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Thinking


1. Scholasticism and the Great Asleepening
1a Teaching.
2. Scientism
3. Two Dimensions of Virtue
4. Giving Advice: Rewards and Penalties
5. Disagreeing Agreeably
6. Authority.
7. College Courses of Mine.
8. The Blasphemous, the Obscene, and the Politically Incorrect
9. News The New York Times Doesn’t Report.
10. Machiavellis’ Fear and Love.
11. Conspiracies.
12. Opinion, Reasoning, and Fact
13. How to Get a College Education
14.C. P. Snow, Good Judgement and Winston Churchill
15. Hardness versus Importance in Economics
16. Feeling Stupid in School and Life
17. The Woke Religion: The Elect and the Lost; Implicit Bias and Spiritual Regeneration; Assurance of Being Good
18. The Lizard Man Constant

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James saiod on Twitter:

Critical Race Theory should be in our schools in exactly the same way as 17th century Puritan theories about witchcraft should be in our schools and for essentially the same reasons, although CRT is probably worse.
11:01 AM · Sep 18, 2020·
@ConceptualJames
Quite right– and be taught in a generous way, showing why it is that so many intelligent people believed in witchcraft, and even thought it was the latest in science, underappreciated in the Middle Ages.

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CHarles Murray said:

Robert Reischauer & I were supposed to be debating welfare policy before some young congressional staffers who advised their masters on welfare issues. We ended up jointly trying to educate them on a policy history of which they were entirely ignorant.

Eric Rasmusen said:

Before students learn what experts disagree on, they need to learn what they agree on. Otherwise, they’re not qualified to have an opinion on the issues.
Think of wokefolk criticizing Dead White Males who’ve never read them and Science worshippers who can’t graph y=x^2.

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Great example to illustrate Milton Friedman’s idea that models should predict, not describe.

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How does a Nobel-prize-winning economist become a victim of bog-standard selection bias?
Posted by Andrew on 20 July 2017, 9:58 am. In this post, Gelman criticizes Heckman for using studies with small sample sizes to draw large conclusions, and argues with some anonymous person (Heckman?) in the comments.

You mention “the scarcity of randomized studies of early childhood care with high quality long term follow up data,” the “lack of generalizability” of the study, and “lack of scalability.” These are all good points, and they’re part of the story as to why I think researchers in this area should show a bit more caution in their statements.

For example, here’s Heckman: “A substantial literature shows that U.S. early childhood interventions have important long-term economic benefits.” This can be misleading, partly because the literature may be substantial but the data are not, and partly because of his strong, deterministic way of putting it. This sort of statement by Heckman does not, it seems to me, respect the concerns that you give in your comment.

Here’s another statement of Heckman that’s just wrong from a statistical perspective: “The fact that samples are small works against finding any effects for the programs, much less the statistically significant and substantial effects that have been found.” Again, this does not address the issues of scarcity of data, lack of generalizability, and lack of stability that you address.

In terms of what people actually should do, what is your solution when the only thing you can get is 100 observations? It is very difficult to do a randomized control trial with thousands of people. You note in your paper “That’s the way it goes: getting better data can take work. Once the incentives have been changed to motivate higher-quality data collection, it can make sense to think about how to do this” – I think what you can’t forget is that it can take infinite time and money to get perfect data. Decisions do have to be made with data and some statistical tests are better than none. Should we discount positive effects found in research of a new cancer drug because the sample size is 20? Heckman realizes this and cites to multiple studies that have all found similar effects — you are reading that he cited a study with a sample size of 30 and determining that all his work is garbage.

Aristotle in Book I of The Ethics:

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.

Dictionary of Science QuotationsScientist Quotations Index is a very good site. It has good choice of quotations and it gives sources. Someone very smart and careful wrote it.

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.
— John Wilder Tukey
In Exploratory Data Analysis (1977), vi. Cited in epigraph, Chandrika Kamath, Scientific Data Mining: A Practical Perspective (2009), 209 .

The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data.

(From “Sunset Salvo”, The American Statistician 40(1), 72-76, February 1986)

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.
— John Wilder Tukey
In ‘The Future of Data Analysis’, Annals of Mathematical Statistics (1962), 33, No. 1, 13-14.

Hubris is the greatest danger that accompanies formal data analysis, including formalized statistical analysis. The feeling of “Give me (or more likely even, give my assistant) the data, and I will tell you what the real answer is!” is one we must all fight against again and again, and yet again.
— John Wilder Tukey
In ‘Sunset Salvo’, The American Statistician (Feb 1986), 40, No. 1, 75.

he best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.
— John Wilder Tukey
In David Leonhardt, ‘John Tukey, 85, Statistician; Coined the Word ‘Software’’, New York Times (28 Jul 2000). No citation, except “Mr. Tukey once told a colleague.”

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Richard Hamming,
“You and Your Research”,
Transcription of the Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar,
7 March 1986. This is a great essay that should be read many times.

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The totalitarian type. Ah– but I guess there are two aspects. One is total control of political power, which Stalin wanted. Paranoids and Machiavellians would want that,but really any of us would, and it could be used for good or for evil. What I think of more is total control of people’s lives–“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!” as Bananas says. That is a Controlling personality, a sort of obsessive-compulsive, quite different, or a utopian. Stalin is the first kind; Mommy Staters the second; Hitler is both.

The totalitarian psychological type. There are two aspects, completely separate. One is total control of political power, which Stalin wanted. Paranoids and Machiavellians would want that,but really any of us would, and it could be used for good or for evil. What I think of more is total control of people’s lives–

“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!”

as Bananas says. That is a Controlling personality, a sort of obsessive-compulsive, quite different, or a utopian. Stalin is the first kind; Mommy Staters the second; Hitler is both.

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THeorem: 2+2=6.

Proof by Sign Error. 2+ 2 = 2+2+ (1-1)+ (1-1) +(1+1) = 4+0 + 0 +2=6.

Proof by Redefinition. Let 2 =3. Then 2+2=6. This technique is much beloved by university administrators.

Proof by Account Number. The only kind a college administrator will accept. Stijn De Baerdemacker, September 2020 tweet.

Proof by Google: You can easily find the proof online.

I was always taught there are three ways of proving anything: induction, deduction and repeated assertion.

All difficult conjectures should be proved by reductio ad absurdum arguments. For if the proof is long and complicated enough you are bound to make a mistake […] and hence a contradiction will […] appear, and so the truth of the original conjecture is established.
— J Barrow

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Hanno Sauer has a poorly titled but good Medium article on Kahneman-Tversky-Gigerenzer rationality psychology stuff, very sensible and hitting the high points. It’s
The reason wars are over. Reason won, Aug 13, 2020.

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Michael Kuo says on his blog


What, If Anything, Is a Gilled Mushroom?

In the title to a notorious paper, A. E. Wood (1957) asks: “What, If Anything, Is a Rabbit?” At issue is whether or not the label “rabbit” actually refers to anything scientifically coherent–to a group of organisms, say, that are related and share features that are not shared with other groups. Wood concludes that “rabbit” probably is a term with some scientific meaning–but a more recent essay by S. J. Gould (1983) entitled “What, if Anything, Is a Zebra?” summarizes fairly convincing evidence that there is no such thing as a “zebra,” from a scientific standpoint consistent with evolution. In short, the evidence is this: there are three species of zebras, and two of them are more closely related to horses than they are to the third zebra species–which means that the two groups of zebras evolved their stripes independently, since horses have no stripes.

Lenzites betulina demonstrates that the question “What, If Anything, Is a Gilled Mushroom?” is worthy of consideration. It is a gilled mushroom in the polypore order, Polyporales, which diverged from the gilled mushrooms, the Agaricales, many eons ago. In other words, there is no such thing as a “gilled mushroom” if, in applying the term, we want to convey a sense of how mushrooms are related, since Lenzites developed its gills independently, irrespective of gill development on other branches of the mushroom evolutionary tree.

In general, two reasonable scientific answers have been provided to explain examples of “convergent evolution” like the stripes on “zebras” or the gills on Lenzites betulina (a third answer, that convergent evolution reflects evidence of a Designer’s Grand Plan, is neither reasonable nor scientific). One set of answers maintains that the common ancestor of the organisms in question carried the genetic potential for the feature (gills, in our example), and that the separate evolutionary lines, having inherited this potential, later expressed it. A second set of answers–not necessarily in conflict with the first set–maintains that the forms available to an organism are necessarily constrained by the laws of earthly physics (gravity, light, and so on), so that evolutionary forms cannot just develop willy-nilly, but must fall within a limited set of physics-bound possibilities in order to succeed.

References

Gould, S. J. (1983). What, if anything, is a zebra? In Hen’s teeth and horse’s toes: Further reflections in natural history. New York: Norton, pp. 355-365.

Pigliucci, M. (2004). Lost in phenotypic space: Why do living organisms look the way they do? Retrieved from the Pigliucci’s Evolutionary Ecology Lab Web site: http://life.bio.sunysb.edu/ee/pigliuccilab/lectures/pheno-space.pdf

Wood, A. E. (1957). What, if anything, is a rabbit? Evolution 11: 417-425.

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Cows without History. CS Lewis wrote good things on this in The Abolition of Man. See Nietzsche, start of The Use and Abuse of History, on the cows in the field, who are without Time. The Woke are like this. They think not only that nothing before 1900 is worth reading, but that it is entirely wicked and should *not* be read. They cannot think outside their culture, their bubble.

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Alpha and Beta, Male and Female. Predator and prey too, though that doesn’t really work. The Alphas have to protect the Betas and guide them and, especially, lead them. Males have to do the same for Females. Alpha can easily oppress Beta, and Male, Female. The story of me as a 21-year-old on the Washington bus and the man who wouldn’t stop smoking but left after I criticized him and everybody piled on. The importance of this in the moral education of children, especially girls, who are more cruel.

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The Good Schoolboy:
Talk about Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Daniel Lee’s psycho cousin (Epick High). Kamala Harris, who did everything Willy Brown told her to do. Bill Clinton is like the English public school boy who would smartly say, “Yes, sir! Please, sir! We all look up to you, sir!” and then, when the teacher has left, pulls out a cigarette and sodomizes a first-former right there in the courtyard. Barack Obama is like the boy who would never do anything like that, but who would be extremely conscientious in school and then, the day after he left school, ignore every bit of advice his teachers ever gave him and never return. Joe Biden is different. He’s more the boy the teachers would like to make their pet, but when Bill sees the teacher coming, he generously gives away his cigarette and Joe is caught there holding it. None of these people has an ounce of imagination, but the teachers love them all, because they follow instructions, get the test questions mostly right, and are good at acting like they’re listening to what the teacher says. I should discuss Hermione Granger, Hillary Clinton, and the Unz Review article that got me in trouble too. This is the Liberal Establishment, the Track, the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit perhaps, the people who believe in the authorities (or pretend to– cf. Bill Clinton, but not Hillary) while hating authority.

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In 1939, I wonder if lots of German professors believed that the Poles had started the war with the faked border incidents. A lot of US professors in 2020 rely completely on the New York Times for information, and I bet some rely on MSNBC.

Is there any good description of how Iron Curtain academics watched their tongues and behaved to their dissident colleagues during late Communism, 1970-1990? I bet it was a lot like the USA is now.

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Binmore in Making Decisions in Large Worlds

Someone who acts as if Bayesianism were correct will be said to be a Bayesianite.
It is important to distinguish a Bayesian like myself—someone convinced by Savage’s arguments that Bayesian decision theory makes sense in small worlds—from a
Bayesianite. In particular, a Bayesian need not join the more extreme Bayesianites
in proceeding as though:
• All worlds are small.
• Rationality endows agents with prior probabilities.
• Rational learning consists simply in using Bayes’ rule to convert a set of prior
probabilities into posterior probabilities after registering some new data.

Bayesianites are often understandably reluctant to make an explicit commitment to
these principles when they are stated so baldly, because it then becomes evident
that they are implicitly claiming that David Hume [11] was wrong to argue that the
principle of scientific induction cannot be justified by rational argument. However,
I do not think I am merely attacking a straw man. What matters for this purpose is
not so much what people say about their philosophical attitudes, but what models
they choose to construct. As it says in the book of Matthew: By their fruits shall
ye know them.
For example, recent winners of the Nobel prize for economics include John
Harsanyi and Robert Aumann, both of whom must surely be counted as Bayesianites. One cannot but admire Aumann’s [2] vision in modeling the entire universe
and everything in it as a small world to which Bayesian decision theory applies, but
nor can one escape the conclusion that such a vision excludes the possibility that
any lesser world can be large.

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RECOMMENDATIONS.

Rebecca L. [email protected]
You could follow a bunch of paleontologists on Twitter! Do you do that yet? Recommend
@Cimexomys
@HeadLab_Camb
@pdavidpolly
@UhenLab
@jmtheodor
@ChrisStringer65
@NeilShubin

Eric [email protected] Replying to @[email protected] and 7 others
I value your opinion. But “Recommend all and you recommend none.” What’s your top pick? (By the way, how can I say it in Latin instead of English? I bet Latin does it well. Or even French.)
11:34 AM · Aug 17, 2020·

Rebecca L. [email protected] Replying to @erasmuse @kenalyass and 7 others
I promise, that was nowhere near to being ALL the paleontologists on Twitter! Most of them are vertebrate folks, quite senior. But I figure if he really was interested in paleo, following those few would take him to other networks.

Eric Rasmusen @erasmuse
Hyperbole– sounds better than “Recommend seven, recommend none.” With seven, in expected value I get the recommender’s 3.5th best ather than their best if I don’t want to spend the effort to look at more than one. (Or, if I want to see how good #1 is before checking 2-7.)

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WILDE, OSCAR. Some Oscar Wilde quotes from a webpage that didn’t have sources.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

“The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”


“The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.” (wrong and discussable)


“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

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How Game Theory Can Save You from Going Deeper in Hell. This title is facetious but accurate. Predestination notwithstanding, God uses discipline to keep us from sin, if not from Hell (I did change it from “from Going to Hell” to “from Going Deeper in Hell” to account for the Cross.) You will sin less if you are more disciplined, and discipline includes learning to avoid temptation. If you agree that learning to avoid temptation is important, you almost must agree that academic learning to avoid temptation is important. “Learning”, after all, is what the academy does. Of course, much of academic learning teaches you to run to temptation and jump right in, or how to sin with more evil than you’d be naturally capable of, but other academic learning teaches you how to think, and thinking is a valuable tool against temptation.

In particular, consider game theory. It tells you to look ahead and reason back. Life is a game tree. If you start down branch A, you will end up at node X. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you know game theory, then not only do you become able to read the road sign saying “This way lies Sin,” but you are also less able to pretend that you didn’t notice the sign.

I was thinking of this with respect to playing by the rules. In many situations of conflict, there are fair tactics and unfair ones. If you study game theory, you become better at learning rules and at learning what is possible, but unlawful under the rules. You cannot fool yourself so easily into thinking that what you are doing is fair.

This made for a great dinner conversation with Helen and the girls (Ben is at work.) If you know you are saved, you should try to please God. If you know you are damned, you should try to please God. That applies to the convex combination too. If you are damned, then you should try to minimize your punishment. Game theory and church attendance are much the same: useful aids to pleasing God and minimizing punishment.

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&Newline;
Common Knowledge and Referee Reports. In game theory and philosophy, that means A knows fact X and B knows it; A knows that B knows X; B knows that A knows X, and the whole infinite regress. In referee reports, it’s common that referee A knows he wrote a scathing report; and author B knows that A wrote it by deduction from internal evidence in the report even though the report is anonymous (e.g. the referee says to cite A’s obscure paper, or A is the obvious referee for a paper on that topic and the report has exactly the criticisms A would make). But A does not know that B knows who wrote the report, it may happen, or at least A can pretend that he does not know, when he meets B at a conference. And even if A knows, B cannot be sure that A knows that B knows that A wrote the scathing report, so B can pretend to A that he doesnt’ know, over drinks at the hotel bar at the conference. And both know it is totally bad form to bring up the report– or, at least, to ask who wrote it. (I guess author B coudl bring it up at the bar, so long as he said, “I don’t know who wrote it, but I got the most scathing but useful report…” as a way of thanking referee A, who would then pretend not to know who wrote it.)

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Twitter is helpful to remind us of how dumb the average person is, and how smart he thinks he is if he has a college degree.

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Amazing graph showing data that indicates rich kids learn to read a lot more over the summer when school is closed, and poor kids forget what they’d learned during the school year. From Pandemic and Inequality: How Much Human Capital Is Lost When Schools Close?
April 13, 2020 by Matías Busso and Juanita Camacho Munoz:

Figure 1: Change in Tests Scores Between End of School Year and Beginning of Following School Year
(by Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Measured in Standard Deviations)
Change in Tests Scores Between End of School Year and Beginning of Following School Year

Note: The results in these graphs come from Alexander et al. (2001) and Cooper et al. (1996). These were the papers where we found heterogeneous effects by socioeconomic status on summer loss. Other research on the topic, such as Quinn et al. (2016) were also revised but not included. The general effect comes from Cooper et al. (1996). This effect is the simple difference between the average fall and spring grade-level equivalent scores, and it expresses the change in achievement scores relative to US norms. This can be read as the decrease in the achievement average fall score equivalent to two months. In this study, middle income students are compared to low, here we include middle income students as High SES. Results for grade levels come from Alexander et al. (2001). We use their reported summer gains per grade and SES and divide it by the pooled spring exam standard deviation to report the effect in standard deviations.

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An amazing Twitter thread where people talk about how their parents are so smart and wise, but believe conservatives so they must have gone insane.

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SOWELL, THOMAS.

Many of the words and phrases used in the media and among academics suggest that things simply happen to people, rather than being caused by their own choices or behavior.

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

From Twitter:

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics

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Captain Professor Sir: Some Lessons from Michael Howard
by Beatrice Heuser:

Persuasion, rather than hostile confrontation, was to him a cardinal goal. I once was examiner to a PhD student who, to terminate NATO’s intervention in Afghanistan, advocated bombing in winter the villages of tribes known to back the mujahideen. The student’s argument was that it would kill enemy supporters, and those who were out during the day — gathering firewood perhaps — would die of exposure. The candidate added that “unfortunately” the “Obama circles” in Washington refused to contemplate this measure. Having read much the same about Wehrmacht tactics in occupied Russia in World War II, I was horrified, and I turned to Howard for moral guidance. His answer: make the candidate write as many pages on why it is that the “Obama circles” refuse to contemplate this measure. That would force him to take an even-handed approach to the subject.

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Who Are You Going To Believe, Me Or Your Lying Eyes?
February 21, 2016 by
Marc Debbaudt:

“Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Richard Pryor in his filmed comedy performance, Live on the Sunset Strip, tells the story of his wife catching him with another woman. He denies anything is going on, and asks his wife, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” Before Richard Pryor, Chico Marx, playing the character Chicolini while impersonating Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), spoke the line in the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup.

People don’t overreact to personal observation all of the time. Often, they ignore it completely. What they do is overreact to processed personal observation— say, to a friend who knows someone who got hit by lightning and tells them how dangerous lightning is. If they just see someone hit by lightning, I wonder if it affects them, especially if the news media tells them lightning never hits anyone and its danger is mythical.

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