nhaliday + thick-thin   34

One week of bugs
If I had to guess, I'd say I probably work around hundreds of bugs in an average week, and thousands in a bad week. It's not unusual for me to run into a hundred new bugs in a single week. But I often get skepticism when I mention that I run into multiple new (to me) bugs per day, and that this is inevitable if we don't change how we write tests. Well, here's a log of one week of bugs, limited to bugs that were new to me that week. After a brief description of the bugs, I'll talk about what we can do to improve the situation. The obvious answer to spend more effort on testing, but everyone already knows we should do that and no one does it. That doesn't mean it's hopeless, though.

...

Here's where I'm supposed to write an appeal to take testing more seriously and put real effort into it. But we all know that's not going to work. It would take 90k LOC of tests to get Julia to be as well tested as a poorly tested prototype (falsely assuming linear complexity in size). That's two person-years of work, not even including time to debug and fix bugs (which probably brings it closer to four of five years). Who's going to do that? No one. Writing tests is like writing documentation. Everyone already knows you should do it. Telling people they should do it adds zero information1.

Given that people aren't going to put any effort into testing, what's the best way to do it?

Property-based testing. Generative testing. Random testing. Concolic Testing (which was done long before the term was coined). Static analysis. Fuzzing. Statistical bug finding. There are lots of options. Some of them are actually the same thing because the terminology we use is inconsistent and buggy. I'm going to arbitrarily pick one to talk about, but they're all worth looking into.

...

There are a lot of great resources out there, but if you're just getting started, I found this description of types of fuzzers to be one of those most helpful (and simplest) things I've read.

John Regehr has a udacity course on software testing. I haven't worked through it yet (Pablo Torres just pointed to it), but given the quality of Dr. Regehr's writing, I expect the course to be good.

For more on my perspective on testing, there's this.

https://hypothesis.works/articles/the-purpose-of-hypothesis/
From the perspective of a user, the purpose of Hypothesis is to make it easier for you to write better tests.

From my perspective as the primary author, that is of course also a purpose of Hypothesis. I write a lot of code, it needs testing, and the idea of trying to do that without Hypothesis has become nearly unthinkable.

But, on a large scale, the true purpose of Hypothesis is to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new and terrifying age of high quality software.

Software is everywhere. We have built a civilization on it, and it’s only getting more prevalent as more services move online and embedded and “internet of things” devices become cheaper and more common.

Software is also terrible. It’s buggy, it’s insecure, and it’s rarely well thought out.

This combination is clearly a recipe for disaster.

The state of software testing is even worse. It’s uncontroversial at this point that you should be testing your code, but it’s a rare codebase whose authors could honestly claim that they feel its testing is sufficient.

Much of the problem here is that it’s too hard to write good tests. Tests take up a vast quantity of development time, but they mostly just laboriously encode exactly the same assumptions and fallacies that the authors had when they wrote the code, so they miss exactly the same bugs that you missed when they wrote the code.

Preventing the Collapse of Civilization [video]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19945452
- Jonathan Blow

NB: DevGAMM is a game industry conference

- loss of technological knowledge (Antikythera mechanism, aqueducts, etc.)
- hardware driving most gains, not software
- software's actually less robust, often poorly designed and overengineered these days
- *list of bugs he's encountered recently*:
https://youtu.be/pW-SOdj4Kkk?t=1387
- knowledge of trivia becomes more than general, deep knowledge
- does at least acknowledge value of DRY, reusing code, abstraction saving dev time
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8 weeks ago by nhaliday
Lateralization of brain function - Wikipedia
Language
Language functions such as grammar, vocabulary and literal meaning are typically lateralized to the left hemisphere, especially in right handed individuals.[3] While language production is left-lateralized in up to 90% of right-handers, it is more bilateral, or even right-lateralized, in approximately 50% of left-handers.[4]

Broca's area and Wernicke's area, two areas associated with the production of speech, are located in the left cerebral hemisphere for about 95% of right-handers, but about 70% of left-handers.[5]:69

Auditory and visual processing
The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability are represented bilaterally.[4] Numerical estimation, comparison and online calculation depend on bilateral parietal regions[6][7] while exact calculation and fact retrieval are associated with left parietal regions, perhaps due to their ties to linguistic processing.[6][7]

...

Depression is linked with a hyperactive right hemisphere, with evidence of selective involvement in "processing negative emotions, pessimistic thoughts and unconstructive thinking styles", as well as vigilance, arousal and self-reflection, and a relatively hypoactive left hemisphere, "specifically involved in processing pleasurable experiences" and "relatively more involved in decision-making processes".

Chaos and Order; the right and left hemispheres: https://orthosphere.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/chaos-and-order-the-right-and-left-hemispheres/
In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist writes that a creature like a bird needs two types of consciousness simultaneously. It needs to be able to focus on something specific, such as pecking at food, while it also needs to keep an eye out for predators which requires a more general awareness of environment.

These are quite different activities. The Left Hemisphere (LH) is adapted for a narrow focus. The Right Hemisphere (RH) for the broad. The brains of human beings have the same division of function.

The LH governs the right side of the body, the RH, the left side. With birds, the left eye (RH) looks for predators, the right eye (LH) focuses on food and specifics. Since danger can take many forms and is unpredictable, the RH has to be very open-minded.

The LH is for narrow focus, the explicit, the familiar, the literal, tools, mechanism/machines and the man-made. The broad focus of the RH is necessarily more vague and intuitive and handles the anomalous, novel, metaphorical, the living and organic. The LH is high resolution but narrow, the RH low resolution but broad.

The LH exhibits unrealistic optimism and self-belief. The RH has a tendency towards depression and is much more realistic about a person’s own abilities. LH has trouble following narratives because it has a poor sense of “wholes.” In art it favors flatness, abstract and conceptual art, black and white rather than color, simple geometric shapes and multiple perspectives all shoved together, e.g., cubism. Particularly RH paintings emphasize vistas with great depth of field and thus space and time,[1] emotion, figurative painting and scenes related to the life world. In music, LH likes simple, repetitive rhythms. The RH favors melody, harmony and complex rhythms.

...

Schizophrenia is a disease of extreme LH emphasis. Since empathy is RH and the ability to notice emotional nuance facially, vocally and bodily expressed, schizophrenics tend to be paranoid and are often convinced that the real people they know have been replaced by robotic imposters. This is at least partly because they lose the ability to intuit what other people are thinking and feeling – hence they seem robotic and suspicious.

Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West as well as McGilchrist characterize the West as awash in phenomena associated with an extreme LH emphasis. Spengler argues that Western civilization was originally much more RH (to use McGilchrist’s categories) and that all its most significant artistic (in the broadest sense) achievements were triumphs of RH accentuation.

The RH is where novel experiences and the anomalous are processed and where mathematical, and other, problems are solved. The RH is involved with the natural, the unfamiliar, the unique, emotions, the embodied, music, humor, understanding intonation and emotional nuance of speech, the metaphorical, nuance, and social relations. It has very little speech, but the RH is necessary for processing all the nonlinguistic aspects of speaking, including body language. Understanding what someone means by vocal inflection and facial expressions is an intuitive RH process rather than explicit.

...

RH is very much the center of lived experience; of the life world with all its depth and richness. The RH is “the master” from the title of McGilchrist’s book. The LH ought to be no more than the emissary; the valued servant of the RH. However, in the last few centuries, the LH, which has tyrannical tendencies, has tried to become the master. The LH is where the ego is predominantly located. In split brain patients where the LH and the RH are surgically divided (this is done sometimes in the case of epileptic patients) one hand will sometimes fight with the other. In one man’s case, one hand would reach out to hug his wife while the other pushed her away. One hand reached for one shirt, the other another shirt. Or a patient will be driving a car and one hand will try to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction. In these cases, the “naughty” hand is usually the left hand (RH), while the patient tends to identify herself with the right hand governed by the LH. The two hemispheres have quite different personalities.

The connection between LH and ego can also be seen in the fact that the LH is competitive, contentious, and agonistic. It wants to win. It is the part of you that hates to lose arguments.

Using the metaphor of Chaos and Order, the RH deals with Chaos – the unknown, the unfamiliar, the implicit, the emotional, the dark, danger, mystery. The LH is connected with Order – the known, the familiar, the rule-driven, the explicit, and light of day. Learning something means to take something unfamiliar and making it familiar. Since the RH deals with the novel, it is the problem-solving part. Once understood, the results are dealt with by the LH. When learning a new piece on the piano, the RH is involved. Once mastered, the result becomes a LH affair. The muscle memory developed by repetition is processed by the LH. If errors are made, the activity returns to the RH to figure out what went wrong; the activity is repeated until the correct muscle memory is developed in which case it becomes part of the familiar LH.

Science is an attempt to find Order. It would not be necessary if people lived in an entirely orderly, explicit, known world. The lived context of science implies Chaos. Theories are reductive and simplifying and help to pick out salient features of a phenomenon. They are always partial truths, though some are more partial than others. The alternative to a certain level of reductionism or partialness would be to simply reproduce the world which of course would be both impossible and unproductive. The test for whether a theory is sufficiently non-partial is whether it is fit for purpose and whether it contributes to human flourishing.

...

Analytic philosophers pride themselves on trying to do away with vagueness. To do so, they tend to jettison context which cannot be brought into fine focus. However, in order to understand things and discern their meaning, it is necessary to have the big picture, the overview, as well as the details. There is no point in having details if the subject does not know what they are details of. Such philosophers also tend to leave themselves out of the picture even when what they are thinking about has reflexive implications. John Locke, for instance, tried to banish the RH from reality. All phenomena having to do with subjective experience he deemed unreal and once remarked about metaphors, a RH phenomenon, that they are “perfect cheats.” Analytic philosophers tend to check the logic of the words on the page and not to think about what those words might say about them. The trick is for them to recognize that they and their theories, which exist in minds, are part of reality too.

The RH test for whether someone actually believes something can be found by examining his actions. If he finds that he must regard his own actions as free, and, in order to get along with other people, must also attribute free will to them and treat them as free agents, then he effectively believes in free will – no matter his LH theoretical commitments.

...

We do not know the origin of life. We do not know how or even if consciousness can emerge from matter. We do not know the nature of 96% of the matter of the universe. Clearly all these things exist. They can provide the subject matter of theories but they continue to exist as theorizing ceases or theories change. Not knowing how something is possible is irrelevant to its actual existence. An inability to explain something is ultimately neither here nor there.

If thought begins and ends with the LH, then thinking has no content – content being provided by experience (RH), and skepticism and nihilism ensue. The LH spins its wheels self-referentially, never referring back to experience. Theory assumes such primacy that it will simply outlaw experiences and data inconsistent with it; a profoundly wrong-headed approach.

...

Gödel’s Theorem proves that not everything true can be proven to be true. This means there is an ineradicable role for faith, hope and intuition in every moderately complex human intellectual endeavor. There is no one set of consistent axioms from which all other truths can be derived.

Alan Turing’s proof of the halting problem proves that there is no effective procedure for finding effective procedures. Without a mechanical decision procedure, (LH), when it comes to … [more]
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september 2018 by nhaliday
Of Mice and Men | West Hunter
It’s not always easy figuring out how a pathogen causes disease. There is an example in mice for which the solution was very difficult, so difficult that we would probably have failed to discover the cause of a similarly obscure infectious disease in humans.

Mycoplasma pulmonis causes a chronic obstructive lung disease in mice, but it wasn’t easy to show this. The disease was first described in 1915, and by 1940, people began to suspect Mycoplasma pulmonis might be the cause. But then again, maybe not. It was often found in mice that seemed healthy. Pure cultures of this organism did not consistently produce lung disease – which means that it didn’t satisfy Koch’s postulates, in particular postulate 1 (The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.) and postulate 3 (The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.).

Well, those postulates are not logic itself, but rather a useful heuristic. Koch knew that, even if lots of other people don’t.

This respiratory disease of mice is long-lasting, but slow to begin. It can take half a lifetime – a mouse lifetime, that is – and that made finding the cause harder. It required patience, which means I certainly couldn’t have done it.

Here’s how they solved it. You can raise germ-free mice. In the early 1970s, researchers injected various candidate pathogens into different groups of germ-free mice and waited to see which, if any, developed this chronic lung disease. It was Mycoplasma pulmonis , all right, but it had taken 60 years to find out.

It turned out that susceptibility differed between different mouse strains – genetic susceptibility was important. Co-infection with other pathogens affected the course of the disease. Microenvironmental details mattered – mainly ammonia in cages where the bedding wasn’t changed often enough. But it didn’t happen without that mycoplasma, which was a key causal link, something every engineer understands but many MDs don’t.

If there was a similarly obscure infectious disease of humans, say one that involved a fairly common bug found in both the just and the unjust, one that took decades for symptoms to manifest – would we have solved it? Probably not.

Cooties are everywhere.

gay germ search: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/of-mice-and-men/#comment-15905
It’s hard to say, depends on how complicated the path of causation is. Assuming that I’m even right, of course. Some good autopsy studies might be fruitful – you’d look for microanatomical brain differences, as with nartcolepsy. Differences in gene expression, maybe. You could look for a pathogen – using the digital version of RDA (representational difference analysis), say on discordant twins. Do some old-fashioned epidemiology. Look for marker antibodies, signs of some sort of immunological event.

Do all of the above on gay rams – lots easier to get started, much less whining from those being vivisected.

Patrick Moore found the virus causing Kaposi’s sarcoma without any funding at all. I’m sure Peter Thiel could afford a serious try.
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september 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
Rheumatoid Arthritis | West Hunter
It causes characteristic changes in the bones.  Key point:  it is vanishingly rare in Old World skeletons before the 17th century.  Those changes, however, been seen in some pre-Columbian Amerindian skeletons [work by Bruce Rothschild].

The obvious explanation is that RA is caused by some pathogen that originated in the Americas and later spread to the rest of the world.  Like the French disease.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/montezumas-revenge/
Everybody knows that the Amerindians were devastated by new infectious diseases after Columbus discovered America and made it stick. Smallpox, falciparum malaria, yellow fever, bubonic plague, cholera, measles, whooping cough, etc : by some estimates, the Amerindian population dropped by about 90%, worse than the Black Plague, which only killed off half of Europe. Naturally, you wonder what ailments the Americas exported to the rest of the world.

We know of two for sure. First, syphilis: the first known epidemic was in 1495, in Naples, during a French invasion. By 1520 it had reached Africa and China.

From the timing of the first epidemic, and the apparent newness of the disease, many have suspected that it was an import from the New World. Some, like Bartolome de las Casas, had direct knowledge: Las Casas was in Seville in 1493, his father and uncle sailed with Columbus on the second voyage, and he himself traveled to the New World in 1502, where he spent most of the rest of his life working with the Amerindians. Ruiz Diaz de Isla, a Spanish physician, reported treating some of Columbus’s crew for syphilis, and that he had observed its rapid spread in Barcelona.

I have seen someone object to this scenario, on the grounds that the two years after Columbus’s return surely couldn’t have been long enough to generate a major outbreak. I think maybe that guy doesn’t get out much. It has always looked plausible, considering paleopathological evidence (bone changes) and the timing of the first epidemic. Recent analysis shows that some American strains of pinta (a treponemal skin disease) are genetically closest to the venereal strains. I’d say the Colombian theory is pretty well established, at this point.

Interestingly, before the genetic evidence, this was one of the longest-running disputes among historians. As far as I can tell, part of the problem was (and is) that many in the social sciences routinely apply Ockham’s razor in reverse. Simple explanations are bad, even when they fit all the facts. You see this in medicine, too.

...

There are two other diseases that are suspected of originating in the Americas. The first is typhus, gaol fever, caused by a Rickettsial organism and usually spread by lice. Sometimes it recurs after many years, in a mild form called Brill’s disease, rather like chickenpox and shingles. This means that typhus is always waiting in the wings: if the world gets sufficiently messed up, it will reappear.

Typhus shows up most often in war, usually in cool countries. There is a claim that there was a clear epidemic in Granada in 1489, which would definitely predate Columbus, but descriptions of disease symptoms by premodern physicians are amazingly unreliable. The first really reliable description seems to have been by Fracastoro, in 1546 (according to Hans Zinsser in Rats, Lice, and History). The key hint is the existence of a very closely related organism in American flying squirrels.

Thinking about it, I have the impression that the legions of the Roman Republic didn’t have high casualties due to infectious disease, while that was the dominant cause of death in more recent European armies, up until the 20tth century. If smallpox, measles, syphilis, bubonic plague, perhaps typhus, simply hadn’t arrived yet, this makes sense. Falciparum malaria wasn’t much of a factor in northern Italy until Imperial times…

The second possibly American disease is rheumatoid arthritis. We don’t even know that it has an infectious cause – but we do know that it causes characteristic skeletal changes, and that no clear-cut pre-Columbian rheumatoid skeletons are known from the Old World, while a number have been found in the lower South. To me, this makes some infectious cause seem likely: it would very much be worth following this up with the latest molecular genetic methods.

American crops like maize and potatoes more than canceled the demographic impact of syphilis and typhus. But although the Old World produced more dangerous pathogens than the Americas, due to size, longer time depth of agriculture, and more domesticated animals, luck played a role, too. Something as virulent as smallpox or falciparum malaria could have existed in the Americas, and if it had, Europe would have been devastated.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/montezumas-revenge/#comment-2910
Malaria came from Africa, probably. There are old primate versions. Smallpox, dunno: I have heard people suggest viral infections of cows and monkeys as ancestral. Measles is derived from rinderpest, probably less than two thousand years ago.

Falciparum malaria has been around for a while, but wasn’t found near Rome during the Republic. It seems to have gradually moved north in Italy during classical times, maybe because the range of the key mosquito species was increasing. By early medieval times it was a big problem around Rome.

Smallpox probably did not exist in classical Greece: there is no clear description in the literature of the time. It may have arrived in the Greco-Roman world in 165 AD, as the Antonine plague.

The Pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis: http://sci-hub.cc/http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1004965

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/age-of-discovery-pandora/
In the Age of Discovery, Europeans were playing with fire. Every voyage of exploration risked bring back some new plague. From the New World, syphilis, probably typhus and rheumatoid arthritis. From India, cholera. HIV, recently, from Africa. Comparably important new pests attacking important crops and domesticated animals also arrived, such as grape phylloxera (which wiped out most of the vineyards of Europe) and potato blight ( an oomycete or ‘water mold’, from central Mexico).

If one of those plagues had been as potent as smallpox or falciparum malaria, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Gauge Transformation | West Hunter
Modern armies require enormous amounts of supply, mostly gas and ammo. In those days, supply mainly meant railroads. In Germany, and in most of Europe, the separation between the rails, the rail gauge,  was 1,435 mm (4ft 8 1/2 in).   So when the Germans invaded France, they could immediately make use of the French railnet.  In Russia, the Germans faced a problem: the gauge was different, 1528 mm (5 ft).  German locomotives could not use those tracks until they had been converted.  As Pravda used to say, this was no coincidence:  it is thought that the Czarist government made this choice for defensive reasons.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Information Processing: How Brexit was won, and the unreasonable effectiveness of physicists
‘If you don’t get this elementary, but mildly unnatural, mathematics of elementary probability into your repertoire, then you go through a long life like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. You’re giving a huge advantage to everybody else. One of the advantages of a fellow like Buffett … is that he automatically thinks in terms of decision trees and the elementary math of permutations and combinations… It’s not that hard to learn. What is hard is to get so you use it routinely almost everyday of your life. The Fermat/Pascal system is dramatically consonant with the way that the world works. And it’s fundamental truth. So you simply have to have the technique…

‘One of the things that influenced me greatly was studying physics… If I were running the world, people who are qualified to do physics would not be allowed to elect out of taking it. I think that even people who aren’t [expecting to] go near physics and engineering learn a thinking system in physics that is not learned so well anywhere else… The tradition of always looking for the answer in the most fundamental way available – that is a great tradition.’ --- Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s partner.

...

If you want to make big improvements in communication, my advice is – hire physicists, not communications people from normal companies, and never believe what advertising companies tell you about ‘data’ unless you can independently verify it. Physics, mathematics, and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting which satisfies neither of the necessary conditions – 1) enough structure in the information to enable good predictions, 2) conditions for good fast feedback and learning. Physicists and mathematicians regularly invade other fields but other fields do not invade theirs so we can see which fields are hardest for very talented people. It is no surprise that they can successfully invade politics and devise things that rout those who wrongly think they know what they are doing. Vote Leave paid very close attention to real experts. ...

More important than technology is the mindset – the hard discipline of obeying Richard Feynman’s advice: ‘The most important thing is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.’ They were a hard floor on ‘fooling yourself’ and I empowered them to challenge everybody including me. They saved me from many bad decisions even though they had zero experience in politics and they forced me to change how I made important decisions like what got what money. We either operated scientifically or knew we were not, which is itself very useful knowledge. (One of the things they did was review the entire literature to see what reliable studies have been done on ‘what works’ in politics and what numbers are reliable.) Charlie Munger is one half of the most successful investment partnership in world history. He advises people – hire physicists. It works and the real prize is not the technology but a culture of making decisions in a rational way and systematically avoiding normal ways of fooling yourself as much as possible. This is very far from normal politics.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Public perceptions of expert disagreement: Bias and incompetence or a complex and random world? - Sep 07, 2015
People with low education, or with low self-reported topic knowledge, were most likely to attribute disputes to expert incompetence. People with higher self-reported knowledge tended to attribute disputes to expert bias due to financial or ideological reasons. The more highly educated and cognitively able were most likely to attribute disputes to natural factors, such as the irreducible complexity and randomness of the phenomenon.

reminds me of Hanson's interpretation of political disagreement: poor data, complex phenomena with high causal density
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Improving Economic Research | askblog
To make a long story short:

1. Economic phenomena are rife with causal density. Theories make predictions assuming “other things equal,” but other things are never equal.

2. When I was a student, the solution was thought to be multiple regression analysis. You entered a bunch of variables into an estimated equation, and in doing so you “controlled for” those variables and thereby created conditions of “other things equal.” However, in 1978, Edward Leamer pointed out that actual practice diverges from theory. The researcher typically undertakes a lot of exploratory data analysis before reporting a final result. This process of exploratory analysis creates a bias toward finding the result desired by the researcher, rather than achieving a scientific ideal of objectivity.

3. In recent decades, the approach has shifted toward “natural experiments” and laboratory experiments. These suffer from other problems. The experimental population may not be representative. Even if this problem is not present, studies that offer definitive results are more likely to be published but consequently less likely to be replicated.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Chip Away At Hard Problems
One of the most common ways that wannabe academics fail is by failing to sufficiently focus on a few topics of interest to academia. Many of them become amateur intellectuals, people who think and write more as a hobby, and less to gain professional rewards via institutions like academia, media, and business. Such amateurs are often just as smart and hard-working as professionals, and they can more directly address the topics that interest them. Professionals, in contrast, must specialize more, have less freedom to pick topics, and must try harder to impress others, which encourages the use of more difficult robust/rigorous methods.

You might think their added freedom would result in amateurs contributing more to intellectual progress, but in fact they contribute less. Yes, amateurs can and do make more initial progress when new topics arise suddenly far from topics where established expert institutions have specialized. But then over time amateurs blow their lead by focusing less and relying on easier more direct methods. They rely more on informal conversation as analysis method, they prefer personal connections over open competitions in choosing people, and they rely more on a perceived consensus among a smaller group of fellow enthusiasts. As a result, their contributions just don’t appeal as widely or as long.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Wizard War | West Hunter
Some of his successes were classically thin, as when he correctly analyzed the German two-beam navigation system (Knickebein). He realize that the area of overlap of two beams could be narrow, far narrower than suggested by the Rayleigh criterion.

During the early struggle with the Germans, the “Battle of the Beams”, he personally read all the relevant Enigma messages. They piled up on his desk, but he could almost always pull out the relevant message, since he remembered the date, which typewriter it had been typed on, and the kind of typewriter ribbon or carbon. When asked, he could usually pick out the message in question in seconds. This system was deliberate: Jones believed that the larger the field any one man could cover, the greater the chance of one brain connecting two facts – the classic approach to a ‘thick’ problem, not that anyone seems to know that anymore.

All that information churning in his head produced results, enough so that his bureaucratic rivals concluded that he had some special unshared source of information. They made at least three attempts to infiltrate his Section to locate this great undisclosed source. An officer from Bletchley Park was offered on a part-time basis with that secret objective. After a month or so he was called back, and assured his superiors that there was no trace of anything other than what they already knew. When someone asked ‘Then how does Jones do it? ‘ he replied ‘Well, I suppose, Sir, he thinks!’
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Not Final! | West Hunter
In mathematics we often prove that some proposition is true by showing that  the alternative is false.  The principle can sometimes work in other disciplines, but it’s tricky.  You have to have a very good understanding  to know that some things are impossible (or close enough to impossible).   You can do it fairly often in physics, less often in biology.
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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:
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/enigma/#comment-2417
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.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/subsocieties/#comment-86828
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
Thick and thin | West Hunter
There is a spectrum of problem-solving, ranging from, at one extreme, simplicity and clear chains of logical reasoning (sometimes long chains) and, at the other, building a picture by sifting through a vast mass of evidence of varying quality. I will give some examples. Just the other day, when I was conferring, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow physicists, I mentioned high-altitude lighting, sprites and elves and blue jets. I said that you could think of a thundercloud as a vertical dipole, with an electric field that decreased as the cube of altitude, while the breakdown voltage varied with air pressure, which declines exponentially with altitude. At which point the prof I was talking to said ” and so the curves must cross!”. That’s how physicists think, and it can be very effective. The amount of information required to solve the problem is not very large. I call this a ‘thin’ problem’.

...

In another example at the messy end of the spectrum, Joe Rochefort, running Hypo in the spring of 1942, needed to figure out Japanese plans. He had an an ever-growing mass of Japanese radio intercepts, some of which were partially decrypted – say, one word of five, with luck. He had data from radio direction-finding; his people were beginning to be able to recognize particular Japanese radio operators by their ‘fist’. He’d studied in Japan, knew the Japanese well. He had plenty of Navy experience – knew what was possible. I would call this a classic ‘thick’ problem, one in which an analyst needs to deal with an enormous amount of data of varying quality. Being smart is necessary but not sufficient: you also need to know lots of stuff.

...

Nimitz believed Rochefort – who was correct. Because of that, we managed to prevail at Midway, losing one carrier and one destroyer while the the Japanese lost four carriers and a heavy cruiser*. As so often happens, OP-20-G won the bureaucratic war: Rochefort embarrassed them by proving them wrong, and they kicked him out of Hawaii, assigning him to a floating drydock.

The usual explanation of Joe Rochefort’s fall argues that John Redman’s ( head of OP-20-G, the Navy’s main signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group) geographical proximity to Navy headquarters was a key factor in winning the bureaucratic struggle, along with his brother’s influence (Rear Admiral Joseph Redman). That and being a shameless liar.

Personally, I wonder if part of the problem is the great difficulty of explaining the analysis of a thick problem to someone without a similar depth of knowledge. At best, they believe you because you’ve been right in the past. Or, sometimes, once you have developed the answer, there is a ‘thin’ way of confirming your answer – as when Rochefort took Jasper Holmes’s suggestion and had Midway broadcast an uncoded complaint about the failure of their distillation system – soon followed by a Japanese report that ‘AF’ was short of water.

Most problems in the social sciences are ‘thick’, and unfortunately, almost all of the researchers are as well. There are a lot more Redmans than Rocheforts.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Megafaunal Extinctions | West Hunter
When competent human hunters encountered naive fauna, the biggest animals, things like mammoths and toxodons and diprotodons, all went extinct. It is not hard to see why this occurred. Large animals are more worth hunting than rabbits, and easier to catch, while having a far lower reproductive rate. Moreover, humans are not naturally narrow specialists on any one species, so are not limited by the abundance of that species in the way that the lynx population depends on the hare population. Being omnivores, they could manage even when the megafauna as a whole were becoming rare.

There were subtle factors at work as well: the first human colonists in a new land probably didn’t develop ethnic/language splits for some time, which meant that the no-mans-land zones between tribes that can act as natural game preserves didn’t exist in that crucial early period. Such game preserves might have allowed the megafauna to evolve better defenses against humans – but they never got the chance.

It happened in the Americas, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Madagascar, and in sundry islands. There is no reason to think that climate had much to do with it, except in the sense that climatic change may sometimes have helped open up a path to those virgin lands in which the hand of man had never set foot, via melting glaciers or low sea level.

I don’t know the numbers, but certainly a large fraction of archeologists and paleontologists, perhaps a majority, don’t believe that human hunters were responsible, or believe that hunting was only one of several factors. Donald Grayson and David Meltzer, for example. Why do they think this? In part I think it is an aversion to simple explanations, a reversal of Ockham’s razor, which is common in these fields. Of course then I have to explain why they would do such a silly thing, and I can’t. Probably some with these opinions are specialists in a particular geographic area, and do not appreciate the power of looking at multiple extinction events: it’s pretty hard to argue that the climate just happened to change whenever people showed when it happens five or six times.

It might be that belief in specialization is even more of a problem than specialization itself. Lots of time you have to gather insights and information from several fields to make progress on a puzzle. It seems to me that many researchers aren’t willing to learn much outside their field, even when it’s the only route to the answer. But then, maybe they can’t. I remember an anthropologist who could believe in humans rapidly filling up New Zealand, which is about the size of Colorado, but just couldn’t see how they could have managed to fill up a whole continent in a couple of thousand years. Evidently she didn’t understand geometric growth. She is not alone. I have see anthropologists argue [The revolution that wasn’t] that increased human density in ancient Africa was driven by the continent ‘finally getting full’, rather than increased intellectual abilities and resulting greater technological sophistication. That’s truly silly. Look, back in those days, technology changed slowly: you would hardly notice significant change over 50k years. Human populations grow far faster than that, given the chance. Imagine a population with three surviving children per couple, which is nothing special: it would grow by a factor of ten million in a thousand years. The average long-term growth rate was very low, but that is because the rate of increase in human capabilities, which determine the carrying capacity, was very slow – not because rapid population growth is difficult or impossible.

I could explain this to my 11-year old twins in five minutes, but I don’t know that I could ever explain it to Brooks and McBrearty.

various comments about climate change

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/megafaunal-extinctions/#comment-3039
Why do people act as if a slightly more habitable Greenland a millennium ago somehow disproves the statement that the world as a whole was cooler then than now? Motivated reasoning: they want a certain conclusion real bad. At this point it’s become an identifying tribal marker, like left-wingers believing in the innocence of Alger Hiss. And of course they’re mostly just repeating nonsense that some flack dreamed up. Many of the same people will mouth drivel about how a Finn and a Zulu could easily be genetically closer two each other than to other co-ethnics, which is never, ever, true.

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. Movement conservatives have learned this lesson well.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/younger-dryas-meteorite/
It has been suggested that a large meteorite was responsible for an odd climatic twitch from about 12,800 to 11,500 years ago (the Younger Dryas , a temporary return to glacial conditions in the Northern Hemisphere) and for the extinction of the large mammals of North America. They hypothesize air bursts or impact of a swarm of meteors , centered around the Great Lakes. Probably this is all nonsense.

The topic of the Holocene extinction of megafauna seems to bring out the crazy in people. In my opinion, the people supporting this Younger Dryas impact hypothesis are nuts, and half of their opponents are nuts as well.

...

The problem for that meteorite explanation of North Ammerican megafaunal extinction is that South America had an even more varied set of megafauna (gomphotheriums, toxodonts, macrauchenia, glyptodonts, giant sloths, etc) and they went extinct around the same time (probably a few hundred years later). There’s no way for a hit around the Great Lakes to wipe out stuff in Patagonia, barring a huge, dinosaur-killer type hit that throws tremendous amount of debris into suborbital trajectories. But that would have hit the entire world… Didn’t happen.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/redlining/
If you take too many chances in the process of making a living, you’ll get yourself killed before you manage to raise a family. Therefore there is a maximum sustainable risk per calorie acquired from hunting *. If the average member of the species incurs too much risk, more than that sustainable maximum, the species goes extinct. The Neanderthals must have come closer to that red line than anatomically modern humans in Africa, judging from their beat-up skeletons, which resemble those of rodeo riders. They were almost entirely carnivorous, judging from isotopic studies, and that helps us understand all those fractures: they apparently had limited access to edible plants, which entail far lower risks. Tubers and berries seldom break your ribs.

...

Risk per calorie was particularly high among the Neanderthals because they seem to have had no way of storing meat – they had no drying racks or storage pits in frozen ground like those used by their successors. Think of it this way: storage allow more complete usage of a large carcass such as a bison, that might weigh over a thousand pounds – it wouldn’t be easy to eat all of that before it went bad. Higher utilization – using all of the buffalo – drops the risk per calorie.

You might think that they could have chased rabbits or whatever, but that is relatively unrewarding. It works a lot better if you can use nets or snares, but no evidence of such devices has been found among the Neanderthals.

It looks as if the Neanderthals had health insurance: surely someone else fed them while they were recovering from being hurt. You see the same pattern, to a degree, in lions, and it probably existed in sabertooths as well, since they often exhibit significant healed injuries.

...

So we can often understand the pattern, but why were mammoths rapidly wiped out in the Americas while elephants survived in Africa and south Asia? I offer several possible explanations. First, North American mammoths had no evolved behavioral defenses against man – while Old World elephants had had time to acquire such adaptations. That may have made hunting old world elephants far more dangerous, and therefore less attractive. Second, there are areas in Africa that are almost uninhabitable, due to the tsetse fly. They may have acted as natural game preserves, and there are no equivalents in the Americas. Third, the Babel effect: in the early days, paleoIndians likely had not yet split into different ethnic groups with different languages: with less fighting among the early Indians, animals would not have had relatively border regions acting as refugia. Also, with fewer human-caused casualties, paleoindians could have taken more risks in hunting.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/hunter-gatherer-fish-and-game-laws/
I don’t think that there are any. But then how did they manage to be one-with-the-land custodians of wildlife? Uh….

Conservation is hard. Even if the population as a whole would be better off if a given prey species persisted in fair numbers, any single individual would benefit from cheating – even from eating the very last mammoth.

More complicated societies, with private property and draconian laws against poaching, do better, but even they don’t show much success in preserving a tasty prey species over the long haul. Considers the aurochs, the wild ancestor of the cow. The Indian version seems to have been wiped out 4-5,000 years ago. The Eurasian version was still common in Roman times, but was rare by the 13th century, surviving only in Poland. Theoretically, only members of the Piast dynasty could hunt aurochsen – but they still went extinct in 1627.

How then did edible species survive in pre-state societies? I can think of several ways in which some species managed to survive … [more]
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Son of low-hanging fruit | West Hunter
You see, you can think of the thunderstorm, after a ground discharge, as a vertical dipole. Its electrical field drops as the cube of altitude. The threshold voltage for atmospheric breakdown is proportional to pressure, while pressure drops exponentially with altitude: and as everyone knows, a negative exponential drops faster than any power.

The curves must cross. Electrical breakdown occurs. Weird lightning, way above the clouds.

As I said, people reported sprites at least a hundred years ago, and they have probably been observed occasionally since the dawn of time. However, they’re far easier to see if you’re above the clouds – pilots often do.

Pilots also learned not to talk about it, because nobody listened. Military and commercial pilots have to pass periodic medical exams known as ‘flight physicals’, and there was a suspicion that reporting glowing red cephalopods in the sky might interfere with that. Generally, you had to see the things that were officially real (whether they were really real or not), and only those things.

Sprites became real when someone recorded one by accident on a fast camera in 1989. Since then it’s turned into a real subject, full of strangeness: turns out that thunderstorms sometimes generate gamma-rays and even antimatter.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Information Processing: What is medicine’s 5 sigma?
I'm not aware of this history you reference, but I am only a recent entrant into this field. On the other hand Ioannidis is both a long time genomics researcher and someone who does meta-research on science, so he should know. He may have even written a paper on this subject -- I seem to recall he had hard numbers on the rate of replication of candidate gene studies and claimed it was in the low percents. BTW, this result shows that the vaunted intuition of biomedical types about "how things really work" in the human body is worth very little. We are much better off, in my opinion, relying on machine learning methods and brute force statistical power than priors based on, e.g., knowledge of biochemical pathways or cartoon models of cell function. (Even though such things are sometimes deemed sufficient to raise ~$100m in biotech investment!) This situation may change in the future but the record from the first decade of the 21st century is there for any serious scholar of the scientific method to study.

Both Ioannidis and I (through separate and independent analyses) feel that modern genomics is a good example of biomedical science that (now) actually works and produces results that replicate with relatively high confidence. It should be a model for other areas ...
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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.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/da-henderson-disease-detective-who-eradicated-smallpox-dies-at-87/2016/08/20/b270406e-63dd-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html
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.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/pox_weapon_01.shtml#four
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.'

also:
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.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/war-in-the-east/#comment-1330
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.

https://twitter.com/gcochran99/status/952248214576443393
https://archive.is/tEcgK
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
Noise: dinosaurs, syphilis, and all that | West Hunter
Generally speaking, I thought the paleontologists were a waste of space: innumerate, ignorant about evolution, and simply not very smart.

None of them seemed to understand that a sharp, short unpleasant event is better at causing a mass extinction, since it doesn’t give flora and fauna time to adapt.

Most seemed to think that gradual change caused by slow geological and erosion forces was ‘natural’, while extraterrestrial impact was not. But if you look at the Moon, or Mars, or the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroids, or think about the KAM theorem, it is apparent that Newtonian dynamics implies that orbits will be perturbed, and that sometimes there will be catastrophic cosmic collisions. Newtonian dynamics is as ‘natural’ as it gets: paleontologists not studying it in school and not having much math hardly makes it ‘unnatural’.

One of the more interesting general errors was not understanding how to to deal with noise – incorrect observations. There’s a lot of noise in the paleontological record. Dinosaur bones can be eroded and redeposited well after their life times – well after the extinction of all dinosaurs. The fossil record is patchy: if a species is rare, it can easily look as if it went extinct well before it actually did. This means that the data we have is never going to agree with a perfectly correct hypothesis – because some of the data is always wrong. Particularly true if the hypothesis is specific and falsifiable. If your hypothesis is vague and imprecise – not even wrong – it isn’t nearly as susceptible to noise. As far as I can tell, a lot of paleontologists [ along with everyone in the social sciences] think of of unfalsifiability as a strength.

Done Quickly: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/done-quickly/
I’ve never seen anyone talk about it much, but when you think about mass extinctions, you also have to think about rates of change

You can think of a species occupying a point in a many-dimensional space, where each dimension represents some parameter that influences survival and/or reproduction: temperature, insolation, nutrient concentrations, oxygen partial pressure, toxin levels, yada yada yada. That point lies within a zone of habitability – the set of environmental conditions that the species can survive. Mass extinction occurs when environmental changes are so large that many species are outside their comfort zone.

The key point is that, with gradual change, species adapt. In just a few generations, you can see significant heritable responses to a new environment. Frogs have evolved much greater tolerance of acidification in 40 years (about 15 generations). Some plants in California have evolved much greater tolerance of copper in just 70 years.

As this happens, the boundaries of the comfort zone move. Extinctions occur when the rate of environmental change is greater than the rate of adaptation, or when the amount of environmental change exceeds the limit of feasible adaptation. There are such limits: bar-headed geese fly over Mt. Everest, where the oxygen partial pressure is about a third of that at sea level, but I’m pretty sure that no bird could survive on the Moon.

...

Paleontologists prefer gradualist explanations for mass extinctions, but they must be wrong, for the most part.
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september 2016 by nhaliday
How Old Are Fairy Tales? - The Atlantic
Many folklorists disagreed. Some have claimed that many classic fairy tales are recent inventions that followed the advent of mass-printed literature. Others noted that human stories, unlike human genes, aren't just passed down vertically through generations, but horizontally within generations. “They’re passed across societies through trade, exchange, migration, and conquest,” says Tehrani. “The consensus was that these processes would have destroyed any deep signatures of descent from ancient ancestral populations.”

Not so. Tehrani and da Silva found that although neighboring cultures can easily exchange stories, they also often reject the tales of their neighbors. Several stories were less likely to appear in one population if they were told within an adjacent one.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the Tales of Magic showed clear signatures of shared descent from ancient ancestors. “Most people would assume that folktales are rapidly changing and easily exchanged between social groups,” says Simon Greenhill from the Australian National University. “But this shows that many tales are actually surprisingly stable over time and seem to track population history well.” Similarly, a recent study found that flood “myths” among Aboriginal Australians can be traced back to real sea level rises 7,000 years ago.

Many of the Tales of Magic were similarly ancient, as the Grimms suggested. Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin were first written down in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively, but they are actually between 2,500 and 6,000 years old—not quite tales as old as time, but perhaps as old as wheels and writing.

The Smith and the Devil is probably 6,000 years old, too. In this story, a crafty blacksmith sells his soul to an evil supernatural entity in exchange for awesome smithing powers, which he then uses to leash the entity to an immovable object. The basic tale has been adapted in everything from Faust to blues lore, but the most ancient version, involving the blacksmith, comes from the Bronze Age! It predates the last common ancestor of all Indo-European languages. “It's constantly being updated and recycled, but it's older than Christianity,” says Tehrani.

This result might help to settle a debate about the origins of Indo-European languages. It rules out the idea that these tongues originated among Neolithic farmers, who lived 9,000 years ago in what is now modern Turkey. After all, how could these people, who hadn’t invented metallurgy, have concocted a story where the hero is a blacksmith? A rival hypothesis becomes far more likely: Indo-European languages emerged 5,000 to 6,000 years ago among pastoralists from the Russian steppes, who knew how to work metal.

The Smith and the Devil: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Smith_and_the_Devil
The Smith and the Devil is a European fairy tale. The story is of a smith who makes a pact with a malevolent being—commonly the Devil (in later times), Death or a genie—selling his soul for some power, then tricks the devil out of his prize. In one version, the smith gains the power to weld any materials, then uses this power to stick the devil to an immovable object, allowing the smith to renege on the bargain.[1]

...

According to George Monbiot, the blacksmith is a motif of folklore throughout (and beyond) Europe associated with malevolence (the medieval vision of Hell may draw upon the image the smith at his forge), and several variant tales tell of smiths entering into a pact with the devil to obtain fire and the means of smelting metal.[6]

According to research applying phylogenetic techniques to linguistics by folklorist Sara Graça da Silva and anthropologist Jamie Tehrani,[7] "The Smith and the Devil" may be one of the oldest European folk tales, with the basic plot stable throughout the Indo-European speaking world from India to Scandinavia, possibly being first told in Indo-European 6,000 years ago in the Bronze Age.[1][8][9] Folklorist John Lindow, however, notes that a word for "smith" may not have existed in Indo-European, and if so the tale may not be that old.[9]

Revealed: how Indigenous Australian storytelling accurately records sea level rises 7,000 years ago: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/16/indigenous-australian-storytelling-records-sea-level-rises-over-millenia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomythology

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/legends/
I wonder how long oral history lasts. What’s the oldest legend that has some clear fragment of truth in it?

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/legends/#comment-93821
The Black Sea deluge hypothesis, being the origin of the different deluge myths around the Middle East?
--
People have lived in river valleys for a long time now, and they flood. I mean, deluge myths could also go back to the end of the Ice Age, when many lands went underwater as sea level rose. But how can you tell? Now if there was a one-time thing that had a special identifying trait, say purple rain, that might be convincing.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/legends/#comment-93883
RE: untangling actual historical events and personages from myth and legend,

Obviously, it’s pretty damn tough. In most cases (THE ILIAD, the Pentateuch, etc), we simply lack the proper controls (literary sources written down at a time reasonably close to the events in question). Hence, we have to rely on a combination of archaeology plus intuition.Was a city sacked at roughly the proper time? Does a given individual appear to be based on a real person?

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/legends/#comment-93867
I’m partial to the notion that the “forbidden fruit” was wheat, making the Garden of Eden a story about the dawn of agriculture, and the story of Cain and Abel the first conflict between settled farmer and semi-nomadic pastoralist. That would make it perhaps 6 millennia old when first written down.
--
The story of Cain and Abel is indeed the conflict between the agricultural and pastoral ways of life

same conclusion as me: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:9130f5f3c17b

great blog: https://biblicalsausage.wordpress.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euhemerus
Euhemerus (also spelled Euemeros or Evemerus; Ancient Greek: Εὐήμερος Euhēmeros, "happy; prosperous"; late fourth century BC), was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with Messina in Sicily as the most probable location, while others suggest Chios or Tegea.[citation needed]

The philosophy attributed to and named for Euhemerus, euhemerism, holds that many mythological tales can be attributed to historical persons and events, the accounts of which have become altered and exaggerated over time.

Euhemerus's work combined elements of fiction and political utopianism. In the ancient world he was considered an atheist. Early Christian writers, such as Lactantius, used Euhemerus's belief that the ancient gods were originally human to confirm their inferiority regarding the Christian God.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euhemerism
In the ancient skeptic philosophical tradition of Theodorus of Cyrene and the Cyrenaics, Euhemerus forged a new method of interpretation for the contemporary religious beliefs. Though his work is lost, the reputation of Euhemerus was that he believed that much of Greek mythology could be interpreted as natural or historical events subsequently given supernatural characteristics through retelling. Subsequently Euhemerus was considered to be an atheist by his opponents, most notably Callimachus.[7]

...

Euhemerus' views were rooted in the deification of men, usually kings, into gods through apotheosis. In numerous cultures, kings were exalted or venerated into the status of divine beings and worshipped after their death, or sometimes even while they ruled. Dion, the tyrant ruler of Syracuse, was deified while he was alive and modern scholars consider his apotheosis to have influenced Euhemerus' views on the origin of all gods.[8] Euhemerus was also living during the contemporaneous deification of the Seleucids and "pharaoization" of the Ptolemies in a fusion of Hellenic and Egyptian traditions.

...

Hostile to paganism, the early Christians, such as the Church Fathers, embraced euhemerism in attempt to undermine the validity of pagan gods.[13] The usefulness of euhemerist views to early Christian apologists may be summed up in Clement of Alexandria's triumphant cry in Cohortatio ad gentes: "Those to whom you bow were once men like yourselves."[14]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_king
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_cult
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january 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : abstractpatternsthinking

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