Showing posts from January, 2016

No true study

In 1979, Lord, Ross, and Lepper conducted a study into how different people - in this case, 48 undergraduates - interpret the results of the same studies based on their different initial beliefs.

This post does a great job at summarizing the findings.

In a nutshell: people who agreed with the study's findings beforehand will consider the study sensible; trustworthy; methodologically sound. But people who disagreed will consider it worthless and flawed.

I've noticed myself doing the same thing. For example: when I was heavily drinking diet soda; before I ran headlong into insulin resistance; I was distrustful of studies showing the association between diabetes and artificial sweeteners. I didn't want zero-calorie sweeteners to be bad, so I wasn't reading studies honestly. I preferred not to read them at all – but if I did, it was only to be able to find some flaw.

I see people doing this all the time. You might be one of the people invested in denying that the concept of…

Scott Adams' Trump argument, and improving democracy

Scott Adams – the author of Dilbert – has written a series of astute blog posts explaining Trump's "seemingly inexplicable" popularity, which keeps catching analysts struggling to explain it. The series starts with Clown Genius, and follows with nearly each post since then. So far I have read one month's worth, though I have been reading two days.

I must say, Scott has me convinced. If Trump gets the Republican nomination, he is likely to win the US presidency. If not, he has promised to split the Republican vote, in which case the Democrats win.

You can read Scott's argument for yourself. It is an amusing read. If I were to summarize it, I would put it this way: Scott thinks Trump is the only person in the race who truly understands the mentality of the average voter, and possesses the skills to influence it. He has failed in his presidential attempts twice, but has improved each time. This time, no one else has his skill, and the chessboard is as laid out for h…

Barva kože in karibska idila: najine izkušnje iz St. Kittsa

The following is in Slovenian because it was originally written as part of a conversation on Facebook.

Naslednje sem napisal v odgovor osebi, ki je zastopala dve sorti prepričanj - da ni kapitalizem nič drugega kot izkoriščanje (kar je deloma res, deloma pa ni); in da med barvo kože in inteligenco ni omembe vrednih korelacij. Pred spodnjim odgovorom sem že pisal o tem, zakaj mislim, da korelacije so, in da so pomembne. V naslednjem pa pišem o najinih osebnih izkušnjah:

"Z ženo imava, razen branja literature, tudi osebno izkušnjo življenja na karibskem otoku, kjer je populacija pretežno afriškega porekla.

Če naju kdo vpraša, kako tam je, jim razloživa, da naj si predstavljajo en kraj nekje na vasi, kjer ni dosti ekonomskih priložnosti, in iz katerega vsak uide, če lahko. Populacija, ki ostane, ali ni sposobna iti drugam, ali pa je za to prelena.

Ampak v resnici ni čisto tako. Na St. Kittsu je dosti ekonomskih priložnosti. Denar tja dobesedno teče. Problem je vsaj deloma v tem, da …

The Overrated Compass

Every once in a while, there will be a thread on /r/books about how amazing The Golden Compass series is. There will be a praise-filled opening post from someone who has recently discovered it, followed by thousands of comments from people extolling how deeply it affected them, both as children and adults.

I read all three books to try and learn what the fuss is about. I might have loved them when I was 10. Maybe I would appreciate them at 20. But I read them at 33, and do not share the enthusiasm of other readers.

The story is your average children's fantasy. It has some original elements – but mainly, children go around and do unlikely things, and attempt to save the world while facing unlikely challenges. Its main distinction is in how fundamentally it's centered around a ham-fisted, uninspired, black-and-white portrayal of religion as completely evil. It comes across as overwhelmingly lacking nuance.

I feel I learned nothing of value from this work. I experienced few emoti…

Most people are no good at long-term planning

A common argument I see in favor of the cruel free-market brand of libertarianism; and against social democracy; is that people should be able to do what they want, without government interference. I sympathize with this argument, since I'm also a person who wants to do what he wants.

The problem, though, is that macro-economically, people are absolutely no good at long-term planning. And it's not even always their fault, since some changes are hard to predict.

Consider the case of coal mining. You can substitute this with any industry that was once prosperous, and has entered a decline. Eastern Kentucky is a place where miners were once prosperous, and drew substantial income. Now the coal mines are in decline; there are no more good jobs to be found; the area has become poor, increasingly full of people with no money and no options; while people in the rest of the state are upset by the increasing costs of social transfers to this area.

The same story repeats itself time and…

Musicians "saving" the world

In the 1980s, there was a famine in Ethiopia which resulted in high-profile cultural efforts, including Band Aid – a supergroup of musicians raising awareness and support, which overwhelmed airwaves.

Here is an insightful discussion on AskHistorians two years ago, of how these aid efforts panned out.

These were large aid efforts made with good intentions, but were fundamentally misguided and naive. They were ineffective to a large extent, and had bad unintended consequences in other ways: including, potentially, helping finance mass murder and ethnocide.