Open Thread, 1/24/2016


silicon-valleyI watched a few episodes of Silicon Valley at a friend’s house this Friday when I was in the Bay area. I though it was pretty funny. I was at the Googleplex during the day, so it was interesting to see how it influenced the show. But in general I thought the Peter Thiel influenced character Peter Gregory was probably the best thing about the show. Unfortunately the actor who played Peter Gregory died during the first season. (A friend believes that I somewhat resemble the character Erlich Bachman.)

I think Steve mentioned that one unrealistic aspect of Silicon Valley is that the day-to-day action seems relatively detached from the ubiquitous nature of the internet, and the fixation that modern Americans have on their phones. But the reality is that having scenes dominated by characters staring at their phones would probably be quite boring.

You have probably heard about the Free Harvard/Fair Harvard campaign. Here are the detail of how to help:

Thus, anyone holding a Harvard degree who is interested in signing our petitions and perhaps changing the world should email us at petitions@FreeHarvard.org, and include your mailing address to obtain a petition for signing. If you can commit to quickly gathering an additional signature or two and also include your phone number, we will FedEx you a petition. The more Harvard alumni signatures all of you can quickly gather, the more likely Harvard will soon become both free and fair.

Alumni here includes both undergraduate and graduate levels. Steve Hsu has part of this too. The deadline is February 1st.

41n4rA-gvoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As many of you know, I have a passing interest in psychometrics. What for me defines a passing interest? Unlike Roman history, for example, psychometrics is not a topic I follow in depth, or closely in any way. I know the basic outlines, and use that make judgments about the nature of the world. The question of where the general intelligence factor comes from in a biophysical sense is not a major concern of mine. Rather, I’m interested in what intelligence can tell us about life outcomes and such. That is, I’m an instrumentalist.

But I’m starting to become a little worried at how much ignorance there is among the intellectual elite on the topic. It is not uncommon for people to be entirely unaware of basic facts, in which case their inferences are derived from false premises. So how to remedy the situation? Arthur Jensen’s The g factor is dense and expensive, so I can’t recommend it casually. Hive Mind has a good introduction, but the topic is ultimately not intelligence as such. So I think I’d recommend Stuart Richie’s Intelligence: All That Matters. Any other suggestions? What is intelligence? by James Flynn is OK, but that’s an older book.

A response to Limitations of GCTA as a solution to the missing heritability problem is now up, Commentary on “Limitations of GCTA as a solution to the missing heritability problem”.

Some refugees are going back to Syria. I suspect there’s an economic angle here. The genuinely poor are probably not going to go back to these countries because being on welfare benefits of some sort in a wealthy country beats being on the margins in a less wealthy country. But many of the middle-class migrants seem to be realizing that they miss their social status when in countries where they are guaranteed to be marginalized for at least a generation, or longer.

51sdHZvYfTL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Then there is the issue of cultural differences. I have written a few posts recently about the nature of these sorts of things. Over the medium-term culture is quite malleable and protean. But in a very general sense it does not change very fast in the short term (though specific aspects of culture can change fast). Here is a passage from The Secret of Our Success:

In Iraq, in the aftermath of the American military victory in 2003, many assumed that once freed from the dictatorial oppression of Saddam Hussein and presented with new state-of-the-art political and economic institutions imported from the United States and Europe, Iraqis would rapidly take to these institutions and start acting like people in Ohio. That did not happen, probably in part because new formal institutions and organizations have to fit with people’s social norms, informal institutions, and cultural psychology

One of the major sources of migration to Europe today is Afghanistan. Afghans have very different values from Europeans. To illustrate, here is a story from The New York Times, Flawed Justice After a Mob Killed an Afghan Woman. From the explanation of the video’s context: “Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old Muslim woman falsely accused of burning a Quran, was killed by a mob in central Kabul as hundreds watched and filmed.”

Let’s unpack the issue here.

1) A woman was killed in broad daylight
2) In the largest most cosmopolitan city in Afghanistan
3) The killing was a matter of mob justice, and by the end young boys are encouraged to throw stones at the dead body in an almost initiatory manner
4) She was killed because she was accused (falsely it turns out) of burning a Koran

Initially prominent political leaders praised the mob justice because they believed the account of her blasphemy. Later there was anger when it came out that she was falsely accused due to a petty squabble.

My point is that hundreds of thousands of men from this particular culture are now living in Europe. It seems implausible that just by drinking European water they would magically become democratic liberals. Though the social context is such that this sort of mob justice is not going to occur in Berlin or Stockholm, it is also almost certainly true that many of the informal and tacit views of these Afghan migrants aligns with the men and boys of Kabul who killed Farkhunda Malikzada.

I was talking recently about how I go about deciding on my “intellectual diet” (similar to the “media diet”) with my friend Carl Schulman. Over the years (I’d probably date the genesis of my habits to when I was eight years old or so) the domains which I explore have varied. I try to balance being focused on issues of particular and personal interest, with an occasional sampling of the parameter space of ideas and topics which are novel to me. There are books I read for really practical reasons. E.g., my friend Joel Grus’ Data Science from Scratch: First Principles with Python (I’m in transition from Perl to Python). There are others I read for professional reasons. An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory. Though I read few genetics books in my field aside from theoretical texts, since the papers are where the latest research is in any case. On the other hand there are topics which have been long-running interests of mine. As is obvious from my Good Reads, I read a lot of history. In particular, Roman and Chinese history. I’ve been doing so since I was about 12 years old. There are other topics, like religion, which I’ve focused on for a while, before moving on when I thought I knew what I needed to know. But occasionally I’ll read something random, such as Alexei Panshin’s The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. Most of the time these forays are one-offs, but occasionally I discover a new interest.

Of course the reality is that these sorts of methods and strategies change over time. Between my work and personal life I don’t see much room for reading fiction at this point. But perhaps there will be a time when I’ll go back to that habit.

Some of you now I experiment with things like Soylent. One thing I would like to add though: I think the focus on perfectly optimizing nutritional intake is pretty short-sighted. The reality is almost no one is going to move wholly to meals-ready-to-eat, and variation in the population in nutritional needs does exist. I bring this up because I’m going to try MealSquares soon.

Speaking of food, China Village in Albany, CA, has pretty good Szechuan.

Brian Boutwell and Amir Sariaslan are two accounts on Twitter you should follow. They do a really good job reintroducing the wisdom of behavior genetics into the public discussion.

I find this interesting, because Muslims have never told me that I should change my name. It seems that this is because though my name is operationally Muslim, neither Razib nor Khan are Arabic and explicitly tied to Islamic history. Razib is simply a Bangladeshi variant of the common Bengali name Rajib, which is a variant on the more well known name Rajiv, whose ultimate origin is Sanskrit. And Khan is a Turco-Mongol title, which for various reasons became associated with Muslims in South Asia.

The Day the Mesozoic Died.

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