Links For January 2024
[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.]
2: The latest in Flynn Effect research: “More recent birth cohorts have greater cranial volumes, more gray matter, and larger hippocampuses”.
3: What beliefs correlate with low fertility rates? You might expect to find socially liberal beliefs (like that women need to focus on their careers), but Aria Babu says the data don’t support this. Instead, the biggest driver of low fertility seems to be a belief that taking care of kids is a lot of work and you’ll screw them up if you cut any corners. Victory for Bryan Caplan and genetic determinism?
4: Related: The Genetic Choice Project is a new blog/group aiming to support and raise awareness of genetic childbearing interventions, including genetic counseling, screening, and engineering.
5: Related: it’s much easier to genetically engineer gametes than adults - but if you wanted to do the latter, might there be ways of making it work?
6: Cult of the month: Cao Dai, a Vietnamese group whose three main prophets are Victor Hugo, Sun Yat-Sen, and Trạng Trình. I actually got a chance to go to their Great Divine Temple when I visited Vietnam many years ago, but inexplicably missed seeing its Cosmic Eye:
7: Related - the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is “based on the Mayan architectural style of pyramids”:
9: Related: Gwern discusses the history of the early-2010s neural net revolution. “Everyone except Shane Legg was wrong about [deep learning] prospects & timing, and even Legg was wrong about important things, [which is why] DeepMind is now on the hindfoot.”
10: Alex Tabarrok: Don’t Let The FDA Regulate Lab Tests. The FDA does not usually regulate lab tests, but they took over this domain during the pandemic, took over this responsibility, then proceeded to bungle it so badly that American hospitals and public health departments spent months without working COVID tests long after other countries had made them cheap and easily available. Now they’re trying to take permanent control of the whole area. Don’t let them!
(This is especially important because if it happens, it will never be rolled back; once the FDA has been regulating lab tests for even one week, everyone will assume that if they ever stopped regulating lab tests then all lab tests would instantly become fraudulent and everyone would die)
11: Poll: AI accelerationism (“e/acc”) has a negative 51% net favorability with the general public, putting it behind (eg) Scientology and Satanism. There’s no shame in this. But there is a little shame in how the e/accs are surprised and trying to nitpick the result. There could be a certain amount of coolness cred in wanting to sacrifice humanity to the Void Gods - but not if you get all huffy when you learn this doesn’t play well in Peoria.
12: Related: why Patri Friedman is against e/acc.
13: Related: optimists.ai (led by Nora Belrose and Quintin Pope, previously discussed here) is like e/acc, except they’ve thought about it a lot and sometimes make good arguments. I endorse them (as good people to read; I’m still not sure to what degree I agree with them). If you want to do some kind of both sides debate thing, these would be the people I would contact first.
14: Lars Doucet (previous ACX guest blogger about Georgism) writes about adjusting to his son’s brain death. “The correct adjective for the tragedy I'm experiencing is not ‘unimaginable’ but unfathomable. I can imagine it just fine because it's happening to me, and you can imagine it too now because I'm describing it to you. And because we can imagine it, we can turn and face it, and, with God's grace, we can lift up our cross and bear it, somehow. But what none of us can do is to measure – to fathom – the depth of it.” Don’t read this unless you have nerves of steel.
15: Ancient Germanic kingdoms used to devise mythical genealogies linking their royal families to Odin. And lots of ethnically-Northern-European people are descended from ancient Germanic kings. Combine these facts, and you can chart the 55-generation line of descent from Odin to Joe Biden. I think this has actually made me 0.0001% prouder to be an American. The bottom of the chart is Joe Biden’s real relatives, and the top is the real mythological line of Anglo-Saxon kings, but is the middle accurate? I notice it traces Biden’s ancestry much further than most credible articles on the subject, which go up to the Taylors at best. But it seems to be drawing off of this genealogy database. If there’s a fake step in there somewhere, I can’t tell where it is [UPDATE: in the comments, The Genealogian identifies the fake steps]
16: Claim: AIs work less well over the holiday season, because they’ve “learned” from their training data that they should be taking time off. I’m very suspicious of this, anyone want to tell me if it’s been debunked?
17: Related: Grok (by Elon Musk’s x.ai, not by OpenAI) will sometimes say that the OpenAI content policy forbids it from answering a question. Although this originally raised suspicions of code-plagiarism, an x.ai engineer claims that it’s just parroting its training data, which includes this as a common AI response in these sorts of situations.
19: If Manifold is too social for you, there’s also Fatebook, a site where you can record your personal predictions and auto-judge calibration/accuracy/etc. For example, Predict Your Year here. Also available for Discord/Slack.
20: In Germany, saying “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is now a crime, carrying a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment. People pooh-pooh America’s claim to be a beacon of freedom, but I really am grateful for the First Amendment. I think Joe Biden, as divinely-descended king of all Northern Europeans, should claim his rightful throne and free Germans from this bulls**t.
22: Did you know: John Watson (the behaviorism guy) was one of the first child-rearing gurus, popular through the 1930s. His book, Psychological Care Of Infant And Child, sold 100,000 copies “within just a few months”. Watson himself had four children: one died of suicide, and two others attempted it.
23: The town of Qırmızı Qəsəbə in Azerbaijan claims to be “the last shtetl”.
24: The USSR wanted to launch an especially dramatic Soyuz mission to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Soviet communism. Everyone in the space program knew the craft had cut too many corners and was doomed, but anyone who complained or protested got fired. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was picked to pilot the craft, and knew it was a one-way trip, but agreed to go so that his friend Yuri Gagarin wouldn’t have to. When the spaceship predictably broke down, he died screaming and cursing everyone involved. According to legend, Gagarin later “threw a drink in [Russian Premier Leonid] Brezhnev’s face” over the incident.
26: @somefoundersalt on Twitter relays a joke from the Chinese web:
xi summons his cabinet and announces that it is time to strike america. he proposes they nuke san francisco.
one official raises his hand and protests "we can't do that, my eldest son is a undergrad at berkeley."
xi sighs and then says they will instead hit new york. another official raises his hand to state that his sister-in-law lives there and that his wife would murder them all.
this goes on for a bit longer, before xi, exasperated, asks the room: "is there any city in the west where no relevant chinese people live?"
they all look at each other for a moment and decide to nuke guizhou province.
Would it be trivial to rewrite this joke for an American audience? Certainly the basic structure would carry over nicely (it would end with Biden nuking Missouri). But I don’t know how to capture the ambiguity of “any city in the west”.
27: Back in November I tried to list some of effective altruism’s accomplishments. Now the EA Forum has a more official list of some of what EA did in 2023, including help convince the WHO to speed up malaria vaccines, help convince the USDA to approve cultivated (ie lab-grown) meat, and help get USAID to cancel a Wuhan-style “search for maximally dangerous viruses’” study.
28: Related - back in November some people asked whether Bill Gates counted as EA, or supported it, or was opposed to it, or what. There wasn’t a clear answer then, and still isn’t, but for what it’s worth, he recently endorsed GiveWell.
29: The Association Of German National Jews, “colloquially known as Jews For Hitler”, was a group of Jews who supported the Nazi Party. This didn’t make too much more sense at the time than it does now, although some well-assimilated German Jews did have the same negative attitudes towards recent poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants as ethnic Germans (my great-great-grandfather was one of the poor immigrants, and had awful things to say about his reception by native German Jews). The organization’s existence “gave rise to a contemporary joke about Naumann and his followers ending their meeting by giving the Nazi salute and shouting ‘Down With Us!’“ Yes, they were later sent to concentration camps.
30: Cremieux: How Do Elite Groups Form? Good overview of Greg Clark style persistence literature and survey of highly-successful groups, from Parsis to Copts to Jews. Interesting new theory of Jewish achievement based on 1st century BC decree that all Jews have to be literate.
31: Tattoo (h/t @SportOfBrahma, I don’t know original source or who this is):
32: The charity GiveDirectly has announced some early results from the largest yet study on universal basic income, which monitored 200 Kenyan villages for two years (so far). They report highly positive results:
[The residents who received the income] invested, became more entrepreneurial, and earned more. The common concern of “laziness” never materialized, as recipients did not work less nor drink more.
This study is especially important because one common previous objection to optimistic UBI studies was that sure, people didn’t quit work, but that was because they knew the UBI study would end in a year and knew they needed to maintain savings / career capital for when that happened. To test for that, this study promised a twelve-year UBI. Still, people continue to work as much as ever. I’m surprised by this result; is the claim that people still work exactly as much when they don’t need the money? Why? The paper gives some information that you can use to determine that the monthly UBI is about half the average monthly income for the villages involved, so maybe the idea was that people wouldn’t quit in a way that gave them less money than they had before?
This could suggest that the poverty-crime correlation isn’t directly and obviously causal - ie some third factor makes people both more poorer and more likely to commit crime (the paper says that “Our estimates allow us to rule out effects [down to] one-fifth as large as the cross-sectional gradient between income and crime”). For example, maybe a tendency towards impulsivity makes people both poorer and more crime-prone.
But a commenter points out that a history of generational poverty can put you in a social class that might be conducive to crime, in a way that winning the lottery can’t immediately get you out of (“Poverty reflects low access to capital across multiple axes: economic, social, cultural, political, educational, physical, and natural. Suddenly moving one of these without touching the others will produce this predictable outcome.”)
I’m not sure how much this study adds once you already know that twin studies find criminal behavior is about 45% genetic, 25% shared environmental, 30% nonshared/random, although I guess they can help pin down the exact nature of the shared environmental part.
34: If you haven’t seen X joke triple Venn diagrams before, this (source) is an outstanding example of the genre:
35: Prediction site Manifold Markets is running a $30,000 Community Fund based on impact certificates. If you want to make something cool for the Manifold community, you can run an impact funding round, and then they’ll pay you out of the $30,000 if it’s good.
36: Paste a Wikipedia category into https://pageviews.wmcloud.org/massviews/, and it’ll give you a table listing how many views every page in the category has. Use it to explore which countries (or celebrities, or video games, or scientific principles, etc) people find most (and least) interesting.
37: TracingWoodgrains: The Republican Party Is Doomed. Not electorally; it can still win elections as much as ever. But so many educated elites have abandoned it that it won’t be able to govern effectively (especially in the modern world where you need to cross your bureaucratic Ts or your policy will be overturned by the Supreme Court). All of this is a pretty common take (albeit well-presented). But I was intrigued by a conclusion hinted at in the article and developed more in comments sections, which is that Republicans will be dragged kicking and screaming towards something like small-government libertarianism, by the brute fact that government power will always work against them no matter how many elections they win. That is, Republicans will never be able to teach conservative principles (or even stop the teaching of woke principles) in the education system, because even if a future President Trump appoints a conservative Secretary of Education, all the teachers’ unions / principals / education degree-granting institutions will be left-wing. But Republicans might be able to create a robust charter school / home school / private school system that circumvents the power of all these groups and gives it back to parents. And ~50% of parents are conservative, which is a better deal than they’d get anywhere else. I dunno, could work.
38: Related: Oakland teachers union stages “teach-in” where teachers urge students to support Palestine and protest Israel during class time; Jewish students / families feel unsafe and flee the district to neighboring districts and charter schools. Some friends recently set up a tiny home/private school in Oakland that can fit another few 5-9 year olds, tuition ~$1200/month, email me at email@example.com if you want an introduction.
39: Also in local Bay Area news: activists protest lack of benches at bus stops by “illegally” constructing benches at bus stops.
40: Did you know - Stanley Williams, founder of the Crips and quadruple-murderer, “[led] an ironic double life in which he worked in a legal job as an anti-gang youth counselor in Compton while also serving as the overboss for one of the largest gangs in Los Angeles”.
41: In December, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the CEO of MIRI his p(doom) in a Senate hearing. I know most of you are just random blog enjoyers and this seems like a pretty normal fact - of course an organization on AI risk would get invited to a hearing on AI risk. But I remember back in 2010 when only a tiny handful of people thought any of this would ever be anything other than science fiction, people treated MIRI as a laughingstock, and for years the consensus was that nobody with any credibility or power or even a PhD would ever give them the time of day. I still don’t know how any of this will turn out, but I’m proud of everyone who’s stuck with it this long, and I hope you all find this as hilarious as I do.