Search, and ye shall find

Answering the weirdest search queries that have brought readers to Putanumonit.

Hey, reader, how did you get here? Are you subscribed to Putanumonit? Clicked on a tweet or a status or a post? Followed a trail from SlateStarCodex or LessWrong? Either way, you probably know what to expect here. And, you deserve what’s coming to you.

But some people took a more interesting path to this blog. According to WordPress Stats, back in January someone googled ‘nextpart and hack’ and the 7th page of the results took them to my post on water charities. Others arrived on Putanumonit after googling ‘gern’, ‘sci-put’, ‘utrgv “wewillfail”‘ and ‘ya fat njie’. I have no clue what any of these people were looking for , but I doubt they found it on Putanumonit. And if there’s anything I really hate is leaving a client unsatisfied.

I decided to go through the list of search terms that brought people to the blog, and help them out with their unanswered queries. At the end, I’ll share my absolute favorite link to Putanumonit, one that by itself would have made the hundreds of hours I spend on this site worthwhile.


There but for the grace of Google go I

Original search terms in blockquotes.

messi before growth hormones

messi b4 when messi was a dwarf

He was actually a hobbit.

messi_of_the_shire_by_tiobolasdoro
Credit: tiobolasdoro, via cheeksoftheweek

lotto king

That’s what my LinkedIn profile says.

“intelligent life economist”

That’s what my Tinder profile says.

second option to keep 3galloping horse in tge living room of narth facing house

I don’t know what the first option was, but I would go with that one.

tribalism in the old testament

How about Samuel 15:3 – “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

March 2016: is an ugly guy doomed as a pua

June 2016: dry spell pua

I guess you got your answer. Maybe you should try a more considerate and respectful approach to dating?

August 2016: a dramatic poem u’r intelligent girl

August 2016: pua date wait next week

There ya go!

penny’s size bell curve

penny-size

85% single

Does the guy you see once a week know that you consider yourself “85% single”?

which number is used for happiness

1-800-SHROOMS

waiting for ur text

Sorry mom.

girlfriend boyfriend love percentage

I’d say 60% girlfriend, 40% boyfriend.

dark arts  manually to hurt someone

“Manually hurting someone” is called punching. “Dark arts” is called necromancy, aka consuming the blood of the young in a gamble to escape death.

football player shifted in porn industry

I imagine you get completely different results if you change the “i” in shifted” to an “a”.

if you vote for the lesser of two evils you are still voting for evil and you will be judged for it. you should always vote for the best possible candidate, whether they have a chance of winning or not, and then, even if the worst possible candidate wins, the lord will bless our country more because more people were willing to stand up for what is right.

This explains most of Hellection 2016.

your beloved is dating

She’s probably dating the guy writing dramatic poetry about her intelligence.


Source of pride

There’s a subreddit called r/getdisciplined with a variety of tips to beat procrastination and such. You’d think the only relevant tip would be “get off Reddit and get back to work, you lazy bum”, but apparently there’s more to it. A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a collection of tips that included power posing. This led to the following exchange, which I have printed out and framed on my wall:

power-posing-source

Let me spell out what happened. The first link is famous psychologist Dana Carney, the lead investigator in the original power posing study, disowning the totality of power posing research and listing a dozen methodological errors contributing to the original false result. This is dismissed by the reader as mere “opinion”.

The second link is my grumbling about Amy Cuddy. This is accepted by the forum as ironclad factual evidence settling the dispute on power posing forever.

Putanumonit: probabilistic prescriptions protecting people from poverty, Powerballs, perfidious plotspolitical polarization and power posing.

Climbing the Horseshoe

“Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest.” – Adam Smith

Exposition (plus an example exculpating exports)

Trump won the election, and people are blaming polarization. WSJ – Trump benefited from polarization, Global Research – polarization made Trump unavoidable, Reason – Trump won because of the PC culture war, Guardian – Did fake news and polarized politics get Trump elected?, Road and Track – polarized glasses don’t work with LCD screens. That last article makes a great point. The other ones miss it.

Trump most dangerous failing is that he sees every human interaction as a zero sum game, a contest with winners and losers. Trump has made a lot of his money by exploiting others, his gains were someone else’s loss. He operates as if he can’t imagine things being any other way. And yet: our society and our economy are based on cooperation and dealings with mutual benefit. As long as spiteful deities don’t interfere, every time humans have tried cooperating with each on larger scales the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Case in point: American trade with China is perhaps the greatest win-win game in human history by the pure number of winners. It helped lift 600 million Chinese out of poverty, reduced the risk of World War III, and saved American consumers hundreds of billions of dollars which they redirected to create American jobs in retail and in services. It also cost about 2 million American jobs in manufacturing. Bottom line: 1,000 million winners and 2 million losers. That’s a 99.8% win rate.

Smarter redistribution within the US could have made it a 100% win-win by helping those who were affected negatively, but polarized American politics prevent smart redistribution from happening. International trade can create winners and losers within a country, but it’s always a win-win for each country on aggregate. It makes no sense to talk about “beating someone” in trade, the same way you don’t “beat someone” at dating.

Of course, making sense is never high on Trump’s priority list:

We don’t win anymore. We don’t beat China in trade. […] I beat China all the time. All the time.

But this isn’t an essay about trade (so save your nitpicking about labor market theories). And this isn’t an essay about Trump (although he shall again prove unavoidable). This is an essay about cooperation versus polarization.

If Trump doesn’t start a nuclear war, the greatest damage he will do is to the norms that allow us to cooperate, globally and domestically, for the next four years. But polarization destroys these norms forever. Those who would sacrifice the norms of compromise, respect and democracy itself in order to fight Trump are doing the Devil’s work for him.

And by “Devil” I don’t mean Trump. I mean Moloch.

moloch-1


This essay was inspired, among many others, by the work of Jonathan Haidt, Arnold Kling, Sam Harris, Scott Alexander and Eliezer Yudkowsky. You are encouraged to read them for more detail, better writing and superior wisdom on this topic. But since you’re here, you may as well read my essay first.

Content note: politics, culture wars, and everything that is wrong with human society. If you don’t want to read about everything that is wrong with human society, please enjoy this photo of my own hedgehog looking very fluffy af and come back next week.

Dip small.png
Disclaimer: you’re allowed to enjoy this photo even if you’re planning to read on

Everything that is wrong with human society

…mostly comes in two flavors: coercion and failures of coordination. Coercion is the bad things we can’t avoid: wars, slavery, exploitation. Coordination failures are the good things we can’t achieve: win-win free trade, nuclear disarmament, climate change control, eliminating poverty, universal love.

Coercion is a bigger threat to weak societies subjugated strong adversaries: a peasant village under the thumb of a despot, a European town in the path of the Mongol horde, an African community raided by slavers. Coordination failures are a bigger threat to strong societies being devoured from the inside. That’s us.

When people appoint governments to solve their problems, the government ideally tries to solve the most coordination failures using the least coercion. For example, a basic coordination problem is having everyone in a society agree to abide by a certain set of rules regarding violence and property. Governments solve this through coercive institutions like courts, jails and the police. There is a balance to be struck – the Soviet Union had lower crime rates than the USA, but most people wouldn’t be willing to accept secret police and gulags just to have less car theft.

But the government doesn’t really decide how to solve coordination problems. More often, it just implements the solutions people already live by, and codifies the social norms that naturally evolved among its citizens. For example, public acceptance of gay unions in the United States has been shifting for decades, and The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage many years after it became the plurality opinion. Politicians have their own incentives, they will not promote honesty, kindness and tolerance beyond what people already live by. Governments are often slower to react to changing norms than even corporation are.

Point is: it is up to us to live by the norms that we want our government to have.

Social norms are themselves a coordination problem: we would all prefer to live in a society in which everyone (including us) is always honest, kind and tolerant. Yet, we often have much to gain from occasionally being dishonest, selfish and intolerant. The harm that these behaviors do to social norms is often ignored when a personal struggle is more pressing.

And yet, social norms are the only way to achieve cooperation without coercion. In most interactions it is rational to cooperate if you expect your opponent to do the same, but only then. This means that the social norms that promote cooperation are the most valuable thing we have, they are the ones that allow us to even start addressing other problems. And this means that nothing is more harmful than the norms that promote polarization and hamper cooperation.

We may imagine that polarization is at its worst today in the era of social media, outrage clickbait and demagoguery. It’s not: polarization is the result of human weakness, and humans were humans long before Facebook. My favorite quote about political polarization predates the United States itself by two decades:

In a nation distracted by faction, there are, no doubt, always a few, though commonly but a very few, who preserve their judgment untainted by the general contagion. They seldom amount to more than, here and there, a solitary individual, without any influence, excluded, by his own candour, from the confidence of either party, and who, though he may be one of the wisest, is necessarily, upon that very account, one of the most insignificant men in the society. All such people are held in contempt and derision, frequently in detestation, by the furious zealots of both parties.

Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest.

-Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments III.I.85, 1859


Horseshoes, bubbles and evaporation

The horsehoe theory holds that extremists on either side of a political/cultural divide share more similarities with each other than they do with centrists. It doesn’t apply to every single debate, but I noted the horseshoeness of the “gender wars” here and alluded to the similarities between the political extremes of left and right in my pre-election essay.

From the top of the horseshoe, society looks like a complex network of compromises and trade offs. On crime and terror, a compromise between liberty and security. On multiculturalism, a compromise between diversity and social cohesion. On trade, a compromise between growing the global pie and fairly dividing the domestic pie. On Nice Guys, a compromise between everyone’s personal desires to be safe, be respected and get laid.

This doesn’t mean that the horseshoe is always perfectly balanced – the moderate reasonable position on a topic depends on moderation and reason, not on its distance from the fanatics. The virtues of racial equality don’t depend on the number of white or black supremacists and their opinions.

From the ends of the horseshoe, the world looks completely different:

  1. A single sacred value defines the worth of every person and action, and cannot be traded off for anything.
  2. An eternal and eternalist conflict, in which every historical or novel issue is politicized to seem part of the same unending war.
  3. Zero sum game: any action that hurts the enemy is good, anything that helps the enemy is bad, regardless of other consequences.
  4. The outgroup is seen as a homogenous glob of menace, with no nuance or differentiation.
  5. The enemy is easily comprehended, seen clearly across the narrow gap. The enemy’s tactics (conformity for the in-group, condemnation for the rest) and the enemy’s worldview (same sacred value, just with a flipped polarity) are very familiar.
  6. The moderate centrists are utterly incomprehensible, hidden from view by the horseshoe curve of almost-sympathizers. To extremists of either end, the centrists are despised as traitors. “All such people are held in contempt and derision, frequently in detestation, by the furious zealots of both parties.”

You can see why people sliding down the horseshoe is worrying from the point of view of someone who believes in epistemic charity, the pursuit of truth, and that policy debates usually have two sides. You can see why this slide away from cooperation is the scariest thing in the world to someone who believes that we are facing massive and existential challenges that can only be solved by global cooperation.

At the very bottom of the horseshoe, where cooperation is unimaginable and win-win games turn into mutually assured destruction, sits Moloch and devours the souls of his zealots.

Molochs horseshow.png

I called the top of the horseshoe “normalizers”, I don’t mean that in the sense used commonly since the election just yet. We’ll talk about that “normalization” later. For now, it means – pulling people towards normalcy, and away from the eternal war and the soul-devouring demon. Most people try to nudge each other left and right on the horseshoe, but my goal is to pull everyone up.

Speaking of, how do smart people even find themselves slipping down towards the nasty edges of the horseshoe? The answer is bubbles and evaporation.

  • Everyone has heard a million times by now that we live in echo-chamber bubbles that protect us from beliefs we disagree with. Yet people don’t appreciate that two of the most powerful forces in the universe conspire to keep us bubbled up: confirmation bias and the algorithm. The latter latches on to your slightest deviation from equanimity by feeding you content that nudges you ever so slightly further in that direction. The former keeps you blind to the fact that anything nefarious is happening at all. In combination, they make the slope very slippery.
  • Bubbles keep us from hearing those we disagree with, evaporative cooling keeps them from hearing us. When a social group begins to drift towards an extreme position, the sanest people are first to leave and the fanatics remain. The crazier the position becomes, the more devoted to it the remaining members are: anyone capable of doubt has long ago departed.

Evaporative cooling of group beliefs down to extremism happens to media outlets as well, especially as they chase a shrinking pool of revenue. Slate.com is one of the very few media companies that publishes a poll of how their staffers vote in each election. In 2000, over 20% of Slatesters (their terminology) voted for Bush or Browne, the Libertarian candidate. By 2012, that number was down to 11% for Romney and Johnson. This year, as Slate’s centrist contributors evaporated along with their centrist readership – the number was 0.0%.

But I’m not picking on Slate because they disclose their voting patterns, I think this is commendable. And I’m not picking on them because they’re the worst, if you’ve noticed I already linked to a Slate article positively in this essay. I’m talking about Slate because its senior political editor, Jamelle Bouie, just wrote an article forged straight in Moloch’s furnace: There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.


There’s no such thing as a good hate article

Let’s run through the checklist.

A single sacred value – as Jonathan Haidt explains: “The new sacred values on the left are about anti-racism and fighting discrimination”. Bouie doesn’t entertain the notion that people could have voted for Trump because they care about terror, or abortion, or taxes, or they just think that Hillary Clinton is a horrible and corrupt person. To him, all voting is single-issue voting on racism: “People voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes. They don’t deserve your empathy.”

Eternal conflict – Bouie sees everything as part of a perennial struggle against racism. Journalists who urge empathy for Trump voters in 2016 are compared to when “Between 1882 and 1964, nearly 3,500 black Americans were lynched. At the peak of this era, from 1890 to 1910, hundreds were killed in huge public spectacles of violence. And the people who watched these events, who brought their families to gawk and smile, were the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”

Zero sum – Can empathizing with Trump supporters actually increase tolerance and improve outcome for blacks? It doesn’t matter, any aid to the enemy is condemned as sin: “To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration. At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic. At worst, it’s morally grotesque.”

Homogenous outgroup – “Trump’s 59 million votes… Meanwhile, more than 300 incidents of harassment or intimidation have been reported in the aftermath of Trump’s election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.” To me, it sounds like 58,999,700 people voted for Trump and did not proceed to harass minorities the next day. To Bouie, all 59 million share the collective guilt.

The enemy’s tactics are familiar – Two paragraphs after condemning 59 million people for the actions of 300, Bouie writes: “[Trump’s] campaign indulged in hateful rhetoric against Hispanics and condemned Muslim Americans with the collective guilt of anyone who would commit terror.” You see, according to Bouie there’s nothing wrong per se with employing the tactic of collective condemnation. It’s only a problem if you condemn the wrong collective.

The moderates are incomprehensible – Who are these terrible racists who are compared to the people who cheered at lynchings? Who are these right-wing extremists that Bouie calls “morally grotesque”? The New York Times and the Washington Post. Reminder: these are the two media companies that Trump has personally threatened to sue while remarking of the former: “They don’t write good. They have people over there, like Maggie Haberman and others, they don’t — they don’t write good. They don’t know how to write good.”

When you decide that even your enemies’ enemies are your bitter enemies, maybe you should consider making fewer enemies.


Intermission: why does everyone hate me?

I admit that it’s somewhat self-indulgent to position myself in Smith’s quote and assume that I’m “held in contempt and derision” because I’m the honest voice of calm reason. But I have a sneaking suspicion of reversed causality here. I mentioned some of the thinkers who inspired me: Haidt, Kling, Harris, Alexander, Yudkowsky. I noticed that we have one more thing in common besides fighting polarization and promoting rationality – we’re all (ethnically) Jewish.

For all our talents, Jews’ most remarkable ability is ending up equally hated by both sides of a polarized conflict. Naturally, whenever Sunni fight Shia they accuse each other of conspiring with Jews; so do Russia and Ukraine. In American culture wars, the SJ left hates Jews because they’re the rich and powerful oppressors. The alt-right accuses Jews of sacrificing babies to Moloch, which is very confusing to the Jews who try to use Moloch as a metaphor for cooperation failure.

Personally, I couldn’t find a home at the horseshoe’s tips even if I tried. I’m the worst kind of Jew you can imagine: an Israeli cosmopolitan liberal with an MBA. According to Malcolm X, this makes me an agent of the Zionist-capitalist conspiracy. According to the alt-right, this makes me an agent of the Zionist-capitalist conspiracy. The good news is that I’m bridging the gap between extremists just by existing. The bad news is that I’m only pushing this propaganda of tolerance and cooperation to further my Zionist-capitalist plot of global peace and prosperity (peace and prosperity increase stock prices).

I’m a bit worried that what led me to the center of the horseshoe isn’t cool rationality, but the fact that I was held in contempt and derision to start with. This shall be the new motto of the centrist moderates: “Does everyone hate you? You should try using reason, you have nothing to lose!”


Climbing the horseshoe

Ok, so you want to avoid being at the bottom of the horseshoe where everyone is your enemy and you’re destroying the social norms of cooperation that humanity depends on. How do you ascend to a more judicious position on the horseshoe?

Option 1 – convert to Judaism.

Option 2 – follow this simple, four-step plan:

  1. Find some you disagree with, but don’t hate.
  2. Figure out what they know that you don’t, and vice versa.
  3. Figure out what goals and values they hold that you don’t, and vice versa.
  4. Offer a compromise.

Let’s see if it works.


“Dear Mr. Bouie,

I have read your many articles regarding Trump supporters. I disagree with their content both factually and instrumentally. I don’t think they present the entire truth about racism in the United States, nor offer an effective way to fight it. But I admire your motivation in writing them, and I want to cooperate with you in our fight against racism.

There is no question that you know more than most about racism in the United States. From your writing I learned both about the historical cycles of racial integration and backlash, and about the present experience of being black in America. I don’t know much about either the past or the present of racism, all I know are bell curves.

Your article treats “attitudes about racism” as the only variable that mattered in the election, so that will be the bell curve’s axis. I will grant your implicit assumption that every Trump voter is more racist than every Clinton voter if you’ll grant me the mathematical assumptions needed for a Gaussian transformation. I want to “normalize” the racism of Trump’s voters, if you will.

racism-curve

If half the country voted for Trump, the median Trump voter is at the 75th percentile of racism. That’s 0.67 standard deviations more racist than the median American, and 1.33 SDs more racist than the median Clinton voter (and people like the New York Times). On the other hand, there are 6,000 registered KKK members out of 242 million American adults, that more than 4 SDs out on the racism axis. Even if we assume 100,000 white supremacists, a very pessimistic estimate, they occupy the area on the curve beyond 3.3 SDs. That’s twice as far from the median Trump voter as the latter is from the median Clinton voter.

Your main goal in opposing Donald Trump, Mr. Bouie, is fighting racism. I actually consider other issues more important. Yes, some Trump endorsers wonder if Jews are human (we’re actually dancer), but I am still more worried about nuclear war, the erosion of governance institutions and threats to global economic freedom. I know, I’m a weirdo. But for now, let’s put all that aside and concentrate solely on your goal: fighting racism.

Trump is especially worrying in regards to racism because he’ll be the first president to include the always-present minority of white supremacists in the government coalition. To combat that, we need to build an overwhelming anti-racist coalition. We can’t risk having just 51% of people on our side, we need at least three-quarters of the country. That means we need the “orange quarter” on my chart, the 25% of Americans who voted for Trump but are less racist than the median Trump voter.

Who are they? One of them is my old Jewish colleague who voted for Trump because of tax policy. One of them is my gay black friend who voted for Trump because he worries about illegal immigrants. Millions of them are the older rural whites in Pennsylvania and Michigan who swung the election Trump’s way. The same people whose great grandparents bled for the Union to end slavery a century and a half ago.

We need to compromise with these people because we need them. We need to tell them: ‘We don’t care as much about taxes and immigration and revitalizing the rural Midwest, and you don’t care as much about white supremacists, but we’ll help you out on all of the above if you help us kick the idiots shouting “Heil Trump” far outside the Overton window (and maybe out a physical window as well). Besides, what’s more embarrassing than pasty white dudes calling themselves Children of the sun? Are those the friends you want?

These “orange voters” don’t really care what the New York Times thinks of them, let alone what Slate does. If Breitbart accused you of being politically correct, you would wear that as a badge of honor. All we’re doing by calling everyone “racist” is redefining “racist” to mean “people who disagrees with Slate on anything”, the same way “politically correct” now means “people who disagree with Breitbart on anything”.

You know that dude Carl Higbie, the one who thinks that the WWII internment camps for Japanese were a good precedent? There are many ways to describe him. He’s a Navy SEAL who was honorably discharged and then had that honorable discharge revoked for writing a book about the war in Iraq. Quite a character, huh? And yet the only way anyone in the media describes Higbie talking about the interment camps is as a “Trump supporter”.

Look, we need these orange Trump supporters in our coalition to fight racism and we are telling them that internment camps are something on their agenda. Actually, forget the supporters. Trump himself has only one agenda: “winning”. Let’s not tell him that his policy is locking Muslims up.

Now let’s get to the N-word: normalization. You’re saying that this isn’t just another normal election, that this isn’t politics as usual. Look at that orange person in the middle of the bell curve, the 270th elector. He (or she) is the normal one. To them, it was a normal election, and they voted for Trump. We don’t get to decide what’s “normal” in America, America decided what’s normal on November 8th.

This doesn’t mean that what’s “normal” isn’t wrong, just that treating normal people as if they were evil mutants isn’t the way to make them right. I believe that “normal” is wrong on many things, like altruism, welfare, and football coaching. I try to persuade people to my position with friendly arguments, not by calling them names. We don’t decide whether to normalize the orange voters or not, they are normal. We decide if we’re going to polarize and radicalize these people, or if we work with them to achieve our goals.

And yes, if a bunch of people who aren’t evil mutants voted for someone, that should give us some evidence that this person also isn’t an evil mutant. This isn’t a political point, just a Bayesian one.

You know what this is reminiscent of? Obama’s refusal to associate jihadi terrorism with Islam to avoid radicalizing Muslims. We both agree that Obama is pretty smart, so let’s make a deal. We’ll both reach out to people close to us on the political horseshoe and ask them to adopt the anti-radicalization logic. You’ll tell the New York Times not to call Trump voters racist, and I’ll tell Sam Harris not to call terrorists Islamic. He’ll listen to me, we’re both in the Zionist-capitalist club together. Let’s build our coalition at the top of the horseshoe and at the middle of the bell curve.

Because when Jews and blacks cooperate, beautiful things happen.

drake-hotline
Did you know that Drake is also a Zionist-capitalist Moloch worshipper?

Respectfully yours,

Jacob.”

Flip Flops, part 1 of ∞

Changing my mind about the value of the FDA and the sanity of the stock market.

When they change their minds it’s called “flip flopping”, when we do it it’s called “updating on evidence”.

As a rationalist, it bugs me to no end that changing one’s mind is considered a sin for politicians when it should count as a great virtue for everyone. I don’t know if it helped or hurt Hillary Clinton’s election chances, but it was painful to watch her pretend to have always supported gay marriage when she and her husband clearly opposed it in the early nineties. Would anyone have held it against her if she said that she spent a decade listening to LGBTQ folk describe their struggles and they changed her mind? I have seen people in my life update their attitude on gay rights and admired them for it, I would be proud to support a politician who did that.

Since I’m utterly unelectable as it stands I can admit freely: I change my mind all the time. Almost certainly, I don’t do it often enough. To encourage this process, the least I can do is get a blog post out of it whenever I flip flop. Here’s part 1, with many more hopefully to come.


Flip Flop #1 – I no longer believe that the FDA harms more lives than it saves

So put your matches away until further investigation. A lot of commenters on “EpiPenomenon” and on Reddit disparaged me for being a “101 economist” naively applying simplistic models to complex subjects. These comments did absolutely nothing to convince me. They neither offered a better model, nor told me something I did not know about drugs, nor refuted Economics 101 – that incentives drive decisions. Ultimately, these are genetic arguments – attacking the presumed source of my belief (a blind faith in markets) instead of the arguments themselves (that the FDA is incentivized to err strongly on the side of approving too few drugs too late).

What changed my mind was my mom, a chemist working in the pharmaceutical industry, who explained in detail the rules the FDA plays by and how they go about their job. In particular:

  • The FDA has fast track programs with hard approval deadlines for important breakthrough drugs.
  • The FDA relies on a global network of independent testing laboratories, which are subject to audit. These audits include FDA people physically looking over people’s shoulders and nitpicking their procedures. This network of labs requires a consolidated regulator enforcing a single standard, it wouldn’t work as well with the multiple competing xDAs I proposed.
  • I underestimated the damage historically caused by untested drugs, the worst of which do their damage over a long period of time (e.g. through birth defects). This prevents a quick public reaction to harmful drugs that would limit the number of victims.

There was clearly a lot of direct evidence regarding the FDA I was unaware of, but many people found it easier to assume that I’m a brainless libertarian than to google any of it. The hierarchy of ways to change my mind on an issue is quite clear. Please keep the chart below handy when trying to convince me of something:

  1. Direct evidence
  2. Large bribes
  3. Circumstantial evidence
  4. Authority
  5. Modest bribes
  6. Genetic arguments

Flip Flop #2 – I no longer believe in a weakish form of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, namely that prolonged market distortions are limited by the amount of money at stake

Election night didn’t change my mind about what is possible in politics. Besides having a different president, a country of 49% Trump voters is the same country as one with 51%. But a core belief of mine was shaken on election night: the efficient market hypothesis.

In the long-gone days of my carefree youth (2009-2010), I worked as a day trader for a hedge fund. My job consisted of reading economics news and clicking “buy” and “sell” as asset prices danced a merry jig on my five PC monitors. Then I read Nassim Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness, learned about efficient markets, realized that my trading returns are indistinguishable from random noise, quit my job and came to the US. Needless to say, the efficient market hypothesis played quite a role in my life.

A lot of my smartest friends work for hedge funds as quants and traders, and I understood that markets may be mistaken about a 0.1% discrepancy in the price of pork belly futures in Frankfurt and Chicago. Catching these mistakes is worth enough to keep my friends fed and clothed, but the amount of these mistakes is limited by the profitability of catching them.

I still believed that the markets are generally efficient with regards to common knowledge – that the current price of any traded asset (like a stock) completely reflects everything that is known to the public regarding that asset. I fully believed that all the way through business school, where every single finance professor endorsed weak form EMH and where I rejected several opportunities to go back to the investment management industry. I kept absolutely believing in weak form EMH up until 4 am on election night:sp500-futures-election

At least since October, the US stock market projected that a Trump victory would drop American stocks by 10%-12%. This wasn’t hot air spewed by talking heads on TV, it was reflected in the actual behavior of stock prices, in every buy and sell by a trading desk in Hong Kong or an algorithm in Greenwich. For this projection to be wrong meant that there was a pile of 2 trillion dollars, twice the GDP of Russia, free for the taking. The efficient market hypothesis doesn’t rely on all market participants being sane or even a majority of them, just enough sane people to grab 2 trillion dollars of free money.

The 10%-12% projection more or less matched the stock market behavior on election day, with stocks rising 2% as Trump’s chances dropped from 30% to 10% in the early afternoon, then crashing in the evening as Trump’s victory became likelier and likelier. And then, at 4 am, all the humans and robots who until that point believed that “Trump = 10% drop” changed their minds simultaneously and US stocks hit historical highs.

I have read several explanations of this, and they are all obviously fake in the sense that believing the “explanation” and knowing the election results ahead of time would not have caused you to predict the stock market movement that occurred. The stock market could not rise 10% on news of a Republican senate because the senate races were decided by 11 pm and the odds of a Republican congress given a Trump win were around 90% anyway. The stock market could not have risen on confirmation of a peaceful transition of power because Hillary was winning the popular vote and there’s no way that massive protests seemed less likely at 4 am than the day before.

A lot of very smart people built very complex models that had to account for all eventualities, from a recount in 5 states to a terror attack the morning of the election. The actual outcome (Trump win, Republican senate, Clinton concession, conciliatory victory speech) landed well within the anticipated range. And then, suddenly, everyone decided that the models were wrong after all and Trump is good for US stocks.

This leaves us with three options:

  1. Everyone trading US Stocks was collectively insane in their projection of the election’s impact, and there were indeed 2 trillion dollars up for grabs for almost a month, up until election night.
  2. All the models before the election were correct, and everyone is insane right now due to runaway optimism bias. This means that there are 2 trillion dollars available this very moment to anyone shorting US stocks.
  3. Everyone was insane, is insane, and in fact the stock market is not driven by the correct pricing of publicly available knowledge but by restless voodoo spirits flitting to and fro likes yo-yos in the hands of capricious gods.

Take your pick, and let me know if your hedge fund is hiring.

This is the way the world… is

Today isn’t strange, it’s how the world is. It didn’t become that way today, we just found out now. So let’s deal with this.

10% of the world’s countries experience violent regime change once a year on average. In middle income countries regimes last 12.5 years on average. 90% of the world’s countries could expect a political revolution, coup d’état or violent change in a human lifetime. Throughout history, that number has been even higher especially when you include the risk of foreign invasion.

Trump is not the Mongol hordes.

My great-grandparents fled the Nazis, my grandfather’s brother was sent to a Gulag, my parents grew up in the anti-Semitic Soviet Union. I’m incredibly lucky to have grown up in first-world democracies, but good things aren’t the default state of the world. Good people need to work hard for good things, and sometimes there are setbacks.

What struck me the most about today is how inevitable someone like Trump seems in retrospect. There was no jihadi terror attack this week, no freak blizzard in Detroit keeping democrat voters at home. And to be honest, the candidate was barely electable. And still, the people who wanted Trump got their wish. They were always the (electoral college) majority, now we just know that it so.

The world didn’t become worse today, we just found out that it was like this. If you were a naïve optimist like me and didn’t anticipate this seriously enough, you were wrong. I was wrong.

If you’re in shock that Trump won, I am writing this to help you confront the denial. Yesterday, I asked you to overcome your anger. If you want to bargain about the state of the world, I recommend doing so by donating to an effective charity and actually changing the world for the better.

It’s OK to be depressed for a while. I recommend gin and Civilization VI. For an extra challenge, try to win a cultural victory while maintaining open borders and free trade with all the other civs.

But, it would be nice if we could all get to the acceptance stage pronto, the world needs people who have their shit together. These aren’t the biggest stakes our generation will face in our lifetimes, and we should cast off naïve optimism if we are to do better in the future.


What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

Eugene Gendlin

The Day After Tomorrow

America elected the person you hate most. What are you going to do about it?

Are you rooting for Donald Trump tomorrow? Please read the text in red. On Hillary’s side? Please read the parts in blue.

Imagine: it’s Tuesday night and the result is beyond doubt – a landslide for Crooked Hillary. What do you plan to do? Retreat in disgust from mainstream American discourse and retrench in your bubble? Claim that the “system is rigged” against you? You should be embarrassed, that’s what a leftist would do.

Imagine: it’s Wednesday morning and your next president fuhrer is Donald Trump. What do you plan to do? Scream that the American voters are idiots? Threaten violence and civil disobedience? How very Trump of you.

There are 324,118,787 people in America. The president is just one of them, and so are you. We all shape the kind of country we live in.

Do you hate Hillary’s corruption? Choose integrity. Pick your leaders based on their actions, not their promises. Did the person talking about working class problems spend a single day working a blue collar job? Is the person warning you of foreigners quick to use offshore labor when they can save a buck? This country will be saved by men of principle leading men of principle, not by making compromise with sin.

Do you hate Trump because he’s disrespectful? Choose respect. Learn to respect people from faraway lands, with different tastes and strange beliefs. And by these I mean: Oklahoma, Nascar, Jesus. In case you forgot, respect doesn’t mean letting them live somewhere out of sight. It means respecting their voice and their choice.

Do you hate the lies of the mainstream media? Choose objectivity. Does Breitbart make money when they report the unvarnished truth or when they they post outrage clickbait? Don’t consume just the media that feels good, broaden your view and you’ll see a truer picture. What use is free speech if one doesn’t freely listen?

Do you hate Trump’s bold-faced lying? Choose truth. Do you share articles that attempt to get to the bottom of issues, or memes that make your opponents seem stupid? Be wary of bullshit that promotes a cause you support. Bullshit in the service of a good cause isn’t virtuous, it’s corrupting.

Do you hate the Democrats’ betrayal of American culture? Choose the best of that culture. Promote the best of America: the collective values and individual freedom. Forget about the politicians and their petty fights, talk about the Americans who lead the world in every art, science and enterprise. Remind the world why this the greatest nation that ever stood.

Do you hate Trump’s ego? Choose humility. Don’t fall for simplistic narratives that describe the world how you want it to be, not how it is. Did you study the research on crime, educations, trade, guns, immigration, healthcare? Or did you read a tweet by Vox? These are complex issues, they involve hard trade-offs and unpredictable effects. Be humble when you opine about them.

Do you hate the intolerance of the social justice movement? Choose tolerance. SJ demands blind loyalty, but you believe in honest criticism. SJ hates white men, but you don’t judge people on superficial traits. SJ wants civil war, but you know that Americans aren’t your enemies, even the ones who voted for Clinton. 

Do you hate the intolerance of the alt-right? Choose tolerance. AR demands blind loyalty, but you believe honest criticism. AR hates foreigners and minorities, but you don’t judge people on superficial traits. AR wants civil war, but you know that Americans aren’t your enemies, even the ones who voted for Trump. 

You are better than them. They have no principles, but you can understand their worldview without compromising yours. They blame you for everything they don’t like about America, but you can listen to their challenges and offer them real solutions. In a country that’s going to shit, you can set an example. Fuck the president, you and 324,118,785 other Americans can make America great again.

Don’t be the Trump you don’t want to see in the world.

 

Year 1 Redux – Friends and Rationalists

Welcome to day 14 of Putanumonit’s birthday week celebration! It’s time to wrap up the year-in-review and get ready for a couple of serious writing projects.

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In Zero Agents and Plastic Men I tried to conjure up some new jargon, and it turned out kind of lame and confusing. My buddy Ryan and I came up with a better term for what I was talking about: the skunk whistle.

dog whistle is a phrase that sounds innocuous to the broad public but communicates a “secret” message to the intended audience, a message that outsiders would find objectionable . When Ted Cruz tells rural Texans he’s against “New York values” and they hear him saying “I hate Jews”, that’s a dog whistle. Of course, the people who assume that Cruz means “I hate Jews” when he talk about “New York” are mostly Jews from New York and not actual rural Texans. I guess “Ted Cruz uses anti-Semitic dog whistles” is a dog whistle for “I think all Republicans and their voters are bigots”. Everyone can play the dog whistle game!

A skunk  whistle is the parallel opposite: it’s a statement that sounds much worse to the broad public than the actual message it conveys to listeners “in the know”. Staying on the theme: when my Syrian acquaintance writes “I hate Jews” in the context of Assad being a Mossad spy it could be a skunk whistle for “I hate Bashar Assad” or simply “I am loyal to my country”.

The Trump example I gave, “Mexican immigrants are lazy and criminal”, could be either whistle:  it could be a skunk whistle for “I respect working class whites” or a dog whistle for “urban blacks are lazy and criminal”.

Point is: if you’re not the target audience for the secret message, don’t assume you know what the secret message is. And if you don’t know, give people the benefit of the doubt.


My calculation of how long it will take to catch each Pokemon didn’t address the four location specific Pokemon, like Mr. Mime in Europe and Farfetch’d in Japan. Last month, my girlfriend and I walked 120 miles on foot in Japan over 9 days. We saw a few robots, several cats, lots of monkeys, a throng of deer, and zero Farfetch’ds. So, overall, the trip was a disappointment.

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Arashiyama Park, Kyoto

No one writes a blog for no reason, who are we doing this versus?

Despite being an arrogant, competitive, stubborn and tactless person, throughout my life I have mostly managed to avoid making enemies. When I criticize really abhorrent ideas I try to avoid mentioning people by name. When I do call out someone, it is always with the reasonable hope that they will redeem themselves. Some do, and some don’t.

And sometimes I get worked up in a blog post about the LessWrong Sequences and people think that David Chapman is my enemy.

First of all, I’m in-endorsing the “Postrationality” section of that post. A lot of it is not true (e.g. about Tim Urban), a lot of it is unnecessary, and it is definitely unkind and uncharitable – most of all to David.

I singled out David because he’s a friend of the rationalist community, and I was hoping that everyone will realize the harm that friendly fire does to a community’s credibility. My prediction of David’s possible reactions was as follows: 70% that he will never hear of Putanumonit, 20% that he’ll get annoyed and ignore me, 10% that he’ll comment on that post and we could have a discussion. I thought that 10% was worth it. Instead, David followed Putanumonit without commenting and likes a lot of my post. So, maybe it was OK to be mean and our shared community norms prevented a critical post from turning into a beef? I hope that’s the case.

David also keeps banging out great articles on Meaningness.com at a blistering pace. Instead of making fun of Julia Galef, who’s in my in-group, these articles make fun of Baby Boomer hippies and Evangelicals, which are totally my out-group. I thus endorse them with no reservations😉

But seriously: y’all should read the Sequences so y’all could join our awesome community with its epistemology-promoting norms.


Speaking of the community, now that LessWrong.com is frozen in time a lot of really cool rationalists are group-blogging over at Map and Territory. They even invited me to the party! My first post will be a re-edit of the call against relying on empathy. I want to add a deeper exploration of the evolutionary psychology of empathy, tribalism and reciprocity based on reading Jonathan Haidt and some others.

My second writing project is a bit scary because of the subject. I wrote about subverting democracy, setting fire to the FDA, racial differences, gender wars, and God without Putanumonit erupting into flames. I’m going to push my luck and write about the one subject you’re really not allowed to write rationally about online. I’m going to take the time to make sure it’s good, and I reserve the right to chicken out on this post in the middle.

See y’all in year 2.

Year 1 Redux – Poseur

Amy Cuddy won’t let power posing go, so neither can I.

I try to maintain equanimity regarding most bitter conflicts raging in the world, but I do get quite worked up regarding proper statistical methodology in psychology research. Hey, we all need our hobbies. When I wrote a post about it, I tried to focus on constructive advice on how to do science better (calculation of experimental power), but I couldn’t resist taking some shots at scientists who neglected to do that.

In particular, I criticized Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap for publishing the infamous power pose paper, a useless experiment that had 13% statistical power.That is, the experiment had a 13% chance to detect the effect had one existed. If it turns out that the effect doesn’t exist, the experiment was 100% worthless.

The paper is called “Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance” so it actually looked at three effects: two neuroendocrinal (cortisol and testosterone) and a behavioral risk tolerance effect. Even a blind person may hit an occasional bird when shooting three arrows, but CC&Y were not in luck: none of three effects turned out to exist. That wasn’t unexpected: holding a strange pose for a minute will not affect most things in your life.

Last month, it seemed that this silly controversy has been decisively resolved in favor of truth and reason when lead author Dana Carney posted this on her academic website: (emphasis in original)

Since early 2015 the evidence has been mounting suggesting there is unlikely any embodied effect of nonverbal expansiveness (vs. contractiveness)—i.e.., “power poses” – – on internal or psychological outcomes.

As evidence has come in over these past 2+ years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that “power pose” effects are real.

Any work done in my lab on the embodied effects of power poses was conducted long ago (while still at Columbia University from 2008-2011) – well before my views updated. And so while it may seem I continue to study the phenomenon, those papers (emerging in 2014 and 2015) were already published or were on the cusp of publication as the evidence against power poses began to convince me that power poses weren’t real. My lab is conducting no research on the embodied effects of power poses.

To drive the point home, Carney lists 10 methodological errors and 3 confounders of the original study, declares that power study is a dead-end for research, and moves on.

The third author, Andy Yap, switched academic fields and continents to study organizational behavior at an elite French business school.  He probably tells people that the power posing thing was this other Andy Yap in psychology. Or the other other Andy Yap, the one showing off his killer pecs on Instagram.

Science advances one funeral at a time. – Max Planck

more funerals => science advances => better weapons => more funerals – Steven Kaas

Popular science advances one mass funeral at a time. – Me

In between funerals, science advances when scientists say “oops” and stalls when they don’t.


Arguing in favor of Cuddy saying “oops” are: the invalid design of the original experiment, 6 years of contradicting data, the acknowledgment of both by the study’s lead author.

Arguing against Cuddy saying “oops”: her book ($28 on Amazon), and her speaking fees (a lot more than $28).

Which side are you betting on?

I was surprised by a recent statement that the power pose effect is “not real” and I want to set the record straight on where the science stands.

That’s exactly where the science stands: the power pose effect is not real. Not “not real”, just not real.

There are scores of studies examining feedback effects of adopting expansive posture (colloquially known as “power posing”) on various outcomes.

“Various outcomes” sounds like a lot of other people are shooting arrows in the air. Who knows, maybe some will hit. If I was a researcher, the first thing I would test is the effect of prolonged power posing on back pain.

The key finding, the one that I would call “the power posing effect,” is simple: adopting expansive postures causes people to feel more powerful. The other outcomes (behavior, physiology, etc.) are secondary to the key effect.

Bullshit. That’s a lie of Trump-level brazenness, it’s contradicted by the very title of the paper Cuddy talks about, the one with the “neuroendocrinal” and the “risk taking”. According to Carney, the primary variable of interest was risk-taking behavior, followed by testosterone and cortisol. “Feeling powerful” is a side effect, listed at the end, with no accompanying chart, almost as an afterthought.

There’s a reason “feeling powerful” was an afterthought: even if it exists, it has little scientific value. It’s a self-reported measure that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in any behavioral changes, such as actually being more powerful. If it did, we would study those behaviors directly. Being entirely subjective, “feeling powerful” is highly prone to experimenter bias. Experimenter bias is the wonderful effect that lets a scientist detect supernatural ESP, if and only if the scientist himself believed in ESP to start with. Experimenter bias is something that Carney and Cuddy themselves admitted was an issue in the original design.

However, in this case the self-reported feeling wasn’t actually the result of accidental experimenter bias. It was the result of purposeful experimenter manipulation:

The self-report DV was p-hacked in that many different power questions were asked and those chosen were the ones that “worked.”

Carney should be commended for being so forthright, it takes courage to admit such a thing with no sugar-coating about your own work. She must have stood in one hell of a power pose before writing this.

Back to Cuddy:

I also cannot contest the first author’s recollections of how the data were collected and analyzed, as she led both.

Sniping at Carney doesn’t make Cuddy right, it just shows the contrast between a scientist and a charlatan.

By today’s improved methodological standards, the studies in that paper — which was peer-reviewed — were “underpowered,” meaning that they should have included more participants.

That’s not what “underpowered” means. In the power posing case, it means “useless”. It’s not that the original experiment discovered some truth  and better methodology would discover more. The original experiment abused pure random noise until it got a (miscalculated) p-value of 5%, and that was enough for the “peer reviewers”. Some of these same peer reviewers and psychology journal editors are calling people who insist on using correct statistical analysis “methodological terrorists”  and sabotaging their academic careers.

Open science must be inclusive.

In one word: no. In two: fuck no. Science doesn’t need to be inclusive, or egalitarian, or warm and fuzzy. It needs to be correct. And in order to be correct, science must reject theories that have proven to be bullshit, like phlogiston and elan vital and power posing.

Finally, I am concerned that the tenor of discussions like the one that has been unfolding on power posing, and the tendency to discount an entire area of research on the basis of necessary corrections or differences between scientists’ assessments, may have a chilling effect on science.

The reason people discount power posing research is that the first 50 Google hits on “power posing” are about Amy Cuddy’s article. If she shut up about that one pathetic experiment and let the “scores of scientists” she mentions do their work, we might actually discover some truth about embodied cognition. Perhaps all the research in this area is underpowered given how much noise there is and how weak the effects are. Perhaps the only way to study the field may be to run experiments with 40 coauthors and 4,000 subjects, like we do in medicine. Before we learn anything new about the field, we should discard the things we know are wrong.

“Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” is the worst thing that could have happened to embodied cognition research. It contributed negative knowledge to the field. Cuddy’s refusal to let go of it for selfish reasons makes life so much harder for the psychologists trying to move the science forward.

billy-madison-principal