3 stars

Mantic Monday: Grading My Trump Predictions | Astral Codex Ten

The most important / interesting part of this post starts with #5. I’d say that’s 3-star quality; many of you might find the rest of it less interesting:

I had many opinions on Donald Trump. I tried to back some of those opinions up with predictions about what would happen during his administration. Now that the dust has cleared, it's time to see how I did. […]

The consensus take on all of this was that Trump was an “open white supremacist” in league with the KKK, who fanned and supported all of these incidents.

I wrote a post stating that the Trump administration would not feature angry mobs killing minorities with impunity, would not feature state-sanctioned racial violence, would not feature an especially large number of hate crimes, and would not feature the state supporting and refusing to prosecute hate crimes. I said Trump was not an “open” white supremacist and probably not a white supremacist at all except in whatever boring way you can call anyone who isn’t super-woke a white supremacist. I said that he was not getting especially high support from white voters, that he was doing better with voters of color than other Republicans, and that attempts to paint his base as especially white were bad statistics. I tried to make it very clear that this was trying to be a low-scope pushback against these particular claims, and not some sort of generic screen in favor of Trump. I gave my thesis as:

There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him.

…and tried to be as clear as possible by including disclaimers like “I thought and still think a Trump presidency will be a disaster” and “I’m not saying Trump doesn’t have some racist attitudes and policies. I am saying that talk of ‘entire campaign built around white supremacy’ and ‘the white power candidate’ is deliberate and dangerous exaggeration.” […]

I’m hammering this in because people were awful to me after I wrote that post. Every time anything bad happened involving race, I would get dozens of angry tweets saying “looks like we finally have proof that Scott Alexander is a pro-Nazi idiot” and a link back to my post. Even when things completely unrelated to race happened, people would do this. When the Capitol riots happened, with basically no links to organized white supremacy and ~15% of the rioters being people of color, after I hadn’t been blogging for six months, I still had people sending me messages about how this destroyed the last shred of my credibility or something. This was the most hate I’ve ever gotten about any post of mine and it was terrible.

I promised some of these people at the time that I would respond to them later, in depth, after the administration was over, so here goes.

I included some explicit predictions as a test of my hypothesis. Some of these predictions might seem so obvious that I shouldn't get credit for them. But again, I wrote them a week after Trump was elected, in the middle of a national panic, when people were freaking out. Trump was the KKK president! There were white supremacist militias marching on the Capitol steps! Minorities should consider fleeing the country! I was trying to come up with things to predict that corresponded to "your national panic is dumb", and here's what I came up with, plus how I’m grading them. […]

Apparently these two events were the most racist-sounding comments anyone was able to get out of Trump in four years of being President. And they're pathetic. The slightest attempt to read the transcripts of what he was actually saying makes it super clear how pathetic they are. I think my implied prediction that Trump wouldn't make especially racist comments during his presidency proved correct.


2 stars

Getting Sick for the Sake of Advancing Medical Research | Undark

Jimmy Bernot with interest as the nurse carefully transferred a small amount of liquid containing dozens of hookworm larvae onto a piece of gauze, and then placed it on his wrist. Bernot couldn’t see the larvae — at just about half a millimeter long, they are all but invisible — but he could soon feel them: a tingling, itchy sensation as the worm larvae wriggled through his skin and into his bloodstream.

From there, Bernot knew, the hookworms would travel to his lungs. Eventually, they would make their way up from his lungs, slip down his esophagus, pass through his stomach, attach themselves to the lining of his small intestine, and begin to suck his blood.

Hookworms infect more than half a billion people worldwide. In severe cases, they can cause anemia in adults and stunt growth and mental development in children. But in March 2020, Bernot, an evolutionary biologist who was then a graduate student in genomics and bioinformatics at George Washington University, was infected with some voluntarily — part of a trial to test an experimental hookworm vaccine.

Bernot was participating in a human challenge trial: a kind of study in which researchers infect participants with a pathogen, often for the purpose of testing a new vaccine or treatment. Over the years, challenge trial volunteers have been bitten by malaria-infected mosquitoes, drunk water contaminated with typhoid-causing bacteria, and inhaled various strains of influenza. They have been given whooping cough, cholera, parasitic worms, and even gonorrhea.

Now, after months of debate, Covid-19 has joined that list.


Why is Everything Liberal? | Richard Hanania

Some people seemed to think this article was amazing. I thought it was good and worth reading, but perhaps my expectations were set too high:

In a democracy, every vote is supposed to be equal. If about half the country supports one side and half the country supports another, you may expect major institutions to either be equally divided, or to try to stay politically neutral.

This is not what we find. If it takes a position on the hot button social issues around which our politics revolve, almost every major institution in America that is not explicitly conservative leans left. In a country where Republicans get around half the votes or something close to that in every election, why should this be the case?



Dolphins learn the ‘names’ of their friends to form teams—a first in animal kingdom | Science

Like members of a street gang, male dolphins summon their buddies when it comes time to raid and pillage—or, in their case, to capture and defend females in heat. A new study reveals they do this by learning the “names,” or signature whistles, of their closest allies—sometimes more than a dozen animals—and remembering who consistently cooperated with them in the past. The findings indicate dolphins have a concept of team membership—previously seen only in humans—and may help reveal how they maintain such intricate and tight-knit societies.

“It is a ground-breaking study,” says Luke Rendell, a behavioral ecologist at the University of St. Andrews who was not involved with the research. The work adds evidence to the idea that dolphins evolved large brains to navigate their complex social environments.


Everyone Loves the $100 Million Deli | Money Stuff (Bloomberg)

I’d really like to link to every single Matt Levine column, but you should just subscribe to his newsletter; you bypass the paywall that way also.

I think there are two interesting questions about David Einhorn’s least favorite deli: Why was it worth so much on Thursday, and why was it worth so much on Friday? Those strike me as very different questions. […]

If you took all of this at face value, honestly it would be an amazing and fun story? There’s a deli in New Jersey, run by the local high school’s wrestling coach, and he prides himself on the home-style sandwiches and friendly atmosphere of his deli. He dreams big, for his deli. He decides “you know what I should do is go public and expand internationally,” so he pays accountants and lawyers a lot of money to take his company public. He attracts some Asia-based investors (Macau-based VCH, but also Peter Coker Jr., Hometown’s chairman, who runs “South Shore Holdings Limited, a Hong Kong listed company”), and they put up a couple million dollars, and he also hires them to advise him on (1) “the research, development, and analysis of product, financial and strategic matters,” sure, and also (2) how to “create and build a presence with high net worth and institutional investors,” sure, sure, sure, sure, absolutely, sure.


What Duck Sex Reveals about Human Nature | Spiegel

SPIEGEL: Why all this effort? Wouldn't it be easier to just give in to the aggressor's assault?

Prum: To understand this, you have to consider the evolutionary mechanisms involved: If the female gets the mate she likes, then her offspring will inherit the green head and the quack-quack-quack, all those displays that she likes so much. And since all other females have coevolved to prefer those same traits, her sons will be very successful and she will have lots of grandchildren from him. But if she's fertilized by force, then some random male will father her kids, which means that her offspring are less likely to inherit the attractive traits that she and other females like. That means fewer grandkids. Therefore, evolution will favor any mutation that allows her to get her own choice. […]

SPIEGEL: Does that mean beauty arises wherever there is female mate choice?

Prum: Wherever you have mate choice, period -- not necessarily because the females are choosing. There are examples of male mate choice, or mutual mate choice as well. Take puffins for example. They court each other with elaborate displays, and therefore both sexes look the same. They both have the same colorful beaks and the same preferences for these beaks. […]

SPIEGEL: You are suggesting that women were attracted to small teeth?

Prum: Yeah, and I even think that this is where our smile comes from. It is a sexual symbol advertising one's state of de-weaponization. […]

SPIEGEL: But are you sure that the aesthetic experience of birds and the aesthetic experience of humans are the same phenomenon? After all, a peacock hen's sense of beauty is exclusively directed towards the appeal of a peacock tail, whereas we find beauty not only in our partner but also in flowers or landscapes or art.

Prum: I agree, the richness of human aesthetic experience is unparalleled. But still it is amazing how complex and diverse the aesthetic interests of birds can be. Take bowerbirds, for example, which build seduction theaters where they present objects for females. (He pulls a photo out of a pile on his desk.) Here, on this photograph, you can see one of those arenas. Look, what he has exposed: Those are red flowers, that is a bunch of black charcoal. A pile of blueberries is over here and shiny black beetles over there. That green stuff is a rotten log permeated with a spongy green fungus. And you're are telling me that his sense of beauty is limited?


The Real Reason to End the Death Penalty | Paul Graham

When intellectuals talk about the death penalty, they talk about things like whether it's permissible for the state to take someone's life, whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent, and whether more death sentences are given to some groups than others. But in practice the debate about the death penalty is not about whether it's ok to kill murderers. It's about whether it's ok to kill innocent people, because at least 4% of people on death row are innocent.


VIDEO: Is Recycling Worth It Anymore? People On The Front Lines Say Maybe Not | NPR

Recycling works, but it's not magic. As America continues to lead the world in per capita waste production, it's becoming more and more clear that everybody — from manufacturers to consumers — "over-believes" in recycling.

This is a story about responsibility and what happens when everyone keeps trying to pass it off to the next person — and what happens, when finally, there is no next person.


A Foreign Policy Disaster in the Making | Marginal Revolution

We have, however, used the Defense Production Act to prioritize American vaccine manufacturing at potentially great cost to India. As The Economist reports:

Production lines in India, making at least 160m doses of covid vaccine a month, will come to a halt in the coming weeks unless America supplies 37 critical items.

A shutdown of vaccine production in India would be a disaster for India and also for the United States. Our image in Asia will be tarnished at a time when we want to be making allies to counter Chinese influence. Moreover, the US benefits tremendously from a globalized world. Indeed, the US cannot supply its own vaccine needs without inputs from the rest of the world so flouting the rules will boomerang, leaving us and everyone else worse off. Autarchy is very bad for vaccine production.


Inside Ibogaine, One of the Most Promising and Perilous Psychedelics for Addiction | Time

Once dismissed as a fringe, counterculture vice, psychedelics are rapidly approaching acceptance in mainstream medicine. These drugs uniquely change the brain, and a person’s awareness of experiences, in the span of just a few hours. This fast-acting shift could be useful in mental-health treatments, and research is already supporting this notion. Just one dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, was recently shown to ease depression and anxiety in cancer patients—an outcome that lasted for years after their trip. Researchers are recognizing that psychedelics can provide a radical new approach to mental-health treatments at a time when innovation is desperately needed.

For addiction in particular, the need has never been greater. More Americans died from drug overdoses last year than ever before, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


No, Really, Why Are So Many Christians In Colombia Converting To Orthodox Judaism? | Astral Codex Ten

I enjoyed reading a recent Washington Post article, subtitled Why Are So Many Christians In [Colombia] Converting To Orthodox Judaism? It had good interviews and beautiful photos. The only thing it lacked was any explanation of why so many Christians in Colombia were converting to Orthodox Judaism, unless you count explanations like these:

“I wanted to find the truth,” Rivka Espinosa (formerly Loida Espinosa), who converted from evangelicalism, told me. “I began to study, more and more, and ask myself deep questions: What was my mission in this world? Why was I here? And what did I need to do?” She said her father was the pastor of an evangelical church where she was a member. He also converted.

“It was a calling of the soul,” Devorah Guilah Koren, who converted from Catholicism with her husband and two children, told me. “More than a religion, [Orthodox Judaism] was a way of thinking and conduct that satisfied all of our needs.”

This is all very nice, but it doesn't seem like an explanation. Why are more people converting in Colombia than, say, Greece or Thailand? Don't Greek people sometimes want to find the truth? Don't Thais ever feel callings of the soul?


1 star

Gasper Begus (Twitter)

Roboticists, biologists, linguists, and AI experts attempt to decode sperm whale communication. Very excited to be part of this team working on machine learning and linguistics.


The New US Climate Normals

The planting zone maps emphasized a key point about the Normals and climate change: the once-per-decade update means these products gradually come to reflect the “new normal” of climate change caused by global warming. What’s normal today is often very different than what was normal 50 or 100 years ago. This gradual adjustment is the point: the purpose of the Normals is to provide context on what climate is like today, not how it’s changing over time.


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