Links For December 2022
[Remember, I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]
1: In the context of Elon’s Twitter takeover, @Yishan talks about the generic playbook for corporate takeovers (it really does feel like occupying a hostile country, and requires a surprising amount of skullduggery).
2: Study on partisanship among big-company executives. 69% of executives are Republicans (?!); this number peaked at 75% in 2016 but has been declining since. Democratic executives are more open about their affiliation and donate publicly to Democratic causes; Republican executives are more likely to hide their beliefs. Corporate partisan sorting is increasing; companies are more likely now than before to have all of their executives belong to the same political party.
3: Stereotyping in Europe (h/t @ThePurpleKnight):
Related (18th century German version, I’ve lost the original source but there’s a secondary one here):
In 1983, Hewitt D. Crane and Thomas P. Piantanida performed tests using an eye-tracker device that had a field of a vertical red stripe adjacent to a vertical green stripe, or several narrow alternating red and green stripes (or in some cases, yellow and blue instead). The device could track involuntary movements of one eye (there was a patch over the other eye) and adjust mirrors so the image would follow the eye and the boundaries of the stripes were always on the same places on the eye's retina; the field outside the stripes was blanked with occluders. Under such conditions, the edges between the stripes seemed to disappear (perhaps due to edge-detecting neurons becoming fatigued) and the colors flowed into each other in the brain's visual cortex, overriding the opponency mechanisms and producing not the color expected from mixing paints or from mixing lights on a screen, but new colors entirely, which are not in the CIE 1931 color space, either in its real part or in its imaginary parts. For red-and-green, some saw an even field of the new color; some saw a regular pattern of just-visible green dots and red dots; some saw islands of one color on a background of the other color. Some of the volunteers for the experiment reported that afterward, they could still imagine the new colors for a period of time.
How is this just sitting hidden in a random Wikipedia article? How come there’s no science museum or amusement park where I can use the see-the-impossible-color machine?
5: Elizabeth VN: My Resentful Story Of Becoming A Medical Miracle. This is one of the best examples I’ve read of how a lot of medicine for chronic poorly understood complaints works; doctors shrug, you try dozens of purported miracle cures over the course of decades, if you’re extremely lucky then one of them works, you never learn why or become able to generalize it to other people.
6: Apparently there’s a video podcast with Jordan Peterson and Karl Friston, I haven’t seen it because I don’t watch videos, but it’s an interesting thing to have exist.
8: @cube_flipper describes using the psychedelic 2C-B to resolve muscle injuries (note the disclaimer/warning not to try this at home). I’m pretty interested in this as a research direction. The leading story about psychedelics is that they reset neural priors that keep you trapped in maladaptive patterns. This is potentially good for things like psychological trauma, but the brain is incredibly complex, and some percent of the time you try to reset its priors you accidentally end up believing in chakras or something. Muscles are comparatively simple and I suspect a lot of chronic muscle injuries are the same kind of trapped maladptive pattern thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the psychedelicists figure out simple reliable muscle injury therapies before they figure out simple reliable psychological trauma ones. Related: Andres Gomez Emilsson TEDx talk on psychedelics for treatment of extreme pain.
Hedonium Shockwave is a scent developed in-house to illustrate [an] anticipated phase transition in consciousness. The primary “olfactory idea” of Hedonium Shockwave is the synergistic combination of violet, mint, and an accord of pear and honeysuckle. This combination expresses a powerful yet anodyne uplifting mood grounded in a qualia landscape devoid of negative elements—pure olfactory pleasure at last…”It is, overall, incredibly smooth. My first thought is that it feels like a combination of Metta and Mudita, which are two different Brahmavihara meditations where it’s very soft and expansive for me. It feels very golden and pink. It’s very soft, but it’s a bit sharper, then a really soft sharp. It’s like a combination of metta and cocaine.”
Also it costs $20,000 for some reason, but others are as cheap as $100. A steal!
10: Reason: Blame The Government For The Adderall Shortage. The DEA sets a cap on how much Adderall companies can produce per year, and maybe the current Adderall shortage is because they chose too low a number. “Despite the shortage, the DEA has indicated that it does not intend to raise the limit next year.” But the article is kind of equivocal about this and says supply chain problems might also be the culprit.
11: Effect Of Open-Label Placebos In Clinical Trials. That is, if you give patients a placebo, saying “This is a placebo, try taking it and maybe the placebo effect will make you feel better”, do they? This gets investigated a lot, but the latest study says yes, with a medium-to-large effect size of 0.7.
12: City Journal (quoted in Marginal Revolution) on the trend to bar scientists from accessing government datasets if their studies might get politically incorrect conclusions (obviously this isn’t how the policy’s proponents would describe it, they would probably say something about promoting equity and safety). Originally this was just about a few topics around race and IQ, but now it’s expanded to everything from genetic determinants of obesity to the way Alzheimers lowers IQ.
13: New study finds that black people whose ancestors were enslaved on the eve of the Civil War, compared to black people whose ancestors were free at the time, continue to have lower education/wealth/income even today. If true, this provides strong supports the ”cycle of poverty” story of racial inequality, and boosts the argument for reparations. But I’ve also seen studies say the opposite of this. I would be much more willing to accept the new study as an improvement on the old one if not for, well, things like the link above - I have no evidence that anything like that was involved, but at this point it’s hard not to be paranoid. Does anyone know a good third-party commentary on this analysis?
14: Aella on color synaesthesia. Lots of people report feeling like certain numbers “feel like” certain colors - but which ones?
People tend to associate 1 with red and 2 with blue (is “One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish" a cause or a consequence?). See the post for other numbers, days of the week, months of the year, etc. Some make total sense (eg winter months are white, spring months are green), others are seemingly inexplicable (wide agreement on the pinkness of 8).
15: The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are two of the biggest holidays of the Jewish year, about a week apart. Many Jews only go to synagogue during the High Holy Days, just like so-called “Christmas-and-Easter Christians”, and synagogues get a lot of their yearly dues from Jews who want to make sure they have a seat at a High Holy Day service. During the early 20th century, entrepreneurs founded “mushroom synagogues”, so-named for their tendency to spring up around High Holy Days and then disappear for the rest of the year; the war between regular and mushroom synagogues got ugly and sometimes involved state legislation.
16: Epistem.ink: Takeaways From Three Years Working In Machine Learning. “Machine learning is probably my go-to example for the only realm where academia functions correctly.”
17: Sasha Chapin on his experience with jhanas: “I got tired of them pretty fast. I go back to them maybe once or twice a month. And this is the story, as far as I can tell, of most people who can access the jhānas. They’re cool toys that you put away after an initial period of obsession. Why is that? Well, it turns out that pure pleasure isn’t really what human beings want, actually. Pure pleasure in isolation, after a short period of time, is pretty boring, or even annoying.“
18: Garrett Jones on the politics of COVID masking:
I wouldn’t have predicted this; am I out-of-touch, are the anti-maskers just a lot louder than the pro-maskers, or are people giving weird responses to polls that don’t match their real-life behavior?
19: There is a lot of debate over whether “critical race theory” is being taught in schools. Zack Goldberg and Eric Kaufmann surveyed 18-20 year-olds about what they were “taught in class or heard an adult say in school” and got nationally representative data. I assume that means we can shift to an exactly equally acrimonious debate over whether the specific things the survey found do or don’t qualify as “critical race theory”. In case it helps, here are some of their figures:
20: Awais Aftab sums up the case in favor of antidepressants, with reference to the most common anti-SSRI arguments and why he doesn’t believe them. A much-needed and preferable update to my old SSRIs: Much More Than You Wanted To Know post. Strongest case against that I know of is still this one.
21: Freddie deBoer: The Incoherence And Cruelty Of Mental Illness As Meme. Argues that modern mental illness discourse claims to be “destigmatizing mental illness” by restricting the category only to attractive successful people who do not have serious mental illness, while continuing to stigmatize (and even dialing up the stigmatization) on people with actual mental illness. IE we need to support the tech company employee who says she has mild autism because she doesn’t like loud social situations, but mental illness “can’t be used as an excuse” for Kanye West acting paranoid and crazy, apparently because there are some people with mental illness who do not act paranoid and crazy in that particular way.
22: Rumors of bad times on Mastodon (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, see also here). Is this just nutpicking? Can any Mastodon users anecdotally confirm or deny? Related: I’m told that the unofficial rationalist Mastodon server is http://schelling.pt/, though I don’t know the person in charge and can’t personally vouch for it.
24: This month in interesting architecture - Suzhou Museum, China:
25: Vox: the latest round of pro lab leak papers don’t seem very good.
26: Tumblr user suntzuanime talks anime history: The Endless Eight was the time a popular anime featured a time loop subplot; in order to make the audience “viscerally feel what it was like to be trapped in a time loop”, they reran “the same episode, week after week; completely reshot, to prove they weren’t even saving money. It was unbelievable.”
27: @hormeze on “reinventing the wheel”:
29: Aella’s survey confirms my old one: lots of people have autogynephilia and it is not especially associated with transgender. See also some open thread comments here.
30: Adversarial example in Go: humans discover a stupid trick that can beat even very advanced Go AIs that usually win overwhelmingly over humans. This specific example doesn’t matter too much; it would be very easy to train a Go AI that doesn’t fall for it - but it suggests a more general picture of AI exploitability. [edit: kind of hokey, see here]
31: Sinfest was a standard apolitical webcomic from 2000 - 2011, when it suddenly pivoted to promoting a radical feminist message (the author is male). Then in 2019 it made another sudden pivot to alt-right and pro-Trump themes. “Fans” (there are few left who don’t need the quotation marks) speculate on its unusual journey.
32: Peter Wildeford:
33: One of the most common objections to libertarianism, right after “but who would fund the roads?”, is “wouldn’t a private fire department leave your house to burn if you hadn’t paid?” Here is a very long investigation by someone who has investigated the history of private fire departments and says that - at least in early modern England - the answer was no. I don’t want to argue with this detailed historical scholarship, but I notice I am confused - if the private fire department would save your house whether or not you paid, what was the incentive to pay? [update: see here for answer, the companies sold fire insurance]. Related: government fire department lets man’s house burn because he hadn’t paid a $75 fee, and there was no procedure for allowing him to pay on the spot.
34: Emil Kierkegaard and Meng Hu on the claim that education increases IQ. Summary: it increases your score on IQ tests and your performance on various tasks, but this is one of the times you have to be really nitpicky about the difference between “IQ test score”, “intelligence”, and “g”.
35: Related: Richard Lynn, who is somehow still around and not too cancelled to publish new papers, finds that “IQ gaps between countries are still large but are diminishing world-wide” because of Flynn effects.
37: There’s been some recent discussion of sports betting as an analogue for prediction markets - see subreddit thread here. Mike Saint-Antoine does the research and finds that sports betting markets are at least as accurate as Nate Silver’s sports predictions (not to knock Nate - they may be considering his predictions in their bets!)
38: Related, from Second Hand Cartography: Ann Seltzer Is Better At Election Forecasting Than Nate Silver (edit: see criticism here)
39: Paul Christiano - AI Alignment Is Distinct From Its Near-Term Implications. Paul is one of the giants in this field, and is pleading to people not to throw it out just because they don’t like how it’s currently being used (to prevent ChatGPT from saying politically incorrect things):
If we succeed at the technical problem of AI alignment, AI developers would have the ability to decide whether their systems generate sexual content or opine on current political events, and different developers can make different choices. Customers would be free to use whatever AI they want, and regulators and legislators would make decisions about how to restrict AI. In my personal capacity, I have views on what uses of AI are more or less beneficial and what regulations make more or less sense, but in my capacity as an alignment researcher I don’t consider myself to be in the business of pushing for or against any of those decisions.
I feel awkward about this because I recently wrote a post saying that near-term applications were somewhat related to long-term applications. I think both of these are true; we eventually have to solve the “get superintelligence not to kill everybody” problem, and solutions to that will have applications for making modern AI say fewer offensive things. But you can also support not killing everyone even if you’re against making modern AI say fewer offensive things. I think we’re balancing a really hard PR line here where we want pro-PC people to realize their goals imply ours, without getting anti-PC people to think our goals are necessarily opposed to theirs - but I think this is true and the PR issue can be managed by saying true things.
40: Sufism Reoriented is a
cult part of the diverse and beautiful tapestry of American religious life, best known for inventing the phrase “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and for being supported by The Cheesecake Factory. This article describes their struggle to build a grand Central Temple in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, pitting NIMBYs against religious freedom advocates (h/t Ozy).
41: Effective Altruism Forum: The Spanish-Speaking Effective Altruism Community Is Awesome. EA has been trying for years to expand beyond its Anglosphere origins. Spanish is the natural first stop: a big language, linguistically and culturally similar to English - but it was really slow going. Now thanks to a few hard-working Hispanophone community organizers, it’s finally working out, and there will be an EA Global conference in Mexico City this January. For some reason I find this really inspiring. Contains a shout-out to ACX Grants recipient Nuno Sempere.
42: Elsewhere in effective altruism: Stop Thinking About FTX, Start Thinking About [Giving Yourself] Zika Virus Instead. Nature is healing!
43: Planetary Scale Vibe Collapse, maybe the weirdest post I’ve read this year. Julian Jaynes argued that modern theory of mind, where we know we’re individuals, understand that we have minds, and can “talk” “things” “over” “with” “ourselves” “in” “our” “heads”, is only as old as the Late Bronze Age; people before that were much weirder. I always imagined this transition as gradual and hard-to-notice. The SmoothBrains blog writes about a weird anthropologist who claimed to have been on a tiny Indian Ocean island during the exact moment of a sudden phase transition from pre-Jaynesian to post-Jaynesian mental states. I am almost sure this is false, and it goes harder on the Noble Savage trope than I have ever seen anything go before - but it was still very much worth reading.
Why did Native American scores (light reddish on the graph) crash in 2016? Roland proposes that this was around the time Elizabeth Warren got in trouble for pretending to be Native on her college application. Before then, thousands of high-achieving Whites with 0.5% Native ancestry were attempting the same trick each year; afterwards, they decided en masse that it was too risky and checked the “White” box on the test form instead. Since those people got higher SAT scores than real Natives, this looked like a score collapse. This is complete conjecture based on one guy on Twitter, but do you have a better explanation? [update: alternative explanation here]
45: Erik Hoel talks about his decision to leave academia for Substack.
46: Did you know: in the Japanese
cult new religious movement Oomoto, “the creator of Esperanto, L. L. Zamenhof, is revered as a god”.
47: EA Forum: A Letter To The Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists. Apparently the Bulletin published accusations of research misconduct about Will MacAskill which they knew to be false at the time of publication. Since then, two of the scientists the article said it approached have spoken out on Twitter (1, 2), confirming that the Bulletin never even interviewed them in the first place. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists are also the people who update the Doomsday Clock, so I guess if they’re liars that’s actually really good news for the world!
48: Bean (formerly the guy who posted battleship content in SSC open threads) on The Case For The F-35.
49: A challenge to the Albion’s Seed hypothesis. The Scotch-Irish “were never more than 20% of the people of any colony”. So how is their culture supposed to have influenced the South and Appalachia so thoroughly? I originally thought “colony” was doing a lot of the work here, but the data source includes Kentucky and Tennessee. [update: see here for criticism]
50: Ozy on whether they and Richard Hanania have mutually incomprehensible moral systems, with Richard in the comments. I can’t remember if Ozy has ever literally been a purple-haired trans person, but they are definitely an at-least-figuratively-purple-haired trans person, whereas Hanania is known for his bold proposal to build an entire moral system off of disliking people who change their pronouns. If even they can have a civil discussion, what’s your excuse?
51: Tom Chivers on “the dress” optical illusion:
52: The highest-rated political comedy show on TV, with four times as many viewers as The Daily Show, is Gutfeld!, a right-wing Fox production I never heard of until now. Industry insider Jeff Maurer explains Why “Gutfeld” Is The Highest-Rated Political Comedy Show On Television (It’s Not Because It’s Good). Short answer: it produces a lot of episodes, mostly by diluting the (hard to produce) comedy with a lot of (easy to produce) panels, then handles the panels well enough that viewers don’t feel ripped off. Also: “Gutfeld! certainly doesn’t do anything to dispel my belief that the Republican Party is intellectually brain dead” (h/t Ne0liberal)
53: From Works In Progress: The Story Of VaccinateCA, by Patrick McKenzie (@patio11). The very beginning of rolling out COVID vaccines in California was plagued by political and logistical nightmares. Patrick McKenzie of Stripe and a few of his friends founded a group to try to break the logjam, and ended up saving thousands of lives. Highly highly recommended, both as a story about heroic altruism and as a look into how the political sausage gets made (or doesn’t). Don’t worry, there are juicy culture war parts.
54: Congratulations to @AliceFromQueens on Twitter, who has complained about being shadowbanned for months now. People kept saying she was paranoid or mocking her with “maybe you just suck”, but now it’s been revealed that Twitter was shadowbanning people after all. I think of this as a genuinely impressive story of rationality and willingness to stick to the data even when people call you crazy. Related: Congressional follower numbers before and after Twitter stopped shadowbanning. Related: far-right blogger Steve Sailer’s follower numbers before and after Twitter stopped shadowbanning.
55: The amateur nutrition blogging world is getting pretty vicious:
(there’s a good foreshadowing of what that annihilation might look like here)
56: How And Why To Be Ladylike (For Women With Autism). I know ACX readership is 85-90% male, but I recommend this article to people of any gender. Partly because it doubles as a good explanation of why “ladylikeness” should exist as a concept. But also because I think straight people benefit from reading dating advice aimed at the opposite sex - not just so you can catch their adversarial strategies, but also so you know what constraints they’re working under, why they’re hard, and what they’re after.
57: @Cryptovexillologist: Disconnected Thoughts On Art Reproduction. The highlight is a mention of this 1640 piece, Christ Crucified (With Donor), which I think of as the Renaissance version of the highest Kickstarter reward tier: