Links For June
[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: Did you know: seven countries in East Africa plan to merge into a single state sometime in the next few years (I bet it won’t happen).
3: In 1927, young Buckminster Fuller’s housing business failed, and he decided to commit suicide. Then (h/t @amplituhedron):
Fuller said that he had experienced a profound incident which would provide direction and purpose for his life. He felt as though he was suspended several feet above the ground enclosed in a white sphere of light. A voice spoke directly to Fuller, and declared: “From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You belong to the Universe. Your significance may remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.
Sixty years later, he would describe himself as “Guinea Pig B”, and write:
I am now close to 88 and I am . . . a living case history of a thoroughly documented, half-century, search-and-research project designed to discover what, if anything, an unknown, moneyless individual, with a dependent wife and newborn child, might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity that could not be accomplished by great nations, great religions or private enterprise, no matter how rich or powerfully armed.
More on Fuller’s Wikipedia page.
4: DeepMind on AGI (podcast transcript). Co-founder Shane Legg says that "maybe we will have an AGI in a decade". Other co-founder Demis Hassabis says "I wouldn't be super surprised in the next decade or two." Hassabis also reveals that he's asked Terence Tao about working on AI alignment (no sign Tao is interested).
5: Finally we discover what kind of perverse behavior is so disgusting that it can get you banned from FetLife:
7: Google Image searches for “desk ornament” are pretty concerning. Is this representative of the broader desk-ornament-having community?
8: John Wentworth on accounting for rising college costs. He concludes most of the extra price tag has gone into more courses and smaller class sizes.
9: Twitter thread on shared genetic factors among psychiatric diseases. “We find a correlated factors model is useful for understanding patterns of relationships at various levels of analysis, but that a p-factor is both wrong and not super useful for modeling these particular datasets.”
10: Lee Crawfurd: how well do educational interventions scale? “This figure shows three programs with steeply diminishing effects as they scale (early-grade reading programs, home visits, & teacher coaching) [and] two that seem much more consistent (longer hours & meals):
11: Why is there more mental illness in open compared to authoritarian societies? Obviously a lot of ways these statistics could be misleading, but I take them seriously and will hopefully write more about this soon.
12: Commenters on the review of The Castrato mentioned Radu Marian, a singer with an intersex condition who probably sounds the way historical castrati did. Here’s a sample:
13: Since it’s so hard to get permits for skyscrapers, why don’t we dig buildings deep into the ground? Many excellent reasons, say civil engineers.
15: Academia is only a month or so behind me now, I need to start working faster: Birth Order Differences In Education Originate In Postnatal Environments. And by the same team: a claim that birth order effects exist in some cultures but not others.
16: Change in US cannabis use (h/t @KeithNHumphreys):
17: Richard Hanania: Why Do I Hate Pronouns More Than Genocide? A conservative intellectual discusses why he works on fighting wokeness instead of more pressing problems. Everyone has praised this piece for its honesty, and I agree it is commendably honest. But I also feel like - and I mean this in the most respectful way - it basically cashes out to “because I am a bad person”. I’m not saying this just because he doesn’t spend enough time fighting genocide - obviously we all could do better on this. But he concludes that his personal aesthetic is anti-woke, and that he would fight for that aesthetic even if wokeness “would lead to a happier and healthier society”. My thoughts on this are more complicated than can fit in a link summary paragraph, but I do think the concept of “fight for your own preferences even if they would make society worse” is pretty close to the concept of “bad person” (though with a lot of fuzziness around the edges). In fairness to Richard, he claims that this is only a hypothetical and that in fact he thinks his preferences would make society better. But it’s a heck of a hypothetical. Anyway, worth reading, if only for the questions it raises.
18: Related - Go Republican, Young EA. It argues that although there’s brutal competition for spots at liberal think tanks / journals / policy wonk positions, the crop of conservative intellectuals is so much sparser that there’s much less competition at the conservative end. But the Democrats and Republicans both hold power about equally often. So somebody trying to get power (sorry, I mean “make a difference”) should try to get into the conservative ecosystem instead of the liberal one, since they’ll rise much higher in an equally lucrative field. I agree with all of this. I don’t think liberals should fake being conservative (it wouldn’t work, plus you’d have to be conservative which might not be the difference you want to make). But I would encourage anyone who’s on the border to polish their conservative credentials, and anyone who happens to be a conservative interested in EA ideas to be aware of their value.
19: A poll from just after the Uvalde shooting:
20: Thanks to everyone who sent me this: a California appeals court has ruled that, for the purposes of environmental legislation, bees should be considered a type of fish. I originally thought the court was being dumb, but it turns out that the law they were interpreting, taken literally, clearly defines “fish” in a way that includes bees. So I retract my criticism of the court and instead think that the California legislature is dumb, which I guess we already knew.
21: Speaking of insects, more evidence that the supposed insect decline is spurious and that overall there are about as many insects as ever.
22: Feminism through unionizing female college party-goers. I like this idea, although the devil on my left shoulder is telling me it should involve blockchain somehow.
24: Interview with Edward Luttwak. TIL that Xi Jinping has memorized Faust. Also, the claim of global cognitive decline due to decreasing nicotine use hits exactly my sweet spot for insane yet intriguing theories.
25: Open Philanthropy analyzes their past predictions about how their grants would do. Conclusion: their calibration is great, their accuracy is better than chance but not super impressive.
26: Several AI political compasses going around, I was happiest with Rob Bensinger’s (version below slightly edited by Michael Trazzi):
I endorse my position here, which coincidentally is also around where I am on the regular political compass.
27: Claim: post-pandemic, 40% of NYC public school students are “chronically absent”.
28: An effective altruist group is offering to mentor students interested in EA in getting into top UK universities.
29: Claim from the comments section: “FaceApp morph of all Democratic Senators (‘what if John Hickenlooper was a cannibal?’) and all Republican Senators (‘what if Bob Katter was the smuggest individual on the planet?’) is *extremely* evocative of Paul Fussell's chart distinguishing upper-middle from prole”.
30: Speaking of class:
I actually think this is really interesting! I can just barely remember the time when the culture was telling us that small butts were attractive; now it tells us the opposite. Everyone always talks about how attractiveness is culturally conditioned, but it’s weird to have lived through a shift and have an intuitive sense of how both sides feel from the inside.
31: In response to Russia debating un-recognizing Lithuania’s independence, the Kiev City Council has rescinded the 1147 AD decree by the Grand Prince of Kievan Rus founding the city of Moscow. Moscow now officially has not been founded; please conduct yourselves accordingly. [Update: Likely fake]
32: Global inequality declined throughout the 2010s (source):
33: Poll: 46% of Democratic men below 50 now believe “feminism has done more harm than good”, compared to only 4% of Democratic men above 50 (h/t Dylan Matthews). I would like to see this result replicated before updating on it too hard, but that is one heck of a vibe shift. [Update: probably just bad data, see here]
34: New-ish startup Ultima Genomics claims to have lowered full genome sequencing costs by an order of magnitude, to $100/genome (and incidentally to have broken Illumina’s suspected-of-being-sinister monopoly on sequencing). Here’s some fair criticism, but overall I find this exciting.
35: More in “NYT being bad” news - some people I know in tech endorse Jacob Steinhardt’s claims here that a recent article committed “journalistic malpractice” and “platform[ed] a bully” .
36: Elsewhere in media malpractice news: Sydney Morning Herald nonconsensually outs an actress as lesbian, using the old “well it was possible to find the information so you couldn’t have really been committed to keeping it secret” excuse. They have since apologized, which I guess is more than NYT has ever done.
37: People say that US environmental impact regulations are onerous, but all SpaceX has to do in order to keep launching rockets from its Texas spaceport is all the usual stuff, plus hire a biologist to investigate the effect of lighting on sea turtles, plus perform quarterly cleanups of local beaches, plus operate an employee shuttle, plus write a report on the Mexican-American War (really!), plus “install missing ornaments” on a local historical marker, plus help protect ocelots, plus make an annual donation to a state recreational fishing program, plus ~70 other things.
38: Goodreads reviews by genre by gender (h/t @a_centrism):
40: Related: want to get into AI safety, but don’t know where to start? AISafetySupport.com
41: Indian people getting angry about the Taj Mahal. I cannot claim to completely understand this discussion, but I feel like I have broadened my horizons in some important way.
42: Jessica Taylor: On the paradox of tolerance in relation to fascism and online content moderation.
43: Be careful with your tone of voice! (from Reddit):
44: The world’s smallest motorsport, the Nanocar Race, takes place on a 100 nm track. The first competition ended when:
The American team from Ohio University turned back for no apparent reason after 20 nanometers, the German team broke 2 vehicles without being able to restart, and the Japanese team ended up giving up. The French team lost sight of its vehicle on its surface area, and was also obliged to abandon, comforting itself with the symbolic prize of "the most elegant car in the competition.
45: Contra previous claims, recent research shows that performance on an IQ test does not increase very much (~2.5 points) when test-takers are more motivated. Previous research likely wrong due to publication bias and fraud.
46: Nootropics Depot is on a crusade to test whether other supplements are correctly labeled. Here’s what happened with turkesterone.
47: Natalia Mendonca has been working hard trying to investigate theories of obesity (especially SMTM’s lithium contamination theory). Her main writeup is here: It’s Probably Not Lithium. But I’ve been even more impressed with some of the periperhal things she’s found that apply to almost all “alternative” theories of obesity, like that lab mice don’t actually seem to be getting fatter and the evidence that truly wild animals are inexplicably getting fatter is slim. I hope she puts it in one place someday.
48: Related: Elizabeth VN has released a dataset of US counties’ water quality vs. obesity level. “So far I have failed to find anything really interesting with it, but maybe you will”
52: Some scientists genetic engineered an orange petunia, then closed the experiment down and forgot about it. Then - and nobody knows how - orange petunias were spotted growing at various locations around the world. Regulators panicked, leading to the Great Petunia Carnage Of 2017.
53: Douglas Hofstadter published a recent article pointing out that GPT-3 gives straight answers to silly questions - for example, if you ask when Egypt was transported across the Golden Gate Bridge, it will guess 2017. Rictic on Less Wrong demonstrates that if you ask it nicely to not do this, and instead to call you out when you ask silly questions, it’s perfectly able to do that.
55: Should environmentalists buy coal mines to prevent the coal from being mined and burnt? John Halstead on the EA Forum explains why this is financially, legally, and logistically difficult.
56: This BBC article is on the supposed death of mandatory office “fun”; it claims that with the pandemic culture of working remotely, companies (thankfully) gave up on forced “morale-building” social activities that everyone hated. I agree these were bad, but then the article blows its credibility by gushing about companies instituting new, actually fun social activities that workers should be grateful for, which to me sound exactly as bad as the old ones. Am I missing something here? Do other people just really want their companies to provide dubiously optional opportunities to stay late on Fridays talking to co-workers?
57: Be not afraid! (it’s a great still image, but play the video too!)