Quick hits (part II)

1) Great Wired article on the inherent difficulties in self-driving cars and testing the technology:

Dozens of companies are developing autonomous driving technology in the United States. They all rely on human safety drivers as backups. The odd thing about that reliance is that it belies one of the key reasons so many people are working on this technology. We are good drivers when we’re vigilant. But we’re terrible at being vigilant. We get distracted and tired. We drink and do drugs. We kill 40,000 people on US roads every year and more than a million worldwide. Self-driving cars are supposed to fix that. But if we can’t be trusted to watch the road when we’re actually driving, how did anyone think we’d be good at it when the robot’s doing nearly all the work?

2) I’ve become quasi-obsessed with what seems to be the great new intellectual charlatan of our age, Jordan Peterson.  Loved this NY Review of Books take:

Such evidently eternal truths are not on offer anymore at a modern university; Jung’s speculations have been largely discredited. But Peterson, armed with his “maps of meaning” (the title of his previous book), has only contempt for his fellow academics who tend to emphasize the socially constructed and provisional nature of our perceptions. As with Jung, he presents some idiosyncratic quasi-religious opinions as empirical science, frequently appealing to evolutionary psychology to support his ancient wisdom.

Closer examination, however, reveals Peterson’s ageless insights as a typical, if not archetypal, product of our own times: right-wing pieties seductively mythologized for our current lost generations…

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for “social justice warriors” and his claim that divorce laws should not have been liberalized in the 1960s. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds (“Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”). The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.”

In all respects, Peterson’s ancient wisdom is unmistakably modern. The “tradition” he promotes stretches no further back than the late nineteenth century, when there first emerged a sinister correlation between intellectual exhortations to toughen up and strongmen politics.

3) As I was hearing about many lives being saved by Narcan (nalaxone) this weekend, I couldn’t help think about this study (that suggested it actually led to increased opioid use through moral hazard) that was a pretty much classic example of how to lie with statistics.

4) Chait on all the “but liberals should be attacking important problems rather than giving right-wingers ammunition on the illiberalism on campus issue”

Many columns have made the case that too many columns have made the case against political correctness on campus. That is not necessarily a bad thing. If people have intense feelings about the number of columns devoted to discussing free speech on campus, they should express them. The heart wants what the heart wants.

But complaints about the quantity of a discussion tend to devolve into non sequiturs. Many of the anti-anti-PC-niks, while conceding that it’s wrong to shout down speakers or close down newspapers, use the moral power of some other issue to make their case. Because we have too many anti-PC columns, they insist, we have too few columns on some worthier subject. “This is not to say that counter-protests and free speech debates aren’t important and don’t deserve our attention,” argues McClennen. “But it is stunning to note the public apathy toward the systematic defunding of higher ed — a move that affects all families regardless of political beliefs.” Uyehara complains bitterly that “The Free Speech Grifters” — her term for critics of illiberalism on campus — “were silent when Maya Wiley, the Social Justice SVP at the New School, made news for the humanity she showed toward Sam Nunberg during his six-hour media meltdown over an FBI subpoena.”

As a matter of fact, I was not silent about Maya Wiley’s extraordinary gesture toward Sam Nunberg. But imagine that Uyehara was factually correct, and I had failed to discuss that episode. What does one have to do with the other? If the real problem with anti-PC columns is that they ignore more important issues off campus, then doesn’t that criticism apply with equal force to anti-anti-PC columns?

The anti-anti-PC columns propose numerous psychological theories to explain the perverse motivation of the moderate liberals and (generally) anti-Trump conservatives who talk too much about the campus left. We have supposedly given aid and comfort to the far right, which has deftly exploited the excesses of the campus left.

My response is that the right is attempting to discredit liberalism by attaching it to the illiberal left, and the proper response, both morally and politically, is to separate the two. It’s obvious to me why conservatives want everybody who’s alienated by the callout culture to self-identify as a conservative. It’s less obvious to me why liberals should also want that. [emphasis mine]

5) Dave Leonhardt on how education should be an easy winning political issue.

6) The evidence for gender bias in student evaluations of college teaching is ever more clear.  Good case that we should therefore not use them in employment/tenure decisions.  Given the alternative of an entirely non-empirical way to assess teaching (still susceptible to gender bias), I suggest we put a lot more thought into finding the right way to do this.

7) The funding for K-12 education in Oklahoma is just a joke (many systems have moved to 4-day weeks to make the budgetary ends meet).  Yet, how many frustrated Oklahomans will actually reject the Republican party that has brought them this low-taxes-at-all costs educational disgrace?

8) Looks like human culture as we know it may have began well earlier than we thought:

When Rick Potts started digging at Olorgesailie, the now-dry basin of an ancient Kenyan lake, he figured that it would take three years to find everything there was to find. That was in 1985, and Potts is now leading his fourth decade of excavation. It’s a good thing he stayed. In recent years, his team has uncovered a series of unexpected finds, which suggest that human behavior and culture became incredibly sophisticated well before anyone suspected—almost at the very dawn of our species, Homo sapiens.

The team found obsidian tools that came from sources dozens of miles away—a sign of long-distance trade networks. They found lumps of black and red rock that had been processed to create pigments—a sign of symbolic thought and representation. They found carefully crafted stone tools that are indicative of the period known as the Middle Stone Age; that period was thought to have started around 280,000 years ago, but the Olorgesailie tools are between 305,000 and 320,000 years old.

Collectively, these finds speak to one of the most important questions in human evolution: When did anatomically modern people, with big brains and bipedal stances, become behaviorally modern, with symbolic art, advanced tools, and a culture that built on itself? Scientists used to believe that the latter milestone arrived well after the former, when our species migrated into Europe between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, and went through a “creative explosion” that produced the evocative cave art of Lascaux and Chauvet. But this conspicuously Eurocentric idea has been overturned by a wealth of evidence showing a much earlier origin for modern human behavior—in Africa, the continent of our birth.

The new discoveries at Olorgesailie push things back even further. They suggest that many of our most important qualities—long-term planning, long-distance exploration, large social networks, symbolic representation, and innovative technology—were already in place 20,000 to 40,000 years earlier than believed. That coincides with the age of the earliest known human fossils, recently found elsewhere in Africa. “What we’re seeing in Olorgesailie is right at the root of Homo sapiens,” Potts says. “It seems that this package of cognitive and social behaviors were there from the outset.”

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