nhaliday + ability-competence   46

Plague of Frogs | West Hunter
For a few years the herpetologists were concerned yet happy. Concerned, because many frog populations were crashing and some were going extinct. Happy, because confused puppies in Washington were giving them money, something that hardly ever happens to frogmen. The theory was that amphibians were ‘canaries in a coal mine’, uniquely sensitive to environmental degradation.


It took some time for herpetologists to admit that this chytrid fungus is the main culprit – some are still resisting. First, it was a lot like how doctors resisted Semmelweiss’ discoveries about the cause of puerperal fever – since doctors were the main method of transmission. How did this fungus get to the cloud forests of Costa Rica? On the boots of herpetologists, of course.

The second problem is Occam’s butterknife: even though this chytrid fungus is the main culprit, it’s just got to be more complicated than that. Even if it isn’t. People in the life sciences – biology and medicine – routinely reject simple hypotheses that do a good job of explaining the data for more complex hypotheses that don’t. College taught them to think – unwisely.
west-hunter  scitariat  reflection  stories  troll  lol  science  low-hanging  occam  parsimony  bio  medicine  meta:medicine  ability-competence  explanans  disease  parasites-microbiome  spreading  world  nature  environment  climate-change  hypochondria  academia  questions  epidemiology  incentives  interests 
february 2018 by nhaliday
Unaligned optimization processes as a general problem for society
TL;DR: There are lots of systems in society which seem to fit the pattern of “the incentives for this system are a pretty good approximation of what we actually want, so the system produces good results until it gets powerful, at which point it gets terrible results.”


Here are some more places where this idea could come into play:

- Marketing—humans try to buy things that will make our lives better, but our process for determining this is imperfect. A more powerful optimization process produces extremely good advertising to sell us things that aren’t actually going to make our lives better.
- Politics—we get extremely effective demagogues who pit us against our essential good values.
- Lobbying—as industries get bigger, the optimization process to choose great lobbyists for industries gets larger, but the process to make regulators robust doesn’t get correspondingly stronger. So regulatory capture gets worse and worse. Rent-seeking gets more and more significant.
- Online content—in a weaker internet, sites can’t be addictive except via being good content. In the modern internet, people can feel addicted to things that they wish they weren’t addicted to. We didn’t use to have the social expertise to make clickbait nearly as well as we do it today.
- News—Hyperpartisan news sources are much more worth it if distribution is cheaper and the market is bigger. News sources get an advantage from being truthful, but as society gets bigger, this advantage gets proportionally smaller.


For these reasons, I think it’s quite plausible that humans are fundamentally unable to have a “good” society with a population greater than some threshold, particularly if all these people have access to modern technology. Humans don’t have the rigidity to maintain social institutions in the face of that kind of optimization process. I think it is unlikely but possible (10%?) that this threshold population is smaller than the current population of the US, and that the US will crumble due to the decay of these institutions in the next fifty years if nothing totally crazy happens.
ratty  thinking  metabuch  reflection  metameta  big-yud  clever-rats  ai-control  ai  risk  scale  quality  ability-competence  network-structure  capitalism  randy-ayndy  civil-liberty  marketing  institutions  economics  political-econ  politics  polisci  advertising  rent-seeking  government  coordination  internet  attention  polarization  media  truth  unintended-consequences  alt-inst  efficiency  altruism  society  usa  decentralized  rhetoric  prediction  population  incentives  intervention  criminal-justice  property-rights  redistribution  taxes  externalities  science  monetary-fiscal  public-goodish  zero-positive-sum  markets  cost-benefit  regulation  regularizer  order-disorder  flux-stasis  shift  smoothness  phase-transition  power  definite-planning  optimism  pessimism  homo-hetero  interests  eden-heaven  telos-atelos  threat-modeling  alignment 
february 2018 by nhaliday
Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis
We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.
pdf  study  psychology  cog-psych  social-psych  teaching  tutoring  learning  studying  stylized-facts  metabuch  career  long-term  music  games  sports  education  labor  data  list  expert-experience  ability-competence  roots  variance-components  top-n  meta-analysis  practice  quixotic 
december 2017 by nhaliday
Relative Quality of Foreign Nurses in the United States
We find a positive wage premium for nurses educated in the Philippines, but not for foreign nurses educated elsewhere. The premium peaked at 8% in 2000, and decreased to 4% in 2010.
pdf  study  economics  labor  industrial-org  migration  human-capital  healthcare  usa  asia  developing-world  general-survey  compensation  econ-productivity  data  ability-competence  quality 
december 2017 by nhaliday
Lynn Margulis | West Hunter
Margulis went on to theorize that symbiotic relationships between organisms are the dominant driving force of evolution. There certainly are important examples of this: as far as I know, every complex organism that digests cellulose manages it thru a symbiosis with various prokaryotes. Many organisms with a restricted diet have symbiotic bacteria that provide essential nutrients – aphids, for example. Tall fescue, a popular turf grass on golf courses, carries an endosymbiotic fungus. And so on, and on on.

She went on to oppose neodarwinism, particularly rejecting inter-organismal competition (and population genetics itself). From Wiki: [ She also believed that proponents of the standard theory “wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him… Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk.”[8] ‘


You might think that Lynn Margulis is an example of someone that could think outside the box because she’d never even been able to find it in the first place – but that’s more true of autistic types [like Dirac or Turing], which I doubt she was in any way. I’d say that some traditional prejudices [dislike of capitalism and individual competition], combined with the sort of general looniness that leaves one open to unconventional ideas, drove her in a direction that bore fruit, more or less by coincidence. A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.

“A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.” Yes – it’s like old bands. As long as they have just one song in heavy rotation on the classic rock stations, they can tour endlessly – it doesn’t matter that they have only one or even no original members performing. A scientific example of this phenomena is Kary Mullins. He’ll always have PCR, even if a glowing raccoon did greet him with the words, “Good evening, Doctor.”

Nobel Savage: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n13/steven-shapin/nobel-savage
Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

jet fuel can't melt steel beams: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/lynn-margulis/#comment-98201
You have to understand a subject extremely well to make arguments why something couldn’t have happened. The easiest cases involve some purported explanation violating a conservation law of physics: that wasn’t the case here.

Do I think you’re a hotshot, deeply knowledgeable about structural engineering, properties of materials, using computer models, etc? A priori, pretty unlikely. What are the odds that you know as much simple mechanics as I do? a priori, still pretty unlikely. Most likely, you’re talking through your hat.

Next, the conspiracy itself is unlikely: quite a few people would be involved – unlikely that none of them would talk. It’s not that easy to find people that would go along with such a thing, believe it or not. The Communists were pretty good at conspiracy, but people defected, people talked: not just Whittaker Chambers, not just Igor Gouzenko.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
The First Men in the Moon | West Hunter
But what about the future? One generally assumes that space colonists, assuming that there ever are any, will be picked individuals, somewhat like existing astronauts – the best out of hordes of applicants. They’ll be smarter than average, healthier than average, saner than average – and not by just a little.

Since all these traits are significantly heritable, some highly so, we have to expect that their descendants will be different – different above the neck. They’d likely be, on average, smarter than any existing ethnic group. If a Lunar colony really took off, early colonists might account for a disproportionate fraction of the population (just as Puritans do in the US), and the Loonies might continue to have inordinate amounts of the right stuff indefinitely. They’d notice: we’d notice. We’d worry about the Lunar Peril. They’d sneer at deluded groundlings, and talk about the menace from Earth.

Depends on your level of technical expertise. 2 million years ago, settlement of the Eurasian temperate zone was bleeding-edge technology – but it got easier. We can certainly settle the Solar system with near-term technology, if we choose to. And you’re forgetting one of the big payoffs: gafia.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Biopolitics | West Hunter
I have said before that no currently popular ideology acknowledges well-established results of behavioral genetics, quantitative genetics, or psychometrics. Or evolutionary psychology.

What if some ideology or political tradition did? what could they do? What problems could they solve, what capabilities would they have?

Various past societies knew a few things along these lines. They knew that there were significant physical and behavioral differences between the sexes, which is forbidden knowledge in modern academia. Some knew that close inbreeding had negative consequences, which knowledge is on its way to the forbidden zone as I speak. Some cultures with wide enough geographical experience had realistic notions of average cognitive differences between populations. Some people had a rough idea about regression to the mean [ in dynasties], and the Ottomans came up with a highly unpleasant solution – the law of fratricide. The Romans, during the Principate, dealt with the same problem through imperial adoption. The Chinese exam system is in part aimed at the same problem.


At least some past societies avoided the social patterns leading to the nasty dysgenic trends we are experiencing today, but for the most part that is due to the anthropic principle: if they’d done something else you wouldn’t be reading this. Also to between-group competition: if you fuck your self up when others don’t, you may be well be replaced. Which is still the case.

If you were designing an ideology from scratch you could make use of all of these facts – not that thinking about genetics and selection hands you the solution to every problem, but you’d have more strings to your bow. And, off the top of your head, you’d understand certain trends that are behind the mountains of Estcarp, for our current ruling classes : invisible and unthinkable, That Which Must Not Be Named. .

“The closest…s the sort of libertarianism promulgated by Charles Murray”
Not very close..
A government that was fully aware of the implications and possibilities of human genetics, one that had the usual kind of state goals [ like persistence and increased power] , would not necessarily be particularly libertarian.

And giving tax breaks to college-educated liberals to have babies wouldn’t appeal much to Trump voters, methinks.

It might be worth making a reasonably comprehensive of the facts and preferences that a good liberal is supposed to embrace and seem to believe. You would have to be fairly quick about it, before it changes. Then you could evaluate about the social impact of having more of them.

Rise and Fall: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/rise-and-fall/
Every society selects for something: generally it looks as if the direction of selection pressue is more or less an accident. Although nations and empires in the past could have decided to select men for bravery or intelligence, there’s not much sign that anyone actually did this. I mean, they would have known how, if they’d wanted to, just as they knew how to select for destriers, coursers, and palfreys. It was still possible to know such things in the Middle Ages, because Harvard did not yet exist.

A rising empire needs quality human capital, which implies that at minimum that budding imperial society must not have been strongly dysgenic. At least not in the beginning. But winning changes many things, possibly including selective pressures. Imagine an empire with substantial urbanization, one in which talented guys routinely end up living in cities – cities that were demographic sinks. That might change things. Or try to imagine an empire in which survival challenges are greatly reduced, at least for elites, so that people have nothing to keep their minds off their minds and up worshiping Magna Mater. Imagine that an empire that conquers a rival with interesting local pathogens and brings some of them home. Or one that uses up a lot of its manpower conquering less-talented subjects and importing masses of those losers into the imperial heartland.

If any of those scenarios happened valid, they might eventually result in imperial decline – decline due to decreased biological capital.

Right now this is speculation. If we knew enough about the GWAS hits for intelligence, and had enough ancient DNA, we might be able to observe that rise and fall, just as we see dysgenic trends in contemporary populations. But that won’t happen for a long time. Say, a year.

hmm: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/rise-and-fall/#comment-100350
“Although nations and empires in the past could have decided to select men for bravery or intelligence, there’s not much sign that anyone actually did this.”

Maybe the Chinese imperial examination could effectively have been a selection for intelligence.
Nope. I’ve modelled it: the fraction of winners is far too small to have much effect, while there were likely fitness costs from the arduous preparation. Moreover, there’s a recent
paper [Detecting polygenic adaptation in admixture graphs] that looks for indications of when selection for IQ hit northeast Asia: quite a while ago. Obvious though, since Japan has similar scores without ever having had that kind of examination system.

decline of British Empire and utility of different components: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/rise-and-fall/#comment-100390
Once upon a time, India was a money maker for the British, mainly because they appropriate Bengali tax revenue, rather than trade. The rest of the Empire was not worth much: it didn’t materially boost British per-capita income or military potential. Silesia was worth more to Germany, conferred more war-making power, than Africa was to Britain.
If you get even a little local opposition, a colony won’t pay for itself. I seem to remember that there was some, in Palestine.
Angels from on high paid for the Boer War.

You know, someone in the 50’s asked for the numbers – how much various colonies cost and how much they paid.

Turned out that no one had ever asked. The Colonial Office had no idea.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Evidence-based | West Hunter
The central notion of evidence-based medicine is that our understanding of human biology is imperfect. Some of the idea we come up with for treating and preventing disease are effective, but most are not, worse than useless. So we need careful, rigorous statistical studies before implementing those ideas on a wide scale. A good example of doing this the wrong way was when when doctors started recommending having babies sleep prone, which roughly doubled the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome for the next several decades.

It seems to me that our understanding of psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and education is at least as imperfect as our understanding of biomedicine.

“Measure twice, cut once” – can’t get much more elitist than that!

Carefully testing innovations on a small scale before widely implementing them is pretty much the opposite of what self-appointed elites have done. Are you deef or something?

To the extent that they diverge from accepted best practice, physicians, on average, add negative value. I’ve seen this in action, and statistical studies back it up. In other words, Gregory House is a fictional character.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Medicine as a pseudoscience | West Hunter
The idea that venesection was a good thing, or at least not so bad, on the grounds that one in a few hundred people have hemochromatosis (in Northern Europe) reminds me of the people who don’t wear a seatbelt, since it would keep them from being thrown out of their convertible into a waiting haystack, complete with nubile farmer’s daughter. Daughters. It could happen. But it’s not the way to bet.

Back in the good old days, Charles II, age 53, had a fit one Sunday evening, while fondling two of his mistresses.

Monday they bled him (cupping and scarifying) of eight ounces of blood. Followed by an antimony emetic, vitriol in peony water, purgative pills, and a clyster. Followed by another clyster after two hours. Then syrup of blackthorn, more antimony, and rock salt. Next, more laxatives, white hellebore root up the nostrils. Powdered cowslip flowers. More purgatives. Then Spanish Fly. They shaved his head and stuck blistering plasters all over it, plastered the soles of his feet with tar and pigeon-dung, then said good-night.


Friday. The king was worse. He tells them not to let poor Nelly starve. They try the Oriental Bezoar Stone, and more bleeding. Dies at noon.

Most people didn’t suffer this kind of problem with doctors, since they never saw one. Charles had six. Now Bach and Handel saw the same eye surgeon, John Taylor – who blinded both of them. Not everyone can put that on his resume!

You may wonder how medicine continued to exist, if it had a negative effect, on the whole. There’s always the placebo effect – at least there would be, if it existed. Any real placebo effect is very small: I’d guess exactly zero. But there is regression to the mean. You see the doctor when you’re feeling worse than average – and afterwards, if he doesn’t kill you outright, you’re likely to feel better. Which would have happened whether you’d seen him or not, but they didn’t often do RCTs back in the day – I think James Lind was the first (1747).

Back in the late 19th century, Christian Scientists did better than others when sick, because they didn’t believe in medicine. For reasons I think mistaken, because Mary Baker Eddy rejected the reality of the entire material world, but hey, it worked. Parenthetically, what triggered all that New Age nonsense in 19th century New England? Hash?

This did not change until fairly recently. Sometime in the early 20th medicine, clinical medicine, what doctors do, hit break-even. Now we can’t do without it. I wonder if there are, or will be, other examples of such a pile of crap turning (mostly) into a real science.

good tweet: https://twitter.com/bowmanthebard/status/897146294191390720
The brilliant GP I've had for 35+ years has retired. How can I find another one who meets my requirements?

1 is overweight
2 drinks more than officially recommended amounts
3 has an amused, tolerant atitude to human failings
4 is well aware that we're all going to die anyway, & there are better or worse ways to die
5 has a healthy skeptical attitude to mainstream medical science
6 is wholly dismissive of "a|ternative” medicine
7 believes in evolution
8 thinks most diseases get better without intervention, & knows the dangers of false positives
9 understands the base rate fallacy

EconPapers: Was Civil War Surgery Effective?: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/htrhcecon/444.htm
contra Greg Cochran:
To shed light on the subject, I analyze a data set created by Dr. Edmund Andrews, a Civil war surgeon with the 1st Illinois Light Artillery. Dr. Andrews’s data can be rendered into an observational data set on surgical intervention and recovery, with controls for wound location and severity. The data also admits instruments for the surgical decision. My analysis suggests that Civil War surgery was effective, and increased the probability of survival of the typical wounded soldier, with average treatment effect of 0.25-0.28.

Medical Prehistory: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/
What ancient medical treatments worked?

In some very, very limited conditions, bleeding?
Bad for you 99% of the time.

Colchicine – used to treat gout – discovered by the Ancient Greeks.

Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm)
Wrap the emerging end of the worm around a stick and slowly pull it out.
(3,500 years later, this remains the standard treatment.)

Some of the progress is from formal medicine, most is from civil engineering, better nutrition ( ag science and physical chemistry), less crowded housing.

Nurses vs doctors: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/nurses-vs-doctors/
Medicine, the things that doctors do, was an ineffective pseudoscience until fairly recently. Until 1800 or so, they were wrong about almost everything. Bleeding, cupping, purging, the four humors – useless. In the 1800s, some began to realize that they were wrong, and became medical nihilists that improved outcomes by doing less. Some patients themselves came to this realization, as when Civil War casualties hid from the surgeons and had better outcomes. Sometime in the early 20th century, MDs reached break-even, and became an increasingly positive influence on human health. As Lewis Thomas said, medicine is the youngest science.

Nursing, on the other hand, has always been useful. Just making sure that a patient is warm and nourished when too sick to take care of himself has helped many survive. In fact, some of the truly crushing epidemics have been greatly exacerbated when there were too few healthy people to take care of the sick.

Nursing must be old, but it can’t have existed forever. Whenever it came into existence, it must have changed the selective forces acting on the human immune system. Before nursing, being sufficiently incapacitated would have been uniformly fatal – afterwards, immune responses that involved a period of incapacitation (with eventual recovery) could have been selectively favored.

when MDs broke even: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/nurses-vs-doctors/#comment-58981
I’d guess the 1930s. Lewis Thomas thought that he was living through big changes. They had a working serum therapy for lobar pneumonia ( antibody-based). They had many new vaccines ( diphtheria in 1923, whopping cough in 1926, BCG and tetanus in 1927, yellow fever in 1935, typhus in 1937.) Vitamins had been mostly worked out. Insulin was discovered in 1929. Blood transfusions. The sulfa drugs, first broad-spectrum antibiotics, showed up in 1935.

DALYs per doctor: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/
The disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is a measure of overall disease burden – the number of years lost. I’m wondering just much harm premodern medicine did, per doctor. How many healthy years of life did a typical doctor destroy (net) in past times?


It looks as if the average doctor (in Western medicine) killed a bunch of people over his career ( when contrasted with doing nothing). In the Charles Manson class.

Eventually the market saw through this illusion. Only took a couple of thousand years.

That a very large part of healthcare spending is done for non-health reasons. He has a chapter on this in his new book, also check out his paper “Showing That You Care: The Evolution of Health Altruism” http://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/showcare.pdf
I ran into too much stupidity to finish the article. Hanson’s a loon. For example when he talks about the paradox of blacks being more sentenced on drug offenses than whites although they use drugs at similar rate. No paradox: guys go to the big house for dealing, not for using. Where does he live – Mars?

I had the same reaction when Hanson parroted some dipshit anthropologist arguing that the stupid things people do while drunk are due to social expectations, not really the alcohol.

I don’t think that being totally unable to understand everybody around you necessarily leads to deep insights.

What I’ve wondered is if there was anything that doctors did that actually was helpful and if perhaps that little bit of success helped them fool people into thinking the rest of it helped.
Setting bones. extracting arrows: spoon of Diocles. Colchicine for gout. Extracting the Guinea worm. Sometimes they got away with removing the stone. There must be others.
Quinine is relatively recent: post-1500. Obstetrical forceps also. Caesarean deliveries were almost always fatal to the mother until fairly recently.

Opium has been around for a long while : it works.

If pre-modern medicine was indeed worse than useless – how do you explain no one noticing that patients who get expensive treatments are worse off than those who didn’t?
were worse off. People are kinda dumb – you’ve noticed?
My impression is that while people may be “kinda dumb”, ancient customs typically aren’t.
Even if we assume that all people who lived prior to the 19th century were too dumb to make the rational observation, wouldn’t you expect this ancient practice to be subject to selective pressure?
Your impression is wrong. Do you think that there some slick reason for Carthaginians incinerating their first-born?

Theodoric of York, bloodletting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvff3TViXmY

details on blood-letting and hemochromatosis: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/#comment-100746

Starting Over: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/starting-over/
Looking back on it, human health would have … [more]
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Economics empiricism - Wikipedia
Economics empiricism[1] (sometimes economic imperialism) in contemporary economics refers to economic analysis of seemingly non-economic aspects of life,[2] such as crime,[3] law,[4] the family,[5] prejudice,[6] tastes,[7] irrational behavior,[8] politics,[9] sociology,[10] culture,[11] religion,[12] war,[13] science,[14] and research.[14] Related usage of the term predates recent decades.[15]

The emergence of such analysis has been attributed to a method that, like that of the physical sciences, permits refutable implications[16] testable by standard statistical techniques.[17] Central to that approach are "[t]he combined postulates of maximizing behavior, stable preferences and market equilibrium, applied relentlessly and unflinchingly."[18] It has been asserted that these and a focus on economic efficiency have been ignored in other social sciences and "allowed economics to invade intellectual territory that was previously deemed to be outside the discipline’s realm."[17][19]

The Fluidity of Race: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/the-fluidity-of-race/
So: what can we conclude about this paper? It’s a classic case of economic imperialism, informed by what ‘intellectuals’ [ those that have never been introduced to Punnet squares, Old Blue Light, the Dirac equation, or Melungeons] would like to hear.

It is wrong, not close to right.

Breadth-first search: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/breadth-first-search/
When I complain about some egregious piece of research, particularly those that are in some sense cross-disciplinary, I often feel that that just knowing more would solve the problem. If Roland Fryer or Oded Galor understood genetics, they wouldn’t make these silly mistakes. If Qian and Nix understood genetics or American post-Civil War history, they would never have written that awful paper about massive passing. Or if paleoanthropologists and population geneticists had learned about mammalian hybrids, they would have been open to the idea of Neanderthal introgression.

But that really amounts to a demand that people learn about five times as much in college and grad school as they actually do. It’s not going to happen. Or, perhaps, find a systematic and effective way of collaborating with people outside their discipline without having their heads shaved. That doesn’t sound too likely either.

Hot enough for you?: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/hot-enough-for-you/
There’s a new study out in Nature, claiming that economic productivity peaks at 13 degrees Centigrade and that global warming will therefore drastically decrease world GDP.

Singapore. Phoenix. Queensland. Air-conditioners!

Now that I’ve made my point, just how stupid are these people? Do they actually believe this shit? I keep seeing papers by economists – in prominent places – that rely heavily on not knowing jack shit about anything on Earth, papers that could only have been written by someone that didn’t know a damn thing about the subject they were addressing, from the influence of genetic diversity on civilization achievement (zilch) to the massive race-switching that happened after the Civil War (not). Let me tell you, there’s a difference between ‘economic imperialism’ and old-fashioned real imperialism: people like Clive of India or Raffles bothered to learn something about the territory they were conquering. They knew enough to run divide et impera in their sleep: while economists never say peccavi, no matter how badly they screw up.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Alzheimers | West Hunter
Some disease syndromes almost have to be caused by pathogens – for example, any with a fitness impact (prevalence x fitness reduction) > 2% or so, too big to be caused by mutational pressure. I don’t think that this is the case for AD: it hits so late in life that the fitness impact is minimal. However, that hardly means that it can’t be caused by a pathogen or pathogens – a big fraction of all disease syndromes are, including many that strike in old age. That possibility is always worth checking out, not least because infectious diseases are generally easier to prevent and/or treat.

There is new work that strongly suggests that pathogens are the root cause. It appears that the amyloid is an antimicrobial peptide. amyloid-beta binds to invading microbes and then surrounds and entraps them. ‘When researchers injected Salmonella into mice’s hippocampi, a brain area damaged in Alzheimer’s, A-beta quickly sprang into action. It swarmed the bugs and formed aggregates called fibrils and plaques. “Overnight you see the plaques throughout the hippocampus where the bugs were, and then in each single plaque is a single bacterium,” Tanzi says. ‘

obesity and pathogens: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/alzheimers/#comment-79757
not sure about this guy, but interesting: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/alzheimers/#comment-79748

All too often we see large, long-lasting research efforts that never produce, never achieve their goal.

For example, the amyloid hypothesis [accumulation of amyloid-beta oligomers is the cause of Alzheimers] has been dominant for more than 20 years, and has driven development of something like 15 drugs. None of them have worked. At the same time the well-known increased risk from APOe4 has been almost entirely ignored, even though it ought to be a clue to the cause.

In general, when a research effort has been spinning its wheels for a generation or more, shouldn’t we try something different? We could at least try putting a fraction of those research dollars into alternative approaches that have not yet failed repeatedly.

Mostly this applies to research efforts that at least wish they were science. ‘educational research’ is in a special class, and I hardly know what to recommend. Most of the remedial actions that occur to me violate one or more of the Geneva conventions.

APOe4 related to lymphatic system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apolipoprotein_E

Look,if I could find out the sort of places that I usually misplace my keys – if I did, which I don’t – I could find the keys more easily the next time I lose them. If you find out that practitioners of a given field are not very competent, it marks that field as a likely place to look for relatively easy discovery. Thus medicine is a promising field, because on the whole doctors are not terribly good investigators. For example, none of the drugs developed for Alzheimers have worked at all, which suggests that our ideas on the causation of Alzheimers are likely wrong. Which suggests that it may (repeat may) be possible to make good progress on Alzheimers, either by an entirely empirical approach, which is way underrated nowadays, or by dumping the current explanation, finding a better one, and applying it.

You could start by looking at basic notions of field X and asking yourself: How do we really know that? Is there serious statistical evidence? Does that notion even accord with basic theory? This sort of checking is entirely possible. In most of the social sciences, we don’t, there isn’t, and it doesn’t.

Hygiene and the world distribution of Alzheimer’s disease: Epidemiological evidence for a relationship between microbial environment and age-adjusted disease burden: https://academic.oup.com/emph/article/2013/1/173/1861845/Hygiene-and-the-world-distribution-of-Alzheimer-s

Amyloid-β peptide protects against microbial infection in mouse and worm models of Alzheimer’s disease: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/8/340/340ra72

Fungus, the bogeyman: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21676754-curious-result-hints-possibility-dementia-caused-fungal
Fungus and dementia
paper: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep15015
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Halsey’s Typhoon | West Hunter
Halsey fucked up, repeatedly. It’s obvious even to fictional characters, like Marko Ramius in The Hunt For Red October. If not for pressure from the top, Halsey would have been relieved. But Nimitz had reasons for sparing him. Not ones I agree with, but reasons. Halsey was an important symbol of the Navy to the general public, and it was thought that letting it all hang out would hurt the Navy in the expected budgetary fights after the war. And to be fair, Halsey wasn’t a traitor or anything: he was just dumb. Or, as a kinder person than I once said, by 1944, the war had become too complicated for Halsey.

Christ, they gave Halsey five stars, more than Spruance.

Problem is, this seems to be standard policy. Once you soar above a certain level, you never get punished for fucking up. Mangle a major company (like HP) and they whip you with hundred dollar bills – your failure is the stepping stone to a Presidential campaign. Invade the wrong country, turn another into an anarchic sand pile, misread the Soviet Union as the coming thing – you have foreign policy ‘experience’. Reminds me of an 11 year old’s definition of experience – what you have after you’ve forgotten her name..
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Columbia | West Hunter
I remember this all pretty well: I’d still welcome the chance to strangle the key NASA players. I remember how they forbade lower-level people at NASA to talk to the Air Force and ask for recon assets – how they peddled ass-covering bullshit about how nothing could possibly have been done. A lie.

One of the dogs that didn’t bark was the fact that NASA acted as if relevant DOD assets did not exist. For example, if you could have put a package into a matching low orbit with those consumables in shortest supply, say CO2 absorbers and/or cheeseburgers, there would would have been considerably more time available to assemble a rescue mission. For some forgotten reason the Air Force has hundreds of missiles (Minuteman-IIIs) that can be launched on a moment’s notice – it wouldn’t be that hard to replace a warhead with a consumables package. A moment’s thought tells you that some such capability is likely to exist – one intended to rapidly replaced destroyed recon sats, for example. Certainly worth considering, worth checking, before giving up on the crew. Just as the Air Force has recon assets that could have been most helpful in diagnosing the state of the ship – but NASA would rather die than expose itself to Air Force cooties. Not that the Air Force doesn’t have cooties, but NASA has quite a few of its own already.

If we ever had a real reason for manned space travel – I can imagine some – the first thing you’d need to do is kill everyone in the NASA manned space program. JPL you could keep.

usefulness of LEO:

Book Review: Whitey On the Moon: http://www.henrydampier.com/2015/02/book-review-whitey-moon/

Homicidal stat of the day: The US spends more in 1 year of providing Medicaid to hispanics than the entire inflation-adjusted cost of the Apollo program.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Assortive mating and income inequality | West Hunter
More than in the past, we have doctors marrying other doctors, rather than nurses, basically because of an increase in assortative mating for education. Ceteris paribus, this would tend to cause greater income equality among families. Is it the main driver of increasing income inequality?

Not at all. Most of the increase over the last 30 years has been among business executives and people working in finance. Since 1979, 58% of the expansion of income of the top 1% of households has this origin. For the top 0.1% of households, it’s been 67%.


Now I’m about to say something a little dangerous – so get your nitroglycerin pills ready.

Maybe those finance guys and CEOs are delivering enormously more value than they did in the 1950s!

For those remaining readers that haven’t died laughing, increased assortative mating probably has contributed to income inequality. Just not very much. Changes in the tax code, outsourcing, automation, smothering the board of directors in cream, and inattentive stockholders all matter more.

capital gains: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/assortive-mating-and-income-inequality/#comment-24318
Educational Homogamy and Assortative Mating Have Not Increased: http://sci-hub.cc/http://www.nber.org/papers/w22927.pdf
1960-2010, so all post WW2
Highly educated women partner more often “downwards” and medium educated women partner less often “upwards”
The new assortative mating (phenotypical, perhaps no change in genotypical assortative mating) due to women outnumbering men at university
If this means less genotypic assortative mating, then BAD NEWS: the smart fraction will shrink, and #decline will accelerate
Counterrevolutionary and reactionary elements warned it was a mistake to debauch higher education by over-expansion. Maybe they were right?
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may 2017 by nhaliday
A sense of where you are | West Hunter
Nobody at the Times noticed it at first. I don’t know that they ever did notice it by themselves- likely some reader brought it to their attention. But this happens all the time, because very few people have a picture of the world in their head that includes any numbers. Mostly they don’t even have a rough idea of relative size.

In much the same way, back in the 1980s,lots of writers were talking about 90,000 women a year dying of anorexia nervosa, another impossible number. Then there was the great scare about 1,000,000 kids being kidnapped in the US each year – also impossible and wrong. Practically all the talking classes bought into it.

You might think that the people at the top are different – but with a few exceptions, they’re just as clueless.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Reversal of Fortune | West Hunter
“particularly in the fetus”. You’d think so, but people have looked at Dutch draftees who were in the womb during the famine of 1944. They found no effects of famine exposure on Ravens scores at age 19. Schizophrenia doubled, though. Schiz also doubled in the Chinese cohort exposed to the Great Leap Forward famine.

Cohort Profile: The Dutch Hunger Winter Families Study: https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/36/6/1196/814573
Nutrition and Mental Performance: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1126/science.178.4062.708
Schizophrenia after prenatal exposure to the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944-1945: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1001/archpsyc.1992.01820120071010
Prenatal famine exposure and cognition at age 59 years: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1093/ije/dyq261

You might be right. There is reason to suspect that prenatal exposure to alcohol is far riskier in some populations than others – in particular populations that have limited historical exposure to alcohol. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is very rare in France, for example – yet they drink, I’m told.

The kind of conservatism that shows up politically doesn’t have any predictive value. In other words, liars and morons. They’re why God made baseball bats. Once upon a time, I said this: “The American right doesn’t have room for anyone who knows jack shit about anything, or whose predictions have ever come true.” I’ll stick with that.

full quote here: http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/planescape-torment-problems.9208/
The American right doesn't have room for anyone who knows jack shit about anything, or whose predictions have ever come true. Of course they're all liars. In the words of one of their semi-prominent members, himself plenty despicable: "Science, logic, rational inquiry, thoughtful reflection, mean nothing to them. It's all posturing and moral status games and sucking up to halfwits like GWB and clinging to crackpot religion, and of course amoral careerism. " I think my correspondent forgot to mention their propensity for eating shit and rolling around in their own vomit, but nobody's perfect.

I’ve mused that it’s generally believed that iodine benefits females more than males, and the timing of iodization in the US matches up reasonably well with the rise of feminism…
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may 2017 by nhaliday
There can only be one! | West Hunter
Dynasties decay.   The founder generally has a lot on the ball – tough, a natural leader, and canny campaigner – but his son is unlikely to be so exceptional.  Partly this is a manifestation of regression to the mean, and partly because his mother was probably chosen for something other than her talents as a warlord. By the fourth or fifth generation, it can be hard to believe that the useless poet on the throne is truly a member of the Golden Family.

This decay is a fundamental historical fact – an inevitable consequence of  biology and primogeniture.  It’s one of the important weaknesses of dynastic rule. The Ottomans, however, found a way around it for some centuries – the law of fratricide.  Upon the death of the Sultan, all of his sons were theoretically eligible for the succession (not just the oldest).  Since the Sultan had a harem, there were a lot of them. Whoever first seized power then had all his brothers and half-brothers executed by ritual strangulation. Incompetents didn’t win out in this struggle.

Dynastic decline through regression seems meaning you go from a guy like Stalin to an imperfect copy of Stalin that’s more like the average person (less competent but lacking in other traits that make Stalin, Stalin). Might not always totally all be “bad” for most people’s status, depending on the Great Man’s balance of competence to traits in a ruler that you don’t really want, but which helped them to seize power anyway.

Speculation, but might inbreeding be a way to hang on to more of the founder’s right stuff?

Thereby why constitutional monarchy and similar arrangements might tend to emerge in more outbreeding populations, because the successors to the big Mafia that runs the state and all the little Mafias that run everything else down from there tend to retain less ancestral competence and less ancestral desire for domination and status, so alternative arrangements are found.

list of evaluations for presidents+
"Competence, of course, is not the same thing as acting in the best interests of the common people. But it is absolutely essential for the continuation of a royal lineage or dynasty."

If everyone in a country was absolutely obsessed with the idea that the human pinkie finger was a symbol of a leader’s connection to god and was required for him to be a good ruler, this whole problem would be solved. The oldest brother could simply have his younger siblings’ pinkie fingers cut off, and let them live.

This would mean that ruling families would be much more free to have big families and expand their power even more.
The Byzantines did something similar with deposed emperors: the disfigured were ineligible for the role of God’s regent, or whatever the emperors were theologically. So, off with the nose! Justinian II ruined this humane custom by by wearing a silver nose after his restoration, à la the Lee Marvin character in Cat Ballou.

Here is my take on a solid alternative to democracy in the West: adoptive monarchy. We are acquainted with the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Before an Emperor died, he would adopt his most capable, wise and just subordinate as his son, who would become Emperor after his adoptive father died. The Roman Empire was perhaps at its most stable and prosperous point duribg this time period, and Edward Gibbon esteemed it as the high point of human history up through the time he was writing his tomes about Roman history, at least for the common Roman citizen.

If the American electorate continues to decline, ever falling into idiocy, factionalism and dementia, then I think it might be prudent to put adoptive monarchy into play, and have our monarchs rule the country in the spirit of the Constitution while temporarily holding it in suspension. The monarchs would have 40 to 80 years to pursue enlightened demographic policies, which would ensure that the American people would be ready for democratic rule again. There of course would be a Congress and courts. Both of these branches of government would at first be impotent, but would gradually regain their former power and prestige. At some point, the monarchy would be abolished, with an elected president regaining command of the executive branch, having about as much power as, say, Eisenhower did.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Faces in the Clouds | West Hunter
This was a typical Iraq story: somehow, we had developed an approach to intelligence that reliably produced fantastically wrong answers, at vast expense. What so special about Iraq? Nothing, probably – except that we acquired ground truth.

Those weren’t leads, any more than there are really faces in the clouds. They were excuses to sell articles, raise money, and finally one extra argument in favor of a pointless war. Without a hard fact or two, it’s all vapor, useless.

Our tactical intelligence was fine in the Gulf War, but that doesn’t mean that the military, or worse yet the people who make and influence decisions had any sense, then or now.

For example, I have long had an amateur interest in these things, and I got the impression, in the summer of 1990, that Saddam Hussein was about to invade Kuwait. I was telling everyone at work that Saddam was about to invade, till they got bored with it. This was about two weeks before it actually happened. I remember thinking about making a few investments based on that possible event, but never got around to, partly because I was really sleepy, since we had a month-old baby girl at home.

As I recall, the “threat officer” at the CIA warned about this, but since the higher-ups ignored him, his being correct embarrassed them, so he was demoted.

The tactical situation was as favorable as it ever gets, and most of it was known. We had near-perfect intelligence:: satellite recon, JSTARS, etc Complete air domination, everything from Warthogs to F-15s. . Months to get ready. A huge qualitative weapons superiority. For example, our tanks outranged theirs by about a factor of two, had computer-controlled aiming, better armor, infrared sights, etc etc etc etc. I counted something like 13 separate war-winning advantages at the time, and that count was obviously incomplete.. And one more: Arabs make terrible soldiers, generally, and Iraqis were among the worst.

But I think that most of the decisionmakers didn’t realize how easy it would be – at all – and I’ve never seen any sign that Colin Powell did either. He’s a “C” student type – not smart. Schwartzkopf may have understood what was going on: for all I know he was another Manstein, but you can’t show how good you are when you beat a patzer.

For me it was a hobby – I was doing adaptive optics at the time in Colorado Springs. All I knew about particular military moves was from the newspapers, but my reasoning went like this:

A. Kuwait had a lot of oil. Worth stealing, if you could get away with it.

B. Kuwait was militarily impotent and had no defense treaty with anyone. Most people found Kuwaitis annoying.

C. Iraq owed Kuwait something like 30 billion dollars, and was generally deep in debt due to the long conflict with Iran

D. I figured that there was a fair chance that the Iraqi accusations of Kuwaiti slant drilling were true

E. There were widely reported Iraqi troop movements towards Kuwait

F. Most important was my evaluation of Saddam, from watching the long war with Iran. I thought that Saddam was a particular combination of cocky and stupid, the sort of guy to do something like this. At the time I did not know about April Glaspie’s, shall we say, poorly chosen comments.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Educational Romanticism & Economic Development | pseudoerasmus


Did Nations that Boosted Education Grow Faster?: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/10/did_nations_tha.html
On average, no relationship. The trendline points down slightly, but for the time being let's just call it a draw. It's a well-known fact that countries that started the 1960's with high education levels grew faster (example), but this graph is about something different. This graph shows that countries that increased their education levels did not grow faster.

Where has all the education gone?: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=




The Case Against Education: What's Taking So Long, Bryan Caplan: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2015/03/the_case_agains_9.html

The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/whats-college-good-for/546590/
Students don't seem to be getting much out of higher education.
- Bryan Caplan

College: Capital or Signal?: http://www.economicmanblog.com/2017/02/25/college-capital-or-signal/
After his review of the literature, Caplan concludes that roughly 80% of the earnings effect from college comes from signalling, with only 20% the result of skill building. Put this together with his earlier observations about the private returns to college education, along with its exploding cost, and Caplan thinks that the social returns are negative. The policy implications of this will come as very bitter medicine for friends of Bernie Sanders.

Doubting the Null Hypothesis: http://www.arnoldkling.com/blog/doubting-the-null-hypothesis/

Is higher education/college in the US more about skill-building or about signaling?: https://www.quora.com/Is-higher-education-college-in-the-US-more-about-skill-building-or-about-signaling
ballpark: 50% signaling, 30% selection, 20% addition to human capital
more signaling in art history, more human capital in engineering, more selection in philosophy

Econ Duel! Is Education Signaling or Skill Building?: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/03/econ-duel-is-education-signaling-or-skill-building.html
Marginal Revolution University has a brand new feature, Econ Duel! Our first Econ Duel features Tyler and me debating the question, Is education more about signaling or skill building?

Against Tulip Subsidies: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/06/against-tulip-subsidies/




Most American public school kids are low-income; about half are non-white; most are fairly low skilled academically. For most American kids, the majority of the waking hours they spend not engaged with electronic media are at school; the majority of their in-person relationships are at school; the most important relationships they have with an adult who is not their parent is with their teacher. For their parents, the most important in-person source of community is also their kids’ school. Young people need adult mirrors, models, mentors, and in an earlier era these might have been provided by extended families, but in our own era this all falls upon schools.

Caplan gestures towards work and earlier labor force participation as alternatives to school for many if not all kids. And I empathize: the years that I would point to as making me who I am were ones where I was working, not studying. But they were years spent working in schools, as a teacher or assistant. If schools did not exist, is there an alternative that we genuinely believe would arise to draw young people into the life of their community?


It is not an accident that the state that spends the least on education is Utah, where the LDS church can take up some of the slack for schools, while next door Wyoming spends almost the most of any state at $16,000 per student. Education is now the one surviving binding principle of the society as a whole, the one black box everyone will agree to, and so while you can press for less subsidization of education by government, and for privatization of costs, as Caplan does, there’s really nothing people can substitute for it. This is partially about signaling, sure, but it’s also because outside of schools and a few religious enclaves our society is but a darkling plain beset by winds.

This doesn’t mean that we should leave Caplan’s critique on the shelf. Much of education is focused on an insane, zero-sum race for finite rewards. Much of schooling does push kids, parents, schools, and school systems towards a solution ad absurdum, where anything less than 100 percent of kids headed to a doctorate and the big coding job in the sky is a sign of failure of everyone concerned.

But let’s approach this with an eye towards the limits of the possible and the reality of diminishing returns.

The real reason the left would support Moander: the usual reason. because he’s an enemy.

I have a problem in thinking about education, since my preferences and personal educational experience are atypical, so I can’t just gut it out. On the other hand, knowing that puts me ahead of a lot of people that seem convinced that all real people, including all Arab cabdrivers, think and feel just as they do.

One important fact, relevant to this review. I don’t like Caplan. I think he doesn’t understand – can’t understand – human nature, and although that sometimes confers a different and interesting perspective, it’s not a royal road to truth. Nor would I want to share a foxhole with him: I don’t trust him. So if I say that I agree with some parts of this book, you should believe me.


Caplan doesn’t talk about possible ways of improving knowledge acquisition and retention. Maybe he thinks that’s impossible, and he may be right, at least within a conventional universe of possibilities. That’s a bit outside of his thesis, anyhow. Me it interests.

He dismisses objections from educational psychologists who claim that studying a subject improves you in subtle ways even after you forget all of it. I too find that hard to believe. On the other hand, it looks to me as if poorly-digested fragments of information picked up in college have some effect on public policy later in life: it is no coincidence that most prominent people in public life (at a given moment) share a lot of the same ideas. People are vaguely remembering the same crap from the same sources, or related sources. It’s correlated crap, which has a much stronger effect than random crap.

These widespread new ideas are usually wrong. They come from somewhere – in part, from higher education. Along this line, Caplan thinks that college has only a weak ideological effect on students. I don’t believe he is correct. In part, this is because most people use a shifting standard: what’s liberal or conservative gets redefined over time. At any given time a population is roughly half left and half right – but the content of those labels changes a lot. There’s a shift.

I put it this way, a while ago: “When you think about it, falsehoods, stupid crap, make the best group identifiers, because anyone might agree with you when you’re obviously right. Signing up to clear nonsense is a better test of group loyalty. A true friend is with you when you’re wrong. Ideally, not just wrong, but barking mad, rolling around in your own vomit wrong.”
You just explained the Credo quia absurdum doctrine. I always wondered if it was nonsense. It is not.
Someone on twitter caught it first – got all the way to “sliding down the razor blade of life”. Which I explained is now called “transitioning”

What Catholics believe: https://theweek.com/articles/781925/what-catholics-believe
We believe all of these things, fantastical as they may sound, and we believe them for what we consider good reasons, well attested by history, consistent with the most exacting standards of logic. We will profess them in this place of wrath and tears until the extraordinary event referenced above, for which men and women have hoped and prayed for nearly 2,000 years, comes to pass.

According to Caplan, employers are looking for conformity, conscientiousness, and intelligence. They use completion of high school, or completion of college as a sign of conformity and conscientiousness. College certainly looks as if it’s mostly signaling, and it’s hugely expensive signaling, in terms of college costs and foregone earnings.

But inserting conformity into the merit function is tricky: things become important signals… because they’re important signals. Otherwise useful actions are contraindicated because they’re “not done”. For example, test scores convey useful information. They could help show that an applicant is smart even though he attended a mediocre school – the same role they play in college admissions. But employers seldom request test scores, and although applicants may provide them, few do. Caplan says ” The word on the street… [more]
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Annotating Greg Cochran’s interview with James Miller
opinion of Scott and Hanson: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90238
Greg's methodist: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90256
You have to consider the relative strengths of Japan and the USA. USA was ~10x stronger, industrially, which is what mattered. Technically superior (radar, Manhattan project). Almost entirely self-sufficient in natural resources. Japan was sure to lose, and too crazy to quit, which meant that they would lose after being smashed flat.
There’s a fairly common way of looking at things in which the bad guys are not at fault because they’re bad guys, born that way, and thus can’t help it. Well, we can’t help it either, so the hell with them. I don’t think we had to respect Japan’s innate need to fuck everybody in China to death.

2nd part: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:9ab84243b967

some additional things:
- political correctness, the Cathedral and the left (personnel continuity but not ideology/value) at start
- joke: KT impact = asteroid mining, every mass extinction = intelligent life destroying itself
- Alawites: not really Muslim, women liberated because "they don't have souls", ended up running shit in Syria because they were only ones that wanted to help the British during colonial era
- solution to Syria: "put the Alawites in NYC"
- Zimbabwe was OK for a while, if South Africa goes sour, just "put the Boers in NYC" (Miller: left would probably say they are "culturally incompatible", lol)
- story about Lincoln and his great-great-great-grandfather
- skepticism of free speech
- free speech, authoritarianism, and defending against the Mongols
- Scott crazy (not in a terrible way), LW crazy (genetics), ex.: polyamory
- TFP or microbio are better investments than stereotypical EA stuff
- just ban AI worldwide (bully other countries to enforce)
- bit of a back-and-forth about macroeconomics
- not sure climate change will be huge issue. world's been much warmer before and still had a lot of mammals, etc.
- he quite likes Pseudoerasmus
- shits on modern conservatism/Bret Stephens a bit

- mentions Japan having industrial base a tenth the size of the US's and no chance of winning WW2 around 11m mark
- describes himself as "fairly religious" around 20m mark
- 27m30s: Eisenhower was smart, read Carlyle, classical history, etc.

but was Nixon smarter?: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2019/03/18/open-thread-03-18-2019/
The Scandals of Meritocracy. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Mob at Middlebury college attacks speaker Charles Murray, injures his host « Why Evolution Is True

It should have been me, rather than Charles Murray, giving that talk at Middlebury.
Because I would have enjoyed it.
Arguing can be fun, but that’s not what I was thinking of.
Kursk was a warzone, Berkeley is a bunch of people posturing. I was in tougher fights in junior high. Much tougher, in high school.
Greg has a point about Berkeley in particular. A saving grace of today’s radical left is that they’re bad at violence. That’s why there have been relatively few serious injuries despite their rioting.

With time, or if they become leavened with rougher elements of the Democrats’ base, that may change.
“bad at violence” – Marshal Tukhachevsky they’re not.
I’m not sure playing tough guy is actually all that helpful against a mob of guys who mean you harm. Once the numbers get stacked against you badly enough, you’re screwed.
Not if you’re driving a car. Not if you have a .45. More generally, these are students at a liberal arts college, one aimed at kids that aren’t particularly smart. Sure, they might could swarm you – but they are not very good at physical violence. Remember the SDS: when they made bombs, they killed more of their own members than than their targets [Greenwich Village townhouse explosion].

Any kind of physical competence is increasingly looked down upon in the United States, but the trend is especially strong in these circles. As for skills in physical violence – it is to laugh.

Murray is at AEI, and hangs out with that sort of people. Toads. I find that hard to understand.
I was once invited to give a talk at AEI. I decided not to, because I hated their guts. I would be a lot more comfortable giving a talk at a whorehouse or an insane asylum.

jfc this piece

We have our own opinion, but as social scientists we hoped to get a more objective answer. So we transcribed Mr. Murray’s speech and — without indicating who wrote it — sent it to a group of 70 college professors (women and men, of different ranks, at different universities). We asked them to rate the material on a scale from 1 to 9, ranging from very liberal to very conservative, with 5 defined as “middle of the road.” We also offered them a chance to explain why they gave the material the score they did.

American college professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Still, the 57 professors who responded to our request gave Mr. Murray’s talk an average score of 5.05, or “middle of the road.” Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality. Others suggested that they detected a hint of discontent with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. No one raised concerns that the material was contentious, dangerous or otherwise worthy of censure.

We also sent the transcript to a group of 70 college professors who were told that the speech was by Mr. Murray. The 44 who responded gave it an average rating of 5.77. That score is significantly more conservative, statistically speaking, than the rating given by the professors unaware of the author’s identity (suggesting that knowing Mr. Murray was the author colored the evaluation of the content). Even still, 5.77 is not too far from “middle of the road.”
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Placebo interventions for all clinical conditions. - PubMed - NCBI
We did not find that placebo interventions have important clinical effects in general. However, in certain settings placebo interventions can influence patient-reported outcomes, especially pain and nausea, though it is difficult to distinguish patient-reported effects of placebo from biased reporting. The effect on pain varied, even among trials with low risk of bias, from negligible to clinically important. Variations in the effect of placebo were partly explained by variations in how trials were conducted and how patients were informed.

How much of the placebo 'effect' is really statistical regression?: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6369471
Statistical regression to the mean predicts that patients selected for abnormalcy will, on the average, tend to improve. We argue that most improvements attributed to the placebo effect are actually instances of statistical regression. First, whereas older clinical trials susceptible to regression resulted in a marked improvement in placebo-treated patients, in a modern series of clinical trials whose design tended to protect against regression, we found no significant improvement (median change 0.3 per cent, p greater than 0.05) in placebo-treated patients.

Placebo effects are weak: regression to the mean is the main reason ineffective treatments appear to work: http://www.dcscience.net/2015/12/11/placebo-effects-are-weak-regression-to-the-mean-is-the-main-reason-ineffective-treatments-appear-to-work/

A radical new hypothesis in medicine: give patients drugs they know don’t work: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/6/1/15711814/open-label-placebo-kaptchuk
People on no treatment got about 30 percent better. And people who were given an open-label placebo got 60 percent improvement in the adequate relief of their irritable bowel syndrome.

Surgery Is One Hell Of A Placebo: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/surgery-is-one-hell-of-a-placebo/
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march 2017 by nhaliday
A New Germ Theory: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/02/a-new-germ-theory/377430/
The dictates of evolution virtually demand that the causes of some of humanity's chronic and most baffling "noninfectious" illnesses will turn out to be pathogens -- that is the radical view of a prominent evolutionary biologist

A LATE-SEPTEMBER heat wave enveloped Amherst College, and young people milled about in shorts or sleeveless summer frocks, or read books on the grass. Inside the red-brick buildings framing the leafy quadrangle students listened to lectures on Ellison and Emerson, on Paul Verlaine and the Holy Roman Empire. Few suspected that strains of the organism that causes cholera were growing nearby, in the Life Sciences Building. If they had known, they would probably not have grasped the implications. But these particular strains of cholera make Paul Ewald smile; they are strong evidence that he is on the right track. Knowing the rules of evolutionary biology, he believes, can change the course of infectious disease.

I HAVE a motto," Gregory Cochran told me recently. "'Big old diseases are infectious.' If it's common, higher than one in a thousand, I get suspicious. And if it's old, if it has been around for a while, I get suspicious."

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february 2017 by nhaliday
The Experts | West Hunter
It seems to me that not all people called experts actually are. In fact, there are whole fields in which none of the experts are experts. But let’s try to define terms.


Along these lines, I’ve read Tetlock’s book, Expert Political Judgment. A funny, funny, book. I will have more to say on that later.

USSR: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-experts/#comment-60760
iraq war:
Of course it is how Bush sold the war. Selling the war involving statements to the press, leaks, etc, not a Congressional resolution, which is the product of that selling job. Leaks to that lying slut at the New York Times, Judith Miller, for example.

Actively seeking a nuclear weapons capacity would have meant making fissionables, or building facilities to make fissionables. That hadn’t happened, and it was impossible for Iraq to have done so, given that any such effort had to be undetectable (because we hadn’t detected it with our ‘national technical means’, spy satellites and such) and given their limited resources in men, money, and materiel. Iraq had done nothing along these lines. Absolutely nothing.

You don’t even know what yellow cake is. It is true that Saddam had had a nuclear program before the Gulf War, although it had not come too close to a weapon – but that program had been destroyed, and could not be rebuilt A. in a way invisible to our spy satellites and B with no money, because of sanctions.

The 550 tons of uranium oxide- unenriched uranium oxide – was a leftover from the earlier program. Under UN seal, and those seals had not been broken. Without enrichment, and without a means of enrichment, it was useless.

What’s the point of pushing this nonsense? somebody paying you?

The President was a moron, the Government of the United States proved itself a pack of fools,as did the New York Times, the Washington Post, Congress, virtually all of the pundits, etc. etc. And undoubtedly you were a fool as well: you might as well deal with it, because the truth is not going to go away.

interesting discussion of battle fatigue and desertion: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-experts/#comment-60709
Actually, I don’t know how Freudian those Army psychologists were in 1944: they may have been useless in some other way. The gist is that in the European theater, for example in the Normandy campaign, the US had a much higher rate of psychological casualties than the Germans. “Both British and American psychiatrists were struck by the ‘apparently few cases of psychoneurosis’ among German prisoners of war. ” They were lower in the Red Army, as well.

In the Pacific theater, combat fatigue was even worse for US soldiers, but rare among the Japanese.


The infantry took most of the casualties – it was a very dangerous, unpleasant job. People didn’t like being in the infantry. In the American Army, and to a lesser extent, the British Army, getting into medical evacuation channels was a way to avoid getting killed. Not so much in the German Army: suspected malingerers were shot. In the American Army, they weren’t. That’s the most importance difference between the Germans and Americans affecting the ‘combat fatigue’ rate – the Germans didn’t put up with it. They did have some procedures, but they all ended up putting the guy back in combat fairly rapidly.

Even for desertion, only ONE American soldier was executed. In the Germany Army, 20,000. It makes a difference. We ran a soft war: since we ended up with whole divisions out of the fight, we probably would have done better (won faster, lost fewer guys) if we had been harsher on malingerers and deserters.

more on emdees: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-experts/#comment-60697
As for your idea that doctors improve with age, I doubt it. So do some other people: for example, in this article in Annals of Internal Medicine (Systematic review: the relationship between clinical experience and quality of health care), they say “Overall, 32 of the 62 (52%) evaluations reported decreasing performance with increasing years in practice for all outcomes assessed; 13 (21%) reported decreasing performance with increasing experience for some outcomes but no association for others; 2 (3%) reported that performance initially increased with increasing experience, peaked, and then decreased (concave relationship); 13 (21%) reported no association; 1 (2%) reported increasing performance with increasing years in practice for some outcomes but no association for others; and 1 (2%) reported increasing performance with increasing years in practice for all outcomes. Results did not change substantially when the analysis was restricted to studies that used the most objective outcome measures.

I don’t how well that 25-year old doctor with an IQ of 160 would do, never having met anyone like that. I do know a mathematician who has an IQ around 160 and was married to a doctor, but she* dumped him after he put her through med school and came down with lymphoma.

And that libertarian friend I mentioned, who said that although quarantine would have worked against AIDS, better that we didn’t, despite the extra hundreds of thousands of deaths that resulted – why, he’s a doctor.

*all the other fifth-years in her program also dumped their spouses. Catching?

climate change: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-experts/#comment-60787
I think that predicting climate is difficult, considering the complex feedback loops, but I know that almost every right-wing thing said about it that I have checked out turned out to be false.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Competent Elites - Less Wrong

Cochran: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:d8fc1403ad19

How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/upshot/how-to-become-a-ceo-the-quickest-path-is-a-winding-one.html
New evidence shows that a mix of skills, especially technology skills, counts more than simply long experience in one specialty.

What Does a C.E.O. Actually Do?: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/c-e-o-actually/

On empathy: psychopaths, sociopaths and aspies: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-empathy-psychopaths-sociopaths-and.html
Last week a startup CTO, who didn't know my background, characterized all CEOs as "warm sociopaths" :-) He is at least partly right: many business and political leaders are good at reading other people's thoughts and emotions, but lack genuine concern for their well being. On the other hand, many geeks are very bad at mind reading or emotional perception, yet adhere to a strict moral code.

East Asian sociopaths?: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/06/east-asian-sociopaths.html
Some would assert that CEOs and other people in leadership positions are often warm sociopaths. Interestingly, it is claimed that there is a huge variation between groups in the rate of sociopathy. Perhaps this is related to the under-representation of E. Asians in leadership positions in the West, despite their high educational achievements? (Instead of sociopathy other factors like aggressiveness in interpersonal relationships might play a role.)

THE ILLUSION OF ASIAN SUCCESS: Scant Progress for Minorities in Cracking the Glass Ceiling from 2007–2015: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ascendleadership.org/resource/resmgr/research/TheIllusionofAsianSuccess.pdf
Asians are not making it into top ranks at tech firms.
EPI = %exec / %professionals
MPI = %managers / %professionals

CEOs really are worth more than they used to be: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/economics/ceos-really-are-worth-more-than-they-used-to-be
more: https://twitter.com/s8mb/status/762711050437419008
More silliness on executive pay: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/yes-chief-executives-really-do-matter
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Economists and the Reds | West Hunter
Heilbroner once said: “The farther to the right one looks, the more prescient has been the historical foresight; the farther to the left, the less so. ”

You know, someone should blame right-wingers for being correct about some things, since that more or less automatically drove left-wingers into being wrong.

I think that’s less of a problem today.

Well, how long was the political right particularly associated with capitalism…100-150 years? Before and after that, I don’t know if the political right’s track record of prediction looks that good.

Heilbroner was talking about people like Friedman, not Edmund Burke.

Paul Samuelson’s repeated predictions of the Soviet Union economy catching up with the USA: https://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2015/01/24/paul-samuelsons-repeated-predictions-of-the-soviet-union-economy-catching-up-with-the-usa/

Kissinger detente: http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/whic/ReferenceDetailsPage/DocumentToolsPortletWindow?displayGroupName=Reference&jsid=1a94cad9fcddfd654fdca52eca9cf6c8&action=2&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX2876100022&u=catholiccenhs&zid=c159e34f1bdf497a992077a286af2b4b

In a passage eliminated from The Nation version, Miss Sontag also criticized liberal publications. ''Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?''

I think I would have been a Communist in 1910.

I’m not sure what you have to add to 1910-me to make me not a Communist. Extra IQ wouldn’t work - there were a lot of Communist geniuses. The best rationality training available at the time wouldn’t work - it tended to produce a progressive atheism that segued easily into Communism. Some sort of Burkean conservativism would’ve been the only hope, but I’m not sure how you could have convinced me of Burkean conservativism.


Overall I’m very gloomy at whether rationality alone could have prevented Communism, and I’m gloomy that whatever the next Communism is, we’ll have to go through it before we learn our lesson.


I think one could truthfully say that one reason for the failure of Communism in the Soviet Union was that the heart of the country had been torn out. Something similar happened in France, in the 1920s and 1930s. People would talk about some problem that need to be solved, or some desirable innovation, and explain that it never happened, because the guy that should have done it died at Verdun. But it was worse in Russia. And it’s not just the dead: a lot of guys were crippled – so many that they made Moscow look bad, and therefore were exiled to Central Asia for appearances’ sake.

In part, the Soviet Union failed because ” an assegai had been thrust into the belly of the nation”. This makes a half-decent excuse: but it would be a better excuse if the Soviets hadn’t done so much of it to themselves.


Back in the 1950s, Russia was a lot weaker than it looked. I wonder how many people understood that. Ike, certainly.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Stockpile Stewardship | West Hunter
A lot of our nuclear weapons are old, and it’s not clear that they still work. If we still did underground tests, we’d know for sure (and could fix any problems) – but we don’t do that. We have a program called stockpile stewardship, that uses simulation programs and the data from laser-fusion experiments in an attempt to predict weapon efficacy.

I talked to some old friends who know as much about the nuclear stockpile as anyone: neither believes that that stockpile stewardship will do the job. There are systems that you can simulate with essentially perfect accuracy and confidence, Newtonian gravitational mechanics for example: this isn’t one of them.

You had two approaches to a problem that was vital to the security of the United States: option A was absolutely sure to work, option B might possibly work.

The Feds picked B.

interesting: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/stockpile-stewardship/#comment-65553
Can’t they stick a warhead on a space launcher, loop it around the moon followed by some compact instrumentation and detonate it there, out of view? And keep mum about it.

How hard would it be for radioastronomers to notice a nuclear blast on the other side of the Moon? Would reflected light over interplanetary distances be even detectable?

I once brought this up to a bomb-designer friend: people have in fact worried about this.

They signed a treaty against that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty

The Soviets signed a treaty against developing germ warfare too, but they did it anyhow. Do you think that the Galactic Overlords automatically vaporize treaty violators?

People working in US intelligence may well have opinions, but they don’t know jack about nuclear weapons. I once said that Iraq couldn’t possibly have a live nuclear weapons program, given their lack of resources and the fact that we hadn’t detected any sign of it – in part, a ‘capacity’ argument. I later heard that the whole CIA had at most one guy who knew enough to do that casual, back-of-the-envelope analysis correctly, and he was working on something else.

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december 2016 by nhaliday
Ain’t gonna study war no more | West Hunter
Military history has almost vanished from academia, especially in ‘elite’ institutions. This is probably related to that strange Bellesiles incident [i.e., "Arming America" fraud], and the trend toward Kumbaya models of prehistory in archaeology and anthropology. It’s not just that academic historians don’t publish on war – they don’t know anything about it themselves, and they have contempt for anyone who does. A colleague asked John Lynn if military historians wrote in crayon; one head of a history department called military history “of interest only to hormone-driven fraternity boys.”

Pride in ignorance: that’s hard for me to understand. There are subjects that don’t interest me, like baseball stats, where not knowing doesn’t much bother me – still, ignorance of sabermetrics is nothing to be proud of. Putting war in that category strikes me as deeply crazy. Like the bad man says, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

Unfortunately, some of the remaining military historians try to placate the history establishment by reframing the subject in ways that cater to establishment interests – you know, writing articles like “Dykes at Kursk”, or discussing the role of ‘people of color’ in the wars of the Diadochi. Sucking up to pinheads.


Chinese war: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/aint-gonna-study-war-no-more/#comment-68317

doesn't like Victor D. Hanson: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/aint-gonna-study-war-no-more/#comment-68296
more: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/various-crap/#comment-66679

I think the video games vs "literature" debate overlooks how most of us should be reading more history, especially military history, which has been largely expunged from American education.
One of the big problems with allowing women and racial aliens to take a whack at curriculum design is they resent stuff like the Great Man Theory and mil history in general.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Enigma | West Hunter
The modern consensus is that breaking Enigma shortened the war by at least a year.

Although a number of highly-placed people knew the story, some because they had been personally involved during WWII, the successful decryption of Enigma was kept secret until 1974, when F. W. Winterbotham published The Ultra Secret.

Most historians didn’t know about it. Without that information, the course of World War II can’t really have made sense. Why didn’t anyone notice?

various WW2 trivia in the comments/corrections

high school:
They couldn’t hide an anomalous level of success. In fact, the Germans came to realize that the Allies had some kind of intelligence edge, but never managed to figure out what it was. When your opponent anticipates your moves, you must eventually notice.

Professional historians, after the war, don’t seem to have noticed anything anomalous. I find this revealing because _I_ noticed that things had gone weirdly smoothly while I was still in high school. I wrote an essay about it.

I wish I still had it around. I didn’t manage to guess how many rotors Enigma had, for sure. I only talked about how mysteriously well things had gone, didn’t know why. I remember the conclusion: God protects drunks, babies, and the United States of America.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
The Son Also Rises | West Hunter
It turns out that you can predict a kid’s social status better if you take into account the grandparents as well as the parents – and the nieces/nephews, cousins, etc. Which means that you’re estimating the breeding value for moxie – which means that Clark needs to read Falconer right now. I’d guess that taking into account grandparents that the kids never even met, ones that died before their birth, will improve prediction. Let the sociologists chew on that.


If culture was the driver, a group could just adopt a different culture (it happens) and decide to be the new upper class by doing all that shit Amy Chua pushes, or possibly by playing cricket. I don’t believe that this ever actually occurs. Although with genetic engineering on the horizon, it may be possible. Of course that would be cheating.

It is hard to change these patterns very much. Universal public education, fluoridation, democracy, haven’t made much difference. I do think that shooting enough people would. Or a massive application of droit de seigneur, or its opposite.


If moxie is genetic, most economists must be wrong about human capital formation. Having fewer kids and spending more money on their education has only a modest effect: this must be the case, given slow long-run social mobility. It seems that social status is transmitted within families largely independently of the resources available to parents. Which is why Ashkenazi Jews could show up at Ellis Island flat broke, with no English, and have so many kids in the Ivy League by the 1920s that they imposed quotas. I’ve never understood why economists ever believed in this.

Moxie is not the same thing as IQ, although IQ must be a component. It is also worth remembering that this trait helps you acquire status – it is probably not quite the same thing as being saintly, honest, or incredibly competent at doing your damn job.

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november 2016 by nhaliday
Low-hanging fruit | West Hunter
Think about it: peptic and duodenal ulcer were fairly common, and so were effective antibiotics, starting in the mid-40s. . Every internist in the world – every surgeon – every GP was accidentally curing ulcers – not just one or twice, but again and again. For decades. Almost none of them noticed it, even though it was happening over and over, right in front of their eyes. Those who did notice were ignored until the mid-80s, when Robin Warren and Barry Marshall finally made the discovery stick. Even then, it took something like 10 years for antibiotic treatment of ulcers to become common, even though it was cheap and effective. Or perhaps because it was cheap and effective.

This illustrates an important point: doctors are lousy scientists, lousy researchers. They’re memorizers, not puzzle solvers. Considering that Western medicine was an ineffective pseudoscience – actually, closer to a malignant pseudoscience – for its first two thousand years, we shouldn’t be surprised. Since we’re looking for low-hanging fruit, this is good news. It means that the great discoveries in medicine are probably not mined out. From our point of view, past incompetence predicts future progress. The worse, the better!
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november 2016 by nhaliday
weaponizing smallpox | West Hunter
As I have said before, it seems likely to me that the Soviet Union put so much effort into treaty-violating biological warfare because the guys at the top believed in it – because they had seen it work, the same reason that they were such tank enthusiasts. One more point on the likely use of tularemia at Stalingrad: in the summer of ’42 the Germans had occupied regions holding 40% of the Soviet Union’s population. The Soviets had a tularemia program: if not then [“Not One Step Back!”], when would they have used it? When would Stalin have used it? Imagine that someone intent on the destruction of the American republic and the extermination of its people [remember the Hunger Plan?] had taken over everything west of the Mississippi: would be that too early to pull out all the stops? Reminds me of of an old Mr Boffo cartoon: you see a monster, taller than skyscrapers, stomping his way through the city. That’s trouble. But then you notice that he’s a hand puppet: that’s serious trouble. Perhaps Stalin was waiting for serious trouble, for example if the Norse Gods had come in on the side of the Nazis.

Anyhow, the Soviets had a big smallpox program. In some ways smallpox is almost the ultimate biological weapon – very contagious, while some strains are highly lethal. And it’s controllable – you can easily shield your own guys via vaccination. Of course back in the 1970s, almost everyone was vaccinated, so it was also completely useless.

We kept vaccinating people as long as smallpox was still running around in the Third World. But when it was eradicated in 1978, people stopped. There seemed to be no reason – and so, as new unvaccinated generations arose, the military efficacy of smallpox has gone up and up and up. It got to the point where the World Health organization threw away its stockpile of vaccine, a couple hundred million units, just to save on the electric bill for the refrigerators.

Consider that the Soviet Union was always the strongest proponent of worldwide eradication of smallpox, dating back to the 1950s. Successful eradication would eventually make smallpox a superweapon: does it seem possible that the people running the Soviet Union had this in mind as a long term-goal ? Potentiation through ‘eradication’? Did the left hand know what the strangling hand had in mind, and shape policies accordingly? Of course.

D.A. Henderson, the man that led the eradication campaign, died just a few days ago. He was aware of this possibility.

Dr. Henderson strenuously argued that the samples should be destroyed because, in his view, any amount of smallpox was too dangerous to tolerate. A side effect of the eradication program — and one of the “horrendous ironies of history,” said “Hot Zone” author Preston — is that since no one in generations has been exposed to the virus, most of the world’s population would be vulnerable to it in the event of an outbreak.

“I feel very — what should we say? — dispirited,” Dr. Henderson told the Times in 2002. “Here we are, regressing to defend against something we thought was permanently defeated. We shouldn’t have to be doing this.”

Ken Alibek believes that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, unemployed or badly-paid scientists are likely to have sold samples of smallpox clandestinely and gone to work in rogue states engaged in illicit biological weapons development. DA Henderson agrees that this is a plausible scenario and is upset by the legacy it leaves. 'If the [Russian bio-weapons] programme had not taken place we would not I think be worrying about smallpox in the same way. One can feel extremely bitter and extremely angry about this because I think they've subjected the entire world to a risk which was totally unnecessary.'

War in the East: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/war-in-the-east/
The books generally say that biological warfare is ineffective, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? There is reason to think it has worked, and it may have made a difference.


We know of course that this offensive eventually turned into a disaster in which the German Sixth Army was lost. But nobody knew that then. The Germans were moving forward with little to stop them: they were scary SOBs. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Soviet leadership was frightened, enough so that they sent out a general backs-to-the-wall, no-retreat order that told the real scale of losses. That was the Soviet mood in the summer of 42.

That’s the historical background. Now for the clues. First, Ken Alibek was a bioweapons scientist back in the USSR. In his book, Biohazard, he tells how, as a student, he was given the assignment of explaining a mysterious pattern of tularemia epidemics back in the war. To him, it looked artificial, whereupon his instructor said something to the effect of “you never thought that, you never said that. Do you want a job?” Second, Antony Beevor mentions the mysteriously poor health of German troops at Stalingrad – well before being surrounded (p210-211). Third, the fact that there were large tularemia epidemics in the Soviet Union during the war – particularly in the ‘oblasts temporarily occupied by the Fascist invaders’, described in History and Incidence of Tularemia in the Soviet Union, by Robert Pollitzer.

Fourth, personal communications from a friend who once worked at Los Alamos. Back in the 90’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a time when you could hire a whole team of decent ex-Soviet physicists for the price of a single American. My friend was having a drink with one of his Russian contractors, son of a famous ace, who started talking about how his dad had dropped tularemia here, here, and here near Leningrad (sketching it out on a napkin) during the Great Patriotic War. Not that many people spontaneously bring up stories like that in dinner conversation…

Fifth, the huge Soviet investment in biowarfare throughout the Cold War is a hint: they really, truly, believed in it, and what better reason could there be than decisive past successes? In much the same way, our lavish funding of the NSA strongly suggested that cryptanalysis and sigint must have paid off handsomely for the Allies in WWII – far more so than publicly acknowledged, until the revelations about Enigma in the 1970s and later.

We know that tularemia is an effective biological agent: many countries have worked with it, including the Soviet Union. If the Russians had had this capability in the summer of ’42 (and they had sufficient technology: basically just fermentation) , it is hard to imagine them not using it. I mean, we’re talking about Stalin. You think he had moral qualms? But we too would have used germ warfare if our situation had been desperate.

Sean, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Anybody exposed to an aerosol form of tularemia is likely to get it: 10-50 bacteria are enough to give a 50% probability of infection. You do not need to be sickly, starved, or immunosuppressed in order to contract it, although those factors probably influence its lethality. The same is true of anthrax: if it starts growing in your lungs, you get sick. You’re not born immune. There are in fact some diseases that you _are_ born immune to (most strains of sleeping sickness, for example), or at least have built-in defenses against (Epstein-Barr, cf TLRs).

A few other facts I’ve just found: First, the Soviets had a tularemia vaccine, which was used to an unclear extent at Stalingrad. At the time nobody else did.

Next, as far as I can tell, the Stalingrad epidemic is the only large-scale pneumonic tularemia epidemic that has ever occurred.

Next cool fact: during the Cold War, the Soviets were somewhat more interested in tularemia than other powers. At the height of the US biowarfare program, we produced less than two tons per year. The Soviets produced over one thousand tons of F. tularensis per year in that period.

Next question, one which deserves a serious, extended treatment. Why are so many people so very very good at coming up with wrong answers? Why do they apply Occam’s razor backwards? This is particularly common in biology. I’m not talking about Croddy in Military Medicine: he probably had orders to lie, and you can see hints of that if you read carefully.

Joining the Army might work. In general not available to private individuals, for reasons that are largely bullshit.
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september 2016 by nhaliday
Personnel decision | West Hunter
I think we are about due for a career civil servant within the agency or relatively recently retired from it (ideally to academia), with a PhD or M.D. and probably a pay grade of either GS-15 or Senior Executive Service (SES), who has a reputation for integrity, for intelligence, and for getting things done bureaucratically, with some low profile political connections (at least to the ruling party but ideally to both political parties) in private life as well (e.g. through friendships made at a top college, a politician or top political aide parent, or friendships made while attending a top D.C. private school like Sidwell Friends or St. Albion’s or National Cathedral School).

Few federal agencies call for more subject-matter competence to understand its functions well enough to run it well.
The problem is that the typical member of the set you describe is nuts. Members have a lot of incorrect ideas in their heads: in fact, you have to express support of those ideas or you are expelled. So, that means that every educational improvement plan pushed by the Feds fails: you can’t do anything realistic, or you would be a bad person. Every intervention in the Middle East fails: same reason. AIDs shows up, so we abandon quarantine: Fidel Castro deals with the situation 50 times better than we did.

The Aztecs thought that the world would end if they didn’t keep cutting people’s hearts out on an industrial scale. They were crazy. But were they crazier than we are?
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september 2016 by nhaliday

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