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How Does Science Really Work? / New Yorker

Science is objective. Scientists are not. Can an “iron rule” explain how they’ve changed the world anyway? [...] Recorded history is five thousand years old. Modern science, which has been with us for just four centuries, has remade its trajectory. We are no smarter individually than our medieval ancestors, but we benefit, as a civilization, from antibiotics and electronics, vitamins and vaccines, synthetic materials and weather forecasts; we comprehend our place in the universe with an exactness that was once unimaginable. I’d found that science was two-faced: simultaneously thrilling and tedious, all-encompassing and narrow. And yet this was clearly an asset, not a flaw. Something about that combination had changed the world completely. [...] The allocation of vast human resources to the measurement of possibly inconsequential minutiae is what makes science truly unprecedented in history. Why do scientists agree to this scheme? Why do some of the world’s most intelligent people sign on for a lifetime of pipetting? Strevens thinks that they do it because they have no choice. They are constrained by a central regulation that governs science, which he calls the “iron rule of explanation.” The rule is simple: it tells scientists that, “if they are to participate in the scientific enterprise, they must uncover or generate new evidence to argue with”; from there, they must “conduct all disputes with reference to empirical evidence alone.” Compared with the theories proposed by Popper and Kuhn, Strevens’s rule can feel obvious and underpowered. That’s because it isn’t intellectual but procedural. “The iron rule is focused not on what scientists think,” he writes, “but on what arguments they can make in their official communications.” Still, he maintains, it is “the key to science’s success,” because it “channels hope, anger, envy, ambition, resentment—all the fires fuming in the human heart—to one end: the production of empirical evidence.” Strevens arrives at the idea of the iron rule in a Popperian way: by disproving the other theories about how scientific knowledge is created. [...] Strevens’s point isn’t that these scientists were doing anything wrong. If they had biases and perspectives, he writes, “that’s how human thinking works.” His point is that, despite their heated partiality, the papers they published consisted solely of data about rocks. Ultimately, in fact, it was good that the geologists had a “splendid variety” of somewhat arbitrary opinions: progress in science requires partisans, because only they have “the motivation to perform years or even decades of necessary experimental work.” It’s just that these partisans must channel their energies into empirical observation. The iron rule, Strevens writes, “has a valuable by-product, and that by-product is data.”

In 1989, USC Had a Depth Chart of a Dozen Linebackers. Five Have Died, Each Before Age 50 / Sports Illustrated

Twelve names. Twelve dreams. Twelve linebackers on the Trojans’ depth chart in the fall of 1989, each with the strength of a man and the exuberance of a boy, swimming in everything USC has to offer: joy and higher education and adulation, endless adrenaline surges, alcohol, cocaine if they want it, steroids if they need them. Anything to feel fearless and reckless, wild and free. Twelve players, all trying to impress men like linebackers coach Tom (Rogge) Roggeman, who served as a Marine in Korea. In 1989, tacklers are taught to lead with their heads. Drug tests are easy to beat. Pain is for the weak. Complaints are for the weaker. This is how the game is played. The linebackers form a team within a team, each player with his own role. Seau is the most talented. Alan Wilson is the quietest. Craig Hartsuyker is the heady technician. Scott Ross and Delmar Chesley serve as mentors to Matt, who will become a starter after they leave. David Webb is the team’s resident surfer dude. The Trojans go 9-2-1 and then win the Rose Bowl that season, but football fools them. The linebackers think they are paying the game’s price in real time. Michael Williams takes a shot to the head tackling a running back in one game and he is slow to get up, but he stays on the field, even as his brain fogs up for the next few plays. Chesley collides with a teammate and feels the L.A. Coliseum spinning around him; he tries to stay in but falls to a knee and gets pulled. Ross, who says he would run through a brick wall for Rogge, breaks a hand and keeps playing. After several games he meets his parents outside the home locker room and can’t remember whether his team won or lost. Hartsuyker breaks a foot and stays on the field. Another time, he gets concussed on a kickoff, tells trainers he is fine, finishes the game and later shows up on fraternity row with no recollection of playing that day. Somebody sets him on the floor in front of a television, like a toddler. [...] Twelve college students. Five will die by age 50, their lives stamped forever with an early expiration date.

I Called Everyone in Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book / Mother Jones

Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book is one of the most cursed documents ever compiled in this miserable, dying country. Totaling 97 pages and containing the names, numbers, and addresses of a considerable cross section of the global elite, Epstein’s personal contact book first turned up in a courtroom in 2009 after his former butler, Alfredo Rodriguez, tried to sell it to lawyers representing Epstein’s victims for $50,000. Rodriguez described the book, apparently assembled by Epstein’s employees, as the “Holy Grail.” It is annotated with cryptic marginalia—stars next to certain entries, arrows pointing toward others–and the names of at least 38 people are circled for reasons that aren’t totally clear. There are 1,571 names in all, with roughly 5,000 phone numbers and thousands of emails and home addresses. There are celebrities, princes and princesses, high-profile scientists, artists from all over the world, all alongside some of the world’s most powerful oligarchs and political leaders—people like Prince Andrew (circled), Ehud Barak (circled), Donald Trump (circled). [...] I made close to 2,000 phone calls total. I spoke to billionaires, CEOs, bankers, models, celebrities, scientists, a Kennedy, and some of Epstein’s closest friends and confidants. I sat on my couch and phoned up royalty, spoke to ambassadors, irritated a senior adviser at Blackstone, and left squeaky voicemails for what must constitute a considerable percentage of the world oligarchy. At times the book felt like a dark palantir, giving me glimpses of dreadful, haunted dimensions that my soft, gentle, animal being was never supposed to encounter. At other times it was nearly the opposite, almost grotesquely boring and routine. Seeing at close range the mundanity of Epstein and his fellow elites–how simple and childish they could be–was a sickening experience of its own. The worst call by far was with a woman who told me she’d been groped by Epstein, an incident she said she didn’t report at the time out of fear of retribution from Epstein. [...] They weren’t all elites, thankfully. Sometimes I would have delightful conversations with normal people who had cleaned a car or given Epstein a facial, and only shared in my distaste for Epstein and his circle. Sometimes I would call a number that had changed hands at some point since the book was compiled, and instead of reaching the governor or fashion designer I was looking for, I would end up with just a normal bloke on the line, some poor recipient of a torrent of wrong-number phone calls of the worst variety imaginable. Their fate was a twisted inversion of my own: The oligarchy wouldn’t stop calling them.

How Iceman Wim Hof Uncovered the Secrets to Our Health / Outside

Wim Hof's teachings about breath work and the health benefits of cold plunges have attracted millions of followers who swear it has cured everything from depression to diabetes and makes them happier and stronger. Our writer traveled to Iceland (naturally) for a deep dive with the man and his methods. [...] Hof, meanwhile, is in his element. His exploits in, on, and under ice are so renowned that his nickname is the Iceman. Maybe you’ve seen photos of him standing encased in ice for nearly two hours or running up Mount Everest wearing only shorts. (He made it to 24,278 feet but had to turn back before reaching the summit due to a foot injury.) Or summiting Kilimanjaro in 31 hours—again, nearly naked—a climb that typically takes a week to allow for altitude acclimatization. Each of these activities seems like it could kill a person, but Hof’s only close call over the years happened on his first attempt, in 2000, to swim 50 meters below the solid cap ice on a lake in Finland. His corneas froze, impairing his vision, and he couldn’t find the exit hole. (He was rescued by a safety diver.) [...] Over the past decade, researchers from major universities have studied Hof and found solid evidence that when practicing his method, he can control his own body temperature, nervous system, and immune response—findings that are head-scratchers for medical science, because humans aren’t supposed to be able to do any of that. It’s now documented in peer-reviewed papers that, among other things, Hof may be able to turn on at will his body’s tap of opiates and cannabinoids—euphoria-inducing chemicals that provide natural pain relief and an overall sense of well-being. What’s more, Hof insists, if he can do this, so can the rest of us. “Everybody has control by their psychology over their physiology,” he says. “It’s an innate capacity. It’s like you’ve got a shortcut to your own house, but you don’t know it.” Hof’s cold tolerance and physiologic control would be remarkable enough if he were a Navy SEAL himself or packing an extra hundred pounds of insulating body fat. But he’s lean—six foot, 200 pounds, and just a hint of a belly—with no special athletic credentials beyond being a former free climber and having a startling degree of flexibility from years of yoga practice. The ability to put your foot behind your head, however, is no guarantee that you’ll be able to run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle in a bathing suit. So is Hof some kind of genetic mutant? How does he avoid crippling frostbite or hypothermia or worse? What the hell is going on here?

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The 30-Year Mortgage is an Intrinsically Toxic Product / Byrne Hobart

I’ve always suspected that our mortgage system had bad effects, but it wasn’t until recently that I dug in and realized how truly bizarre the system was. A realistic summary of the American housing finance ecosystem is that most of it has been socialized: while we spend some money on public housing for the poor, we invest vastly more in hybrid public-private housing for the middle class; the capitalist part is what happens if your house goes up in price, and the socialist part is what happens if it doesn’t. [...] So the default life path for the ~2/3 of Americans who own their homes is to borrow a bunch of money to double-down on a bet they didn’t even want to make in the first place, and it’s coupled with an interest rate option. Now, one might argue that this is the obvious right way to do things, but one would not be thinking very hard. Most people don’t stay in one home for thirty years, so the term of the loan doesn’t match the underlying transaction. Most consumers don’t think to themselves “I expect rates vol to rise in the future, so I’d better be long gamma right now.” And most consumers don’t structure elaborate derivatives trades to prepay for consumption. Owner-occupied housing is mostly consumption, with a little investment layered on top. You don’t see consumers hedging their exposure to gas prices by making elaborate bets on WTI futures, or investing in royalty trusts. You don’t see financial advisors telling bacon lovers to hedge their next thirty years of breakfast consumption with a rolling long position in lean hogs. Only in residential real estate do we tell people to behave this way. But given the correlation between residential real estate and local labor markets, and the declining geographic mobility of Americans (we’re half as likely as we were a generation ago to move to a new state for work — outrageous!), this is actually the last risk we should hedge this way. Your paycheck is a derivative whose value is partially tied to things within your control, but partially tied to local wages; the way to hedge this bet is to make a floating bet in the opposite direction, i.e. to rent. My wife and I rent right now, and like everyone in New York I face an annual exercise in sticker shock. In the event that markets crater and banks go under, my current rent will be completely unreasonable. But the rent I negotiate the year after that will be very reasonable indeed. [...] By creating a massive trade (~87% of mortgages are 30-year prepayment option mortgages, and one- to four-family residences have a total of around $10.8tr in mortgage debt outstanding), we’ve caused an artificial increase in the volatility of the ten-year. And that has profound consequences. The US dollar is the de facto world currency, so the ten-year US Treasury is the benchmark long-term interest rate for everybody, everywhere. Ultimately, every asset gets compared to it, directly or indirectly. So if there’s artificial volatility in the ten-year, there’s artificial volatility in every market. All this, just so American homeowners don’t have to think about floating-rate debt, a problem so daunting it can only be handled by homeowners in every country in the world except the US and, for some reason, Denmark.

The small-town takeout store worker who won over New Zealand -- and the world / CNN

It's Friday night in the small town of Morrinsville and a handful of locals are waiting at the Golden Kiwi on the main street for a greasy parcel of fish and chips. It wasn't so long ago that Jacinda Ardern was behind the counter, taking orders at the nautical-themed takeaway joint. Now, the 40-year-old New Zealand Prime Minister is one of the world's most recognizable leaders. Throughout her three-year term, she's attracted headlines -- for being an unusually young Prime Minister, for giving birth while leading a country, for her empathetic handling of the Christchurch mosque attacks, and lately, for her swift, effective action against the coronavirus pandemic. That's given her an outsized profile for the leader of a country of 5 million people. She's graced the covers of Vogue and Time magazine and hosted American TV personality Stephen Colbert at her suburban Auckland home. Last year, she topped a survey of most trustworthy politicians -- in Australia. And, as she heads into this year's New Zealand's election on October 17, polls put her as one of the country's most popular leaders ever. The big question isn't whether she will win a second term for her party, which now seems all but certain, but if her party will make New Zealand history by becoming the first to secure a majority under the current political system. But Ardern is not without her detractors. Her critics say she has done little in her first term to deliver the transformational government she promised three years ago. And some of her opponents are here in Morrinsville, where she grew up.

How Artisanal French Butter Is Made / Kottke

In Brittany, France, Le Beurre Bordier still makes butter by hand using wooden machines. In this video, we travel to their small factory and meet artisan butter maker (and goofy chap) Jean-Yves Bordier to see how they make what some people call the best butter in the world.

Do We Live in a Simulation? Chances Are about 50–50 / Scientific American

For Owhadi, the most promising way to look for potential paradoxes created by such computing shortcuts is through quantum physics experiments. Quantum systems can exist in a superposition of states, and this superposition is described by a mathematical abstraction called the wave function. In standard quantum mechanics, the act of observation causes this wave function to randomly collapse to one of many possible states. Physicists are divided over whether the process of collapse is something real or just reflects a change in our knowledge about the system. “If it is just a pure simulation, there is no collapse,” Owhadi says. “Everything is decided when you look at it. The rest is just simulation, like when you’re playing these video games.” To this end, Owhadi and his colleagues have worked on five conceptual variations of the double-slit experiment, each designed to trip up a simulation. But he acknowledges that it is impossible to know, at this stage, if such experiments could work. “Those five experiments are just conjectures,” Owhadi says. Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at the University of Maryland, College Park, has also entertained the idea that a simulation with finite computing resources could reveal itself. Her work focuses on strong interactions, or the strong nuclear force—one of nature’s four fundamental forces. The equations describing strong interactions, which hold together quarks to form protons and neutrons, are so complex that they cannot be solved analytically. To understand strong interactions, physicists are forced to do numerical simulations. And unlike any putative supercivilizations possessing limitless computing power, they must rely on shortcuts to make those simulations computationally viable—usually by considering spacetime to be discrete rather than continuous. The most advanced result researchers have managed to coax from this approach so far is the simulation of a single nucleus of helium that is composed of two protons and two neutrons.

Room-Temperature Superconductivity Achieved for the First Time / Quanta

Physicists have reached a long-sought goal. The catch is that their room-temperature superconductor requires crushing pressures to keep from falling apart.

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Sculpting Arthur Morgan Riding His Horse | Red Dead Redemption 2 Fan Art Sculpture / YouTube
This is absolutely remarkable. If you don't have 22 minutes (or 11 on 2x speed), here's a Reddit version that's about five minutes long.

Fluctuations in the covid-19 numbers could have a lot to do with the weather / Washington Post

But don’t focus on the temperature; focus on how humans react to it. Because one thing we have learned in seven months is that most spread seems to take place over long exposures in enclosed spaces. So the right question may not be “how cold is it?” but “is this the kind of weather that drives gatherings indoors?” The answer to that question probably varies from place to place, which seems to explain some puzzling patterns. Why did the European outbreak die down faster than America’s? Well, maybe it was all policy, but maybe it helped that Europeans rarely have air conditioning in their homes, so when it’s hot they tend to do their socializing outside as much as possible. The Sun Belt in the United States needs air conditioning to make its sizzling summers bearable — and perhaps unsurprisingly, had a lot of outbreaks this summer. Now that Europe is getting cold and the Sun Belt is cooling off, that pattern seems to have once again reversed. As economist Michael Strain recently pointed out, “Cooler weather three weeks ago is strongly correlated with more covid cases this week.” Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, noted that 45 degrees Fahrenheit, “the temperature range where outdoor dining is no longer sought by consumers” seems to be a particularly important inflection point.

TikTok Sensation: Meet The Idaho Potato Worker Who Sent Fleetwood Mac Sales Soaring / NPR

Nathan Apodaca's truck had already logged some 320,000 miles. One morning last month, it couldn't go a mile more. The truck broke down on a highway in Idaho Falls, Idaho, about 2 miles from the potato warehouse where Apodaca has worked for nearly two decades. Luckily, he had a skateboard in his truck, along with a bottle of Ocean Spray's Cran-Raspberry juice. "I was just sitting there, and I'm like, 'OK, I'm not gonna sit here and wait for nobody to pull some jumper cables,' " Apodaca told NPR. " 'I'm not gonna flag anyone down.' So I grab my juice, grab my longboard, started heading to work." The story could have ended there. As many know by now, it didn't. As Apodaca rolled down a hill, he casually turned on his TikTok account, @420doggface208, and created a video that would make a cultural sensation of his fairly prosaic, if resourceful, commute to work.

Researchers crack question of whether couples start looking alike / The Guardian

The question has intrigued psychologists for years: do the faces of people in long-term relationships start to look the same? Hints that they do emerged in the 1980s and have since made it into psychology courses. Yet in the ensuing decades, the observation has never been scientifically confirmed or refuted. [...] The explanation, psychologists have argued, is that sharing lives shapes people’s faces, with diet, lifestyle, time outdoors, and laughter lines all having a part to play. However, writing in Scientific Reports, Tea-makorn and Kosinski describe how they found no evidence for couples looking more alike as time passed. They did, however, look more alike than random pairs of people at the start of their relationship.

Studying Economics Increases Wages a Lot / Marginal Revolution

Students who majored in economics earned median wages at the age of forty of $90,000 in 2018. Students who majored in other social sciences earned only $65,000. Why the big difference? Selection or a causal effect of earnings? Zachary Bleemer and Aashish Mehta compare students at UCSC who just missed the grade cutoff to be able to major in economics with those who just made the grade. Making the grade causes a big increase in students choosing to major in economics and a big increase in their salaries by their mid-20s of about $22,000. Thus most or all of the observed differences in salaries by major appear to be causal. The increase in salary appears to be driven by a change in preferences that leads students with economics majors to specialize in high-wage industries.

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