipartisan establishment that gave the United States a series of failed wars of choice, a financial bubble, a Wall Street class that leeches off assets better than it allocates them, a college bubble, and federal costs that have far exceeded revenues for decades. America’s fed-up populists are very light on coherent solutions, in part because common sense unmoored from empiricism can lead one astray. But they’re not wrong that there’s a problem, and some of it is utopian thinking in the ruling class that runs through significant parts of the conservative and progressive movements.”
How to Get Good at Chess, Fast: “To improve quickly you need to play often. …Analysis is by far the most undervalued part of chess training. …Magnus Carlsen is my favorite chess player. In equal positions where many grandmasters would agree to a draw, Carlsen patiently pushes and probes, waiting until his opponent cracks and then grinding out a win. Magnus Carlsen is the world’s best player because he doesn’t give up. …Chess psychology can be distilled to two simple rules: 1. Don’t ever be afraid of your opponent. 2. Fight as hard as you can until the game is over.”
Dumb Cuneiform: Transliterates tweets into Old Persian glyphs and fires them.
Human Echolocation Allows People to See Without Using Their Eyes (2013) (smithsonianmag.com): panglott: “Saw Daniel Kish give a lecture a few months ago, and this amazing ability is a lot more accessible than it sounds. Kish uses both passive and active sonar (based on dental clicks), but the passive sonar is a lot easier to wrap your head around. Even for people with sight, the difference between a large, echo-y room and a small room is immediately apparent. The differences between a voice spoken in front of a hard table and a soft pillow are also very distinct. And if you make an even tone in front of a wall and in front of a corner, the differences are quite apparent as well. Apparently corners are so acoustically distinct that you can hear them from quite a distance away. It’s not a foolproof method; he uses a cane because it’s difficult to hear objects below knee level. But he thinks many more people can learn to “hear the walls” (if we don’t ridicule people for it).”
How to rescue people from deep poverty—and why the best methods work: “In the 1990s it became clear that microfinance, then the most exciting tool in development economics, was not reaching the very poorest people… BRAC came up with a scheme to help the ultra-poor. It gives them a small stipend for food, followed by an asset such as a cow or a few goats, which they are expected to manage. Field workers visit weekly for the next two years, teaching recipients, for example, how to tell when a cow is in heat and how to get it inseminated. The aim is to help women ‘graduate’ from extreme poverty to the normal kind—as Sir Fazle puts it, ‘to help them back into the mainstream of poor people’. …A study published earlier this year in Science showed that similar programmes run by other NGOs boosted consumption in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Peru, with the effects lasting at least a year after they ended. …Such programmes are pricey. In India and Bangladesh they cost more than $1,000 per household at purchasing power parity. Other research explains why. …The poorest women, it turned out, did far more hours of income-generating work…Yet they packed them into fewer days… The reason is that they toil mostly as domestic servants and in the fields—and casual agricultural work is seasonal. During planting and harvest they work extremely hard; the rest of the year they do little. Better-off women usually rear livestock, which is not only steady work but pays about twice as much per hour. When the poorest women are given cows, they quickly fill their idle time…”
The Brightest Spot on Ceres: “Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt with a diameter of about 950 kilometers. Exploring Ceres from orbit since March, the Dawn spacecraft’s camera has revealed about 130 or so mysterious bright spots, mostly associated with impact craters scattered around the small world’s otherwise dark surface. The brightest one is near the center of the 90 kilometer wide Occator Crater, seen in this dramatic false color view combining near-infrared and visible light image data. A study now finds the bright spot’s reflected light properties are probably most consistent with a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. Of course, magnesium sulfate is also known to Earth dwellers as epsom salt. Haze reported inside Occator also suggests the salty material could be left over as a mix of salt and water-ice sublimates on the surface. Since impacts would have exposed the material, Ceres’ numerous and widely scattered bright spots may indicate the presence of a subsurface shell of ice-salt mix”
Wild animals endure illness, injury, and starvation. We should help.: This is the natural outcome when you start anthropomorphizing animals, and over-liberally bringing animals into the sphere of human ethics. There is nothing unethical about predator-prey relationships, for these are outside human ethics. Shrews paralyze their victims with venom because they have evolved this predation strategy, and intervening in the food web (such as by feeding the wolves and then giving the deer contraceptives) will disrupt it in unpredictable and destructive ways. In short, this is stupid.
What’s the secret of good writing?: “Boice, I learned, was a US psychologist who’d cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, he’d recorded this wisdom in a book, now out of print, …How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. …The kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isn’t merely old. It’s the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled sessions, as short as 10 minutes at first, then getting longer. …Boice’s book—from its title to his step-by-step advice, which you’re meant to implement gradually, over months—is itself an exercise in cultivating patience. It’s slow going because slow is the only way forward. This gets clearer when it comes to one of Boice’s favourite tips: when your daily writing time is up, stop dead, even if you’ve got momentum and could write more.”
Software has diseconomies of scale – not economies of scale: “Software development works best in small batch sizes. … there are a few places where software development does exhibit economies of scale but on most occasions diseconomies of scale are the norm. …As the complexity increases (more changes, more code) our cognitive load increases, we slow down, we make mistakes, we take longer. …However be careful: once the software is developed then economies of scale are rampant. The world switches. Software which has been build probably exhibits more economies of scale than any other product known to man. (In economic terms the marginal cost of producing the first instance are extremely high but the marginal costs of producing an identical copy (production) is so close to zero as to be zero, Ctrl-C Ctrl-V.)”
Goodbye, Miami: “When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030…it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end. With sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, South Florida was wet, vulnerable and bankrupt. Attempts had been made to armor the coastline, to build sea walls and elevate buildings, but it was a futile undertaking. The coastline from Miami Beach up to Jupiter had been a little more than a series of rugged limestone crags since the mid-2020s, when the state, unable to lay out $100 million every few years to pump in fresh sand, had given up trying to save South Florida’s world-famous beaches.”
So You Want to Become An Astronaut?: You need a BA in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, and either a PhD. or 3 years of professional responsibility.
In Photos: Prehistoric Temple Uncovered in Ukraine: “A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine. Inside the temple, archaeologists found humanlike figurines, sacrificed animal remains and potter fragments. Here’s a look at the prehistoric finding.” A Trypillian culture site.
A Vaccine for Depression?: Ketamine’s remarkable effect bolsters a new theory of mental illness.: “Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 30 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. But despite half a century of research, ubiquitous advertising, and blockbuster sales, antidepressant drugs just don’t work very well. They treat depression as if it were caused by a chemical imbalance: Pump in more of one key ingredient, or sop up another, and you will have fixed the problem. But the correspondence between these chemicals (like serotonin) and depression is relatively weak. An emerging competitive theory, inspired in part by ketamine’s effectiveness, has it that psychiatric disease is less about chemical imbalance than structural changes in the brain—and that a main cause of these changes is psychological stress.”
Hierarchy is Detrimental for Human Cooperation: Studies of animal behavior consistently demonstrate that the social environment impacts cooperation, yet the effect of social dynamics has been largely excluded from studies of human cooperation. Here, we introduce a novel approach inspired by nonhuman primate research to address how social hierarchies impact human cooperation. Participants competed to earn hierarchy positions and then could cooperate with another individual in the hierarchy by investing in a common effort. Cooperation was achieved if the combined investments exceeded a threshold, and the higher ranked individual distributed the spoils unless control was contested by the partner. Compared to a condition lacking hierarchy, cooperation declined in the presence of a hierarchy due to a decrease in investment by lower ranked individuals. Furthermore, hierarchy was detrimental to cooperation regardless of whether it was earned or arbitrary. These findings mirror results from nonhuman primates and demonstrate that hierarchies are detrimental to cooperation. However, these results deviate from nonhuman primate findings by demonstrating that human behavior is responsive to changing hierarchical structures and suggests partnership dynamics that may improve cooperation. This work introduces a controlled way to investigate the social influences on human behavior, and demonstrates the evolutionary continuity of human behavior with other primate species.
When the KKK Was a Pyramid Scheme: ‘“Rather than a terrorist organization,” they wrote, “the 1920s Klan is best described as a social organization with a wildly successful multi-level marketing structure.” According to Fryer and Levitt, in its heyday, the KKK was a giant, perverse pyramid scheme. Instead of perpetrating a racist agenda, the KKK’s leaders exploited pre-existing, popular racism to make money.’ Though there’s no need to equivocate about the KKK: the hate group was terroristic.
“If they don’t like someone, they just behead him”: why ISIS fighters quit: ‘What I don’t like [is] if someone did something wrong [then] they tried to waterboard him,” a defector who calls himself Abu Shujaa said. “What I don’t like is that if they don’t like someone they just behead him. Or if a woman is not wearing hijab they bring someone to flog her, or if someone doesn’t believe they cut his ear.”‘
The coat hanger abortion is back, and that’s scary for all women: ‘A Tennessee woman was charged with attempted first-degree murder last week for allegedly trying to use a coat hanger to end her pregnancy. …”I never thought I would hear of a coat hanger abortion in my medical life,” writes OB-GYN Jen Gunter. …Tennessee has a “fetal homicide” law. It basically defines an embryo or fetus as a person in order to beef up penalties for crimes against a pregnant woman. But a pregnant woman can’t be prosecuted under these laws for actions against her own fetus, because abortion is legal. …But pro-choice advocates warn that when laws like Tennessee’s define a fetus as a person, prosecutors can and will use the law against pregnant women. This can even happen if the law has an explicit exception for pregnant women. That’s already happened to many women in Texas who have taken drugs while pregnant…’
No brainer.: It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild. What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.
I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.: ‘“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. …Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.’
Commentary on “The Mystery of Language Evolution”: ‘…Hauser et al. (2014) concluded that, despite “an explosion of research on this problem,” there has been a “poverty” of viable ideas and that, until further evidence is available, our “…understanding of language evolution will remain one of the great mysteries of our species” …The evidence that Hauser et al. (2014) considered is limited, however, reflecting a syntactocentric view of generative linguistics and a failure to consider recent discoveries about the social and cognitive development of a human infant during her first year of life.’ An overview of some of this research (following Tomasello) follows.
Quantitative Standards for Absolute Linguistic Universals: Piantadosi and Gibson examine the possibility of confirming the so-called “absolute linguistic universals” and conclude that it may be statistically possible to confirm linguistic universals with a sample of 500 to 2000 independent languages; however: “It is important to emphasize one aspect of this analysis. The sampling procedure we use assumed independent samples from the true distribution. This means that what is really required is 500 independent languages, not 500 languages overall. For instance, Spanish and Italian do not count as two separate languages in this analysis since they are genetically related. This means that the real number of languages necessary may be much larger than 500 when sampling uses non-independent languages. Correlated samples will probably increase the number of samples needed to stay below a given false positive rate. …To the best of our knowledge, it will in general not be possible to find 500 independent languages. There are, for instance, 212 language families in WALS, yet language families already are not independent samples. More aggressive independence methods—based on, for instance, geography…—will likely arrive at much more independent samples, but orders of magnitude fewer of them. This means that it is very unlikely that statistical analysis will provide sufficient evidence to justify absolute universals.”
High-altitude ejectives: QFT: “Whether or not the altitude/ejective correlation reveals a causal connection, we can expect the near future to bring us a large number of spurious correlational analyses, along with a few meaningful ones. There are three reasons for this: (1) The existence of digital datasets makes it increasingly easy to perform quantitative checks on hypotheses about possible relationships between linguistic and non-linguistic variables; (2) The astronomically large number of such possible relationships guarantees that many of them should exhibit a strong pair-wise connection by chance, even if all of the distributions were statistically independent; (3) The distributions are not statistically independent, due to factors such as cultural and geographical diffusion.”
When Gold Isn’t Worth the Price: A large salmon fishery is inestimably more valuable than a gold mine in real terms. Food sustains human life as cash does not, and a fishery could supply food for a thousand years or more. Sacrificing something of long-term sustainable value for a short-term cash grab is beyond foolish.
At the End: SF short asks if you would become a slave to escape a doomed Earth.
The iPad Pro: “Right now, today, the iPad Pro is a peer to the current lineup of MacBooks in terms of computational hardware performance. The iPad Pro is without question faster than the new one-port MacBook or the latest MacBook Airs.”
On the dark matter of the publishing industry: “…the New York Times gleefully reported that ebook sales were down in general. The surprising news was predictably greeted with what Mathew Ingram memorably called ‘a whiff of anti-digital Schadenfreude’. Problem was, the news wasn’t just untrue, it was obviously untrue. The title of this awesome takedeown of the whole shameless episode says it all: ‘AAP Reports Own Shrinking Market Share, Media Mistakes It for Flat US Ebook Market’. …Here’s what we really found out in the last couple of months: ebook sales for traditional publishers in the US declined because they raised ebook prices, driving readers to buy and read non-traditionally published books…”
Marijuana USA: Guns, Drugs, and Money: Video: “Marijuana is legal in Colorado, but federal law makes banking nearly impossible for the cannabis industry. The result: a dangerous all-cash operation that requires armed guards and layers of security.”
November 2015 Paris attacks: “A series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis on 13 November 2015. The attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a stand-off with police. 368 people were injured, 80–99 seriously.”
Don’t call it slacktivism — public grief is an important human act: The five stages of Internet grief are: changing Facebook profile images, snarking about slacktivism, comparing tragedies, issue-driven propaganda, and cynicism about caring. “Grief, like so many other emotions, can hit us unexpectedly, in unpredictable ways, and the manner in which we express it can be just as unexpected and unpredictable. We’ve all grieved. We should all know this. But we keep admonishing each other for it. People are social animals. We process our experiences by pulling our voices together into a collective shout to see if anybody’s listening. And in the age of the internet, a lot of that happens online. So when we question others’ motivations for doing this, we’re not helping anything. Instead, we’re practicing our own form of smug internet performance art.”
Einstein’s first proof: “Einstein became particularly enamored of the Pythagorean theorem and—“after much effort,” he noted in the Saturday Review—he wrote his own mathematical proof of it. …The consensus among Einstein’s biographers is that he probably discovered, on his own, a standard textbook proof in which similar triangles (meaning triangles that are like photographic reductions or enlargements of one another) do indeed play a starring role. Walter Isaacson, Jeremy Bernstein, and Banesh Hoffman all come to this deflating conclusion, and each of them describes the steps that Einstein would have followed as he unwittingly reinvented a well-known proof. Twenty-four years ago, however, an alternative contender for the lost proof emerged. In his book “Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws,” the physicist Manfred Schroeder presented a breathtakingly simple proof of the Pythagorean theorem whose provenance he traced to Einstein. …Though we cannot be sure the following proof is Einstein’s, anyone who knows his work will recognize the lion by his claw.”
Meet the People Who Dream of Building a Space Elevator: “Nearly forty years later, space elevators still have the ring of science fiction. But against all odds, a small community of engineers is pushing the idea closer to reality. ‘SKY LINE’, a new documentary directed by Miguel Drake-McLaughlin and Jonny Leahan, is their story. In 74 minutes, the film recounts the origin of the space elevator, describing how such a vertiginous tower would work and the myriad ways it could benefit humanity, from beaming down clean energy to sending up space tourists and interplanetary colonists on the cheap. …[It] will be available on all major On Demand platforms…beginning on November 20th, 2015.”
Video of Colorful Liquid in Space: Once again, astronauts on the International Space Station dissolved an effervescent tablet in a floating ball of water, and captured images using a camera capable of recording four times the resolution of normal high-definition cameras.
One woman’s attempt to hide her pregnancy from big data — it’s more difficult than you’d expect: “To keep her pregnancy undetected by cookies, bots and data collectors, Vertesi’s first move was to keep it off social media. She announced her pregnancy via phone or personal email, and asked friends and family not to post it to Facebook. Mashable reported that Vertesi even unfriended and uncle who sent her a congratulatory Facebook message. She also had to explain to family members that even Facebook messaging — as opposed to writing on a person’s “wall” — isn’t just a private chat.”
Jack Yufe dies at 82; he was raised Jewish, his identical twin as a Nazi: I never know what to make of the argument that at some arbitrary point in time, one twin was wearing similar clothes to another twin. What is that even supposed to mean? Then there’s this: “In early 1979, Yufe’s then-wife, Ona, showed him a magazine article about the “Jim Twins,” a pair of long-separated Ohio twins who were each named Jim by their respective adoptive parents. Like Yufe and his brother, Jim Springer and Jim Lewis found each other as adults and were astounded by the parallels in their lives, including similar jobs in law enforcement and ex-wives with the same first name. …The two Jims had become the first subjects of the Minnesota twins study. Yufe was intrigued and thought he and Oskar should also participate. …The researchers jumped at the chance and invited them to Minnesota for a week. Yufe and Stohr became the seventh set of twins to enter the study.” Looks like some pretty obvious selection bias in the Minnesota Twins Reared Apart study.
A Cabinet of Infocom Curiousities: “…Steve showed me his collection of items he had from the days of Infocom (which spanned from roughly 1981 through to the company’s eventual closing and absorption by Activision in the early 1990s).”
The origins of graphic communication: “In a 12:05 TED talk filmed in August, 2015, cave art researcher Genevieve von Petzinger asks: ‘Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?’ Von Petzinger, a paleoanthropologist associated with the University of Victoria (British Columbia), is concerned primarily with symbols in Ice Age European cave art dating to the Upper Paleolithic (40,000-10,000 BP), but she also has her eye on possible predecessors in Africa and parallels across Asia all the way to Indonesia.”
The Myth of Language Universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science: “Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern. In fact, there are vanishingly few universals of language in the direct sense that all languages exhibit them. Instead, diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization. …The article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once we honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world’s 6-8000 languages. …While there are significant recurrent patterns in organization, these are better explained as stable engineering solutions satisfying multiple design constraints, reflecting both cultural-historical factors and the constraints of human cognition. Linguistic diversity then becomes the crucial datum for cognitive science: we are the only species with a communication system which is fundamentally variable at all levels…”
Not Even Scientists Can Easily Explain P-values: “P-value is the value widely taken in science as a marker for whether a result is statistically significant, and they’ve “taken a beating” for not being a good measure of that after all. “P-values have taken quite a beating lately. These widely used and commonly misapplied statistics have been blamed for giving a veneer of legitimacy to dodgy study results, encouraging bad research practices and promoting false-positive study results. …We want to know if results are right, but a p-value doesn’t measure that. It can’t tell you the magnitude of an effect, the strength of the evidence or the probability that the finding was the result of chance. So what information can you glean from a p-value? The most straightforward explanation I found came from Stuart Buck, vice president of research integrity at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Imagine, he said, that you have a coin that you suspect is weighted toward heads. (Your null hypothesis is then that the coin is fair.) You flip it 100 times and get more heads than tails. The p-value won’t tell you whether the coin is fair, but it will tell you the probability that you’d get at least as many heads as you did if the coin was fair.”
The Authoritarians: A 261-pp. PDF: “…authoritarian followers have a little volcano of hostility bubbling away inside them looking for a (safe, approved) way to erupt. …Prejudice has little to do with the groups it targets, and a lot to do with the personality of the holder. Want to guess who has such wide-ranging prejudices? Authoritarian followers dislike so many kinds of people, I have called them ‘equal opportunity bigots.’ …the premise behind ‘Posse’ runs right down Main Street in the authoritarian aggression mind-set. When the authorities say, ‘Go get ‘em,’ the high RWAs saddle up. Who can ‘em be? Nearly everybody, it turns out. …I offered as targets the very right-wing [Canadian political parties]. These were the parties of choice for most authoritarian followers at the time, yet high RWAs proved more willing to persecute even the movements they liked than did others. …Finally, just to take this to its ludicrous extreme, I asked for reactions to a ‘law to eliminate right-wing authoritarians.’ …authoritarian followers still favored, more than others did, a law to persecute themselves.”
Buddhist morality is Medieval: “Traditional Buddhist morality developed in feudal theocratic cultures. Mostly, it is typical for such societies: …crude, arbitrary, patriarchal, and often cruel. …Buddhist modernizers replaced traditional morality with Victorian Christian morality in the late 1800s, and with leftish secular morality in the the 1980s. …I’ll go through two of Keown’s examples briefly, plus three others: sex, gender, and slavery. …Buddhism is extraordinarily anti-sexual. Rejection of sex is the first and most important aspect of its central principle, renunciation. Buddhism recommends complete celibacy for lay people as well as monastics. …Details depend on the tradition, but commonly verboten are solo and partner masturbation, oral and anal sex, sex between men, sex during daytime, and sex with a woman who is pregnant or nursing. Abortion is murder, and sends you straight to hell. On the other hand, polygamy is taken for granted, and married men having sex with prostitutes is explicitly OK… [Sexual equality] simply does not exist in Buddhism. …[Buddhist societies] no idea of human rights—ones all humans have, simply for being human. …The most fundamental human right is to not be enslaved. Slavery is explicitly approved in many Buddhist scriptures. …According to scripture, the Buddha himself (after enlightenment) accepted slaves as gifts to the sangha, and he did not free them.”
Jaguars fall, everyone dies: “The world probably won’t end on Friday, but it’s still a good time to remind yourself that Mesoamerican eschatology is really really neat. The Aztecs believed that the creator-god, Ometeotl, created four main gods for the four cardinal directions. These four gods tried to create the world, but it was too dark and they kept screwing up and dropping stuff into the Great Void, where it was eaten by Cipactli the Crocodile Demon With Extra Mouths Upon Every Joint And Teeth Protruding From Her Entire Body. The gods realized they had to get their act together. They slew the Crocodile Demon and placed the world atop her body. They created mankind out of ashes. And they elected Tezcatlipoca, God of Darkness And Killing Everybody, to become the sun so they could see what they were doing a little better. But – and this is what happens when you don’t have a God of Staffing Decisions – the God of Darkness made a predictably terrible sun.”
America Is Too Dumb for TV News: “What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier. When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping. And who shops for products he or she doesn’t want?”
Unhappy Meals: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. ” Such a classic.