Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Robin, what do you think about signalling explanations for misuse of the phrase “I am humbled”?

    • Michael, I think that post misunderstands what is going on rhetorically when someone uses the expression, “I am humbled.” The sentiment being conveyed is not directly: “Your presence here makes me feel humble.” It is that — but only after passing through another assumed rhetorical move. The full sentiment is: “You have come here to see me / hear me / read me because you value me. Your valuing of me reminds me of how little I truly am, and how embarrassed I am to be valued by you. This thought humbles me.”

      I think unpacking it fully actually brings up two even more interesting questions:

      1. Do they actually feel humble when they say that? a. Probably not bc it is rote and lacking in intention when used and bc generally ppl feel pride, as the original post says.

      2. However! I have often felt some shame and humility when being honored for something in life, as though I did not deserve it. Which keeps with probably the original intention of the phrase. With regard to signaling, why would someone feel shame when being honored?

  • Jarno Virtanen

    Iain McGilchrist’s views on the differences of brain hemispheres. He claims that the left hemisphere is specialized on narrow focus, on understanding things, out of context and exploiting them (for good or bad). The right hemisphere, he says, is more about broad context, uncertainty, without commitment to any specific.

    The RSA Animate video (12 minutes).

    The video which it is based on.

  • Rob

    Would love to know what readings you would select for cynic textbooks.

  • I ran across this and I posted on the post about football players life expectancy. I have always disliked how people use the phrase “life expectancy”. In the case of the story about football players having a life expectancy of 52 or 56 years they used the phrase correctly. It means that some experts (MD’s) expect current football players to only live and 52 or 56 years (52 years of linemen 56 years for others). They expect the low numbers because they are using some expected effects due to obesity and brain damage effects from playing. BUT when people look at how long past players lived they live about as long as non football players if you correct for race.

    This cam up in a discussion with my brother a few nights ago and I was worried because my son plays high school football.

    To my the 4 or five stories that quote the 52-56 numbers are yellow journalism.

    It is also interesting because I found 2 cases where amateurs have done their own statistical work They took freely available rosters of past super bowl winner teams from years that would put the youngest team members over 52 years old and check Wikipedia to see how many were still alive or age of death.

    Let’s also recognize the difference between life span and expectancy. Life span is how long people actually lived based on numbers after death. Life expectancy is how long experts think people will live. It’s an estimate based on gathering data and forming opinions. My research suggests the experts could be a tad off and perhaps are raising concern for the general good of focusing on better health (e.g. less obesity). I also think life span records of NFL players over recent decades should be taken into account when concluding life expectancy. Granted, my methods of research are far simpler and far cheaper than those of the NIOSH, for example. I’m not a doctor or even a nutrition expert, but check out some data and make your own decisions.

    • According to both wikipedia and my understanding, the ‘expectancy’ in ‘life expectancy’ refers to a expectation value i.e. a statistical mean. It doesn’t have anything to do with expert opinion.

      • Here is why I think it is a bad phrase: If you ask what is the life expectancy of a child born today you cannot just use the median age of death today you have to assume the people born today will live longer than people born 70 years ago and that means expert opinion. Even more so if you ask for an estimate of how long the average 350 pound 25 year old male live.

      • The terminology is well-established. If you’re worried about laymen being confused, it’s always better to simply define the terms explicitly according to established convention than to re-define terms based on how you think laymen will naively interpret the phrase.

        I think “predicted life expectancy” would succinctly capture the idea you’re describing.

    • Douglas Knight

      The 55 number is fabricated by the journalists. It is not the fault of the experts.

  • Jeffrey Soreff

    Derek Lowe’s chemistry column included an interesting graph The number of new drugs found per $B spent has been dropping fairly steadily. For five decades. With a smooth exponential decline of about a factor of two per decade. This suggests that drug discovery is one of those areas where we are close to saturating the space of useful objects. This is consistent with Prof. Hanson’s repeated notes that useful innovation can’t go on forever, that the space of possibilities eventually becomes well explored. In the area of pharmaceuticals, this appears to be happening currently.

    • billswift

      >close to saturating the space of useful objects.

      The actual problem is more that there is an explosion of potential drug candidates, that is there are more chemical compounds as molecular size gets larger, so it is more expensive and slower to develop, and more likely for any particular candidate to fail, than in the past. Put simply each potential new drug is surrounded by a vast number of useless compounds that it needs to be differentiated from, and the total number has been growing steadily. The problem is that testing compounds is far more expensive and time consuming than generating ones to test.

      And the attempts at using genetics and other target information for designing compounds that are more likely to be valuable hasn’t worked very well at all.

  • But I thought if we keep adding more people, they keep adding more ideas.

    • Aren’t you an anti-natalist?

      • Sorry, my sarcasm comes across better when I use a funny voice and an exaggeratedly sincere facial expression. <3

      • OK, I took a look at your blog post on these articles. You raise good reasons that natalists shouldn’t be so confident in their premises, but do you really think Caplan’s assumption (that more population leads to more ideas, all other things being equal) is obviously wrong? It seems very plausible to me, though my uncertainty is large.

        In any case, I don’t think the crux of your disagreement with Caplan or others is with the empirical question of whether extra children have net positive externalities on the margin. It’s with the mostly-normative question of whether extra children are a net moral improvement (in the absence of externalities).

      • Why thank you! I agree that the more people –> more ideas thing seems plausible (at least, as you say, all other things being equal), but:

        1. Caplan et al. deploy the “more people –> more ideas” argument specifically as a counterargument to the predictable, measurable harms of overpopulation (scarcity of finite resources, etc.). For this to be effective, we’d have to be VERY certain that not only does the correlation hold, but that “all other things” are in fact “equal.”

        2. If new ideas are a strong enough motivator for us to ignore water shortages, genocide, and other problems associated with overpopulation, then new ideas must be really important. If there are other ways to get new ideas that are more efficient than across-the-board baby making, we should pursue those instead. It’s hard to look at the distribution of e.g. patents and Nobels and maintain that raw population is what’s driving innovation; it seems to be other things.

        3. Matt Herper’s paper on declining pharmaceutical innovation (and a few others) indicate that there may be a real, measurable innovation decline, not an innovation surge as predicted by the “with more people everybody gets more choices” model.

        4. I am concerned with all kinds of harm – both to existing people and to merely possible people.

      • The problem of innovation is not with the number of new good ideas. The problem is with the legacy power of old not-as-good ideas.

        The legacy power thwarts implementation of any ideas that threaten the legacy power. Doesn’t matter how good the new idea is, if it threatens legacy power the legacy power will try to destroy it.

    • This was in response to Jeffrey Soreff’s comment above but I mis-clicked, if that makes it clearer.

      • Jeffrey Soreff

        Many Thanks!

  • Andr

    Does natural selection apply to economic strategies the same way as other biological activities?

    We’re definitely seeing new economic systems being generated, so their success will be linked with how they affect the biological (reproductive) success of those that implement them.

    –that said, memetic traits can be selected out by the moment rather than each genetic generation, so change could conceivably happen much much faster.

  • Matt

    Robin, I was wondering if you had followed any of Russ Roberts’ posts at Cafe Hayek on him and Paul Krugman both being ideologues and if you had any thoughts on them.

  • mjgeddes

    Readers may recall in a previous thread by Robin on science fiction I made some predictions that there would soon be world-wide ‘revolutions’ involving hackers. In another of Robin’s threads talking about the waste of government resources on the misguided ‘war on terror’, I also warned that the day of revolution was near. I was told by one poster to ‘lay off the drugs’.

    So have you been watching the news?

    Literally days after I made my predictions, the OWS movement begun, soon spreading to cities around the world, and now involving hundreds and thousands of participants. Within days, anon hacker groups were getting involved. Here is a statement by an anon hacker activist shortly after the revolution begun, summarizing the initial success of OWS:

    Occupy The Planet

    Still laughing?

    In other news of great import: there’s been a big break-through in aging research, where purging senescent cells in mice was found to combat aging. Google, check news reports, could be very significant!

  • Scott H.

    Is there any research into the third party costs of HOV lanes? I’m interested in the lost highway real estate and the cost in accident damage, injuries, and deaths related to the use of HOV lanes. From an n=1 anecdotal standpoint most all accidents I witness (drive by) on the highway involve the HOV lane (80%+). I’m wondering if any statistics are kept.

  • Wonks Anonymous

    Leo Katz has been guest-blogging at Volokh about his book “Why the Law Is So Perverse”. He brings up the idea of letting prisoners opt for torture instead of prison, and promises to explain why he rejects it in his next post:

    mjgeddes, OWS is not a revolution. It is a bunch of people sitting in a park. Anonymous said they were going to shut down NYSE, but that didn’t happen. Then they said they were going to reveal Zeta identities, and backed down.

  • Erisiantaoist

    Prediction markets made it into today’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a famously geeky webcomic that often jokes about topics like Economics, Cryonics, and the Singularity.

  • How come in some social situation (the Mafia, sports teams, etc) the older/more respected individuals demand that the newer individuals pay for them at meals, and in other power social situations (such as a future father-in-law, a boss taking out an employee) the more respected individual pays for the newer individual?