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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Scientist? / New York Times
You might not guess from looking at him that Rob Wielgus was until recently a tenured professor of wildlife ecology. Wielgus likes to spend time in the backwoods of the American West that lie off the edge of most tourist maps, and he dresses the part: motorcycle leathers, tattoos on both forearms, the stringy hairs of a goatee dangling like lichen from his lower lip. [...] Wielgus had spent years in the surrounding woods doing research, and he loved the area. Now he considered it hostile territory. Before he pushed through the swinging doors of a bar, he paused and lifted an untucked shirt to show me the black handle of a .357 handgun poking from the front pocket of his jeans. “Too many death threats,” he said. “I never started carrying this till I started studying wolves.” Not long ago, Wielgus was a respected researcher at Washington State University in Pullman, in the far eastern part of the state, with his own prosperous lab and several graduate students under his guidance. His specialty was North American apex predators — mountain lions and bears. Over a 35-year career, Wielgus has published surprising research about how these animals behave, especially once their paths cross with civilization. Unlike some wildlife research, which can be esoteric, Wielgus’s work by its nature has concrete, real-world implications. And Wielgus, by his nature, hasn’t been shy about emerging from academia to tell wildlife managers, ranchers and politicians exactly how they have screwed up and why they should pay more attention to him and his findings. He is accustomed to being the least-popular man in the room. Wielgus had no idea how unpopular he could get, though, until he began to study wolves. By the time I met him, his academic reputation lay in shreds. His lab was essentially shuttered. He was $50,000 in debt, he said, and he had had to pull his daughters out of college. His career, he told me, was over.
The Psychology of Money / Collaborative Fund
A very popular piece that I only recently got around to reading:
In what other field does someone with no education, no relevant experience, no resources, and no connections vastly outperform someone with the best education, the most relevant experiences, the best resources and the best connections? There will never be a story of a Grace Groner performing heart surgery better than a Harvard-trained cardiologist. Or building a faster chip than Apple’s engineers. Unthinkable. But these stories happen in investing. That’s because investing is not the study of finance. It’s the study of how people behave with money. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people. [...] No one thinks luck doesn’t play a role in financial success. But since it’s hard to quantify luck, and rude to suggest people’s success is owed to luck, the default stance is often to implicitly ignore luck as a factor. If I say, “There are a billion investors in the world. By sheer chance, would you expect 100 of them to become billionaires predominately off luck?” You would reply, “Of course.” But then if I ask you to name those investors – to their face – you will back down. That’s the problem. The same goes for failure. Did failed businesses not try hard enough? Were bad investments not thought through well enough? Are wayward careers the product of laziness? In some parts, yes. Of course. But how much? It’s so hard to know. And when it’s hard to know we default to the extremes of assuming failures are predominantly caused by mistakes. Which itself is a mistake.
Targeted: A Family and the Quest to Stop the Next School Shooter / Oregonian
The worried father understood that when school officials said they were putting his teenager through a threat assessment, what they meant was “We think the next school shooter could be your son.” Like almost every parent who sends a child to a school in America these days, Mark feared the next school shooting. He wanted to believe the school’s threat assessment system would help make sure Portland wasn’t the next Parkland. So when a police officer came to his home without a warrant, Mark welcomed him inside. He handed over the family guns despite having no legal obligation to do so. He told his nerdy, logical 16-year-old to be patient and remember what Spock from Star Trek always said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Be open, show you have nothing to hide, let the process work and you’ll be cleared, Mark thought. Yet here he was, about to bring his family bad news: Parkrose High still considered his son a threat.
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The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber / Nautilus
Alex Honnold has his own verb. “To honnold”—usually written as “honnolding”—is to stand in some high, precarious place with your back to the wall, looking straight into the abyss. To face fear, literally. The verb was inspired by photographs of Honnold in precisely that position on Thank God Ledge, located 1,800 feet off the deck in Yosemite National Park. Honnold side-shuffled across this narrow sill of stone, heels to the wall, toes touching the void, when, in 2008, he became the first rock climber ever to scale the sheer granite face of Half Dome alone and without a rope. Had he lost his balance, he would have fallen for 10 long seconds to his death on the ground far below. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Honnold is history’s greatest ever climber in the free solo style, meaning he ascends without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Above about 50 feet, any fall would likely be lethal, which means that, on epic days of soloing, he might spend 12 or more hours in the Death Zone. On the hardest parts of some climbing routes, his fingers will have no more contact with the rock than most people have with the touchscreens of their phones, while his toes press down on edges as thin as sticks of gum. Just watching a video of Honnold climbing will trigger some degree of vertigo, heart palpitations, or nausea in most people, and that’s if they can watch them at all. Even Honnold has said that his palms sweat when he watches himself on film. [...] “I’ve always preferred not to look inside the sausage,” he says. “Like, if it works, it works. Why ask questions about it? But now I feel like I’ve sort of stepped past that.” And so, on this morning in March, 2016, he is laid out, sausage-roll style, inside a large, white tube at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. The tube is a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scanner, essentially a huge magnet, which detects activity in the brain’s different regions by tracing blood flows.
Why haven’t we found aliens yet? / Vox
SSC Journal Club: Dissolving the Fermi Paradox / Slate Star Codex
Last year, I sent out a Marginal Revolution piece about Sandberg, Drexler, and Ord resolving Fermi's Paradox; now they've published a paper:
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford brings a new perspective to this conundrum. In early June, Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord of the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) released a paper that may solve the Fermi paradox — the discrepancy between our expected existence of alien signals and the universe’s apparent lack of them — once and for all. Using fresh statistical methods, the paper re-asks the question “Are we alone?” and draws some groundbreaking conclusions: We Earthlings are not only likely to be the sole intelligence in the Milky Way, but there is about a 50 percent chance we are alone in the entire observable universe.
Here's more from Scott Alexander:
Imagine we knew God flipped a coin. If it came up heads, He made 10 billion alien civilization. If it came up tails, He made none besides Earth. Using our one parameter Drake Equation, we determine that on average there should be 5 billion alien civilizations. Since we see zero, that’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? No. In this case the mean is meaningless. It’s not at all surprising that we see zero alien civilizations, it just means the coin must have landed tails. SDO say that relying on the Drake Equation is the same kind of error. We’re not interested in the average number of alien civilizations, we’re interested in the distribution of probability over number of alien civilizations. In particular, what is the probability of few-to-none?
Japan’s Vegetable-Eating Men / Topic
The transition wasn't easy when Shuichi first became a "househusband" in the early aughts. His wife had been working as a graphic designer, and she set herself on a path toward promotions and higher pay. At home, Shuichi felt the scrutiny of everyone around him if he went out to the grocery store in the middle of the day. So he dressed up. “For a long time, when I felt well enough to go out I would put on my suit, even just to go to the store or do the dishes,” he explains. To be an adult man not in a suit rushing to or from work at the time was to mark oneself as abnormal. The common term for married, unemployed men at the time was himo—“string,” a derogatory reference to their financial dependence on their wives.
How Magic Johnson's late-night meeting sealed the Lakers' deal for LeBron James / Los Angeles Times
Under cover of darkness and all by himself, Magic Johnson arrived at LeBron James’ Brentwood house at 9:01 p.m. on Saturday. He knew — he just knew — that if he could look James in the eye and talk to him, they’d connect. They had too much in common for that not to happen. It was Johnson’s turn to save his beloved Lakers franchise. They talked about basketball and what the Lakers’ future could be, according to sources not authorized to speak publicly. James was already interested in the Lakers. He didn’t mind that the Lakers weren’t a ready-made championship team; he could help build that. They bonded as men who’d grown up in the Midwest, men who saw basketball as a doorway to the business world and a way to effect social change. For more than two hours they shared their experiences, members of one of the tiniest and most elite fraternities. And now the Lakers have a superstar again.
Growing up a British-Asian girl meant acting like a double agent / The Pool
In that moment, I realised that the story of girlhood I’d been reading was wonderful, but it was not mine. My journey, like those of other British-Asian women, has been far more multi-layered and complicated. Curry may seem like an odd trigger, but it reminded me that a huge part of my formative years were actually really different to my white friends who sat next to me in school. Curry may rule the kitchen now, but, back then, food was hugely complicated for British Asians, like it was for a lot of immigrants. On the one hand, we knew the food cooked at home was different from school-cafeteria food – and we knew it was made with love. But, man, did it reek. We worried that our clothes smelled, because, even when they didn’t, a common racist slur to be heard when an Asian person walked by was, “Phew, I can smell curry”. One Asian acquaintance told me that when she tried to cook dal in her home-economics class, her teacher asked what that “yucky soup” was. [...] For instance, it wasn’t as simple as liking a boy or worrying about whether he found us attractive. It was worrying about all of those things, while knowing that you could not be seen in public talking to this boy, in case someone spotted you and reported back to your parents. You definitely couldn’t bring him home unless you wanted to be disowned. And you definitely, definitely couldn’t tell your white friends at school about all of this in case they thought you were deeply uncool. Our reality was changing our clothes in public loos, because our parents wouldn't let us wear short skirts, and wiping off our make-up before we got home.
A Stanford researcher says we shouldn’t start working full time until age 40 / Quartz
This makes a lot of sense...
For people smack in the mad mid-life rush of managing full-time careers, dependent children, and aging parents, nothing feels so short in supply as time. But there is time to get it all done, says psychologist Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. The only problem is that we’ve arranged life all wrong. A woman who is 40 years old today can expect to live another 45 years, on average, while 5% will live to see their 100th birthday. The average 40-year-old man will live another 42. For many people, most of those years will be healthy enough to continue work that doesn’t involve intense physical labor. So why are we still packing all of our career and family obligations into a few frantic decades? Rather than a four-decade professional sprint that ends abruptly at 65, Carstensen argues, we should be planning for marathon careers that last longer but have more breaks along the way for learning, family needs, and obligations outside the workplace.
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In Praise of Being Washed / GQ
People tend to use the word “washed” as a pejorative, or as a mild, self-deprecating admission of defeat. But I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect the word describes something far more ecstatic. Recently I turned 36, but I'd say I've been washed for some time now. Two years ago, I got married—itself a pretty washed thing to do—and my wife and I moved from New York City to Los Angeles. It's been a blur of home cooking and “getting into red wine,” crossword puzzles and daily exercise, Tom Petty and the Beatles on the Sirius XM satellite radio ever since. Going to bed at 10 P.M. I've even started to play golf. There's no defending this last activity (or maybe any of these activities) from an aesthetic standpoint. No one looks cool doing it or sounds cool talking about it; it represents a half-dozen things I was raised to despise. But it has quieted my demons in some real and undeniable way. I go to sleep thinking about golf shots instead of my failures as a man and a husband and a writer.
Given the very negative baseline views that respondents have of immigrants, simply making them think about immigration in a randomized manner makes them support less redistribution, including actual donations to charities.
Spiders Can Fly! / Marginal Revolution
That part has long been known (although it was news to me). What is new is evidence about how spiders fly, electrostatic energy!
Holy Crap, Watch This Gulper Catfish Swallow A Fish Its Own Size / Digg
The gulper catfish is, as it turns out, incredibly aptly named.
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