nhaliday + occam   38

Who We Are | West Hunter
I’m going to review David Reich’s new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here. Extensively: in a sense I’ve already been doing this for a long time. Probably there will be a podcast. The GoFundMe link is here. You can also send money via Paypal (Use the donate button), or bitcoins to 1Jv4cu1wETM5Xs9unjKbDbCrRF2mrjWXr5. In-kind donations, such as orichalcum or mithril, are always appreciated.

This is the book about the application of ancient DNA to prehistory and history.

height difference between northern and southern europeans: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/who-we-are-1/
mixing, genocide of males, etc.: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/who-we-are-2-purity-of-essence/
rapid change in polygenic traits (appearance by Kevin Mitchell and funny jab at Brad Delong ("regmonkey")): https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/rapid-change-in-polygenic-traits/
schiz, bipolar, and IQ: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/rapid-change-in-polygenic-traits/#comment-105605
Dan Graur being dumb: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/the-usual-suspects/
prediction of neanderthal mixture and why: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/who-we-are-3-neanderthals/
New Guineans tried to use Denisovan admixture to avoid UN sanctions (by "not being human"): https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/who-we-are-4-denisovans/
also some commentary on decline of Out-of-Africa, including:
"Homo Naledi, a small-brained homonin identified from recently discovered fossils in South Africa, appears to have hung around way later that you’d expect (up to 200,000 years ago, maybe later) than would be the case if modern humans had occupied that area back then. To be blunt, we would have eaten them."

Live Not By Lies: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/live-not-by-lies/
Next he slams people that suspect that upcoming genetic genetic analysis will, in most cases, confirm traditional stereotypes about race – the way the world actually looks.

The people Reich dumps on are saying perfectly reasonable things. He criticizes Henry Harpending for saying that he’d never seen an African with a hobby. Of course, Henry had actually spent time in Africa, and that’s what he’d seen. The implication is that people in Malthusian farming societies – which Africa was not – were selected to want to work, even where there was no immediate necessity to do so. Thus hobbies, something like a gerbil running in an exercise wheel.

He criticized Nicholas Wade, for saying that different races have different dispositions. Wade’s book wasn’t very good, but of course personality varies by race: Darwin certainly thought so. You can see differences at birth. Cover a baby’s nose with a cloth: Chinese and Navajo babies quietly breathe through their mouth, European and African babies fuss and fight.

Then he attacks Watson, for asking when Reich was going to look at Jewish genetics – the kind that has led to greater-than-average intelligence. Watson was undoubtedly trying to get a rise out of Reich, but it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Ashkenazi Jews are smarter than the average bear and everybody knows it. Selection is the only possible explanation, and the conditions in the Middle ages – white-collar job specialization and a high degree of endogamy, were just what the doctor ordered.

Watson’s a prick, but he’s a great prick, and what he said was correct. Henry was a prince among men, and Nick Wade is a decent guy as well. Reich is totally out of line here: he’s being a dick.

Now Reich may be trying to burnish his anti-racist credentials, which surely need some renewal after having pointing out that race as colloquially used is pretty reasonable, there’s no reason pops can’t be different, people that said otherwise ( like Lewontin, Gould, Montagu, etc. ) were lying, Aryans conquered Europe and India, while we’re tied to the train tracks with scary genetic results coming straight at us. I don’t care: he’s being a weasel, slandering the dead and abusing the obnoxious old genius who laid the foundations of his field. Reich will also get old someday: perhaps he too will someday lose track of all the nonsense he’s supposed to say, or just stop caring. Maybe he already has… I’m pretty sure that Reich does not like lying – which is why he wrote this section of the book (not at all logically necessary for his exposition of the ancient DNA work) but the required complex juggling of lies and truth required to get past the demented gatekeepers of our society may not be his forte. It has been said that if it was discovered that someone in the business was secretly an android, David Reich would be the prime suspect. No Talleyrand he.

The population that accounts for the vast majority of Native American ancestry, which we will call Amerinds, came into existence somewhere in northern Asia. It was formed from a mix of Ancient North Eurasians and a population related to the Han Chinese – about 40% ANE and 60% proto-Chinese. Is looks as if most of the paternal ancestry was from the ANE, while almost all of the maternal ancestry was from the proto-Han. [Aryan-Transpacific ?!?] This formation story – ANE boys, East-end girls – is similar to the formation story for the Indo-Europeans.

In some ways, on some questions, learning more from genetics has left us less certain. At this point we really don’t know where anatomically humans originated. Greater genetic variety in sub-Saharan African has been traditionally considered a sign that AMH originated there, but it possible that we originated elsewhere, perhaps in North Africa or the Middle East, and gained extra genetic variation when we moved into sub-Saharan Africa and mixed with various archaic groups that already existed. One consideration is that finding recent archaic admixture in a population may well be a sign that modern humans didn’t arise in that region ( like language substrates) – which makes South Africa and West Africa look less likely. The long-continued existence of homo naledi in South Africa suggests that modern humans may not have been there for all that long – if we had co-existed with homo naledi, they probably wouldn’t lasted long. The oldest known skull that is (probably) AMh was recently found in Morocco, while modern humans remains, already known from about 100,000 years ago in Israel, have recently been found in northern Saudi Arabia.

While work by Nick Patterson suggests that modern humans were formed by a fusion between two long-isolated populations, a bit less than half a million years ago.

So: genomics had made recent history Africa pretty clear. Bantu agriculuralists expanded and replaced hunter-gatherers, farmers and herders from the Middle East settled North Africa, Egypt and northeaat Africa, while Nilotic herdsmen expanded south from the Sudan. There are traces of earlier patterns and peoples, but today, only traces. As for questions back further in time, such as the origins of modern humans – we thought we knew, and now we know we don’t. But that’s progress.

David Reich’s professional path must have shaped his perspective on the social sciences. Look at the record. He starts his professional career examining the role of genetics in the elevated prostate cancer risk seen in African-American men. Various social-science fruitcakes oppose him even looking at the question of ancestry ( African vs European). But they were wrong: certain African-origin alleles explain the increased risk. Anthropologists (and human geneticists) were sure (based on nothing) that modern humans hadn’t interbred with Neanderthals – but of course that happened. Anthropologists and archaeologists knew that Gustaf Kossina couldn’t have been right when he said that widespread material culture corresponded to widespread ethnic groups, and that migration was the primary explanation for changes in the archaeological record – but he was right. They knew that the Indo-European languages just couldn’t have been imposed by fire and sword – but Reich’s work proved them wrong. Lots of people – the usual suspects plus Hindu nationalists – were sure that the AIT ( Aryan Invasion Theory) was wrong, but it looks pretty good today.

Some sociologists believed that caste in India was somehow imposed or significantly intensified by the British – but it turns out that most jatis have been almost perfectly endogamous for two thousand years or more…

It may be that Reich doesn’t take these guys too seriously anymore. Why should he?

varnas, jatis, aryan invastion theory: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/who-we-are-8-india/

europe and EEF+WHG+ANE: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/who-we-are-9-europe/

The massive mixture events that occurred in the recent past to give rise to Europeans and South Asians, to name just two groups, were likely “male mediated.” That’s another way of saying that men on the move took local women as brides or concubines. In the New World there are many examples of this, whether it be among African Americans, where most European ancestry seems to come through men, or in Latin America, where conquistadores famously took local women as paramours. Both of these examples are disquieting, and hint at the deep structural roots of patriarchal inequality and social subjugation that form the backdrop for the emergence of many modern peoples.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
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
All models are wrong - Wikipedia
Box repeated the aphorism in a paper that was published in the proceedings of a 1978 statistics workshop.[2] The paper contains a section entitled "All models are wrong but some are useful". The section is copied below.

Now it would be very remarkable if any system existing in the real world could be exactly represented by any simple model. However, cunningly chosen parsimonious models often do provide remarkably useful approximations. For example, the law PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an "ideal" gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.

For such a model there is no need to ask the question "Is the model true?". If "truth" is to be the "whole truth" the answer must be "No". The only question of interest is "Is the model illuminating and useful?".
thinking  metabuch  metameta  map-territory  models  accuracy  wire-guided  truth  philosophy  stats  data-science  methodology  lens  wiki  reference  complex-systems  occam  parsimony  science  nibble  hi-order-bits  info-dynamics  the-trenches  meta:science  physics  fluid  thermo  stat-mech  applicability-prereqs  theory-practice 
august 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.

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.

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

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.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  ideas  speculation  critique  disease  parasites-microbiome  usa  age-of-discovery  europe  embodied  history  early-modern  multi  spreading  random  counterfactual  🌞  occam  parsimony  archaeology  cost-benefit  india  asia  africa  agriculture  uncertainty  outcome-risk  red-queen  epidemiology  thick-thin  pdf  piracy  study  article  survey  iron-age  the-classics  mediterranean  novelty  poast 
may 2017 by nhaliday
The language of geometry: Fast comprehension of geometrical primitives and rules in human adults and preschoolers
The child’s acquisition of language has been suggested to rely on the ability to build hierarchically structured representations from sequential inputs. Does a similar mechanism also underlie the acquisition of geometrical rules? Here, we introduce a learning situation in which human participants had to grasp simple spatial sequences and try to predict the next location. Sequences were generated according to a “geometrical language” endowed with simple primitives of symmetries and rotations, and combinatorial rules. Analyses of error rates of various populations—a group of French educated adults, two groups of 5 years-old French children, and a rare group of teenagers and adults from an Amazonian population, the Mundurukus, who have limited access to formal schooling and a reduced geometrical lexicon—revealed that subjects’ learning indeed rests on internal language-like representations. A theoretical model, based on minimum description length, proved to fit well participants’ behavior, suggesting that human subjects “compress” spatial sequences into a minimal internal rule or program.
study  psychology  cog-psych  visuo  spatial  structure  neurons  occam  computation  models  eden  intelligence  neuro  learning  language  psych-architecture  🌞  retrofit 
february 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
Information Processing: Epistasis vs additivity
On epistasis: why it is unimportant in polygenic directional selection: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1544/1241.short
- James F. Crow

The Evolution of Multilocus Systems Under Weak Selection: http://www.genetics.org/content/genetics/134/2/627.full.pdf
- Thomas Nagylaki

Data and Theory Point to Mainly Additive Genetic Variance for Complex Traits: http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1000008
The relative proportion of additive and non-additive variation for complex traits is important in evolutionary biology, medicine, and agriculture. We address a long-standing controversy and paradox about the contribution of non-additive genetic variation, namely that knowledge about biological pathways and gene networks imply that epistasis is important. Yet empirical data across a range of traits and species imply that most genetic variance is additive. We evaluate the evidence from empirical studies of genetic variance components and find that additive variance typically accounts for over half, and often close to 100%, of the total genetic variance. We present new theoretical results, based upon the distribution of allele frequencies under neutral and other population genetic models, that show why this is the case even if there are non-additive effects at the level of gene action. We conclude that interactions at the level of genes are not likely to generate much interaction at the level of variance.
hsu  scitariat  commentary  links  study  list  evolution  population-genetics  genetics  methodology  linearity  nonlinearity  comparison  scaling-up  nibble  lens  bounded-cognition  ideas  bio  occam  parsimony  🌞  summary  quotes  multi  org:nat  QTL  stylized-facts  article  explanans  sapiens  biodet  selection  variance-components  metabuch  thinking  models  data  deep-materialism  chart  behavioral-gen  evidence-based  empirical  mutation  spearhead  model-organism  bioinformatics  linear-models  math  magnitude  limits  physics  interdisciplinary  stat-mech 
february 2017 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.
west-hunter  science  history  reflection  epistemic  occam  contradiction  parsimony  noise-structure  scitariat  info-dynamics  hetero-advantage  sapiens  evolution  disease  sexuality  ideas  genetics  s:*  thinking  the-trenches  no-go  thick-thin  theory-practice  inference  apollonian-dionysian 
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

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.

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.

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.

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]
west-hunter  sapiens  antiquity  rant  nature  occam  thick-thin  migration  scitariat  info-dynamics  multi  archaics  nihil  archaeology  kumbaya-kult  the-trenches  discussion  speculation  ideas  environment  food  energy-resources  farmers-and-foragers  history  bio  malthus  cooperate-defect  property-rights  free-riding  public-goodish  alt-inst  population  density  multiplicative  technology  iteration-recursion  magnitude  quantitative-qualitative  study  contradiction  no-go  spreading  death  interests  climate-change  epistemic  truth  coalitions  left-wing  right-wing  science  poast  europe  nordic  agriculture  efficiency  tribalism  signaling  us-them  leviathan  duty  cohesion  organizing  axelrod  westminster  preference-falsification  illusion  inference  apollonian-dionysian 
november 2016 by nhaliday
Hidden Games | West Hunter
Since we are arguably a lot smarter than ants or bees, you might think that most adaptive personality variation in humans would be learned (a response to exterior cues) rather than heritable. Maybe some is, but much variation looks heritable. People don’t seem to learn to be aggressive or meek – they just are, and in those tendencies resemble their biological parents. I wish I (or anyone else) understood better why this is so, but there are some notions floating around that may explain it. One is that jacks of all trades are masters of none: if you play the same role all the time, you’ll be better at it than someone who keep switching personalities. It could be the case that such switching is physiologically difficult and/or expensive. And in at least some cases, being predictable has social value. Someone who is known to be implacably aggressive will win at ‘chicken’. Being known as the sort of guy who would rush into a burning building to save ugly strangers may pay off, even though actually running into that blaze does not.


This kind of game-theoretic genetic variation, driving distinct behavioral strategies, can have some really odd properties. For one thing, there can be more than one possible stable mix of behavioral types even in identical ecological situations. It’s a bit like dropping a marble onto a hilly landscape with many unconnected valleys – it will roll to the bottom of some valley, but initial conditions determine which valley. Small perturbations will not knock the marble out of the valley it lands in. In the same way, two human populations could fall into different states, different stable mixes of behavioral traits, for no reason at all other than chance and then stay there indefinitely. Populations are even more likely to fall into qualitatively different stable states when the ecological situations are significantly different.


What this means, think, is that it is entirely possible that human societies fall into fundamentally different patterns because of genetic influences on behavior that are best understood via evolutionary game theory. Sometimes one population might have a psychological type that doesn’t exist at all in another society, or the distribution could be substantially different. Sometimes these different social patterns will be predictable results of different ecological situations, sometimes the purest kind of chance. Sometimes the internal dynamics of these genetic systems will produce oscillatory (or chaotic!) changes in gene frequencies over time, which means changes in behavior and personality over time. In some cases, these internal genetic dynamics may be the fundamental reason for the rise and fall of empires. Societies in one stable distribution, in a particular psychological/behavioral/life history ESS, may simply be unable to replicate some of the institutions found in peoples in a different ESS.

Evolutionary forces themselves vary according to what ESS you’re in. Which ESS you’re in may be the most fundamental ethnic fact, and explain the most profound ethnic behavioral differences

Look, everyone is always looking for the secret principles that underlie human society and history, some algebra that takes mounds of historical and archaeological data – the stuff that happens – and explains it in some compact way, lets us understand it, just as continental drift made a comprehensible story out of geology. On second thought, ‘everyone’ mean that smallish fraction of researchers that are slaves of curiosity…

This approach isn’t going to explain everything – nothing will. But it might explain a lot, which would make it a hell of a lot more valuable than modern sociology or cultural anthropology. I would hope that an analysis of this sort might help explain fundamental long-term flavor difference between different human societies, differences in life-history strategies especially (dads versus cads, etc). If we get particularly lucky, maybe we’ll have some notions of why the Mayans got bored with civilization, why Chinese kids are passive at birth while European and African kids are feisty. We’ll see.

Of course we could be wrong. It’s going to have be tested and checked: it’s not magic. It is based on the realization that the sort of morphs and game-theoretic balances we see in some nonhuman species are if anything more likely to occur in humans, because our societies are so complex, because the effectiveness of a course of action so often depends on the psychologies of other individuals – that and the obvious fact that people are not the same everywhere.
west-hunter  sapiens  game-theory  evolution  personality  thinking  essay  adversarial  GT-101  EGT  scitariat  tradeoffs  equilibrium  strategy  distribution  sociality  variance-components  flexibility  rigidity  diversity  biodet  behavioral-gen  nature  within-without  roots  explanans  psychology  social-psych  evopsych  intricacy  oscillation  pro-rata  iteration-recursion  insight  curiosity  letters  models  theory-practice  civilization  latin-america  farmers-and-foragers  age-of-discovery  china  asia  sinosphere  europe  the-great-west-whale  africa  developmental  empirical  humanity  courage  virtu  theory-of-mind  reputation  cybernetics  random  degrees-of-freedom  manifolds  occam  parsimony  turchin  broad-econ  deep-materialism  cultural-dynamics  anthropology  cliometrics  hari-seldon  learning  ecology  context  leadership  cost-benefit  apollonian-dionysian  detail-architecture  history  antiquity  pop-diff  comparison  plots  being-becoming 
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
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
Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism - Less Wrong
So my hypothesis is that if a certain side of an issue has very obvious points in support of it, and the other side of an issue relies on much more subtle points that the average person might not be expected to grasp, then adopting the second side of the issue will become a signal for intelligence, even if that side of the argument is wrong.
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august 2016 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : School Is To Submit
Forager children aren’t told what to do; they just wander around and do what they like. But they get bored and want to be respected like adults, so eventually they follow some adults around and ask to be shown how to do things. In this process they sometimes have to take orders, but only until they are no longer novices. They don’t have a single random boss they don’t respect, but can instead be trained by many adults, can select them to be the most prestigious adults around, and can stop training with each when they like.

Schools work best when they set up an apparently similar process wherein students practice modern workplaces habits. Start with prestigious teachers, like the researchers who also teach at leading universities. Have students take several classes at at a time, so they have no single “boss” who personally benefits from their following his or her orders. Make class attendance optional, and let students pick their classes. Have teachers continually give students complex assignments with new ambiguous instructions, using the excuse of helping students to learn new things. Have lots of students per teacher, to lower costs, to create excuses for having students arrive and turn in assignments on time, and to create social proof that other students accept all of this. Frequently and publicly rank student performance, using the excuse of helping students to learn and decide which classes and jobs to take later. And continue the whole process well into adulthood, so that these habits become deeply ingrained.
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april 2016 by nhaliday
52 Concepts You Missed in School for your Cognitive Toolkit | Peter McIntyres
idk about the actual quality of these but the idea of cataloguing useful mental models/biases is nice

his description of Aumann's agreement theorem seems to be incorrect/miss the point
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january 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : abstractpatternsthinkingvague

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