My new motto

Update (Sep 1): Thanks for the comments, everyone! As you can see, I further revised this blog’s header based on the feedback and on further reflection.

The Right could only kill me and everyone I know.
The Left is scarier; it could convince me that it was my fault

(In case you missed it on the blog’s revised header, right below “Quantum computers aren’t just nondeterministic Turing machines” and “Hold the November US election by mail.” I added an exclamation point at the end to suggest a slightly comic delivery.)

Update: A friend expressed concern that, because my new motto appears to “blame both sides,” it might generate confusion about my sympathies or what I want to happen in November. So to eliminate all ambiguity: I hereby announce that I will match all reader donations made in the next 72 hours to either the Biden-Harris campaign or the Lincoln Project, up to a limit of $2,000. Honor system; just tell me in the comments what you donated.

229 Responses to “My new motto”

  1. concerned 'sneerclubber' Says:

    Scott, you should really do a moratorium on these kinds of posts. You need to stop being afraid of ‘the left’, who hasn’t done anything to you beyond the occasional shitpost, and you need to take care of your mental health, probably by not being so much online. Take care.

    PS: do you know if it’s possible to build a Turing Machine that halts iff the Collatz conjecture is true? What about the abc conjecture (which is as you maybe know undergoing a lot of drama)? I loved your work on BB numbers and how they sort of encode problems of mathematics.

  2. William Hoza Says:

    “It is better to suffer injustice than to commit it.” —Socrates

  3. Matthias Says:

    This gets to something I have been thinking recently, which is that there’s an increasing assortment of the American left-right divide not just among policy objectives but “rule by guilt” vs “rule by terror.” The same thing that makes the former less bad is what makes it self-undermining: people opt out of caring.

    Ultimately this is about the disposition of forces available: progressives are concentrated in professions that grant the power to scold, conservatives in professions with the power to physically mutilate human bodies. But it clearly also has to do with Norbert Elias-style “civilizing” happening faster in urban areas, and in the collapse of churchgoing (not yet belief, but behavior yes) among the rural petit bourgeois conservative base.

    Also blah blah blah social media blah blah printing press confessionalization blah blah, but we all already talk about that.

  4. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    So, Scott… on the bright side (?!) … judging from you dropping mention of vaccine challenge trials, you’re at least hopeful there’s been enough solid progress in the various traditional trials thus far? If so, yay! (If not though, oy!)

  5. Scott Says:

    ‘concerned’ sneerclubber #1: Ironic, others complained that I wasn’t posting enough.

    I don’t know how to phrase Collatz or abc as Π1-sentences, though I think it’s easy enough to find plausible Π1-sentences that imply them.

  6. Tim McCormack Says:

    You’re talking about a small portion of the Right and probably (?) an even smaller portion of the Left. Most people are not in the extremes you describe. And I don’t think it helps anyone to contribute to that polarized perception.

  7. John Michael Says:

    thank goodness for the third way.

    It is not a peaceful protest when you go out spoiling for a fight.

    We must not become a country at war with ourselves. A country that accepts the killing of fellow Americans who do not agree with you. A country that vows vengeance toward one another.

    I condemn this violence unequivocally. I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.

    i dunno if America’s leftist-liberal alliance can last forever — or how much longer the latter will remain the dominant faction — but right now, we have a coalition of relative sanity, mediocre policies, and just about 50% of the electorate. Here’s hoping it’s enough to get us to Jan. 20, because i can’t take trump’s america much longer.


    concerned ‘sneerclubber’ #1:

    as i understand it, it hasn’t been ruled out that either Collatz or abc is true (for some value of “true”), but unprovable within PA/ZFC/whatever. like Scott said, it needs to be implied by something in \(\Pi_1\) in the arithmetic hierarchy

    So you can easily write a simple program that runs through proofs (in, say, ZFC) and potential counterexamples; if Collatz is provable, it halts and spits out “true” with the proof; if it’s false or disprovable, it halts and spits out “false” with the counterexample/disproof; and if it’s true but unprovable, it runs forever.

    the last scenario is the weird one (which sounds implausible, but what do I know). While the machine would run forever, you couldn’t prove in ZFC that it would run forever, because that would amount to proving the Collatz conjecture (which we’re saying we can’t do in that scenario). For all you or ZFC knows, the machine is about to halt—just run it one more step! No? Well, maybe just one more! etc.

    (note: if the axiom system you choose is actually unsound, then everything is different, of course)

  8. James Gallagher Says:

    Your header used to just say something like “Quantum Computers don’t compute all possibilities at once”.

    That was a good header for this blog.

  9. Dan Staley Says:

    Scott, when you see derisive, gatekeeping posts from the left, please keep in mind that some percentage of them are Russian trolls. A lot of us forget that foreign propaganda is present on both sides of the political spectrum, seeking to stoke our hatred of each other, divide us, and generally set Americans at each other’s throats. No matter what you do or say, some percentage of online discourse will always tell you you’re evil because it’s not trying to have an honest intellectual exchange.

  10. Alexandre Zani Says:

    > The Right could only kill me and everyone I know.
    > The Left is scarier; it could convince me that it was my fault.

    Is the claim that the Left could kill you and everyone you know and then convince you it was your fault? Or is the claim that the Right could kill you and everyone you know and then the Left could come along and convince you it’s your own fault that the Right killed you?

  11. Ryan Says:

    On the Collatz conjecture, my impression is that it’s not known if there is a TM that halts if Collatz is false. Certainly one can build a TM that halts if there is the conjecture is false because there is a cycle, but there could be an infinite path that never repeats. This is a different situation than say any diophantine equation where there is a TM that finds a solution if one exists, namely the one that tries everything.

    So the Collatz conjecture might be true and undecidable and also might be false and undecidable (with an infinite path but no infinite cycle). A conjecture that there is no solutions to a diophantine cannot be false (like FLT, though we know FLT is true) and undecidable because if there is a counterexample we can find it.

  12. Daniel Armak Says:

    William Hoza @ #2:
    > “It is better to suffer injustice than to commit it.” —Socrates
    I don’t know if you meant to imply this, but: Socrates’ views led to him accepting the death penalty for impiety rather than fleeing the city. As background, a foreign-supported oligarchic government had been installed, and killed, persecuted and disenfranchised many Athenian citizens; more recently democracy had been restored. The democrats hated Socrates because some of his former students had been among the oligarchs.

    This seems quite in tune with our host’s declaration. If the Democrats win the coming US election, I hope no former students of Scott’s are found to have served in the Trump administration.

  13. zluria Says:

    Let me add my voice to the chorus of people complaining that you don’t post enough. Where did you go? We miss you!

  14. Bertie Says:

    Dear Scott, you are obviously an incredibly smart guy, so…take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of red, play some music you enjoy and put down society’s burdens for a little while. The world has possibly reached ‘peak madness’, with an epicentre in the USA, we all hope things will start improving but either way there is extremely little you personally can do to change it.
    Best, Bertie

  15. Luca Says:

    I was amused by the tag “obviously I am not defending Aaronson” and I wondered if it was a quote and who would say such a thing, because it’s a rather peculiar turn of phrase.

    Then I moved on to today’s New York Times and saw

  16. g Says:

    Of course there is a Turing machine that halts iff the Collatz conjecture is true! It’s either (1) a one-state machine whose initial state is also a halting state or (2) a one-state machine with no halting state, depending on whether Collatz is actually true or not. I think what concerned sneerclubber is looking for is a machine with that property, plus a concrete proof that that particular machine has that property.

    James Gallagher #8: Are you sure? I just did a quick check with and it looks as if it was “Quantum computers are not known to be able to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time.” from very early on until very recently. That’s not quite the same as “don’t compute all possibilities at once”; there’s a sense in which some QC algorithms do compute all possibilities at once, but the difficulty is in turning that all-at-once into something we can actually observe and use.

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s job but Scott’s to decide what he should post about. I do agree with Tim McCormack #6 that only a small fraction of either Left or Right is so very malign, though it does also seem as if that small fraction of the Right has a large fraction of the political power right now.

    Is being able, and maybe willing, to persuade people to feel guilty about things they needn’t really truly scarier than being able, and maybe willing, to kill you and everyone you know? I’m not convinced.

  17. Entil Says:

    I’d like to imagine that if and when the Cossack horsemen do come thundering into U of T, Scott’s smug satisfaction of having been right all along will outweigh any dismay over what’s about to happen to him.

  18. Scott Says:

    Entil #17: You’re probably right, except that I’d prefer to put it this way: if and when people close to me start dying from covid—an entirely realistic possibility—the validation of the terror I felt the night Trump was elected will become one of the main reasons to go on living.

  19. Scott Says:

    g #16: Yeah, I mentioned the same joke in a footnote of my Busy Beaver survey! Of course I understood the commenter to be asking for an explicit Turing machine.

  20. anonymous Says:

    I’m pretty convinced at this point that the U.S. elite have way too much control over the process leading to selecting presidential candidates, and that just choosing between republican and democrats in the end is usually relatively meaningless choice, because picking who are those two choices is infinitely more important than the final choice.

    I can’t understand how Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are the best thing the democrats could come up with against Trump. Only very powerful influence of people related to them can explain how these uncharismatic, corrupt, and very old people are the candidates. I’m pretty much convinced at this point any non-radical, young and slightly charismatic candidate would have probably won against Trump in an easy landslide, but the corruption in the democrats selection process, and internal politics of embracing the insane left keeps on losing them the trust of common people.

    Maybe they think they can get away with corrupt and controlled candidates because beating Trump should be easy. Maybe it’s only boomers that actually participate in primaries. I just can’t explain these ridiculous choices.

  21. Filip Dimitrovski Says:

    I come from (North) Macedonia, the tiny country associated with the “fake news” that got Trump elected. I think it’s very possible that a few poor teens made a huge difference in the results, making people vote against Hillary out of fear even if they don’t like Trump per se.
    There are not many job opportunities here and people use the Internet to make tiny profits, usually gig websites that pay for leaving fake reviews for businesses and such. Eventually Google’s AdSense program got popular and teens started writing online tutorials and blogs with some ads in the sidebar. You can see what happens next: they discovered scandalous fear inducing content gets viral very fast and the crazy Trump candidacy was a fruitful choice for monetization. Being uneducated, most teens had to resort to Google Translate to actually write the content, but they made sure to invent Hillary crimes, involve the Pope, Illuminati and all kinds of crazy conspiracies. I don’t know which of those were the most profitable and which mobilized the Right to vote but it was a big thing.

  22. Filip Dimitrovski Says:

    P.S. here is an article claiming that half of Twitter accounts that push to reopen America are fake bots: Nearly half of Twitter accounts pushing to reopen America may be bots | MIT Technology Review

  23. fred Says:

    “Scott, you should really do a moratorium on these kinds of posts.”

    Lol, it didn’t take long for “the Left” to tell you what you should or shouldn’t say, or think…

  24. Scott Says:

    anonymous #20: I think Biden is actually fine, if not my first choice. Hillary would’ve been fine too. But Hillary lost, and I now believe Biden is going to lose. And it’s become clear how:

    Police, or just rifle-wielding 17-year-olds, will continue going around shooting unarmed black people and peaceful protesters, week after week.

    In response, the antifa types will loot and riot and set cities on fire, and will accost white people with raised fists as they sit outside eating dinner. The left, ripped apart by internal divisions, will never forcefully condemn any of this. Trump, and Fox News, will then gleefully seize on the left’s anemic response to say:

    “You see! We merely plan to strip away your voting rights, loot the public treasury to benefit our friends, rape the planet, make the US the world’s laughingstock, and do nothing as, one by one, you and your loved ones die from covid and are loaded into refrigerated trucks. The other side is the scary side: they hold you morally culpable for four centuries of systemic racism. So vote for us!”

    This will be a winning election message.

  25. Douglas Knight Says:

    What plausible \(\Pi_1\) statements imply Collatz and ABC? Is the idea first to replace the general conjecture with a stronger effective conjecture and there might be a nice parametrization of nice effective conjectures that is a \(\Sigma_2\) statement and we just have to guess the parameters. For example, you might conjecture that \(n\) reaches 1 in a number of Collatz steps less than min\((200,n)\)? But is it plausible that we can guess the Collatz growth rate?

  26. Douglas Knight Says:

    Here’s an article claiming that nearly all articles about bots are fraudulent. Specifically those about the work of Carley.

  27. fred Says:

    Scott #24
    “The left, ripped apart by internal divisions, will never forcefully condemn any of this. Trump, and Fox News, will then gleefully seize on the left’s anemic response”

    Well, let me tell you, here in NYC the left’s anemic response is nothing new.
    Since De Blasio took office, there’s been a double standard resulting in a failure to point out at the racism coming from the black community, because it’s not in line with his BLM political agenda.

    To the point that one of my Jewish friend on the left is telling me that she had to switch Temple because too many in her community now totally support Trump.
    Why? Because of all this:

    And not just to the Jewish community is fed up with this, I could post a dozen videos of NYPD cops being disrespected/abused and random old white ladies getting violently beat up for no other reason than being white.

    It’s just very sad it’s getting down to this, but you can’t blame people for being scared and thinking that law and order is more important than political correctness.

  28. Ethan Says:

    Filip Dimitrovski #21 #22

    One of the aspects that differentiates the American democracy from subpar democracies -like most democracies in Europe are including in Western Europe- is its commitment to the free flow of information. We truly live by the motto “the answer to bad ideas is better ideas, not censorship”. The definition of what constitutes a bad idea is in the in the eye of the beholder.

    American campaigns are debates of ideas, with both sides engaging in dubious tactics to push their ideas so that they reach the maximum amount of people.

    The American left likes to do this top down, namely, by controlling cultural institutions such as academia, Hollywood and the legacy media. The American right has traditionally been more bottom up. To make a an analogy to Christianity, the American left is Catholic in its methods whereas the American right is Protestant. This back and forth goes all the way back to the American Revolution. It’s something that, in my experience, rank and file Europeans -used to top down control by government in their societies- have a difficult time understanding and why they naturally gravitate towards the top down control message of the American left.

    For example, my understanding is that most European countries have so called “Election silence” laws that restrict campaigning whereas in the US there is both a long tradition and actual case law that makes many such restrictions unconstitutional “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burson v. Freeman (1992) that campaigning can only be limited on election day in a small area around the polling station. Any broader ban on speech would be unconstitutional”.

    We live in the age of social media and in 2016 Trump was a better gamer of the new era than the Democrats who thought that the support of their traditional allies in academia, Hollywood and the legacy media would be enough to counter him. They were wrong.

    We are now in 2020 and the left is trying to do social media what they did in legacy media (the banning of , the so called “fact checking” of Trump in Twitter and “labeling” in Facebook are steps in that direction). I am not sure whether they will be effective. It is one thing to ban The Donald in 2016, before Trump was elected, quite another to do it now.

    I don’t know who will win because at this time I see this as a 50-50 race (something that slightly favors Biden because traditionally in the US incumbents have the upper hand) but there are two things I can comfortably predict:

    1- It will get really ugly in October. Biden thought he could win the election from his basement but he has apparently changed his mind. Both sides will use social media to destroy the other side and will welcome any “help” from non American players to do so.

    2- Related to 1-, if Trump wins re-election, we will see the “Russia helped elect Trump” meme resurrected although probably with less impact than the first time around. If Biden wins, the Republicans will pull the “China helped elect Biden” card inspired from what the Democrats did during the past 4 years and it will begin on election night with the message being something along the lines “the Chinese killed hundreds of thousands of Americans to help elect Biden”.

    American democracy is the greatest political show on Earth. It keeps adapting to new ways of communication and realities. It has always been some sort of dynamic Yin-Yang, never remaining static. This causes consternation to both sides: the American Right thought that the Ronald Reagan years were the end of history as much as the American Left though that the Obama years were the end of history. Both were wrong, just as those hoping for the Trump years to be the end of history -regardless of their duration- are also likely going to be disappointed.

  29. Radical Realist Says:

    The particular rifle-wielding 17 y.o. seems to have actually have done well here. Those were anything but peaceful protestors.

    The first (Rosenbaum) served a 10 year prison sentence on a sex offence against a minor and is on video prior to shooting, raging mad, calling a white militia man the n-word.

    The second (Huber) was also a convicted felon with domestic abuse and burglary charges.

    The third (Grosskreutz) charged him while armed with a gun which he was legally prevented from having one because… convicted felon.

    So until something credible to the contrary is published I’m going to believe his version of being assaulted by the antifa larpers based solely on social and political animosity – aka a hatecrime.

    There is a video of him engaging with the later two and I think you, me and all the readers of this blog can only aspire to that level of applied moral clarity and discipline under pressure and threat, just the fact that he didn’t proceed to kill Grosskreutz after having shot him in the gun-wielding arm shows that he wasn’t in it for blood.

    The same cannot be said about the cop who shot Jacob Blake seven times at blank range with a handgun while supported by three of his colleagues, but even there we are still short of an actually respectable victim.

  30. wolajacy Says:

    I now believe Biden is going to lose.

    Betting markets give Biden higher chances than Trump (~56%). From what you write, I’d estimate that Trump not winning is worth to you $50k. Why don’t you then hedge your position and invest heavily in the Trump-winning futures?

  31. Ryan Alweiss Says:

    Scott #24: See

  32. Scott Says:

    Look, what I’m offering here is only the master key to understanding the early 21st century. How did Trump win in 2016? How did such a slug, such a lecherous, lying gangster, convince the “moral majority” to vote for him?

    I think the answer is: because it’s the left, not the right, that now has an effective monopoly on morality, but the left’s morality is too harsh, it hasn’t yet evolved to offer any possibility of redemption or forgiveness. And the voters, enough of them, said: if morality condemns us as racists and sexists, then we reject the entire concept of morality. If truth condemns us as racists and sexists, then we reject the entire concept of truth. Anything—yes, even burning down the material world—is better than this cosmic burden of guilt that the left would put on our shoulders.

    If you doubt this analysis: wasn’t “basket of deplorables” the comment that lost Hillary the election? The one that reminded undecideds that, yes, the left really does sit in judgment over them and (rightly or wrongly) does indeed find them wanting? And wasn’t “grab them by the pussy” the comment that “should have” lost Trump the election, but didn’t? Might not millions of men have decided: if Trump stands condemned for his attitudes about women, then so would I be, if only the scolds could read my mind and know my fantasies? If I’m cornered, then isn’t nothing left for me to do but blindly swing an axe at this whole moral superstructure that condemns me as a misogynist and a terrible human being?

    In short, it now seems likely to me that lots of otherwise intelligent people have been catastrophically misjudging the world by underestimating the crushing weight of guilt. Even as it’s stared them in the face, they’ve refused to accept the truth that people will support someone who’d shrug as they and their families die, if the alternative is someone who credibly blames them.

    Note that this perspective instantly clears up numerous mysteries of politics. To take one example: why are the global warming deniers so maniacally fixated on the movie stars who arrive at environmental conferences by private jet, rather than on the empirical question of whether catastrophic human-caused climate change is or isn’t happening? The answer is: because focusing on the movie stars is a spectacularly effective way to relieve their burden of guilt. And the guilt, or the possibility of guilt, is what weighs on them more than a trillion tons of melting sea ice.

  33. Scott Says:

    Douglas Knight #25:

      What plausible Π1 statements imply Collatz and ABC? Is the idea first to replace the general conjecture with a stronger effective conjecture…

    Yes, that’s exactly it. There are extremely plausible effective versions conjectured, along the lines you mentioned.

  34. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, I hope it’s clear that for a SneerClubber to express concern about my mental health, is akin to a lion expressing concern about the bodily integrity of its prey! I can’t improve over this description of SneerClub that someone wrote two years ago:

      The apex predators of the signaling world, at least in Blue-coded spaces. People who have optimized for always being on the right side of a lynch mob.
  35. Anon93 Says:

    When you make an empirical claim that is unfounded, like “Biden will not condemn the riots and will lose as a result” and you get pushback, that pushback is entirely justified, because Biden has condemned the riots and is still winning in the polls. Remember, your blog readership is full of Asperger-y STEM nerds, we only care whether your statement is correct, not whether the underlying sentiment conveyed is correct.

    Also RE rife-wielding 17 year olds attacking “peaceful protesters”, it’s not that simple. There seems to be good evidence that the “peaceful protesters” were attacking Kyle Rittenhouse, see and if you don’t trust National Review on these issues you can also consult from an NYT reporter and an article from the NYT.

    So you can see in this post I am criticizing you from both the left and the right, not because of ideological reasons (I very much share your liberal and anti-woke sentiments) but in the interest of the truth. You shouldn’t distort the facts just so you can tell a story.

    I completely agree that the “woke ideology” is a serious problem. Though I think to say it is the most important story of the early 21st century is massive hyperbole, it’s arguably caused by social media which might be a more important story, not to mention other things like 9/11 and the war on terror, COVID, the meteoric rise of China, development in Africa and India, and so on and so forth. I also think that HRC’s deplorable comment is only loosely linked to the “woke ideology”. I would be very happy if the deplorables comment was the worst that this stuff got.

    Anyway, it looks like Asperger-y STEM nerds are also capable of stating wrong or misleading things in service of an ideology. Here of course I happen to agree with the ideology, but I will call you out (from both the “left” and the “right”).

    Here’s another comment about “woke ideology”: Someone needs to actually push back, and not just on a blog. When all of these universities are hiring more DEI officers, even though diversity training is known to be ineffective, and these people just further the woke ideology. I will not push back in public because I am not in a position to do so. Scott, would you feel comfortable writing to UT Austin or say MIT and telling them not to hire more DEI officers? Many people are agitating for MIT to hire more DEI officers. But my impression is that these measures (at least, diversity statements) and the like are ineffective and this just enforces woke ideology. MIT CS grad students are subjected to a video that tells them that black people cannot be racist. How can we stop this? Organize a chapter of FIRE at MIT?

  36. fred Says:

    Scott #32

    Truth and morality.
    I think that most intelligent people had realized for decades that government and politics were never the place to look for truth and morality.
    It was a “don’t ask don’t tell”… we all know politicians are routinely lying, or just blowing smoke up our asses, but that’s okay, we played along to not have to think too much about government. Just don’t try to sell us ideology, the most we can take is a pinch of patriotism.
    The only place in politics that was still telling their audience what to think and how to behave was the Bible thumping far right.

    But then there was SJW’ism, MeToo’ism, BLM’ism, … which all started from actual problems in society, but the Dems made the unfortunate move to put all these at the core of their political agenda (the new generation, AOC and Co, basically forced the hand of the old guard).
    At the same time all of those movements slowly became about passing binary purity tests so strict that noone can actually pass them – all our believes, past and present, are now under constant public examination, absence of opinion is no longer an option (silence is crime). Obama described it at the circular firing squad.
    To make things worse, those movements have no place for forgiveness or any viable path to redemption whatsoever (unlike, say, Evangelical extremism, where you can always atone for your sins and ask for forgiveness).
    The Dems are now caught with this, they can’t move back, and can’t move forward either without doubling down even more on all this – because the scale of their habitual hypocrisy (as politicians) would be too unbearable and obvious.

    And on the other side there’s Trump, who’s been a scumbag from the start, but a transparent scumbag – his flaws and shamelessness makes all our personal sins, real or imagined, feel mild in comparison.

    So, yea, things suck.

  37. mahmoud Says:

    Regarding the Collatz conjecture I don’t think anyone has a disproof of the following, highly unlikely, conjecture:

    (*) There is an infinite sequence \(n_i \) such that \(f_{\varepsilon_0}(n_i) \leq C(n_i) \).

    Where \( C(n) \) is the Collatz stopping time for \( n\) and \( f_{\varepsilon_0} \) is from the Wainer hierarchy of functions. The truth of (*) would prevent any reduction of the Collatz conjecture to a consistent \( \Sigma_2\)-sentence in Peano Arithmetic.

  38. lewikee Says:

    This situation is like a twisted version of Aesop’s fable, where The Boy Who Cried Wolf never actually lies about the wolf but is so goddamn antagonistic about the situation that the villagers would rather kill the boy than the wolf.

    The villagers would be wrong to do that, of course, but they can’t help their human nature. Remember folks, the reason bullying is still as prevalent as ever is that deep down, more people hate the sniveling kid than they do the bully.

  39. Douglas Knight Says:

    wasn’t “basket of deplorables” the comment that lost Hillary the election?

    In a close election, it doesn’t take much to change the result, so there are a lot of items that you can point to and make a counterfactual claim that it made the difference. So it is plausible that this did push it over the edge. But it is arbitrary to isolate it and say that it is the one that made the difference and ignore all the rest of the similarly important things.

    Did the basket comment have any effect beyond the chattering classes? I don’t see it on the 538 (popular vote) forecast. Trump was climbing before the statement and he kept going up after, peaking 2.5 weeks later at the first debate, which seems to have had a much larger effect. Also, in the period after the statement, he was taking votes from third parties, not Clinton. It’s pretty hard to know the effect of the statement: how fast did the general public even hear about it? (The pussy comment was probably promulgated faster, but was simultaneous with the second debate, so is hard to disentangle.)

  40. Scott Says:

    fred #36: Right, I’m just embarrassed that it took me five years to understand the psychological core of this!

    SJWs make many people feel ashamed and terrified that they could never live up to the new moral standard being promulgated—a standard that, if it could, would cast you to the inferno for eternity for gazing at a coworker with lustful thoughts, or for the involuntary split-second racism of your subconscious. This terror is, however, an unstable state liable to resolve itself into righteous anger, once people realize that the SJWs don’t live up to the new moral standard either. Trump, by contrast, makes people feel relieved that their character flaws are nothing in comparison to his—and by gleefully parading his flaws and refusing ever to apologize for them, he effectively excuses everyone else’s. For just enough voters in just enough Rust Belt states, these psychodynamics are enough to overwhelm anything about the external world, including the fact that Trump has doused that world in kerosene and lit it aflame.

    On the off chance that anyone in Democratic politics reads this blog: yes, I do think there’s actionable insight here that could change the outcome of the election. How would one craft an ad campaign with a subtext of “Joe Biden doesn’t condemn you for your coarsest desires and even shares many of them”? I don’t know the answer, but I now feel certain that that’s the question.

  41. Scott Says:

    Anon93 #35: I never said Biden didn’t condemn the rioting. I know he did. Of course he would; he’s a decent and grounded human being! I just fear the condemnation wasn’t even close to loud enough. I fear Trump is still going to be able to hammer home the message to his voters: “the SJWs believe that you fundamentally deserve to have your property burned down and looted, because of your implicit racism and sexism. And Biden is a stooge who will never stand up to the SJWs.” And crucially, because of all the voter suppression, the absentee ballots that will be thrown away, and refusal to accept the election outcome that Trump has already all but promised, it’s not enough for Biden to “win”; he needs to win in a landslide. Which means: he needs to neutralize this attack.

  42. Ethan Says:

    fred #36

    I don’t want to get into the larger argument you are having with Scott, I just want to make one comment,

    “I think that most intelligent people had realized for decades that government and politics were never the place to look for truth and morality.”

    Precisely! In a previous post I said that I have libertarian tendencies. My path to Libertarianism -understood in American political sense- was many years in the making after realizing that government is essentially a mechanism for people to make a living, one that we all fund via our taxes. There isn’t much more to it, certainly not truth or morality. Ideology is and has been dead for a long time. Most meaningful changes that government makes, such as the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, came from government playing catch up to underlying changes in American society. Pure government gave us Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson .

    Thus Libertarianism is the logical political stance of smart people. The alternative, anarchism, we know is unworkable so all we can hope for is to minimize the impact in our daily lives by these people who feel entitled to make a living out of our tax dollars. More government generally means more control of our daily lives by these people. Who in his or her right mind wants to invite more government bureaucrats in his or her daily life?

    Government always, read, always, fails to deliver on its well meaning, good on the surface promises.

  43. fred Says:

    Sadly, three years later, this now looks like science-fiction (never mind the part about people hugging in restaurants)

  44. Doug Says:

    Lewikee #38:
    Remember folks, the reason bullying is still as prevalent as ever is that deep down, more people hate the sniveling kid than they do the bully.

    > This is profound and true, I’m going to hang on to this.

    It’s so surprising to me to see the vilification of guilt. I think guilt is great. Guilt is the proper response to realizing when you are complicit in actual harm. All of my moments of meaningful personal growth have sprung from an honest grappling with guilt. One does not simply stumble into self improvement; far, far less so into societal improvement.

  45. JimV Says:

    Hyperbole aside, I rank several things equal to or greater than “basket of deplorables” (which I think was believed if not politically ept) in causing HRC to win the popular vote but lose the election:

    Trump standing in front of a couple of manufacturing plants in swing states which were scheduled to be closed, and saying that if the plant were moved to Mexico he would put high tariffs on the imported parts.

    Comey’s late announcement that HRC’s emails were still under investigation while the investigation of Trump’s collusion was kept under wraps.

    The correct assumption on the part of evangelicals that if elected Trump would appoint SC justices in favor of banning abortions.

    HRC had been the target of conservative media for years, as well as some parts of the non-conservative media.

    Plus let’s face it, HRC is not an inspiring campaigner. She is a smart person who put a lot of effort into a website of policy proposals, but she couldn’t sell them in speeches to people who were never going to read that website.

    Biden is better (from slightly to a lot) on all of those things. In a fair election he will win–which makes me wonder what the right will try. Probably some sort of Swift Boat reprise.

    I noticed a long time ago (at work) that the people who desperately want positions of power are not often the best people for those positions, but usually the ones who get them. I for one will welcome our AI overlords, when you get around to creating them.

  46. David Says:

    I agree with your assessment of Trump and the issue that might work in his favor.

    I am afraid that the politics of COVID-19 will also work in his favor. His message will be:

    First, I tried to solve the problem at the beginning (China travel ban), Democrats protested (it will not matter that the virus came through Europe).

    Second, the best solution was the Swedish approach, the liberal media was lying and manipulating the public opinion (no matter the ~200K deaths).

    Third, it was the local governments that messed up. The democratic led states have the most deaths (Cuomo’s March 25 order is not going to help).

    Fourth, it was the local governments that messed up. The democratic led states have the biggest impact on their economies.

  47. Nick Says:

    Scott #32

    I don’t quite understand what your position is. Are you saying that leftists are wrong in casting blame as they do? Or are you saying that they “just” have a PR / messaging problem?

    Actually, to avoid speaking in generalities, let’s just deal specifically with me, Nick Drozd, and in particular a comment I made on this blog one week after George Floyd’s murder. Here’s a quote:

    If you live in America, you are a participant in [the American police system], whether you want to be or not. Brutal and unwarranted police violence has been a matter of common knowledge since at least the Rodney King beating. You knew it was happening, I knew it was happening, we all did. Did you do anything about it? Black people have been protesting the whole time, but they were ignored. Colin Kaepernick got blackballed from the NFL for speaking out about exactly this. Well, their voices are being heard now, aren’t they? If someone tries talking to you and you don’t hear them, they will raise their voice.

    If you’re worried about homes and businesses, blame the shitbag cop who for eight minutes thought that he would get away with murder. Blame the spineless county attorney who failed to order Derek Chauvin’s arrest in a timely manner, and who still hasn’t ordered the arrests of the other three cops who aided and abetted the murder. Blame yourself and me and Scott and everyone else for not doing anything about this sooner.

    Are there any specific claims there that you disagree with? (I take it that we should understand an imperative utterance like “Blame X” to mean “X deserves some blame”, but if you interpret it differently, please say how.) Or is it that you don’t like the rhetoric? If it’s the rhetoric, how would you suggest rephrasing the same ideas?

    By the way, Derek Chauvin’s accomplices were arrested two days after I made that comment. If they had instead been arrested the day prior, do you think people like me would have gotten so angry? If people like me hadn’t gotten so angry, do you think they would have been arrested at all?

  48. Maximilian Says:

    “Quantum computers aren’t just nondeterministic Turing machines.”

    I think many people will interpret this “just” as if you were saying that quantum computers are more powerful than nondeterministic Turing machines.

  49. Eric Says:

    So what do you believe to be the path forward? One that praises unity, and tries to encourage people to act better, but also one that admits that people have fucked up in the past, and whilst that’s a shame, all you can do now is be better?

  50. concerned 'sneerclubber' Says:

    Scott #34: I only put this handle out of honesty, maybe I shouldn’t have. I do browse SC, mostly to take the piss out of rationalists who talk too much about the IQ of black people. It should go without saying but apparently does need saying, that SC is not a hivemind of nerd-hating jocks who delight in calling people racist and sexist just for the joy of smearing people. There are folks of all sorts there. Most of us are *ex*-SSCers or *ex*-rationalists who got tired of all the pseudoscience used to justify abhorrent positions in these movements, and SC is a sort of haven for people to go “wait wtf it’s not just me, right? there’s something seriously wrong going on, right?”

    Anyway, what I mean to say is that we’re not an ideological chapter of the SJW party. We don’t have somber plans to overturn nerddom. Most of us *are* nerds, many people on SC are working scientists, same as you (and often getting into academia and doing actual science was usually the trigger for the realization that rationalism is intellectually devoid of content). SC is just a shitposting place, like so many others on the Internet. When you’re too online you tend to take any little spat very seriously and start believing people are out to get you, but if you would only step outside for a moment you’d realize all this stuff matters very little.

    Like, seriously, I don’t know what to say at this point. Rationally, between going on for paragraphs about the evil SJWs in a comment section filled with right-wing idiots, and just logging off for a while to enjoy the sun, what would objectively cause you the least anxiety? At the very least just go back to talking about neat math stuff.

    Again, take care.

  51. Anon93 Says:

    I don’t think that’s quite right, or that this is the message Trump is going for. I think it’s more like “there are scary rioters and Biden will not protect you because he is soft on crime”. Us highly educated liberal people see a lot of SJWs, because they are prominent in academia and the media. But how much does the average American know or care about SJWs?  Probably not so much, although unfortunately the prominence of SJWs is growing so visibility may also grow. A message about crazy people on college campuses defending looting is not going to resonate well with working-class people in Wisconsin, but images of looting itself might. My impression is that the looters themselves tend not to be SJWs but rather gang members etc; probably many of them are rather misogynistic or at least un-PC around gender issues.

    For a good historical analogy, look at Nixon’s campaign. He ran on “law and order”. My impression is that he did not accuse McGovern of supporting the viewpoint that peoples’ homes deserved to be burned down, but just that he convinced people McGovern would not do enough to prevent this. McCarthyism was over and everyone knew McGovern was not a communist, but maybe people thought he was soft.

  52. Scott Says:

    Eric #49:

      So what do you believe to be the path forward? One that praises unity, and tries to encourage people to act better, but also one that admits that people have fucked up in the past, and whilst that’s a shame, all you can do now is be better?

    Yes, I’d like a path forward that involves more Enlightenment liberalism, recognition of common humanity, and forgiveness of errors, and fewer taboos and social-media shaming campaigns and cancellations. But to me, these seem like such anodyne sentiments, that the very fact that they’re not universally shared means we need to back up a few steps to figure out what philosophical views could’ve led so many people anywhere else.

  53. Scott Says:

    Maximilian #48:

      I think many people will interpret this “just” as if you were saying that quantum computers are more powerful than nondeterministic Turing machines.

    Oh god. That’s a misreading that I never would’ve even thought of, but whose existence I can now verify like an NP witness. 🙂

    What equally short alternative can anyone suggest?

    Quantum computers rely on interference of amplitudes ?
    Quantum computers don’t provide free parallelism ?
    Quantum computers take ~√N steps to search N possibilities ?

  54. Scott Says:

    Nick #47:

      I don’t quite understand what your position is. Are you saying that leftists are wrong in casting blame as they do? Or are you saying that they “just” have a PR / messaging problem?

    It’s complicated. Right now, I’m mostly concerned about the messaging problem, simply because so many of my hopes for the future of the world are tied up with Biden winning the election. But the messaging problem can’t be cleanly separated from the underlying moral problem.

    In almost every moral stance of the SJWs, there’s a core of truth. Yes, racism was the US’s original sin, and the US is still dealing with the consequences. Yes, women were treated as property for most of human history, and we’re all still dealing with the consequences of that. But by and large, I think the living people to blame for these things are the ones who are totally shameless and unreflective about them. When you blame the people who are trying as hard as they can to be OK, consistently with living their lives (which might mean: running a business, dating the opposite sex, etc.), it’s not just that you fail to make things better, it’s that you cause a backlash that aggressively makes them worse. It’s a little like the OCD sufferers who know that showering is good for cleanliness and health, so they spend 16 hours per day in the shower until their skin peels off.

  55. John Michael Says:

    Scott #40:

    i think that Biden and/or people on his team have come to similar conclusions as to what the question is. One message coming out of the campaign recently is that it’s actually Trump who wanted to defund the police (before it became politically fashionable for him to support them), whereas Biden wants and has always wanted to strengthen and improve them:

    “President Trump says that you want to defund the police. Do you?”

    “No I don’t,” Biden responded, laughing. “By the way, he proposes cutting a half a billion dollars of local police support. […] So the only guy that actually put in a bill to actually defund the police is Donald Trump.”

    “Everybody forgets a third of that [controversial 1994 crime bill] that I wrote was to put more cops in the street, not in their automobiles, but getting out and knowing the community — knowing who owns the local grocery store, knowing everybody in the community, and crime will drop.”

    And then when he did talk about bad cops in that interview, he was careful to underscore that the profession is not a uniquely evil place:

    I think they need more help, they need more assistance, but that, look, there are unethical senators, there are unethical presidents, there are unethical doctors, unethical lawyers, unethical prosecutors, there are unethical cops. They should be rooted out.

    I’m hoping that, in ads and debates, Biden will double-down on strategies like this. E.g.:

    Trump: “You’re a puppet for the socialists in your party!”

    Biden: “You listen here, you’re talking to the guy who kicked the socialist in the rear end at the ballot box!”

    And then maybe Biden’ll pivot to talking about non-compete agreements or something

  56. Scott Says:

    John Michael #55: Yes, that would be great!

    I’d also love for Biden to capture the news cycle with a whole speech amplifying his earlier comments about how violence isn’t the answer, similar to Obama’s speech in 2008 about Jeremiah Wright.

  57. John Michael Says:

    Scott #56:

    yeah, I’d also really love it if he did that. (i also wish he was a better public speaker… i miss obama ☹️)

    Also, one further thing i forgot to mention in my last comment: look who tweeted out the clip i linked! Apparently, Hannity thinks it makes Biden look bad! Bunch of right-wing news sites wrote articles under the same impression. Their assumption/message seems to be, “Heh, look how out-of-touch this old liberal fool is, he can’t even use the word ‘woke’ properly! And he doesn’t even know what it means; instead of talking about important stuff like the culture war, he’s spouting off about some irrelevant nonsense about decaying labor power for low-wage American workers. You want someone this disconnected with the big issues of today in the Oval Office?”

    I think Trump’s strategy of keeping his base in a perpetual terrified frenzy might not be the road to 270 that he thinks it is. I think a lot of people are sick and tired of the constant barrage of the “culture war” and the Biden strategy is to be perceived as being solidly above all that malarkey. (And if my red-state family members are representative, then Clinton’s very existence as a blue woman candidate could only ever be perceived as “””SJW-ism””” to some (half a percent would’ve done it).) And yeah, additional forceful statements from Biden on the illegitimacy of violent aggression, whether left or right, would definitely help if he wants to get that message across

    two+ months to go…

  58. James Gallagher Says:

    g #16

    The header from June 2015:

    If you take just one piece of information from this blog:
    Quantum computers would not solve hard search problems
    instantaneously by simply trying all the possible solutions at once


    (In any case, I was just making a very minimalist attempt to urge Scott not to lose his mind in the coming months, the crazy times will pass, like they always do)

  59. Corey Says:

    I just donated $50 to the B-H campaign.

  60. John Michael Says:

    Scott #53:

    How about simply “Quantum computers don’t give you an exponential speedup on all problems”? That’d be a pretty understandable way to phrase it. (And I suppose add “probably”/”almost definitely” to taste for technical correctness.)


    ‘concerned’ sneerclubber #50:

    Maybe you weren’t here for this, but Scott was the target of an internet harassment & defamation campaign based on a maliciously incorrect reading of his inexplicably infamous comment #171. [Scott: please delete the link/leave this comment in moderation if you don’t want me linking that person to it.] Since by now these things occasionally get academics and journalists fired, I think you don’t really have any credibility to say that it’s “just” shitposting.

    Even more obviously, according to plenty of people I used to know, it was “just shitposting” that was going on in all the far-right media echo chambers; the American electorate shatpost ourselves a (proto-quasi-ur-)fascist right onto the Resolute Desk. In the post-2016 era, you can’t pretend like this sort of thing doesn’t have real-world consequences and expect people to take you seriously. (Then, of course, you passively-agressively and condescendingly told Scott to keep hus mouth closed about his political opinions for his own good). My fear here ought to be pretty obvious—I don’t want the illiberals of the left to radicalize and mobilize enough people to take over the left-liberal coalition party.

    And, like, just at the human level of empathy, if you honestly can’t believe that that sort of harassment and defamation takes a toll on a person, I don’t really know what to say. Maybe watch Contrapoints describe her experiences with it? She’s closer to you politically than Scott is, so maybe you’ll have an easier time believing her.

    I for one was also seriously sick of a lot of the stuff that was said on SSC’s comment section and its subreddit. I found SC and was happy at first—”hey, it’s not just me!”. IIRC, it took me about a day to realize y’all don’t share my values any more than some of the regulars of the CW thread did. So nowadays I just have my adblocker configured to block all of reddit and the SSC comment section. And in IRL (and the rare places on the internet where I do talk politics, like here), when the subject comes up, I’m going to keep complaining about the failings of far left communities and politics (and that of the rationalist communities and politics, though they come up less frequently).

  61. Scott Says:

    Corey #59: Thanks!!

  62. John Michael Says:

    Regarding the edit: Donated another $100! Thanks for the nudge, Scott

  63. William Gasarch Says:

    $100 to Biden-Harris
    I agree with some of the other comments: thanks for the nudge.

  64. clayton Says:

    I’m a low-frequency but regular poster here; I donated $25 to the Biden-Harris campaign.

    Regarding the point of this post, Scott #41 I think you gave away the point there yourself — it is objectively true that _more people (legally able to vote) in this country right now would like Donald Trump to be out of office than the number who would like him to stay in office_. The _only reasons_ the outcome of this election is in doubt are the manifold varieties of _intense and widespread_ voter suppression, disfranchisement, and inherent inequality (in the sense of removing active voter registrations, reducing polling places, and the Electoral College / not making Election Day a national holiday, respectively) which have been _explicit_ tools of Republican policy for 25 years; not to mention the zany new twist of knee-capping the postal service. That widespread disfranchisement will _literally lead_ to the deaths of thousands of people, systematically more of which will be Black and brown, for reasons including but not limited to COVID response / testing / strategy, gun control, and health care expansion. Only failing to respond to COVID is a uniquely Trumpian failure (albeit a big one).

    Convincing people that _literal death_ is the stakes of electoral decisions is the goal of what I’ll call the “SJW strategy” (very sarcastic scare quotes implied). Not making that case is what allowed “conventional Republican policy” to covertly nurture the hateful nativist trend that Trump is now tending to exclusively and openly. Making you feel bad is not the goal of this strategy — but the utilitarian accounting of those possible deaths on the one hand versus the feelings of centrists (even very smart centrists) on the other is left as an exercise for the reader.

    You were right (all along) that Trump was a disaster (all along), but you don’t seem to understand the context that allowed him to ascend. Having a slightly smoother operator at the helm pursuing the same policies as Trump would still be very bad. Not COVID-botching bad, but still very bad for very many people. And while I think at some level you’re trying to make a tactical argument rather than a moral one, your moral argument (as formulated in your subhead) is, at least I hope, beneath you. I urge you to remove it, and also to take care of yourself.

  65. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Hard to say which is worse: hard core Leftists or Trump supporters.

    But there are at least 100 or 1000 times more Trump supporters than hard core leftists.

    It is reasonable to ignore the rantings of hard core leftists because they are relatively insignificant in the big picture, where as Trump supporters support Trump, who is actively stoking fascism because it is his only chance of reelection and staying out of jail.

  66. Nicholas Teague Says:

    Hi Scott. Count me as $10 match to Biden / Harris. Best regards.

  67. John the Scott Says:

    i doubt most angry folks on both sides actually understand the consequence of their violent actions. do bears know why they hibernate? do birds know why they migrate? your candor is refreshing, scott. at keast in texas no questions exist about the right to defending yourself against madmen (and women).

  68. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Scott #32 asks “How did Trump win in 2016?”

    Trump stood for positions on trade, immigration, and national security, that altogether said: let’s use the American government to benefit America and existing Americans. Let’s keep the jobs here, let’s fix our existing problems, let’s not get into other people’s wars.

  69. Edan Maor Says:

    Scott, I may have missed you mentioning this earlier, but what prompted this post? Were you just thinking along these lines and had a realization, or did something specific happen?

    Scott #41: You wrote:
    > “the SJWs believe that you fundamentally deserve to have your property burned down and looted, because of your implicit racism and sexism. […]”

    I’m surprised you mention sexism and racism, but don’t mention anything to do with economics. The message I always get from e.g. Sanders (and to some extent Warren) is that having money is itself a moral failure (or at least, a proof that you must be immoral).

    So the message to anyone who is somewhat professionally successful is that they are presumed immoral. Which is a great way to alienate many of the most-likely-to-vote voters (not to mention most likely to donate).

    (Of course that the message is usually only directed at billionaires, though many times the lines here get blurred.)

  70. Bunsen Burner Says:

    There is always a need for people to interpret election outcomes based on their ideological sympathies. Trump didn’t beat Clinton due to any magical qualities, Clinton simply ran a shit campaign. As several memoirs describe instead of reaching out to swing voters in flyover states, she went after middle class republicans. Unfortunately her campaign team didn’t understand the extent to which the media had fractured along partisan loyalties. Most Republicans were now consuming their view of the world from Fox and even more batshit-crazy sources. This caused resentment among working class voters and had the effect that in the Mideast there was enough of a swing towards Trump to win the election via the Electoral College.

    Biden will win or fail depending on how he deals with those same swing voters. The fact that Biden won the primaries by winning over predominantly working class counties that Sanders won in 2016 is encouraging. It shows that working class voters are after stability and are sick and tired of Trump’s antics. Things might have been funny when deranged liberals were acting like hysterical children, but now the state of the country is too dire to leave its future to a simple minded clown. The US is economically a disaster area. Too much unemployment, a homeless crisis looming, infrastructure falling apart, endless riots. If Biden can convince swing voters in flyover states that he represents economic stability he will win them over.

    The real problem is if Biden thinks going rightward is going to net him a lot of conservatives at the expense of the left of his party. Unfortunately the epistemic bubble of most conservatives will not allow Biden to be presented as anything else as some Stalin/Mao hybrid. As for the hysteria of SJWS, it’s only in academia and social media that this SJW freakshow takes centre stage. Most people know nothing about it nor care. I suggest US citizens should be a lot more concerned about the right-wing authoritarian attempts attacking basic civil liberties such this

  71. funwiththoughts Says:

    Scott #34:

    Apex predators? You give them way too much credit. If SneerClubbers were really at the apex, they’d be purging the federal government of right-wingers instead of obsessing over finding the hidden agendas of nerds using their blogs to promote already low-status fringe movements. Lions don’t waste energy chasing after rabbits for extended periods, they save their strength for fighting buffalo and giraffes. SneerClubbers are the jackals and vultures who move in once the top predators are sated.

    In modern-day America, I don’t think there are any “apex predators of the signaling world”, at least not in Blue-coded spaces; everyone is a potential target. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because it means that the really fanatical extremists cannot force the comparative moderates to go along with their most insane policy initiatives. So long as even the true believers of the SJ movement need to walk on eggshells to remain in the larger movement’s good graces, their excesses will not be anything as bad as the Holocaust or the Cultural Revolution. The downside is that the excesses which do exist will likely only get worse from here, until/unless the movement falls apart. To my knowledge, most of the movements in history that have successfully brought about progress have had their worst impulses constrained by figures like Washington, Lincoln, Gandhi, MLK and Mandela who managed the tightrope-walk of reaching the top of the signalling hierarchy while still remaining basically decent and reasonable. As the current political climate makes it seemingly impossible for any such figure to exist, at least if their focus is on promoting social justice in America, the evil elements of the movement are left to constrain each other, which is better than having any one villain with free rein to crush all opposition but nevertheless worrying.

  72. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    In light of your matching offer, Scott and — on a lark — in honor of Donald Knuth’s famous bug-bounty practice for typos in his magisterial The Art of Computer Programming, I’ve just now donated to the Biden Victory Fund* a hexadecimal $100** [that is, $256 in decimal… not to besmirch any reader’s low-level CS knowledge on this most learned of blog communities, of course 😉 ].

    * Please tell me if my quick Googling misled me and I’m a chump, but was the correct official Biden-Harris 2020 campaign webpage, right? Certainly leads to donations to the “Biden Victory Fund” administered by ActBlue, and certainly looks official… right down to annoyingly asking a few pointless, out-of-date multiple choice polling questions (which maybe were just rah-rah priming questions) before getting to the nitty-gritty of letting you donate.

    ** If this matching offer, Scott, has gotten more response than you were expecting (and I hope it has!), please feel free to just match the hexadecimal 100 with a decimal 100… or, aw heck — you have precocious, precious tykes to feed! — an octal 100. I’ll be slightly annoyed, however, if you match it with just a binary 100.

  73. atreat Says:

    You’ve got it wrong Scott. The problem is not guilt of the left or any kind of 10-d chess played by the right. The problem is the country is following the movie Idiocracy: If you have not yet seen it… you should. It is eerily prescient of the current state of things.

  74. atreat Says:


    “And the voters, enough of them, said: if morality condemns us as racists and sexists, then we reject the entire concept of morality. If truth condemns us as racists and sexists, then we reject the entire concept of truth. Anything—yes, even burning down the material world—is better than this cosmic burden of guilt that the left would put on our shoulders.”

    All this tells me is that these people were never moral to begin with. And it tells me they never gave two shits about truth to begin with. IOW, that guilt they are feeling – which I very highly doubt they have one iota of it – would be rational. But they don’t actually have that guilt.

    You are placing your misdiagnosing these people based on your own hangups. They don’t have your guilt and they really don’t have much in the way of morals or regard for truth. What they have is tribal loyalty in spades.

    The one thing that binds the right and the left… a ton of LOW IQ people who can’t deal with the world’s complexity and so they retreat into tribal instincts.

  75. atreat Says:


    “When you blame the people who are trying as hard as they can to be OK, consistently with living their lives (which might mean: running a business, dating the opposite sex, etc.), it’s not just that you fail to make things better, it’s that you cause a backlash that aggressively makes them worse.”

    Once again Scott I think you are not realizing how unique your own grand hangup about cosmic guilt is. Most people don’t share it.

    Take for instance Nick’s post. I think it is completely spot on. It describes to a tee people like me. I’m a white male who was aware just like he says of the disparate treatment of the police and minorities, but I did not do enough in my life to help those people who were suffering. I regret this. But I’m not disarmed with guilt.

    Those vast swathes of the Right that you think who are being disarmed by the cognitive shame that they feel internally when Nick posts things like that and then have a huge backlash against it for fear that their own guilt with overwhelm them… those vast swathes just do not exist. They do not feel guilt like you. There is no hidden conscience threatening to engulf them if they admit that Nick has a point.

    Rather, they are just like most people in this country… driven by tribal instincts and daily life and who do not have a lot of extra mental capacity to absorb or introspect on the complexities of modern society. So they follow their tribal and racial and sexist instincts. Do what they see their peers doing and carry on.

  76. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    First and foremost, I like the new blog header! I’m glad the wonders of internet-enabled communal reasoning helped you! All too often internet-enabled communal reasoning instead ends up like this:

    [The author of the above-linked comic is “Shen Comix”, e.g., @shencomix on Instagram, where it’s his 2017-08-30 post), as well as @shenanigansen on Twitter).]

    Second, if you’ll indulge me, a poem that IMHO is a magnificent wrestling with the notion of collective guilt for what the United States of America has done and is doing and, no less importantly, becoming a better person personally. Worry not, the poem’s not by me. Rather, it’s by William Morris Meredith, Jr., a fellow Connecticutian of a bygone age. I emphasize “bygone age” since Meredith became the type of lefty-college critic of America in the Vietnam Conflict that was rare-but-hardly-unknown then, but alas is essentially extinct now: the genteel WASP who enlisted in WWII, became decorated for valor in that war as a US Navy carrier pilot in the Pacific Theater and then reenlisted for the Korean War. After all that WASPy-genteel-but-truly-death-defying derring-do, he became a professor of poetry, mostly at Connecticut College and Middlebury. Capstones of his career was serving as US Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress 1978-80 and winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1988.


    by William Meredith
    [In 1969, after Richard Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia became public]

    Please read this letter when you are alone.
    Don’t be afraid to listen to what may
    change you,
    I am only urging on you what I myself
    have done.

    In the first place, I respect the office,
    although one night
    last spring, when you had committed (in
    my eyes)
    criminal folly, and there was a toast to
    you, I wouldn’t rise.

    A man’s mistakes (if I may lecture you), his
    worst acts,
    aren’t out of character, as he’d like to
    are not put on him by power or stress or
    too much to drink,

    but are simply a worse self he consents to be.
    there is no mistaking you. I marvel that
    so much disrespect for a man just being
    himself, being his errors.

    “I never met a worse man than myself,”
    Thoreau said. When we’re our best selves,
    we can all
    afford to say that. Self-respect is best
    when marginal.

    And when the office of the presidency will
    accommodate that remark, it may be held
    by better men
    than you or me. Meantime, I hear there is
    music in your house,

    your women wear queens’ wear, though
    winds howl outside,
    and I say, that’s all right, the man should
    have some ease,
    but does anyone say to your face who you
    really are?

    No, they say Mr. President, while any
    young person
    feels free to call me voter, believer, even
    And if I were also a pray-er, a man given to

    (I’m often in fact careless about great
    things, like you)
    and I wanted to pray for your office, as in
    fact I do,
    the words that would come to me would
    more likely be
    god change you than god bless the presidency.
    I would pray, God cause the President to

    As I myself have been changed, first my
    head, then my heart,

    so that I no longer pretend that I don’t
    swindle or kill
    when there is swindling and killing on my
    nation’s part.
    Well. Go out into your upstairs hall tonight
    with this letter.

    Generous ghosts must walk that house at
    carrying draughts of the Republic like cold
    to a man parched after too much talk and
    wine and smoke.

    Hear them. They are elected ghosts,
    though some will be radicals
    and all may want to tell you things you
    will not like.
    It will seem dark in the carpeted hall,
    despite the night-lights

    in the dull sconces. Make the guard let you
    “If you are the president,” a shade with a
    will ask you (and this is all I ask), calling
    you by name,

    himself perhaps a famous name, “If you
    are the President,
    and things in the land have come to all
    this shame,
    why don’t you try doing something new? This
    building rose,

    laborious as a dream, to house one
    man trusting man anew. That’s who each
    tenant is
    or an impostor, as some of us have been.

  77. Scott Says:

    atreat and others: It’s a pretty fundamental part of my mental world to be always trapped between two nightmares—one of fascism, pandemics, runaway climate change, and a dozen other kinds of material horribleness, the other of an accusatory finger saying that it was all my fault. And I strongly associate the first nightmare with the far Right, and the second with the far Left.

    Where I think I erred, in the first version of my motto, was to describe the second nightmare as the flat-out “scarier” one. Which one is scarier strongly depends on my psychological state at the time.

    I don’t want the world to end. If it does end, I don’t want it to have been my fault. Generally, when I’m in a better mental space I’m more worried about the “world ending” part, and when I’m in a worse space I’m more worried about my own complicity in it. Note that this has the ironic consequence that making me more depressed can make me less worried about the impending destruction of the world, since such a purely external phenomenon then seems of little consequence compared to my own guilt, and the people pointing and jeering at me over my guilt. When I’m able to think about it more rationally, I concede that the destruction of the world should probably concern me more! 🙂

    Of course the question arises of whether all this is just my own idiosyncratic hangup, or whether it reflects any broader psychological truth. Some evidence for the latter view comes from Trump—a profoundly ignorant man who‘s nevertheless a genius at appealing to people’s basest fears, someone who’s visibly trashed the US like no other president in the country’s 240-year history yet has a significant chance of re-election. As the country burns down, literally and figuratively, what could possibly be his re-election platform, the case to give such a disgusting gangster another chance? Here it is, in one sentence: “They think you’re a racist and a sexist, and that you deserve to pay for it.”

    Or am I just imagining things?

  78. Michael Bacon Says:

    Just donated 100 dollars.

  79. Douglas Knight Says:

    Bunsen Burner #70,
    The “basic civil liberty” you mention is two months old.

  80. fred Says:

    Scott #77

    “I’m more worried about the “world ending” part, and when I’m in a worse space I’m more worried about my own complicity in it.”

    Guilt presupposes that choice exists (bringing up free will isn’t even necessary).
    You didn’t choose to live the life of Scott Aarsonson (vs the trillions of trillions of consciousness nodes in the known universe, past and future), you didn’t choose your family, your DNA, your brain, the connections in your brain (past or current, whatever you do is the result of the connections in your brain, which we don’t control in any conceivable way), and you didn’t choose the world you were born in, and of course you didn’t choose to be worried about guilt or not… guilt is really the privilege of Gods.
    So, if you’re hardly responsible for the state you’re in, what is guilt besides an illusion? And is that illusion even that useful?
    Do you think that guilt is a better state than, say, being calm and somewhat detached?
    Maybe you would like to get rid of your guilt, but feel guilty about *that* too?
    One can’t feel guilty about having no guilt, and no guilt doesn’t mean being irresponsible, apathetic, or a nihilist either, it’s just about not getting trapped in poor mental states.
    The secret is that having no guilt is just as easy as worrying about it.
    (btw, it’s true about any mental state – you can actually go from being in a foul mood to feeling happy by just bringing a smile to your face, and thinking about the ones you love, and all you can be grateful about. We all know this.. how easy is it to feel great, and then something minor happens and suddenly we’re feeling shitty? The same can happen in reverse).
    Even if we’re not guilty, there could still be the worry about not “taking” the optimal path… i.e. what should we do or say to make sure the future of the USA is as good as possible?
    The idea is not to give up on making an apparent meaningful effort to simulate the possible futures, but to recognize that there’s only so much we can do about it, that past a certain point it becomes unproductive, a total waste of mental cycles – and remember that everyone else you’re dealing with are also struggling with the same bad mental states! (don’t assume you’re the only one dealing with this). So what are the odds you can really control things beyond being a better father/husband/teacher, i.e. focus on your immediate family and friends? (if everyone was doing that, it would eventually radiate to the whole planet).

    You need to learn to step back from your own mind processes, and see that there’s an infinite source of strength and wisdom beyond them. Use this to pause, relax, and regroup.

    Ideas propagate in space and time, and they just land in our laps, like seeds, and they either change us or don’t (the seed blooms into a tree or doesn’t). If we’re lucky enough to be an open minded person (and cultivate this) it means we have within ourselves some capacity to receive new ideas that are in line with our personality and can let them change us for the better. So even if we don’t have any real choice, we can still grow.
    Or if you’re more pragmatic, we all know that we can exercise our body to improve its function. The same can be done with our mind. Over thousands of years techniques have been developed to make our own mind stronger, healthier, more resilient.

  81. atreat Says:

    Scott #77,

    “Of course the question arises of whether all this is just my own idiosyncratic hangup, or whether it reflects any broader psychological truth.”

    I assure you it is the former. Donald Trump and the vast majority of his supporters are not burdened by your hangups. They do not have your introspective conscience or your – paralyzing at times – sense of guilt. It is a category error to think your experiences and feelings necessarily lend color to what animates them.

    Think of it this way… you are essentially saying a large animating point of the right is a *reaction* to guilty feelings the left exposes them to. This is just fundamentally incorrect. If they are *reacting* to anything it is the perceived threat of their tribe losing power and privilege. It’s not as if were the left to stop making them feel guilty that they’d be more willing to let their tribe give up power and privilege. Moreover, they don’t feel guilty in the first place! It is the correct way of the world for their tribe to have this power and privilege and for the other tribes to either deal with it or face push back in whatever means are necessary.

    This really can’t be emphasized enough: It’s not as if were the left to stop making them feel guilty that they’d be more willing to let their tribe give up power and privilege. Full stop.

    Understand… they see in Donald Trump someone like them who belongs to their tribe. He’s convinced them that he’ll take their side against the perceived enemy tribes and they love him for it. They’re willing to excuse him most anything and most anything he does can be justified by sheer force of the fact that their tribe really does deserve all that power and privilege as a birth right and if the other side tries to take it away they should be dealt with by any means necessary.

  82. atreat Says:

    BTW, if any of the above reminds you of a large portion of German citizenship circa pre-World War II … well …

  83. fred Says:

    “Quantum computers don’t solve all search problems exponentially faster.”

    but is it more like

    “Quantum computers solves 0.00001% of all search problems exponentially faster.”


    “Quantum computers solves 0.999999% of all search problems exponentially faster.”

  84. funwiththoughts Says:


    Scott, the reason you have those associations is because you think of the left as your side. It’s a natural human instinct to think of your tribe losing to an enemy tribe as an apocalyptic catastrophe; it’s equally natural to be terrified of your tribe seeing you as a bad person while not caring about or even taking pride in being seen as a bad person by the enemy tribe. If you identified as a right-winger, you’d feel the exact opposite way.

  85. Nick Says:

    Scott #77

    For what it’s worth, I’m not interested in you or anyone else being burdened with feelings of guilt. It’s not good for you personally, and it definitely doesn’t do any good for anyone else. I don’t get my jollies from white guilt. I also don’t experience any.

    So to whatever extent the guilt you’re feeling is driven by the rational part of your brain, and to whatever extent I speak for the left, I do hereby declare that you are free to not feel guilty. In fact, let me make that stronger: Stop feeling that guilt! Stop right now! It’s worse than useless!

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that those guilty feelings are also driven by parts of your brain that are not rational. To whatever extent that is the case, you have my sympathies, because I am well familiar with how unpleasant that can be. But to that same extent, you shouldn’t project those irrational guilty feelings back out onto “the far left”. (But also, don’t feel guilty about having done so — see the preceding paragraph!)

    As atreat #75 mentioned, the real problem is not with people feeling guilty about these long-standing issues when they needn’t; it’s that there are still lots of people who think that there is no problem at all. My hope was that the George Floyd murder would provide a moment in which people who had gotten ginned up about Colin Kaepernick might stop and think “Gee whiz, maybe there’s something to what he was saying after all.” As awful as the murder was, it was an opportunity to share in some common knowledge, as in: we know that it was wrong, and we all know that we all know that it was wrong, and so on.

    In my personal life, I encouraged friends of mine to speak with anti-Kaepernick family members in the hopes of getting them to change their minds. Even with that very low bar, none of them have been successful, and it might never happen. I thought that keeping the focus narrowly centered around a small set of names (George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, Colin Kaepernick) would allow such people to come to grips with reality in a smooth fashion. I still think there’s a way to make that happen, but I am less hopeful now.

    So what’s the alternative? What is the right kind of message that will change their minds? Has anyone here actually succeeded in doing that?

    In any case, I donated $100 to Biden-Harris.

  86. JimV Says:

    Thanks for the link. I donated twice my regular amount, once for me, and once for you, so I’m not going to tell you the amount–it’s already paid off.

  87. Scott Says:

    atreat #81: Yes, that’s the simple answer—Trump’s voters just want to preserve the power of their tribe—and it’s the answer I would’ve given for most of the past 5 years. And it’s undoubtedly true for a segment of his voters. For that matter, there’s another segment of his voters—numerically, possibly the largest cohesive segment—that just wants justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, for whom that one issue overrides everything else. And then there’s a segment that just wants to see the world burn, a segment that (still) mistakenly thinks he’s wonderful for the economy, etc.

    But if I’ve learned anything from the movies, 🙂 it’s that to defeat an enemy you first need to exert enormous mental effort to think like that enemy. In this case, that means getting beyond the understanding of Trump’s supporters as a horde of orcs, marching in lockstep to a beat that’s totally incomprehensible to any sane or rational or empathetic person—even if that understanding has something to be said for it! It means struggling for a deeper level of analysis: what, in different circumstances, could’ve made me vote for Trump? Solzhenitsyn wrote that the line between good and evil cuts through every human heart, so is there a part even of me that hears this reptilian rhythm?

    When I try my hardest to engage in that analysis, I think about the crippling fear of being called a racist or a sexist, which is commingled with the fear of actually being a racist or a sexist. I think about the whole ideological superstructure that’s arisen on the Left, throughout my life but especially over the last decade, to say:

      “You racist, you sexist, you fascist. We see right through your ‘moderate,’ ‘Enlightenment liberal’ mask, to the 19th-century caliper-wielding eugenicist who hides behind it. We see past your feminist platitudes; we know that in your heart of hearts you lust for women as sexual playthings. Don’t imagine for a second that you can ever absolve yourself by voting for Democrats, or donating to Democrats, or reading Dr. King, or cheering the removal of Confederate statues, or being ‘nice’ to whatever women and minorities you meet. We’re onto you. Your silence is violence. We represent the future, the right side of history, and we’d much rather that you were never born.”

    I then think about what a relief it can be to see someone who not only refuses to cower before this ideology, but actually ridicules it, rejects it wholesale. And then for a fleeting moment I understand … before I’m brought back to my senses by contemplating the vast damage Trump inflicts on everything I care about in the external world.

    On reflection, it was wrong of me to suggest that the mindset I’ve described characterizes all or even most Trump supporters. On the other hand, even if it characterizes only 5% of them, in a close election that could easily be decisive. And I had to go pretty deep into the underworld of my psyche to collect this information, and I’m now offering it to my fellow anti-Trump forces to use as they will. 😀

  88. James Graber Says:

    Fred #83
    I strongly endorse your comment!. I don’t know about mottos (that’s up to Scott), but your question, in general, is what really drives me crazy.
    Thanks for asking.
    Jim Graber

  89. Elizabeth Says:

    Telling people that their natural feelings are forbidden and deplorable is a kind of gaslighting.  Some may react to this by feeling guilty, others may get angry or question their sanity, but everyone who is being gaslit is relieved to find an authority figure who calls out those aspects of reality for what they really are.  It’s amazing how refreshing it is to have the authorities repeat back to us what we already strongly believe to be true. 
    So another way of analyzing Trump’s popularity with his base is not that he primarily eases guilt by embodying coarse traits (though this is a common function in society and is a large part of what reality TV is for), but that he voices popular positions on issues we are otherwise universally gaslit about.  Two big examples from 2016 that are unrelated to identity politics are calling out the bias in the news media, and acknowledging that there are downsides of unrestricted immigration and global trade.  

    One simple thing Joe Biden could do, which would instantly make me and likely many others consider voting for him, would be to stand up to the news media for all the lying they’ve done this summer (e.g. pushing covid lockdowns and election year race riots at the same time).   I don’t think Biden has it in him (the media lied a lot to help him in the primary, he is part of their establishment), but I am hopeful for both parties to stand up to the media by 2024 (since the majority of the population distrusts them anyway).  I don’t think we can get back to sane political discourse without bringing back legislation like the FCC fairness doctrine.

  90. Scott Says:

    Elizabeth #89: I’d also support the return of the FCC fairness doctrine! Although would you be OK if such a doctrine led to the demise of Fox News in its current form?

    And I was also upset about the public health experts saying that weddings, funerals, etc. are still forbidden but mass protests are fine, since “racism is a public health emergency.” It’s like, OK, that’s one consistent value system, that BLM is sufficiently important that it overrides all the general recommendations they made the week prior. But are they blind? Couldn’t they see how predictably it would backfire, and cause a total collapse of trust in their (extremely important) medical advice, among all the people who don’t share that value system?

  91. Harold Gabow Says:

    donation of $100 to Biden-Harris and $100 to Lincoln Project. Thanks for the offer and the great thoughts.

  92. atreat Says:

    Elizabeth, Scott…

    People have complained about media bias since like literally the founding of the republic. You all act as if it has been some unacknowledged big secret that journalists have biases. Good ones acknowledge bias and try hard to be open minded and report the facts. Others say hell, since everyone is biased I may as well be really biased in the opposite way. This logic is akin to saying, “Hell, if I wipe my ass it’ll just get dirty later anyway so I’ll just stop wiping it!”

    Speaking of gaslighting and holding up Trump as a speaker of truth is really very fucking rich. So much so that I question either your good faith or your intelligence. Really, holding Donald fucking Trump as someone who “tells it like it is!” might be one of the most amazing BIG LIES I’ve seen on here. This is where Idiocracy comes into play.

    One thing I guess Trump *does do* is validate a lot of white people’s racial resentment. That they are being lied to by society/culture telling them they are wrong to think that black and brown people and their culture isn’t really just inferior. That the reason brown people don’t do as well in society has more to say about brown people’s genetic and cultural makeup and much less to do with white people oppressing them. Lots and lots of Trump supporters believe this deep deep down. It is true that Trump tells them they are correct to think this way. And when society/media/liberals tell them that this actually is racist thinking full of racial resentment they think they are being gaslit. I totally buy that.

  93. atreat Says:


    “And I was also upset about the public health experts saying that weddings, funerals, etc. are still forbidden but mass protests are fine, since “racism is a public health emergency.””

    Can you please point to a public health expert who said this? I did hear a lot of this sentiment from protesters, but where did the people in positions of power (ie, government, CDC, administration) or the journalists (not opinionistas) with a huge megaphone?

  94. concerned sneerclubber Says:

    Alright Scott. From now on, in the name of the Sneer Club, I hereby absolute you and officially declare you *not racist* and *not sexist*. You may now stop worrying about the left and carry on with your activities.

  95. atreat Says:

    BTW, there is a big fucking difference between a group protesting during a pandemic with justification saying, “We acknowledge the valid medical risks to ourselves and society, but think this issue is important enough to continue” and another group saying, “there really is no medical risk and covid is just a scam and a big liberal conspiracy and we protest in order to own the libs and their lying conspiracy!”

  96. ak Says:

    I agree with the general sentiment about the upcoming US election, and much else in this thread and elsewhere on this blog (big fan in general, btw). However, I think the tendency to attribute negative motives to Trump supporters compounds the problem. This is the case even if the attribution of motive actually is correct (I mean “motive” in a broad sense, including attributions of bad reasoning, etc. etc.). Whether or not one can be moral and still support Trump, we ought to treat Trump supporters as though they are – just as we ought to treat any political opponent. Even if they don’t deserve it, it shows proper values, and it is more fruitful (at least in my experience). If the war can be wound down peacefully, this is the best path to that outcome. Being correct is only half the battle; having good faith in debate and conversation is a big part of the other half.

    In short, I’m calling to extend the “normal” Liberal political discourse (unfortunately, Liberal discourse was never the standard, and I do think that relates to the sickness of which Trump is a symptom), even when dealing with a movement that is far from normal.

  97. Scott Says:

    atreat #93:

      Can you please point to a public health expert who said this?

    Alas, I can point to more than a thousand of them.

  98. Scott Says:

    concerned sneerclubber #94:

      Alright Scott. From now on, in the name of the Sneer Club, I hereby absolute you and officially declare you *not racist* and *not sexist*. You may now stop worrying about the left and carry on with your activities.

    Whoa! Do your fellow SneerClubbers back you up on that? If they do, then this is surely one of the biggest days of my life, and I should add “Certified non-sexist and non-racist by SneerClub, September 2020” to the header of this blog… 🙂

  99. atreat Says:


    From your link and quoting the letter, ‘”Prepare for an increased number of infections in the days following a protest,” the letter says. “Provide increased access to testing and care for people in the affected communities, especially when they or their family members put themselves at risk by attending protests.”‘

    Looks to me like they acknowledge the risk. You might think it a bullshit opinion to think the risk is worth it… and frankly I have my doubts as well considering not much has actually changed. But to acknowledge the risk and say it is worth it is a far cry from holding a protest specifically dedicated to saying that covid is a conspiracy and to rally in order to ‘own the libs.’

  100. Elizabeth Says:

    @Scott #90: I’m glad we agree about the FCC fairness doctrine!  It wasn’t perfect, and the news back then wasn’t as profitable, entertaining, or plentiful, but it’s amazing how strict and effective it was across many decades.  Listen to how quaint this sounds from Wikipedia: “The “personal attack” rule applied whenever a person (or small group) was subject to a personal attack during a broadcast. Stations had to notify such persons (or groups) within a week of the attack, send them transcripts of what was said and offer the opportunity to respond on-the-air.”   A week!  The whole wiki article is a breath of fresh, sane air. And yes, I am completely in favor of defunding and abolishing Fox News; if democracy / mass voting is going to work then we need to maximize information and minimize disinformation and partisan propaganda from all sources.  

    I think there is a direct causal connection between the end of the fairness doctrine in the late 80s and our current political moment, but it is obscured by a generational lag.  Immediately after the fairness era ended we got the rise of Rush Limbaugh; the WSJ wrote “Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the Fairness Doctrine) in 1987 … and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination.”  Fox News launched in 1996.  When I think back to this time, I was already aware as a child that the right had these red-faced blowhards playing loose with the facts, spinning endless Clinton conspiracies, etc.  Then Fox News really came of age in W’s administration, providing propaganda for the various wars.  The point is that a generation grew up watching these overtly biased right-wing news platforms lie constantly and contribute to the decline of the country, with nothing remotely comparable on the left.  
    But that changed in the early 2010s when this generation entered the workforce.  They started writing articles for the New York Times and bombarding us with left wing political bias, intersectionality, etc.  Presenting personal biases is what they think journalism is, in part because they were born post-fairness doctrine.  So we’re in a transition period where left-wing journalism has arguably become just as blatant and harmful as Fox News was in the 90s, but it’s so recent (accelerating in the last 5 years) that many classical liberals stand by their past impressions of institutions like NYT as credible.  This falls under the general phenomenon of kids growing up before we know it; we tend to underestimate the magnitude of social change due to generational replacement.   So in conclusion, the Republicans absolutely started it but both parties are now pumping out propaganda disguised as news, and we need legislation to bring them all back into a mode that prioritizes informing people instead of profits.  

  101. Scott Says:

    atreat #99: I wasn’t suggesting any sort of moral equivalence between the BLM protests (or the public health officials who supported them) and the Covid-is-a-hoax protests. (Sorry, I would’ve thought that went without saying.) And of course, the risk of protesting is somewhat mitigated by its being outdoors, more so if people wear masks.

    I think the central mistake the health officials made was not to enforce a clear separation between their public health advice (which should’ve been rigorously viewpoint-neutral) and their political leanings, the latter of which could legitimately cause them to advocate different tradeoffs than someone else. Instead, they issued a statement that hopelessly mixed the two together.

  102. atreat Says:

    Scott #101,

    Yes, it went without saying have no doubt. I know you have no such moral equivalence. But I do see that exact equivalence being passed around on the right and in other circles. That protesting covid restrictions as a hoax and BLM protests are the same wrt to the inanity of protesting during a pandemic.

    “I think the central mistake the health officials made was not to enforce a clear separation between their public health advice (which should’ve been rigorously viewpoint-neutral) and their political leanings, the latter of which could legitimately cause them to advocate different tradeoffs than someone else. Instead, they issued a statement that hopelessly mixed the two together.”

    This is an excellent point. However, the health officials also do have an important point re: the very real public health effects of systematic racism. I do think you have the better argument ie, it being too confusing for the majority to digest when discussed together like this.

    But I want to point out that your fear that this further caused distrust of public health officials by the right is unwarranted. Simply put, those people predisposed to think that covid is a conspiracy are not going to listen to public health officials. They are too far gone. It is similar to the CDC datum that 6% of the ~180,000 deaths were not listed with any comorbidities being amplified right now on the right as evidence that only ten thousand or so people have died from covid.

  103. Scott Says:

    For later reference, so far I count:

    $716 for Biden-Harris
    $200 for Lincoln Project

    (Where I split donations equally when people didn’t specify which one.)

    I’ll end this drive and match the donations on Thursday evening, or when the total reaches $2000.

    Thanks so much to everyone for donating!

  104. Boaz Barak Says:

    Another $50.

    Scott, I respect you greatly but I hope you take no offense when I say that I think you are about as likely to discover the master key to understand the US electorate as Nate Silver is likely to find a quantum polynomial time algorithm for the learning with errors problem 🙂

    (Not that I claim any better understanding and so I just try to follow what I think is right and not what I imagine will impact potential Trump voters one way or the other. Frankly, if Trump’s own actions hadn’t convinced a person not to vote for him then I doubt anything I do that will make any difference, and I’m not going to waste energy on this.)

  105. Cactus Says:

    Scott, I greatly respect your work and I think your posts have shown you to be a caring and thoughtful person. I think that if you feel personal guilt for racism or sexism, you are being very hard on yourself, and I think you deserve understanding. I am saddened that there are people out there who would bully you for it. As someone on the left, I don’t recognise “The Left” you describe.

    I don’t think I can make a convincing argument from first principles that there’s more to it than SJWs and antifa, because, well, I don’t think a blog post is going to stand up against your lived experiences.

    If you want to see the left as I see it, I would recommend giving PhilosophyTube and/or Innuendo Studios a watch on YouTube. Both make thoughtful, reasonable, compassionate videos. One in particular that is relevant to this discussion is PhilosophyTube’s Why the Left Will Win.

    Once again, I wish you all the best.

  106. anonymous Says:

    I think it’s becoming quite clear that the election results will be landslide Trump victory in the first day, followed by increasingly Biden favored mail in results, ending with possibly a Biden win. Will Trump and his followers accept such a lose? They would probably claim the mail in ballots were faked and they would dispute the updated results, after they would probably claim victory before all the results are in. It’s not clear in this case who is the real winner.

  107. Scott Says:

    anonymous #106: Yes, that’s precisely the worry. Though the word “worry” seems inadequate here—rather, November 3 feels more and more like a horribleness singularity; you feel queasy even trying to gaze through to the other side.

  108. fred Says:

    “They think Covid is a hoax!”
    was a valid argument earlier this year, but it’s been quite a while now that things have shifted to
    “Is it worth to protest even if it could increase covid infection rates?”
    “Is it worth to reopen the economy even if it could increase the covid infection rates?”.

    It’d be as if someone would constantly bring up that Biden is against busing… oh, wait…

  109. atreat Says:

    Scott, Anonymous,

    “Yes, that’s precisely the worry. Though the word “worry” seems inadequate here—rather, November 3 feels more and more like a horribleness singularity; you feel queasy even trying to gaze through to the other side.”

    Nail on the head.

    Although I still don’t know what the endgame is. Short of the Supreme Court stepping in and ruling for a Trump win I don’t see how he keeps the presidency even if he causes mass chaos and violence erupts in every major city with open gunfire.

    I think he must be banking on the Supreme Court stepping in and ruling that the outstanding mail ballots can no longer be counted sort of like it did in Bush v Gore. But that’s just not going to happen and the majority in this country will not accept it.

  110. fred Says:

    FYI, this was NYC throughout Summer:

    then, how can we you explain this:

    Here’s how: herd immunity.
    According to antibody testing, at least 25% of the NYC population got covid. On top of that there’s also a large portion of people who don’t produce antibodies when in contact with covid (but their immune system uses t-cells, etc).

  111. fred Says:

    Another interesting situation is France, how do you explain it?

    Current rate of infection is worse than in March/April:

    Death rates staying incredibly low compared to March/April levels:

  112. L. Legpuller Says:

    Reader here. I donated $250 to Biden-Harris.

  113. atreat Says:

    Fred #110,

    I honestly don’t know what you are trying to say or what your thesis is. Best I can work out it is something like, “Don’t tar the right as covid deniers/hoaxers as that might have been true in March, but since then the right has taken a more nuanced approach that acknowledges science and the toll of covid, but feels the toll is worth it compared to the toll of mitigation efforts like keeping schools closed.”

    Is that what you are trying to say? If so, it is complete and utter bullshit. Right now, the current meme de jour on the right that is exploding through Fox News, right wing twitter sphere, echoed by Trump himself, confirmed by his press secretary, celebrated and passed on by his kids, and sitting Republican senator fighting for her reelection is this: that the covid death toll of 180,000 Americans is a hoax and that in fact only 10,000 Americans or so have *actually* died from covid. This is of course absurd and a complete and total GRAND LIE. As anyone who is even slightly paying attention can see.

    Of course, you could say that perhaps all these people lack the IQ to understand that just becomes only 6% of covid deaths did not list any comorbidities that this does not mean that only 6% died from covid. But no, maybe that is true *for some* of the right, but not all of them and certainly not true for Trump or the Senator or his spokespeople or his kids or Fox News or all of the right wing twitter sphere. No, they are gaslighting there gullible supporters and they are buying it.

    So don’t tell me that it is out of bounds to say that the right is still calling covid a hoax when in fact the right is currently shouting that with bullhorns galore.

  114. atreat Says:


    BTW, my mom died of a flu virus she caught on or within a day of my birthday. Eleven days later she was dead. She was completely healthy with no underlying conditions. Her death certificate does not list flu as even a comorbidity but rather something about cardiac arrest with respiratory failure.

    According to this disgusting President, his administration, his lackeys at Fox News, his kids, his twittersphere supporters and a sitting R senator fighting for her reelection, I’m *lying* when I tell people she died from the flu and a libtard hoaxer trying to perpetuate a myth.

  115. Ethan Says:

    fred #111

    The situation in France is what has been observed in most countries experiencing a so called “second wave”, including the United States. A few weeks ago I saw on TV a Harvard affiliated expert in public health who gave very reasonable explanations:

    1- Expanded testing capabilities reaching people with low probability of developing the deadly phase of the disease. When the first wave happened, most positive cases came from people who were sick and either called their doctor with symptoms or went to the ER. Clearly the so called infection to fatality rate among this latter group must be necessarily higher than among a people who are tested with current protocols.

    2- Better treatments. We now have two drugs shown to improve chance of surviving the deadly phase of the disease and probably there is even better data as to what kind of co-morbidity is correlated with triggering said phase.

    3- Related to 1- . We have enough data to conclude that for people younger than 30 covid19 is largely a non issue, check . So in a situation where more people younger than 30 are tested positive and included in the number of “daily cases”, you’d expect a lower death rate overall.

    In general, something like what we lived in March/April only takes you by surprise once in a generation. People living in the Western world lacked memories of things like this ever happening during their lifetimes. I have noticed that in most Western countries, the past experience of the epidemiology experts advising their governments was in helping containing epidemics in the developing world, not in the first world. Now the West has enough information and experience to be able to better handle the pandemic.

    That’s why I am generally optimistic that the worst of the covid19 epidemic is behind us.

  116. Randall K McRee Says:

    $50 for Biden-Harris (or as I like to say Harris-Biden).

    Personally, I think equating the NYT to FoxNews as somehow equivalent is utter nonsense. Am I wrong? Are there supposedly factual pieces in NYT (not op-ed) that are as bad as the crap I see from Fox??

    Also, several folks on here claimed that Biden is corrupt, as was Hillary. Really? Where is actual proof of that? I have plenty for Trump as I actually read and think for myself for the past, oh, three years. The only Biden “corruption” I can think of is some changed opinions from him over the years. I wouldn’t call that corruption, anyone that doesn’t update their internal and external policy over the timeframe that he has been around is not responding to real events. Would that anyone back in 1990 could have foreseen today’s reality! That would be super-oracle!

  117. James Cross Says:

    $50 + 10% tip = $55

    To Biden-Harris

    I hope you don’t regret making the matching offer. I was thinking of donating more anyway but you’re offer prompted me to actually do it.

  118. fred Says:

    Ethan #115

    “That’s why I am generally optimistic that the worst of the covid19 epidemic is behind us.”

    That’s my I hope too.
    But then there’s always the possibility of the virus becoming more aggressive because of mutations (but it can go both ways, it could become less deadly, which is what must have eventually happened with the 1918 pandemic).

    India, Brazil and Mexico are still a concern:

    When it comes to the USA, the number of deaths/capita is still below Sweden, Italy, UK, Spain, Belgium:

    (sorry for anyone who thinks the USA should be doing better than this… maybe you should reconsider your fantasy of American Exceptionalism, at the very least when it comes to pandemics. It’s not surprising that a country as diverse, big, and open as the US wouldn’t be able to just solve it all within a couple of months – something that no other Western country has been able to do either… but if China is your benchmark, sure).

  119. Scott Says:

    Boaz Barak #104: Thanks for the donation!

      Scott, I respect you greatly but I hope you take no offense when I say that I think you are about as likely to discover the master key to understand the US electorate as Nate Silver is likely to find a quantum polynomial time algorithm for the learning with errors problem

    Would Nate Silver himself agree with that assessment? 🙂

    Besides the obvious asymmetry that it’s easier for a theoretical computer scientist to understand the political news than for a political pundit to understand the STOC proceedings—well, Nate Silver seems like a smart guy who could definitely learn quantum algorithms if he wanted to! (Incidentally, LWE∈BQP is not something I ever worked on myself, or plan to…)

  120. Andy Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I agree with your premise that the moral imperative of the Democrats (or, more precisely, of a loud SJW minority within their ranks) will win Trump the election. Where I differ with you, is that that I believe Trump to be a lesser evil than Biden:

    1. The COVID ship has sailed. While / Because Trump completely blew the initial response in the U.S., recent statistical evidence strongly suggests that the spread of the disease among people under 40–i.e., the group practically unaffected by it and with the most social interactions–has already progressed far enough that a slowdown due to “herd immunity” is starting to take effect. Also, with high-risk patients now better protected, the election outcome will likely not affect the course of the pandemic.

    2. Trump’s foreign policy addresses many issues willingly ignored by Obama (and the EU countries): recognizing the CCP as the modern enemy of mankind; putting pressure on the regime in Tehran; strengthening ties with Israel; pressuring Europe to take their own defense more seriously, … Of course, disregarding all diplomatic courtesy, he may not be managing these issues effectively, but I am glad that someone finally is – under Biden of course, expect everything to be swept under the rug again.

    3. Neither Republican nor Democratic fiscal policies are adequate; the former fosters inequality, the latter inefficiency. Having lived in Germany for a number of years and seen to what insane proportions state organs grow under a ~50% tax rate, I (bitterly) choose inequality.

    4. Most importantly: Biden will increase the divide in U.S. society more than Trump: First, he is not a unifying figure. Second, his party is now prisoner to SJW doctrine. What do you think will happen when an African American is shot under Biden? The SJWs will deem that the revolution has not progressed far enough–there is still an “old white male” at the top–and radicalize themselves further, the Democratic party along with them. I honestly believe that, although vanishingly small, the chance for a unifying grassroots movement in society is larger under Trump than under Biden.

  121. fred Says:

    Maybe not as exciting as QC, but on the classical computing side, thanks to ever increasing parallelism, this is a fresh demo of real-time ray tracing on the new NVidia GPU generation (RTX 30×0):

  122. murmur Says:

    Scott, please relax, the world is not coming to an end. The COVID situation is bad but it’ll improve. Most people in the world live in far worse conditions than COVID-era US. Please have some perspective.

    I’ve been following your blog for the past ten years. You were always convinced that the world is coming to an end. Since Trump got elected your despair knew no bound. Even though there was nothing much to despair about pre-COVID.

    I always wondered why you did that since you had a privileged lifestyle for your entire life (at least economically speaking). I wonder if your perspective would have changed if you ever had to face real poverty.

  123. OhMyGoodnessIRealizeIAmAnIdiot Says:

    Reading through this thread has been quite shocking. The demonization and the fundamental misunderstanding of support for Trump is astounding. The attribution to Trump manipulation to explain his support is stupefying. I am running out of intensifiers so let me provide an apparent secret to the posters here. Trumps’s support is fundamentally a result of hate for you, the condescending self proclaimed intelligentsia who believe they have some sort of omniscient understanding and moral oversight. Maybe you don’t realize that Trump won in 2600 US counties compared to Hillary’s 500 counties. To characterize that as a result of Trump’s immoral machinations or Russia’s devious internet manipulations is absurd. They hate you because they work hard to provide for a family, don’t run foul of the law, and see your moral proclamations as demeaning nonsense.

    How is it objectively possible for the self indulged intellectual and cosmopolitan urban centers to possibly survive without the decried racist sexist untermenschen rust belters providing food and electricity to their urban and urbane betters. If you consider practically a real social divide in the US then you will quickly realize the metropolitan centers have no chance of winning a true struggle against the majority of the US without access to the legal enforcement apparatuses of the US government. If you choose the path of demonization and unfounded belittlement then be sure you have firm control of those governmental levers of power to be used actively against your political opponents.

    After reading these posts I intend to donate to Trump Pence just so that I never consider that I bowed to a simple ideology that effectively criminalizes those that obey the law of the land and do not acquiesce to the claim that the US is fundamentally flawed by virtue of a fundamentally racist and ignorant citizenry. The average rural citizen you ridicule has a well developed sense of fair play and opposes victimization of the blameless. This visceral sense of fair play is something your ideology will never acknowledge nor even understand. That is why they hate you and will vote for Trump. It has nothing to do with chicanery nor racism-just hate for the absurd characterizations that are applied by their proclaimed betters.

  124. Boaz Barak Says:

    Scott #119 – Well maybe you and I both agree that that the probabilities of these two events are close to the same number, we just don’t agree what this number is 🙂

    Anyway, good luck to us all, and if Trump wins, just hide your college degree – you’ll be very safe without it:

  125. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodnessIRealizeIAmAnIdiot #123: If you could stop raging for one second, you might notice that I was making much the same substantive point as you were, though from a different ideological frame of reference!

    Also, it was this thread that caused you to realize that the country is now polarized almost to the point of civil war? Have you been, like, marooned on an island for 5 years?

  126. Scott Says:

    murmur #122: It didn’t look like the world was coming to an end for the Native Americans in 1520, or the Jews of Europe in 1935. Worlds never end, civilizations never fall, populations never get wiped out until they do. Will you at least agree that, if someone is congenitally predisposed to worry about the next end of the world, then maybe, just maybe, 2020 is not the ideal year to try to convince them it’s all in their head? 🙂

  127. atreat Says:

    OhMyGoodnessIRealizeIAmAnIdiot #123,

    “Trumps’s support is fundamentally a result of hate for you…”

    Yep, that sums it up and confirms everything you so vehemently deny.

  128. Nilima Says:

    Much ink has been spilt regarding the different factual universes inhabited by the American Right and Left.

    The demonization of one’s political opponents is, I’m told, a recurring theme in American history as well.

    Nonetheless, this upcoming election is frightening to those of us around the globe who admire the notion of democratic elections and peaceful transitions of power. If both sides have an active existential fear for their survival around the other party winning – what does the day after an election look like? Does this fear go away?

    If you support Trump, what do you say to those who who fervently believe he’s going to unleash the far-right nuts, anti-science-whackos and women-hating gun-crazies? And in the same vein, if you support Biden, what do you say to those who fervently believe he’s going to unleash raving immigrants and colored people in neighbourhoods, take away all guns, and yank babies out of uteruses?

    What can be said to tone down the temperature without diminishing the seriousness of the actual, real concerns?

    And if you’re like me (or many like me) who deeply mistrust any fervent belief which is immune to new information, and yet can categorically affirm violence is unacceptable and silencing legally-protected speech is wrong- what does November 4th look like?
    Paraphrasing Scott’s motto, no matter who wins, the center is getting squished. (I miss the other Scott’s blog, because that’s a rational haven that we sure could use.)

    Civility in political discourse seems like an archaic, almost arcane concept now. But there is much utilitarian merit to it, particularly in a democracy. Would be sad to see your democratic experiment fail.

  129. tue rindom Says:

    Steve Keen has a new paper out – read it and despair:

    “The appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change”

    Both the left and the right in the United States subscribe to the same tenets of modern neoclassical economics.

    Modern economics make us wage war on the biosphere.

    Are humans smarter than yeast?

  130. Gary Savage Says:


    the extreme left can only convince you that it’s your fault because you yourself seem to be left leaning.
    no one the center or the right fears moral judgement from sneer club or similar woke places, they have no credibility.

    The right shares your fear for the physical safety of our communities caused by the looting and quotes like

    “Just as Jews were in 1965, Koreans in 1992 were ‘on the front-line of the confrontation between capital and the residents of central LA—they are the face of capital for these communities.”

    sound almost like a rediscovery of national socialism.

  131. murmur Says:

    Scott #126: You again descend into hyperbole. This pandemic is bad but the world has seen far worse. We’ll most likely find a vaccine in 2021 and life will go on.

    Undoubtedly, horrible things had befallen Jews and other population groups in the past but in the grand scale the world has become much better and safer in the last few centuries. You ignore all that evidence. You’re like someone who’s afraid of planes and wouldn’t listen to any evidence of how safe air travel is.

  132. I Says:

    Scott, sorry to interrupt your stimulating discussion. But there’s this interesting problem that needs answering and maybe you might have some thoughts on it. Suppose you have a second order differential equation
    $$ y_0” + Q y_0=0 $$
    and you solve it for \(y_0\). Then you replace Q with \(y_0\) and solve the equation
    More generally, solve
    $$y_{n+1}”+y_{n} y_{n+1}=0$$
    What is the complexity class of this task given any Q? What’s the complexity of finding \(lim_{n\to \infty} y_n\) when it exists?

  133. OhMyGoodnes... Says:

    Scott #125

    I did realize it and appreciated your post. My comments were in regard to the usual elitist tropes I read in response to your post.

    My point on civil war was that the left holds a weak position for civil war without control of law enforcement and so the defund the police movement is weakening their most vital agency of support. If left to decision by the citizenry itself, by whatever means available, the city-states are in an untenable position do to concentration of population and vast support requirements. The population outside the cities is better armed and generally has more experience with weapons of various sorts. The population outside the cities are the means of support that the cities require. Open armed conflict is a non starter for the Left that vitally requires the support law enforcement and threat of the courts to be used against their opponents. In the case of some scheme of geographic segregation again you are left with isolated city states requiring vast support from their opponents.

    atreat #127
    I looked through my post and am unable to identify my fervent denials. I made statements i believe to be true. You are of course absolutely free to interpret them as you see fit.

  134. OhMyGoodnes... Says:

    For reference here is a map of the last election results by county-

    Looking at the idea of civil war practically, I am unable to see how it could possibly be good for the Left.

    The Governor of Oregon is already unable to receive the support of Sherrifs of the adjoining counties to Portland to participate in law enforcement activities in the city.

    Harris apparently has no clue if she thought her threat to hunt down political opponents would be effective. One of the strongly held belifs of much of the country is too strongly oppose those making threats of this sort

  135. Boaz Barak Says:

    OhMyGoodness… you can draw all the maps you want but it won’t change the fact that 2.9 million more people voted for Clinton than for Trump.

    I am not saying that residents of coastal cities are worth more than residents of rural towns, but they are not worth less either. Is the belief that one person = one vote considered elitist?

    You can also take a breath. We are not talking about civil war. The vast majority of democratic voters just want Biden to be elected, restore some normalcy and decency in government, and return to the center-left path of the Obama-Biden years. Is tackling climate change and reducing income and health-care inequalities that scary?

  136. Jonathan Paulson Says:

    Donated $200 to Biden-Harris.

    I’m more optimistic than you. Biden has been willing to distance from the online Left (arguably it’s what won him the primary), including denouncing riots/violence (e.g.

  137. Scott Says:

    I #132: Sorry, I’ve barely touched a differential equation since undergrad. What’s the input to your problem—just Q? Specified how—as a closed-form function of some sort? Likewise, in what format do you want the output—a closed-form expression? Evaluations at particular points? Do you have any examples of inputs where iterating your rule leads to chaotic behavior, or any other reasons to think the complexity would be large?

  138. Joshua B Zelinsky Says:

    OhMyGoodness #134,

    Do you have any explanation for why you think the total landmass should matter for deciding elections. If the US annexed the moon and had a state there, should that state then decide election results because its total area was larger than the rest of the country? If not, then how is that map relevant to anything?

  139. OhMyGoodness.... Says:

    Boaz #135

    I understand that the Left is not a monolithic entity as I understand the Right is not a monolithic entity. I personally do not fit what is typically considered a Republican nor a conservative. I have my own set of political and social beliefs that I consider logically consistent and reality based. I personally see what I consider logical inconsistencies on both sides. I cannot understand how widespread ideologies took hold that have poor consistency and seem to be a hodge podge of ideas that must have just arisen as reactions to some other ideology.

    In answer to your specific policy questions I personally do not consider climate change to be a problem requiring expenditure of enormous sums of public money. I know some about paleoclimates and know that climate has changed before man appeared on Earth and it will change when man is no longer here. I have personally gone through the data and the papers. The idea arose in its current form from Edward Teller who was a monomaniac about use of nuclear power. He used the CO2/fossil fuel argument to advance civilian use of nuclear power. I have considerable experience with numerical models of not fully defined natural systems and realize that skepticism is required when evaluating model results. I look at the testable predictions provided to date to support public policy and find that all testable predictions to date have been false and with a large bias. I was in a remote location with poor internet access during much of the 90’s and early this century and was alarmed by the reports in the media about global warming. Once I did have access to data and papers my opnion changed to just the opposite. I actually could support a well reasoned public effort to limit use of fossil fuels if it provided sufficient power at better cost i cant support throwing money at alternative energy sources on the basis of what i consider a poorly founded fear.

    As for equal health care and income inequalities it sounds very noble but the devil is always in the details. The one part of Obamacare that I thought was well considered were what became known as the evil “death panels” by the right. I do believe it sensible to limit public medical funds to provide small slivers of additional life to the profoundly ill, if it requires enormous public funds then it may be better if grandmother journies to the great beyond. If Obamacare is any judge then the next big health care bill will also be written by corporate lobbyists protecting their interests. Health care involves huge sums of money and that naturally attracts very strong corporate interests and at the end of the day Biden and Harris are corporatists that will tend to support those interests even to the detrimment of society.

    As for income equality I much prefer a meritocracy to a diversotocracy (made up word). I have no idea what will happen in the future as labor becomes increasingly trivial due both to automation (maybe even profoundly accelerating) and population dynamics (migration and continuing high global birth rate) but it is certainly not conducive to income equality in the long term.

    BTW if anyone is interested in a potentially contributing factor to violent interactions between police and others look at the population frequencies of the 2R allele of the MAOA gene on the X chromosome.

  140. Filip Dimitrovski Says:

    I #132: Starting with Q_0=0, Q_1 = x (one solution out of the whole family) and you need to solve y” + xy = 0 which is an Airy/Stokes equation. What next? Seems like you lose reasonable closed form solutions by the second iteration for any starting Q. Even solving single variable integrals is a 100+ page algorithm (just for elementary functions!) when you need the closed form.
    Douglas Knight #26: I didn’t know that the bot detection research was flawed, thanks.

  141. Boaz Barak Says:

    #134 Zelinsky: No need for the moon – if you’re drawing maps like these, why not add Alaska and make it to scale.

    #135 OhMyGoodness: I accept that you have your own opinions about these issues and was not trying to convince you or debate them. All I was arguing for is the principle that all citizens should have an equal vote. I think this is as non-elitist principle as they come.

  142. J Says:

    $100 to the Biden campaign.
    $25 to the Lincoln project.

  143. Joshua B Zelinsky Says:

    Boaz Barak #141,

    That is a very good point.

  144. Ethan Says:

    Boaz Barak #140

    “All I was arguing for is the principle that all citizens should have an equal vote. I think this is as non-elitist principle as they come.”

    Actually, without getting into the other issues being debated, this is not quite true. On the surface it seems a very benign and non-elitist principle until you realize that there are some elites that have made a concerted effort to control institutions of cultural influence (academia, Hollywood, the media) that puts these elites at an advantage.

    The false premise of your point is that all voters are equally critical thinkers and base their decision making on an rational, objective evaluation of the candidates’ ideological platforms unaffected by the influence exerted by these institutions. I hope I don’t think I have to convince you that this is not the case.

    The Electoral College is far from ideal but it recognizes the fact that the United States is a federation of states that results in a very diverse country geographically speaking and that the decisions made by the federal government affect everyone. You mention that in 2016 Hillary Clinton got more absolute number of popular votes than Trump. You fail to mention that California is the main reason for the mismatch between popular votes and electoral votes. In a way, the Electoral College contained California’s excesses to California.

    In the US, for a candidate for president to win, he or she must convince several geographically distributed constituencies that he or she is the best candidate for the federation as a whole, not score a big win with only one of them. This is one reason why Joe Biden is better positioned to win than Hillary Clinton, for example.

    The Electoral College in part captures this notion that states are laboratories of democracy. The original reason for the existence of the Electoral College was the interests of the slave owning states. In the long run, bad ideas tend to die out, but it takes more than an idea to be merely popular US wide to be imposed nationwide.

    I see your argument along the same lines of the argument “what’s wrong with basing college admission decisions solely on SAT scores”. Since most people here are well educated and some work in academia, I hope I don’t need to convince anyone why such a proposition is not as fair as it looks like at first sight. The current mechanism of “holistic admissions”, while born out of nefarious intent of excluding Jewish applicants from Ivy League schools, has made the best US schools the envy of the world. Countries like India or China admit students to their best institutions based almost sorely on performance in academic entrance exams and their institutions have yet to produce the kind of high quality scholarship that matches the production of America’s best institutions.

  145. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Zelinsky #134

    I used the map to consider the practicality of some outcome of civil war that would be a positive outcome for the Left. No reason to constantly erect a straw man.

    Boaz #141
    I mistook your last sentence, the one with a question mark, as a question and so tried to answer in good faith.

  146. Ethan Says:

    “The false premise of your point is that all voters are equally critical thinkers and base their decision making on an rational, objective evaluation of the candidates’ ideological platforms unaffected by the influence exerted by these institutions. I hope I don’t think I have to convince you that this is not the case.”

    Something else. I hope I wasn’t misunderstood that I strongly support universal suffrage, ie, having all US citizens past a certain age the right to vote. I oppose some of the legal disenfranchising of voters that happens in the US such as in the case of criminal convictions. Convicted criminals should be allowed to vote, period. Others, such as in the case of lack of mental capacity, are debatable because very few people are so mentally incapacitated as to be unable to express a political preference. I am thinking about people in a comatose state. Short of that, or similarly incapacitating conditions, I think that people with reduced mental capacity should also be eligible to vote.

    In my view universal suffrage is yet another mechanism of control when elites run amok. Most people don’t care about politics too much. It’s when the elites screw up big time and their misdeeds start to affect them in their daily lives that they pay attention.

    You spend 20 years outsourcing middle class paying jobs to China so that you can buy cheap smart phones and brag about how your efforts increased the standard of living in China and India? Universal suffrage gives Americans tools to push back to a point that the reason the Democratic candidate for president this year is Joe Biden and not Mike Bloomberg is precisely because the Democratic Party understands that that’s their best chance to win over Donald Trump. Some of the policy changes introduced by Trump -such as a much more skeptical attitude towards China and outsourcing of jobs in general- are now irreversible irrespective of who wins this November.

    So given the increased mobility these days compared with revolutionary times, an Electoral College based on geography might not capture America’s underlying reality well, but rather than abolishing it, I would transform it to include the different constituencies of America transcending geography: the aforementioned cultural elites, the US military, the working class, the professional class, the poor (defined for example as beneficiaries of Medicaid), etc, etc.

    At the same time, I do believe that this notion of “one person, one vote” is not elitist flies on the face of human nature. There will always be political elites among us that will use every mechanism at their disposal to attempt to control their fellow men and women by any means necessary. Their impulses have to be somehow contained.

  147. I Says:

    Scott #137, Filip Dimitrovski#140,

    Thanks for pointing out that examing \(y_n’s\) behaviour is interesting! Totally forgot that was a thing. Q can be literally any function, that’s the fun of it. But closed form solutions seem hopeless as Filip pointed out, even for trivial cases like \(Q=w^2\). One might hope SL theory could give some useful hints as to how to proceed, but computing Green function Fourier transforms is non-trivial. Heck, even approximating them formally is a pain since the Taylor expansion yields infinite recurrence relations. Which are not very pretty to work with. Skimming the literature on recurrence relations, or functional recurrence it didn’t seem like there was anything that would help.

    Even something like gauranteeing convergence seems hard. Which is why it would be intriguing to find functions for which we can compute closed form solutions or approximations to within some norm. And if not that, then at least show some property about the procedure e.g. its complexity.

  148. Nick Says:

    For everyone worried about the safety of your community getting compromised by rioters:

    These protests were kicked off when George Floyd was murdered back on May 25. The cop responsible for the murder, Derek Chauvin, was not arrested until May 29. Can you guess what happened in the meantime? First there were protests, then there were riots.

    But those riots didn’t have to happen. Chauvin could have been arrested the next day. Why did it take so long for him to be arrested? Well, as usual the police circled the wagons and protected him. The protesters demanded justice, and justice was not delivered, so riots began.

    On August 23, a cop shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times at close range. Once again, the police have circled the wagons around that cop, Rusten Sheskey. They took five days just to release his name. He is currently on paid leave. Once again, the protesters demanded justice, did not receive it, and started rioting.

    Is anyone starting to see the pattern here? Injustice provokes rioting. The police in Minneapolis could have prevented the riots from happening by arresting Derek Chauvin immediately instead of protecting him, and the same is true of Kenosha. Why didn’t that happen?

    The fact is, the cops do not care much about protecting your communities. What they really care about is protecting themselves and each other, and they will throw you to the wolves to do so. Are you willing to have the safety of your community sacrificed to protect violent cops? Don’t bother answering, because they’ve already made the decision for you.

    It’s not just random acts of police violence that can trigger riots. Failures of the judicial system can do it too. Remember when those cops in LA beat the shit out of Rodney King and got acquitted? That was a major failure of the judicial system, and it triggered massive riots. If you are fearful of riots, you should definitely be concerned about Chauvin’s prosecution. If he ends up somewhere other than prison, what do you think will happen?

    In the near future, somebody other than you is going to make the choice to convict Chauvin or let him walk. Do you think the safety of your family or the prosperity of your community is going to factor into the decision?

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  149. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Nick #147

    Also probably not a low risk decision to disregard the order of a policeman to stop. Probably not best to consider that he is only offering a helpful suggestion especially after wrestling on the ground and shrugging off a couple of taser shots. This probably applies especially in the case of a sexual assault claim.

    You might test your hypothesis that US police do not provide safety by traveling to a place that doesnt have police, or has police that are completely compromised, and comparing your safety there to the US. One of the Cartel areas in Mexico might provide a good test. I am interested in your findings.

  150. I Says:

    I #146,
    Gah! That first sentence doesn’t make sense. It should say “Thanks for pointing out that one can examine how the value of \(y_n\) changes at certain points!”

  151. Scott Says:

    Ethan #144: To say that I disagree with your comment would be one of the biggest understatements in this blog’s 15-year history. I fail to understand why the lives or votes of Californians should matter less than those of Wisconsinites. Nor, to put it mildly, do I find it obvious that Trump’s base has a higher proportion of “critical thinkers” than his opposition does. Yes, the Electoral College was born in the slave era, and I have zero hesitation in saying that it’s a moral abomination that can’t die a day too soon. But I’m not going to convince you about any of this, so I’ll stop.

  152. Scott Says:

    I #146: There are people who study complexity and computability of differential equations, but it’s not an area I know well. Depending on exactly what assumptions you make—for example, what class of functions Q can be chosen from, and whether you impose smoothness constraints—it’s not even out of the question that you could see uncomputable behavior, if and when you start getting chaos. I don’t know. How well-studied has your differential equation been as a differential equation (setting aside complexity and computability)?

  153. Ethan Says:

    Scott #150

    Please do not misrepresent what I said on two fronts:

    – First, I never said that “votes of Californians should matter less than those of Wisconsinites”, what I said is that the US was born as a federation of states, unlike say a country like France -which is a unitary state- and that the Electoral College reflects this reality. The people who like to think of the Untied States -I am not saying you are doing this- as if it was a unitary state are making an epistemological mistake. For those who would like -again, I am not saying you are one of them- to have the federal government become “the government, period”, ie remove the federal nature of the United States, the argument “one person, one vote” resonates. For those who want to be part of a federation of states for the benefits a large country brings over a small one all while protecting their own local idiosyncrasies the Electoral College is a good compromise (and as I said, my understanding that this is why the Electoral College came to be; the issue of slavery was the main motivator during the founding, but it has to be understood mostly as the idea of different states having different local idiosyncrasies). Note that what the Electoral College does is to force the winner of the presidential election have his or her support geographically distributed, ie, if Californians were able to convince enough other states to become like them, their ways would win at the federal level. 20-30 years ago, it used to be the case that as California went so went the nation, but I don’t think you can make that argument anymore given that California has become largely stagnant since the mid 2000s. So as long as California remains politically disconnected from the rest of the nation, popularity in California does not mean popularity elsewhere and here you have the Electoral College working as expected: containing ideas that might be popular in one state if those same ideas are not popular in other states. I hope this point is clear.

    – Second, I haven’t said that Trump has a higher proportion of critical thinkers. What I said, and I will repeat again, is that most voters are not critical thinkers, which onto itself is not a bad thing. You don’t need to be much of a critical thinker to understand that if 2 generations before yours were able to make a living working at your factory town but you won’t because the factory shutdown in order to move to a low cost location and there were no good jobs that came to replace the jobs your ancestors had, something is not right on the economic front, thus when choosing between a candidate that promises more of the same brutal globalization with perhaps some government subsidies to make up for the lost jobs (Clinton) and one that promises that he will fight to reverse the trend (Trump), you find the second message appealing. Note that for Trump to be able to effectively appeal to this type of voter, the prerequisite were two decades of jobs destroying outsourcing policies pushed by the establishment parties of both Democrats and Republicans alike. I think both parties have their share of uncritical thinkers. I won’t entertain the futile argument as to which uncritical thinkers are worse or which party has a higher amount of uncritical thinkers among its base. What is undeniable is that institutions that exist for the sole reason of exerting cultural influence such as the aforementioned are more likely to affect the vote of uncritical thinkers.

    To summarize, “one person, one vote” would pass as a non elitist argument in a unitary country like France but not in a country like the United States that has a totally different form of government. Things around here are “complicated”. The constituencies that benefit from the Electoral College are not going to give it away without a fight. That’s basic human nature.

  154. Ethan Says:

    Scott #151

    And to supplement the conversation, this is a wikipedia page with a discussion about unitary vs federal states . As you can see here , most European countries have unitary states (not only France) just as most countries in North and South America are federal.

    I have known my share of Europeans over the years who come from countries with unitary governments who fail to understand federalism at its core lecturing about “one person, one vote” that change the tune very rapidly when I bring the notion of a ideas that are popular in one EU country with a failing economy (say Greece) being adopted in another country that is more successful (say France). While the EU to the US is not an apples to apples comparison, it’s a much better comparison than say a US to France comparison on these matters.

  155. Scott Says:

    Ethan #153: I have no doubt that the beneficiaries of the grossly unjust Electoral College system won’t give it up without a fight. The beneficiaries of slavery—by a crazy coincidence, many of the exact same states—also didn’t give that up without a fight. It’s becoming harder and harder to see any other endgame here. If there is a total collapse of democratic norms, I’ll be very sorry to find myself on the opposite side of things as you, since you seemed like an extremely nice guy when we met in person.

  156. Ethan Says:

    Scott #155

    Again two things:

    – I am not defending the Electoral College per se as it is today (I made a proposal to transform it to adapt it to the times in #146), what I am saying is that one cannot wipe out 200+ years of federalism and replace it with a unitary state without triggering something akin to a civil war or worse. Since in the US changes at the federal level always lag where the people is at any given time, if there is a movement to get rid of the Electoral College that gains enough support nationwide (ie, not only in California or the states with largest populations), it will happen. The reason I am a bit skeptical that I will see such a transformation in my lifetime is again, because the federal nature of the United States is too ingrained in the people. And to be frank, some elites benefit from the federal nature of the United States too.

    – So I am 100 % crystal clear and not misunderstood: I think that racism is the United States’ original sin whose nefarious consequences last to this day. As I have said in a previous intervention, I am a supporter of Black Live Matters (the movement; obviously I do not condone the violent demonstrations that tarnish it). The states that used slavery as a justification for the Electoral College had evil motives. But as I mentioned with the issue of holistic admissions at American universities: something can be born with evil intent and then turn out to be a useful once the evil motives that triggered the thing are eliminated. You won’t find many people who understand how elite American universities do admissions demanding a return to the “pre holistic” admissions era now that universities cannot legally discriminate on the basis of race, even though they can use race as a factor, in admissions. Giving admission officials freedom to make admission decisions on a case by case basis as opposed to relying on formulaic methods for admissions as it happens in countries like India or China is a good thing for the United States. Our institutions of higher learning have never been more dominant in the world stage, something that benefits the country irrespective of the reason why these universities decided to admit students this way. With the Electoral College I see a similar -although quite not the same- argument: the evilness of slavery and legalized racism is no longer with us but it remains a fact that the Electoral College reflects that the United States is a federation of states not a unitary state. So before seeking its abolition, one should make sure to understand the unintended consequences of such proposal.

    I also think you are a nice guy. Nice guys don’t have to agree on everything :).

  157. Boaz Barak Says:

    I think this thread has probably reached its end point for me but let me just make one mathematical comment.

    At the moment the electoral college, the house, and the senate are biased towards republicans. (E.g. )

    However these types of mechanisms inherently trade this bias for variance. If you gerrymander districts so that your majority is never more than 60% then you create an advantage but you also run the risk of being completely wiped out. Moreover, once you lose the majority, the other party can follow the precedents you set and set policies such as redrawing districts or admitting new states which will have the effect of cementing their majority.

    So in general if your strategy is to win via suppressing and biasing elections rather than by convincing a majority of Americans, then this can succeed for a long stretch of time, but you’re playing a dangerous game. If you’re not trying to get a majority but rather mostly satisfying your base, then if that base shrinks from 40% to 35% that can have have outsize impact.

    BTW all of this has very little to do with Federalism. The EC is not about the balance of power between the states and the federal government but between different states. The GOP, to make an understatement, has not been very consistent about states rights (e.g. right to set own fuel efficiency standard or right not to have unmarked federal agents enter your state uninvited and arrest people off the streets, or for the federal government not to be able to designate cities whose policies they don’t like as “anarchist jurisdictions “ and withhold resources from them).

  158. Joshua B Zelinsky Says:

    OhMyGoodness #134,

    That seems to make even less sense. How does the area map say anything useful about who would likely to win in a civil war? I suspect if there were a red v. blue civil war, red would win simply because red America has a lot more guns. But I don’t see how a map of area is at all useful evidence.

  159. I Says:

    Scott #152,

    Honestly? No clue. After plugging in various Q(x) and iterating a couple of times you wind up with classes of equations that don’t show up in handbooks of ODEs. Though a few hours of research doesn’t count as exhaustive, its curious that there weren’t any similair questions asked in the literaure. Since this is just a special case of the broader class of questions which ask how to generate new ODES from a given equation an its solution, one would think there’s been some work done. Maybe its a new research agenda 😉

    Scott #155
    Man, you really need SlateStarCodex back into your life. Or discussions with Scott Alexander on why you needn’t worry so much.If he’s this generation’s answer to the likes of Mill and Jung, you should be willing to follow his lead on societal angst. And he doesn’t seem too fussed.

    Also, if you do chat with him, consider recommending that he brings SSC back as it was? Don’t fix what ain’t broke and SSC surely was not broken.

  160. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #156
    I don’t understand how slavery for the United States is analogous to the biblical story of Eve and the original sin. In the biblical story the progenitor of Eve instructed that she not eat the apple. She ate the apple and poor Adam suffered equally from her transgression. The New World was commercialized through slaves from West Africa by the European powers and in particular England. England commercialized what became the United States with West African slaves. When Benjamin Franklin was the diplomat from many of the colonies, prior to the revolution, to England he urged England to free all slaves in the New World (maybe about 5% of those located in pre US). He was unsuccessful. He was an abolitionist prior to the Revolution and when appointed Postmaster of the US was a major employer of black americans and women.

    The cotton from slave holding states went to England for their economically vital textile industry that benefitted from the industrial revolution and US cotton. Gladstone supported the Confederacy but was opposed by the English working class who feared cheap labor vis a vis slavery. England did provide material support to the Confederacy and you can easily find Confederate uniform buttons on ebay that were manufactured in Britain. Britain’s economic calculus was changed by bumper crops from Egypt that replaced US cotton and Egypt in fact still had slavery.

    There was absolutely nothing original about slavery in the US and not all participated in that fateful bite. I do agree that the US still suffers from Britain transporting slaves to the New World even though it worked out quite well for their descendants in comparison to those that remained in Africa and to the descendants of those that were repatriated to Africa to Liberia.

    Kind of hard to judge your comments about US schools have never been better. I am not sure what objective criteria can be used to judge the status of the truth of that statement today. My belief is that the quality of education at elite US institutions has declined as the importance of social justice issues in the curriculum has increased and importance of diversity in admissions has increased. I have certainly seen some bizzare papers from graduates of elite programs along the lines of fundamental physics being mistaken since a paternal construct.

  161. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #160

    Oh man, skip the history lesson. I used “original sin” as a metaphor. I am a Christian but not of the “extreme literalist” kind. Christians of my persuasion see “original sin” as an intrinsic feature of mankind that makes us unable to achieve salvation, let alone perfection, through our own means, thus the need of a Savior in the form of the man Jesus Christ.

    Using this analogy, it is very obvious that a country whose foundational credo says on the one hand “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” while on the other hand condones slavery explicitly in its foundational document, ie, the US Constitution, was born intrinsically flawed, ie, with an “original sin”. Was it possible to create a country with a strict “anti slavery” policy and tell the colonies that were unwilling to abolish it “you can’t be part of the new club until you abolish it”. Maybe, maybe not. In the late 18th century, the US was not a dominant country, it was trying to survive among the dominant players of the time (the British Empire and the less influential even decadent French and Spanish empires). I am not one who likes to do unwarranted history revisionism. At the same time, there is a reason why Alexander Hamilton has had his stock go up during these times of brutal revisionism while others’ (such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson) have gone down. Being anti-slavery at the time of our country’s founding was the unpopular but ethically correct stance. Whether it was the pragmatic stance given the totality of circumstances is a different matter. It’s very hard to pass moral judgements as people of the future to the people in the late 18th century who were just trying to gain freedom from the British empire. Irrespective of the question of whether a “slavery free United States” was possible in the late 18th century, I think that the metaphor “original sin” to the United States’ founding is apt.

    With respect to higher education, note that what I have said is that the United States’ elite institutions of higher learning have never been more dominant. Until around 20 years ago, there weren’t rankings -as imperfect as college rankings are- that compared according to objective criteria -such as production of scientific research- universities worldwide. Now there are a few such as the Shanghai ranking, the QS and The Times Higher Education Supplement rankings. These place America’s best universities consistently as the best in the world. Whether rankings are fair or unfair, one aspect nobody disputes of rankings is that they determine in large part the places ambitious and smart students aspire to study at. So in the last 20 years there has never been more interest by both American and international students to come to American elite institutions to study, something that makes the gap between our schools and the schools of other countries larger than it was 20 years ago. This is totally different from a conversation about these schools’ curricula or the increase in SJWs activism which I think is excessive. At the same time, it is undeniable that our schools today are more inclusive than when Blacks or women were banned from attending them. Our schools are also better than when people like Arthur Jensen were looked at for thought leadership. As I have said in a previous comment, things in the US are complicated :).

  162. Ethan Says:

    Boaz Barak #157

    “BTW all of this has very little to do with Federalism. The EC is not about the balance of power between the states and the federal government but between different states. ”

    I disagree. It has everything to do with federalism. Let me explain. A federal system is very different from a unitary state that has regional divisions.

    The nuance of a country with a federal system vs a unitary system with devolved powers is that in the first case, such as the United States, the existence of states precedes the creation of the federal country. The Union is created under a very explicit set of conditions by member states with an explicit power sharing agreement between the member states and the federal government. Whether this sharing of power happens in practice is a different question but states reserve the ultimate right to leave the union if they feel the agreement that led them to join the union has been violated. The success of potential seceding efforts is a different matter. The only one we had in an American context was the American Civil War and the states seeking to secede lost. But if you talk to Americans who still feel identified with the losing side, they will tell you that they don’t consider the victory of the Unionist states as the final word on the matter. In fact, as appalling as Plessy v. Ferguson was, I am sure that at least some in the US Supreme Court majority who wrote it saw it as an attempt to assuage the side that lost the American Civil War in order to prevent another civil war from happening. As I have said, judging people of the past with modern moral sensitivities is always a very tricky business. I think that Plessy v. Ferguson was wrongly decided. But then again, I am not a late XIX-the century US Supreme Court justice deciding on a very hot button issue with the potential of taking the country into a new civil war.

    In a unitary state, the central government has the right to do as it pleases, even temporarily suspending the regional governments if it sees fit.

    The American federal government can fight in court states whose policies it disagrees with or feels invade its jurisdiction. What the American federal government cannot legally do is to suspend a state government or force its hand on states. We are seeing this dynamic with the response of the federal government to the covid19 pandemic. The federal government cannot legally force states to adopt lockdown measures. All it can do is to recommend that they adopt them with individual states deciding how to implement them if at all. Germany had a similar situation going on. This is also the reason sanctuary cities and states are legal; states cannot be legally forced to cooperate with the federal government on enforcing immigration, which is a federal matter.

    On the other hand, a country like the UK which has a unitary government with devolved regional governments can in theory suspend local governments if it feels they violate the interests of the national government. I don’t think the UK has done this recently, but it did it several times in Northern Ireland during the so called Troubles.

    With this difference in mind, the EC is a mechanism for states to insure they influence the election of the President of the United States in a way that maximizes their interests. That’s why the EC gives an intrinsic advantage, beyond what could be expected if the election of the US President was done based on a national popular vote, to states with lower populations over states with larger populations. An EC that would not take the population of each state into account would be intrinsically unfair for the states with the largest populations. An EC that only took population into account would be perceived as unfair by the smallest states. So the current format -which I have already said probably deserves to be changed- is the compromise that so far makes most people happy.

    The calls to repeal the EC are mostly marginal and are typically strong by the losing side when there is a mismatch popular vote/electoral vote in the election result. So far this has happened only on a few occasions. If this were to happen more frequently, I would imagine that the calls to reform the EC would grow stronger, but for now I can’t see the EC being reformed in the next 20-30 years. Constitutional amendments -which is what it would be required to do this properly since I believe that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has zero chance of passing constitutional muster, ie, about the same chance that faithless electors had of prevailing in the case known as – take a long time to pass.

    So yeah, I don’t think it is warranted to see the EC in isolation from the US being a federation of states.

  163. Elizabeth Says:

    @I #159: If the limit n-> infty exists, then it must converge to the solution of

    y” + y^2 = 0

    This equation has a closed form general solution in terms of Weierstrass’s elliptic function ( ).  Since it is a 2nd order equation, the only free parameters in the general solution are the constants C1, C2.  If we regard your ODE as an initial value problem, using the same initial values for all iterates y_n, then this fixes the values of C1, C2 in the limit n \to \infty as well.  Therefore if the limit exists then it cannot depend at all on Q!  

    I tried this numerically and regardless of any smooth elementary function I insert for the initial Q the iterates y_n converge very rapidly to the solution of y” + y^2 = 0 with the values of C1, C2 determined by the initial value problem.  For any finite n, the ODE is linear, and the condition for a unique solution to exist is just that the function playing the role of Q is continuous (in y” + A(x) y’ + B(x) y = 0 , it suffices for A and B to be continuous for a unique solution to exist).   Therefore I conjecture that the limit of your iterates y_n exists for all initial Q that are smooth and bounded, and in fact the limit does not depend on Q.  If my conjecture is correct then for all sufficiently large n the function y_n can be approximated in time O(1) if the initial values are fixed and the input to the problem is a description of Q.  Here’s an example as a gif:

    If you wanted to construct a proof of convergence, my suggestion would be to work in a neighborhood of the initial value and use upper and lower bounds on the derivatives, along with Taylor’s remainder theorem, as opposed to complicated closed-form expressions that attempt to capture the exact behavior of the function.  Review the proof of Euler’s method for solving ODE’s; this is similar to the way that existence and uniqueness theorems for ODEs are proven.  It’s like replacing an integral by upper and lower Reimann sums, you’re using straight line segments to construct an envelope that surrounds the function above and below.  

  164. Adam Says:

    I just donated $100 to the Biden-Harris campaign.

  165. Boaz Barak Says:

    Ethan: let’s agree to disagree. I think the EC is wrong but it’s hardly the thing that keeps me up at night or that’s most wrong about elections and voting rights in the US. The EC is currently biased against Democrats but that wasn’t always the case and may change in the future. It will still be wrong if it’s biased for democrats but to be honest I’d care much less about it.

  166. Justin Yirka Says:

    About Federalism:
    Ethan #162:
    In the Federalist Papers, the constitution was designed as a compact among the *people*, not the states. It’s the reason that state conventions, not legislatures, had to ratify it. “We the people”. The United States has never as much a decentralized federation as you describe.
    Related to that, I’m surprised you say states had the right to leave the union. They never did. The binding constitution was distinguished from easy-to-leave or ignore treaties and the Articles of Confederation. And even if states once had that right, our constitutional system changed following the civil war and subsequent amendments (and changed again in WW2 and beyond). So we were never as decentralized as you describe, and we’ve centralized more over time.

    “what the American federal government cannot legally do is to suspend a state government or force its hand on states.”
    Well, yes it can. The integration of Little Rock high school? Regarding COVID, the CDC has broad authority to quarantine large areas of the country. The constitution also charges the federal government with ensuring a republican form of government in every state. The states have rights, unlike in a unitary system, but I think your claim is too strong as stated.

  167. Justin Yirka Says:

    About the Electoral College:
    OhMyGoodness #134: Another flaw in using that electoral map to predict civil war is that the margin for most counties is usually within several points of 50/50. There would be disagreement within the county about whom to support.

    Ethan #146: Interestingly, Federalist 35 also considered basing representation on social class. Hamilton basically answers that everybody will consider everybody’s interests anyway since the economy is so interconnected (I’m unconvinced). I particularly like the line “With regard to the learned professions, little need be observed; they truly form no distinct interest in society”.

    Ethan #153: The EC doesn’t force geographically distributed wins. Our history has depended on several north vs south splits for example. The EC has no inherent relation to geography.
    Related, some view the EC as protecting rural vs urban voters, but again the EC doesn’t protect geography – like, the founders couldn’t predict where the cities would be.

    Ethan #162: You mention the event that popular/electoral mismatches grow more frequent. They have. Twice in 16 years vs twice in 200 years before that.

    Ethan multiple comments: While the interests of less populated states, including slave states, influenced the apportionment of the electoral college the same way they influenced the senate, it was not the reason for the EC to exist in the first place. The EC was constructed to insulate the choice of president from the voters. That’s why it’s a college of electors, similar to a third house of congress, rather than a simple tallying system. Now, with the elimination of electors’ independence, that original purpose is dead.

  168. Justin Yirka Says:

    Nobody has mentioned the key problem *in practice* with the electoral college: winner-take-all.

    48 states assign all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins a plurality of the votes. This is the reason for swing states. Clinton & Trump visited less than 15 states from June to November 2016! If a candidate can confidently win 55% of a state, there’s no reason to earn any of the other 45%, so they focus on the few states within the margin of error. Swing states are awful, encouraging political favors, etc.. They even encourage political extremism, because you can go to the extreme to grab the non-swing states while using regional issues (e.g. coal, cars, VP choice) to grab the swing state. And this hurts third parties, leading to our entrenched two-party system.
    See the CGP Grey video “The trouble with the electoral college” on how to win the presidency with just 22% of the popular vote!

    If we assigned electors proportional to the vote in each state, then we would incentive candidates to campaign everywhere (hooray geography), we would stop seeing states as so solidly one color or the other (hooray unity), we would still have the bump built into the EC to benefit smaller states (hooray I hope they’re happy), and we would get an electoral vote guaranteed to be close to the popular vote (hooray!!).

    Given the EC’s original purpose (avoid democracy) is no longer relevant, the only valid reason not to abolish the EC (political maneuvering and tradition aren’t valid) is that we really want to give a bump to small states. The EC does not inherently protect geography, rural voters, one party, or anything else, and the increasing national centralization over time plus modern mobility suggest to me that Americans wouldn’t value the states’ rights argument minus those misconceptions. But, if we need to protect those states and avoid popular voting, then GET RID OF WINNER-TAKE-ALL.

  169. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #161

    I looked through my post and find nothing that suggests you are a Christian literalist. I mentioned the Biblical STORY that provides (originally) the metaphor “original sin”. I explained why I don’t believe the metaphor in the Bible is an appropriate metaphor for the birth of the US.

    Not to upset you with history but I found that Jensen published the Bell Curve in 1994 and doubt any Admissions Department at any elite US university looked to him as a thought leader at that time. When I look at the most accomplished graduates in science of elite US universities in say the last 100 years, then I find people like Feynman and Gell-Mann that were admitted in a more formulaic era. Both were Jewish and admitted when these elite universities still had limiting quotas applied to Jewish people.

  170. Ethan Says:

    Boaz Barak #165

    “Ethan: let’s agree to disagree”

    I can agree to that!

    Justin Yirka #166

    I get a sense that you are cherry picking isolated facts to undermine my thesis.

    Experts in political science settled the question of the the nature of the American federal government long ago. I invite you to read in detail this article by Encyclopaedia Britannica that says

    “Aside from the number of levels, the most important distinction between a unitary system and a federal one is that the states or provinces of a federal state have constitutionally protected sovereignty. Within a federal system the state or provincial governments share sovereignty with the central government and have final jurisdiction over a broad range of policy areas.”

    The constitutional protection of states’ sovereignty is key. The mere existence of a state/province doesn’t a make a system federal. Also, the issue of states having final jurisdiction on a broad range of topics is not a trivial one. In the United States, the same crime, provided it is not a federal crime, can result in the death penalty in one state and a jail sentence in another. Again, providing that there are no federal issues at stake, once appeals have been exhausted at the state level for death penalty convictions, there is no further appeal to the federal level. The same is true on a broad range of topics, but the death penalty is the most salient example that comes to mind.

    This is not to say that there aren’t disputes as to the extent of the division of powers between the federal and state governments. As the article also says

    “Even in established federal democracies (e.g., Canada, Germany, and the United States), the exact distribution of powers between levels of government is a matter of constant dispute between central and subnational governments. Disputes about federal-state matters are often the subject of rulings in courts or constitutional tribunals or conferences involving the heads of the central and subnational governments.”

    The article identifies says “The United States and Switzerland are clearly federal states”.

    With respect to the ability of the federal government to impose nationwide quarantines, while there exists a law that in theory would allow the imposition of said quarantines, as the CDC indicates “Large-scale isolation and quarantine was last enforced during the influenza (“Spanish Flu”) pandemic in 1918–1919. In recent history, only a few public health events have prompted federal isolation or quarantine orders.”.

    Most legal experts believe that the federal government lacks the authority to order nationwide quarantines, specially given how the US Supreme Court has moved increasingly in the direction of individual freedom and measured restrictions of the same. A federal mandate is a much more aggressive measure than a localized, state mandated measures. Early in the covid19 epidemic, Trump threatened to impose a nationwide quarantine but he backtracked when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened with court action that would have very likely invalidated the federal government’s on the book quarantine authority.

    With respect to Little Rock first let me be clear that I find the actions by those who were trying to prevent the integration of the black students abhorrent. At the same time, as the Wikipedia page explains “the Arkansas National Guard was called in to “preserve the peace”. Originally at orders of the governor, they were meant to prevent the black students from entering due to claims that there was “imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace” at the integration. However, President Eisenhower issued Executive order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered them to support the integration on September 23 of that year, after which they protected the African American students”.

    Namely, Eisenhower did not order the Alabama governor to facilitate the integration because he lacked the legal authority to do so. What he did was to federalize the Arkansas National Guard (something he had the legal authority to do) to protect the students.

    Finally, while I do not support at this time any state’s effort to secede despite the hyperbolic rhetoric I can imagine situations that would push states to secede where they would be in their legal right to do so after having exhausted all avenues within the US constitution. As a thought exercise, consider a situation where the federal government were to attempt to abolish all elections (local, state and federal) in a particular state, effectively disenfranchising all residents of the state from the political process. Assume that the state appeals and the final word is that the US Supreme Court sides with the federal government for whatever reason. A state in that situation would be entirely justified in my opinion from a legal point of view to seek secession from the United States by all means necessary -including force. Whether any state has the capability to win against the federal government in such hypothetical scenario is a different matter, but I think that in disenfranchising the residents of a state, the federal government would have voided the constitutional contract between that state and the federal government, making the state a free agent. This would not be the situation in a unitary state. As I said, the UK legally suspended the self-rule in Northern Ireland several times during the so called “Troubles”. Because of the nature of its government, the British government had the legal authority to do this unilaterally.

  171. Ethan Says:

    Justin Yirka #167

    I feel my views are being misrepresented in your comments there. As it happens in all online conversations, I am responsible for what I say, not for what people believe that I said.

    Take for example “The EC has no inherent relation to geography”. What I said is “what the Electoral College does is to force the winner of the presidential election have his or her support geographically distributed”. You might think that I am attempting to split hairs. But I am not. The Electoral College, technically, is not tied to a winner having to win states geographically West to East. What it does though is contain the effect of huge popular vote wins in a particular state or a small set of states. Take the mantra “but Clinton won 2016 by a margin of 3 million votes”. If those 3 million votes had been uniformly distributed across all 50 states, with the current Electoral College system, she would have won the election (it’s 60K per state, more than the margin Trump got in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin) but because they were largely concentrated in California, she lost the election, thus my contention that the EC forces the support a candidate needs to be geographically distributed.

    To affirm that the EC doesn’t force candidates to seek to spread their support across more states than what a national vote not tied to the Electoral College would is to deeply misunderstand the difference between winning in the Electoral College vs winning in popular vote.

    If the president were elected by a straight popular vote, the candidates would focus, using the Pareto principle, in the largest states by population. Instead of 15 swing states produced by the Electoral College system, the campaigns would take place largely in the top 15 states by population because campaigning costs money and campaigns spend their money efficiently to minimize the $$ spent per expected vote.

    I stop here. I think I have made my views crystal clear and I have no time to clarify misrepresentations of the same.

  172. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Justin #167

    If you look at tabular results by county you find a stark contrast between urban counties and rural counties of much more than several per cent in rural counties. Rural counties that contain a large state university are an exception and generally had Clinton the winner.:)

    This contains tabular results for Texas as an example-

    Just a random selection here is Indiana-

    Here is a map with gradation by increments of 10% of the total vote that doesnt change the picture much. It is complicated in some counties that Gary Johnson received a material percentage of the vote. I believe those voters have more sympathy for Trump on average. Including those votes with Trump would remove quite a number of the pastel pinks.

  173. fred Says:

    Scott #155

    “I have no doubt that the beneficiaries of the grossly unjust Electoral College system won’t give it up without a fight. The beneficiaries of slavery—by a crazy coincidence, many of the exact same states—also didn’t give that up without a fight.”

    I’ve now noticed a few times that you like to juxtapose two things (one is mild, the other really bad) in order to create some subtle/implicit association. Here, winning the electoral college being pro-slavery.

    Anyway, I was curious about this and looked it up.
    Five American presidents were elected without winning the popular vote:

    John Quincy Adams – who ran for the Republican-Democratic party (!), what is now considered the Democratic party.
    Rutherford B. Hayes – a Republican, but (according to the wiki) a “staunch abolitionist”.
    Benjamin Harrison – Republican, he served in the Union Army during the civil war.
    George W. Bush.

  174. Ethan Says:

    Justin Yirka #168

    Yes, I agree that if all states were to change the winner take all mechanism to a proportionate allocation of electors we would have something very similar to a popular vote election (the smaller states would still have a disproportionate influence when compared to a strict popular vote election but said change would be a step in that direction).

    The likelihood of this ever happening? Just about the same as the US moving to a popular vote election for president. Very small.

    You see, I keep coming back to the issue of federalism. Political parties are in the business of gaining and maintaining political power. That’s how they make a living. Keeping “their people employed” is their raison d’etre. The Democrats have California while the Republicans have Texas. These things can change (40-50 years ago, it was the opposite) but very slowly. Our system favors incumbency which is why Trump’s historic win in 2016 was seen so unlikely: he flipped 3 states (the so called Blue Wall) that had voted reliably Democratic at the federal level since the late 1980s.

    The incumbents who make a living out of politics have zero incentive to change the winner take all allocation and are happy to fight the election in a handful of swing states. Any change in the direction of changing the winner take all allocation of electors would have to come from the people, but most Americans don’t care too much about politics because it is a fact that the different American governments (federal, state and local) are less intrusive in the lives of ordinary Americans than most governments in Western Europe are in the lives of their own citizens. Most average Americans are not obsessed with controlling their fellow Americans, rather with enjoying life and providing for themselves and their families. The two mechanisms that Western European countries use to control their people (public healthcare and education) are not as dominant in the US.

  175. Ethan Says:

    fred #173

    “I’ve now noticed a few times that you like to juxtapose two things (one is mild, the other really bad) in order to create some subtle/implicit association. Here, winning the electoral college being pro-slavery.”

    Among certain intellectual circles in the United States, that association is kind of dogmatic, the historical record notwithstanding. It’s behind the paywall but does a pretty good job here laying out that if we concern ourselves exclusively with political platforms and the historical record, the Democratic Party is clearly the “officially racist” party .

    Now, you’d hear from those who reject Bruce Bartlett’s analysis that while it might be true that the Republican Party was traditionally the non racist party and the Democratic Party was the racist party, there was a “switch” in the 1960s due what latter became known as the .

    I am of the opinion that the DNA of organizations is set at their founding and that applies to political parties too. I think that we have to differentiate what individual party leaders and members might do at particular times in history in the short term for political expediency -I can point to examples of both parties betraying their “on paper” political ideologies for short term gain- and what the themes that animate each constituency are. In my mind, the Democratic Party is the more statist leaning of the two major parties whereas the Republican Party is the one that places a premium on individual freedom and private enterprise. The people who tend to gravitate towards one type of political mindset and another are very different.

    These days the American professional class tends to gravitate towards the Democratic Party but I contend that’s because most well paying jobsare essentially bureaucratic jobs at large organizations. It’s a well documented fact that for the last 30-40 years, entrepreneurial activity has been decreasing in the United States . Bureaucrats, whether they are working at governments or private businesses, is the kind of people you’d expect to gravitate towards a party with a statist mindset.

    There is a second type of people that now gravitates towards the Democratic Party that used to gravitate towards the Republican Party in the past: billionaires. Newly minted American billionaires -think of the founders of Amazon, Google and Facebook- have built their fortunes largely on extractive business schemes as opposed to value adding schemes. This is also the kind people that are attracted to the statist mindset promoted by the Democratic Party.

    I am not letting the Republicans off the hook here. We are seeing with Trump -and we saw with both George W Bush and Ronald Reagan- that the Republican Party is willing to renounce their ideological purity for the sake of keeping power by increasing the public debt as much as the Democratic Party, so in reality, I don’t take any of the two political parties’ establishments seriously.

    Institutional politics is all about keeping career politicians employed. Underlying American society is a different matter. Most Americans don’t take politics seriously. We are happy to go by our daily lives working towards the pursuit of our happiness. American politics is the tax we have to pay to have these people employed and leave us alone. The alternative is intrusive governments of the kind they have in Western Europe that micromanage the lives of most of their citizens. No thank you!

  176. Justin Yirka Says:

    OhMyGoodness #167: I like the map with gradations. Thanks for sharing!

    Ethan #171: “what the Electoral College does is to force the winner of the presidential election have his or her support geographically distributed”. “What it does though is contain the effect of huge popular vote wins in a particular state or a small set of states”.
    You’re right that I misunderstood you. This is the first time I’ve heard this view: cool!

    But, I disagree. The current EC, because of winner-take-all, doesn’t ensure geographically distributed support. Winner-take-all means 45% may as well be 0%. So, I can appeal to an area based on regional issues and totally alienate the rest. And nothing guarantees that any swing states are geographically distributed. If we went to war with Canada, northern states might feel strongly one way, southern states strongly the other way, and the swing states would be grouped together geographically along the Mason-Dixon line.

    As for “contain the effect of huge popular vote wins in a particular state”, a corollary is the EC magnifies the effect of marginal popular vote changes in a small set of states. Your point that Clinton would’ve been better off winning 3 million extra votes in WI, MI, and PA instead of CA is about swing states more than geographic distribution. Trump and Clinton were incentivized to win extra votes wherever the swing states were, and again, there was no guarantee they would be geographically diverse.

    I’d say a popular vote actually has more to offer in guaranteeing geographically distributed support. Unlike the current system, a popular vote would reward a candidate for every additional vote, no matter where that vote is. A candidate would be just as happy to earn a vote from the CA, WI, or FL as anywhere else. Candidates would seek to earn support in their core areas but avoid stomping on any key regional issue that would lose them votes elsewhere. A popular vote would incentivize candidates to consider every region’s issues!

    Now, would this incentivize focusing on dense urban areas instead of rural areas? Yes. But only in proportion to the many more people living in one area vs the other. I’d prefer campaigns focus on high population areas than on potentially arbitrary swing-able areas. And I’ll note that the current EC doesn’t protect rural voters, again because of winner-take-all: rural upstate New Yorkers are are drowned out by New York City, and soon the large swaths of rural Texas may be drowned out by a few cities.

    Ethan #174: I agree, unforunately, reform is unlikely.
    Ethan #175: I can’t speak about Europe, but otherwise great points!

  177. Zork Says:

    @ Ethan

    I just wanted to say “thanks!” for your posts in this thread. Very interesting commentary and a welcome breath of fresh air on this blog.

  178. Ethan Says:

    Justin Yirka #176

    We have stated our positions clearly and I will leave it here, agreeing to disagreeing.

    I think that our differences boil down to “on paper” vs “de facto” understanding of the electoral college. You seem to be focusing more on the former while I definitely focus more on the latter.

    Pragmatism is widely known as one of the genuine contributions of the United States to the world of philosophy and ideas more generally speaking “Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870 … Pragmatism considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. ”

    My contention that the electoral college forces candidates to seek support that is more geographically distributed when compared with a straight nationwide popular vote is based not only on the design of the electoral college but on the observation of what happened in cases like the presidential election in 2016. Hillary Clinton sought to appeal primarily to coastal elites thinking she could count on the so called “Blue Wall” and she learned the hard way the difference between total popular support -due to a few strongholds of popularity that the electoral college prevented from spilling over elsewhere in the US- and electoral college support by ignoring the issues of the “Blue Wall” states.

    Put it differently, the issues that matter to Americans have a geographic component. Many of these issues would be wiped away from the political process by a straight popular vote in the election of the President. This is the reason why the electoral college is here to stay unless the local issues that matter to Americans go away and we become more uniform irrespective of geography (unlikely; not every city of the United States can be like Los Angeles or New York City and gravitate towards the issues that matter most in these two cities; someone has to be a farmer or a factory worker).

  179. Ethan Says:

    Zork #177

    You are welcome!

    As Scott mentioned, he and I have met in person and he thinks that I am a nice guy. For now I prefer to remain anonymous :- ).

  180. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #179

    I would like to echo Zork’s comments. Your posts are sincere, thoughtful, and nearly always respectful. These are rare qualities on message board’s across the internet. I appreciate your posts and the thoughtful support you provide for your views. I don’t believe either of us came from a middle class background and for me that has contributed to a blunt aggressive style but for you that is not the case.

    BTW I don’t consider Jensen type observations negatively with respect to diversity but consider they point out that there are other elements of human diversity that are very important. My view always was that mental diversity is far more important than physical diversity. I have never been able to understand the logic of the very narrow definition of diversity as commonly used. It emohasizes what I consider the least important aspects of human diversity.

    Not to bore you with history but I think it is amusing that Benjamin Franklin, one of the evil founding fathers, in addition to being an ardent Abolitionist was a vegetarian opposed to killing animals. I have no doubt he would be in a leadership role for PETA today. In addition he was the first person known to use the word “tofu” in the English language and was interested in the agriculture of sobeans and the production of tofu. Considering his apparent girth his consumption of tofu must have been considerable.

    I personally believe that the hearts and souls of the majority of the Founding Fathers were truly committed to all being equal under the law but were pragmatic in negotiating the founding documents and that in this case the ends clearly justified the means

  181. infi Says:

    I am surprised that intelligent people like you still divide the world politically in right and left. Those are categories which are so little relevant meanwhile. It is dividing the world still into communists and capitalists and, thereby, promoting the polarization of society and easy discrediting of ideas by putting a left-right label on it. This is in the interest of Trump and consort, but is puzzling me to read it from people like you. I am not living in the US, but instead of asking “What kind of society do we want to live in?” and “What politics is needed to get there?”, people put a label on ideas and suggestions and that sorts the case.
    You do not evaluate ideas so trivially in science (I find your blog very inspiring!), so why in politics?
    For me this polarization is at the root of the poor state, large parts of the world (yes, including the US) are in.
    And as scientists and with the methodologies we have been trained in, we should not fall prey to this polarization and take our responsibility seriously and act against it.
    So, even if your motto was meant ironically, it was neither funny nor witty.
    I hope to find many more witty scientific comments and evaluations on your blog that I really have been appreciating for a long time.

  182. Scott Says:

    infi #181: Your comment makes me imagine someone saying in the middle of the US Civil War, “I’m surprised that any intelligent person speaks in terms of ‘North’ versus ‘South,’ as though that division had any deep importance. Doesn’t the Mason-Dixon Line cut through every human heart?” 🙂

    Like, I completely agree that goodness and rightness are deeper and more complicated than any political ideology—that novelists have gotten closer to them than any “ism.” But goodness and rightness don’t preclude noticing when there’s a war afoot in the actual temporal world—or even, when necessary, reluctantly taking a side in such a war.

  183. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #180: Franklin wasn’t a strict vegetarian (he wrote in his autobiography that he reasoned that eating fish was fine, after seeing smaller fish in their stomachs when they were opened up). But, yes, tearing down statues of Franklin (!!) is particularly risible. Who dares to imagine that, had they been born in 1706, they would’ve done better than him at approximating the values and beliefs of the 21st century?

  184. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #180

    Thank you for your kind comment.

    As I said, I prefer not to say too much about me but I have a very good scientific education and, even more importantly, I have lived through enough of what people like to call “character building” experiences that affect how I look at the world even more than my formal education.

    I echo infi #181 sentiment that while simplistic labels (such as left/right) might be useful to score cheap political points -and most politicians of different political persuasions are guilty of using these- and probably to win elections, they do not help much in understanding people’s motivations. In my experience, the world is a very rough place. Past a certain age, most people’s lives become very complicated and the motivations of why they vote one way or another -if they vote at all- cannot be reduced to “I am a racist hater therefore I vote for Trump” or “I am such a nice do gooder that to save the republic I must ensure to do everything within my power to not only vote for Biden, but to do kick Trump out of office”. People’s motivations are complex, and society is complex.


    “I personally believe that the hearts and souls of the majority of the Founding Fathers were truly committed to all being equal under the law but were pragmatic in negotiating the founding documents and that in this case the ends clearly justified the means”

    I can agree with this. I will go even further. I will say that the United States is the best country in the entire world, period. If you are a member of a minority or underrepresented group, there is no other country you rather be a citizen of in 2020. In this country, as Tim Scott reminded powerfully during his speech at the RNC, a family can go “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime”.

    But this is perfectly compatible with understanding that said pragmatism led to the creation of a country that was born with racism as an original sin and that the consequences of institutional racism continue to affect our country today. Now, human beings being human beings, I don’t think it was possible to create the “perfect country”. Whatever the Founding Fathers did, I am sure the country would have been born with some other defect. At the same time, to pretend that this birth defect is one that doesn’t create tensions in American society is as tone deaf as it comes. You can only fix that which you think is a problem.

    Let me give you an example related to Arthur Jensen’s work: America’s obsession with linking intelligence, understood as the score in timed, multiple-choice exams, with race. If you read , it is plainly obvious that scientific racism and thinking about intelligence in this way -ie, an immutable, heritable characteristic of a person that over time resulted in one race, the so called “white race” (whatever that means) is superior to others and thus spending money educating the lower classes is wasted money is a genuine American invention. Alfred Binet came up with his test to measure learning performance in order to identify children who could benefit from extra support in their learning journey. Lewis Terman transformed Binet’s test into a tool to “measure” innate intelligence with clear racist motivations (Jensen was a defender of this line of thinking). Not that Europeans are morally pure souls -their invention of Communism and Nazism tells otherwise- but the abomination of labeling an entire class of people -Blacks- as intrinsically less intelligent than “whites” required the breeding ground setup by the racist founding of the United States.

    I will stop for now. I like the measured conversation that online forums like this provide. It’s my style much more than shouting matches.

  185. OhMyGoodnes... Says:

    Scott #182.

    You are right and I remember now that he did eat fish and totally agree about razing of the statues.

    Columbus transported horses to the Virgin Islands on his second voyage where they made their way to mainland North America. Study of skeletal remains of NA Indians has suggested that health improved greatly in those NA tribes that adopted horses after their introduction. Skeletal studies also show limited life span with often violent ends and that ritual sacrfice was practiced at least in the Cohokia area pre Columbus. With drive by history fueled by idyllic Disney cartoons, just easier to cast him as the devil incarnate and Caucasians in North America as evil spawn profiting from his terrible deeds. Man’s history is mostly a record of horrible events as judged by today’s standards. The only reason we can reflect in this manner is because of that history that now allows us to sit in judgement of the past without day to day concern that we will see another sunrise.

  186. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #185: I mean, Columbus was really bad, abducting thousands of natives into slavery, including girls as young as 9 who he provided as sex slaves to his men. I can easily imagine doing better than that.

  187. Ethan Says:

    Something else,

    “Lewis Terman transformed Binet’s test into a tool to “measure” innate intelligence with clear racist motivations (Jensen was a defender of this line of thinking)”

    Now, the reason the US is such a great country is that as soon as Lewis Terman and others pushed this idea -that ended up being the prevailing view for decades-, you had someone like Walter Lippmann who wrote what is generally considered the standard intellectual critique of this theory of intelligence

    “Mental age is a yard stick invented by a school of psychologists to measure “intelligence.” It is not easy, however, to make a measure of intelligence and the psychologists have never agreed on a definition. This quandary presented itself to Alfred Binet. For years he had tried to reach a definition of intelligence and always he had failed. Finally he gave up the attempt, and started on another tack. He then turned his attention to the practical problem of distinguishing the “backward” child from the “normal” child in the Paris schools. To do this he had to know what was a normal child. Difficult as this promised to be, it was a good deal easier than the attempt to define intelligence. For Binet concluded, quite logically, that the standard of a normal child of any particular age was something or other which an arbitrary percentage of children of that age could do. Binet therefore decided to consider “normal” those abilities which were common to between 65 and 75 percent of the children of a particular age. In deciding these percentages he thus decided to consider at least twenty-five percent of the children as backward. He might just as easily have fixed a percentage which would have classified ten percent of the children as backward, or fifty percent.

    Having fixed a percentage which he would hence-forth regard as “normal” he devoted himself to collecting questions, stunts and puzzles of various sorts, hard ones and easy ones. At the end he settled upon fifty-four tests, each of which he guessed and hoped would test some element of intelligence; all of which together would test intelligence as a whole. Binet then gave these tests in Paris to two hundred school children who ranged from three to fifteen years of age. Whenever he found a test that about sixty-five percent of the children of the same age could pass he called that a Binet test of intelligence for that age. Thus a mental age of seven years was the ability to do all the tests which sixty-five percent of a small group of seven year old Paris school children had shown themselves able to do.

    This was a promising method, but of course the actual tests rested on a very weak foundation indeed. Binet himself died before he could carry his idea much further, and the task of revision and improvement was then transferred to Stanford University. The Binet scale worked badly in California. The same puzzles did not give the same results in California as in Paris. So about 1910 Professor L. M. Terman undertook to revise them. He followed Binet’s method. Like Binet he would guess at a stunt which might indicate intelligence, and then try it out on about 2,300 people of various ages, including 1,700 children “in a community of average social status.” By editing, rearranging and supplementing the original Binet tests he finally worked out a series of tests for each age which the average child of that age in about one hundred Californian children could pass….

    A general measure of intelligence valid for all people everywhere at all times may be an interesting toy for the psychologist in his laboratory. But just because the tests are so general, just because they are made so abstract in the vain effort to discount training and industry. Instead, therefore, of trying to find a test which will with equal success discover artillery officers, Methodist ministers, and branch managers for the rubber business, the psychologists would far better work out special and specific examinations for artillery officers, divinity school candidates and branch managers in the rubber business. On that line they may ultimately make a serious contribution to a civilization which is constantly searching for more successful ways of classifying people for specialized jobs. And in the meantime the psychologists will save themselves from the reproach of having opened up a new chance for quackery in a field where quacks breed like rabbits, and they will save themselves from the humiliation of having furnished doped evidence to the exponents of the New Snobbery.”

    In other words, it was “other Americans” who identified IQ tests for what they really are: a tool used by the American intellectual elite of the late XIX-the century/early XX-th century to justify their own privilege under pretenses that look “scientific” on the surface.

    It took time, but this intellectual core is the reason the University of California system recently decided to stop using the SAT/ACT tests (which are IQ tests in disguise) for making admission decisions going forward. So what California screwed up 100 years ago, California fixed these days .

    Now, to be clear, I am not saying that everybody is equally intelligent or equally qualified to go to college and to benefit from a university education. What I am saying is that there are many ways to sort this out and that so called “intelligence” is very hard to define with a single number because human beings are too complex as to have their full intellectual potential being projected into a single number.

    I don’t know what would be the best way to make admission decisions because every selection mechanism has an implicit bias on it. The system known as holistic admissions -where SAT scores are just one factor taking into consideration- seems to be working well for America’s elite institutions. Several European countries have adopted a more pragmatic mechanism: they have a somehow lenient standard of admission and then they use the first couple of years to give people a chance to prove themselves taking actual college classes. Those who survive are allowed to finish the whole thing. This system comes with the cost of having to accommodate people who might not be college material but it offers the advantage of giving people who, for whatever reason did poorly in high school, a chance to prove themselves later on, without using artificial “proxies” -like the SAT/ACT- for actual scholastic performance.

    In short, all I wanted to say is that the United States cannot be understood as a country made of people who all think alike or who can be classified ideologically along a few basic labels (left/right, racist/non racist). This simplistic cliche is perpetuated by many of America’s enemies (domestic and foreign) but it couldn’t be more disconnected from most Americans’ day to day reality.

  188. infi Says:

    Scott #182:

    Thanks for your response, Scott!
    So you are already at war?
    By not giving in to the further escalation of language, which is only in the interest of the polarizing hawks, I don’t accept being ridiculed as a naive person, who just lives in his ivory tower. The current situation in the US has one of its origins in exactly this left or right simplification. And to pick up your vocabulary: “The first casualty of war is truth”, as associated to Hiram Warren Johnson.

  189. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #184

    I think we agree in the main but probably not completely-no surprise.

    Equality under the law provides (in principle) that public funds for education cannot be allocated based on race nor economic class-we certainly agree on this.

    My comments on mental diversity were intended to support respect for others no matter their mental abilities, or beliefs, or unique ways of thinking. You made a similar argument about those labeled as mentally ill are manifesting ways of thinking that are just away from the norm so outliers of human thought and should be respected-I think we agree on benefits of mental diversity.

    I don’t believe that standardized test scores (including IQ) are indicative of an absolute immutable straight jacket of abilities but do believe that they are a somewhat rigid framework that are indicative/predictive of maximal accomplishment in some areas of human endeavor and so reasonably predictive of potential level of attainment in those same areas. I do believe that mental abilities have an important innate component (similar to physical abilities) and that effort and dedication can help you achieve that maximum potential but no chance for attainment above those hard wired limits. I do not believe these tests include a significant cultural bias except for the standardized personality assessment tests.

    As you note our personal life experiences do impact our beliefs and so my view above is in part based on my life experiences. This is in no way whining but just a factual account and i was never in any way jealous of those with a different background.

    My family was poor and we lived in a poor rural area. We had no indoor plumbing and a pot bellied coal stove to warm the house. My father rode a bicycle to work as a laborer, we had no car until I was older. I didnt attend kindergarten because it required a payment that we couldnt make. My father forbade my mother to teach me to read (i very much wanted to read because we had a couple childrens books and the Bible) or advance my education in any way because he believed it would be problematic in school. Once I started school I advanced quickly and when standardized testing started in 4th grade or so I was always 99th percentile +. By the time I was in fifth grade i found school so tedious I became a problem student and this continued through high school. I worked at a Macdonalds during high school and sometimes 40 hours/week. Child labor regulations were not enforced. My proficiency on standardized testing continued and I was able to receive scolarships and grants to attend a private engineering school where i enjoyed my studies and excelled. Professionally then i enjoyed success and my work was of benefit to society and created thousands of jobs through the years in some extremely disadvantaged locations in the world. It was largely standardized tests that saved me from life in some meth/opiod dystopia and society benefitted from my life being saved.

    When I think of the nature versus nurture discussion i think of Ramanujan. He was forbid by his father to study mathematics but studied an algebra book in secret. He became a historically important mathematician after sending letters to Hardy who said it was like reading mathematics from an alien civilization. Ramanujan was born with an ability to do mathematics even though his environment was hostile to the study of mathematics. I could have had a much better early education but I know that I was not born with sufficient ability to equal the accomplishments of Ramanujan. I dont think that is a reason my mental abilities should not be respected and in turn I respect others that have abilities that differ from my own.

    If you look at Fields Medal winners and Nobel Prize winners in Physics you will find an astounding percentage of Jewish people. They have a high frequency of people with innate ability that allows high levels of attainment in various human endeavors. We all have reason to appreciate these talents and best to identify as early as possible with standardized testing and nurture those with high potential.

    I could never accept that standardized testing is simply a racist scheme with no objective value. It does have high predictive value in many areas of human endeavor.

  190. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Scott #186

    I agree I likely could have found someone better but but then again…

    I can imagine recounting the history of Columbus to someone in the Roman Senate and the response being-Wow impressive, where specifically did you say he captured those slaves again?

    I can imagine recounting the history of Columus to someone in a Pharoah’s court and the response being-Wow impressive, where specifically did you say he captured those slaves again?

    Same for Mycenaeans and for the post Islam Arabs of North Africa and for Equatorial Africa and for 18th Century British Empire (probably envious of Columbus) etc etc.

    Through modern lense absolutely abhorrent but in the context of Man’s history another day another dollar.

    I hope Tutankhamun’s mask and the pyramids don’t fall under the merciless moral judgement of BLM or ANTIFA. Take a lot of spray paint to sufficiently tag the Sphinx and pyramids with social justice slogans.

  191. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #189

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. As you say, there are things we agree and there are things we disagree.

    Our disagreements boil down to our respective personal experiences that obviously color our opinions. Your personal story is very powerful and I think we can both agree that to a large extent it has shaped this view:

    “It was largely standardized tests that saved me from life in some meth/opiod dystopia and society benefitted from my life being saved.”

    I have a story of my own. As I said, I prefer to keep as many details private as possible, but Scott knows I attended as a graduate student one of America’s top academic powerhouses. My path there was not quite exactly like yours because although I do come from a humble background and both my parents were uneducated, they both thought education was important and invested the little that they had so that me and my siblings had the best education they could afford. That education didn’t happen at an elite education. So when I found myself in the position of applying to graduate school, I did the GRE and I sucked at it. I spent 3 months coaching for the exam using guides from Kaplan, Princeton Review and Barrons. I took an in person GRE preparation class. After 3 months of sustained effort, I aced the quantitative and analytical writing parts of the exam all while getting a competitive score in the verbal section. Then I hired an admissions consultant to help me with my statement of purpose and voila, I was admitted!

    Once in, I met people who had done their undergraduate education at America’s top schools and while they were clearly more polished than me, and I met people who clearly deserved the label of “genius” as portrayed in the popular media -people like Ramanujan- for the most part, the people who bragged about their high SAT/GRE scores had one thing in common: their privileged upbringing. What I did on my own after my undergraduate education to maximize my chances of admission as a graduate student is what their parents had done for them since they were kids. You can find exceptions that don’t fit this pattern, like yours or Charles Murray -a public intellectual who also credits the SAT for taking him from Iowa to Harvard- but that’s not what I have known in my personal experience.

    In fact, my personal observation is backed by studies that contradict this,

    “I could never accept that standardized testing is simply a racist scheme with no objective value. It does have high predictive value in many areas of human endeavor.”

    The College Board’s own data says that high SAT scores are correlated with high income, highly educated parents and parents being white (a term that according to the US’ standard definition includes Jewish ancestry)

    Note that I do not dispute this data. But data in isolation doesn’t tell you much. You need a framework to make sense of this data. You have one such framework, I have a different framework. We both likely see our assumptions confirmed. Take the matter of the over-representation of people of Jewish ancestry among Fields Medals and Nobel Prize winners. I see a strong cultural reason for that fact. Jewish culture emphasizes learning in ways other cultures don’t. It’s the same with Chinese culture and the people who come from higher castes in India. Thus, it is not surprising that two generations after US immigration law was changed to allow for more immigrants from Asia, we see Asians competing with whites as the group that sends more people to America’s top schools. I would not be surprised in several more generations down the road, Asians are over-represented among the Nobel Prize and Fields Medals winners that hold US citizenship.

    It’s equally unsurprising that after 200+ years enduring slavery, racism, bigotry and what have you, Black Americans remain at a cultural disadvantage with respect to other ethic groups.

    There is another group of people that, without reaching over representation in Nobel or Fields Medals awards, is widely successful in the United States according to traditional measures of success such as income and intellectual achievement: Nigerians. The Nigerians that I have met in my professional life who are extremely accomplished tend to be children of the Nigerian elite. Obviously, these Nigerians have not endured the hundred years long discrimination that Black Americans who are descendants of slaves have, and in my view this shows in in the different levels of achievement of Nigerians when compared to Black Americans who are descendants of slaves. In my view, the success of these Nigerians in the United States refutes any notion that Black people are inherently/genetically inferior to non Black people. In fact, the best knowledge we have today based on genetics says this much . Craig Venter also has an unorthodox career in the US that resembles what you describe in your own case but his knowledge of genetics makes him conclude that race is a social concept not a scientific one because there are no “bright lines” we can can see in the human genome that are popularly associated with the concept of “race”.

    I will leave it here. I think we have reached another of those situations of agreeing to disagreeing. It was great to have this measured conversation with you.

  192. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #191

    Just one more comment. I worked and lived in Nigeria for years but have a completely different view of the reasons for Nigerian success in the US than you. Nigerians tend to have a strong nuclear family. The Christians there value traditional values as do the Muslims. Whether in the elites or not in the elites the strong nuclear families tend to value education and have the approach that your parents pursued-sacrifice all that your children recieve an education. Nigerians that I worked with in Nigeria and educated in US universities tended to view things in racial terms as is common in the US. The Nigerians educated in Nigeria tended to see things as not race based and that we are all people trying to do the best we can. It was a stark contrast in world views. I enjoyed working there and together we accomplished what hadn’t been accomplished previously.

  193. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #189 (and in fact those who are following this conversation).

    Something I haven’t mentioned until now is that there is an ongoing longitudinal study of children Lewis Terman identified as “gifted” using his IQ test. These are the so called Termites. You have more info here

    “Let us give Terman the benefit of the doubt and post that all 2,000 scientific and technical publications were produced by the 70 who made it into American Men of Science. That implies that, on average, Terman’s notable scientists produced about 29 publications by the time they had reached their mid-40s. In contrast, American Nobel laureates in the sciences averaged about 38 publications by the time they were 39 years old, and claimed about 59 publications by their mid-40s. THat amounts to a twofold disparity in output. Hence, Terman’s intellectual elite was not of the same caliber as the true scientific elite of the same nation and era…

    Another analysis shows that the accomplishments of the “Termites” could have been predicted on their socioeconomic status alone. These were mostly white, middle to upper middle class men with opportunities and resources for success. Some argue that it wasn’t even necessary for Terman to analyze the IQ dimension–he could have stopped with SES and call it a day….

    …Even more telling is a recent study conducted by Margaret Kern and Howard Friedman at the University of California at Riverside. They gathered follow-up data from the Terman Life Cycle Study, which included 1,023 participants. They wanted to know how predictive age at first reading and age at school entry was. What they found blew my mind. While early reading was associated with academic success, it was less associated with lifelong educational attainment and was hardly related to midlife adjustment at all. Early school entry was associated with less educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment, and even an increased mortality risk! The authors conclude: “The findings also highlight the complex issues regarding school entry and readiness. Lifespan approaches to these multifaceted issues will help us better understand the full ramifications of these important early-life developmental milestones.””

    Are there people who are born, for lack of a better word, “geniuses” like Ramanujan? I believe so. But there are very few people who belong in this group. Extremely few. So few of them that if they manage to become adults they typically make it into the history books.

    Can these people be identified with something akin to an IQ test -by this I mean a timed multiple choice exam? The best evidence we have is that IQ test results work better as a group predictor, ie, as a group people who score higher in IQ tests tend to enjoy higher educational attainment and higher professional success. At the same time, I have yet to learn about any such genius identified solely on the basis of an IQ test.

    And, as the aforementioned article says, what IQ tests might measure, again as a group, is socioeconomic status rather than anything akin to innate intelligence. The data from the College Board certainly supports this contention.

    As it happens with the conversation around the electoral college, those who benefit from the SAT/ACT tests playing an important role in admissions will defend the validity of the tests to death and will come up with every rationalization in the book as to why they should continue to be an important factor in admissions. Human beings are great at rationalizing. We all do it -I know I certainly do. One group we know is trying to play this card is . It used to be the case that holistic admissions were introduced to discriminate against Jewish students.

    This group charges that the same mechanism is now used to discriminate against Asian students. Since my contention -again based on my own experience- is that standardized tests can be coached, I don’t buy the rationalization that performance in standardized tests should be the only criteria of admission.

    In my professional life, I know quite a few people of Indian heritage. India’s IITs are an example of institutions that claim to admit on the basis of merit via an entrance exam . As it happens in these situations, the devil is in the details “The highly competitive examination in the form of IIT-JEE has led to the establishment of a large number of coaching institutes throughout the country that provide intensive, and specific preparation for the IIT-JEE for substantial fees. It is argued that this favours students from specific regions and richer backgrounds. Some coaching institutes say that they have individually coached nearly 800 successful candidates year after year. According to some estimates, nearly 95% of all students who clear the IIT-JEE had joined coaching classes”.

    If American elite universities were to admit on the basis of performance in standardized testing alone, a similar situation would happen here. Admissions at the undergraduate level at these institutions are already skewed towards the wealthy. They would be even more skewed without these institutions reserving the right of admitting students on a case by case basis. There is currently ongoing litigation on this matter. Students for Fair Admissions have so far lost the first round against Harvard. The case will likely en up in the US Supreme Court. I hope that whatever happens, American universities at large retain the right to do holistic admissions. Any move to formulaic admissions will be gamed by those with the means to pay for coaching services. Currently in the US there exists this type of coaching services -I paid for them during my application to graduate school- but the holistic admissions nature of the system assures that except in the few cases where your last name is “Gates”, “Obama” or “Trump”, coaches cannot make any guarantees of admission.

  194. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #192

    Wonderful! I have never been in Nigeria but every Nigerian colleague I have worked with in the US was a delight to work with I do get that these Nigerians I worked with were a pretty select group but still!

    Let’s pursue this idea

    “I worked and lived in Nigeria for years but have a completely different view of the reasons for Nigerian success in the US than you. Nigerians tend to have a strong nuclear family. The Christians there value traditional values as do the Muslims. Whether in the elites or not in the elites the strong nuclear families tend to value education and have the approach that your parents pursued-sacrifice all that your children recieve an education”

    Doesn’t this support my contention that any perceived advantage by Jewish or Asian Americans over other ethnic groups is largely cultural, ie, that the most likely explanation for the differential in IQ tests results and achievement between Black Americans who have ancestors who were slaves and other groups in the US is America’s original sin and the consequences of hundreds of years of institutional racism?

  195. TextLossArcade Says:

    A very small proportion of the protests have been violent.

  196. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #192

    It is consistent with both of our views. For at least the sake of argument let’s assume that we each have a hard wired potential for something. Since I know engineering best just say engineering potential. You have a set of people that all have an engineering degree but those people still have some range of potential as engineers. They may have had somewhat higher scores on math components of standardized tests throughout school and for most they likely did have a strong nuclear family that encouraged education. They were able to achieve much closer to their hard wired potential then others. It doesnt mean in any way they have unlimited potential as engineers. Most are just run of the mill engineers with fewer and fewer as performance criteria are raised. There are very few that can conduct creative novel engineering.

    It seems to me that the belief we all have the same level of maximum potential is rooted in some type of narcissism that is fostered by some type of ideology. It is simply not true but it is certainly true that many people have the ability to be an accountant or an HR rep or other profession but simply do not achieve close to their potential. Again that in no way suggests they have the potential to work at the highest reaches of human endeavor.

    I worked in places that were disadvantaged other than Nigeria. Sometimes the provision of some specialized services are required and it is necessary to bring in a company for a period of time to provide that service. The Caucasian engineers that provide the service are generally lower run of the mill engineers, in the event of some problem, they invariably try to blame local people for their problem. I never tolerated that approach and their personal weaknesses were apparent to me. I am in no way a racist but do believe standardized testing predicts maximum potential for many human endeavors. Most Caucasian engineers are run of the mill as are most bllack engineers and that is just the way things work.

    I understand your reaction to the snobbery you encountered but still dont accept that you or I have unlimited potential subject only to our personal efforts.i am happy that you achieved your goals and am sure your parents were esctatic.

  197. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    A good way to phrase it is that European/American/Canadian engineers providing some very specialized technical service, no matter how Progressive they are, invariably blame local people for their problems when the pressure is on. They view this as their Get Out of Jail Free card.

    Also above, not to be accused of a revealing subconscious error, please exchange bllack engineers (sic) engineers with Black engineers.

  198. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #196

    I get what you are saying and I think that this summarizes our differences,

    “believe standardized testing predicts maximum potential for many human endeavors”.

    I don’t. I believe that the only thing standardized tests measure is how well you do in standardized tests. This applies to me too. Other than the GRE, I have had to prepare other tests that have a “standardized” format and I know that practice and making your head “think” like the test takes you very, very far.

    Statistically speaking, a high score in a standardized test tells you more about the socioeconomic background of the test taker than any intrinsic potential of the same. This is what the College Board’s own data shows.

    BTW, I am not saying everybody has the same of what you call “potential” or if you will what some people call “intrinsic talent”. What I am saying is twofold:

    – Standardized tests are not the best way to find you what anyone’s “intrinsic limits” are simply because there are cases of extremely talented people who don’t perform well in these tests (more later).

    – Raw talent works best as a necessary, not sufficient, condition and more like a “threshold”. While I don’t think you can measure “raw talent”, beyond a certain amount of “talent” achieving great things in life requires grit. So denying people opportunities based on some artificial “cut off” on the premise “you will never amount to anything because you have an intrinsic limit” is a disservice to society. Based of what I have encountered in my own life, past this minimum amount of “talent”, I rather work with the person with the most grit than the person with the most “talent”.

    This is not just some sort of “feel good”, Kumbaya like statement. And it is not based sorely on my own experience and what I have seen around me. There is plenty of evidence to support what I say above:

    – Lewis Terman’s study tested and failed to identify two children who ended up becoming Nobel Prize Laureates in physics: William Shockley and Luis Alvarez. None of the Termites who ended up pursuing careers in science won a Nobel Prize. So much for the original IQ tests as predictive of potential.

    – There is one academic field where something akin to “standardized testing” exists that some have sought to see as indicative of “potential”: mathematics . While some people who do well in these competitions tend to later go and become great mathematicians -the most visible example of this association is Terry Tao-, there is plenty of people who don’t do well in math competitions who end up becoming great mathematicians. And it’s not just some “run of the mill” mathematicians. Check , we are talking about people like Goro Shimura, Andrew Wiles, William Thurston and Alexander Grothendieck. As it is said here “Grothendieck is considered by many to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century”. Andrew Wiles was one of the first mathematicians to gain fame in popular culture for proving a problem that had remained unsolved for more than 300 years: Fermat’s Last Theorem.

    – Since you mentioned G H Hardy “It has often been said that Tripos mathematics was a collection of elaborate futilities, and the accusation is broadly true. My own opinion is that this is the inevitable result, in a mathematical examination, of high standards and traditions. The examiner is not allowed to content himself with testing the competence and the knowledge of the candidates; his instructions are to provide a test of more than that, of initiative, imagination, and even of some sort of originality. And as there is only one test of originality in mathematics, namely the accomplishment of original work, and as it is useless to ask a youth of twenty-two to perform original research under examination conditions, the examination necessarily degenerates into a kind of game, and instruction for it into initiation into a series of stunts and tricks”. This wouldn’t be too bad except that as G H hardy also said in this now famous speech calling for the abolition of this type of exam “on the other hand it is really rather difficult to exaggerate the hold which the Tripos has exercised on Cambridge mathematical life, and the most cursory survey of the history of Cambridge mathematics makes one thing quite clear; the reputation of the Tripos, and the reputation of Cambridge mathematics stand in correlation with one another, and the correlation is large and negative.”

    – In the world of high tech, there is one company that is famous for having used, specially in the past, this kind of “standardized games” to identify talent. That would be Google. While the financial success of Google is undeniable, Apple has typically taken a different approach in hiring focusing more on “what’s the evidence that you can do great work in the form of actual work” as opposed to “here is some tricky problem that will tell me about your potential”. Apple is by far the most successful of the two in terms of market capitalization, revenues and profits. Google’s own data has found “a few days ago I watched How Computers Learn talk by Peter Norvig. In this talk, Peter talked about how Google did machine learning and at one point he mentioned that at Google they also applied machine learning to hiring. He said that one thing that was surprising to him was that being a winner at programming contests was a negative factor for performing well on the job”.

    So the notion of “intrinsic potential that can be measured with standardized tests” is not only something that has been traditionally used with racist intent -we know that Lewis Terman and other eugenicists of the time did- but there is plenty of evidence that the only thing we can conclusively say about these tests is that they measure ability to do well in the tests. Hiring based solely on performance in these tests turns out to be detrimental in the goal of identifying people who end up doing well on the job, whether that job is mathematics or programming. Can you imagine the amount of math or programming talent lost to “you did badly in this standardized test, therefore you are not good enough”?

    In my view, the “a score in a standardized test is an intrinsic indication of your potential” is an ideology that is not backed by real world evidence and is one of the remnants of the eugenics era in contemporary society.

    So we end up again agreeing to disagreeing.

  199. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #196

    And to supplement what I said in my previous comment. In my view, there is a profound philosophical difference in how people interpret a statement like the following:

    “believe standardized testing predicts maximum potential for many human endeavors”

    Statistical inference is built on the idea that what you learn from studying a group of people that you use as reference extrapolates to make predictions -here “prediction” is used in the statistical sense not ability to see the future- on other people outside the group because the people outside the group possess the same statistical properties as the original group under study.

    As Walter Lippmann mentioned in his critique of IQ tests, early on Lewis Terman ran into the problem that the artificially selected problems and thresholds used in Paris by Binet to define “normality” did not extrapolate to California. Given that in the late XIX century Paris was one of the world knowledge capitals -back then the United States was seen as intellectually inferior in science to the work performed at Paris’ best schools or universities such as Cambridge and Oxford-, I can only imagine that under the criteria used in Paris, a lower proportion of children in California came out as “normal”.

    I believe that people are not mechanical robots and that statistical methods of this kind cannot be used to make predictions -again in the statistical sense- about anyone’s intrinsic potential.

  200. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #199

    Thank you for the discussion and again I do enjoy reading your posts.

  201. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #200

    Same here! Have a great day!

  202. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #198

    The history of the Tripos is amusing. It is just so incredibly quintessentially British. Like Charlotte Scott that scored eighth in 1880 but wasnt recognized as Eighth Wrangler because she was a women. She bobbed her hair before moving to the US become one of the founding faculty of Bryn Mawr. Her bobbed hair was risky in Cambridge because short hair raised the risk of her being arrested and interned in Spinning House that was a jail for prostitutes and suspected prostitutes. This jail was established to intern women who might disturb the studies of the male students. Short hair was considered very suggestive of prostitution.

    Wrangler being announced by simplyba tip of the hat while names were read is priiceless.

    Hardy was a Fourth Wrangler and of course Shockley is ironic considering his later controversy in regards to support for eugenics.

  203. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Nilima, could you get in touch with me? I’m on facebook.

  204. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #202

    I think that the specific Cambridge Math Tripos format that G H Hardy criticizes is a blueprint of a particular way of thinking when it comes to identifying talent that has taken several incarnations since:

    – Standardized testing (IQ, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc, etc).

    – Math competitions that claim to appeal to the cleverness/ingenuity required to solve the problems (an example is the International Math Olympiad).

    – Programming competitions.

    – The entrance exam for India’s IIT (whose format ironically some Indians I have known in my life blame on the British legacy).

    – The way Google used to select technical talent.

    – Other exams that focus on solving what could be described a la G H Hardy as “elaborate futilities”.

    Now the problem with this line of thinking is that in some sense, it is right, namely, those doing well in each of these exams show some unique talent that makes them do well in these games.

    Their main problem is again one of inference. Does this mean that doing well in these exams is the only way to prove one’s capabilities in a technical endeavor? I don’t think so as I have already said numerous times. And there is a second problem. What happens when doing well at these exams becomes a goal onto itself? I see in both GH Hardy lament in the case of the Tripos format he criticized and ‘s observation for people who work at Google who did well in programming competitions a common theme: focusing exclusively on this kind of exam to identify talent ends up being counterproductive. To put it in machine learning terms, it becomes “over fitting”, no longer the right way to identify the talent you need as either Cambridge mathematicians or Google programmers.

    Several decades ago, there was also the belief among some that doing well in games like chess or go was indicative of intrinsic capability to the point that some thought doing well in chess could be used as a proxy to select programming talent. Again, people learned the hard way the difference between doing well in a game and doing well as a programmer on the job.

    With Shockley, I am convinced that his obsession with intelligence, race and eugenics comes, to a certain degree, from his not having done well in Terman’s IQ test. I am not saying that it was the only and exclusive motivator for his ideas in eugenics -it’s impossible to read people’s minds and know their true motivations- but I can see it being a factor. For those who are not familiar with the man and these ideas, here they comes William Shockley in his own words !

  205. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #204

    Criticisms of the critiques of Terman come to mind but I need to read through these myself so my next post will be delayed a few days. My previous posts have always included the recognition that intensive effort is required in addition to potential so that type of critique rings hollow on initial reading.

    If you have a reading list of Terman critiques then please post and if you know of any good histories of the John’s Hopkin’s program also much appreciated. I saw that Dawkins made a controversial tweet recently but haven’t read it nor any of the responses.

  206. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #205

    Because I have an unconventional background on many levels, the debate around nature, nurture and grit is one that has always interested me on a personal level.

    Had I believed the first person who told me “you did badly in this exam, you won’t go very far”, I would not have gone very far in life. Luckily for me I also met many people -family, teachers and mentors- who understood intuitively that I was “talented” even though said talent didn’t always show up in standardized tests results. They told me that with the right preparation and effort I could go very far. I believed the latter, not the former. If Scott is up to, I am OK if he wants to make a private introduction because for anonymity reasons, I prefer not to give out much publicly about me.

    Terman’s ideology of heritable, immutable intelligence that can be measured by a single number and that over time makes so called “whites” smarter has been, in my opinion, thoroughly debunked from a pure scientific point of view. The best work I can recommend is the aforementioned “The Mismeasure of Man”, specially this 1996 edition that contains a critique to Charles Murray’s book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” . Stephen Jay Gould gives the gist of the argument in this 1995 interview . Since I have personally experienced that coaching can have a significant impact on improving results in standardized tests, I obviously agree with the argument.

    On the general issue of effort beats natural talent (although as I said, I do believe that talent works more like as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition, and beyond a certain amount, it doesn’t help you much), I can recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success” . Malcolm Gladwell is a writer not a scientist, so this book, in mu opinion, is more easily readable but less scientific than Stephen Jay Gould’s.

  207. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #205

    Something else.

    Opening one’s mind that talent comes in all shapes and forms is also good for business. Koch Industries, which is one of the largest private companies in America that rivals many financial and tech companies in terms of revenues and number of employees, explicitly avoids hiring Ivy League types.

    Charles Koch explains here

    “TSD: Talent has got to be at the heart of any great organization. How do values play into your recruiting and retention of the very best people? And how does a big industrial corporation attract bright young people who increasingly want to head to places like Silicon Valley and Wall Street?

    CK: Having skills and intelligence is important, but we can hire all the brightest MBAs in the world, and if they don’t have the right values, we will fail. Therefore, we hire based on values first – then talent. Our experience confirms that when a person has the appropriate values, beliefs, and intelligence, the needed skills and knowledge can usually be developed.

    In Good Profit, I tell the story of an Ivy League-educated journalist from a famous New York business publication who once interviewed me about Koch and our employees. She asked me, “Doesn’t your location in Wichita make it hard to attract top talent?” What she didn’t realize is that Koch’s location in the heartland is an asset, not a drawback. For example, young people who’ve grown up on a farm learn early on the importance of accountability. They understand that if you decide to sleep instead of getting up to milk the cow one morning, you can’t pass the buck or cover up your mistake.

    There is nothing wrong with recruiting students from Ivy League schools – that works well for many companies – but Koch has enjoyed much better results hiring from Wichita State or Kansas State than from Harvard. In fact, the four employees who have succeeded me as president of Koch Industries hailed from the Murray State University School of Agriculture, Texas A&M, the University of Tulsa, and Emporia State University.

    The bottom line is that talented people with bad values can do far more damage to a company than virtuous people with inferior talents.”

    You don’t hear much about the Kochs in the mainstream media -except for their being vilified; as an aside as I said previously, the way the left attempts to influence voters is by controlling institutions of cultural influence; the maligning of the Kochs is one way they do this something along the lines “the Koch billionaires are attempting to buy the election”; never mind that most billionaires, particularly the newest ones who have built fortunes on extractive schemes, are a core constituency of the modern day Democratic Party- but when it comes to how they think about finding talented people, I think they have the better approach than the large and successful Wall Street and Silicon Valley companies with the possible exception of Apple which, as I said in a previous post, also follows a more “Koch Industries like” approach to hiring.

  208. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    Ethan #206 #207

    I downloaded Gould’s book and started reading and not a fan of his writing style but will read it in full. This kind of shifts our original discussion from more “are there innate determinants of intellecual talent and when/if it can be recognized through standardized testing” to more “what is the heritability of intellectual talent and has an assumption of strong heritability been misused politically”. I can agree with you already that race and social class are not reliable predictors of intelligence for any individual.

    I dont really know much about the Koch brothers other than their Progressive press reputation and I understand they didn’t support Trump. I completely understand the distinction you make about the kind of people that work best in Koch Industries. I know someone quite well that you likely know (if not personally then by reputation) that came from a modest background, did well on standardized tests, and really built a company that revitalized US domestic energy production. His parents didn’t have college educations but he was a good engineer and did extremely well. I would support to the end that he deserved every dollar he made considering the value he created for society. He built something of value and benefitted handsomely in the process. I know another engineer whose father was actually illiterate and did well on standardized tests, received a private engineering school education, and has also has done quite well. There are many people that have benefitted from standardized tests and have benefitted society but there are still levels of intellectual ability over and above what is required by most US companies. At this time i struggle to see this as a concidence

    I have looked for some history or survey of the Johns Hopkins’ program but have been unable to locate comprehensive information. There are some very well known names, that crreated huge value for society, that were identified by this program at an early age (including Lady Gaga :)).

    I agree that large company bureaucrats are stalwarts of the Democratic Party. I cant imagine that will change for the better without some hard bottom being reached and the opposite likely true. Many college new hires have been successfully propagandized that the Red Guard were freedom loving young peope fighting against ruthless colonial powers. I notice a disturbing lack of critical independent thinking abilities. If Koch identifies competent hard working new hires that understand life is not necessarily what you think it should be then a huge competitive advantage going forward.

    I have no doubt that hardship can provide values that contribute to later success and that increasingly in the US those entering college have never suffered economic hardship. They seem intent on a path that will likely create economic hardships for themselves so life may still have its pound of flesh.

    I will read Gould and Gladstone and post my comments after reading.

  209. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    What I meant above is that I struggle to believe, in the cases that I know of personally, that scoring well on tests at an early age and later success was coincidence. Their success required talent and dilligence over and above what is required to fill successive bureaucratic positions in a large company. They built things of value for society and profited personally as a result.

  210. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    …and then above that you have higher intelligence people that I can’teven imagine working in a large mature company nor should they considering the societal value they might provide in other venues and would have no chance of providing in their open office format cubicle.

  211. OhMyGoodness... Says:


    The entrance requirements for the gifted and talented program at Johns Hopkins requires simply a score of 700 on either the verbal or the math sections of the SAT prior to 13th birthday. It has nothing to do with Terman nor Tripo nor Olympiad but has certainly identified 13 year olds of exceptional potential who went on to provide enormous benefits to society.

    I need to read through everything but the Terman group actually seems to have done well. Are you suggesting that someone evaluating the group based on diversity or whatever would have done bettr and would have identified Shockley and Alverez?

  212. Anders Says:

    >Scott: In almost every moral stance of the SJWs, there’s a core of truth. Yes, racism was the US’s original sin, and the US is still dealing with the consequences. Yes, women were treated as property for most of human history, and we’re all still dealing with the consequences of that. But by and large, I think the living people to blame for these things are the ones who are totally shameless and unreflective about them. When you blame the people who are trying as hard as they can to be OK, consistently with living their lives (which might mean: running a business, dating the opposite sex, etc.), it’s not just that you fail to make things better, it’s that you cause a backlash that aggressively makes them worse. It’s a little like the OCD sufferers who know that showering is good for cleanliness and health, so they spend 16 hours per day in the shower until their skin peels off.

    Have you considered that this is not nearly as common as you think? (the people analogous to the OCD sufferers i mean, yes there are weird self-flagellating white men who ritually denounce their own racism. no, they’re not the majority or even significant beyond being a right-wing talking point)

  213. OhMyGoodness... Says:


    I grew up near a guy (he was a couple years younger and we were not close friends) from a humble family that excelled from a young age at standardized tests and became head of Pediatric Oncology at Harvard. He worked at a local movie theater and at Macdonalds. I knew another guy, high standardized test results, whose PhD thesis is considered one of two seminal papers in object oriented programming. Again good test results and ultimately of benefit to society. Unusually high intelligence is the most precious resource of mankind and often does benefit society in general. Sad that so many see it as some scam to keep more deserving people in their place.

  214. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #208, #209, #210, #211

    Interesting conversation. I will wait until you read Gould’s book. You get the gist of what I am say by just reading chapters 5 “The Hereditarian Theory of IQ: An American Invention” and 6 “The Real Error of Cyril Burt: Factor Analysis and the Reification of Intelligence”. Particularly the second chapter was my big “aha” on this topic in the sense that the same data obtained from testing mental abilities, depending on your prior assumptions, can be used to support the existence of a linear measure of intelligence that can be used to ranked people known as or the model of Primary Mental Abilities .

    As Gould convincingly argues, refuting the first model in favor of the second happened in the breeding ground of the aftermath of the 1929 Great Depression. Many intellectuals who had fallen for “I am so smart because I have a high IQ” found themselves unemployed and suffering financial hardship, thus the whole notion of “there must be something else to intelligence than an IQ test score and it’s not only low IQ people who are losers” began to take hold among the American educated class.

    I believe that neither theory is probably fully correct because both are different manifestations of the so called reification fallacy . What the exposition in chapter 6 shows is that the whole idea of a single number, obtained from correlation matrices in mental testing data, that captures a person’s full intellectual potential and that you can use said number to rank people’s intellectual abilities on a linear scale is wrong.

    The issue what’s the best way to measure human intelligence remains, in my view, a very contentious topic to this day. In fact, the more we know about the diversity in which human talent shows up, the further we are from being able to model human intellectual capacity in a narrow way.

    I also agree with this:

    “This kind of shifts our original discussion from more “are there innate determinants of intellecual talent and when/if it can be recognized through standardized testing” to more “what is the heritability of intellectual talent and has an assumption of strong heritability been misused politically”. I can agree with you already that race and social class are not reliable predictors of intelligence for any individual.”

    Note that I have never said that habitability plays no role in a person’s intelligence, however you define it. What I am saying is that there is clearly more than that going on, including environmental factors but also what is generally known in the world of statistics as . Thus, denying people’s opportunities based on who their parents (or family histories) are and the result of an IQ test performed early in life is a disservice to society.

    On the other issues you bring up,

    ” know someone quite well that you likely know (if not personally then by reputation) that came from a modest background, did well on standardized tests, and really built a company that revitalized US domestic energy production”

    The description fits Rex Tillerson’s.

    “The entrance requirements for the gifted and talented program at Johns Hopkins requires simply a score of 700 on either the verbal or the math sections of the SAT prior to 13th birthday. It has nothing to do with Terman nor Tripo nor Olympiad but has certainly identified 13 year olds of exceptional potential who went on to provide enormous benefits to society.”

    Looking at the famous names here whose personal biographies I am most familiar with, I think that the socioeconomic aspect definitely plays a role in many cases. Sergey Brin and Terry Tao for example both benefited enormously from being born in brainy families. Now, not every child of professors, researchers and doctors ends up achieving their level of success, but if you take a look at the personal biographies of Fields Medals winners, their being brought up in brainy families is pretty common.

    The reason why the Fields Medals is a good award to gauge the impact of family history is because of the award’s arcane 40 year old limit (not surprisingly this limit was set in the same era when biological determinism was at its peak of influence) makes it less likely that today, when making original contributions to mathematics deserving the honor requires more knowledge than in previous eras, the award goes to people without in-born advantages in their personal family history. One of the reasons the Abel Prize was introduced, from what I understand, is that by hoping it becomes the most important award in mathematics, more people, beyond those with the inherent advantage of having been born in the right family, get inspiration to become mathematicians. If you look at the winners since 2014, , only Grigory Margulis is also a winner of the Fields Medal. I don’t think it’s an accident. While the first winners of the Abel prize had to necessarily been Fields Medals winners to make sure the award became prestigious, there seems to be a concerted effort from the Abel Prize committee to move away from Fields Medals winners. The biggest travesty the Fields Medals committee has ever committed is their refusal to change the age limit to give a Fields Medal to Andrew Wiles.

    So I will leave hear and I look forward to your thoughts later on.

  215. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #211

    I forgot to say,

    “I need to read through everything but the Terman group actually seems to have done well. Are you suggesting that someone evaluating the group based on diversity or whatever would have done bettr and would have identified Shockley and Alverez?”

    No, what I am saying is that using IQ tests, particularly at an early age and based on arbitrary cut offs, to identify who “has it” and who “hasn’t” beyond being morally evil, deprives society from talented people whose talents night show up differently. The Soviet Union’s system of identifying talent largely followed this model -although they didn’t use IQ tests but more traditional math problems- in contrast with the American system.

    It’s not surprising that mathematics in the former Soviet Union became a way for families such as Sergey Brin’s to pass a way of making a good living from one generation to the next. And I say this from the humility of recognizing Sergey Brin’s great accomplishments. What I am saying is that in the long run, excluding people based solely on this “early sorting” mechanisms is bad for society. Without people who traveled unorthodox paths such as Steve Jobs or Craig Venter, America would not have had the great economic lead it had in the past over the former Soviet Union or that it currently enjoys over China.

    Put it differently: I believe early selection based on testing is a way to waste talent and that inclusive ways of identifying great talent make for a better society than more restrictive ways.

    Andrew Wiles has argued several times publicly, such as here specially starting at minute 2:00 , that the thinking behind the movie Good Will Hunting -ie that “math talent” is something one is born with or isn’t born with- is antithetical to how professional mathematics is usually done. And God bless him for thinking that way because it is very likely that without someone with Wiles’ attitude towards professional mathematics, Fermat Last Theorem would in all likelihood remain a conjecture not a theorem.

  216. fred Says:

    “whose PhD thesis is considered one of two seminal papers in object oriented programming”

    Heh, really nothing to be proud about, quite the opposite.

  217. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #213

    This is trending in LinkedIn and is relevant to our ongoing conversation.

    Satya Nadella saved Microsoft from Steve Ballmer. Not only Steve Ballmer got into Harvard as an undergraduate and into Stanford as an MBA but as his wikipedia page says “In 1973, he attended college prep and engineering classes at Lawrence Technological University. He graduated as valedictorian from Detroit Country Day School, a private college preparatory school in Beverly Hills, Michigan, with a score of 800 on the mathematical section of the SAT and was a National Merit Scholar. He now sits on the school’s board of directors.”

    From the LinkedIn article ““If you take two kids at school, one of them has more innate capability but is a know-it-all. The other person has less innate capability but is a learn-it-all. The learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all.” That’s Satya Nadella”.

    I think that this goes to the core of the disagreements we are having. I am willing to give you that a narrow focus on performance on standardized tests measures a specific talent and personality attitude that might be useful in certain situations or in certain hiring processes that are resource constrained.

    At the same time, I think that what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” which is the trait the article says Satya Nadella embodies and with which I feel deeply identified is a better way to identify talent, both “run of the mill” as well as “off the charts” talent.

    Steve Ballmer almost killed Microsoft with bad decisions such as deriding opensource, underestimating the shift towards a more online world, buying Nokia in an attempt to compete against the iPhone and a long list of decisions that sought to maximize short term revenue and profit growth at the expense of positioning Microsoft for the tectonic shift in the computer landscape triggered by the dominance of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and the like.

    Microsoft was very lucky to have Satya Nadella in its ranks. The turnaround experienced by the company under his reign is nothing short of miraculous and can only be compared to the turnaround experienced by Apple during Steve Jobs’ return to the company.

    For the 21st century knowledge based economy, I think that the Terman way of identifying top talent is counter productive and smart companies, including Google, are moving away from the excessive reliance on standardized test performance in hiring. They are not doing it because they hate the system or to feel good with themselves but for purely strategic reasons.

  218. Filip Dimitrovski Says:

    Do you think the following voting system is better than the current one:
    1. Voter registration needs a phone number.
    2. In the ballot, you write the phone number of a person you know that’s nicest and most knowledgeable. The paper also contains a proof of your identity.
    3. You must have called or received a call by the person in the last year. This gets verified during vote counting.
    4. A PageRank-like algorithm gives everyone a score.
    5. A subset of people are chosen using a threshold score, and out of those, a person is chosen by random (preferably using some provable randomness protocol).

  219. OhMyGoodness... Says:


    Most of the book was refutation of science conducted 100 years ago so not a high bar at all. Not diffuclt to agree that tests that found say 50% of those taking it were morons had a design problem. I did like Spearman’s description of mind as “general energy and specific engines”. I envisioned a dim London factory with steam engines pumping away.

    I didn’t agree with much of the last chapter and in particular his discussion about aggression as a proxy to discredit sociobiology. Genetics has become more complex since his book was written with appreciation of epigenetic control. I do not understand his position that evolution must have produced an essentially benevolent species. In every age of man there have been conflicts and violence. It seems to me that research conducted his book was written also undermines his comments on aggression. The following are links to the Wiki for MAO-A and a study from New Zealand evaluating links between MAO-A and aggressive behavior. The links between MAOA inhibitors and various complex behaviors like gambling and hypersexuality are well known as are the links between Brunner’s syndrome and aggressive impulsive behavior. Of course there was an outcry when this paper was published and the author’s response to the outcry that is shown there makes good points about the value of this research.

    As best I know our discussion was about the use of modern standardized tests as acceptance criteria for elite institutions. In my experience these tests do have great value. They certainly have more predictive success than simply being a legacy applicant or satisfying some criteria that appeals to an ideological bias of an interviewer.

    You often refer to hiring policies of businesses. The type of people that businneses require change during their life cycle. The fact that Google and Microsoft require certain types of people now doesn’t imply that this type of person would have been more successful during the founding phase. The founding groups revolutionized society and now a different type of employee will benefit from their efforts. I really can’t imagine why you think the practices of the founding group were fundamentally flawed considering their impact on global civilization. These companies will be more bureaucratic and less innovative and it looks as though very conformist work forces. BTW I saw Nadella made a stupendous error on his SEC stock filing.

    Tillman and Exxon had nothing to do with development of the shale production technologies but not important at all.

  220. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #219

    I don’t want to get distracted with the other issues about evolution you bring to the table. That’s a different topic.

    On the issues you raise that are relevant to the topic at hand,

    “As best I know our discussion was about the use of modern standardized tests as acceptance criteria for elite institutions. In my experience these tests do have great value. They certainly have more predictive success than simply being a legacy applicant or satisfying some criteria that appeals to an ideological bias of an interviewer. ”

    I never said that the standardized tests have no value at all. What I have said is that a score in a standardized test in isolation doesn’t tell you much about the applicant. In fact, the College Board, that has seen the writing on the wall for a long time that the line of thinking you seem to be defending -correct me if I am wrong but I understand your position to be that universities should admit on the basis of standardized testing performance alone or that at least SAT scores should play a prominent role in admissions- is going to die sooner rather than later, admitted that much when it tried to add a so called adversity score to accompany the actual SAT score . As someone said, it is a pity that the College Board backtracked because it would be about the only thing that would have motivated upper middle class Americans to move to modest neighborhoods!

    So I stand by my contention that SAT scores in isolation don’t tell much about someone’s potential to do great things in life. SAT scores tell you about how well you did taking the SAT. You can use the SAT as a barrier of entry (ie, to gauge how motivated someone is to get a score that makes them competitive in admissions at certain schools). At the same time, in terms of statistical predictive ability, the data shows very convincingly that SAT scores in isolation are more predictive -in the statistical sense- of socioeconomic background than of potential to achieve great things. What this means is that if all I know about you is that you scored 1600 in the SAT, I can say with more statistical confidence that you grew up in an upper middle class background that that in 10 years you’ll become a billionaire or extremely successful in your professional field of choice.

    On this other topic,

    “The type of people that businneses require change during their life cycle. The fact that Google and Microsoft require certain types of people now doesn’t imply that this type of person would have been more successful during the founding phase. The founding groups revolutionized society and now a different type of employee will benefit from their efforts. I really can’t imagine why you think the practices of the founding group were fundamentally flawed considering their impact on global civilization.”

    The funny thing is that one thing we know for sure, is that both Google and Microsoft, during their found, did not hire people based on SAT scores or any other sort of crazy testing but on people the founders knew from their personal network as people who trusted to get the job done. In Microsoft’s case, they only started to use crazy questions during the 1990s when the company’s success made them a magnet for people interested in working for them (during the 1980s, IBM was the top company for people interested in working for a prestigious tech company). Google copied the Microsoft method around its IPO only to abandon it several years later after their own data showed

    “On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart. ….
    One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”

    As I have said previously, Google moved away from their insane interviewing methods for strategic not for ideological reasons.

    I think we have reached the point of definitely agreeing to disagreeing. Unless you have additional substantive arguments to make, I rest my case.

  221. OhMyGoodness... Says:

    My first sentence should read-…clearly bad science of 100 years ago…

    Also can someone please explain to me why Progressive intellectuals so often have a deep love for baseball. I have never understood the linkage. Maybe it is the vast statistics or maybe because not a contact sport. It has always been a puzzle to me and this is the first time I have asked for help understanding this profound mystery.

  222. OhMyGoodness... Says:


    Not sure if this satisfies your criteria for being substantive so i apologize in advance if not. This study uses broader criteria than what makes a good entry level US corporate worker to evaluate the correlation between standardized test results and later success.

  223. OhMyGoodness... Says:


    On one hand they are private schools so they can admit as they like, so long as in compliance with applicable law, but on the other hand they are entrusted with educating the elite of the country. My suggestion is that admissions are made on the basis of merit and merit is what can be shown to have been achieved. I would blind applications with respect to family name, race, religion, and sex. There would be, similar to evidentiary rules, guidelines on what could be submitted to demonstrate merit. I would have no problem with considering an adversity score based some definite criteria like parents income or hours worked during high school and consider other accomplishments like intel science fair winner or author of some recognized work.

    It will never happen but a concerted good faith effort to admit based strictly on merit with blinded applications would be sufficient for me to consider it was a fair and just process.

  224. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #222

    I really want to call it a day but since I don’t find the study very convincing on several levels, I will give you my objections mostly for those who are following the conversation.

    First the participants,

    “Phase 1 participants were taken from Cohorts 1 and 2 of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth’s (SMPY’s) planned 50-year longitudinal investigation of intellectual talent (Lubinski & Benbow,1994). Participants were identified before age 13 through talent searches using the SAT (an entrance examination for college-bound high school seniors—a population 4 to 5 years older than them).Cohort 1 includes 2,188 participants (96% Caucasian, 2% Asian, 2%Other) who, by age 13, secured a score of 370 or above on the SAT–V or390 or above on the SAT–M, original scale, as part of SMPY’s talent searches in the early 1970s. This cohort was drawn primarily from the state of Maryland, with a subset from the Baltimore–Washington area.Cohort 2 includes 778 participants (89% Caucasian, 6% Asian, 5%Other) who scored 430 or above on the SAT–V or 500 or above on the SAT–M, original scale, as part of talent searches in the late 1970s.1Thiscohort was drawn from the mid-Atlantic states”

    There is no information about the parents socioeconomic background. Based on the information above, I infer with high probability that the kids were raised in upper middle class, mostly white neighborhoods. I can’t see anyone raised in a remote rural area or in an ethinically segregated ghetto taking part in a “talent search”.

    Second the measures used to gauge success and creativity are dubious.

    “Huber (1999) has argued that patents are among the most objective criteria available for quantifying genuine manifestations of creativity in science and technology. Securing tenure at a top university reflects another form of creativity; candidates are evaluated internally and externally by leaders in the field for outstanding contributions to their discipline.”

    I see both measures more as detecting “gamers” than “creative” people. Let me explain.

    The patent system is utterly broken. If at inception time it was a mechanism indicative of creativity, it’s certainly not the case anymore. It’s so broken in fact that getting a patent application approved is more an indication of “you had good lawyers that were able to successfully game the system” than “you are a creative guy”. IBM is the company that in recent years ranks as #1 in terms of patents, check . I don’t know anyone in high tech who considers IBM he most innovative or the most creative company in spite of their leading the ranking in terms of patents awarded each year. Tesla decided a few years ago that filing patents was useless and decided to stop pursuing them, licensing whatever patents they had to the world . Elon Musk explains “When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.”.

    You are on slightly better ground with using tenured professors as a metric, but only slightly. I mean this with no disrespect to Scott or any of the many wonderful and creative tenured professors I know in my life. Getting tenure at a top university is, as I like to say, impossible. At the same time, using it as an indicator of extreme creativity is problematic. It is well documented that “Striving for tenure at a university is like gambling in a casino; the house sets the rules and controls the odds. From a university’s point of view, the granting of tenure is an enormous commitment. If one assumes that a newly tenured professor will work at the university for 30 years with an average salary and benefits of $100,000, granting tenure is a $3 million commitment, a substantial obligation for any institution to assume. Therefore, to protect the institution, university tenure guidelines include phrases stating that the granting of tenure shall occur when it is in the best interest of the university. Tenure is based on the university’s needs, not the achievements of those seeking tenure, and the university sets the rules and controls the odds. Changing budgets and administrations vary the standards for those receiving tenure over time, making comparisons with earlier cases potentially dangerous to current tenure candidates.”.

    Because it is such a small world, I prefer not to give many details but I have known several cases of people from my time in graduate school who decided to pursue an academic career that got tenure awarded, tenure denied or decided half way through the tenure process to abandon academia altogether. Because being considered for tenure at a top university already puts someone in a very select group (ie, people in this group already have off the charts “talent”, however you define it as a mixture of nature and nurture) getting tenure in my experience is more a combination of being at the right place at the right time and being able to game the process. For example, getting tenure in a booming academic field is more doable -still very tough- than in a stagnant academic field where you are waiting for people to retire. The cases I know of successful tenure applicants know how to game this well, for example changing academic departments where the seek tenure from the departments they got their PhD degrees. Most economics departments at top universities are wealthier than most other academic departments. If the subject matter that interests you can be pursued at an economics department, you will be more likely to be tenured there than if you seek to pursue the same subject matter at a humanities department at the same university.

    Again, I want to call it a day!

  225. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #222

    “Because being considered for tenure at a top university already puts someone in a very select group (ie, people in this group already have off the charts “talent”, however you define it as a mixture of nature and nurture) getting tenure in my experience is more a combination of being at the right place at the right time and being able to game the process”

    In case this was not explicit enough, what I know from my personal experience and from reading online experiences of people who got tenure, got denied tenure or decided to abandon academia half way the tenure process, what happens with people who get tenure vs people who don’t after having been offered tenure track jobs is a perfect example of intelligence -however you define it, however you think it is a result of nature vs nurture- functioning more like a threshold than a predictor.

    By the time someone is offered a tenure track job, specially at America’s top universities, he or she has already shown to be very smart by the mere fact of having graduated from a top PhD program. What differentiates those who end up getting tenure vs those who don’t isn’t “talent”, however you measure it, but other qualities, primarily grit. I have known cases for example of people who got tenure at their second try, namely, leaving a tenure track position close to the end for another tenure track position where they had to start the process from scratch.

    People I have known in my life who also defend your views -I am not saying you are defending the following, only that I have seen a correlation between people who have your views and people who defend the following- like to focus on artificial metrics of the kind “the youngest person to get tenure at university X”. MIT Technology Review has a list known as . The Wikipedia page highlights a few of them “Laureates of the award include the co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Tesla JB Straubel, Linus Torvalds, Muyinatu Bell, Ewan Birney, Katherine Isbister, Jay Shendure, Mandy Chessell, Eben Upton, Shinjini Kundu, Shawn Fanning, Amy S. Bruckman, and Rediet Abebe.”.

    The reality is that you never hear again from the majority of those who were selected for the honor after they were selected.

    My observation is not even new. Richard Hamming already noticed in his famous essay “You and Your Research”

    “When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. This is what did Shannon in. After information theory, what do you do for an encore? The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn’t the way things go. So that is another reason why you find that when you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you. In fact I will give you my favorite quotation of many years. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, in my opinion, has ruined more good scientists than any institution has created, judged by what they did before they came and judged by what they did after. Not that they weren’t good afterwards, but they were superb before they got there and were only good afterwards. ”

    This is another example that highlights that focusing on “early selection” mechanisms is counterproductive to identifying, and importantly, developing talent. What Richard Hamming says above is consistent with the observation by GH Hardy on the Cambridge Tripos or Google’s analysis of their reliance on GPA/SAT scores as predictors of on the job performance.

    I really want to rest my case. We are now at a point where we are just reiterating our respective positions. I respect your views but I strongly disagree with them, specially with this notion that some artificial test should be used to detect at early age who “has it” and who “doesn’t have it”. I think that one of the genius of American society with respect to other societies (such as the former Soviet Union or current day China) is that it offers many opportunities for people to shine at different stages of their personal journey. And that’s an extremely good thing. It’s the reason we got Steve Jobs or Elon Musk whereas it is extremely unlikely that anyone with their exact same “natural talent” would have been able to thrive anywhere else in the world. As a result, we are a a better society than the one envisioned by Lewis Terman, Arthur Jensen and their followers.

  226. Simina Says:

    Donated $500 to the Lincoln project.

  227. Ronak Says:

    Lincoln Project? Really?

    Pushing the Overton window rightward during a worldwide fascist dawn isn’t good. I have trouble understanding why even extremely smart people have trouble with this sort of thing.

  228. Scott Says:

    Ronak #227: For me it’s simple.

    What is the goal right now? To defeat Trump. That’s the prerequisite to every other sane political goal.

    What will it take to achieve that goal? Turnout, yes, energizing the base, defending the election process, but if possible, also persuading a sliver of Trump supporters in swing states to switch sides or at least vote third party or abstain.

    Who is actually effective at that goal? Well, we don’t know. But while I thought the Biden campaign had some decent ads, I thought some of the Lincoln Project’s stuff was just savagely good—have you seen it?

    Why are they so effective? The answer seems obvious: for the same reason why a jilted ex is a more dangerous foe than a stranger. If anyone understood how to deprogram a Republican from the Trump cult, who would it be: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or a Republican who successfully resisted the cult’s pull?

    Do I agree with Lincoln Republicans about most “normal” issues—the ones we used to argue about before the takeover of Trump’s white nationalist gangsterocracy? No, I don’t.

    Does that matter? Not in my moral universe. If Churchill and FDR could ally with Stalin to defeat an even greater evil, then surely we can temporarily ally ourselves with the minority of Republicans who made the harder, more principled choice when tested.

    Turning one’s back on allies for the sake of moral purity is one of the dumbest and ugliest things that human beings can do. It fails miserably even at its own aim of moral purity.

  229. Anon Says:

    Scott, I feel you are giving too much credit to the far left by focusing on the flaw their moral model.

    The problem of the far left is simply corruption; the SJWs are reaching into too many areas to promote their goal, making decisions that they have no right to make. They broke the power/responsibility balance to push their issues, now they are just endlessly seeking more power under the guise of social justice.

    It’s like watching a cliche corruption story comically played out in the real world. The hero used the forbidden power, and as time passes, the only thing he can think about is getting more power.

    This post is thought-policing, but it’s only fair.