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deletedJan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022
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Is this a strong prior that many people have, re: decision making and poverty? I'd never heard of it until maybe 6-7 years ago, when NPR started touting it like it was Einstein's theory of relativity.

My gut feeling on why people want it to be true: a lot of us are psychologically wired for life in hunter gatherer tribes, which were egalitarian and redistributive out of necessity (e.g., you hunted and killed a pig today and I didn't; tomorrow our situations may be reversed, so we're both likely better off if we agree to share). As such, we are not comfortable with economic inequality; it just feels wrong, and we want to think of it as a problem that can be solved with the right set of social policies.

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Hunter-gatherer tribes weren't especially egalitarian.

Australian Aboriginal groups, for instance, tended to be heavily (but not strictly) gerontocratic... I say not strictly because old age was no guarantee of being an "elder". There were some tribes where all the women and girls wound up as wives of a handful of old men.

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Poverty causes low IQ scores mediated by stress sounds like an okay hypothesis, but given that children have many reasons to be stressed apart from parental poverty you'd think it ought to be easily measurable. For instance, kids who are bullied at school are far more stressed than kids who are reasonably popular, so there should be a strong correlation between popularity and test scores too.

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Previous studies which I'm also suspicious of had linked poverty to more low-frequency and fewer high-frequency brain waves. I think they're working from a model of something like more stress/worse nutrition -> worse brain development -> different brain wave pattern.

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Jan 29, 2022·edited Jan 30, 2022

It seems possible, but hardly a sure thing, that good/bad differences in brain development would manifest as a differences in brain wave patterns, but unless you have a model that predicts what kinds of brain wave differences you'd get from bad vs. good brain development, what sense does it make to measure EEG in this study? This study makes about as much sense as one that tests the effectiveness of a new antipsychotic drug by looking for EEG differences between treated and placebo schizophrenic groups. OK, so if the treated and placebo groups’ EEG’s are different, what do you really know? Only that the drug changes EEG’s, right? You’d get that result for a drug that changes brain waves and has no effects on psychosis. You’d even get it for a drug that changes brain waves and also makes psychosis way worse. So yeah, the drug’s Doing Something Real in the brain, but so what?

Back to the infants: Let’s say the parents of the infants in the high cash group but not the low cash group used the money to buy a bunch of crack and smoke that shit hours per day right next to the crib — I’ll bet you’d get some changed infant EEG’s there. (I’m not saying I think that’s how parents in the study likely spent the cast — this is just a thought experiment.)

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There's lots of theories on why this is the case: Nutrition comes up a lot (but we could test that independently, no need for the wealth angle), as does some generalized "kids who grow up in high-stress environments have worse brain function" idea. Again, feel like we could test that without the middle man as well. Probably the right move would be to figure out what we think the mechanism is first, and test if poverty increases that.

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The obvious case is people being malnourished/undernourished due to lack of money to buy (good) food. In this case more money for parent -> improved food for household including children -> improved brain function in children. But as walruss said this is really the concatenation of two hypotheses ("adding money to a representative poor person will result in their household getting better nutrition" + "better nutrition improves brain function").

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I'll say what I say about all of these studies, which is that poverty is obviously bad and we shouldn't have to slap some quantifiable label on it in order to justify doing something about it.

If you don't agree poverty is bad, you've never experienced it.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022Author

I debated saying something like this, because the people I linked (Stuart, Andrew, etc) all included something like "obviously I'm still in favor of cash transfers and we should still all be against poverty".

I decided not to say this, because it felt icky. I shouldn't have to mouth agreement with the point of a false study in order to criticize it as false. It also feels like bad incentives - if people fudging studies in order to support a point causes lots of people to talk about how true that point is, then people will fudge their studies more often.

(this is similar to my policy of "when condemning terrorist attacks, don't mention that the terrorists' end goals are just". They might be, but talk about it any other time!)

I have defended cash transfers and anti-poverty programs in the past, and I'll defend them in the future, but I think it's important *not* to defend them in the process of reporting on how people use false arguments to support them.

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"You're not going to solve this paradox with better science."

Okay, keep pretending that everyone is inherently identical and then go through the mental gymnastics of creating little just so explanations for why your policies don't work and inequality doesn't go away.

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Well you can support direct wealth transfers as a kind of brute force poverty reduction, but this ignores all the various other factors at play. People in poverty are lower IQ on average, and IQ is negatively correlated with savings rate and and positively associated with likelihood of mortgage default, even after controlling for income. So the idea that you can force people not to be in poverty is fallacious.

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Poverty is a lack of money by definition, so you absolutely can remove people from poverty by giving them money. It's actually the quickest and most efficient way to eliminate poverty.

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"...you can support direct wealth transfers as a kind of brute force poverty reduction, but this ignores all the various other factors at play."

Sure. But so what? The transfers still reduce poverty. Are you proposing that we do nothing to reduce poverty until we've done a theoretical analysis that takes into account all those other factors? Even leaving aside that we don't know if that would lead us to something better anyway, I think we'd do a lot better overall to start the transfers now and improve things (if we can) later than to simply delay further.

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An anecdote (but from a place of good faith): I think some of what we see as IQ is an optimization that gets diverted into other areas that don’t show up on IQ tests. Worked with a guy once who was innumerate, ie could not count beyond about three. Was with him in a truck that broke down in the middle of New Mexico. About three hours away from the nearest town and no cell signal. Cracked axle I told him it was impossible to fix. I tried to find higher ground to get a cell signal. He took a chain winch and to this day I’m not sure how, applied enough pressure on each side toward the center that we could still drive (without disturbing the winch).

I also once worked in a call center -high school level education- where the phone agents figured out that if they applied for vacation in bulk orders in certain patterns they could get any time off they wanted regardless of built in blocks around demand. It was a hack based on a rule that if a certain percentage of your time was approved all of it would be approved. Then they’d just delete the time they didn’t want. None of them could program or say what an algorithm is, but they figured it out.

All of this is to say: I’m not sure poverty abs low IQ isn’t something like an optimization for “keep trying this method that’s really unlikely because you don’t have anything else in your resource bag and maybe you can make it work.” Which once you have resources becomes a failure to use those resources economically, take too long on a test, etc.

I’ve met dumb poor people. Just not a lot.

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"Direct cash transfers" sounds like the best thing we've come up with.

Surely better than "we'll educate them out of poverty" which has been the message for the past several generations, and as you say, we know that you can't fix that.

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"little just so explanations"

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

I disagree with you on both whammies. At least since Calvin started teaching people their success in life was a sign of their salvation in the afterlife and at least since Jakob Fugger required paupers to be devout, willing to work and abstain from begging in order to access his social housing project, a huge part of political disagreement on social policy in the west has not been around the question, whether poverty is bad, but *for whom* it is bad.

The right thinks that poverty is bad but necessary as it is mostly the "deserved" consequence of bad and/or immoral choices and fears helping poor people too much will lead to wrong incentives that are worse than the poverty itself. The left wants to help all poor people regardless of desert believing a certain minimum standard of living is basically a human right.

Naturally, the area of compromise has always been around helping the "undeservedly poor".

Even the most stone-hearted Rand reader can agree that child poverty is undeserved. This is why education is one area, where despite of huge disagreements about the means, both sides are willing to invest heavily and can even to a degree agree on the standards that should be used to measure success. Unfortunately, if Freddie deBoer is to be believed, this whole approach is also hopeless.

Another route, namely coercing parents into making good decisions for their children or limiting the authority parents have over their children is also politically blocked, as conservatives and also many on the left will have none of it.

The path that remains open is to somehow help the children by helping the parents. The right might be convinced if this is actually shown to be effective. For the left this would be the dream scenario enabling them to help a group of people the right would otherwise never allow them to help.

Hence any causal pathway from helping parents to helping children is extremely valuable. Instrumentally, because it enables us to do something we all agree is good: helping children; and politically, because it enables the left to help "deservedly" poor people.

And that is exactly why this paper was breaking news in the New York Times.

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deletedJan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022
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You seem to be assuming that working in fast food or for minimum wage necessarily makes you poor. Not so! A single person who works full time at $7.25/hr is above the poverty line. Two people who both work full time at the same wage can support two kids without falling below the poverty line.

The problem isn’t that fast food wages are too low, it’s a combination of people who for various reasons have a hard time sticking to a steady full time job and people who have kids before they are able to support them.

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deletedJan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022
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I must point out that minimum wage and fast food jobs are far less likely to *be* 'full-time' jobs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics shows as of 2020 that out of workers paid federal minimum wage, 71% (175K) are part-time workers vs 29% (72K) full time workers: https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2020/home.htm

(also the idea that being above the federal poverty line is sufficient to confirm one is Not Poor is a whole other can of worms)

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

I do not care if the line is drawn such that $7.25/hour is legally considered "not poor". That doesn't reflect the actual meaning of poverty, that's just a political lie created so that the populace does not have to confront how many people in the so-called "land of plenty" are impoverished.

Above and beyond that- many people WANT to work full-time, but are not. Their employers have them work 39-and-a-half hours instead of 40 because then they can get all of the benefits of a full-time employee without any of the obligations. They will then ask someone to "cover a shift" so that they, in fact, get MORE than full-time labor without the commensurate compensation. You are very lucky if these, two of the most common anti-labor practices prevalent in the culture of low-wage labor, are completely unheard of for you.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

I should have made it clearer that my post was descriptive (and a hugely oversimplifying caricature at that) and not an endorsement.

My point was merely: if you want to a) achieve better outcomes for poor children and b) give poor adults (working or not) money, then research that points to a positive causal connection from b) to a) is extremely useful.

Firstly, because achieving better outcomes in poor children (or any children for that matter) beyond a baseline is very hard and we don't know how to do it reliably; and secondly, because you will never sell b) to right-wingers on its own merits, but you may have a chance if it leads to a). Granted, you might not convince Peter Thiel, but you only need a small percentage of the more centrist voters.

Your other point I understand as saying that basically improving (educational) outcomes in children achieves nothing, as the economy is a zero-sum game where somebody has to do the low paying jobs. I disagree with this too. It's all about comparative cost advantages. If educational outcomes between rich and poor kids can be narrowed, this means that there are more jobs available to the poor kids. Wages for low-paying jobs would increase or those jobs would vanish (actually, I suspect that there are way more jobs that "the US could work without" than most people think). Inequality would decrease. A country's GINI-coefficient is not fixed for all eternity by some sort of economic law.

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"You can tell every individual fast-food worker to boostrap their way out of making minimum wage, but the end-result of that is that there are no fast-food workers left."

I think "eliminate all the boring, low wage jobs" is what we've been charing towards en masse for the last century.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

I don't think the person you're replying to is right, but

> You can tell every individual fast-food worker to boostrap their way out of making minimum wage, but the end-result of that is that there are no fast-food workers left.

is just a silly argument. Even it were possible, they weren't all about to simultaneously change themselves into architects next Tuesday. We'll keep on getting new fast-food workers who haven't changed into architects yet.

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>You can tell every individual fast-food worker to boostrap their way out of making minimum wage, but the end-result of that is that there are no fast-food workers left.

If we could effectively cause this to happen, it would not result in no fast food workers. It'd result in fast food worker wages going up because supply for such workers would diminish while demand would increase (due to the ex-fast food workers being now able to afford to eat out more often).

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>"The right thinks that poverty is bad but necessary as it is mostly the "deserved" consequence of bad and/or immoral choices and fears helping poor people too much will lead to wrong incentives that are worse than the poverty itself.

From what I understand the argument is also very much that the wrong incentives are not themselves bad, but lead to more and perpetuate poverty in the end. But since the welfare state is extremely old at this point, it cannot be logically consistent to assume that it is mostly "deserved" consequences.

It is imposed consequences from previous (or current) attempts to fix the very problem, that cause people to be born into bad fortune.

We are in hell and got there thru flawed policy, dictated by our (mostly) good intentions. And we are very stupid and generally don't learn from previous mistakes.

(or probably institutions act stupidly, because of public choice theory they are incapable of learning, because *mumblign something about* incentives again)

The welfare state never shrinks (as government programs never do) and always increases (because good intentions...).

Also you cannot cut government programs ever (it simply does not happen).

And trying to cut the welfare state specifically is impossible, as you would be accused of having bad intentions. (and given that the welfare state is as massive as it is, you would have to do incrementally peel it layer by layer and each one breaks a dependency and this hurts)

So the issue is that we are stuck in an inescapable, inadequate equilibrium.

The system will collapse before it can ever get fixed.

Something like that. Also what I described might be more of a right-libertarian version. And it's too hand-waivy, because I'm a bit too tired for this.

But your description is definitely too barren to do the position full justice.

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Thanks, that's very interesting!

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>Another route, namely coercing parents into making good decisions for their children or limiting the authority parents have over their children is also politically blocked, as conservatives and also many on the left will have none of it.

NB: there are solid reasons for blocking this. The big one is that a multiparty democratic state in which parents' ability to counter state propaganda is too limited is unstable and will on a timescale of years to decades become a stable one-party state (specifically via someone being in power long enough to brainwash enough children to consolidate an unbeatable coalition). The obvious example is Hitler, although Putin's also managed it.

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Think I agree with most of your points, but "Poverty is a necessity of an economic system, which at the same time is capable of feeding 10 billion people." is a pretty intense assertion, and I'm not sure what external source you'd use to try and back it up.

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First, we need to define poverty as something which by definition won't always exist, no matter how rich everyone is.

Then, once we have a definition of poverty which is absolute, as opposed to relative (i.e. bottom 10% of income earners!), we can begin talking about the various solutions to that and who it is best to incentivize to actually accomplish them.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

We have limited resources.

If these cash-transfer programs don't actually help in the long term, then we should be spending our money on other things that will help in the long term.

Poverty isn't "a necessity of an economic system". Poverty exists because some people are not very productive. If no one in society had an IQ below 115, and no one was mentally ill or addicted to drugs or suffered from impulse control disorders, the poverty rate would be very nearly 0.

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Can you explain that last paragraph? How does that relate to the fact that two countries with the same average intelligence and substance abuse rates can have dramatically different poverty rates?

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First off, no country meets the criteria I laid or, or even comes close.

Secondly, historical factors will result in different presents. A country that was under the thumb of socialists for decades will have stunted economic development relative to its neighbors. A country 300 years ago would be considered almost entirely poor by modern standards. Socialist countries were poor because socialism is an insane ideology with no basis in reality and severely damaged the economy. However, these sorts of historical patterns are temporary, as seen by the Asian Tigers, which emerged from underdeveloped status and became developed countries very rapidly.

Thirdly, "poverty rate" is defined in multiple different ways which vastly changes measured poverty.

The US has basically eliminated absolute poverty, for instance, once you take government assistance into account, and there are few people who actually live in material poverty after government assistance is taken into account.

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Oh boy. Our cruxes are so far back that we're not going to get anywhere, but thanks for elaborating.

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I think my point is exactly that: it seems like researchers feel like they HAVE to fudge it, because if the negative effects of poverty aren't quantifiable then SOLUTIONS to poverty are not justifiable. I think the whole line of reasoning is toxic and reflects a deep social failing which in a funny way is connected to a veneration of STEM-based thinking about the world. It's a bit like pegging teacher pay to standardized test performance, as if the only learning that counts must be quantifiable.

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If we can't measure the learning, then how do we know it counts?

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This comment is... a very good example of the point G Retriever is making. Forget any individual case for now. The point is: we shouldn't assume that everything we care about can be easily and correctly quantified. When we use peer-reviewed studies as our only means to justify something, we're implicitly assuming that there are no effects (good or bad) that we can't/don't know how to quantify. And this is an obviously terrible assumption. This doesn't mean we stop caring about evidence, or we just go with our gut, or we don't try to quantify things. Just that it's important to remember that this one particular way of finding truth (peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals) is not The One True Source of All Knowledge.

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I didn't say peer-reviewed studies are the only kind of evidence. I asked how do we know the unmeasured counts. Let's grant there's something you care about and can't quantify. How do you know anything you're doing is having any effect on that at all if you can't measure it?

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You can't, directly, but the world is complex. Civilization functioned for thousands of years without trying to force every aspect of human life under the dissection lamp to be reduced to neat little columns of data.

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Let's say there's no effect of poverty on intelligence. Instead you get 'street smarts' that help you stay alive. Would that be a reason NOT to end poverty?

Say there's no effect of poverty on propensity toward violent crime. Is that a reason NOT to end poverty?

Say there's no effect of poverty on a long list of ills we once thought were related to poverty. Do you need a reason to end poverty, or can we all just agree, "Poverty sucks, and we don't have to justify or quantify how much it sucks. Let's agree to work on the problem because we don't like it."

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To me, another big problem with the study is that there is no hypothesized mechanism by which poverty supposedly retards brain development.

So if a correlation between an extra $330 and different brainwaves is found, there is no plausible explanation for why that would have happened. You have to imagine that the extra money somehow changed one or more other (unknown) variables that then, somehow, through an (unknown) process, that impacted brain waves.

Shouldn't the research first be directed at figuring out exactly what changes child brain development (nutrition, maternal attention, etc.)? And then researchers could look at how poverty might affects those variables. By contrast, this seems like an "advocacy study" that was designed to put the cart before the horse for political reasons.

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Maybe using individual cases to build a rough model of the underlying dynamics.

For example an author is writing a story and wants it to be interesting. He probably has a model of what factors make a story interesting based on other things they've read, and so can test things they might write against their internal model of how stories work.

For public policy questions it would be the model of human nature under various circumstances. Less reliable than a high-powered study but maybe better than nothing.

For the education issue you questioned earlier for me this actually goes the other way. In my experience most people don't remember the vast majority of what they learned in school after a few years. If we get someone to "know" something during a final, then they forget it promptly after, what are we really achieving?

Not *all* education, but I'd argue that a huge proportion of modern education is useless for most people (aside from the signalling factor), and we also fail to teach them other things that would be more relevant to their lives.

Like, is chemistry still a thing that a huge % of the population should spend years in high school on? Sure you need it to *become* a doctor, but what % of doctors even remember how to do low-level chemistry work?

And why not teach basic medicine in high school, in an era where lifestyle diseases are everywhere?

There's tons of stuff like that, it feels like *how* we teach things gets all the attention when we should question *what* and *why* more.

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The motte is that not everything that matters can be measured. The bailey that typically follows is that therefore my snakeoil that doesn't improve any measurable metrics should be used anyway because of my gut feeling that it helps. Similar thought processes held medicine back for centuries, and are still undermining education. It's good to invent ways to measure the things we don't yet know how to measure and actually prove whether the intervention improves those things.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

Counterpoint: those clever little ways we invent to measure things have a large chance to turn out to be WRONG (see Scott's post about rationality's failures on the old blog, such as London vs. Chicago traffic). Sometimes moral intuitions are, in fact, right.

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I felt the urge to agree but what if one day I am the one with a strong intuition that goes against the imperfect measurements?

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Effective medicine still contains a lot of things that are poorly understood, obviously work, and are extremely hard to capture in RCTs (see Scott's point about parachute RCTs).

The most extreme example would be physical therapy - every effective therapist is working off pre-EBM knowledge and getting results, while academia is chasing its own tail trying to prove the sky is blue. If you have lower back pain, in a majority of cases the best your EBM doctor can give you is a painkiller, and questions of etiology are met with "idk lol".

Extrapolating this to other fields is left as an exercise to the reader.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

We could be like Freddie, who says (in effect) "you aren't going to find any effect on kids from pre-K because there is no effect. But letting people send their kids to pre-K makes their lives (both the kids and the parents) happier, so just do it already, and don't set ourselves up for failure when we don't find any results in 10 years."

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

If we want subsidized daycare and greater child-having subsidies in general we should just do that. They do it in Finland etc. You don't have to pretend it's for some irrelevant/dubious scientific purpose. Unless it's to trick people into something they don't really want. But that is where a lot of this ends up, morally. People with "noble goals" trying to herd the sheep and playing loose with the virtue of truth.

The other aspect is when it comes to the money spent, it's quite possible that "more daycare" (e.g. longer hours) is really the better economic direction than a bunch of educational attainment statistics in very small children. Plus it would affect the design of the facilities and just what it is that is healthiest for these children to be doing all day.

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Well fuck it, I'd be happier with free ice cream. Should the government give out free ice cream?

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At whose cost? As another poster says, ice cream and chocolates make very many people happy. What's the line to be used to say for this we shall use tax money, and for that we shall not? To me it's quite clear that there has to be a significant externality or public good aspect involved.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

people see their money go down a blackhole with education and welfare spending. I hardly think it unreasonable that they want some quantifiable measure

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It's unreasonable if such a measure is not practically knowable.

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Jan 27, 2022·edited Jan 27, 2022

If literally no measure is practically knowable then the those whose money is being extracted would be in the right demanding that the spigot be turned off completely.

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Why would that necessarily make them in the right? It certainly weakens the arguments that people in favor of education and/or welfare, but it doesn't eliminate them completely. Not all knowledge comes through measurement and analysis of the resulting quantitative data.

There are a number of outcomes that I will never expect to have a corresponding quantitative measure of a reasonably high quality (ex: a measure of how good the art produced by National Endowment of the Arts grantees is). There are a number of other outcomes where a reasonably good quantitative measure may be possible, but it wouldn't be practical due to the high expense of collecting the data relative to the expected benefits of collecting it (can't think of an example off the top of my head, unfortunately).

When collecting high-quality quantitative data either isn't possible or isn't practical, we don't have to throw our hands up in the air and stop attempting to answer the question. Rigorous, objective (or as objective as anything ultimately done by a person ever can be) analysis of qualitative data can be very informative!

If it ultimately isn't possible/practical to effectively quantify any of the outcomes of education/welfare spending (which seems improbable to me), this doesn't hand victory to people opposed to this spending. A lack of quantitative proof of the effectiveness of the programs isn't the same thing as a lack of proof of the effectiveness of the programs. It also isn't quantitative proof that the programs are ineffective. The quantitative effect is unknown/unknowable, not necessarily nonexistent. All that has changed is that the arguments for/against the policy in question have to be carried out in the somewhat fuzzier world of qualitative analysis.

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The US has lots of anti-poverty programs and spends a significant amount of money on them. Most of them have been around for decades, too. SNAP spending alone was $55 billion for 2019, $1,548 per beneficiary per year, and the program dates back to the 1930's. I'm not sure why you think it would be necessary that researchers fudge statistics to justify anti-poverty interventions *now,* in 2022, coming up on a century after the New Deal was enacted.

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"Necessary" Isn't the right word per-se. The researchers may or may not feel a moral obligation to do so, regardless of current politics.

As a side note, SNAP is the most basic, fundamental sort of anti-poverty program in that its literally there to prevent families from starving.

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Did families regularly starve to death before SNAP? Otherwise there was presumably a more basic anti-poverty system on place before.

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Yes, there was, it was called "having strong communities". Sadly, in America at least, that ship has sailed- Americans are a fundamentally nomadic people who are more likely to view their neighbor as an enemy instead of an ally by multiple orders of magnitude.

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The concern over being unable to support something that is obvious correct and apparent due to an inability to quantify it stems from learned helplessness and inability to simply accept things as they are perceived.

Scott is saying that despite not having numbers to back cash transfers, he still feels they are correct and supports them - that's great! The authors of this study are marginally more uncomfortable with their own judgement than he is, and preferred to support it with very questionable to avoid having their opinions stand on their own.

The fundamental issue is the blanket severe discomfort with simply declaring and accepting facts based on a posteriori lived experiences. It's interesting that on this issue both Scott is quick to state that he is comfortable supporting cash transfers, but otherwise tends to write from a very evidentiary perspective.

In a sense it's Gell-Mann Amnesia for knowledge; you arbitrarily decide that some things are so obvious you can ignore that studies are flawed, but then turn around and expect studies for others.

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Yes. And doesn't that also go to the even bigger issue of publication bias. No one wants to publish a social science study that says: "life's a bitch, and there's nothing we can do about it." So those study results either disappear unpublished or get recycled (p-fished) for some (more hopeful) hypothesis.

Serious question: Does preregistration still allow researchers the option of just spiking their study if the data comes out "wrong"? I suppose it does. But this study apparently involved too much money and effort to tank (all those $330/mo. payments have to show some return on investment).

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Some preregistrations come with a pre-publication agreement, but my sense is that most journals still aren’t willing to commit to publishing negative results.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

The questions isn't a binary "solve poverty" vs. "don't solve poverty", but a question of how much effort* to spend on reducing on poverty. Reducing poverty more isn't costless**, so how much effort people support is a trade-off. Any data point can slightly shift what point to choose on that trade-off.

Even what to define as poverty at all is non-obvious. Most of the world, and for most of history all the world, would consider $20,000/year wealth, not poverty.

*: read: other people's money, usually

**: because if there are costless ways of reducing poverty that we know about, we're already doing them

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Cash transfers are not solutions to poverty in any case. The largest reductions in poverty by many orders of magnitude have come from social and political institutions that allow for and encourage economic growth. This should be obvious if you look at the broad sweep of history, but it becomes painfully obvious if you consider the recent experience of China and India.

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These are two very different effects. Yes, high growth in emerging economies is great for reducing poverty, but it’s not particularly applicable to reducing poverty in an advanced economy with lower growth rates.

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Poverty is bad. No doubt about it.

It does not necessarily follow that cash transfers are either an optimal or universal solution. Perhaps they would work very well for parents who are financially savvy (my mother was incredibly good at handling budgets even when she financially struggled), but make things in the family worse if the parent is addicted and will buy more drugs instead. That happens; I knew enough alcoholics to know that their finances are a hopeless black hole with the other end at the local pub.

Of course, a careful policy based on each individual family's needs cannot be easily written into law, so it won't be pursued.

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We don't. I lived in a block house with at least 7 other poorish families. That was the Rust Belt in Czechoslovakia when the Iron Curtain fell and the rusted old heavy industry went to the dogs. Loss of previously stable jobs was sudden and the city never really recovered.

It was fairly obvious that some were better at economic decisions than others.

Also, of the alcoholics I know right now, none is particularly needy. All middle class people who turn their earnings into booze.

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Families of said alcoholics are miserable, though.

The question is how to keep that money out of the husband's hands and going to the needs of the wife and kids.

Also, studies of alcoholism indicate a strong genetic component. I am all for research into treatment of alcoholism, but contemporary psychologization of said disease helps only a few people. My friend was in a rehab; their success rate was about 15 per cent, less than with many cancers.

Maybe Scott could chime in, he is a psychiatrist after all. Is treating alcoholism with psychology modern shamanism (because it surely seems that alcoholics MUST have some underlying psychological issues) or real peer reviewed science?

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Trying to solve addiction by enforcing poverty doesn't seem like a winner.

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Oh, it definitely isn't, but you seem to argue from a position that cash transfers are the optimal and universal solution to alleviate poverty, so whoever casts any doubt of them wants to enforce poverty.

Are they? Are you sure? After all, countries that elevated themselves from poverty to development - and there was a lot of them - didn't do so through funneling cash to all inhabitants.

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Cash transfers was Scott's position, not mine.

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I didn't see anybody here arguing that cash transfers were the _optimal_ decision. Just that it's a reasonable way to take out a substantial chunk of the problem. I feel as if you (and perhaps others here) are arguing to do nothing about the problem until we come up with a better solution than cash transfers. (If you already have a better solution, I'm all ears.)

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Then please don't feel so. I never said anything like that explicitely and telepathy over TCP/IP does not work. If I wanted to gut certain types of spending, I would proclaim it openly; I have nothing to lose by being candid on the Internet.

I would be a great friend of a more personalized approach, though. One size fits nobody.

I realize that it would probably be *more* expensive, but I think those extra money could buy extra efficiency.

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We're debating this like a majority of people in poverty are addicted and spending all of their money on alcohol instead of diapers - can we temper this with a statistic? Because if it's only, say, 5% or 10% of people in poverty with children are gratuitously neglecting them, then what about the the other 90% to 95% who aren't?

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I agree with your position of refusing to mouth moral support for someone's goals as the price for criticizing their logic or data.

There should be a word for the rhetorical habit of reciting one's agreement with X as a predicate to establish one's bona fides to criticize Y. (E.g., "I hate Trump and white supremacy as much as the next guy . . . but . . .")

For one thing, the cumulative effect of these en passant pro-forma recitations of what is supposedly clear to everyone tend to have an "anchoring" effect on the Overton Window that may ultimately be more significant than the particular argument being made.

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Mandatory throat clearing

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After reading this I feel bad about asking you to clarify your precise COVID vaccine resolution in line yesterday. Thanks for continuing to post despite well meaning people trying to vetocracy every sentence you make, and I hope my paying for your posts+this comment offsets the negative reinforcement I gave you yesterday!

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IMO you made the right decision and your reasoning is sound. However, it comes with a trade-off. Many people, including (particularly?) "educated" people, weigh new information strongly by (partisan) identity. Failure to disclose tribal affiliation (or sympathy) means that those people will not consider your analysis.

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A query: If all evidence gleaned from history were to indicate, beyond all doubt, that cash transfers have had no positive impact on the objective of reducing poverty; and if, on the contrary, all evidence made available by history, both American and worldwide, were to suggest that cash transfers actually prolonged poverty and exacerbated its symptoms--would it be fair to conclude that a position for cash payments is not compatible with a position against poverty?

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

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I agree that poverty is bad, which is why we should condemn rather than reward women who irresponsibly choose to have children while impoverished.

You get what you incentivise, which means that incentivising poor women for having children is one of the most horrible things you can possibly do.

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"If you lift everybody below the 60% line to above it, then nobody is considered poor anymore, but also, the median income is not affected by this at all."

You're encouraging low IQ women to have more children, which makes society on net balance worse off.

"What's the point of being capable of feeding 10 billion people, if you then just decide to not do it?"

Because there's an absolute ton of negative externalities associated with having 10 billion people on earth, especially considering those additional people are almost assuredly going to be below average IQ.

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Jeffrey, you seem to think IQ is only ever going to be relative and never absolute

Id like you to consider the fact that in our modern world, we can observe things people with higher IQs can do which those with lower IQs simply cannot do

Jeffrey do you really think in a world where those with lower IQs have successfully bred more, that we will have more or fewer people who can do high level skills?

Because it seems pretty clear to me, however which way you'd like to describe IQ, it does have absolute and not merely relative consequences in the world.

You seem to be arguing on that basic fallacy-that it is only relative and not something that produces absolute concrete results, independent of one's position on the general IQ distribution.

Well I'm sorry to say but your argument that what poor IQ women do is none of our business falls pretty flat here. It actually IS my business if I realize that helping a poor lady now will add to human suffering later on. I truly don't mind the spending. But somethings are too high of a cost.

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I don't know why you keep bringing up this ten billion people thing. Poverty in the US isn't about lack of basic food, food costs a few bucks a day and is very easily obtainable from charity if you really need it for some reason. Food is solved.

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Almost 14 million households in the U.S. had food insecurity during 2020: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-u-s/key-statistics-graphics/#foodsecure

Not quite yet solved I'd say.

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Poverty is inversely correlated with number of children. If you want "low IQ women" to have less children: give them money!

Also, as it happens, its a good moral choice. And also it makes my personal living better because I have to deal less with homeless people.

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Inversely correlated with money? Or being the kind of person who can make decisions which lead to having money?

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This is a very well documented effect across and within populations. So there is probably even a decent chance of it being causal. Here is my data

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/children-per-woman-by-gdp-per-capita

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Where's the evidence that the causation is "have money" -> "less kids"?

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If being below 60% median income is the definition as being poor, even if you don't count the transfer payments themselves as income, that means that you've defined poverty so that *by definition*, poverty will exist without transfer payments and the only way to alleviate it is with transfer payments.

Defining poverty that way, rather than as "unable to pay for food, shelter, etc." is a numbers gimmick to justify social spending.

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Technically, that definition does not require poverty to exist without transfer payments. There is no requirement that people exist who earn less than 60% of the median income (i.e. if the median income is $100, there's no requirement that people exist who earn less than $60).

In practice, such people do exist in real distributions with significantly-nonzero Gini coefficients, but they are not required by definition.

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Jan 27, 2022·edited Jan 27, 2022

I think you should understand my point. Yes, in theory if everyone earns similar amounts there may be nobody below 60% of the median. But that measure isn't a measure of poverty at all. It's contrived so that if everyone gets richer, this has no effect on the poverty level whatsoever; in fact, if one person gets richer, the poverty level is likely to go up. And it's defined so that poverty has no relation to whether people lack food, shelter, clothes, or ability to pay their bills. If Beverly Hills were a country, it would still have a large contingent of poor by this definition.

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Even if you wanted to do this, how would you do it without also harming the children?

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If raising children in poverty is bad, we could treat it like any other form of abuse and take the children and place them in foster care or up for adoption.

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Brilliant. Definitely no chance for horrible unintended consequences with this idea.

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There are many forms of adversity children experience, poverty being just one of many. Removing children from their parents results in other forms of adversity, so the reason to remove them must be really egregiously life-threateningly bad, not just like not as great as what richer kids have.

Poverty is not a form of abuse by any stretch of the definition of abuse. Abuse and neglect have legal definitions and standards and it's a really good thing they are distinct from adverse experiences that kids have had forever -- including things like war, emigration, illness, disability or death of a parent, divorce. It's like saying we should take children away from their divorcing parents since divorce is hard on kids.

Kids whose parents move around a lot and have to change schools a lot experience bad impacts, including being more subject to bullying. Let's take those kids from their parents too for moving their kids around too much.

There's pretty good research showing that children of highly critical and perfectionist parents can suffer longer-term psychological impacts than ones who experienced some physical violence. I work with the grown kids of a lot of those kind of parents and I kind of wish I could take them away from those parents now because they are still causing harm. The grown kids I've worked with who grew up in poverty are way better off than the kids who grew up with well-off narcissistic parents.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

They've tried this. Unless the child is in truly dire circumstances, this is actually a net negative for the child. Poverty isn't bad enough to outweigh the drawbacks of being put into the foster care system.

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One way is by making transfers to poor women (perhaps ones who already have dependent children) conditional on receiving long-lasting injections preventing pregnancy.

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Why wait until they have children? Why not just start forcibly mass-sterilizing people that the state decides shouldn't have children? Don't worry, I'm sure the state will make very good judgments, and the process will be fair and transparent and easily corrected for errors.

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“Why do A when you can do B, which is horrible and how dare you suggest doing B”

I don’t find this to be the best form of argument.

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We don't have to rely on the state making good judgments, or being fair & transparent or prone to correcting its own errors. It's also easier if people are opting into the program for benefits rather than being forced in, requiring enforcement effort for those who want out.

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founding

If this is an utilitarian/consequentialist framework, then maybe deterrence is more than enough. Sacrifice a few poor people each year randomly in unusually cruel ways, eg. by not giving them insulin, imprison them for some extremely long time if they do some kind of victimless crime, or whatever...

Oh wait.

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Many people (particularly those worst off) tend to be hyperbolic discounters. Low probability high impact events get discounted. This was Gary Becker's greatest mistake:

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/09/what-was-gary-beckers-biggest-mistake.html

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Poverty itself encourages short-term thinking. If you want people to make better decisions, pushing them into further poverty isn't what you want to be doing.

And anyway, if they're already poor, and they're deciding to have kids they're likely to have trouble supporting, what on earth makes you think that that keeping them poor or making them even more poor will suddenly lead them to make the exact opposite decisions to the ones they've been making? You're inhabiting a world where you just wish harder and harder that these people are Homo economicus, and they're not.

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What percentage of women actually choose to have children for the cash grab? Surely after all the outcry in the 80's about "welfare queens," we would have some statistic on the percentage that actually does this versus, say, endemic poverty cycles that have poor people who were raised poor as their only experience and then wanting their own families and figure they will somehow make ends meet because their mom did.

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> What percentage of women actually choose to have children for the cash grab?

They don't have to consciously be deciding to have children for the purpose of receiving welfare for the incentive to have an effect. That's a basic misunderstanding of how incentives work

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This is the wrong way to frame it. It's not a binary "choose to have kids for the cash grab" or not, it's that a bit more cash slightly changes the probability by slightly changing the balance of considerations.

If you want proof that people's reproductive decisions are sensitive to financial incentives, look no further than this majestic work:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3665046

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My actual point was that this discussion is extremely focused on the poor who are taking advantage of the system but I'm asking how many is that, really? Is it a rounding error? Is it a majority or a plurality? If the vast majority of those in poverty are trying their best to be contributing members of society, then the small number (if it's a small number) of scammers should not derail helping those who are below the poverty line.

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Sigh...you've had this explained to you well over a dozen times by now. Cognitive ability varies enormously within the populations of even developed western countries. This has enormous social and economic implications. Understanding the causes of this variation helps us understand the world better and therefore develop more effective policies.

By your logic, one could say "you don't need science to know that being more educated is good, so why are we doing all this research about the heritability of intelligence when we should just increase spending on education?"

If poverty doesn't explain difference in cognitive ability, then we basically have to admit that the heritability studies are correct, these differences are mostly genetic, and the only way of improving equality is through direct wealth transfers. But in a remotely sane world, this reality ought to have enormous implications on how we think about reproduction and immigration, but we don't live in a sane world, we live in a completely backward world where people like you (yes, literally) describe mainstream heritability research as "1920s eugenics".

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

Low IQ is highly correlated with poverty. You don't need to run a study to figure out why, stupid people have difficulty managing their life in our highly complex society. The only way this can be done non repressively I can think of is to attach welfare benefits to birth control in some form or fashion. So say if you have 1 child you can't take care of yourself, society will help you financially with that child but you have to agree to stop having kids in a provable way. This actually doesn't only select for low IQ but any traits that lead to poverty (for instance I suspect emotional instability and proneness to drug addiction are traits not 1 to 1 correlated with low IQ). The next generation will have fewer of these problems and it will remove the dysgenic selective pressures we currently have which otherwise will mean more poverty in future generations.

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Even granting everything you say is true, your "solution" assumes that the only possibly way to address these problems is through altering the gene pool using state power (can this possibly not be called eugenics?). But this is a ridiculous assumption. The concept of something being "determined by genetics" is an abstraction; genes all act through some mechanism (they're not magic after all), and that mechanism can in principal be influenced in other ways. Just because we haven't figured out how yet doesn't mean we can't, and it doesn't mean we're better off trying to manipulate and/or coerce people into different reproductive choices.

For example, obesity is something like 70% heritable. But until the mid 20th century it affected only 1% or less of the population, whereas today that's closer to 40% (in the US). Obviously "it's genetics" is not a satisfactory explanation of obesity. And it doesn't follow that "genetics" would be part of an effective solution.

We haven't discovered how genetics influences IQ, emotional problems, drug addiction, etc. But each of these has mechanisms that can be discovered and influenced without resorting to eugenics. The unknown unknowns of eugenics alone should give us a very strong prior against them.

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Altering the gene pool using state power? Currently we're using state power to promote dysgenics, selecting for traits which are the least likely to be net contributors to society, by taking away resources from people who net contribute and giving them to those that net take from society. Insuring we will have more people that do not net contribute in the future. I'm suggesting we "stop the bleeding" by adding conditions for helping people who can't seem to help themselves.

Besides it being undeveloped technology, the unknown unknowns of straight genetic engineering (gene editing) is much more dangerous than applying a small and uncoercive selective breeding policy. I am 99% certain if we do do genetic engineering it is going to have some horrifying outcomes for some people, although I still think we should progress with it.

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Ah, yes, the classic game of "rig the system, then blame the people losing the game for not having the system rigged in their favor."

Tell you what: would you be willing to personally tell some poor person, to their face, "You are my genetic inferior and do not deserve the same rights as me?" Because if you aren't, then why should I take you seriously?

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AFAIK, somehing of the kind had been done in India about 50 years ago, when a poor man could get a radio, a moped or something if he had himself sterilized, even Douglas Adams had joked about that. To sterilize women would have been too much of a procedure, I guess. I doubt these programs had much impact on average indian IQ but I may be wrong.

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I read an article that they do it with women as well and it was something they were doing recently. The article I read said they got new frying pans, most of the women had had all the children they wanted. It's a good policy and especially for India which had been pushing up against the Malthusian ceiling. If a set of frying pans tempts you to give up your fertility it's hard to imagine that you would be able to give a child a good life. As long as the policy is voluntary and not coercive, of course some will argue that it was coercive because life is in itself coercive.

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On the other hand if you don't think that many of the negative effects of poverty are measureable, I doubt you've experienced it. It's not like anyone doubts studies that show poverty is linked with increased anxiety, for instance. The observable issues with poverty tend to be the more consistently measurable ones, because they have big enough effect sizes to observe experientially.

I don't buy your argument here that these social scientists are justifiably under pressure to fudge these results because of a misguided social need to have the effects of poverty be measurable before we act. Some outcomes of poverty are quite measurable and quite bad, and that's already well-established. We have plenty of motivation to act if all that's holding us back is quantification.

I think the incentive to fudge these numbers is far more venal. When you produce novel research that supports popular political positions in your field, you get published in the New York Times, and it's much easier to get tenure/future grants/prestige.

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Has anybody done any work to determine which aspects of poverty are the problem? As a hypothetical, I can see a poor family in a safe area with guaranteed housing, a nearby park and library having fewer problems than a better-off-financially family which has to worry about gentrification and violent crime.

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I think that even among people who agree that 'poverty is bad' there is room for a great deal of disagreement as to the definition of poverty (and of 'bad') - I grew up under circumstances that were absolutely defined as 'impoverished' then and now, and neither I nor my parents felt it was horrible either often or on the mean.

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Sure. But nobody thinks the badness of poverty has anything to do with gamma vs alpha brain waves. Pretty much everyone agrees things like higher stress, hunger from missing meals and that sort of thing are the issues.

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I agree, but I think people care about this more in terms of meritocracy debates.

The basic argument that underlies a whole lot of public policy questions is 'poor people underperform on measure we care about because poverty grinds them down and if we give them opportunities they will improve and produce more value than we spent to help them' vs 'poor people underperform because they're genetically inferior an any attempts to give them opportunities are wasteful, we can decide how much welfare to give them but no other policies matter.'

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'darwin' appears to be against social darwinism! Nominative determinism swings and misses!

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"Social Darwinism" (financial/social success = "fitness") was contra actual Darwinism (reproductive success = "fitness"), so this is more like a ball than a strike.

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Eh, financial and reproductive success are at least correlated. I say it's at least a foul tip.

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I'm generally social Darwinist, but I don't think it naturally follows from Darwinism in any way. Social Darwinism is about oughts, Dawinism is about ises.

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I don't think "attempts to give them opportunities are wasteful" follows from "poor people underperform before they're genetically inferior" (what does that even mean).

You don't need to be von Neumann to do _many_ specialist jobs, in particular in trades, it mostly requires a lot of experience with the domain.

I'd invite self-proclaimed 150 IQ Übermenschen to DIY renovate their house and report how well it went, compared to a trained team of 90 IQ physical workers who know their shit. As the classic article says, reality has a surprising amount of detail. Train people to work with that detail so you don't have to, pay them well, and you have a functional society.

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I've never met anyone who didn't think poverty is bad. If you're implying that 'we should give $300 a month to poor people' self-evidently follows from 'poverty is bad,' it doesn't.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

There's four issues:

1) How much money is worth spending on "poverty is bad, we should alleviate it" compared to other things that might have a larger net benefit to society. We have limited amounts of resources, so we want to allocate our resources as efficiently as possible.

2) These programs don't actually *cure* poverty; it's palliative care. So you throw money at it, and it doesn't actually solve the problem, so you spend money on it every year, decade after decade, as opposed to spending things on other things that might actually lead to lasting societal benefits.

3) Many people are okay with giving people a hand up (i.e. getting people back to a good place where they can be productive members of society) but don't like giving endless handouts to people, as they see it as throwing their money down a hole (which it is). As such, there are political motivations towards finding these results.

4) People are in denial of the high heritability of intelligence and don't like the idea that we live in a meritocracy and that many poor people are poor because of genetic traits, so looking for reasons why this isn't true is a major thing. It's highly probable that the only way to actually "cure" poverty societally is to engage in broad scale genetic engineering of the population, which people find unpalatable, and that isn't something we will be able to do for 50-100 years, and they want solutions now.

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It doesn't help that many people routinely overstate the degree to which income correlates with educational data, which I think is contributing to the credulity here. Yes, all educational data has income stratification, but it's smaller than liberals constantly insist, and people have persuasively argued that's a racial effect masquerading as an income effect. (As in, you throw race into a regression and income ceases to be a significant predictor.) Claims about school funding and expenditures are even worse. But "it's the money, stupid!" is just a really tempting standpoint for liberals.

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The San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles is a fairly pleasant place with numerous small school districts, all of which, last I checked, spend relatively similar amounts per student. Average test scores tend to correlate with the ethnic make-up of the student body, with the Chinese-dominant districts such as traditionally rich San Marino and formerly middle class Arcadia (where my cousins once lived but is now dominated by Chinese) scoring the highest, white districts second, and Latino districts third.

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That seems surprising to me. Is it not the case that within racial groups higher income goes with higher education?

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Yes, but again, the correlation is considerably lower than people seem to think. People constantly say "the SAT is just an income test," but for example in one of the biggest and most representative datasets available that r squared is .0625. So less than 7% of the variance is explainable by income. And note that, for example, Asian students from the poorest income quintile outperform white students from the second-richest income quintile on the SAT Math.

The bigger question is why people think that this is just a priori true. Yes, I can think of ways that lower incomes reduce performance, but why would that necessarily be a powerful determinant?

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I wasn't even thinking of income as directly affecting performance. Instead, educational credentials sort people into different income brackets (though I realize there are people with PhDs making less than some other people without any college) and their kids tend to wind up similar.

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And what is a well-known, very scientifically-studied means through which parent traits are passed down to children?

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Man I really find it hard to believe that with what you know, deep down you don't just realize the brutal truth about black and white IQ and achievement gaps.

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Heredity is one obvious way. Additionally, parents determine where you grow up.

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Jan 29, 2022·edited Jan 29, 2022

I wonder if someone can help me understand why one could not equally say, "if you throw income in race ceases to be a significant predictor." My reasoning is motivated here: I would much rather this to be true. Thanks if you can explain why/whether we know one or the other is the causal variable.

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Multivariate regression analysis has this somewhat mysterious property - for example, the order in which you enter variables matters a great deal for the analysis. It's a function of overlapping sums of squares. Unfortunately I am not really statistically equipped to explain it, but there are plenty of people who comment here who are.

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Compare low income whites to high income blacks.

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

"It makes it feel real - you can literally the effects! " The "see" is missing. I guess it should be: "...you can literally see the effects!"

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I'll post here too I guess:

First paragraph : but a bunch of other people beat me to it (...) have beaten me to it.

+ fat fingered a bracket in "It's":

Getting to the paper itself: it’s called The Impact Of A Poverty Reduction Intervention On Infant Brain Activity. It’[s part

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Sorry I am so bad at this, and thanks.

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No need to feel bad, graded against professional writers that do their own editing, I'd put you in the upper tritile. Typo threads are practically an internet institution at this point.

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Did you write tritile instead of tertile as a joke to illustrate the point?

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I wish, but I'd genuinely seen it spelled the former more often than the latter. A different flavor of irony, then!

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I've only ever seen "tercile".

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

EDIT: I now understand you meant multi-dimensional into single-dimensional, which makes way more sense.

I think "non-inherently numeric result" is the wrong way to put it. I've worked with EEG, and the output is very much numeric and easy to immediately work with, the issue is how noisy it is (and, as you said, you can invent whatever hypothesis you want by reading patterns in the noise). You do seem to understand that later, for what it's worth, but it just makes the initial explanation more confusing.

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I've had very little contact with EEG, so thanks for sharing your expertise.

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I have lots of experience with EEG (did my PhD on it) and your post doesn’t make any obvious errors. I would just clarify that it’s not that some people have “lower-frequency brain waves“ than others, but that the lower-frequency parts of their EEG are less loud, either proportionally speaking or in absolute terms. We always have a mix of oscillations at multiple frequency bands going on, where to a first approximation long distance coupling is reflected in the lower frequency parts and high frequencies are more local.

There also are differences in the peak frequencies of each band, but that’s a different issue.

Meanwhile for example the Vox article gets the basic neuroscience of EEG activity wrong.

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Thanks, I should have said something like "disproportionately low-frequency". I'll edit that.

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'papers apparently “do not have to go through anonymous peer review”.'

Stuart Ritchie: "Contributed" submissions do get peer-reviewed - but there must be SOMETHING easier about this way of submitting articles, otherwise why would it exist? My guess is that the Contributor's handpicked choices for reviewers are almost always granted: https://pnas.org/authors/member-contributed-submissions

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Yeah, I'm not sure how to reconcile those two things, maybe it's peer review but not anonymous? I've edited that paragraph to make it clearer.

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The real key is right here:

"The Editorial Office sends the manuscript to the assigned reviewers...When the reviews are completed, the contributing member works with his or her coauthors to revise the manuscript in response to the reviewers’ comments."

Most papers submitted to PNAS are rejected by editors without being sent to reviewers. Another sizable chunk are rejected after review, which is entirely at the editor's discretion. Contributed papers are much more likely to get published because they bypass the initial filter and always get the chance to revise after review.

I've published in this journal through the non-contributed route so I've seen how editors can look at mixed reviews and either go "seems fine" or "mixed reviews? no way!". I imagine contributed submissions get the former.

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Indeed, I've had many editorial rejections (which is also anonymous - you only learn the editor if it's accepted), usually just for the stock reason that it "won't appeal to a broad readership". My most exasperating experience with PNAS was the time when they took over six weeks to editorially reject my manuscript.

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Scott, for PNAS, it seems the initial review is with suggested reviewers, followed by an independent peer review where the editor selects additional reviewers. This mechanism exists in multiple journals. For example, the Journal of Clinical Investigation lets American Society of Clinical Investigators request an automatic review, and allows you to select potential reviewers. Like Adam Mastroianni says below, this effectively lets you bypass desk rejection without review by the editor. I recently went through this process with JCI (not PNAS), but assuming it's similar:

-We submitted the manuscript, and gave a list of potential expert reviewers.

-The paper was reviewed and rejected.

-Even though we gave a list of reviewers, the comments were anonymized. We don't know who agreed to review the paper or not

-Despite it being rejected (this was an expected outcome) the process was really helpful, as we got a lot of tough but expert feedback on our work

A family friend who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences chatted with me about this mechanism a few months ago. He said it truly used to be a old boys club where you could chat up an editor and get something published with minimal or lax review, but a combination of poor optics and some pretty weak papers getting into the journal caused them to tighten up their approach.

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Martha Farah, one of the reviewers, has co-authored multiple papers with the last author, Kim Noble. Luby has published with Fox according to Google. So, you can definitely pick "friendly" reviewers for the contributed PNAS article. Farah is an fMRI researcher and not EEG. Unclear about Luby-but also may be MRI-so no EEG (different modality, different processing) reviewers for the paper. Would have been good to see some more "arms-length" review on the paper but maybe that is happening on social media and blogs

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

I recently reviewed a contributed submission for PNAS. The member pre-selects their reviewers and submits the names to the office along with the manuscript (that's why the reviewers are named in the paper - this is NOT normally the case). Everything else proceeds roughly the same, but reviewers will differ about how seriously they take the task, especially knowing that an outright rejection is very unlikely and they can't hide behind anonymity.

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Interesting--you're not even anonymized among the other reviewers? We recently sent something to JCI with suggested reviewers, but the comments were still from "reviewer 1, reviewer 2, etc." so I don't know who's who or if the people I suggested even agreed to do the review.

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Right, and for normal submissions to a normal journal, the editor picks one of your suggested reviewers and then someone you didn't suggest (never only the ones you suggest). In the case of a contributed PNAS paper however, the editor *only* sends it to the reviewers who have been pre-screened by the authors. I don't remember for sure if the names were appended to the reviews we then submitted, so it's possible the authors wouldn't know which review came from which reviewer, although it's pretty easy to guess when there's only two or maybe three.

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But from the PNAS website it looks like that's just Tier 1 of the review process? Am I misunderstanding this? Tier 2 seems to be another, more traditional review:

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/against-that-poverty-and-infant-eegs

Tier 2: Independent peer review

The Editorial Office sends the manuscript to the assigned reviewers and to others who may be selected by the Editorial Board member, manages the review process, and collects the reviewer reports. When the reviews are completed, the contributing member works with his or her coauthors to revise the manuscript in response to the reviewers’ comments. The revised manuscript and a point-by-point response are returned to the reviewers to ensure that their concerns have been adequately addressed.

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Tier 2 is just the point where the editor sends it to the reviewers who already were selected by the authors and agreed.

Think about it this way: if an academy member sends me a manuscript asking if I would be willing to review it, I'm unlikely to agree if I plan to reject it*. I was actually a little uncomfortable with the process such that I almost declined at the outset. But I thought the work was really good, so I figured it didn't cross any of my personal ethical lines to help them out then, even if the whole process still feels kind of gross.

*I don't know for sure, but I bet that if this happens, PNAS would just allow the author to select another reviewer to replace them and/or resubmit fresh.

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That’s an interesting point. Though I don’t understand-how do you know if you’re going to accept or reject the paper before you’ve read it? Or is that just based on the authors and the subject matter?

This should have a lot of measurable effects. First, the member contributions ought to be in general, lower quality papers (you could crudely measure this by comparing # of citations). Second, you could see how often people take advantage of that mechanism. Are there people who publish two PNAS papers per year?? It’s not Nature or Science, but it’s a very good journal and 2 pubs there per year could certainly sustain a successful academic career (thinking very superficially about what counts as academic productivity). There must be some social cost/norm against using the mechanism routinely, right?

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> Why do groups with no real difference between them look so different on the graphs?

Because the power spectrum is basically the Fourier transform of the original signup, and even for signals that are basically noise similar frequencies are highly correlated. This gives that "continuous" feeling to the curve, and makes it look like whether it's up or down, it can't be an artifact of noise. Noise is not nice and continuous!

It probably doesn't help that the plot's y-axis says the numbers are represented as z-scores, which exaggerates the differences between variables with relatively flat distributions.

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Is it fair to summarize the study setup like this:

1. State some research question and some hypothesis.

2. Collect some arbitrary data, unrelated or loosely related to (1).

3. Some p < .05 is taken as a proof for (1).

I am aware that the researchers typically use slightly different terminology (they probably don't write "as a proof for", but something a bit more blurred).

4. Bonuses: babies, cute animals, virtue signals of all kind

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It's not just "this study" that follows that plan. Studies following that plan are a well-known category of pathological science and probably the most prevalent kind at present. Scott is arguing that this study is in that category.

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Thanks, I wasn’t aware that it is so frequent.

One potentially interesting aspect of that pattern is the use of, let’s say, surrogate variables. If you study a new chemotherapy in oncology, you typically use surrogate variables at earlier clinical phases (e.g., tumor response, if the size has shrunk by some percentage, yes or no). Later, in the Phase III randomized clinical trial, you have to use a so-called hard endpoint. Often, this is overall survival (OS) that includes all kinds of death, not just tumor-related. I think the argument is that you wouldn’t be able to distinguish the reasons anyway (e.g., a suicide can also be caused by the tumor), and that any bias by unrelated deaths is cancelled out between the two therapy arms.

Now, we have tumors that grow very slowly, and waiting for an effect in OS is not feasible. The follow-up interval would last too long. Therefore, in some tumors, surrogate endpoints are accepted such as progression-free survival (PFS), meaning that the event time is the minimum of visible tumor growth, and death, whichever occurs first. The requirement is that there is a tight statistical relationship between PFS and OS, and a more or less obvious causal relation between tumor progression and death. And a lot of discussion and a consensus process at the regulatory side.

In the present study, we don’t have that. We may have some unreliable group difference in a dubious EEG measure between poor and rich children in some past study, which is of course far from a tight statistical relationship, and no obvious causal relation between that dubious EEG measure and cognitive abilities. I mean, the present example is just an awful neuroscience study, but more harmful things can be observed in other areas, with statins serving as a surrogate for heart failure, or plaques in Alzheimer, or telomers and aging. In the present kind of research, there’s no bureaucratic consensus process on what endpoint to choose; as a consequence, people can just pick whatever they like.

And, of course, the old problem, multiple testing and fishing for significance.

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But if it has the result of low income families getting a bit more cash to make things more comfortable, then I'm all for that.

https://nakedemperor.substack.com/

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Even if it comes at the cost of high income families getting a lot less cash, to make things a lot less comfortable?

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There's plenty to go around, it's just in the wrong hands.

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Not that much less comfortable. Diminishing returns and positional goods and all that.

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Yes? The marginal welfare value of a dollar is plainly smaller to someone making ~$100k+ than someone making ~< $25k. Taking a family from insolvency to the barest edge of stability creates much more happiness than it costs for someone to buy a Subaru instead of a Tesla or get Postmates twice a month instead of twice a week.

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I feel like the core problem of this perspective is you require there to be wealthy people to exist so you can take their money and give it to poorer people, but at the same time you are disincentivizing people to make more money because they have to give more of it away. This is less a problem for someone in a high-income bracket, but for some, they would rather get government support than work 40+ hours a week for minimum wage. So they become a net negative on the money pool instead of a net contributor. I've seen this in people I know living in subsidized housing. One person in the couple decided to not work because if he got a job, they couldn't stay in the apartment.

I think a better situation is to get the maximum amount of people working and push as many of those people into self-sufficient middle class as possible. You then get far fewer people relying on the government, and far more tax payers that can act as a counterpoint to the rich people at the top.

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Jan 28, 2022·edited Jan 28, 2022

I'm going to ignore for a moment that your argument is based on an anecdotal data point of n=1. The problem you're describing is misaligned incentives not lazy humans.

Yes, the wealthy (and the corporations) should pay their taxes and should not feel burdened by taxes aligned with helping their fellow citizens to live in better conditions. Perhaps, to paraphrase Orson's comment, they could drive one Tesla instead of one for every day of the week.

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I never said it was lazy humans. It absolutely is misaligned incentives, which is the entire problem. There are many cases of this, this is the most direct one that I have experienced.

Can you see the irony of needing billionaires to exist so you can tax them while simultaneously saying they are the very problem? The best way to solve poverty is to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty by giving them the tools and access to jobs they need to support themselves. The larger the middle class the more money we generate in taxes which we can use on supporting those who very much need it and putting it to good use on programs that advance society, like hard science research.

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Leftists would have fewer problems if they accepted that their moral intuitions are just intuitions, and committed to sticking by them. Instead they've deluded themselves into believing that their moral intuitions are backed by science, so they do a bunch of motivated studies, and when they discover that the ocean of the unknowable is vaster than they imagined, they deceive people about the results, justifying it on the grounds that "this will allow us to achieve a moral good".

You don't have to do that. You could just say that we should give poor parents cash because it's a moral good in itself. A study showing an increase in beta waves is not a prerequisite for it to be a moral good, nor will it serve to defeat the conservative counterargument about how this changes parents incentives or increases the national debt etc. All this does is diminish the reputation of science, in exchange for giving leftists the feeling that they are the smart ones and the good ones. That they don't have to think too hard about their beliefs because the experts have already concluded that the facts are on their side.

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I don't have much to add but I'm seconding this comment as a leftist.

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The problem is when you try to say there is an objective reason to do something, like brainwaves here, and then it turns out that is not a reason to do the thing, you hurt the cause of wanting to do that thing in the first place.

You're better off just saying you want to do that thing because you think it is morally right and make the case that way.

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This is an absolutely terrible attitude to have and I condemn anyone who holds to this. Poisoning the well is not good for discourse (shocker, I know). If you're allowed to spout off lies to get whatever result you desire, then, well, we saw where that led us, and were still dealing with the aftermath.

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The New York Times posted this study as the third most important news story on the NYTimes.com homepage and issued a tweet about it under the "Breaking News" caption.

This is a good example to keep in mind when reading Scott's next post about how the news media seldom outright lie, which I agree with. I'd be hard-pressed to find an outright lie in Jason DeParle's news story in the NYT.

On the other hand, the news media has a huge amount of discretion over what it treats as Front Page Breaking News and whether it approaches the story from a credulous or skeptical perspective.

For example, here's a two-week old study in "Developmental Psychology" of a study with a much larger sample size and a much longer duration that finds that the Democrats' idea of more funding for pre-Kindergarten education is not a good idea:

https://www.unz.com/isteve/is-pre-k-school-really-a-panacea/

Unlike the brand new EEG study, I haven't seen much news coverage of this.

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> But this study basically shows no effect. We can quibble on whether it might be suggestive of effects, or whether it was merely thwarted from showing an effect by its low power, but it’s basically a typical null-result-having study.

This treatment of statistical (in)significance is problematic. I've only looked at the charts and read Gelman's blog post, but it seems to me that the study produced evidence that was most consistent with some effect, but with enough uncertainty around that estimate that it's also reasonably consistent (though less so!) with no effect.

Statistical significance does not prove that some association is exactly as observed. But conversely a lack of statistical significance does not prove that no association is present. A confidence interval (or similar) around the estimate would be more informative, but to the extent that we're having to use p-values, a low-ish but >0.05 p-value might loosely be interpreted as saying the data are most consistent with there being some effect, but also reasonably consistent with there being no effect.

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I agree with this point, as well.

I'm more annoyed at the breathless and credulous media coverage of the study than the study itself, which seems like a potentially interesting if small piece in a large puzzle. Those are good and useful things to have, and we shouldn't just dismiss such studies as "a typical null-result-having study".

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Is it really interesting though? I mean, the EEG of the children of cash transfer recipients is not inherently interesting.

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Nothing is inherently interesting, but if the people with an EEG want to measure that, then they're free to.

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I probably should not have said "inherently". When I said it's "not inherently interesting", what I meant is that it's only interesting as a proxy for things we care about. (Such as the intellectual development of children) That's how both the authors and the gushing media pieces pitch the study. That's also the assumption in the comment I replied to which referred to it as "a potentially interesting if small piece in a large puzzle".

The whole research program is supposed to contribute to the question "Are cash transfers good policy?" And my point is that it doesn't offer a contribution to that question, so in that sense, it's not interesting. Of course, some weirdos with EEGs might be interested in what happens to the EEGs of the kids of cash transfer recipients.

As I snarkily put it when the study came out: "For centuries, policymakers have wondered how we could increase the gamma waves of poor babies. Thanks to EEG we no-longer have to rely on silly proxies such as the baby's overall health, their vocabulary development, subjective stress levels, etc..."

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I had a great statistics lecture in a course for physician-scientists. The professor asked us about two pilot experiments and to tell him which we were more excited about; ie which should be pursued further. One where there was a small difference but a very low p-value and another with a huge difference but a large p-value.

Obviously this somewhat depends on context, but despite many people being stoked about the low p-value, all that means is that you're extremely certain about a small effect. Meanwhile, a big effect with a high p-value is potentially very exciting! You just need to design a better experiment with more power.

For someone thinking truly probabilistically, there should be very little difference between the interpretation of an p=0.05 and p=0.0625; the difference in the information you've obtained from those two studies is marginal. In practice, especially in areas where great evidence exists a p value of 0.1 can be quite compelling.

We draw a line at 0.05 because we often have to draw a line somewhere, in a way that isn't post-hoc. There are some efforts to get around this (some journals publish "fragility indices" to say how many outcomes would have to go the other way in their study to make the result negative) but there's no consensus.

So while I agree with Scott that it's probably irresponsible to call this association significant if the statistics were done incorrectly, a p-value greater than 0.05 shouldn't be a magic cutoff in your mind (jimv put this really nicely above)! I'm also a little surprised the statistics were done incorrectly for a PNAS submission (PNAS is a great journal!) but maybe that's naive-tee on my part.

Finally, as i'm sure a lot of other people would point out, it's hard to know how meaningful a difference in beta and gamma waves are, and using a surrogate endpoint for something like this strikes me as imprudent.

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This is an important point! The data may not allow the researchers to reject the null at standard levels of significance, but they are still most consistent with a positive effect. Perhaps the headline should read: “Under-powered study may have found…. More research needed.”

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author

This is basically what I say in "Andrew Gelman finishes his article by warning us not to conclude that cash grants don’t affect kids’ EEGs. For all we know, they might and this study is just underpowered to detect it. That’s fine and I agree."

Possibly I could have been more careful here, I'm not sure. Is p = 0.49 "no effect" or "some effect but it didn't reach statistical significance"? P = 0.1? I think the way I used the term is basically fair but I understand why you might not.

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I'm probably most wary of the words in the first of your sentences I quoted: "shows no effect". Showing no effect would be quite a strong claim! Based on my reading of your article and Gelman's blog post (not the article) it sounds like the study wasn't powered enough to show no effect.

A slightly more careful wording would have been "does not show an effect". But given what the point estimates look like, I'd probably steer clear of that too, and aim for something like "does not provide compelling evidence for an effect" might be the way to go.

This isn't exactly the same territory as your No Evidence post from a couple of months back, but my brain pattern matches it similarly, and craves the nuance of saying what evidence this study is or isn't providing.

On the p-values, mathematically a p-value of 1 (in the typical case where it's calculated against a null hypothesis) means that the data is most compatible with no effect. That's going to equate to the case where the point estimate is of zero effect. Of course, even if that cropped up, it could be associated with a wide confidence interval, meaning that the data are also reasonably compatible with positive and negative effects.

When we're dealing with messy human beings (pretty much anything biological or social, I reckon), few effects are ever actually zero. Of course they could be small enough that they're not of any practical significance. And/or they could be highly heterogenous, being positive in some sub-populations and negative in others.

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Because they were essentially posted together, I don't mind putting this thought out here more related to your other post on Bounded Distrust.

Hardly anybody has the time to sift through the information as you did. As an aside, that's why I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. But, most people don't read your blog or other things to help sort through. Long story short, this study is accurately binned as "unproven, possible/likely false" and the NYT ran the story anyway. For most people, the conclusion *must* be that the NYT either flatly lied to them, or was so much more interested in pushing their agenda than the truth, that they were willing to forward a study that was very likely false in order to advance a narrative. For most people, the proper mental configuration *must* be to consider the NYT suspect. The only other alternatives are to trust in known liars, or spend far too much time sifting through information to try to understand and sort it, knowing that most of us lack the intellectual ability and time to do that properly.

Fake News is real, and there's no way for the average person to solve it. It must be fixed at the institutional level of the media who publish lies on a regular basis. Even those of us who can and do take the time to sort through information cannot let it slide that the media regularly lies to us, even in cases like this where they are presenting something "potentially" true. It's a weak study and should not be printed in the media.

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> For most people, the conclusion *must* be that the NYT either flatly lied to them, or was so much more interested in pushing their agenda than the truth, that they were willing to forward a study that was very likely false in order to advance a narrative

Alternative hypothesis: science journalists aren't all that bright, they aren't qualified to distinguish a good study from a bad study, and in any case they don't have time to look deeply into these things. If a study in a reputable journal shows something, they report "Study says something", and that's the limits of practical epistemology for them.

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Jason DeParle isn't a science reporter for the New York Times. He covers poverty and immigration.

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I'm not sure a defense of the New York Times should paraphrase to "they aren't good at their jobs so they'll share false material from their ignorance [as long as it confirms their worldview.]" I'm not sure that's worse than doing it on purpose, but it's still bad in society-wrecking ways.

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You should write a listicle by the title:

"Top Ten Cases of Nominative Determinism"

You won't believe number 7! (It's the neurologist Lord Brain)