Quick hits (part II)

1) The gender norms in Mauritania are just bizarre.  In most ways, still a deeply patriarchal culture.  Except women can seemingly get divorced all the time with almost no stigma.  So weird.  Worth a gift link

Divorce in many cultures is seen as shameful and carries a deep stigma. But in Mauritania, it is not just normal, but even seen as a reason to celebrate and spread the word that the woman is available once more for marriage. For centuries, women have been coming together to eat, sing and dance at each others’ divorce parties. Now, the custom is being updated for the selfie generation, with inscribed cakes and social media montages, as well as the traditional food and music.

In this almost 100 percent Muslim country, divorce is frequent; many people have been through five to 10 marriages, and some as many as 20.

Some scholars say the country has the highest divorce rate in the world, though there is little reliable data from Mauritania, partly because divorce agreements there are often verbal, not documented…

Many women find that divorce affords them freedoms they never dreamed of before or during marriage, especially a first marriage. Mauritanians’ openness to divorce — which seems so modern — coexists with very traditional practices around first marriages. It is common for parents to choose the groom themselves and marry daughters off when they are still young — more than a third of girls are married by the time they are 18 — allowing the women little choice in their partners.

2) Yes, please, “How to Make Flying Less Terrible: Tech has changed the airline industry. It can also help fix it.”

This is all compelling evidence that it’s time for an overhaul of our aviation system. Today’s airline industry is the smallest and most concentrated since 1914, with just four airlines—American, Delta, United, and Southwest—controlling 80 percent of the market. But a comprehensive overhaul that would ensure that airlines provide better and more consistent customer service, across their networks and throughout the year, will take time, resources, and political will that would be hard to rally. Luckily, there are more incremental steps that can still make a difference, especially when it comes to protecting consumer rights. Biden’s proposed rules are one example, as is a customer service dashboard recently launched by the Department of Transportation. Ensuring that airline networks, staffing plans, and technology are ready for different types of disruptions through occasional stress tests (as is commonly done for banks) should be the next step.

The need for reform will likely become even more apparent in the coming months, because things are only about to get more frustrating. Flight delays and cancellations always increase during the peak summer travel months—June through August are consistently the months with the worst on-time performance. But this summer, airlines are also battling with staff and tech issues, and weather disruptions could make things worse…

But this summer, consumers will also have a new tool to navigate travel chaos. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its Airline Customer Service Dashboard in hopes of enhancing transparency and ensuring compliance with refunds related to delays and cancellations. As of now, the dashboard is nothing revolutionary, per se—just some charts with green checks and red marks that indicate airlines’ service commitments or lack thereof. But this dashboard is part of a larger aviation consumer protection initiative, and is used to signal to consumers which airlines are invested in improving their on-time performance. If an airline is willing to incur significant costs when delays and cancellations occur, it follows that it will do what it can to avoid those delays and cancellations.

It’s still early to know what the dashboard’s impact might be, but consumer rights education and regulation do have a good basis in research. When Hinnerk Gnutzmann and Piotr Spiewanowski studied European regulations that require airlines to provide assistance and cash compensation in the case of delays, they found that regulated fights experienced significantly shorter delays. Similarly, research shows that if we increase the amount of competition in the marketplace, consumers might receive better service. For example, when my former colleague Mike Mazzeo analyzed U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2000, he found that both the prevalence and duration of flight delays are significantly greater on routes where only one airline provides direct services. Additional competition is correlated with better on-time performance.

3) This is fantastic.  I think I’m pretty good at this, but far from perfect, “How to discipline kids effectively”

  • When we think of discipline, we often think of punishment, and it sounds cold and scary. But discipline is actually a larger system for teaching kids acceptable behavior through warmth, structure, and appropriate consequences.

  • Warmth means showing our kids we care, structure means setting clear rules and expectations, and consequences are the ways we respond to kids’ behaviors.

  • Operant Conditioning is a psychology theory that explains how we can use consequences to increase “okay” behaviors and decrease “not okay” behaviors…

4) Just came across this for research I’m doing.  It makes me wonder how much they really care, though. “Vast majority of Republicans support abortion exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s health”

Nine in 10 Americans think a pregnant woman should be able to legally have an abortion if her health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. An even larger majority of Republicans support that exception, with 86% agreeing that abortion should be legal in that circumstance, joining 95% of Democrats and 93% of independents.

This level of bipartisan support holds up even among respondents who live in states that have enacted restrictions on abortion. Aggregating the states where abortion is legal, 88 % of Americans think abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest. Among the states where abortion is banned, restricted or legislation is pending, a similar 85 percent said abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.

Likewise, 92 % of those who live in states where abortion remains legal and 90 % of those who live in states restricting the procedure say abortion should be legal if the mother’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

5) I’m glad that the officer who shot this boy was Black, because there’s so much wrong with policing that transcend race, which we need to focus on.  For example, poorly qualified officers who are way too trigger happy, “An 11-Year-Old Boy Called 911. Police Then Shot Him.”

A family has demanded that a Mississippi police officer be fired after shooting an 11-year-old boy who was trying to follow the officer’s orders after calling 911 for help, a lawyer for the boy’s family said.

The officer shot the boy, Aderrien Murry, in the chest, resulting in numerous injuries, including a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and fractured ribs, on May 20, said Carlos Moore, a lawyer representing the Murry family.

After spending several days in the hospital and intensive care, Aderrien is home and “doing as well as he can be after being shot in the chest,” Mr. Moore said.

“Little Mr. Murry came within an inch of losing his life in the wee hours of Saturday morning because of the actions of a cop,” Mr. Moore said at a news conference this week. “He was an unarmed, young Black man who was simply following his mother’s directions.”

Aderrien’s mother, Nakala Murry, said her ex-boyfriend, the father to one of her other children, knocked on her window around 4 a.m. last Saturday and asked to be let in the home.

Once inside, he became “irate,” so Ms. Murry said she went to Aderrien’s bedroom and instructed him to call his grandmother and 911.

Officers from the Indianola Police Department responded and tried to kick down the front door before Ms. Murry let them in, she said. The officers asked if anyone was armed, and then yelled for everyone in the house to come out with their hands up.

When Aderrien rounded a corner to follow their commands, he was shot, Ms. Murry said. Mr. Moore identified the officer who fired as Greg Capers.

6) How can epidemiological studies possibly show that ice cream is good for you?  Interesting stuff:

Back in 2018, a Harvard doctoral student named Andres Ardisson Korat was presenting his research on the relationship between dairy foods and chronic disease to his thesis committee. One of his studies had led him to an unusual conclusion: Among diabetics, eating half a cup of ice cream a day was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. Needless to say, the idea that a dessert loaded with saturated fat and sugar might actually be good for you raised some eyebrows at the nation’s most influential department of nutrition.

Earlier, the department chair, Frank Hu, had instructed Ardisson Korat to do some further digging: Could his research have been led astray by an artifact of chance, or a hidden source of bias, or a computational error? As Ardisson Korat spelled out on the day of his defense, his debunking efforts had been largely futile. The ice-cream signal was robust.

It was robust, and kind of hilarious. “I do sort of remember the vibe being like, Hahaha, this ice-cream thing won’t go away; that’s pretty funny,” recalled my tipster, who’d attended the presentation. This was obviously not what a budding nutrition expert or his super-credentialed committee members were hoping to discover. “He and his committee had done, like, every type of analysis—they had thrown every possible test at this finding to try to make it go away. And there was nothing they could do to make it go away.”

Spurious effects pop up all the time in science, especially in fields like nutritional epidemiology, where the health concerns and dietary habits of hundreds of thousands of people are tracked over years and years. Still, the abject silliness of “healthy ice cream” intrigued me. As a public-health historian, I’ve studied how teams of researchers process data, mingle them with theory, and then package the results as “what the science says.” I wanted to know what happens when consensus makers are confronted with a finding that seems to contradict everything they’ve ever said before. (Harvard’s Nutrition Source website calls ice cream an “indulgent” dairy food that is considered an “every-so-often” treat.)

“There are few plausible biological explanations for these results,” Ardisson Korat wrote in the brief discussion of his “unexpected” finding in his thesis. Something else grabbed my attention, though: The dissertation explained that he’d hardly been the first to observe the shimmer of a health halo around ice cream. Several prior studies, he suggested, had come across a similar effect. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Ardisson Korat for an interview—I emailed him four times—but never heard back. When I contacted Tufts University, where he now works as a scientist, a press aide told me he was “not available for this.” Inevitably, my curiosity took on a different shade: Why wouldn’t a young scientist want to talk with me about his research? Just how much deeper could this bizarre ice-cream thing go?

“I still to this day don’t have an answer for it,” Mark A. Pereira, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me, speaking of the association he’d stumbled upon more than 20 years earlier. “We analyzed the hell out of the data.”

7) As a notoriously fast eater, I quite enjoyed this.  I’m among the fastest eaters I know.  My sophmore college roommate was among the slowest.  After a while, we just stopped eating together because it was too annoying.  Anyway, “Eating Fast Is Bad for You—Right? The widespread advice to go slow is neither definitive nor universal.” 

But the widespread mantra of go slower probably isn’t as definitive or universal as it at first seems. Fast eaters like me aren’t necessarily doomed to metabolic misfortune; many of us can probably safely and happily keep hoovering our meals. Most studies examining eating speed rely on population-level observations taken at single points in time, rather than extended clinical trials that track people assigned to eat fast or slow; they can speak to associations between pace and certain aspects of health, but not to cause and effect. And not all of them actually agree on whether protracted eating boosts satisfaction or leads people to eat less. Even among experts, “there is no consensus about the benefits of eating slow,” says Tany E. Garcidueñas-Fimbres, a nutrition researcher at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Spain, who has studied eating rates

The idea that eating too fast could raise certain health risks absolutely does make sense. The key, experts told me, is the potential mismatch between the rate at which we consume nutrients and the rate at which we perceive and process them. Our brain doesn’t register fullness until it’s received a series of cues from the digestive tract: chewing in the mouth, swallowing down the throat; distension in the stomach, transit into the small intestine. Flood the gastrointestinal tract with a ton of food at once, and those signals might struggle to keep pace—making it easier to wolf down more food than the gut is asking for. Fast eating may also inundate the blood with sugar, risking insulin resistance—a common precursor to diabetes, says Michio Shimabukuro, a metabolism researcher at Fukushima Medical University, in Japan.

The big asterisk here is that a lot of these ideas are still theoretical, says Janine Higgins, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who’s studied eating pace. Research that merely demonstrates an association between fast eating and higher food intake cannot prove which observation led to the other, if there’s a causal link at all. Some other factor—stress, an underlying medical condition, even diet composition—could be driving both. “The good science is just completely lacking,” says Susan Roberts, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University.

8) I haven’t read the big Atlantic article on CNN’s Chris Licht yet, but this Dan Drezner take was nonetheless excellent:

The deeper story, however, is to divine what the big takeaway should be from Licht’s tenure to date. Because as much as Licht fucked up CNN’s morning show and Trump’s town hall, it is worth remembering that the network was not exactly in a great place before he came on board. There was the CNN+ fiasco, there was Zucker’s inappropriate work relationship, and there was prime time anchor Christopher Cuomo pretending that ethics were not a big deal across a wide variety of behaviors. Just as Twitter was not in great shape when Elon Musk bought it, CNN was not in the pink of health when Licht came on board.

However, like Musk, it appears that Licht inherited an unwell patient and then prescribed leeches as a remedy. To me, at least, this paragraph gets at the core of CNN’s problem:

Licht was no fascist. But he was trying to steal viewers from Fox News—and from MSNBC, for that matter. To succeed, Licht said, CNN would need to produce more than just great journalism. Reporting the news in an aggressive, nonpartisan manner would be central to the network’s attempt to win back audiences. But television is, at its essence, entertainment. Viewers would always turn on CNN in times of crisis, Licht told me. What he needed to find out was how many would turn on CNN for fun.

And here’s the problem for Licht and CNN: no one under the age of 75 will turn on CNN — or any cable news network for that mater — for fun. Younger generations will rely on social media to capture the lurid highlights of any cable news segment. Short of a real-time breaking news story, watching CNN is not on anyone’s to-do list. Licht’s ham-handed effort to cater to Fox News viewers has alienated the MSNBC demographic. And his attempt to woo those Fox watchers is bound to fail because those viewers do not want to watch the news, they want to hear reassuring conservative platitudes.

9) Really interesting insight from Ethan Mollick on another consequence of AI: “Setting time on fire and the temptation of The Button: We used to consider writing an indication of time and effort spent on a task. That isn’t true anymore.”

A lot of work is time consuming by design. Take, for example, the letter of recommendation. Professors are asked to write letters for students all the time, and a good letter takes a long time to write. You have to understand the student and the reason for the letter, decide how to phrase the letter to align with the job requirements and the student’s strengths, and more. The fact that it is time consuming is somewhat the point. The fact that a professor takes the time to write a good letter is a sign that they support the student’s application. We are setting our time on fire to signal to others that this letter is worth reading.

Or we can push The Button…

This is a good letter of recommendation, responding point-by-point to the details of the job, and suggesting a real knowledge of “Sally” (who is entirely fake). You will also notice that it makes stuff up, but in a way that is pretty plausible. It would be easy to make the letter more correct, either by providing more material in the prompt or by interacting with the AI: Incorporate the following real examples: ____. Replace the story about her extracurriculars with praise for how she did on this assignment: _____. And so on. Someone experienced with ChatGPT and Sally could make this letter factually correct in a few minutes, rather than spending ten times as much time writing a letter from scratch.

And the terrible, horrible thing about it is THIS IS A GOOD LETTER. It is better than most letters of recommendation that I receive. This means that not only is the quality of the letter no longer a signal of the professor’s interest, but also that you may actually be hurting people by not writing a letter of recommendation by AI, especially if you are not a particularly strong writer. So people now have to consider that the goal of the letter (getting a student a job) is in contrast with the morally-correct method of accomplishing the goal (the professor spending a lot of time writing the letter). I am still doing all my letters the old-fashioned way, but I wonder whether that will ultimately do my student’s a disservice.

Now consider all the other tasks where the final written output is important because it is a signal of the time spent on the task, and the thoughtfulness that went into it. Performance reviews. Strategic memos. College essays. Grant applications. Speeches. Comments on papers. And so much more.

10) This is fantastic, “Undergraduate excuses, used in other contexts:

Owing to the death of my grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to land the plane. Thank you for your understanding.”

“Because I am literally stuck in traffic at this very moment, I will not be able to perform your heart surgery this morning. Would it be possible to get an extension? Let me know.”

“I went to the wrong building, and I totally just did someone else’s taxes. So sorry—my bad!”

“Owing to the death of my boyfriend’s grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to finish filling your cavity. Thank you so much for your compassion.”

“Given my anxiety about public speaking, I am hoping that you’ll be open to me proclaiming the ‘Hear ye, hear ye’ via e-mail. If that’s an issue for you, then perhaps I could prerecord something and you could show the video in the town square? You could just set up a projector and a screen and a P.A. system? Should be fairly straightforward.”

11) David Wallace-Wells with some real doom and gloom about the health of our oceans. This was tough to read, “The Ocean Is Looking More Menacing”

There are a lot of unsettling signals coming from the world’s oceans right now.

Even for those of us who watch things like temperature anomalies and extreme weather events as likely portents of the climate to come, the off-the-charts rise of global sea surface temperature this spring has been eye-popping. As is much of the language recently used to describe it: “record breaking,” “huge,” “alarming,” “unprecedented,” “uncharted,” “an extreme event at a global scale.” Perhaps most simply: “trouble.”..

But some news from ocean science may prove more surprising still — perhaps genuinely paradigm-shifting. In a paper published in March, researchers suggested that under a high-emissions scenario, rapid melting of Antarctic ice could slow deepwater formation in the Southern Ocean by more than 40 percent by 2050, disrupting the “conveyor belt” that regulates and stabilizes not just the temperature of the oceans but much of the world’s weather systems. And after 2050? This key part of the circulation of the Southern Ocean “looks headed towards collapse this century,” study coordinator Matthew England told Yale Environment 360. “And once collapsed, it would most likely stay collapsed until Antarctic melting stopped. At current projections that could be centuries away.”


Then, last week, some of the same researchers confirmed that the process was already unfolding — in fact, that the Southern Ocean overturning circulation had already slowed by as much as 30 percent since the 1990s. “The model projections of rapid change in the deep ocean circulation in response to melting of Antarctic ice might, if anything, have been conservative,” said Steve Rintoul, a co-author on the new paper and one of the researchers who’d published the previous paper back in March. “Changes have already happened in the ocean that were not projected to happen until a few decades from now.”

The oceans have lately produced a number of other curiosities to chew over, as well: record low levels of Antarctic sea ice, with the “mind boggling fast reduction” scientists have called “gobsmacking” also potentially signaling a “regime shift” in the oceans; some perplexing trends in the El Niño-La Niña cycle, suggesting that warming may be making La Niñas more frequent and thereby scrambling some expectations for future extreme weather; and questions about the role large icebergs may be playing in the warming patterns of the world’s water.

12) I think the “everyone should learn to code” advice has been completely undone by AI. Farhad Manjoo:

Though I did find it fascinating to learn to think the way computers do, there seemed to be something fundamentally backward about programming a computer that I just couldn’t get over: Wasn’t it odd that the machines needed us humans to learn their maddeningly precise secret languages to get the most out of them? If they’re so smart, shouldn’t they try to understand what we’re saying, rather than us learning how to talk to them?

Now that may finally be happening. In a kind of poetic irony, software engineering is looking like one of the fields that could be most thoroughly altered by the rise of artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, A.I. could transform computer programming from a rarefied, highly compensated occupation into a widely accessible skill that people can easily pick up and use as part of their jobs across a wide variety of fields. This won’t necessarily be terrible for computer programmers — the world will still need people with advanced coding skills — but it will be great for the rest of us. Computers that we can all “program,” computers that don’t require specialized training to adjust and improve their functionality and that don’t speak in code: That future is rapidly becoming the present.


A.I. tools based on large language models — like OpenAI Codex, from the company that brought you ChatGPT, or AlphaCode, from Google’s DeepMind division — have already begun to change the way many professional coders do their jobs. At the moment, these tools work mainly as assistants — they can find bugs, write explanations for snippets of poorly documented code and offer suggestions for code to perform routine tasks (not unlike how Gmail offers ideas for email replies — “Sounds good”; “Got it”).

But A.I. coders are quickly getting smart enough to rival human coders. Last year, DeepMind reported in the journal Science that when AlphaCode’s programs were evaluated against answers submitted by human participants in coding competitions, its performance “approximately corresponds to a novice programmer with a few months to a year of training.”

“Programming will be obsolete,” Matt Welsh, a former engineer at Google and Apple, predicted recently. Welsh now runs an A.I. start-up, but his prediction, while perhaps self-serving, doesn’t sound implausible:

I believe the conventional idea of “writing a program” is headed for extinction, and indeed, for all but very specialized applications, most software, as we know it, will be replaced by A.I. systems that are trained rather than programmed. In situations where one needs a “simple” program … those programs will, themselves, be generated by an A.I. rather than coded by hand.

13) I love this finding and it totally reflects my experience, “Minimal Social Interactions with Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being”

Past empirical work has repeatedly revealed that positive social interactions including expressing gratitude and socializing are associated with greater happiness. However, this work predominantly focused on prolonged interactions with close relationship partners. Only a few studies demonstrated hedonic benefits of forming social connections with strangers. The present research investigated whether minimal social interactions with strangers—just taking a moment to greet, thank, and express good wishes to strangers—contribute to happiness of individuals who initiate these interactions. Study 1 (N = 856) provided correlational evidence that commuters who reported engaging in minimal positive social interactions with shuttle drivers experienced greater subjective well-being (life satisfaction and positive affect). Moreover, hedonic benefits of positive social interactions went beyond relatively more neutral social interactions, Big-Five personality factors, and age, speaking to the robustness of the effect. Study 2 (N = 265) provided experimental evidence that commuters who greeted, thanked, or expressed good wishes to shuttle drivers experienced greater momentary positive affect than those who did not speak with drivers. These findings add to the burgeoning literature on hedonic benefits of interacting with strangers by showing that even very minimal social interactions with strangers contribute to subjective well-being in everyday life.

The night I saw this tweet I had spent a few hours scanning tickets at a soccer tournament.  The scanners were awful and frustrating, but I loved having nice little 5-10 second interactions with lots of nice folks.

14) I really, really hate the, “be nice to trans teens or else they will all kill themselves” theme that underlies so much of the political messaging on this from the left.  Thus, I really liked this, “Don’t Try to Stop Me or I’ll Kill Myself” from a frustrated parent (all emphases in original)

At the initial meeting the gender therapist sized us up as doubtful and talked a good game: she claimed to be very careful and open minded and wouldn’t jump to conclusions; she wanted to extensively explore all the relevant issues.  Still, it struck me as odd that she already seemed to be testing our receptivity to the idea of going along with hormones and surgery.  Towards the end of the meeting she hit us with the hammer.  Maybe we had not shown sufficient faith in the wisdom of the affirmative approach.  She leaned over, pinched her face into an expression of deep concern, lowered her voice and dramatically uttered, “One thing we do know is that these kids attempt suicide at incredibly high rates.”  The implied message was as clear as it was shocking:  Listen to us experts.  If you don’t accept your daughter as a boy and allow her to proceed with medical interventions, there’s a good chance she will kill herself.

Every parent with a gender-confused child has heard some version of this threat from multiple sources.  It’s part of what Everybody Knows because Experts Say So.  It’s also a big part of how the radical Affirmation Only approach has steamrolled over all resistance to become the de facto policy of nearly every relevant major institution in North America. 

The basic argument for Affirmation Only is roughly this: 

  • Untreated gender dysphoria leads to an extreme suicide risk.  
  • Medical transition (in conjunction with social acceptance) is the only effective treatment for gender dysphoria.  
  • Therefore: The benefits of offering medical transition on demand outweigh the expected likelihood of medical risks (like damaged health or regret). 

Both premises of this argument are false but the first one has been particularly effective in persuading people who should know better to look the other way, to forgo due diligence, and to accept surprising new policies on only the skimpiest evidence.   Questioning the actual evidence that is supposed to justify Affirmation Only policies is rarely met by good faith discussion of the nature and strength of that evidence.  Instead the person raising such questions is much more likely to be accused of being motivated by bigotry and of perpetuating immoral beliefs directly responsible for many suicides (and even murders), deaths that would not occur if society would only universally affirm gender identity and offer medical transition on demand.

This is the suicide myth I want to examine.  The vague but ubiquitous presumption that the risk of suicide by trans-identified people, especially youth, is so extreme that it justifies bypassing established standards of decision making whenever those standards pose a barrier to immediately gratifying the trans-person’s desire for medical intervention or social accommodation…

In the context of gender affirmation, the bailey is the expansive belief that extreme suicide risk justifies Affirmation Only policy across all of society, including medicine.  It posits that lack of social and medical accommodation causes persons with gender dysphoria to commit suicide at extremely high rates (i.e. these factors independently and significantly increase the real suicide rate).  Additionally, it implicitly holds that the aggregate harm of suicide that can be reduced by social and medical accommodation is greater than the aggregate harm (health damage and normal life opportunity lost) that may be increased by on-demand medical transition.   In contrast, the motte consists of much more modest claims such as people who self identify as transgender also self report suicidal ideation or unsuccessful attempts at higher than normal rates, and blame it on lack of acceptance.  The large gap between the bailey and the motte begs that we address these questions: How predictive of completed suicides are self-reports of suicidal ideation or attempts?  How reliably can we attribute suicidality of trans identified people just to lack of social acceptance and medical transition?

To be clear, gender-questioning teens should be treated with kindness and empathy and not used as political pawns. But that does not mean suicide scaremongering is supported by research, or, appropriate.

15) Really good stuff from Katherine Wu on the upcoming Covid vaccines and the science of monovalent vs bivalent:

The switch in strategy—from two variants to one, from original SARS-CoV-2 plus Omicron to XBB.1 alone—would be momentous but wise, experts told me, reflecting the world’s updated understanding of the virus’s evolution and the immune system’s quirks. “It just makes a lot of sense,” said Melanie Ott, the director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology, in San Francisco. XBB.1 is the main coronavirus group circulating today; neither the original variant nor BA.5, the two coronavirus flavors in the bivalent shot, is meaningfully around anymore. And an XBB.1-focused vaccine may give the global population a particularly good shot at broadening immunity.


At the same time, COVID vaccines are still in a sort of beta-testing stage. In the past three-plus years, the virus has spawned countless iterations, many of which have been extremely good at outsmarting us; we humans, meanwhile, are only on our third-ish attempt at designing a vaccine that can keep pace with the pathogen’s evolutionary sprints. And we’re very much still learning about the coronavirus’s capacity for flexibility and change, says Rafi Ahmed, an immunologist at Emory University. By now, it’s long been clear that vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease and death, and that some cadence of boosting is probably necessary to keep the shots’ effectiveness high. But when the virus alters its evolutionary tactics, our vaccination strategy must follow—and experts are still puzzling out how to account for those changes as they select the shots for each year.

In the spring and summer of 2022, the last time the U.S. was mulling on a new vaccine formula, Omicron was still relatively new, and the coronavirus’s evolution seemed very much in flux. The pathogen had spent more than two years erratically slingshotting out Greek-letter variants without an obvious succession plan. Instead of accumulating genetic changes within a single lineage—a more iterative form of evolution, roughly akin to what flu strains do—the coronavirus produced a bunch of distantly related variants that jockeyed for control. Delta was not a direct descendant of Alpha; Omicron was not a Delta offshoot; no one could say with any certainty what would arise next, or when. “We didn’t understand the trajectory,” says Kanta Subbarao, the head of the WHO advisory group convened to make recommendations on COVID vaccines.

And so the experts played it safe. Including an Omicron variant in the shot felt essential, because of how much the virus had changed. But going all in on Omicron seemed too risky—some experts worried that “the virus would flip back,” Subbarao told me, to a variant more similar to Alpha or Delta or something else. As a compromise, several countries, including the United States, went with a combination: half original, half Omicron, in an attempt to reinvigorate OG immunity while laying down new defenses against the circulating strains du jour.

16) Save the world, eat more beans! “Eat more beans. Please.: Beans are protein-rich, sustainable, and delicious. Why doesn’t the US eat more of them?”

17) This is an amazing story and you should read it.  Gift link. “A catatonic woman awakened after 20 years. Her story may change psychiatry.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) I quite like this Chait take on the debt ceiling:

Republicans obtained spending cuts only slightly deeper than what they likely would have won in a normal budget process absent the threat of default, but were able to avoid giving even a token offer to Democrats, preserving their core objective of demonstrating that the only thing Democrats would “win” was freeing the hostage.

The Washington press corps, like Wall Street, has trained its focus almost entirely on the short-term objective of avoiding default. By this measure — the short-term objectives that Democrats pursued — the deal is a triumph. And yet the principle Republicans were fighting to establish, and unambiguously won, has a long-term significance that has largely escaped attention. Hardly anybody has given a thought as to what happens next.

The argument over the legitimacy of debt-ceiling extortion may be settled now, but at the outset of the year, it was very much a contested thing. The two parties each pointed to dueling precedents. In 2011, the Republican Congress threatened default, and the Obama administration tried to steer this process into a negotiated grand bargain over fiscal policy. Only after it was too late did President Obama grasp that what he mistook for a negotiation was actually extortion, and he escaped catastrophe by handing Republicans spending cuts without any concessions…

Democrats believed they had solved the extortion problem: simply refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers would force them to release the hostage, since the alternative — default and an economic crisis — would impose harm on the Republican Party’s own economic elites.

But Republicans either ignored the 2013 precedent or chalked it up to their party’s own internal disorganization at the time. A more unified and effective hostage demand, they believed, would succeed. And in Biden they saw a more inviting target. Republicans always preferred negotiating with Biden to negotiating with Obama, and Biden’s statement the previous fall that it would be “irresponsible” to abolish the debt ceiling confirmed their impression of his pliability…

When you are holding a gun to the head of the global economy, and both sides understand the president has no option but to pay off the hostage-takers, there’s no natural limit to the size of the ransom. Arguably, Republicans were constrained this time by the desire of most of their caucus to posture against a deal rather than support it, but there’s hardly an iron law requiring such a dynamic.

2) Brian Beutler is definitely no fan of the deal:

Nobody can say how the politics of default would unfold, because we’ve never tested it, but in terms of ransom potential, these scenarios are unalike. One amounts to taking hostages with a gun to your own head, the other while wearing a suicide vest. Because the threats are different in kind, we can’t assume they’d yield identical concessions, and shouldn’t imbue the resulting “deal” to free the hostages with legitimacy. 

As I wrote last month (apologies for quoting myself):

There’s no win here; just the cutting of losses…. even if those losses seem tolerable when the deal sees the light of day, there’s no credible way to argue that the debt limit was merely incidental. The idea that the GOP’s default threat had no effect on the outcome misconstrues the very nature of corruption. It’s a perverse repurposing of the right-wing defense of Clarence Thomas, where his allies say was always going to rule the way he has. The bribes meant nothing! Liberals are rightly unsatisfied with that justification, and we should similarly reject any suggestion that the GOP’s default threats were meaningless. Extortion is the coercive counterpart of bribery; an agreement struck under that kind of duress is no less suspect than a Supreme Court vote cast under the influence of Harlan Crow’s filthy lucre.  

The ransoms Biden paid might be small, but if we declare them foregone and meaningless, we’re not being honest with ourselves. We’re myth-making as a plea for intra-coalition peace, and to absolve him for agreeing to negotiate…

But he did negotiate, and he did concede, and in so doing he violated a principle and promise that Democratic voters should have been able to count on their leaders to uphold. The promise was to never again cough up policy concessions under threat of default—no negotiating with terrorists. The principle is that one set of rules—including the obligation to share power in divided government—must bind both parties. 

Kevin McCarthy gets a lot of flack for being in over his head and, well…a somewhat limited person. But he called an incredibly consequential bluff, and the significance of that isn’t lost on him or anyone else in his party. McCarthy rallied House Republicans, after Biden relented, with a video montage of the many times Biden insisted he never would. Yes, he did this to placate his bloodthirsty members, but he wasn’t bullshitting them, and that’s partly why it worked. 

They know they can come back for more, perhaps as soon as two years from now, and they know that Biden probably won’t even gesture at refusing to negotiate if he’s still president then. Any refusal after what just happened would lack credibility. 

Biden’s defenders can take solace in the fact that he didn’t concede a great deal, that his concessions staved off near-term calamity, and might even give him a brief sugar high, as headlines commemorate yet another bipartisan deal. But those headlines won’t outlast the longer-term indignity of accepting a dual standard that’s incompatible with democratic government. The silver linings here were purchased by mortgaging the future. 

3) Good stuff in a free post from Yglesias, “”Misinformation” isn’t just on the right”

The moral of all these stories is that people are prone to bias-confirmation and groupthink, and the mass public tends not to pay much attention to policy issues, even ones they find interesting enough to march in the streets about.

This is a kind of tragic aspect of the human condition and not a specific failure of your political enemies.

I think back sometimes at my own misinformation on the Michael Brown point. A big part of the reason I didn’t know the truth about this is it didn’t matter to me, practically speaking. During the five years or so between the Ferguson protests and Lopez’s articles about the tweet, I didn’t write anything for which the DOJ inquiry into the shooting was relevant. I was actually so disengaged from this topic that when I started work on this 2019 article making the case for increased police funding, I was a little surprised to learn how controversial the thesis was. After all, I was making the case for the merits of federal police funding initiatives that were pushed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and opposed by Donald Trump. The progressive conventional wisdom had moved on from that Clinton/Obama consensus without me realizing it, but I hadn’t moved on even though I also didn’t realize Wilson had been exonerated — it wasn’t actually policy-relevant, so I hadn’t been paying attention.

And the average citizen has much less reason than I do to pay attention to news developments.

This is why people mostly don’t do it and thus why people are pretty misinformed. Ideally, actual U.S. Senators and their communications teams would take a second to say “wait, are we sure this is true?”, just as in my police funding piece I didn’t type from pure memory — I actually looked into the research and got my facts in order before writing.

But all kinds of political elites act impulsively or irresponsibly at times. Or they share things like that NPR article, which was perfectly accurate but also played directly into a widespread misconception. These problems, unfortunately, are not unique to any one faction or party — they are part of life.

4) Interesting, “Where the ‘Wood-Wide Web’ Narrative Went Wrong: A compelling story about how forest fungal networks communicate has garnered much public interest. Is any of it true?”

The three of us have studied forest fungi for our whole careers, and even we were surprised by some of the more extraordinary claims surfacing in the media about the wood-wide web. Thinking we had missed something, we thoroughly reviewed 26 field studies, including several of our own, that looked at the role fungal networks play in resource transfer in forests. What we found shows how easily confirmation bias, unchecked claims, and credulous news reporting can, over time, distort research findings beyond recognition. It should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists and journalists alike. 

First, let’s be clear: Fungi do grow inside and on tree roots, forming a symbiosis called a mycorrhiza, or fungus-root. Mycorrhizae are essential for the normal growth of trees. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow.

As fungal filaments spread out through forest soil, they will often, at least temporarily, physically connect the roots of two neighboring trees. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network, or CMN…

Other widely reported claims — that trees use CMNs to signal danger, to recognize offspring, or to share nutrients with other trees — are based on similarly thin or misinterpreted evidence.How did such a weakly sourced narrative take such a strong grip on the public imagination?

5) I’ve got some skepticism about “healthy” donuts, but the UK’s new food rules certainly make sense to me:

Wait … healthy doughnuts? Surely not. Everyone knows that doughnuts are deeply unhealthy. That’s the whole point. Take away the sugary glaze and oily smoosh of dough and what are you left with? Nothing. You’ll have to prize our sugared rings from our caramel-coated fingers. Some things are too sacred to give up.

Or maybe we don’t have to. A shake-up of food rules in the United Kingdom has sparked a new kind of doughy disruption: the quest for healthy confectionery. Or, if not healthy exactly, then at least much healthier than the fried goods currently on offer. The winds of change are blowing, and they smell a lot like delicious steam-baked dough.

Leading the charge is British doughnut brand Urban Legend. “I picked doughnuts because their health credentials are genuinely quite dreadful,” says founder Anthony Fletcher. In the UK, most prepackaged food is labeled according to a “traffic light” system where products are rated for their fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt content per 100 grams. If the nutrients are over a certain threshold—for fat it’s 17.5 grams, for sugar it’s 22.5 grams—then the product gets a red traffic light label for that category. Deep-fried and sugar-coated, doughnuts have labels that are a sea of red and orange.

These blazing traffic lights were the beacon that led Fletcher to his current venture. In previous roles he’d helped reinvent fruit juice and sparked a craze for healthier snacking, but by 2020 he finally felt ready to tackle the one frontier that health food fads had barely touched: the baked goods aisle. “Having spent 20 years trying to sell healthy food to consumers, it’s really hard to get people to change,” he says. The UK bakery market is worth £4.4 billion ($5.5 billion)—more than its markets for potato chips, breakfast cereal, or sliced meats—and almost all of it is unremittingly unhealthy. “If you want to make the largest change to public health, then you’ve got to take the junk out of junk food,” Fletcher says. He thought that a healthier doughnut might be a way to nudge people toward diets that were lower in fat and sugar without asking them to give anything up. A have-your-doughnut-and-eat-it approach to nutrition, if you will.

It just so happens—and Fletcher maintains that this timing was a coincidence—that as he was mulling over the prospect of a low-fat, low-sugar doughnut, the UK government was limbering up to introduce legislation to restrict how and where unhealthy foods are sold.

The new rules, which came into force in October 2022, ban the sale of certain foods high in fat, sugar, and salt near supermarket entrances, on the ends of aisles, or near checkouts. An ocean of prime supermarket real estate awaited anyone who could make a doughnut that avoided certain thresholds for fat, sugar, and salt. With a stroke of a legislator’s pen, the stage for the new doughnut wars was set.

6) It’s getting really hard to hire police these days.  This suggests to me that, in part, we really need to rethink policing in ways that change who the job is appealing to (way more female officers would help, for one thing). 

7) I’m not entirely sure how much I buy this, but it’s a topic worth some thinking about, “Anatomy of a Murder: How the Democratic Party Crashed in Florida

8) Was Adnan Syed (of Serial podcast fame) actually wrongly exonerated?  There’s a pretty good case for that. 

9) Back in the day when I really wanted to run fast, I would listen to the Rocky theme.  Science: “Put Some Music on: The Effects of pre-Task Music Tempo on Arousal, Affective State, Perceived Exertion, and Anaerobic Performance”

Research on the ergogenic effects of music on athletic performance usually includes multiple antecedents simultaneously. Consequently, this study set out to isolate a single antecedent using a highly controlled experiment. More specifically, the aim of the study was to investigate the effect of pre-task, slow- and fast-tempo music on arousal, affective state, perceived exertion, and anaerobic rowing performance by isolating music tempo as the sole intrinsic musical factor. Forty young adults (male = 23, female = 17) participated in three trials where they all were exposed to no-music, slow-tempo, and fast-tempo music conditions in a randomized order. The music was exclusively composed for this study and equally novel for all participants. It was based on the same electronic track with a techno-orientation rendered to both 110 (slow-tempo) and 140 (fast-tempo) BPM. Following music exposure, the participants were momentarily asked to report levels of felt arousal and affective state before being instructed to perform a 30-s maximal rowing test on an ergometer. Upon completion of each rowing test, subjects were then asked to report their perceived exertion. Both fast- and slow-tempo pre-task music exposure led to increased arousal and positive affective state when compared to no music. Fast-tempo music led to a significantly higher mean power output than slow-tempo music. No significant differences were found for peak watt output or rating of perceived exertion when comparing all conditions. These findings suggest that exposure to pre-task music may offer positive psychological benefits prior to commencing anaerobic sporting tasks. Results also suggest that fast-tempo music may have an ergogenic effect on anaerobic performance.

10) I thought this was pretty interesting as given Amazon’s abominable search engine, I had some real success using BingGPT to help me shop. “I Asked AI Chatbots to Help Me Shop. They All Failed”

11) The whole pipeline and permitting thing is complicated politics.  And this lays it out nicely, “The Real Climate Defeat in the Debt Ceiling Deal: It’s not the pipeline. It’s the power lines.”

Yet despite the chatter, the pipeline was not, in fact, the most important climate concession exacted in negotiations. The deal also made a number of changes to federal permitting law, especially the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. These changes have been described as relatively small, common-sense reforms to the federal process — and in some cases they are. But they also represented critical leverage that Democrats just lost.

Democrats might have secured many other objectives in the debt-ceiling talks, including minimal cuts to some federal programs and a potential expansion of food stamps. But the deal’s permitting reforms are an uneven trade in which Democrats gave up much more than they gained and made virtually no progress on one of their biggest goals: making it easier to build long-distance power lines. When Congress revisits permitting reform in the next few months — as Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has promised – Democrats will find that they have little room to bargain.

12) Drum is not wrong, “The debt ceiling fiasco is Joe Manchin’s fault”

The real story is that the Senate was split 50-50 and Democrats were missing a vote even for reconciliation. I’m sure you can guess whose vote it was:

The administration has determined that if it were to go the reconciliation route on the debt limit, it would face likely opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

….Already, Manchin has expressed reluctance to act on the debt limit with only Democratic votes, though he’s declined to rule it out completely. “I don’t think it should go to reconciliation,” he said Tuesday. “My goodness, it’s something we’ve always worked together on.”

According to Politico at the time, “That’s left White House officials to all but abandon efforts for a lame-duck move they once hoped might head off a potentially disastrous showdown with the House GOP majority next year.”

In short, we are now facing a debt ceiling crisis thanks to Joe Manchin. That’s it.

13) Love this take on “Succession“– among other things the funniest show, period, on TV the past few years:

The other angle of Succession is that it’s a comedy, and not just because Tom occasionally says things like “king of edible leaves, his majesty the spinach.” More often than not, Succession is structurally a sitcom with episodes bounded by themes and character arcs rather than closed procedural plotting. It’s why, despite its perpetual busyness, Succession has also been a show about nothing actually happening. The Roy siblings spend three seasons caught in stasis: the fictional one created by their father’s weaponized ambivalence, and the stasis of Succession’s class commentary, which shelters them from repercussions as a way to demonstrate their untouchable bubble of wealth. Succession fell into a circling, repeating pattern of playing with its own genre, threatening to pile up into something like a plot while remaining a dark comedy of wealthy goons, forever fired up by incompetent ambition, reaching for the gold ring, failing, and then continuing around the carousel to try again. (In the worst of all possible worlds, Succession could’ve been Seinfeld, moseying along as a beautiful, consequence-free sitcom about bad people living their lives, only for the finale to wallop everyone with the abrupt, unearned return of all the people they’ve harmed.)

14) Some good stuff from twitter…


15) I did a couple volunteer shifts at The Soccer Tournament the past couple days. Fun!  I love the feature where every game ends with a goal. 




Why are conservatives happier than liberals?

You might have seen some of the recent data (and I think I shared some here) about liberal teens having notably worse mental health than conservative teens.  In a fantastic article, Musa al-Gharbi looks comprehensively at the research on political ideology and mental/emotional well-being, “How to Understand the Well-Being Gap between Liberals and Conservatives.”  So full of interesting insights and it’s not at all just speculations but based on so much research.  It carefully looks at a number of hypotheses and the best evidence for and against them.  It’s really worth your time to read.  Here are a few parts I found particularly interesting:

In any case, although some combination of genetic/biological influences and an elective affinity between mental or emotional unwellness and left-wing political views may go a long way to explaining the general gaps in well-being between liberals and conservatives, they can do little to explain the huge and unilateral spike in depression among liberals in 2012, nor the divergent patterns between liberals and conservatives thereafter. Explaining these phenomena would require us to explore the extent to which ideology may influence mental illness (rather than vice-versa), and to account for how the influence of that ideology might’ve changed after 2011. It’s to these points we now turn…

Although liberals tend to be less emotionally stable than conservatives, they are also far more likely to prize emotionality and to dwell on their emotions and the emotions of others. They tend to react much more severely to unfortunate events—from public tragedies to political defeats to global catastrophes and beyond. Not only are their initial responses significantly more dramatic, but liberals are also adversely affected for longer periods of time.

Moreover, compared to conservatives, liberals are much more likely to find meaning in their lives through political causes or activism. They tend to follow politics much more closely and participate more in political action. However, following politics closely, and regular engagement on politics, has been shown to adversely affect people’s mental and physiological well-being (herehereherehere).

Politics may also undermine liberals’ social relationships (which are, themselves, important for mental health). Surveys consistently find that liberals have more politically homogenous communities and social networks. They are also far more willing to avoid, break off or curb relationships over political differences. White liberal women are especially likely to strike this posture (herehereherehere). They also happen to report especially high levels of anxiety, depression, and other disorders compared to other Americans. This may not be a coincidence: a willingness to “cancel” one’s family and friends over political or ideological differences is unlikely to enhance one’s happiness or well-being…

The main difference across ideological lines is that liberals are much more likely to seek out diagnoses even when they have moderate-to-low symptoms of poor mental health, whereas others do not.

The moral culture of many left-spaces may play an important role in driving these patterns. Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have argued that in many liberal, affluent, highly-educated spaces one increasingly gains moral status through association with formerly stigmatized identities—for instance by identifying as a racial, ethnic, or religious minority, a sexual minority, or as a person with a mental or physical disability. Unwellness can even be a monetizable asset contemporary left-spaces. As one social media influencer recently put it, “There absolutely is a concerted effort to really capitalize on mental illness and particularly on young women’s mental illness. It’s a very marketable commodity right now.”

Consequently, perverse incentive structures in certain liberal spaces may push many to seek out diagnoses even when they are not experiencing severe symptoms. Others who are not part of that moral culture would feel less pressure or eagerness to get themselves classified as “disabled.” This may help explain the partisan gap in reported mental illness.

Another consideration: highly-educated and relatively affluent white liberals are the Americans most likely to identify as “feminists,” “antiracists,” or “allies” or to hold far left views on “cultural” issues (herehereherehereherehere). However, according to many of the belief systems in question, affluent whites are the source of virtually all the world’s problems. That is, these ideologies villainize the very people who are most likely to embrace them.

Reflective of this mentality, white liberals view all other racial and ethnic subgroups more warmly than their own. There is no other combination of ideology and race or ethnicity that produces a similar pattern. This tension—being part of a group that one hates—creates strong dissociative pressures on many white liberals. This may help explain the racialized differences among liberals with respect to mental health.

Liberals, especially white liberals, are also much more anxious about interactions across difference. The perceptions, judgements, and behaviors of liberals change dramatically based on the demographic characteristics of the people they are engaging with or referring to, while conservatives are generally more consistent down the line (herehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere). As a result of these tendencies, liberals (and white liberals in particular) may be more likely to second-guess their behaviors and motives, dwell on awkward past interactions, and worry about how others perceive them. This type of rumination, in turn, is associated with heightened anxiety and depression…

Cognitive behavioral therapy encourages people to avoid global labeling and black-and-white or zero-sum thinking. It pushes people to abstain from hyperbole and catastrophizing or filtering out the good while highlighting the bad. CBT encourages people to resist emotional reasoning, jumping to conclusions, mind-reading, and uncharitable motive attribution. It tells adherents not to make strong assumptions about what others should do or feel, or how the world should be. Instead, patients are encouraged to meet the world as it is, and to engage the actual over the ideal. CBT instructs people to look for solutions to problems rather than focusing inordinately on who to blame (and punish). It tells patients to focus on controlling what they can in the present rather than ruminating on misfortunes of the past or worrying about futures that may or may not come to pass. It encourages people to see themselves as resilient and capable rather than weak, vulnerable, helpless or “damaged.” It is easy to see how popular strains of liberal thinking basically invert this guidance, likely to the detriment of adherents.

I find that last passage particularly compelling.  And this sort-of anti-CBT that has taken hold of the left is something that a number of interesting thinkers have taken hold of– I think because there’s really something there.  But, as you can see, there’s a lot going on here and really worth thinking about. 


AI Quick Hits

1) I really enjoyed this recent post from AI guru Ethan Mollick, “On-boarding your AI Intern”

In previous posts, I have made the argument that, for a variety of reasons, it is better to think of AI as a person (even though it isn’t) than a piece of software. In fact, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our current AI moment is that several billion people just got free interns. They are weird, somewhat alien interns that work infinitely fast and sometimes lie to make you happy, but interns nonetheless.

So, how can you figure out how to best use your intern

? Just like any new worker, you are going to have to learn its strengths and weaknesses; you are going to have to learn to train and work with it; and you are going to have to get a sense of where it is useful and where it is just annoying. The stakes for this are quite high. People using AI have 30-80% higher productivity in some writing and coding tasks, and often feel happier having offloaded their most annoying work. That is a big incentive to learn to work with your intern.

What would an AI intern be great for?  Choosing the best excerpts of articles for quick hits. So, let’s see how it goes.  If you don’t like the excerpts, you know who to blame.

2) It’s crazy how Scientific American is far more interested in pushing an ideological agenda than interesting science these days.  The latest was sharing this fascinating article about White-throated sparrows as somehow relevant for human gender debates (it’s really interesting on its own):

The White-throated Sparrow is common and familiar, hopping on the ground under bird feeders all over the eastern states in winter. But this seemingly ordinary backyard bird has a secret identity—or, actually, four secret identities. And it’s these multiple personalites that place the White-throat at the center of mysteries scientists are still working out.

Watch a flock of White-throats in spring and you’ll notice they have two kinds of head patterns. Some wear snappy stripes of black and white across the top of the head. Others have more modest head stripes of dark brown and tan. That superficial difference might not seem like a big deal, but it reflects a remarkable divergence in the lifestyles of these individuals.

As Lowther discovered, mated pairs of White-throats almost always involved one bird of each color morph: Either a tan-striped male with a white-striped female, or a white-striped male with a tan-striped female. Intrigued, Lowther extended his research, joined by biologist J. Bruce Falls and others.

They found that the color differences were more than skin deep. The two morphs had different personalities, different behaviors, different hormones, and even different chromosomes.

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

But they also presented an irreverent version of adulthood that I had never seen on TV or in life: a playful yet sophisticated world where grown-ups joked and laughed together and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even when everyone around them was being very serious indeed.

For the somehow uninitiated, “Seinfeld,” created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and follows his shenanigans with his three closest friends: his childhood buddy, George Costanza (Jason Alexander); his former girlfriend turned pal, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); and his oddball neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards). It is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time.

It has consistently been framed as a comedy about four terrible people, with good reason. Jerry and his fellow misfits lied, cheated and stole. They were petty and shallow. They created a framework for “bad” sitcom characters that shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would embrace with great relish and success.

But what if they were also onto something? What if their refusal to conform to the expectations of adulthood — marriage, children, career advancement — was not just a sign of immaturity, but also a form of resistance? What if their rejection of the conventional markers of success was not just a flaw, but also a strength?

3) Not going to have GPT summarize an abstract, though, “Individual Empowerment, Institutional Confidence, and Vaccination Rates in Cross-National Perspective, 1995 to 2018”

In the past decade, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus declined worldwide. An extensive literature examines the correlates and motives of vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—among individuals, but little macrosociological theory or research seeks to explain changes in country-level vaccine uptake in global and comparative perspective. Drawing on existing research on vaccine hesitancy and recent developments in world society theory, we link cross-national variation in vaccination rates to two global cultural processes: the dramatic empowerment of individuals and declining confidence in liberal institutions. Both processes, we argue, emerged endogenously in liberal world culture, instigated by the neoliberal turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Fixed- and random-effects panel regression analyses of data for 80 countries between 1995 and 2018 support our claim that individualism and lack of institutional confidence contributed to the global decline in vaccination rates. We also find that individualism is itself partly responsible for declining institutional confidence. Our framework of world-cultural change might be extended to help make sense of recent post-liberal challenges in other domains.

4) Good stuff from NYT, “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners”

n 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade.

The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The stock market has soared to record highs, while home prices have risen at their fastest pace in 15 years. These gains have disproportionately benefited older Americans who own more stocks and real estate than younger generations.

The result is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots that is likely to persist as wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the wealthiest 10 percent of American families owned 77 percent of total family wealth in 2019, up from 71 percent in 1989. The bottom half of families owned just 2 percent of total wealth, down from 4 percent in 1989.

The concentration of wealth among a few families also raises concerns about the influence of money on politics and democracy. Some of the richest heirs in America, such as Charles Koch and George Soros, have used their fortunes to fund political causes and candidates that align with their views.

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

Recent research is showing that the use of subtitles on TV has continued to grow, with people choosing to use them. Why is this? If the speech intelligibility of the content we mix is so bad, surely we cannot be doing our job properly. What is going wrong?

The BBC has been conducting research into this issue and has found that subtitle usage has increased from 7.5% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. However, this figure does not include online viewing, where subtitle usage is much higher. According to Netflix, more than 80% of its UK users watch with subtitles on.

The BBC research also found that the main reasons for using subtitles were not related to hearing impairment, but rather to factors such as background noise, accents, mumbling and fast speech. Some viewers also said they used subtitles to help them understand complex plots or unfamiliar vocabulary.

6) One more “Jury Duty” episode to go for me.  So good!

Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios.

Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds.

Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.

The magic of Jury Duty is that it doesn’t yet have a formula. It’s an experiment that worked because of its novelty and unpredictability. To repeat it would be to risk losing what made it so special in the first place.

7) Another abstract from some really interesting PS research, “Who Supports Political Violence?”

The last few years have witnessed an increase in democratic “backsliding” in the United States—a decline in the quality of democracy, typically accompanied by an influx of non-normative behavior, such as political violence. Despite the real consequences of support for violence, fairly little is known about such an extremist attitude outside studies of terrorism or aggression. Using a unique survey containing many psychological, political, and social characteristics, we find that perceived victimhood, authoritarianism, populism, and white identity are the most powerful predictors of support for violence, though military service, conspiratorial thinking, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness are also related. These patterns suggest that subjective feelings about being unjustly victimized—irrespective of the truth of the matter—and the psychological baggage that accompanies such feelings lie at the heart of support for violence. We use these results to build a profile of characteristics that explain support for violence; the predictive validity of this profile is then tested by examining its relationship with support for the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, with which it is strongly associated, even accounting for support for Donald Trump. Our findings have implications for the detection of extremist attitudes and our understanding of the non-partisan/ideological foundations of anti-social political behavior.

8) Noah Smith, “How technology has changed the world since I was young”

he world has changed a lot since I was young. Technology has changed it. And I’m not just talking about the internet and smartphones and social media. I’m talking about the deeper changes that have reshaped our society and our culture, our economy and our politics, our values and our beliefs.

The first big change is that technology has made us more connected than ever before. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, with a click of a button or a swipe of a screen. We can access a vast amount of information and entertainment, from news and podcasts to movies and games. We can share our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and experiences, our likes and dislikes, with millions of strangers online.

The second big change is that technology has made us more powerful than ever before. We can create and manipulate things that were once beyond our imagination, from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to nanotechnology and quantum computing. We can solve problems that were once unsolvable, from curing diseases and exploring space to fighting climate change and enhancing human capabilities. We can influence and shape the world around us, for better or for worse.

The third big change is that technology has made us more uncertain than ever before. We face new challenges and risks that we don’t fully understand or control, from cyberattacks and misinformation to ethical dilemmas and social unrest. We face new questions and choices that we don’t have clear answers or guidelines for, from privacy and security to identity and morality. We face new possibilities and scenarios that we don’t have adequate preparation or foresight for, from technological singularity and superintelligence to posthumanism and transhumanism.

9) Don’t know how I missed this from 2021, but it’s excellent, “Reducing gun violence: What do the experts think?”

Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is often polarized and simplistic, pitting gun rights against gun control, or law enforcement against community prevention. This binary framing obscures the diversity of perspectives and experiences among those who are most affected by gun violence, as well as the potential for common ground and collaboration among stakeholders.

To move beyond this impasse, we convened a group of experts from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we know and don’t know about reducing gun violence, and what policies and programs are most promising and feasible. The group included researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers who have worked on various aspects of gun violence prevention, such as public health, criminal justice, mental health, education, and civil rights.

The group agreed on several key points:

  • Gun violence is not a monolithic phenomenon, but rather a collection of different types of violence that vary by context, motive, means, and impact. Therefore, no single policy or program can address all forms of gun violence; instead, we need a portfolio of interventions that are tailored to specific populations and settings.
  • Gun violence is not only a criminal justice problem, but also a public health and social justice problem. Reducing gun violence requires addressing its root causes and risk factors, such as poverty, inequality, trauma, racism, and social isolation.

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

The basic problem with policing in America is that it’s not very effective at preventing crime. The clearance rate for homicides is only about 60%, and for other violent crimes it’s much lower. That means that most criminals get away with their crimes, and most victims don’t get justice.

One reason for this low effectiveness is that police officers are not allocated to the places where they are most needed. In a new paper, Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer show that there is a large spatial mismatch between where police officers are deployed and where crime occurs. They use data from 242 U.S. cities to measure the number of officers per square mile in each census block group, and compare it to the number of crimes per square mile in the same area.

They find that there is a negative correlation between police presence and crime: Areas with more crime have fewer officers per square mile, and vice versa. This correlation is especially strong for violent crimes like homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault. They estimate that reallocating officers to match the spatial distribution of crime could reduce homicides by 11% and violent crimes by 7%, without increasing the overall size of the police force.

Why do police departments allocate their officers so inefficiently? Devi and Fryer suggest several possible explanations, such as political pressure, union rules, historical inertia, or lack of data. They also point out some potential barriers to implementing a more efficient allocation, such as officer preferences, community resistance, or legal constraints.

11) Really great from NYT, “Does Therapy Really Work? Let’s Unpack That.”

The answer is complicated. The research shows that therapy does work for many people — but not for everyone. And it’s hard to say exactly what kind of therapy works best for whom, or under what circumstances. The effectiveness of therapy depends on many factors, such as the type and severity of the problem, the quality of the therapist-client relationship, the client’s motivation and expectations, and the therapist’s training and experience.

One way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use meta-analyses, which combine the results of many studies on the same topic. Meta-analyses can provide an overall estimate of how much therapy helps people improve their mental health, compared with not receiving any treatment or receiving a placebo.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis by Pim Cuijpers and colleagues, which included 421 studies with more than 36,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy was 0.69. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 76 percent of people who did not receive therapy.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use benchmarks, which compare the outcomes of therapy with those of other treatments or natural recovery. Benchmarks can help answer the question: How much better off are people who receive therapy than people who receive other forms of help or no help at all?

According to a 2013 meta-analysis by Bruce Wampold and Zac Imel, which included 79 studies with more than 7,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy compared with benchmarks was 0.51. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 69 percent of people who received other forms of help or no help at all.

12) Interesting stuff in the Lancet on how to think about obesity:

Oooof– summarized a different Lancet article!!  I’ll have to do it myself. 

In practical terms, this definition requires the health professional to answer the following question: Does this patient present with a health problem that is likely to improve with weight loss? If the answer is “yes”, then the patient has obesity. If not, then the patient may just have adiposity, which may well at some stage progress to overt obesity (hence the suggestion to refer to these individuals as having pre-obesity).
Such an approach to diagnosing obesity would of course require a clinical assessment of each patient by a qualified health practitioner. Only a comprehensive interview together with a physical exam as well as relevant laboratory and imaging tests would establish (or rule out) the diagnosis “obesity” in a given individual. While this clearly makes the diagnosis of obesity more cumbersome, it ensures that otherwise healthy individuals are no longer labeled as having obesity simply based on their size. Perhaps, more importantly, individuals presenting with health issues that are clearly linked to or likely to improve with weight loss, can be diagnosed with having obesity (and thus qualifying for obesity treatments), even when they fall below the conventional BMI cutoffs. While this introduces an element of clinical judgment into the diagnosis, this is not uncommon in medical practice, where clinical judgment is often called upon in determining the presence and severity of a medical issue and the best course of action.
Ultimately, the goal of making a proper diagnosis is to determine the right course of action for a given individual. In the case of someone presenting with a health problem closely linked to excess weight, for which we have strong evidence that weight-loss would improve it (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, etc.), we would see a “primary” indication for obesity treatment, i.e. successful reduction in body weight can essentially solve the problem (Fig. 1). However, we may also be confronted with a patient who presents with a health problem, not causally linked to obesity, but which is aggravated by or more difficult to manage due to the presence of excess weight (e.g. someone with excess weight who sustains an injury or contracts COVID). Such an individual could be considered to have a “secondary” indication for obesity treatment. While weight-loss will not solve the underlying problem, it may make management and recovery easier. Finally, we may consider individuals with excess weight, who present with a health problem that is neither related to nor likely to improve with weight loss. This person may be considered to have a “tertiary” indication for obesity treatment, which although perhaps leading to an overall improvement in health, would have no impact on the presenting complaint.

13) Ross Douthat’s case against legalizing marijuana didn’t strike me as particularly strong:

Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past.

All of this means that it will take a long time for conventional wisdom to acknowledge the truth that seems readily apparent to squares like me: Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.

The best version of the square’s case is an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist. It will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions — who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right. But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics.

First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests.

I like this Dilan Esper response:

14) The WHO’s case against artificial sweeteners is even less compelling. Also, the WHO, of course, is the organization that was insisting on droplet transmission of Covid a whole damn year after everyone else knew it was airborne.

If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

But do artificial sweeteners actually help reduce calories and deliver on their promise to help you lose weight? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests that they don’t.

The report, published on Monday in The BMJ, is based on a systematic review of 56 studies that examined the effects of non-sugar sweeteners on health outcomes in both adults and children. The researchers found that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight over time. Nor did they find any clear evidence that they prevent obesity or other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dental decay.

The researchers did find some evidence that artificial sweeteners may have a modest benefit for reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels. But they said these findings were based on low-quality studies with a high risk of bias, and that more research is needed to confirm them.

The report also noted that there are many uncertainties about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that they may alter the gut microbiota and affect appetite and glucose regulation. Other studies have raised concerns about possible links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.

15) Scott Alexander on the weirdness of the academic job market:

The academic job market is weird. It’s weird in a way that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird in a way that makes it hard for people who are in it to make rational decisions.

The weirdness starts with the fact that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are far more PhDs than there are tenure-track positions, and getting one of those positions requires not only years of training and research, but also luck, timing, networking, and strategic choices.

The weirdness continues with the fact that academic jobs are highly specialized and geographically dispersed. Unlike most other professions, where you can apply for jobs in your field in different cities or regions, academic jobs are tied to specific departments and disciplines. You can’t just decide to move to a new place and look for a job there; you have to wait for a job opening that matches your expertise and interests, and hope that it’s in a location that you like or can tolerate.

The weirdness culminates with the fact that academic jobs are highly uncertain and contingent. Even if you get a tenure-track position, you still have to go through a probationary period of several years, during which you have to prove yourself by publishing, teaching, and securing grants. If you fail to meet the expectations of your department or university, you can be denied tenure and lose your job. And even if you get tenure, you still have to deal with the pressures and challenges of academia, such as increasing workloads, shrinking budgets, changing student demographics, and shifting intellectual trends.1


Quick hits (part I)

1) Yes, of course way more people are co-sleeping than like to admit it.  Since it’s long in my past, I’ll admit it. 

2) Ron Brownstein, “Red States Need Blue Cities”

In red and blue states, Democrats are consolidating their hold on the most economically productive places.

Metropolitan areas won by President Joe Biden in 2020 generated more of the total economic output than metros won by Donald Trump in 35 of the 50 states, according to new research by Brookings Metro provided exclusively to The Atlantic. Biden-won metros contributed the most to the GDP not only in all 25 states that he carried but also in 10 states won by Trump, including Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Ohio, and even Florida, Brookings found. Almost all of the states in which Trump-won metros accounted for the most economic output rank in the bottom half of all states for the total amount of national GDP produced within their borders.

Biden’s dominance was pronounced in the highest-output metro areas. Biden won 43 of the 50 metros, regardless of what state they were in, that generated the absolute most economic output; remarkably, he won every metro area that ranked No. 1 through 24 on that list of the most-productive places.

The Democrats’ ascendance in the most-prosperous metropolitan regions underscores how geographic and economic dynamics now reinforce the fundamental fault line in American politics between the people and places most comfortable with how the U.S. is changing and those who feel alienated or marginalized by those changes.

Just as Democrats now perform best among the voters most accepting of the demographic and cultural currents remaking 21st-century America, they have established a decisive advantage in diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas. Those places have become the locus of the emerging information economy in industries such as computing, communications, and advanced biotechnology.

And just as Republicans have relied primarily on the voters who feel most alienated and threatened by cultural and demographic change, their party has grown stronger in preponderantly white, blue-collar, midsize and smaller metro areas, as well as rural communities. Those are all places that generally have shared little in the transition to the information economy and remain much more reliant on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, fossil-fuel extraction, and manufacturing…

The trajectory is toward greater conflict between the diverse, big places that have transitioned the furthest toward the information-age economy and the usually less diverse and smaller places that have not. Across GOP-controlled states, Republicans are using statewide power rooted in their dominance of nonmetropolitan areas to pass an aggressive agenda preempting authority from their largest cities across a wide range of issues and imposing cultural values largely rejected in those big cities; several are also now targeting public universities with laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and proposals to eliminate tenure for professors.

This sweeping offensive is especially striking because, as the Brookings data show, even many red states now rely on blue-leaning metro areas as their principal drivers of economic growth. Texas, for instance, is one of the places where Republicans are pursuing the most aggressive preemption agenda, but the metros won by Biden there in 2020 account for nearly three-fourths of the state’s total economic output.

“State antagonism toward cities is not sustainable,” says Amy Liu, the interim president of the Brookings Institution. “By handicapping local problem solving or attacking local institutions and employers, state lawmakers are undermining the very actors they need to build a thriving regional economy.”…

The analysis showed that the metros Biden carried generated 50 percent or more of state economic output in 28 states, and a plurality of state output in seven others. States where Biden-won metros accounted for the highest share of economic output included reliably blue states: His metros generated at least 90 percent of state economic output in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. But the Biden-won metros also generated at least 80 percent of the total economic output in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, as well as two-thirds in Michigan and almost exactly half in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—all key swing states. And the metros he carried generated at least half of total output in several Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, and Missouri.

3) Aaron Blake, “5 striking findings about what the GOP wants in 2024”

1. The party wants election deniers, full stop

Election deniers cost the GOP dearly in the 2022 election; the evidence for that is unmistakable. Yet this poll reinforces not just that a large majority of Republican-leaning voters continue to believe the election was stolen, but also that they want candidates who say that.

That last one is particularly startling. It’s one thing to falsely believe the election was stolen, as most Republicans do; it’s another to want someone who continues to re-litigate that. (Indeed, there are other issues Republicans are less interested in re-litigating, which we’ll get to.)

Candidates who keyed on that stolen-election message fared extremely poorly in swing areas in 2022, winning just 10 of 47 competitive races and being nearly swept in competitive races for Senate, governor and secretary of state. It’s a big reason some in the party have gently tried to usher Trump away from this message.

2. Electability is a nonissue (for now)

Rather than call the election stolen, DeSantis tried to use the fact of Trump’s loss against him — in the service of an electability argument. DeSantis has even gestured at the idea that Trump’s voter-fraud claims are bogus and that he’s dishonest.

The poll reinforces that this electability argument isn’t as effective as DeSantis might hope, though it does point to some potential.

Not only do 75 percent of Republican-leaners say Trump’s supposed victory in 2020 is a reason to vote for him again, 84 percent say that “He would beat Joe Biden” is a reason to vote for him. By contrast, just 38 percent say “He could lose to Joe Biden” is a reason to vote against him.

4) This is from November, but just came across it.  A lot of colleges are in for a lot of hurt. Kevin Carey, “The incredible shrinking future of college: The population of college-age Americans is about to crash. It will change higher education forever.”

In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping,and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”

Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.

For everyone else, the consequences could be dire. In some places, the crisis has already begun. College enrollment began slowly receding after the millennial enrollment wave peaked in 2010, particularly in regions that were already experiencing below-average birth rates while simultaneously losing population to out-migration. Starved of students and the tuition revenue they bring, small private colleges in New England have begun to blink off the map. Regional public universities like Ship are enduring painful layoffs and consolidation…

The problem now is that colleges have likely hit a ceiling in terms of how many 18-year-olds they can coax onto campus. The percentage of young adults with a high school diploma has reached 94 percent. And the immediate college enrollment rate of high school graduates was flat, right around 70 percent, from 2010 to 2018, before dipping in 2019 and 2020 as the job market heated up for less-skilled, lower-wage jobs.

Some parts of the country are already experiencing an enrollment bust, mainly because of internal migration. According to the census, 327,000 people moved to the Northeast (which includes Pennsylvania) from elsewhere in the United States in 2018-19, while 565,000 moved out, for a net loss of 238,000 people.

By contrast, the South (which includes Texas and Florida) saw a net increaseof 263,000 internal migrants, and another 447,000 people arrived from abroad, more than twice the number for the Northeast. Fertility rates are also lower, and falling faster, for white people, and the Northeast and Midwest have proportionally more white people. This was true before the Great Recession, too.

5) Derek Thompson, “America Fails the Civilization Test”

The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?

For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.

How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.

Last year, I called the U.S. the rich death trap of the modern world. The “rich” part is important to observe and hard to overstate. The typical American spends almost 50 percent more each year than the typical Brit, and a trucker in Oklahoma earns more than a doctor in Portugal.

This extra cash ought to buy us more years of living. For most countries, higher incomes translate automatically into longer lives. But not for today’s Americans. A new analysis by John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, shows that the typical American is 100 percent more likely to die than the typical Western European at almost every age from birth until retirement.

Imagine I offered you a pill and told you that taking this mystery medication would have two effects. First, it would increase your disposable income by almost half. Second, it would double your odds of dying in the next 365 days. To be an average American is to fill a lifetime prescription of that medication and take the pill nightly.

According to data collected by Burn-Murdoch, a typical American baby is about 1.8 times more likely to die in her first year than the average infant from a group of similarly rich countries: Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Let’s think of this 1.8 figure as “the U.S. death ratio”—the annual mortality rate in the U.S., as a multiple of similarly rich countries.

6) I loved this, because it’s so me.  One of the reasons I’m such a happy person is that I pretty much never beat myself up over what I feel, “Lean Into Negative Emotions. It’s the Healthy Thing to Do.”

We’re nervous about an upcoming work presentation, then lament our lack of confidence. We get angry at our partner, then feel guilty about our impatience. Our emotions undoubtedly influence our well-being — but recent research suggests that how we judge and react to those emotions may affect us even more.

In a study published last month in the journal Emotion, researchers found that people who habitually judge negative feelings — such as sadness, fear and anger — as bad or inappropriate have more anxiety and depression symptoms and feel less satisfied with their lives than people who generally perceive their negative emotions in a positive or neutral light.

The findings add to a growing body of research that indicates people fare better when they accept their unpleasant emotions as appropriate and healthy, rather than try to fight or suppress them.

“Many of us have this implicit belief that emotions themselves are bad, they’re going to do something bad to us,” said Iris Mauss, a social psychologist who studies emotions at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the new study. But most of the time, she said, “emotions don’t do harmful things.”

“It’s actually the judgment that causes, ultimately, the suffering.”

7) Just a great Brian Beutler on Democrats and the politics of the debt ceiling:

If Democrats were like Republicans, they would’ve treated turnabout as fair play, and held the debt limit hostage for ideological policy concessions after Trump took office. Of course, the parties aren’t similar, and Democrats never considered this, nor should they have: Extortion is extortion, and every bit as anti-democratic as stealing court seats, or elected offices. 

But I did think, and argued at the time, that when Republicans came to Democrats for help increasing the debt limit, Democrats should have made one demand: that in exchange for their votes, Republicans would have to relinquish the debt limit as a tool of extortion forever. This could have taken many forms: Outright debt-limit abolition, indefinite debt-limit suspension, a debt-limit increase of effectively infinite size, or the permanent delegation of authority to increase the debt limit to the executive branch. Either way, the idea was that Democrats should have had enough dignity to insist the parties be bound by a single set of rules, and make it the price of bailing Republicans out of a jam. 

Democrats instead gave their votes away for free. 

Later, when Trump’s scandalous maladministration of the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to layout trillions of dollars, I argued that Democrats should condition their support for stimulus on measures that would guarantee reciprocity, so that if a Democratic president inherited a damaged nation from Trump, Republicans couldn’t simply turn around and sabotage it further. This would have included tying economic support to material conditions like the unemployment rate (what economists call “automatic stabilizers”), compliance with congressional oversight, and (again) the permanent neutralization of the debt limit. 

Democrats demanded none of these things. 

By the end of the last Congress, with Republicans poised once again to control the House under a Democratic president, the idea that Democrats should use their narrow, lame-duck majorities to moot the debt limit grew into something like a clamor, rather than the musings of one random political columnist. Democrats thus had to respond to it, and their response was: sorry, no. This time, they seemingly just didn’t have the votes. But Democratic leaders expended almost no public effort trying to whip them up. Instead they and their loyalists treated supporters to excuses ranging from ‘we don’t have enough time’ to ‘we are leaving the doomsday device armed and ticking on purpose!’ How better to force Republicans to produce a budget, which will contain unpopular policies, the better to run against?

Well, Republicans did produce a budget, it has made almost no difference in the short term, they remain committed to engineering a recession while lying about the contents of their budget legislation, and the White House is left whining that industry trade groups and corporate-funded advocacy shops have not ridden to the rescue

8) NYT on taxing alcohol more (I’ve long been all-in on this because criminologist extraordinaire Mark Kleiman was a big advocate– also, I don’t drink much)

The synthetic opioid fentanyl is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s a national crisis and deserves our attention.

Also killing tens of thousands of Americans every year is alcohol. By the count of the Centers for Disease Control, about 140,000 deaths per year in the United States are the result of injuries or disease caused by alcohol.

Only one of these two tragedies has the nation’s attention. The other has been normalized to the point where we seemingly don’t consider more than 100,000 lives lost to a preventable cause a crisis.

While winning the war on drugs is now far out of reach, we do actually know how to reduce American fatalities from excessive drinking.

The answer is taxes. More of them. On alcohol. That’s the solution we explore in an Opinion Video today.

About a half-century worth of research has shown that raising taxes on alcohol reduces alcohol-related deaths. According to researchers, a rough rule of thumb holds that a 10 percent increase in the price of alcohol reduces drinking by 5 percent or more.

In some ways, my comparison to fentanyl is unfair and unneeded. The insidious nature of drug syndicates lacing pills to increase America’s habit is incomparable.

But America’s failed war on drugs has led many experts to believe we should be focusing on harm reduction — strategies to reduce deaths and suffering — instead of on ineffective prohibition and enforcement measures.

Why shouldn’t that same philosophy carry over to a legal and widely used drug like alcohol?

Yes, we know taxes aren’t fun. But even an increase of pennies per drink could lead to fewer car crashes, lower rates of liver disease, a dip in crime — even fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

Would you be willing to pay such a tax if you knew it could save lives?

9) David Frum on how Britain is really suffering economically from Brexit but, politically, unwilling to undo it.

10) Really, really like this research from Tim Ryan (my a few times co-author) and others on what it really means to measure “racial resentment”

When individuals’ racial attitudes are associated with their judgments related to race — for example, when people with more negative attitudes toward Blacks are less likely to vote for a Black political candidate — existing studies routinely interpret it as evidence of prejudice against minorities. But theoretically, such associations can represent favoring minorities, disfavoring them, or a combination of both. We provide a conceptual framework to distinguish patterns of favoring and disfavoring against a standard of racial indifference, and test it with a preregistered conjoint experiment. In our results, one widely used measure — the Racial Resentment Scale — captures favoring of Blacks substantially more than disfavoring. This finding calls for greater care in characterizing white Americans’ racial attitudes and illustrates ways to improve future research designs. We also describe several extensions that integrate the distinction between favoring and disfavoring into the broader study of racial attitudes.

11) They are not wrong, which means we need to think about other financial incentives for cures. Prizes? “Goldman Sachs asks in biotech research report: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’”

Richter cited Gilead Sciences’ treatments for hepatitis C, which achieved cure rates of more than 90 percent. The company’s U.S. sales for these hepatitis C treatments peaked at $12.5 billion in 2015, but have been falling ever since. Goldman estimates the U.S. sales for these treatments will be less than $4 billion this year, according to a table in the report.

“GILD is a case in point, where the success of its hepatitis C franchise has gradually exhausted the available pool of treatable patients,” the analyst wrote. “In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines … Where an incident pool remains stable (eg, in cancer) the potential for a cure poses less risk to the sustainability of a franchise.”

12) Really terrific look at nasal vaccines (and why it’s so hard, but worth doing) from Katelyn Jetelina:

The vast majority of research is still in the animal phase, which shows promise, but we do not have any guarantee that the result will be the same in people. 

We have done hard things

Anything that reduces the incidence of infections and curbs the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has the potential for massive public health benefit. If that can be translated to other infectious diseases, that would be superb. 

Furthermore, a vaccine that can be administered without the need for a skilled medical professional is especially valuable in regions where such expertise may be sparse, as has been observed with polio eradication campaigns. 

Bottom line

While a mucosal vaccine may help, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We shouldn’t oversell the potential but recognize the real challenges and cheer on the scientists who are trying to figure them out. Operation Next Gen should help move mountains, but time will tell.

13) I was actually relating this to somebody in-person the other day, so need to share it here, via Drum:

Health care pros prefer AI to human doctors

I’m not sure why this amuses me so much, but it does:

This is from a study comparing human doctors to GPT 3.5. The methodology was sort of fascinating: the authors collected 195 questions and responses from real doctors on Reddit and then fed the exact same questions into the chatbot. Then they jumbled up all the responses and had them evaluated by health care professionals.

As the chart shows, the pros concluded that the chatbot’s answers were more accurate and more empathetic. So what was up with the doctors? Were they telling people to suck it up and just accept the pain? Or what? Here’s an example:

(Sorry this is so small. As always, click to embiggen.)

In this case, I empathize with the human doctor. My response probably would be along the lines of “ffs, it’s just a toothpick,” so I think the doctor was heroically patient here.

Still, the chatbot answer is demonstrably better. One reason is that it’s not time restricted. Most human doctors just don’t have the patience or time to write long answers with lots of little verbal curlicues. The chatbot has no such problem. It used three times as many words as the doctor and could have used ten times more with no trouble. It simply doesn’t require any effort for the chatbot to be empathetic and provide lots of information that might be of only minor importance.

14) Loved this interview with James Marsden and I’ve loved the first two episodes of “Jury Duty.” 

I emphatically endorse this post

Loved this from Arthur Brooks on the importance of enthusiasm in happiness:

One of my friends, more so than anyone else I know, has a remarkable power to make the people around him happy. He does this not through beer or flattery, but simply through the power of his personality. He is extroverted, conscientious, agreeable—all the traits that psychologists predict will attract a lot of friends.

But there’s one personality characteristic of his that I find especially winning: his enthusiasm. He is excited about his work and fascinated by mine. He speaks ebulliently about his family but also about the economy and politics. He has, as the 19th-century philosopher William James put it, “zest [for] the common objects of life.”

My friend is also an unusually happy person, which I had always thought explained his enthusiasm. But I had it backwards. In truth, enthusiasm is one of the personality traits that appear to drive happiness the most. In fact, to get happier, each of us can increase our own zest for the common objects of our lives. And it isn’t all that hard to do…

Two traits out of the Big Five seem to be especially important for happiness: In 2018, psychologists confirmed that high extroversion and low neuroticism seemed to be the recipe for well-being. More specifically, the correlations hinged on one aspect of extroversion and one aspect of neuroticism—enthusiasm and withdrawal, respectively.

You might say that enthusiasm and withdrawal form the poles of a spectrum of behavior. Enthusiasm is defined as being friendly and sociable—“leaning into” life. Withdrawal denotes being easily discouraged and overwhelmed, leading one to “lean out” of social situations and into oneself. If we could become more enthusiastic and withdraw less, the data suggest, we would become happier. We might become more successful too. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1841 essay “Circles.” “The way of life is wonderful: It is by abandonment.”

Followed by strategies to “lean in” and be more enthusiastic.

Anyway, I won’t speak for my agreeableness (though I think I am pretty agreeable), but I’m definitely over 95th% extroversion and over 95th% low neuroticism.  And I’m happy!  It’s good to be me.  But, you certainly don’t have to be an extrovert.  When I read this, I thought of a graduate school friend (JP) who I’m pretty sure is an introvert, but is just an amazingly enthusiastic person and such a pleasure to be around.  So, I think the short version here is have enthusiasms (I’m pretty sure we all do) and share them with others and you will benefit and those around you will benefit.  Sounds like a good deal.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) deBoer, “Pick a Practical Major, Like French”

We may be on the verge of a recession, or we may already be in one. After decades of slack labor markets and anemic wage growth, for an all-too-brief period the post-COVID-lockdown world saw a tight job market and employers actually competing for workers. But with inflation high and the Fed having raised rates aggressively, many are projecting a serious downturn that will surely hurt workers. Under those conditions, it’s more important than ever that college students take practical majors. Like French.

Yes, French. The major that’s so often derided as the height of impractical folly, the interest of people who want to fritter their time away reciting poetry and watching New Wave cinema, in fact revolves around a skill that has a great chance to be invaluable in the coming half-century: the ability to communicate in one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. Though it’s barely discussed in American news and commentary, central and west Africa — that is to say, Francophone Africa — has seen a population explosion in recent decades that’s arguably the biggest in the world. And while birth-rate growth in the region has started to level off, declining birth rates or outright declining populations across the world mean that the French-speaking part of Africa will play a huge role in determining humanity’s future. The French language rises with it. To put things in relative terms, the Francophone world, where as many as 525 million people live, is larger than the entire European Union. And where population growth happens, economic importance tends to follow…

The broader point here is simple: We have a prevalent concept of the “practical college major” in our society, but that concept is vague, not buttressed with evidence, and shifts according to whim and prejudice. And the ultimate point of stressing the practicality of certain majors while denigrating the frivolity of others is to blame people for economic conditions they can’t control.

The first and most basic problem with the notion of the practical major is that practicality is not a static, timeless quality. Consider the story of the pharmacy major in the mid 2010s. As a very telling New Republic story from 2014 spells out, the popularity of pharmaceutical studies could stand as a cautionary tale when it comes to the very concept of the practical major, of the educational “safe haven.” In the 2000s and 2010s, dozens of new schools of pharmacy were opened thanks to the perception that pharmacy was a safe field for young graduates. Thousands of newly minted pharmacists flooded the market. Somehow, administrators in higher education were surprised to find that these new graduates had a harder time finding a good job than previous generations. But this is an inevitable outcome of telling young people an academic field is a practical choice, since you’re making that field more attractive and thus increasing the competition they have to face in the labor market.

The point isn’t that the pharmaceutical industry became a uniquely bad field to be in — it wasn’t. The point is that a supposedly safe field became less friendly to new entrants over time. And it happened fairly quickly, in a world where economic data is often lagging and where it can take four or more years to get credentialed into a given field. What were the current pharmacy majors supposed to do when it became clear there would be a lot of competition for jobs after all? Quit halfway through their majors, after investing years and tens of thousands of dollars?

For another example of the folly of practicality, look at the major of business, a serious field for serious people — or maybe not. People are often surprised when I tell them that many of the career-outcome metrics for business majors are middling at best. After all, what could be a more intuitively practical major than business? The problem is that business is by far the most popular major in American higher education; each year, we graduate something like 350,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in the field. That means that, if you’re one of those students, you’re graduating into a labor market where you have an immense amount of competition. That inevitably depresses your career prospects. (Supply and demand applies to educated labor.) “Practicality” has nothing to do with it.

Or we might look at petrochemical engineering, where the job market tracks the notoriously volatile price of oil. Sample 2015 headline: “Petroleum engineering degrees seen going from boom to bust.” Working for oil companies seems like the definition of a practical, even mercenary ambition to me. And yet that superficial practicality is no match for macroeconomic conditions individuals can’t control.

2) You better believed I enjoyed reading about completely out of control Institutional Review Boards in Scott Alexander’s substack:

IV. Hard Truths


Doctors are told to weigh the benefits vs. costs of every treatment. So what are the benefits and costs of IRBs?

Whitney can find five people who unexpectedly died from research in the past twenty-five years. These are the sorts of cases IRBs are set up to prevent – people injected with toxic drugs, surgeries gone horribly wrong, the like. No doubt there are more whose stories we don’t know. But as for obvious, newsworthy cases, there are ~2 per decade. Were there more before Ellis’ 1998 freakout and the subsequent tightening of IRB rules? Whitney can’t really find evidence for this.

What are the costs? The direct cost of running the nation’s IRB network is about $100 million per year. The added costs to studies from IRB-related delays and compliance costs is about $1.5 billion/year. So the monetary costs are around the order of $1.6 billion.

What about non-monetary costs? Nobody has fully quantified this. Some Australian oncologists did an analysis and found that 60 people per year died from IRB-related delays in Australian cancer trials. 6,000 people died from delays in ISIS-2, and that was just one study. Tens of thousands were probably killed by IRBs blocking human challenge trials for COVID vaccines. Low confidence estimate, but somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Americans probably die each year from IRB-related research delays.

So the cost-benefit calculation looks like – save a tiny handful of people per year, while killing 10,000 to 100,000 more, for a price tag of $1.6 billion. If this were a medication, I would not prescribe it.

Whitney doesn’t want a revolution. He just wants to go back to the pre-1998 system, before Gary Ellis crushed Johns Hopkins, doctors were replaced with administrators, and pragmatic research ethics were replaced by liability avoidance. Specifically:

  • Allow zero-risk research (for example, testing urine samples a patient has already provided) with verbal or minimal written consent.

  • Allow consent forms to skip trivial issues no one cares about (“aspirin might taste bad”) and optimize them for patient understanding instead of liability avoidance.

  • Let each institution run their IRB with limited federal interference. Big institutions doing dangerous studies can enforce more regulations; small institutions doing simpler ones can be more permissive. The government only has to step in when some institution seems to be failing really badly.

  • Researchers should be allowed to appeal IRB decisions to higher authorities like deans or chancellors

These make sense. I’m just worried they’re impossible.

3) Bruni on MTG:

I don’t keep up with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweets, having decided long ago that there were more pleasant and constructive uses of time, like lighting fire to my eyelashes. But I’m rethinking that judgment now. M.T.G. really does have something to say — or, rather, to tell us.

She tweeted a doozy the other day. Actually, she routinely tweets doozies, which I realized when I caught up with her Twitter account, bingeing on it the way I would an overlooked HBO Max series, if the series were an endless sequence of garish sights and ghastly sounds that robbed me of my will to live. This tweet garnered headlines — that’s how I came to it — and deservedly so. Audaciously, incoherently, M.T.G. used it to try to turn Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking national security secrets, into a victim.

The leaks in question divulged classified information about U.S. surveillance of Russia that’s vital to our assistance to Ukraine, where there are true victims, an entire ravaged country of them. And Teixeira’s alleged actions didn’t seem to have any high-minded prompt. He’s more post-adolescent punk than principled dissident by my read.

But then my lens isn’t M.T.G.’s. I don’t wear her thick, cracked goggles of grievance, which reveal Teixeira as a martyr.

“Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar,” she tweeted, capitalizing on her professed faith without properly capitalizing it. “That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.” Her tweet, wanting for a good copy edit, went on to beseech its readers: “Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low level national guardsmen? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine?”

President Biden isn’t waging war in Ukraine. That’s what Vladimir Putin is doing. And Teixeira’s gender, color and religion have nothing to do with his arrest and looming prosecution, nor are they relevant to a legitimate, necessary debate about the degree, nature, costs and long-term usefulness of our aid to Ukrainians.

But they have everything to do with the manner in which an alarming fraction of Americans regard and respond to political developments today. They look for evidence of offense to, and persecution of, whatever group of people they identify with. They invent that proof when it’s not there; when it is, they upsize it. Either way, their predetermined sense of grievance is the prism through which all is passed and all is parsed. It’s their Rosetta stone. It’s their binky.

M.T.G.’s tweet is an extreme example from a self-infatuated extremist, but it’s an example nonetheless. A reckless brat is arrested, President Biden arches an eyebrow, a bluebird falls from the sky: M.T.G. can see the lefty secularism and reverse racism — the wokeness, in a polarizing word — in any turn of events.

So can many others on the right, which has no monopoly on willful misreads, but is currently conducting a scary and profoundly dangerous master class on them. Witness their conspiracy theories, their militias, their actions on — and then revisionism about — the Jan. 6 rioting. Witness the evolution of Donald Trump’s blather, which leans ever more heavily on the insistence that investigations of him are really attacks on his supporters, who confront the same horrible oppression that poor Airman Teixeira does.

Witness less flamboyant versions of this paranoid mind-set. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, has built his brand around identifying the supposed threats to non-woke traditionalists and crafting or calling for measures that foil and punish their liberal oppressors. He trades aspiration for retribution, optimism for resentment.

He, too, wears goggles of grievance. They’re just a little bit lighter than M.T.G.’s. A little bit looser. And they’re not lined in fur.

4) This is good, “Why the Anti-Anti-Trumpers Need Ron DeSantis: His getting the 2024 GOP nomination would, they hope, validate their actions—and their inaction—since 2016”

TO UNDERSTAND WHY THIS SEGMENT of Republicans is so DeSantis-needy, let’s briefly revisit the typology of the GOP following its crackup. Donald Trump’s election and presidency split the conservative intelligentsia—the writers, think tankers, attorneys, professors, influencers, strategists, policy wonks, and other “thought leaders”—into three broad groups.

First, there were those who said “Never Trump” and meant it, opposing both the man and his movement.

Second, at the other end are some you could call “semi-fascist.” Openly anti-democracy, they try to harness Trumpist populism to their own ends. Think tankers at the Claremont Institute call for an American Caesar. The American Conservative praises Vlad the Impaler, arguing that America needs a leader “willing to be the bad guy.” Billionaire Peter Thiel argues that freedom is incompatible with democracy, and funds a variety of causes and candidates (J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, etc.). Fox News host Tucker Carlson belongs here too, with his Russia-friendly coverage of the Ukraine war, and promoting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Third, there’s what is probably the largest category: the rationalizers. Here you’ll find many media figures, donors, political operatives, and politicians. Loyal partisans, committed culture warriors, and anyone chasing the MAGA audience, appealing to small donors, seeking proximity to power, or just trying to stick with the team.

Some of these accepted Trump as the avatar of the American right, and backed him until after his presidency when they could cheer a Republican challenger. Others went anti-anti-Trump, professing to disapprove of the president, and rarely defending him outright, but rarely criticizing him either, focusing instead on attacking his critics.

Rationalizers criticized Trump on background to reporters, but not in public. Or they’d express disagreement in public, but merely on political strategy, not principle. Or maybe, when things got egregious, they’d say something on principle. But not too strenuously—down that road lies excommunication, as with former Rep. Liz Cheney—and usually with caveats that Democrats are worse.

No matter what happened, no matter what they said in public or private, the rationalizers kept coming back. They could not, would not make a public break with the party or a final break with Trump.

Which brings us back to Ron DeSantis. The rationalizers need the Republican presidential nomination to go to DeSantis to validate their choice.

To show that their words, actions, and inaction since 2016 were shrewd and insightful, not obsequious and cowardly.

To demonstrate that they were engaged in a wise, noble effort to hold together the party for the good of the country.

It would let them move on from the Trump period without reckoning with their role in it.

5) Lots of good stuff on how to study better.  Gift link. 

Students don’t know much about how they learn.

In one study, researchers asked college students to select which of two scenarios would lead to better learning. For example, students were asked to compare creating one’s own mnemonic with using one the teacher provides. (Creating your own is better, previous research shows.)

For two of the six scenarios, students picked the worse strategy as often as the better one. For the other four, most students actually thought the worsestrategy was superior.

How could they be so misinformed? You would think that after years of studying and then seeing their test results, students would figure out which methods work and which don’t.

Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.

By analogy, suppose I were trying to get stronger by doing push-ups. You watch me train, and are surprised that I’m practicing push-ups on my knees. When you suggest that push-ups on my toes are a better exercise, I reply: “I tried that, but I can do lots more on my knees. And this way they’re not so hard!”

Students try to learn by doing the mental equivalent of push-ups on their knees.

For example, student surveys show that rereading notes or textbooks is the most common way students prepare for a test. Rereading is easy because the mind can skitter along the surface of the material without closely considering its meaning, but that’s exactly why it’s a poor way to learn. If you want to learn the meaning — as most tests require you to — then you must think about meaning when you study.

Yet, insidiously, rereading feels effective.

Rereading a textbook makes the content feel familiar. But judging that content is familiar and knowing what it means — being able to describe it, being able to use that knowledge when you think — are supported by different processes in the brain. Because they are separate, familiarity can increase even if knowledge of the meaning doesn’t increase. That’s what’s happened when a person looks very familiar but you can’t identify her.

And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.

Psychologists have developed much better ways to study, some of them counterintuitive. For example, if you’ve only partially learned some material, trying to remember it is a better way to solidify that fragile learning than studying more.

6) I’m not a vegetarian, but I definitely try to a lot less meat these days.  It’s good for animals and good for the planet:

In the United States and beyond, giant agribusiness corporations continue raising animals in ways that disregard their welfare, never allowing pigs or chickens to walk outside, crowding hens who lay eggs into cages that prevent them from stretching their wings and breeding chickens to grow so fast that their immature leg bones struggle to bear their weight.

Boycotting this monstrous abuse of billions of animals each year is a powerful reason for not eating meat, but the outsize contribution of meat and dairy products to climate change is for me now an equally urgent part of shifting to a plant-based diet. But we need not be hard-line about avoiding all animal products. If everyone chose plant-based foods for just half their meals, we would have fewer animals suffering, and a tremendously better shot at avoiding the most dire consequences of climate change.

Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that releasing into the atmosphere a ton of methane will, over a century, raise the temperature of our planet by 28 times as much as releasing a ton of carbon dioxide. That would be bad enough, but the impact is even more lopsided in the shorter term: Because methane breaks down much more rapidly than carbon dioxide, over 20 years, that ton will warm the planet as much as 84 tons of carbon dioxide…

This means we can do something for the planet every time we eat. And if Americans were to replace 50 percent of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives by 2030, that alone would help them get a quarter of the way toward hitting the U.S. climate target under the Paris agreement.

Admittedly, slowing climate change would be much easier — and fairer — if governments were to tax animal products in proportion to the damage they do to the climate. But in the absence of meat and dairy taxes, the power lies with those who consume animal products, and with the institutions that provide food for many of us.

7) OMG do I hate seemingly every damn electronic interaction asking for a tip now.  Tips are quite appropriate for tipped employees or to reward a person/business for an extra good job.  But, no, you don’t get a tip just because you sold me a donut!

You might be wondering why I, a tech columnist, would write about tipping. The reason is that tipping is no longer just a socioeconomic and ethical issue about the livelihoods of service workers.

It has also become a tech problem that is rapidly spiraling out of control thanks to the proliferation of digital payment products from companies like Square and Toast. Since payment apps and touch screens make it simple for merchants to preset gratuity amounts, many businesses that didn’t ordinarily ask for tips now do.

And many consumers feel pressured to oblige or don’t notice the charges. This phenomenon — known as “guilt tipping” — was compounded in recent years when more privileged professionals shelled out extra to help essential workers weather the pandemic. But even as businesses have somewhat returned to normal, the gratuity requests have remained steadfast.

Tipping practices may become part of a broad government crackdown on so-called junk fees, extra costs that businesses tack on to products and services while adding little to no value. The Federal Trade Commission, which announced an investigation into the practices last year, said people could experience “junk fee shock” when companies used deceptive tech designs to inflate costs at the end of a purchase.

I have felt the pain and awkwardness of seemingly arbitrary tip requests. I was recently taken aback when a grocery store’s iPad screen suggested a tip between 10 percent and 30 percent — a situation that was made more unpleasant when I hit the “no tip” button and the cashier shot me a glare.

When a motorcycle mechanic asked for a gratuity with his smartphone screen, I felt pressured to tip because my safety depended on his services. (It still felt wrong, because I had already paid for his labor.)

I shared these instances, along with stories I had read all over the web about consumers outraged by abnormal tipping requests, with user-interface experts who work on tech and financial products. All agreed that while it was good that payment services had increased gratuities for service workers who rely on them, the technology created a bad experience when consumers felt coerced by businesses that didn’t normally expect tips…

A broader issue remains: When businesses that don’t ordinarily get tips use technology to present a tipping screen, they require the consumer to opt out.

“It’s coercion,” Mr. Selker said.

On the bright side, the gratuity screens are not considered deceptive, said Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant in Britain, because the “custom tip” and “no tip” buttons are roughly the same size as the tipping buttons. If the opt-out buttons were extremely difficult to find, this would be an abusive practice known as “dark patterns.”

Still, if people feel unfairly pressured into tipping in situations where gratuity is unnecessary, government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission should examine that concern through a regulatory lens, Mr. Brignull said.

The F.T.C. did not immediately return requests for comment.

I recommend approaching tipping the same way that you might approach technology: Be wary of the defaults, and decide when it’s right to opt out.

8) Fine particulate matter in air is really bad for you. And there’s a lot of it in subways. 

THERE ARE PEOPLE in this world who, out of sheer curiosity, carry around scientific instruments so they can measure levels of potentially harmful airborne particulates—tiny clumps of matter that may be breathed in. “We’re sort of air pollution nerds, right?” says Terry Gordon, an environmental health scientist at New York University.

Some years ago, a colleague of his got a shockingly high reading on a particulate monitor when he entered a subway station in New York. “He thought it was broken,” recalls Gordon. But it wasn’t. That reading inspired a much-discussed study, published in 2021, on particulate concentrations in various subway stations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locations in the northeastern US.

It’s just one of numerous recent papers that have documented particulate pollution in subway and metro systems around the world—reflecting a growing concern that city commuting could carry a health risk. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Paris opened a criminal investigation over allegations that air pollution in the capital’s metro was endangering people’s lives. Not only that, the operator of the underground railway system there, RATP, has been accused of deliberately underreporting pollution levels—which it denies.


The fact that particulates are present in metro systems, often at concentrations many times those found at street level, is undeniable. The rubbing of metal wheels on tracks, or brakes on wheels, shears off tiny metal particles that get kicked up into the air as trains move. The question is how the dusty tunnels of the world’s metro systems compare on this point—and whether science reveals any genuine health risks for people who travel or work in these environments. Long-term exposure to particulate matter is known to be linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, as well as premature death.

Gordon, though, was surprised to hear about the legal case in Paris. “Paris is nothing compared to London,” he says. And no metro stations anywhere, he adds, are as particulate-prone as those in and around New York—at least according to his research.

9) This was really interesting on human longevity:

JEAN-MARIE ROBINE IS not impressed by your centenarian grandma. Sure, she’s sprightly for her age, but how unusual is making it to 100, really? Robine is a demographer and longevity researcher, and in his home country of France alone there are 30,000 centenarians; 30 times more than there were half a century ago. Add up all the centenarians worldwide and you get to 570,000—an entire Baltimore’s worth of extremely long-lived humans. Having a birthday cake with 100 candles is nice, but nowadays it’s nothing special.

To really pique Robine’s interest we need to up the longevity stakes a little. He is an expert in supercentenarians: people who live to 110 or even longer. In the 1990s Robine helped validate the age of the oldest person who ever lived. Born in 1875, Jeanne Calment lived through 20 French presidents before dying in 1997 at the age of 122, five months, and 15 days. Since then Robine has become a collector of the super long-lived, helping run one of the largest and most-detailed databases of extremely old people.

For Robine, each supercentenarian is a crucial datapoint in the quest to answer a big question: Is there an upper limit to the human lifespan? “There are still many things we don’t know. And we hate that,” says Robine. But there is an even more fundamental question that undercuts the whole field of longevity research. What if—in our quest to push the limits of human lifespan—we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places?


If you’ve ever read an interview with a supercentenarian, there is one question that will inevitably come up: What’s the secret? Well, take your pick. The secret is kindness. Not having children. Connecting with nature. Avoiding men. Or, being married. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Not smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Drinking whisky. Abstaining from alcohol altogether. We mine the lives of the super-old for hints on how we should live our own.

But this is the wrong way to approach the question, says Robine. His style is to step back, take a look at how many supercentenarians there have been, and figure out when they lived and died. The limits of human longevity won’t be found by looking at individuals, he believes, but by examining super-long-lived people collectively. It’s a statistical puzzle: to crack it, you need to know exactly how many people died at age 111, 112, 113, and so on, to work out the likelihood that a supercentenarian won’t make it to their next birthday.

In 1825, the British mathematician Benjamin Gompertz published one of the first attempts to calculate the limits of human longevity following this approach. Armed with birth and death records from Carlisle and Northampton, Gompertz calculated how someone’s risk of dying changed as they got older. Gompertz found that after a person hit their late twenties, their risk of dying in the subsequent year kept going up, year after year. But at age 92 something curious happened. Their annual chance of death leveled off at 25 percent per year. This finding was odd. It suggested to Gompertz that there was no upper limit to human aging. Theoretically, he mused, there was nothing in his data suggesting that humans couldn’t live for many, many, centuries—just like the lives of the patriarchs in the Bible.

But statistics is a cruel science, and Gompertz knew that too. According to his data, the risk of dying at age 92 was so high that you would need an unthinkably large number of humans to reach that age before you found just one person who lived to 192. Three trillion humans, to be precise—30 times more than have ever been born. And yet Gompertz found himself hampered by his dataset. So few humans made it past the age of 90 that it was hard for him to really know what mortality rates were like at very advanced ages. Did his results point toward some insurmountable limit to human lifespan, or just a temporary cap that could be lifted with advancements in medicine?

Modern demographers have picked up where Gompertz left off, sometimes with surprising results. In 2016 Jan Vijg and his colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that mortality rates past the age of 100 start to rise rapidly, putting a cap on human lifespan of around 125 years. Two years later another group of demographers, this time led by Elisabetta Barbi at Sapienza University in Rome, came to the opposite conclusion. She argued that human death rates increase exponentially up until age 80, at which point they decelerate and then level-off after age 105. Barbi’s research raised the tantalizing prospect that there is no upper limit to human lifespan at all, just like Gompertz wondered.

If mortality rates really do plateau at a certain age, then extreme longevity is just a numbers game, Robine says. Say you had 10 people reach the age of 110, and the risk of any of them dying each subsequent year had plateaued at 50 percent. You’d expect five of them to reach the age of 111, two or three to reach 112, one or two of them to reach 113, just one to reach 114, and no one to make it to 115. To have a good shot of someone reaching 115, you need to double the number of people making it to age 110, and so on. In other words, the upper limit on lifespan is just a factor of how many people survived the previous year. But these numbers all hinge on exactly what and where the mortality plateau is. The problem is, the data available for calculating this isn’t very good.

10) Really enjoyed this about Bud Light and worrying about what products you buy:

You may have caught wind of what followed: widespread outrage from social conservatives, calls for boycotts of the beer by country stars and rappers (including Kid Rock, who released a video in which he destroyed cases of Bud Light with an assault weapon), a significant drop in Bud Light’s sales in one week and the loss of about $5 billion in market capitalization. This week, Bud Light’s owner announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence.

Other than some passing discomfort for shareholders, everything about what I hope no one will be tempted to call Bud Light-gate has an air of unreality. In addition to Bud Light, InBev owns Corona, Stella Artois, Michelob, Beck’s, Modelo and many other beer brands. Given the sweeping homogenization of global corporate culture and business practices, InBev’s politics are roughly the same as those of all major companies: a combination of cutthroat economic libertarianism and progressive human resources-style “sensitivity” with which few Americans wholly identify.

Despite the passionate claims about its unique identity and its conservative political profile, the only value driving Bud Light, or any other consumer good available on a global scale, is the remorseless logic of shareholder value. That makes it hard to coherently express your politics with your beer preferences.

11) With the Ed Sheeran court case, a really cool audio interactive feature on some really big music copyright cases.  The truth is, this is just hard. 

12) Was not at all surprised to read smartphone sales are way down.  Why buy a new one?!

Much of the slowdown is likely due to a confluence of pandemic-related economic factors like  chaotic supply lines and skyrocketing inflation. But another aspect that could explain why fewer people are buying phones is that, for the most part, phones are perfectly fine. Modern smartphones have plateaued, both in terms of their design and the capabilities of their software, and the future of phones is likely to involve slow, iterative improvements rather than big leaps that warrant faster upgrades.

13) Somehow, elephant seals manage to get by on 2 hours of sleep a day. 

14) Be very suspicious of polls showing high numbers for third party candidates (unless it’s 1992 and it’s Ross Perot)


Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler: on Clarence Thomas and Democratic weakness:

In fairness to Democrats, they have also asked Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas internally, so it’s not like they’re casting a narrow net in the vain hope that Republicans might do the right thing. 

But more on that in a minute. Before we wring our hands over the Democrats’ apparent indifference, we should be of one mind about Thomas’s conduct, why it warrants an aggressive response, and what such a response might accomplish.   

For decades, while posing as the Supreme Court’s everyman, Thomas has accepted lavish gifts, vacations, and private-jet flights, worth millions of dollars, from the Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. Then—in violation of federal law—he elected to conceal the financial relationship. We learned all of that thanks to the excellent reporting of Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicaAnd we know they have Thomas dead to rights, because he hasn’t denied any of it. Rather, he has sought to defend his behavior with what you might generously call lawyerly deception. Here’s the key part of the public statement he issued in response to the revelations:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.

I added the emphasis to identify the points of deceit. Reading his statement, you might imagine that when Thomas became a justice, he wondered what to do about his dear and generous friend Harlan who, while very rich, and very conservative, had no particular interest in the composition of the federal bench or what considerations enter the minds of Supreme Court justices when they interpret and make law. 

But that’s not so. Twenty-five years ago, Thomas had already been a justice for several years, which means he only befriended Crow after becoming one of the most powerful officeholders in the world. We don’t know when Thomas sought guidance from his similarly lawless colleagues, or which jurists he sought it from, but we know he voluntarily disclosed these gifts until the Los Angeles Times first began reporting on this improper relationship in 2004, at which point the disclosures stopped. Then note the past-tense voice when he claims Crow “did not have business before the court.” That is conspicuously not the same as saying he “did not and does not have business before the court,” or “has never had business before the court.” We don’t know, because Thomas left too much unsaid, but at best this means Crow had no business before the court in or around 2004 when Thomas and his buddies on the bench all agreed he didn’t have to follow any rules. 

A truer statement and timeline would have left a much different impression: That years after he became a justice, a right-wing influence peddler with a fortune and recurring business before the court befriended and began spending vast sums of money on him; that he disclosed these gifts for several more years before the press got wind of it, at which point he went looking for affirmation that it was OK to keep accepting the gifts without disclosing them.

This would be intolerable even if it were Thomas’s first offense, but his offenses are serial. His entanglement with Crow alone has seen straight up cash flow into his wife Ginni’s pockets and his own. As I was writing this we learned that Crow secretly paid above market value to purchase property from Thomas, parcels that included Thomas’s parents house, where they continued to maintain residence while Crow covered their property taxes. 

Meanwhile, Ginni resides at the center of a sprawling network of right-wing activists who encouraged and participated in efforts to overthrow the government after the 2020 election. Knowing that her communications about the attempted coup might end up in the hands of investigators and the public, Thomas cast the sole dissenting vote against requiring disclosure of Trump administration records to the House January 6 Committee. No recusal. Her involvement, and his desire to cover it up, at least hinted at his awareness of, or even complicity in, an effort to overturn American democracy. It all could easily have formed the basis of a tidy impeachment inquiry. Instead, then as now, Democrats in Congress let it be. They contented themselves with impotent calls for Thomas to recuse himself in future insurrection cases, and for a statutory code of ethics to bind the justices going forward. 

Democrats subsequently lost the House, removing impeachment as an option altogether. But that hasn’t left them powerless. They still have a significant bully pulpit. They could use it to insist (ineffectively, perhaps, but at real cost to Thomas and the GOP) that Thomas resign; that his defenders are complicit in selling the Court to right-wing billionaires; that a court that tolerates this cozy style of bribery and deception can not be trusted with as much power as it has. And they could back that up with a credible threat to investigate Thomas’s conduct more deeply, including through the use of subpoena power. 

A few righteous House Democrats have indeed called on Thomas to resign, but the ones best positioned to make this a painful problem for Thomas and Republicans have all ducked. As alluded to earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s first instinct was to pass the buck to John Roberts—”Chief Justice Roberts needs to take the important first step here as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to restore the integrity of that court with a thorough and credible investigation of what happened with Justice Thomas,” Durbin said—while vaguely promising to “act.”  Initially, eight senators signed a letter to Roberts pressing him to relieve them of this hot potato. Subsequently, under wilting criticism, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote to Roberts again, urging him (again) to investigate this issue himself, but advising him that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” One hearing! On ‘Supreme Court Ethics!’ Maybe!

So, for now, a buck passed and a box checked. 

We thus witnessed the perverse spectacle of Republicans feigning more outrage in defense of their poor, beleaguered friend Clarence Thomas, and his right to be corrupt, than Democrats directed at Thomas for the extent of his corruption. Republicans felt freer than they might have to treat Thomas as the victim of a smear campaign, because Democrats did not respond in proportion to the seriousness of the matter. Republicans would have you believe they’d be totally cool with George Soros sending Ketanji Brown Jackson to various beach resorts on his private planes (NB: they would lose every last ounce of their shit) because they didn’t have to worry about their opponents calling them liars, complicit in the corruption of the American government.





2) Freddie deBoer takes up some satire on leftists and crime and it’s brilliant:

A: We need to do something about our rotten criminal justice system.

B: Absolutely. We need major reform – police reform, sentencing reform, reform of our jails and prisons, robust programs for rehabilitation and reintegration.

A: No, we need to tear it all down. Defund the police, abolish prisons, and end the carceral state.

B: You know, if I thought that the Water & Sewer department was terribly corrupt, violent, and racist, I’d be very invested in Water & Sewer reform. I’d find Water & Sewer reform to be a moral necessity. I’d advocate for major Water & Sewer reform. But I wouldn’t say “Water & Sewer can’t be reformed, we need to let shit flow through the streets.” It seems like a major and unjustified leap in logic.

A: Sorry. Reform won’t do. Defund, disarm, decarcerate! No police!

B: Won’t that lead to a lot of crime and much lower living standards?

A: Not if we address need. Poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime.

B: Of all crime?

A: Yes.

B: But the vast majority of poor people aren’t committing crimes.

A: Crime is complex and multivariate.

B: If poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime, how is crime complex or multivariate?

A: … because. 

B: Remember when that MLB pitcher’s old tweets resurfaced recently?

A: Yes. That damn racist.

B: Well, I get why copying and pasting rap lyrics with the n-word in them and tweeting it is offensive. I don’t condone it. But he was a teenager when he sent those tweets, and you were saying that he should lose all of his endorsement deals. And you also thought that an actor who was caught on camera calling someone a “slut” should never work again.

A: That’s right. We’re trying to build an accountability culture here.

B: So you’re a minimalist when it comes to punishing actual crimes, but when it comes to handing down social punishment, you’re a maximalist.

A: …yes?

B: Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have a conception of forgiveness and accountability that applies to both the public and private domains? Like, “we should be more forgiving towards people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. “We should be less forgiving to people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. But “we should be an absurdly punitive culture when it comes to violating social prohibitions, but effectively anarchists when it comes to violating legal prohibitions” seems bizarre and unworkable to me.

A: Why!

B: Well, I think the basic reality of human life is that we’re fallible. We don’t do the right thing, often. So we need society to create incentives and punishments to urge people towards the right kind of behavior. In the kind of society you’re envisioning, we aren’t creating those incentives and punishments to encourage lawful behavior, and so people will break the law. I don’t believe that people are essentially self-policing; I don’t believe that all people are basically good. I think most people are basically good, but some very much are not, and the ones who aren’t will prey on those who are if we don’t do anything. It’s sad but it’s a fact of life. You ever see the show Deadwood? There’s no police force in Deadwood. The result isn’t a utopia of people being good to each other; it’s a vicious place where the strong do whatever they want and the weak suffer. That’s what life was like before state-imposed order, the most powerful warlord took whatever he wanted and everyone else suffered. That’s reality. In a state of nature, human beings rob and rape and kill. So you have to have some sort of formal system of crime and punishment. That’s why I’m not a libertarian or anarchist. And I find it very weird that a lot of ostensible leftists have essentially adapted right-wing libertarian visions of law and order. But it’s really weird that those same people are also so eager to basically unperson those who say offensive things! Of course there should be social prohibitions against racism and similar types of offense, but it feels like the left is impossibly sensitive to those social mores and totally insensitive to the costs of having someone stick a gun in your face and take your car. If a woman goes on Twitter and says, “my boss just called me sexy,” people there will do everything they can to cost that man his job. If that same exact woman says, “I just got carjacked,” people with hammers and sickles in their bios will laugh at her and tell her that crime is just something you have to accept, and anyway she was rich enough to own a car so she’s privileged. It’s so bizarre. I just don’t get the consistent principles at play here. It all seems so fickle and arbitrary.

A: Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

B: Honesty at last.

3) This is really interesting, “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved”

Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Using dichotomous questions about the preceding day, [Kahneman and Deaton, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 16489–16493 (2010)] reported a flattening pattern: happiness increased steadily with log(income) up to a threshold and then plateaued. Using experience sampling with a continuous scale, [Killingsworth, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2016976118 (2021)] reported a linear-log pattern in which average happiness rose consistently with log(income). We engaged in an adversarial collaboration to search for a coherent interpretation of both studies. A reanalysis of Killingsworth’s experienced sampling data confirmed the flattening pattern only for the least happy people. Happiness increases steadily with log(income) among happier people, and even accelerates in the happiest group. Complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship. We then explain why Kahneman and Deaton overstated the flattening pattern and why Killingsworth failed to find it. We suggest that Kahneman and Deaton might have reached the correct conclusion if they had described their results in terms of unhappiness rather than happiness; their measures could not discriminate among degrees of happiness because of a ceiling effect. The authors of both studies failed to anticipate that increased income is associated with systematic changes in the shape of the happiness distribution. The mislabeling of the dependent variable and the incorrect assumption of homogeneity were consequences of practices that are standard in social science but should be questioned more often. We flag the benefits of adversarial collaboration.

4) Like the above, found this in Scott Alexander’s monthly links and it’s so good, “Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.”

5) Always here for microbiome research:

For the new global analysis of microbiomes, Segata, Valles-Colomer, and their colleagues honed their tools enough to recognize previously unknown species and different strains of the same species. Using these tools, they examined more than 9,700 samples of stool and saliva from 20 countries on five continents, representing communities with very diverse lifestyles and covering the full range of the human lifespan and many different living arrangements. They traced more than 800,000 strains of microbes between families, roommates, neighbors, and villages and calculated what percentage of shared species were the same strain.

As they expected, they found that the most sharing of strains happened between mothers and infants in the first year of life—about 50 percent of the shared species found in the infants’ guts were strains that spread from the mother. The mother’s influence diminished with time—slipping from 27 percent at age 3 to 14 percent by age 30—but didn’t disappear. Some elderly people in China were shown to still share strains with their surviving centenarian mothers.

For Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, one of the more surprising tidbits in the findings was that although infants born vaginally shared more strains with their mothers than infants born by C-section did, this difference vanished by three years of age. “People make a big deal out of it” that babies born via C-section might be more at risk for certain diseases, she said. But the findings suggest that maybe it “should not be a big thing.”

(That view was corroborated by a new study published this month in Cell Host & Microbe. It found that babies born via C-section received less of their mother’s microbiomes than babies born vaginally, but that they didn’t miss out because they received more microbes from breast milk.)

As we get older, a sizable portion of our microbiomes continues to come from the people we live with or near. Unsurprisingly, the study by Segata and colleagues found that spouses and other physically intimate partners shared a lot of microbes: 13 percent of the gut species they shared were of the same strain, as were 38 percent of their shared oral species.

But people who lived together platonically weren’t far behind, at 12 percent for shared gut species and 32 percent for shared oral species. That’s because, as Segata, Valles-Colomer and their team found, the single most important determinant of transmission was time spent together. People living under one roof shared the most strains, but even people living in the same village tended to have more strains in common than people separated by greater distances. The frequency of strain sharing was consistent across different societies, but the team did confirm previous findings that people in non-westernized countries tend to have more diverse microbiomes.

The researchers also found that strains held in common could be lost over time. Twins growing up together had about a 30 percent strain-sharing level that dropped to about 10 percent after 30 years of living apart.

Segata thinks it’s likely that most of the other strains of shared species also come from other people—primarily from close contacts like friends or coworkers, but maybe also from people we encounter far more briefly and casually. (Pets, however, are probably not big contributors: Segata said that animals mostly harbor microbial species that don’t typically colonize or persist in us.)

The findings are the strongest evidence to date that we share parts of our microbiomes with the people we spend the most time with. The fact that the authors were able to see this pattern of transmission across the globe, and not just in a single population, was “striking,” said Ilana Brito, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. These data sets are extremely noisy, with many mutations happening across these different organisms, she added. But the team successfully uncovered “the signal across the noise.”

It’s not clear how microbiome organisms spread between people. Kissing and sex explain some of it, but microbes could also be transmitted through droplets spewed by coughs and sneezes, or they could be picked up from contaminated surfaces. There’s also still a lot to learn about which microbes are more easily spread than others. Answering that question is critical for understanding the implications of the idea that microbiome organisms can spread.

6) Loved reading about the tiny spit of land in Australia that was one of the few places of dry land on earth where one could see the latest total solar eclipse:

For the tens of thousands of astrophotographers, eclipse chasers and cosmically minded tourists contemplating the best site from which to view Thursday’s total solar eclipse, the town of Exmouth, perched on a finger of land jutting from Australia’s west coast, was the simplest solution to a problem of extreme scarcity.

The narrow ribbon across the planet from which the eclipse could be seen crossed land in just four places: the remotest reaches of East Timor and Western Papua, in Indonesia; freckle-like Australian islands, one of which is controlled by the oil company Chevron; and Exmouth, a tiny tourist destination and former U.S. naval base 770 miles from the nearest city…

Every year, Exmouth sees a regular influx of a few thousand vacationers, drawn by its pristine reef and resident whale sharks. But to accommodate a mass of 20,000 or 30,000 visitors required years of planning and millions of dollars in state support that went toward infrastructure updates, hundreds of portable toilets, dozens of additional emergency workers, the clearing of five acres of forestland and a 1.5-million-gallon water tank.

“It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it?” said Darlene Allston, a top local official.

In many instances, hotels and other tourism operators first learned of the eclipse from savvy tourists who booked their accommodations four or more years earlier. When someone emailed the town’s visitor center in 2018 seeking a booking, “We thought it was a joke at first,” said Jessica Smith, who worked there.

7) Charges are being dropped against Alec Baldwin.  It’s almost like he never should’ve been charged. 

8) Lots of cool ideas from Ethan Mollick on how to use Bing GPT to help teachers/professors.  I tried it out with American Government concepts, and, yeah, it worked really well. 

9) Relatedly.

10) After Damar Hamlin was revived on the field with CPR and an AED I decided I was not going to put off a CPR class any longer.  I’ve put it off so long because I knew it would be less than an hour of material in 2-3 hours.  And, yes, exactly that, but I’m really glad I took the class.  Meanwhile, an interesting story on whether home AED’s may be worth it.  On a society level, totally fails a cost/benefit because the events are so rare, but, nonetheless, it can absolutely make the key difference in some cases. 

On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.

She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.

But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.

“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.

As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used…

But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.

They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.

But the situation is different in the home.

For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.

An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.

Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.

Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.

11) Drum on DeSantis:

Ron DeSantis is blowing it. Initially, his pitch was simple: I’m an anti-woke conservative but I’m not crazy like Donald Trump.

But that’s evolved considerably over the past few months. DeSantis was doing fine as long as he attacked the soft underbelly of liberal sex, gender, and race politics: trans kids in sports; queer theory in AP classes; teaching gay acceptance to third graders; puberty blockers for adolescents; and so forth. These are all things that produce a fair bit of angst among not just MAGA conservatives, but also moderates and independents.

But banning discussion of gender identity completely? Taking over a public university because he didn’t like its curriculum? Banning abortion at six weeks? Going to war with Disney as an act of state-sponsored revenge? Claiming that the Federal Reserve is trying to mount an economic coup using digital currency?

Some of these seem like transparent pandering. Some seem like dangerous extremism. Some are flat-out conspiracy theory lunacy. And some, like the Disney war, are scaring the business wing of the Republican Party, which tolerates the GOP’s culture war agenda only as long as they’re left out of it.

DeSantis is acting like the United States is just an extension of the most conservative parts of Florida. It’s not, and DeSantis has put himself into a pickle. He’s obviously too weak and insecure to deny anything to the MAGA cesspool, and this is ruining his chances of appealing to anyone else. He needed to appear strong enough to control the MAGA beast, not become its kept man.

12) And Chait:

A little over four years ago, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign appeared to be, if not inevitable, then at least like the most strongly positioned candidacy to win her party’s nomination. The former Harvard professor had won over a large segment of the progressive intelligentsia with her impressive array of domestic-policy proposals. But the enthusiasm of activists and intellectuals seemed to augur a groundswell of support from the base that never arrived.

The Warren precedent sprung to mind when Florida governor Ron DeSantis yesterday ventured to South Carolina, where he railed against the “woke mind-virus,” which he defined, perhaps unhelpfully, as “a form of cultural Marxism.” These are terms and concepts that have ricocheted across the conservative elite, especially Republicans trapped in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, and other citadels of liberal elitism, where teachers and human-resource staffers have grown enamored of Robin DiAngelo–speak. But is this worldview, and the jargon DeSantis uses to express it, actually familiar to the voters? Are Republicans in South Carolina truly in a state of despair over “cultural Marxism”?

DeSantis’s struggles have consumed the national media and inspired sundry explanations. Perhaps his misanthropy is the problem. (“He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” one supporter complained to the Washington Post.) Maybe the issue is that Donald Trump was indicted. Maybe it’s his refusal to engage the mainstream media. Or maybe his struggles are a passing phase, willed into existence by a campaign press corps that quadrennially seizes on any wisp of momentum, positive or negative, and blows it up into a self-perpetuating narrative, before getting bored and overcorrecting the other way. (DeSantis’s new image as an inept loser is difficult to square with his 19-point victory in Florida last year.) But the deepest problem may be that he has simply brain-poisoned himself into an abstract worldview that his constituents don’t recognize.

13) I’m a little obsessed with weather apps (I have four on my phone and mostly swear by Accuweather).  I love that Charlie Warzel actually wrote about them! 

Technologically speaking, we live in a time of plenty. Today, I can ask a chatbot to render The Canterbury Tales as if written by Taylor Swift or to help me write a factually inaccurate autobiography. With three swipes, I can summon almost everyone listed in my phone and see their confused faces via an impromptu video chat. My life is a gluttonous smorgasbord of information, and I am on the all-you-can-eat plan. But there is one specific corner where technological advances haven’t kept up: weather apps.

Weather forecasts are always a game of prediction and probabilities, but these apps seem to fail more often than they should. At best, they perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse. The cult favorite Dark Sky, for example, which shut down earlier this year and was rolled into the Apple Weather app, accurately predicted the high temperature in my zip code only 39 percent of the time, according to ForecastAdvisor, which evaluates online weather providers. The Weather Channel’s app, by comparison, comes in at 83 percent. The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticized for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or, as it did last week, breaking altogether. Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf…

Weather apps are not all the same. There are tens of thousands of them, from the simply designed Apple Weather to the expensive, complex, data-rich Windy.App. But all of these forecasts are working off of similar data, which are pulled from places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Traditional meteorologists interpret these models based on their training as well as their gut instinct and past regional weather patterns, and different weather apps and services tend to use their own secret sauce of algorithms to divine their predictions. On an average day, you’re probably going to see a similar forecast from app to app and on television. But when it comes to how people feel about weather apps, these edge cases—which usually take place during severe weather events—are what stick in a person’s mind. “Eighty percent of the year, a weather app is going to work fine,” Matt Lanza, a forecaster who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, told me. “But it’s that 20 percent where people get burned that’s a problem.” 

Lanza explained the human touch of a meteorologist using the example of a so-called high-resolution forecasting model that can predict only 18 hours out. It is generally quite good, he told me, at predicting rain and thunderstorms—“but every so often it runs too hot and over-indexes the chances of a bad storm.” This model, if left to its own devices, will project showers and thunderstorms blanketing the region for hours when, in reality, the storm might only cause 30 minutes of rain in an isolated area of the mapped region. “The problem is when you take the model data and push it directly into the app with no human interpretation,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get nuance from these apps at all. And that can mean a difference between a chance of rain all day and it’s going to rain all day.”

But even this explanation has caveats; all weather apps are different, and their forecasts have varying levels of sophistication. Some pipe model data right in, whereas others are curated using artificial intelligence. Peter Neilley, the Weather Channel’s director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies, said in an email that the company’s app incorporates “billions of weather data points,” adding that “our expert team of meteorologists does oversee and correct the process as needed.”

Weather apps might be less reliable for another reason too. When it comes to predicting severe weather such as snow, small changes in atmospheric moisture—the type of change an experienced forecaster might notice—can cause huge variances in precipitation outcomes. An app with no human curation might choose to average the model’s range of outcomes, producing a forecast that doesn’t reflect the dynamic situation on the ground. Or consider cities with microclimates: “Today, in Chicago, the lakefront will sit in the lower 40s, and the suburbs will be 50-plus degrees,” Greg Dutra, a meteorologist at ABC 7 Chicago, told me. “Often, the difference is even more stark—20-degree swings over just miles.” These sometimes subtle temperature disparities can mean very different forecasts for people living in the same region—something that one-size-fits-all weather apps don’t always pick up.

14) And it also pointed me to this site, which I love, that compares the accuracy of various weather apps for your location (and my two favorite Accuweather and Weather Underground are at the top for Cary). 

15) Loved this Thomas Pueyo thread on maps (if you are on twitter you should totally follow him!)

16) Lots of great advice from Jeremy Faust on seasonal allergies.  I had no idea you could really pound the Zyrtec on those bad allergy days (but definitely not the eye drops). 

17) Drum on the Bud Light ridiculousness:

Every year, Bud Light spends more than $100 million on marketing. Of that, maybe a few million goes to social media. Of that, a small fraction goes to deals with social media influencers. And of that, a few thousand dollars recently went to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who racked up something like 10 million followers on TikTok by putting up daily videos of her transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, after a meeting with Joe Biden, Mulvaney became a right-wing target. So she was already on their radar two weeks ago when she posted a cutesy Instagram video for Bud Light during March Madness. This led to a week of outrage from Fox News and calls for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. National Review editor Rich Lowry says there’s a lesson to be learned:

It would be a good outcome here if it becomes obvious to everyone that Bud Light made a mistake, and if big companies resolve not to do the same in the future.

Just so I have this straight: Lowry’s view is that no American corporation should ever hire a transgender person as part of a promotional campaign. Or am I missing something? Are there any other demographic groups that corporate America should also steer clear of?

18) EJ Dionne, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing”

Gunned-down children don’t seem to change the political equation on guns. Neither do dead teachers. Are parents petrified to send their sons and daughters to school? Tough. I expect the next new slogan on right-wing T-shirts will be: “Arm the Kids!


Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis on Friday, former president Donald Trump didn’t go quite that far. But he did suggest that we “arm some of these teachers.” Former vice president Mike Pence similarly pledged to place “armed resource officers in every public and private school in America.” There’s big government for you.


That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

19) Pretty persuaded by this, “Harper: Why the NBA needs to ban the charge (because it’s stupid and needs to go away)”

The charge is stupid and needs to go away. Now put your pitchforks away and let me explain.

The charge isn’t really a basketball play. I know we’ve tricked ourselves through lore and grainy black-and-white clips that this is a true sacrifice when trying to play defense. It’s really not, especially not anymore. Not with today’s athleticism. The charge is a bailout call for the defense. It’s a game of Three-Card Monte where you’re encouraging collisions as if this were some kind of goal-line stand in football. The alternative would make for a better basketball product, but the league seems so set in its ways on whether or not to change the rule (or even consider it) that it’s willing to create bad situations time and time again.

Two of the biggest stars in the NBA got hurt on Sunday because of players attempting to take charges. Ja Morant fell hard when Anthony Davis tried to take a charge in Game 1 of Grizzlies-Lakers. He hurt his wrist and his status in this series is “in jeopardy,” according to the Grizzlies’ point guard…

In both instances, you have players looking to slide into position at the last second, hoping to con the referee into thinking they were in legal guarding position the entire time to gain the call. By the time Morant is taking off, Davis is still sliding into position. It’s insane to me that this would be rewarded, but I can also recognize it’s a bang-bang play that could go either way on the call. In the case of Giannis, he’s off the ground completely when Love slides into position, and his fall to the ground was contorted enough to have him land right on his back.

20) This interactive WP feature on recycling is pretty cool. Gift link. 

21) What a great idea, “California Wants to Cover Its Canals With Solar Panels”

A new state-funded project in the San Joaquin Valley hopes to find a new way to build drought resilience. The idea is simple: Cover the state’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels to both limit evaporation and generate renewable energy.

“If you drive up and down the state, you see a lot of open canals. And after year after year of drought it seemed an obvious question: How much are we losing to evaporation?” said Jordan Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Solar AquaGrid, a company based in the Bay Area that’s designing and overseeing the initiative. “It’s just common sense in our eyes.”

The California Department of Water Resources is providing $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County and to help determine where else along the state’s 4,000 miles of canals — one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world — it would make the most sense to install solar panels. The project is a collaboration between the state, Solar AquaGrid, the Turlock Irrigation District and researchers with the University of California, Merced, who will track and analyze the findings.

“This hasn’t been tried in the U.S. before,” said Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced who specializes in water and climate research. “We want these to eventually be scaled across the western U.S., where we have a lot of irrigated agriculture and open canals.”

California’s efforts got a jump start from a 2021 study published by Bales and his colleagues, who determined that covering the state’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by as much as 90 percent and save 63 billion gallons of water per year — enough to meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.

22) Hell of an essay, “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”

My 35 years living with two different donor hearts (I was 25 at the time of the first transplant) — finishing law school, getting married, becoming a mother and writing two books — has felt like a quest to outlast a limited life expectancy. With compulsive compliance, I adhered to the strictest interpretation of transplant protocols. I honored my gifts of life with self-discipline: not one pat of butter; not one sip of alcohol; running mile after mile hoping to stave off vasculopathy, an insidious artery disease that often besets transplanted hearts within about 10 years…

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer…

Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a “miracle.” Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.


The side effects of transplant immunosuppression can be sickening day to day, as my small posse of stalwart organ recipient girlfriends knows well; we talk about the vomit bags stashed in our purses, the antacid tablets we tuck into our front pockets for quick-nibble access at a cocktail party or when giving a presentation at work. We’ve encouraged one another to be inventive and keep finding little fixes or at least ameliorations.

Yet over time, each of us tolerate significant challenges and damage, the kind that prompt us to call late at night in tears, reeling from the intractable infections that land us in emergency rooms and hospital beds, the biopsies that pluck pieces of our donor organs leaving us scarred and shaken, the skin cancers that blossom rapidly beside an eyelid or ear. We’ve learned that there can be no clearing every single cancer cell with a suppressed immune system; we will get cut again, and again and again.

But with rattled resolve, we push one another to squeeze laughter out of our common experiences, recounting in mimicking tones all the doctors and all the ways they’ve said to us: “You have taken too much of those medicines for too long. Things are bound to go sideways.”

23) I hope Freddie deBoer isn’t talking to me.  I feel like I’m actually funny.  But, maybe…

I pretty quickly figured out that outside of the weird social architecture of high school, I just wasn’t a particularly funny guy. I’m not exactly known for my great self-knowledge, but this was one of the times in my life when I suddenly and definitively understood myself. On reflection I came to realize that the conditions at high school were never going to be replicated. In particular, being funny in high school classes had these inherent advantages:

  1. There was a captive audience of just the right size, say 12-20.

  2. Within that captive audience were other personalities to bounce off of.

  3. The actual task at hand was usually very dry and boring.

  4. We were teenagers.

  5. Some of us liked school more, some less, but we were all forced to be there.

  6. There was a central authority figure who functioned as a natural and perfect foil, someone to be the butt of jokes.

  7. The fact that we were forced to be there, and that the authority figure’s power over us was to some degree arbitrary, made fighting back with humor feel like a battle for freedom and dignity.

Now, with time I have come to regret just how much of my adolescence I spent fucking with my teachers. For one thing, this was part of my total nosedive in academics that started in middle school, where I went from perfect grades as an elementary school student to constantly failing classes in high school. (Meaning that I performed best when it mattered least and performed worst when it mattered most.) But the bigger issue is that eventually I came to realize that my teachers were, with some exceptions, good people who were doing their best and had an essential task to perform, a task I made a little harder with my constant interruptions and defiance. In fairness, both my bad grades and my snottiness were symptoms of the fact that I was a profoundly wounded person at that point of my life. Still, I only ever gave a handful of teachers an easy time in four years of high school, and those I’m sure were because I perceived some sort of integrity in them that was probably based on entirely unfair and fickle criteria. The trouble was that the sense that the teacher was the locus of unjust authority was somewhat overpowering – it lent a sense of moral struggle to the behavior that was also getting me approval and popularity. I made villains out of people who were just trying to do their jobs, in a way that was convenient for me but felt like noble resistance.

I know this probably all sounds obscure, but I think it connects to broader issues within the world of humor. For example, you’ll find that in comedies the villain is very rarely complex or sympathetic. Comedy is great for exploring nuance but also thrives on having a deserving target. My teachers played that role in my own personal excuse architecture.

All of this windup is for a plainly self-aggrandizing purpose: I find that many people have failed to have the same moment of self-realization I had around college age. I think one of the perpetually aggravating conditions of American culture in 2023 is the feeling that everyone is trying to be a comic all the time. Through cultural and technological evolution we’ve created major social incentives for everyone to act like a comedian as well as digital platforms on which to perform. The trouble, to return to a theme, is that we haven’t and can’t democratize comedic talent. I wrote a piece about a year ago called “Perhaps the Barriers to Entry for Creative Work Have Become Too Low.” Some people got pretty salty about that piece and its title. But I think my main point was sympathetic: the tools to make and share movies or music or writing or video games have become so accessible that people aren’t sufficiently developing their craft before they find an audience. And, yes, the meaner point is that some people just aren’t very good at what they do, but they persist for years anyway because doing so is so low-cost. I think that’s sort of where we are with humor, only at a much bigger scale; many people seem to believe that adult conversation mostly involves people throwing wisecracks at each other, over and over again. As Willy Staley says in this piece on the decline of Twitter, “Who doesn’t want to be the person who can make everyone laugh at a dinner party?”

24) Paul Waldman, “Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill”

I’m afraid of mass shootings. I’m afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of some stupid beef. I’m afraid of gun-wielding, right-wing extremists. But increasingly, I’m also afraid of the people who believe themselves to be “good guys” with guns, gripped with terror of the world around them and ready to kill.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.


The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

The recent NRA convention in Indianapolis was touted by the group as “14 Acres of Guns & Gear!” But it might as well have been “14 Acres of Guns & Fear!” Former president Donald Trump told the crowd that liberals “want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities.” One speaker after another echoed that idea.

This has become the core of the gun industry’s marketing efforts in recent years: to convince potential buyers that sooner or later (probably sooner), they will be the victims of violent crime. The only question is whether they’ll be able to kill their attackers before they’re killed first.

When the marketing isn’t talking about home invasions and street assaults, it focuses on what former gun industry insider Ryan Busse calls “fear-based tactical culture,” in which gun owners are encouraged to imagine themselves as paramilitary operatives facing down urban rioters. Gun owners are now significantly more likely to cite protection from crime as the reason they own guns than they were 20 years ago.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really good on the myth of the Alpha Wolf:

Different wolf populations have packs of different sizes, but the basic structure is the same: a mom, a dad, and their offspring. Sometimes the one-year-olds set out on their own, hoping to find a mate and start their own pack; sometimes they stick around and, as yearlings, help raise the next set of pups. As Kira Cassidy, an associate research scientist with a National Park Service research program in Yellowstone, explained, “The wolves generally in those dominant positions are not there because they fought for it. It’s not some battle to get to the top position. They’re just the oldest, or the parents. Or, in the case of same-sex siblings, it’s a matter of personality.” Cassidy specializes in wolves’ sociality, both within and between packs. Wolves do fight one another—in Yellowstone, where humans can’t hunt them, fights are the primary cause of mortality—but most fights are between packs, for territory. “In Yellowstone, maybe because there’s a lot to eat and it’s a protected area, our packs are larger, more complex family units,” she said. Where conditions are harsh, a wolf pack might number four—two parents, two pups—because so few pups survive. In Yellowstone, a pack often includes aunts, uncles, and sometimes even more than one breeding pair.

Cassidy said that one finding that surprised her came when she looked into battles between packs. She suspected that pack size would be important in determining victors. “We found that even more important than pack size was whether a pack had an old individual, male or female,” she said. At six years old, a Yellowstone wolf is considered an elder—only about one in five lives to that age. “If they have one or two older individuals, they are more likely to win—which was not what we’d expected to find.”

After that, she looked into the literature on other animals, and discovered similar findings. In times of droughts, elephant herds with a matriarch older than thirty-five do better. When there’s a salmon shortage, orcas follow the grandmother. “In the pack fights, we see that the elders don’t panic,” Cassidy said. “It seems to match up with this idea of them having past knowledge that helps the pack. They can ease their pack mates and bring them together. Or maybe the older ones help the pack avoid fights that they know they can’t win—which brings up their winning rate over all.”…

The Schenkel study that gave rise to the terminology began in 1934, looking at wolves living at the Basel Zoological Garden. The conditions, as described in the study, were rough: “Up to ten wolves were kept together in a small area with a floor space of approximately 10 metres by 20 meters.” Not only were the wolves in captivity but they had been brought in from different zoos, and were unrelated to one another. This might be the equivalent of studying the human family by observing the culture of prisoners in a holding cell. Schenkel noted that “this space as a whole was regularly defended against the zookeeper by the whole pack.”

2) An interesting argument that they way schools teach books does not foster a love of reading (I’m very grateful that my 12-year old daughter loves reading– I wish her brothers read more, but they could be worse)

What I remember most about reading in childhood was falling in love with characters and stories; I adored Judy Blume’s Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse. In New York, where I was in public elementary school in the early ’80s, we did have state assessments that tested reading level and comprehension, but the focus was on reading as many books as possible and engaging emotionally with them as a way to develop the requisite skills. Now the focus on reading analytically seems to be squashing that organic enjoyment. Critical reading is an important skill, especially for a generation bombarded with information, much of it unreliable or deceptive. But this hyperfocus on analysis comes at a steep price: The love of books and storytelling is being lost.

This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

3) I agree with Drum on this, “How about if we indict Donald Trump for something serious?”

I would really like to see Donald Trump indicted over his efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia. The problem is that it would be a tough case since Trump was savvy enough to avoid saying outright, “Hey, just invent the extra votes I need.” Still, everyone knows that’s exactly what he meant, and it’s a serious crime. Trump deserves to go to prison for that.

Ditto for the classified documents case. The problem is not that Trump took the documents when he left office. That might have been a mistake, after all. The problem is that even when he knew he had classified documents in his possession and he knew that the government wanted them back, he refused to return them. That’s why the FBI had to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. Trump deserves to go to trial for that too.¹

But you go to war with the charges you have, not with the charges you wish you had. And right now, the charges we have are related to payoffs Trump made to a porn star. Here’s my understanding of the case:

  • In 2006 Trump (allegedly) had an affair with Stormy Daniels. This is not illegal.
  • Daniels threatened to tell her story while Trump was running for president in 2016. This is not illegal. (Not for Trump, anyway.)
  • Trump agreed to pay her off. This is not illegal.
  • But Trump wanted to keep it a secret, so he asked Michael Cohen to handle the payoff money. Trump would then reimburse Cohen. This is not illegal.
  • Trump reimbursed Cohen via payments from the Trump Organization. If this were a public company, that would be illegal. But it’s not, so apparently it isn’t.
  • However, in order to maintain the secrecy, the payments to Cohen were labeled “legal expenses.”

And that’s illegal. Moreover, you can argue that the payoff was a campaign expense that Trump didn’t report. That would be illegal too.

So the case against Trump is this: In order to keep his payoff of a blackmailer secret, he had it labeled as a legal expense.

This strikes me as pretty trivial, and I have my doubts that a jury would convict Trump if it goes to trial. We should probably save our legal firepower for something more serious.

And like it or not, public opinion matters too. One of the mistakes that Republicans made in their impeachment jihad against Bill Clinton was misjudging public opinion. To them, Clinton lied under oath, and a lie is a lie. It was an open and shut case.

But the public never really agreed. To them, it mattered what the lie was about. In Clinton’s case, he was lying about having an affair with a White House aide. To most people, this seemed (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. Anybody would. Come on.

Democrats may be making the same mistake here. To us, Trump falsified his business records, and a lie is a lie. It’s an open and shut case.

But the public, as usual, will care what the lie was about. They’re likely to think it’s (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. He was being blackmailed! Come on.

So tread carefully here.

4) This story is just nuts.  You read the headline and think its exaggerating. But nope. “This Principal Investigated a Sexting Incident. So the Police Charged Him With Possessing Child Porn.”

A Brush, Colorado, man is facing 12 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Even more fraught is that no one, including the government, thinks he had child pornography.

At least not in any traditional sense. Bradley Bass allegedly ran afoul of state law when he was found with explicit images of a local girl. But the 32-year-old high school principal came to have those photos in the course of a school sexting investigation carried out as a part of his job. The girl says she isn’t a victim of Bass’ and both she and her parents have pled with law enforcement to stop the prosecution.

Those requests have fallen on deaf ears. The law criminalizes possessing such photos, even if someone comes to have them while conducting a probe. There is one notable exception, however: “peace officers or court personnel in the performance of their official duties.” In other words, when law enforcement carries out such an investigation, it’s OK. When Bass carried out a similar investigation, he was hit with the potential of more than a decade behind bars, sex offender status, and the loss of his kids and job.

5) I read this headline and thought surely one of these was leaded gasoline. Indeed. “The Brilliant Inventor Who Made Two of History’s Biggest Mistakes

Each of these innovations offered a brilliant solution to an urgent technological problem of the era: making automobiles more efficient, producing a safer refrigerant. But each turned out to have deadly secondary effects on a global scale. Indeed, there may be no other single person in history who did as much damage to human health and the planet, all with the best of intentions as an inventor.

What should we make of the disquieting career of Thomas Midgley Jr.? There are material reasons for revisiting his story now, beyond the one accidental rhyme of history: the centennial of leaded gasoline’s first appearance on the market in 1923. That might seem like the distant past, but the truth is we are still living with the consequences of Midgley’s innovations. This year, the United Nations released an encouraging study reporting that the ozone layer was indeed on track to fully recover from the damage caused by Midgley’s chlorofluorocarbons — but not for another 40 years.

6) Recently came across this idea of “primal world beliefs” on a podcast. I think it is a very, very cool idea:

Your beliefs about a place strongly impact your behavior while in that place. For example, if you see a place as a battleground, you’re jumpy and ready to fight. If you see a place as a playground, you play. You feel good. You make friends.

What happens if you see the whole world as a battleground? Just like beliefs about local contexts, world beliefs could impact us, but constantly. If that’s true, then depression, success, optimismextraversion—honestly, most parts of psychology people care about—could be affected…

But all primals are not equally important. Most collapse for statistical and conceptual reasons into three big ones:

1. Safe World Belief

Those low on Safe world belief see the world as dangerous. These people don’t necessarily feel more scared or threatened in response to dangers, they are just of the honest opinion that there’s a lot more danger out there than the rest of us suspect—from germs to sharks to terrorism to getting insulted. So being alert seems responsible, and relaxing isn’t a great idea. Better safe than sorry.


Those high on Safe world belief see really dangerous threats as few and far between. Thus, they feel that constant vigilance is neurotic, risk is not that risky, and, in general, people should calm down.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Safe world belief is very strongly correlated to things like greater trust, higher agreeableness, and lower depression. Interestingly, men and women on average see the world as equally Safe. In fact, Safe is correlated surprisingly little to actual experiences of danger. This suggests that Safe world belief may be more like a lens used to interpret our life than a mirror reflecting what our life has been.


2. Enticing World Belief

Those low on Enticing world belief see the world as dull. In their view, truly beautiful and fascinating things are rare. Therefore, treasure-hunting, social exploration, risk-taking, and so forth, are only appropriate when it’s a sure bet.

Those high on Enticing world belief are of the opinion that treasure is around every corner, in every person, under every rock, and that beauty permeates everything. Therefore, exploration and appreciation are not naïve. It’s simply the rational way to live.

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Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Enticing is very strongly correlated to things like curiosity, gratitude, and happiness. Like SafeEnticing is uncorrelated to wealth or privilege; anyone can see the world as Enticing.

3. Alive World Belief

Those low on Alive world belief see the world as a machine with no awareness or intentions. Since the universe never sends messages, it makes no sense to try and listen for any. Just as machine parts are interchangeable, so too are people: the world doesn’t need you for anything special.


Those high on Alive world belief think everything happens for a purpose and listen constantly for those purposes. To them, life is a relationship with an active universe that animates events, communicates, and has a role for each of us to play.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Alive is strongly correlated to things like spirituality and having purpose in life. Though religious people tend to see the world as Alive, plenty of non-religious people do, too.

You can probably guess that I see the world as safe, enticing, and mechanistic.  Fun quiz here

7) Paul Waldman, “How much does charisma matter? DeSantis is putting it to the test.”

Liberals are horrified by Ron DeSantis, both in terms of what he has done so far as governor of Florida and what he might do as president. But many take comfort in this frequently repeated idea: Whatever his appeal to the Republican base, DeSantis is so lacking in charisma that winning the presidency would be exceedingly difficult.

This observation has come from both DeSantis’s critics and admirers. He is “reserved and dry” and has a challenge “forging connections with people.” He’s “pinched and humorless.” He “just doesn’t have the charisma to command a national political stage.” He “has the charisma of a pair of cargo shorts.”

It hasn’t seemed to hurt him so far, though. He was narrowly elected governor in 2018, reelected by a large margin in 2022 and has become the most prominent contender for the 2024 presidential nomination not named Donald Trump.

Ever since German sociologist Max Weber theorized about charisma in the early 20th century, scholars have considered its impact on politics — though many struggle to define it. Some describe it as “personal magnetism.” Others locate it in the bond between the leader and their followers; as historian David A. Bell wrote, “charisma is not just an individual quality but a relationship.” It only exists insofar as others perceive it.

Even if Republican voters are attracted to DeSantis, they don’t seem to be getting swept off their feet. They like what he’s done in Florida; they like his crusades against liberals; and they think he would be a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. It’s all exceedingly rational.

Yet all those who made it to the White House in recent decades have possessed at least one of two kinds of charisma. On the personal level, many had a charm that enabled them to connect with people individually.That was especially true of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The other form of charisma was a more distant version — the kind you can see through your TV or on a jumbotron. They could hold a rapt crowd in their hands and move them emotionally. That was especially true of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

8) Yglesias on poverty: “Don’t overthink poverty in the United States”

American anti-poverty programs do a lot to reduce poverty


What shifts my read of Desmond’s work from “somewhat annoyed” to “actually angry” is his claim that the United States has made no progress against poverty in 50 years.

That’s just not true. It is true that there are flaws in the way the official poverty measurement is calculated, and I assume this is why Desmond mentions an additional metric called the Supplemental Poverty Measure. But then he implies, without quite saying so, that SPM poverty hasn’t fallen either, which also isn’t true:

In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented.

On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. As estimated by the federal government’s poverty line, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was poor in 1970; two decades later, it was 13.5 percent; in 2010, it was 15.1 percent; and in 2019, it was 10.5 percent. To graph the share of Americans living in poverty over the past half-century amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills. The line curves slightly up, then slightly down, then back up again over the years, staying steady through Democratic and Republican administrations, rising in recessions and falling in boom years.

What accounts for this lack of progress? It cannot be chalked up to how the poor are counted: Different measures spit out the same embarrassing result. When the government began reporting the Supplemental Poverty Measure in 2011, designed to overcome many of the flaws of the Official Poverty Measure, including not accounting for regional differences in costs of living and government benefits, the United States officially gained three million more poor people. Possible reductions in poverty from counting aid like food stamps and tax benefits were more than offset by recognizing how low-income people were burdened by rising housing and health care costs.

I’m concerned that this passage won’t come in for the vigorous criticism it deserves. Desmond is a big deal in scholarship and the New York Times Magazine is a big deal in journalism, and most people aren’t going to want to call them out for how irresponsible this is. It’s also not the kind of academic/journalistic error that conservative or “heterodox” people like to get mad about — Tucker Carlson isn’t going to do a segment about how irresponsible it is.

But I am.

Over the past 50 years, the United States has spent a considerable amount of money on new programs designed to lift the living standards of low-income people. The reason this hasn’t reduced OPM poverty is that OPM poverty excludes those benefits by definition. The SPM includes them, and the SPM does in fact show poverty falling over time. Desmond elides this by saying that SPM poverty indicates a higher rate than OPM poverty, but that’s neither here nor there. A time series of the SPM shows a Great Society drop, then a Clinton drop, and then an Obama drop. When the welfare state expands, SPM poverty goes down…

An expansive welfare state is expensive

I think the best answer is that just as all kids in America are entitled to K-12 schooling whether or not we think their parents have made great life choices, all kids in America should be entitled to some basic material living standards. There should be a monthly child allowance for all kids, probably one that starts quite large, then tapers when the kid hits kindergarten and again when the kid turns 14 or 15. You should get this allowance whether you’re rich or poor or anything in between; we can make the system progressive through taxes.

A program like that would be relatively simple to get people signed up for because eligibility is easy to determine.

It would avoid any “poverty trap” or “welfare dependency” perverse incentives, and I would hope it would minimize the toxic pitting of people against each other based on their circumstances in life. Kids have needs — policy should account for that. And just as Social Security massively reduces elder poverty without being “an anti-poverty program,” a Social Security benefit for kids would massively reduce poverty among children.

The problem is that while it’s analytically simple and easy to describe, it comes with a hefty price tag. I don’t think it would be costly in economic terms to finance a program like this with broad-based taxes. Indeed, in a lot of ways I think it would be superior to the current practice of bolting together a jumble of different programs for families. But the numbers involved are big and scary, GOP elites think it’s a bad idea, and Democratic Party advocacy groups who like this idea generally have higher priorities.

So policy entrepreneurs are left trying to improve life for low-income people with a mix of means-tested programs that are either in-kind (SNAP) or work-linked (EITC) and really sweating the details to try to maximize the benefits of scarce program dollars. That work is very complicated and technical because these programs all have their own legislative histories and design parameters, and some of them interact with each other.

But to say that the state of American anti-poverty programs is complicated is very different from saying that the persistence of poverty itself is complicated. Poverty persists because straightforward, highly effective solutions are politically untenable in the short term, leaving people in the trenches to deal with a very complex situation. Part of the role of those of us in the article-writing community should be to clarify this, not to layer new levels of complexity onto it.

9) Patricia Schroeder was awesome.  I used to assign a great excerpt from her memoir to my Gender & Politics class, “Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Force in Congress, Dies at 82”

10) Honestly, it seems truly crazy to me that people would honestly think women are more erratic than men. “Guess Which Sex Behaves More Erratically (at Least in Mice): A new study finds male mice more unpredictable than females, challenging century-old assumptions used to exclude females from research because of their hormones.”

For decades, male mice have been the default in scientific experiments that test new drugs or examine the connections of the brain. The reason? Female mice, which experience a four- to five-day cycle of fluctuating ovarian hormones, were thought to be too complicated. Accounting for the hormonal changes was viewed as too cumbersome and too expensive.

But the estrous cycle has little to do with how female mice behave, according to a new study that used machine-learning software to track the second-to-second behavior of animals exploring an open space. Male mice actually exhibited more erratic behavior than females did.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, challenges century-old stereotypes that kept female animals out of laboratory research — and, until the 1990s, barred women from clinical trials.

The new research is “tipping all of these assumptions about sex differences and the influence of hormones on their head,” said Rebecca Shansky, a behavioral neuroscientist at Northeastern University and a co-author of the new study.

11) “Parental Nonadherence to Health Policy Recommendations for Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission Among Children”


People are not always honest about their medical information1 or adherent to medical recommendations,2 including the public health measures (PHMs) against COVID-19 (eg, not reporting symptoms, breaking quarantine).3 During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents experienced greater increases in stress compared with nonparents due to additional child-related PHMs (eg, school closings, quarantine rules for children).4 We examined the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related PHMs by parents regarding their children (eg, breaking quarantine rules by sending their child to school so that the parent can work), their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.


This survey study recruited a national, nonprobability sample of US adults through Qualtrics for an online survey about COVID-19 experiences (participation, 1811 of 2260 [80.1%]) from December 8 to 23, 2021. The survey asked whether parents had ever engaged in 7 types of misrepresentation and nonadherence behaviors regarding COVID-19 PHMs for their children (Table 1) and reasons for these behaviors (Table 2). Additional methodological information is published elsewhere.3 The University of Utah Institutional Review Board deemed the study exempt and granted a waiver of informed consent owing to no risk or minimal risk to participants. The study followed the AAPOR reporting guideline.

The final sample consisted of 1733 US adults. The analyses included the 580 parent participants (33.5%) who had children younger than 18 years living with them during the pandemic. Race and ethnicity data were collected because COVID-19 and public health measures disproportionately impacted individuals from underserved populations. Descriptive statistics examined the prevalence of and reasons for misrepresentation and nonadherence, and multiple logistic regression was used to explore potential associated characteristics. Significance was set at 2-sided α = .05 with P values adjusted using Holm-Bonferroni correction. Analyses were performed using R Studio, version 1.4.1106 (R Program for Statistical Computing).


Among the 580 participants, the mean (SD) age was 35.9 (8.8) years; 403 (70.2%) identified as women compared with 171 (29.5%) men and 6 (1.0%) other or missing. In terms of race and ethnicity, 80 participants (13.8%) were Hispanic, 5 (0.9%) non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, 14 (2.4%) non-Hispanic Asian, 86 (14.8%) non-Hispanic Black, 389 (67.1%) non-Hispanic White, 5 (0.9%) more than 1 race, and 1 (0.2%) White with no ethnicity specified.

One hundred fifty participants (25.9%) reported misrepresentation and/or nonadherence in at least 1 of 7 behaviors; the most common behaviors were not telling someone who was with their child that they thought or knew their child had COVID-19 (63 of 263 [24.0%]) and allowing their child to break quarantine rules (67 of 318 [21.1%]) (Table 1). The most common reason was wanting to exercise personal freedom as a parent. Additional reasons included wanting their child’s life to feel normal and not being able to miss work or other responsibilities to stay home (Table 2). In an exploratory multiple logistic regression, no characteristics (eg, education, religiosity) were associated with misrepresentation or nonadherence.


In this survey study of US parents, one-quarter engaged in misrepresentation or nonadherence regarding PHMs for their children. The most common reason was to preserve parental autonomy. Additional reasons included wanting to resume a normal life for their child and the inability to miss work or other responsibilities, among other reasons.

These results suggest that some PHMs implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 may have been compromised due to misrepresentation and nonadherence by parents on behalf of their children, contributing to COVID-19–related morbidity and mortality. In addition, some children appear to have received a vaccine that was not fully tested and approved in their age group.

12) This story is wild! “Last year, a fox broke into a bird enclosure in D.C. and killed 25 flamingos. The zoo refused to let him strike again.”

At the back of Bird House, the fox may have noted the way the 74 flamingos ambled across their nearly 10,000-square-foot enclosure. Something about their movements may have struck him as curious. Great hunters of birds, foxes have cognitive processes that may contain an algorithm alerting them when an animal’s wings aren’t working. In the wild, some flamingos power up to Andean peaks or glide, pelicanlike, for miles along the coast. But not these flamingos. They were permanently grounded when zoo staffers removed their flight feathers three days after they were born, to make sure they wouldn’t escape their enclosure.

Wing clipping is cruel in part because it shrinks a bird’s world: A land animal’s range is a two-dimensional shape on a map, but a flying being can explore a truly voluminous chunk of the Earth’s atmosphere. Grounded birds are also more vulnerable to mass slaughter. If a fox came upon a flamingo flock in the wild, he’d be lucky to get his teeth into one before the rest flew away. But the zoo’s flamingos would never fly away, even under direct attack. They couldn’t. They were trapped like hens in a coop…

Flamingos are large birds; some weigh nearly half of an adult male fox. Their size did not deter him. “Foxes are the ultimate opportunists,” Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist for D.C., told me. “They’re happy to make meals of field mice, snakes, Canada geese, and everything in between.” Keeping low to the ground, the fox would have moved toward the birds in quick, measured steps. If he saw one of the birds glance in his direction, he would have stilled every muscle. When he got within leaping range, an adrenal thrill would have surged through his limbs. Feeling playful, like a kit romping around in the den again, he would have sprung forward in a lethal pounce.

13) This book review from Scott Alexander is just something else:

Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.

Nobody knows when the penis-stealing witches began their malign activities. Babylonian texts include sa-zi-ga, incantations against witchcraft-induced impotence. Ancient Chinese sources describe suo yang, the penis retracting into the body because of yin/yang imbalances. But the first crystal-clear reference was the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th-century European witch-hunters’ manual. It included several chapters on how witches cast curses that apparently (though not actually) remove men’s penises…

So as a nature documentary, The Geography of Madness is kind of a bust. Still, Bures rescues it with some great analysis of culture-bound mental illness.

A culture-bound mental illness is one that only affects people who know about it, and especially people who believe in it. Often it doesn’t make sense from a scientific point of view (there’s no such thing as witches, and the penis can’t retract into the body). It sometimes spreads contagiously: someone gets a first case, the rest of the village panics, and now everyone knows about it / believes in it / is thinking about it, and so many other people get it too.

Different cultures have their own set of culture-bound illnesses. Sometimes there are commonalities – many cultures have something something penis something witches – but the details vary, and a victim almost always gets a case that matches the way their own culture understands it.

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT MAKING IT UP. I cannot stress this enough. There are plenty of examples of people driving metal objects through their penis in order to pull it out of their body or prevent the witches from getting it or something like that. There is no amount of commitment to the bit which will make people drive metal objects through their penis. People have died from these conditions – not the illness itself, which is fake, but from wasting away worrying about it, or taking dangerous sham treatments, or getting into fights with people they think caused it. If you think of it as “their unconscious mind must be doing something like making it up, but their conscious mind believes it 100%”, you will be closer to the truth, though there are various reasons I don’t like that framing.

In Rajasthan, India, people come to the hospital with gilahari (lizard) syndrome. Patients say a lizard-like mass, sometimes visible as a skin swelling, is crawling around the body. They express terror that it will reach their airway and suffocate them.

Japanese people may contract jikoshu-kyofu, a debilitating fear that they have terrible body odor. No amount of reassurances by friends and psychiatrists can convince these people that they smell normal, nor will any number of deodorants or perfumes make them comfortable.

The French suffer from bouffée délirante, where a perfectly healthy person suddenly becomes completely psychotic, with well-formed hallucinations and delusions – then recovers just as suddenly, sometimes over hours or days. This is not how psychosis works anywhere except France and a few former French colonies.

Traditional Chinese medicine monitors the balance between yin and yang. The male orgasm can deplete yang, and sure enough in China (but nowhere else) some men suffer traditional symptoms of yang depletion after they orgasm. “The symptoms can last weeks to months after a single orgasm, [and include] chills, dizziness, [and] backache”.

The phrase “run amok” comes from Malaysia, where it referred to a specific phenomenon: some person who had been unhappy for a long time would suddenly snap, kill a bunch of people, then say they had no memory of doing it. Malaysian culture totally rolls with this and doesn’t hold it against them; the unhappiness is a risk factor for possession by a tiger spirit, which commits the killings. Although Malays have been doing this since at least the 1700s, there are some fascinating parallels with modern US mass shootings that suggest the damn tiger spirits have finally made it to the US common psychological origins.

14) NYT, “Conservatives Aim to Build a Chatbot of Their Own: After criticizing A.I. companies for liberal bias, programmers started envisioning right-wing alternatives, making chatbots a new front in the culture wars.”

15) Terrific from Josh Barro, “Why Won’t the Editors of Nature Follow the Data and Listen to the Science?”

So why does Nature still believe that “science” must speak out?

 Theirnew editorial never explains why. It rehashes arguments about why Trump (and other right-wing leaders like Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orban) are bad. But it does not even try to marshal an argument for why actions like running their pro-Biden editorial constitute a useful response to that badness:

The study shows the potential costs of making an endorsement. But inaction has costs, too. Considering the record of Trump’s four years in office, this journal judged that silence was not an option…

At a time when the world needed to unite to deal with these and other global threats, he took an axe to international relationships, pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the United Nations science agency, UNESCO. He moved to defund the World Health Organization, and he walked away from a deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that the United States had carefully negotiated with Europe, China and Russia to prevent Iran’s government from enriching weapons-grade uranium. It is hard not to think of a worst-case scenario for public health, climate change or nuclear security had Trump remained in office today…

Nature doesn’t often make political endorsements, and we carefully weigh up the arguments when considering whether to do so. When individuals seeking office have a track record of causing harm, when they are transparently dismissive of facts and integrity, when they threaten scholarly autonomy, and when they are disdainful of cooperation and consensus, it becomes important to speak up.

For people who prattle on about the importance of listening to the science, the editors of Nature sure haven’t done that here — they have looked at scientific evidence that the thing they did had effects counter to their own stated objectives, and they have cast that evidence aside, responding with a conclusory argument that “silence is not an option.”

Of course, there is the real reason the editors of Nature felt they had to run the Biden endorsement editorial: It made them feel good.

Freddie deBoer had a useful post last week about the word “woke” and what exactly people mean when they throw it around. It’s not my favorite word — I agree with Freddie that it would usually be more clear to talk about “social justice politics” — but I think he’s right that the problem with the vagueness and slipperiness with “woke” isn’t that much greater than problems with other terms like “liberal” or “moderate.” Lots of political terms mean different things to different people while still being a useful shorthand when discussing trends and tendencies in our politics.

In explaining what he thinks “woke” means, I think Freddie is right to focus on the fact that “woke” politics is inherently performative — more about holding the right views than about doing anything to turn those views into policy. He wrote:

“Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene — woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Nature’s idea that they had an obligation to speak out against Trump in the forum they control — that “silence is not an option” — flows directly from this idea that the purpose of politics is to declare good moral ideas. By this measure, Nature’s editorial endorsing Joe Biden was a success; it demonstrated that Nature’s editors have the right moral commitments and that they hate Donald Trump for the right reasons. That the editorial persuaded readers of the wrong thing — to listen less to the scientists at Nature — is immaterial, because woke politics is not about convincing people and influencing their behavior; it’s about separating the morally upright from the deplorable.

16) Excellent post from Emily Oster on the calculations involved in thinking about when to get a mammogram.

17) Loved this from Derek Thompson on how to think about AI:

Recently I gave myself an assignment: Come up with a framework for explaining generative AI, such as ChatGPT, in a way that illuminates the full potential of the technology and helps me make predictions about its future.

By analogy, imagine that it’s the year 1780 and you get a glimpse of an early English steam engine. You might say: “This is a device for pumping water out of coal mines.” And that would be true. But this accurate description would be far too narrow to see the big picture. The steam engine wasn’t just a water pump. It was a lever for detaching economic growth from population growth. That is the kind of description that would have allowed an 18th-century writer to predict the future.

Or imagine it’s 1879 and you see an incandescent light bulb flutter to life in Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey. Is it a replacement for whale oil in lamps? Yes. But that description doesn’t scratch the surface of what the invention represented.  Direct-current and alternating-current electricity enabled on-demand local power for anything—not just light, but also heat, and any number of machines that 19th-century inventors couldn’t even imagine.

Maybe you see what I’m getting at. Narrowly speaking, GPT-4 is a large language model that produces human-inspired content by using transformer technology to predict text. Narrowly speaking, it is an overconfident, and often hallucinatory, auto-complete robot. This is an okay way of describing the technology, if you’re content with a dictionary definition. But it doesn’t get to the larger question: When we’re looking at generative AI, what are we actually looking at? …

Here is another analogy that comes to mind, grandiose as it might initially seem. Scientists don’t know exactly how or when humans first wrangled fire as a technology, roughly 1 million years ago. But we have a good idea of how fire invented modern humanity. As I wrote in my review of James Suzman’s book Work, fire softened meat and vegetables, allowing humans to accelerate their calorie consumption. Meanwhile, by scaring off predators, controlled fire allowed humans to sleep on the ground for longer periods of time. The combination of more calories and more REM over the millennia allowed us to grow big, unusually energy-greedy brains with sharpened capacities for memory and prediction. Narrowly, fire made stuff hotter. But it also quite literally expanded our minds.

Our ancestors knew that open flame was a feral power, which deserved reverence and even fear. The same technology that made civilization possible also flattened cities. The ancient myths about fire were never simple. When Prometheus stole it from the gods, he transformed the life of mortals but was doomed to live in agony. The people building artificial general intelligence today don’t need media mythmaking to inflate their ego; they already clearly believe in the humanity-altering potential of their invention. But it is a complex thing, playing at Prometheus. They have stolen from the realm of knowledge something very powerful and equally strange. I think this technology will expand our minds. And I think it will burn us.


Don’t tell colleges what to teach

Seriously. We already require American government in high school.  It’s not for everybody.  And as much as I think it would be great if more people had classes like mine and understood our government better I hate the idea of a the state legislature determining what classes people should have for a college degree.  I also get really tired of the idea that so many people have that their political side would be better off if more people just understood politics.

From WRAL:

“You ask people, ‘Who did we fight the war of independence against?’ and they don’t know,” Rep. Keith Kidwell said. “You get, ‘Canada? Germany?'”

“They think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court,” Rep. Jon Hardister said.

After venting their frustration, they then proposed a fix: Make everyone to take a course on American history or government in order to graduate from college — and not just for a four-year degree, but also for an associate’s degree from a community college.

The idea passed Thursday’s committee with near-unanimous support.

Hardister, a Republican who represents the Greensboro suburbs, said it’s not about politics. He’d like everyone to have a better understanding of civics, he said, no matter if they vote for him and his party or not.

“If you understand, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent, you can engage better,” he said.

The bill, HB 96, would specifically require college students to pass a test covering basic documents from America’s founding, the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Those include:

  • The U.S. Constitution
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • At least five of the Federalist Papers
  • The Emancipation Proclamation
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

North Carolina already requires a civics class to graduate from high school. Supporters of this bill say there’s no harm in repetition at higher levels of education, too. The bill would allow colleges to exempt students from the requirement if they passed a high school test in a relevant AP or IB course.

It would also allow college leaders to be fired if they didn’t offer the class.

No harm?  Opportunity cost anyone?!  What class is this replacing for any individual student?  Also, this stupid firing thing just gives the game up at how stupid and political this is. And this:

“There is some cost to that,” Kidwell said. “But what is the cost this country, if people don’t learn this kind of history?”

And some more annoying comments in the N&O article:

John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council, said it will be a good thing for college students to continue to follow up on the civics and history courses they had taken in high school. Thank you for sup

“America will not continue to flourish as a free society without a citizenry that is grounded in these founding documents and the principles they espouse,” Rustin said.

Cue eye roll. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) An early take on the 2024 NC Governor’s race.  Honestly, I find all the other experts cited here either pulling their punches on likely GOP nominee Robinson or surprisingly positive. No punches pulled from me:

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at N.C. State University, called Stein the “800-pound gorilla in the race on the Democratic side.” Stein is in his 15th year in Raleigh, having won a state Senate seat in 2008 and the attorney general post in 2016.

Greene thinks Robinson will win the Republican primary but called him an “awful” general election candidate, likening a head-to-head matchup between Robinson and Stein to North Carolina’s 2020 gubernatorial contest.

Though purplish North Carolina went red for Donald Trump that year, Republican gubernatorial candidate and then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest lost to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper. Greene says Forest, like Trump, was a “right-wing culture warrior” while Cooper is “Joe Bidenesque” in that he’s seen as a reliably Democratic politician.

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at N.C. State University, called Stein the “800-pound gorilla in the race on the Democratic side.” Stein is in his 15th year in Raleigh, having won a state Senate seat in 2008 and the attorney general post in 2016.

Greene thinks Robinson will win the Republican primary but called him an “awful” general election candidate, likening a head-to-head matchup between Robinson and Stein to North Carolina’s 2020 gubernatorial contest.

Though purplish North Carolina went red for Donald Trump that year, Republican gubernatorial candidate and then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest lost to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper. Greene says Forest, like Trump, was a “right-wing culture warrior” while Cooper is “Joe Bidenesque” in that he’s seen as a reliably Democratic politician.

2) As long as we’re in North Carolina, this Washington Post feature on the retreating beach in Rodanthe is fantastic with amazing visuals, so gift link it is. 

3) Somehow, I barely noticed that Pew released a big report on American parenting back in January.  I can guarantee you that once this data becomes publicly available, there will be a future publication from me and my usual co-authors on this. None of the current report gets into politics (though, I know they have the political data), but here’s some interesting charts:

Chart shows dads tend to be less worried than moms about their
children facing certain hardships

Chart shows about half of moms say it’s extremely
important their children be accepting of
people different from them as adults

4) And a little disappointed the author of this didn’t talk to Laurel Elder or me before publishing (though now she’s talking to Laurel next week), “Democratic Dads Think It’s Gotten Easier To Raise Kids. Democratic Moms Disagree.”

Mothers — particularly Democratic moms — were also substantially likelier than dads to say that families today have it harder than families in the 1970s, and Democratic moms were substantially likelier than any other group to say that all families should be eligible for a full child benefit, regardless of work status.

Democratic dads and moms aren’t on the same page

Share of mothers and fathers by party affiliation who agreed and disagreed with the following answers to each question.

Agree 62% 46% 63% 55%
Disagree 39% 54% 37% 44%
All families should be eligible for a full child benefit, regardless of their work status 44% 67% 50% 46%
Only families with a worker present should be eligible for a child benefit 33% 18% 24% 43%
Only parents that owe federal income taxes at the end of the year should receive a child benefit 23% 15% 26% 11%
Harder 32% 59% 52% 53%
Easier 48% 31% 35% 33%
About the same 21% 10% 14% 14%

Based on a survey conducted Oct. 20-Nov. 3, 2022, among 2,557 American adults, including an oversample of parents with children under age 18.


Some of the differences between Democratic dads and moms are shockingly large — particularly considering that there aren’t similar divides between Republican mothers and fathers. Less than half of Democratic dads think that all families should be eligible for a child benefit — rather than limiting a child benefit to families with at least one working parent — compared to more than two-thirds of Democratic moms. And Democratic dads are slightly more likely than Republican dads to say that families have it easier today than they did in the 1970s — while majorities of GOP dads, GOP moms, and Democratic moms say families today have it harder.

5) Just your every day disturbing world with the modern Republican party, “The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College
G.O.P. activists set out to root out the “deep state” at home. An Idaho community college may never be the same.”

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The February meeting of the North Idaho College board of trustees was, by recent standards, civilized.

There were no shoving matches or speeches from far-right podcasters. Nobody pulled the fire alarm. The parade of community members who, under the wary eye of campus security officers, took turns at the microphone mostly kept their voices below shouting volume, until an hour or so before midnight, when a woman cried “Shame on you!” and stormed out of the room.

Mostly, people seemed stunned that it had actually come to this.

For most of the past two years, the college’s governing board has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance. Trustees backed by the county Republican Party hold a majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.”

The injection of such sweeping political aims into the routine administration of a community college that had 4,600 students enrolled last year, one better known locally for its technical training programs than the politics of its faculty, has devolved into a full-blown crisis. The school has faced lawsuits from two of the five presidents it has had since the start of the previous school year. A district court judge ordered one of those presidents reinstated on Friday in a ruling that castigated the trustees for “steering N.I.C. toward an iceberg.” The college has lost professors and staff and had its debt downgraded by Moody’s, which cited the school’s “significant governance and management dysfunction.”

The troubles culminated last month in a letter from the regional higher education commission, which warned that the 90-year-old college could be stripped of its accreditation if changes were not made in a matter of weeks — an effective threat of closure and a potential catastrophe for Coeur d’Alene, a town of 56,000 in the Idaho Panhandle. The college is the sixth-largest employer in Kootenai County and a source of skilled labor for much of the local economy.

“As a businessperson here, it’s heartbreaking to me to be standing on the brink of the loss of this institution,” said Eve Knudtsen, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in the neighboring town of Post Falls. Ms. Knudtsen, a Republican, attended N.I.C., as have both of her daughters, and she said a third of the technicians hired by her dealership came out of the school.

“It’s pretty much a dystopian farce,” said Kathleen Miller Green, an assistant professor of child development who attended the nearly six-hour, capacity-crowd meeting at the school’s student union building on Feb. 22. “It’s laughable if you don’t have to live it.”

6) Drum is right to regularly point out that the what happened with Flint water is not nearly as bad as you think:

I’ve written many times about the Flint water crisis, and after all the data was in my conclusion was pretty simple:

  • The screw-up with Flint’s water was a terrible tragedy that never should have happened.
  • However, in the end there was little damage done. Lead levels never got all that high and the problem was fixed fairly quickly. There were probably no more than a handful of children who were seriously affected.

To this day, conventional wisdom is just the opposite: namely that lead levels in children skyrocketed and produced a huge spike in special education. One of the scientists who was among the first to sound the alarm over Flint was transformed from hero to villain in a heartbeat when he declined to go along with this.

He’s back now with some co-authors to take a retrospective look at what happened. Here’s the key chart:

Even at the height of the crisis, testing in children showed blood lead levels that were essentially the same as the Michigan average and far lower than Detroit, which had a safe water supply the entire time. During the whole of the crisis (which encompassed 18 months in 2014-15), the number of Flint children with elevated lead levels was 3.9%. In Detroit it was 8.1%.

Why does this matter? It’s simple: continual panic over a nonexistent crisis is bad for residents, who have lived for years with elevated outrage and stress, and bad for their children, who internalize the idea that they’re going to grow up stupid.

7) Myers-Briggs is fun (I’m an ESTJ!), but it’s not social science and people really need to stop using it. Good stuff from Adam Grant:

Dear Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,

Do you remember the day we met? I was a wide-eyed high school senior, and you were an exotic beauty. It was love at first sight. Our first date was magical: I opened up to you like I had never done with anyone before. In return, you opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world.

We had so much in common back then. Sadly, as the months passed, we started to grow apart. It began when I met your family.

Your mother and grandmother were obsessed with Carl Jung, who made up his three “types” based on his personal experiences rather than science (with the help of your mother, who made up the fourth). You had years of those experiences, and I was young and naïve, so why would I doubt you?

But when I studied for a doctorate of my own, I learned that this was Mesearch, not Research. And a new girl caught my eye. Her name was Big Five, and she was raised by an entire extended family with PhDs in psychology, over multiple generations. They gave birth to her through a very different process. Instead of relying on their own limited experiences, they went out and polled thousands of people in different parts of the world, to find out how they viewed personality.

Instead of inventing categories, Big Five’s ancestors realized that the major dimensions of personality could be found in natural language. If we look across the world’s cultures, we should find words to describe the most important psychological characteristics of people. One study included 1,710 adjectives in English, which ultimately made up five major categories of personality, not four. She was multicultural: the same basic categories replicated in many languages, from Chinese to Filipino, German to Italian, Dutch to Polish, and Hebrew to Russian. They called her Big Five.

Of course, Big Five’s parents realized that language is only one of many ways to see personality. To make sure that their categories were meaningful, they collected genetic evidence and fMRI data. They also found that there was really no such thing as a type — every personality trait was on a continuum, and it was very rare to be on one extreme or another.

Type wasn’t the only one of Jung’s original ideas that didn’t pan out. You said extraverts focused on the outer world and introverts on the inner world, but Big Five’s ancestors discovered that this was really about sensitivity to rewardsstimulation, and social attention. You said extraversion is about where you get your energy, but that’s false; both introverts and extraverts get energy from interacting with other people. You taught me that most people had a dominant preference for thinking or feeling, but research demonstrates that whether you prefer to use logic when making decisions has nothing to do with whether you’re concerned about how those decisions affect others. Giving me a thinking-feeling score is not like assessing whether I’m right-handed or left-handed. It’s more like evaluating whether I prefer soccer or Swiss cheese.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was still believing the misunderstanding of extraversion. 

8) For a few days there, everybody was talking about this Nathan Heller piece on “The End of the English Major.” It’s too long, but it is really good and thought-provoking. 

9) And a couple from the twitter… John Calipari says he is a fan of the Mellow Mushroom that DJC and I regularly have lunch at (at the very end of the clip). 

10) Great thread from Paul Poast on what caused the Iraq War:

11) Is there actually an anti-viral nasal spray that’s effective against Covid and not available in America, because…?

Enovid, an innovative anti-viral spray developed in Canada by an Israeli researcher and manufactured in Israel, has been proven effective in preventing viruses – including COVID-19 – from entering the body through the nasal cavity.


While public awareness of the coronavirus has lessened, prevention and treatment remain crucial, especially for members of high-risk groups, such as adults over 60, people with weakened immune systems, and individuals who work in closed spaces. Air travelers, who mingle with hundreds of people in overcrowded airports and jam-packed planes, few of whom are wearing masks, are another high-risk group. For all of the above, Enovid is the ideal solution.


According to SaNOtize, the Vancouver-based developer of the spray, nitric oxide released by nasal spray reduced SARS-CoV-2 log viral RNA load by more than 95% in infected participants within 24 hours of treatment, and by more than 99% in 48 to72 hours in two randomized, double-blinded controlled studies.

Credit - Tradis GatCredit – Tradis Gat

Enovid creates a mechanical obstruction in the nasal cavity that slows the entry of viruses and lowers the PH, which creates an acidic environment that slows down the rate of viral reproduction. The release of nitric oxide causes structural changes in the virus dose, reducing its attachment to the cell, slows down the penetration of the virus into the cell, and through protein restructuring, leads to a reduction in virus replication.


Nitric oxide has traditionally been used in hospitals as a gas to treat newborn babies with respiratory failure caused by pulmonary hypertension. SaNOtize developed proprietary technology that delivers nitric oxide at an effective dose across multiple therapeutic applications, including sprays, baths, lavages, gels, and creams. 

12) Wellesley College (traditionally, a “women’s college”) was already admitting trans-women.  Now the students want to admit trans-men, too.  Hmmm.  Basically, anybody but cis-gender men. 

13) This is really good, “Are Standardized Tests Racist, or Are They Anti-racist? Yes.”

These two perspectives—that standardized tests are a driver of inequality, and that they are a great tool to ameliorate it—are often pitted against each other in contemporary discourse. But in my view, they are not oppositional positions. Both of these things can be true at the same time: Tests can be biased against marginalized students and they can be used to help those students succeed. We often forget an important lesson about standardized tests: They, or at least their outputs, take the form of data; and data can be interpreted—and acted upon—in multiple ways. That might sound like an obvious statement, but it’s crucial to resolving this debate.

I teach a Ph.D. seminar on quantitative research methods that dives into the intricacies of data generation, interpretation, and application. One of the readings I assign —Andrea Jones-Rooy’s article “I’m a Data Scientist Who Is Skeptical About Data”—contains a passage that is relevant to our thinking about standardized tests and their use in admissions:

Data can’t say anything about an issue any more than a hammer can build a house or almond meal can make a macaron. Data is a necessary ingredient in discovery, but you need a human to select it, shape it, and then turn it into an insight.

When reviewing applications, admissions officials have to turn test scores into insights about each applicant’s potential for success at the university. But their ability to generate those insights depends on what they know about the broader data-generating process that led students to get those scores, and how the officials interpret what they know about that process. In other words, what they do with test scores—and whether they end up perpetuating or reducing inequality—depends on how they think about bias in a larger system.

First, who takes these tests is not random. Obtaining a score can be so costly—in terms of both time and money—that it’s out of reach for many students. This source of bias can be addressed, at least in part, by public policy. For example, research has found that when states implement universal testing policies in high schools, and make testing part of the regular curriculum rather than an add-on that students and parents must provide for themselves, more disadvantaged students enter college and the income gap narrows. Even if we solve that problem, though, another—admittedly harder—issue would still need to be addressed.

The second issue relates to what the tests are actually measuring. Researchers have argued about this question for decades, and continue to debate it in academic journals. To understand the tension, recall what I said earlier: Universities are trying to figure out applicants’ potential for success. Students’ ability to realize their potential depends both on what they know before they arrive on campus and on being in a supportive academic environment. The tests are supposed to measure prior knowledge, but the nature of how learning works in American society means they end up measuring some other things, too.

In the United States, we have a primary and secondary education system that is unequal because of historic and contemporary laws and policies. American schools continue to be highly segregated by race, ethnicity, and social class, and that segregation affects what students have the opportunity to learn. Well-resourced schools can afford to provide more enriching educational experiences to their students than underfunded schools can. When students take standardized tests, they answer questions based on what they’ve learned, but what they’ve learned depends on the kind of schools they were lucky (or unlucky) enough to attend.

This creates a challenge for test-makers and the universities that rely on their data. They are attempting to assess student aptitude, but the unequal nature of the learning environments in which students have been raised means that tests are also capturing the underlying disparities; that is one of the reasons test scores tend to reflect larger patterns of inequality. When admissions officers see a student with low scores, they don’t know whether that person lacked potential or has instead been deprived of educational opportunity.

So how should colleges and universities use these data, given what they know about the factors that feed into it? The answer depends on how colleges and universities view their mission and broader purpose in society.

14) As you know, I’m so tired of people insisting diet soda is bad for you when there’s so much evidence suggesting otherwise.  This is from a year ago, but recently shared with me:


Importance  There are concerns that low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCSBs) do not have established benefits, with major dietary guidelines recommending the use of water and not LNCSBs to replace sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Whether LNCSB as a substitute can yield similar improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors vs water in their intended substitution for SSBs is unclear.

Objective  To assess the association of LNCSBs (using 3 prespecified substitutions of LNCSBs for SSBs, water for SSBs, and LNCSBs for water) with body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors in adults with and without diabetes.

Data Sources  Medline, Embase, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from inception through December 26, 2021.

Study Selection  Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) with at least 2 weeks of interventions comparing LNCSBs, SSBs, and/or water were included.

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Data were extracted and risk of bias was assessed by 2 independent reviewers. A network meta-analysis was performed with data expressed as mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD) with 95% CIs. The GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system was used to assess the certainty of the evidence.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was body weight. Secondary outcomes were other measures of adiposity, glycemic control, blood lipids, blood pressure, measures of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and uric acid.

Results  A total of 17 RCTs with 24 trial comparisons were included, involving 1733 adults (mean [SD] age, 33.1 [6.6] years; 1341 women [77.4%]) with overweight or obesity who were at risk for or had diabetes. Overall, LNCSBs were a substitute for SSBs in 12 RCTs (n = 601 participants), water was a substitute for SSBs in 3 RCTs (n = 429), and LNCSBs were a substitute for water in 9 RCTs (n = 974). Substitution of LNCSBs for SSBs was associated with reduced body weight (MD, −1.06 kg; 95% CI, −1.71 to –0.41 kg), body mass index (MD, −0.32; 95% CI, −0.58 to –0.07), percentage of body fat (MD, −0.60%; 95% CI, −1.03% to –0.18%), and intrahepatocellular lipid (SMD, −0.42; 95% CI, −0.70 to –0.14). Substituting water for SSBs was not associated with any outcome. There was also no association found between substituting LNCSBs for water with any outcome except glycated hemoglobin A1c (MD, 0.21%; 95% CI, 0.02% to 0.40%) and systolic blood pressure (MD, −2.63 mm Hg; 95% CI, −4.71 to −0.55 mm Hg). The certainty of the evidence was moderate (substitution of LNCSBs for SSBs) and low (substitutions of water for SSBs and LNCSBs for water) for body weight and was generally moderate for all other outcomes across all substitutions.

Conclusions and Relevance  This systematic review and meta-analysis found that using LNCSBs as an intended substitute for SSBs was associated with small improvements in body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors without evidence of harm and had a similar direction of benefit as water substitution. The evidence supports the use of LNCSBs as an alternative replacement strategy for SSBs over the moderate term in adults with overweight or obesity who are at risk for or have diabetes.

Quick hits (part I)

1)Must read from David Wallace-Wells, “America Has Decided It Went Overboard on Covid-19” (great thread summary here, too):

Last weekend, The Times published a survey of pandemic recommendations from experts considering the possibility of another outbreak, and it looked to me as though in nearly every case even those taking the more aggressive side of the argument endorsed mitigation measures that were no stronger and often weaker or more caveated than those that had been put in place in 2020. They did so even though the hypothetical disease they were considering was both more transmissible and more deadly than the new coronavirus (and even though it also affected children and adults equally). That is, faced with a disease that would spread more quickly than Covid, kill more of those infected than Covid, with a mortality burden, compared with Covid’s, markedly rebalanced toward the young, they would vote, in general, to do less.

This isn’t a question limited to abstract, virtual-reality-style debates on op-ed pages and social media. In at least 30 states, The Washington Post reported last week, legislatures have already passed laws limiting public health powers in the wake of the pandemic. Most of the states are in Republican control, but not all, and the restrictions legislated so far are quite intrusive: in many cases, extending outright bans against health officials or governors from issuing mask mandates, closing schools or businesses, restricting large gatherings in places like churches, or testing or vaccine protocols. But what is most striking is how little consideration they give to the particular attributes of future outbreaks — treating a future disease that spreads like measles but kills one in five kids it infects the same as one that spreads like swine flu and doesn’t kill anybody. And stopping public health authorities from doing anything about any of them.

Stop and think about that for a second: As the country emerges from three years of death, disruption and suffering, dozens of states have decided not just that future mitigation measures should be carefully targeted and calibrated, or that they should be time-limited, or that they should always integrate trade-offs and cost-benefit calculations from the beginning. They have decided that the best way to prepare for those future diseases is to tie our hands ahead of time.

Is this the lesson the country should be taking from its experience with Covid-19? More than a million Americans died, and several hundred more continue to each day, keeping the country on a path to more than 100,000 Covid-19 deaths annually. Polls continue to show significant public support for mitigation measures like masking, believe it or not. These kinds of surveys are notoriously unreliable and may well significantly overstate such support, but last fall’s elections tell something of the same story: Candidates who were Covid hard-liners weren’t punished for their policies any more than skeptical or hands-off governors. These dynamics may shift again, as the country pulls past exhaustion toward some real pandemic perspective — which many of the installments of Opinion’s Next Pandemic series attempt to provide. But for now, at the level of policy and public discourse, a striking American consensus seems to be hardening: When Covid-19 hit, the country did too much.

2) Really enjoyed Yglesias on the dramatically changed politics of education reform:

This conversation is from just five years ago, but the way we discuss (or don’t discuss) the achievement gap — the fact that Black and Hispanic students score lower on standardized tests than white and Asian students — has completely changed.

That’s in part because the phrase itself has gone out of style. But it’s also because the whole idea of emphasizing kids’ performance on tests of their reading and math skills now seems extremely old-fashioned. A K-12 education controversy in 2023 is overwhelmingly likely to feature conservatives complaining about excessively woke programming versus progressives complaining about conservative censorship. You might hear a debate about the presence of police officers in public schools or about admissions to selective schools. George W. Bush infamously kicked off the education reform era with his gaffe, “rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?” And during his presidency and Barack Obama’s, that question was asked quite frequently. These days, though, Bush’s observation seems relevant once again —we actually don’t ask it much anymore.

In his monologue, Hayes also clearly associates the achievement gap discussion with things progressives dislike (charter schools, school choice, Betsy DeVos).

The thesis of the episode is that school integration is a better, more progressive way to close the achievement gap, and perhaps there’s a world in which the progressive movement unites around this competing vision. Instead, we’ve largely moved on from talking about the issue. This is too bad, because the achievement gap continues to be a noteworthy feature of American society…

School management only matters so much

Here are three propositions about K-12 education:
  1. Many public school systems, especially the ones attended by low-income Black and Hispanic students, are sub-optimally managed.

  2. Changing these sub-optimal K-12 management practices — reforming them —would be a good idea.

  3. Implementing these reforms would mean Black and Hispanic students’ scores would improve to be on par with those of white and Asian students.

Propositions one and two seem extremely sensible; proposition three seems like a wild over-extrapolation of how much K-12 school system management could possibly matter. I think a big tell here is that Asian students do better on average than white ones, and as far as I know, nobody has ever argued that education reform is going to close the white-Asian test score gap. I’m not sure that we know (or need to know) exactly why Asian students — on average — do better, but it’s pretty clear that a large share of the gap is due to factors that arise outside of the school.

By the same token, Black students are more likely to grow up with above-average levels of poverty, below-average levels of wealth and income, above-average rates of single-parent households and other signifiers of family instability, and below-average levels of parental educational attainment. If you described any subset of the population that had those characteristics, you’d expect the kids to perform worse-than-average in school. You can debate how those disparities arise or what else might follow from them, but the broad facts are really pretty clear. And while obviously the quality of the school that you attend and the level of attention that the school gives to you individually is a big deal, all these other things are also a big deal, and it was pretty crazy to act like the school system could single-handedly fix everything.

3) It was so cool to learn that Bing’s GPT search is actually the upgraded GPT 4.0.  I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and it doesn’t actually blow me away compared to ChatGPT, but it is so cool that it can actually search the internet and respond. Ethan Mollick with a guide on how to best use it’s powers. 

4) And here’s Mollick, too, “Using AI to make teaching easier & more impactful”

5) I actually got into a fight with my wife for arguing this, but, here you go, 538: “The Polls Were Historically Accurate In 2022” (it was the media who got it so wrong, not the polls). 

5) Okay, I just had an absurdly long excerpt from Jonathan Haidt and decided it was wrong to have this all in quick hits. It’s own post later today it shall be.  That said, a nice summary of it from Drum fits in quick hits:

Why are teen girls so depressed these days. Jonathan Haidt thinks the answer is smartphones and social media, and I expressed some doubts about that a few weeks ago. Haidt is back today and, among other things, shows us this chart:

You can see one of the reasons for my skepticism here: the starting point for the rise in “self-derogation” is around 2009, not 2012, the year that Haidt has always focused on. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. If a trend started in 2009, it’s all but impossible for the cause to be something that didn’t start until 2012.¹

So what do we make of this? Haidt suggests that a big part of the problem is an increasing feeling of not being in control of your life. In psychology-ese, this is referred to as having an external locus of control:

After trying a few different graphing strategies, and after seeing if there was a good statistical justification for dropping any items, we reached the tentative conclusion that the big story about locus of control is not about liberal girls, it’s about Gen Z as a whole. Everyone—boys and girls, left and right—developed a more external locus of control gradually, beginning in the 1990s. I’ll come back to this finding in future posts as I explore the second strand of the After Babel Substack: the loss of “play-based childhood” which happened in the 1990s when American parents (and British, and Canadian) stopped letting their children out to play and explore, unsupervised.

Haidt thinks this began in the 1990s and then accelerated after 2012 when smartphones became widespread. I’m inclined to believe this, mainly because I’ve long been astonished at the suffocating amount of control that parents apparently have over their kids these days. And the worst part of this, in my view, isn’t even the control per se. It’s the motivation for the control: fear. Modern parents seem to be extraordinarily sensitive to even the tiniest potential danger to their children, and it’s hard to believe that this constant fear doesn’t get picked up by the kids. It’s probably not even conscious.

But either way, it can’t be healthy. If you live in a bubble of fear and control, what happens when you start to move outside of that bubble in your teenage years? My guess is that the answer is increased stress and depression, which is exactly what we see. Smartphones and social media might give this an extra push, but I’ll bet they aren’t the primary source.

6) A.O. Scott gives himself an exit interview as an NYT film critic:

How have the movies changed?

Gather ’round, children. When I first came to this newspaper — when it was still, mostly, a newspaper — the phrases “streaming platform,” “cinematic universe” and “social media” were not part of the general lexicon. Films were still mostly shot and projected on film. You could still rent VHS tapes at the video store, and Netflix would send you DVDs in the mail. The American independent cinema of the previous decade was reaching a new stage of maturity, and international auteur cinema was thriving in the work of Abbas Kiarostami, the Dardenne brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, Olivier Assayas and Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

It was the worst of times! In the fall of 1999, a few months before I was hired, the critic Godfrey Cheshire of The New York Press published a long, agonized, in many ways prescient essay titled “The Death of Film, the Decay of Cinema.” A few years earlier, in The New York Times Magazine, Susan Sontag had proclaimed the end of cinephilia and the “decay” of the art form that sustained it. Jean-Luc Godard, finishing his decade-long video project “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” in 1998, struck a similarly elegiac tone.

And now? I’m tempted to say that the sky is still falling, or falling again, and that it’s the same old sky. The death of cinema is almost as old as cinema itself. In 1935, the German critic Rudolf Arnheim declared that film as an art form had died with the coming of sound, and that what followed the silence was mere commercial propaganda, a bastardized form he prophetically called “television.” After the war, television killed movies all over again, and even when a technological villain wasn’t apparent — the VCR, the internet — things were always bad. Frank O’Hara’s poem “To the Film Industry in Crisis” appeared in 1957. Two decades later Pauline Kael asked “Why Are the Movies So Bad?” The End Times have a way of turning out to have been golden ages all along.

The current apocalypse is that streaming and Covid anxiety are conspiring to kill off moviegoing as we have known it, leaving a handful of I.P.-driven blockbusters and horror movies to keep theaters in business while we mostly sit at home bingeing docuseries, dystopias and the occasional art-film guilt trip. Am I worried? Of course I’m worried. The cultural space in which the movies I care most about have flourished seems to be shrinking. The audience necessary to sustain original and ambitious work is narcotized by algorithms or distracted by doomscrolling. The state of the movies is very bad.

7) There’s been a whole online thing this week about what “woke” means.  Of course, everybody uses it quite differently to the point it is almost useless now. Thomas Chatterton Williams:

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” That’s not bad so far as it goes, and there is a secondary definition that encapsulates the “vulgar” (or common) understanding that the attention is excessive: “disapproving: politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.” But neither adequately conveys the implication that the point of the attention is fundamentally to remake society. Progressives sometimes exploit these ambiguities to accuse the “anti-woke” side of rejecting near-consensus beliefs, such as the need to call out and remedy actual instances of racism.

This messiness is why I have argued for years now that “woke” is not a viable descriptor for anyone who is critical of the many serious excesses of the left yet remains invested in reaching beyond their own echo chamber. The word is more confusing than useful, and we should make good-faith efforts to avoid using it. As I wrote in The Guardian in November 2021: “Fairly or not, ‘woke’ and ‘wokeness’ now overwhelmingly signal that you’re not fundamentally interested in that rhetorical labor, and those who need the most convincing give themselves permission to stop paying attention.” …

But perhaps we can all agree, at bare minimum, to set ourselves the task of limiting our reliance on in-group shorthand, and embracing clear, honest, precise, and original thought and communication. If we want to persuade anyone not already convinced of what we believe, we are going to have to figure out how to say what we really mean.

8) Meanwhile, Freddie deBoer says we all really do know what it means. And he’s not wrong and I do like his definition:

The conceit is that “woke” has even shaggier or vaguer boundaries than “liberal,” “fascist,” “conservative,” or “moderate.” And I just don’t think that’s true.

“Woke” or “wokeness” refers to a school of social and cultural liberalism that has become the dominant discourse in left-of-center spaces in American intellectual life. It reflects trends and fashions that emerged over time from left activist and academic spaces and became mainstream, indeed hegemonic, among American progressives in the 2010s. “Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene – woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Woke is defined by several consistent attributes. Woke is

  1. Academic – the terminology of woke politics is an academic terminology, which is unsurprising given its origins in humanities departments of elite universities. Central to woke discourse is the substitution of older and less complicated versions of socially liberal perspectives with more willfully complex academic versions. So civil rights are out, “anti-racism” is in. Community is out, intersectionality is in. Equality is out, equity is in. Homelessness is out, unhousedness is in. Sexism is out, misogyny is in. Advantage is out, privilege is in. Whenever there’s an opportunity to introduce an alternative concept that’s been wrung through academia’s weird machinery, that opportunity is taken. This has the advantage of making political engagement available only to a priestly caste that has enjoyed the benefits of elite university education; like all political movements, the woke political movement is captured by the urge to occupy elevated status within it.

  2. Immaterial – woke politics are overwhelmingly concerned with the linguistic, the symbolic, and the emotional to the detriment of the material, the economic, and the real. Woke politics are famously obsessive about language, developing literal language policies that are endlessly long and exacting. Utterances are mined for potential offense with pitiless focus, such that statements that were entirely anodyne a few years ago become unspeakable today. Being politically pure is seen as a matter of speaking correctly rather than of acting morally. The woke fixation on language and symbol makes sense when you realize that the developers of the ideology are almost entirely people whose profession involves the immaterial and the symbolic – professors, writers, reporters, artists, pundits. They retreat to the linguistic because they feel that words are their only source of power. Consider two recent events: the Academy Awards giving Oscars to many people of color and Michigan repealing its right-to-work law. The latter will have vastly greater positive consequences for actually-existing American people of color than the former, and yet the former has been vastly better publicized. This is a direct consequence of the incentive structure of woke politics.

  3. Structural in analysis, individual in action – the woke perspective is one that tends to see the world’s problems as structural in nature rather than the product of individual actors or actions. Sometimes the problems are misdiagnosed or exaggerated, but the structural focus is beneficial. Curiously, though, the woke approach to solutions to politics is relentlessly individualistic. Rather than calling for true mass movements (which you cannot create without the moderation and compromise the social justice set tends to abhor), woke politics typically treats all political struggle as a matter of the individual mastering themselves and behaving correctly. The fundamental unit of politics is not the masses but the enlightened person, in the social justice mindset, and the enlightened person is one who has attained a state of moral cleanliness, particularly as expressed in language. The structural problems (such as racism) are represented as fundamentally combated with individual moral correctness (such as articulated in White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which argues that racism is combated by white people interrogating their souls rather than with policy). The only real political project is the struggle against the self; the only real political victory is the mastery of one’s thoughts. The distinction between the effective political actor and the morally hygienic thinker is collapsed. You combat homophobia by being gay-affirming. You combat misogyny by respecting women. You combat all social ills by relentlessly fixating on your own position in society and feeling bad about it. Nothing political can escape the gravity of personal psychodrama and no solutions exist but cleansing the self.

  4. Emotionalist – “emotionalist” rather than emotional, meaning not necessarily inappropriately emotional but concerned fundamentally with emotions as the currency of politics. In woke circles, political problems are regularly diagnosed as a matter of the wrong emotions being inspired in someone. Someone feeling “invalid” is no longer an irrelevant matter of personal psychology best left to a therapist but instead a political problem to be solved, and anyone who provoked that feeling is someone who has committed a political crime no matter what the context or pretext. Good political action makes people feel better. To the extent that material victories like feeding the hungry are celebrated, they are celebrated because they inspire good feelings rather than solve corporeal problems. The famous woke antipathy towards the concept of civil liberties and personal freedoms stems from the triumph of emotions; things like rights are no match for the claims of any individual of psychic distress. Economic, legal, and political inequality are all relevant only to the extent that they make people from minority identities sad. The fixation on emotions fits snugly in the assumption of the individual as the basic unit of politics. It also ensures that woke politics assume the possibility of a frictionless universe in which everyone feels good all the time.

9) Meanwhile, UPenn has a tenured law professor who’s just clearly racist and I honestly just don’t know what the right move is in a situation like this.  Amy Wax is awful and academic freedom is good and, I could be wrong, but it seems you either compromise academic freedom or else you leave an absolutely awful person teaching law at Penn.

Amy Wax, a law professor, has said publicly that “on average, Blacks have lower cognitive ability than whites,” that the country is “better off with fewer Asians” as long as they tend to vote for Democrats, and that non-Western people feel a “tremendous amount of resentment and shame.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, where she has tenure, she invited a white nationalist to speak to her class. And a Black law student who had attended UPenn and Yale said that the professor told her she “had only become a double Ivy ‘because of affirmative action,’” according to the administration.

Professor Wax has denied saying anything belittling or racist to students, and her supporters see her as a truth teller about affirmative action, immigration and race. They agree with her argument that she is the target of censorship and “wokeism” because of her conservative views.

All of which poses a conundrum for the University of Pennsylvania: Should it fire Amy Wax?

The university is now moving closer to answering just that question. After long resisting the call of students, the dean of the law school, Theodore W. Ruger, has taken a rare step: He has filed a complaint and requested a faculty hearing to consider imposing a “major sanction” on the professor.

10) Fascinating analysis of sports programming, cable, and streaming. 

11) Hot off the presses social science, “Negativity drives online news consumption”

Online media is important for society in informing and shaping opinions, hence raising the question of what drives online news consumption. Here we analyse the causal effect of negative and emotional words on news consumption using a large online dataset of viral news stories. Specifically, we conducted our analyses using a series of randomized controlled trials (N = 22,743). Our dataset comprises ~105,000 different variations of news stories from Upworthy.com that generated 5.7 million clicks across more than 370 million overall impressions. Although positive words were slightly more prevalent than negative words, we found that negative words in news headlines increased consumption rates (and positive words decreased consumption rates). For a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%. Our results contribute to a better understanding of why users engage with online media.

12) You know I love Derek Thompson. Well, he’s coming to NC State on March 27. And “The conversation with…” part is me. 

13) Excellent analysis from Nate Cohn, “Why Fox’s Call on Arizona, Which Was Right, Was Still Wrong”

Analytical and research failures are inevitable. No one can perfectly anticipate what will happen on election night, especially in the midst of a pandemic. What matters is whether these failures yield a bad projection, and here the quality of statistical modeling — and especially whether the model properly quantifies uncertainty — becomes an important factor.

Fox’s statistical modeling was highly confident about its Arizona call. On election night, Mr. Mishkin said, “We’re four standard deviations from being wrong” in Arizona. This implied that the Fox model gave Mr. Trump a 1-in-10,000 chance of victory.

It’s hard to evaluate why the model was so confident. What’s clear is that it provided a basis for Fox to call the race, even as there were mounting nonstatistical reasons to begin to doubt the estimates.

By the time of the Arizona call, it was already clear that the AP/NORC survey data — along with virtually all pre-election polling — had overestimated Mr. Biden. In North Carolina, for example, Mr. Trump had already taken the lead after AP/NORC data initially showed Mr. Biden ahead by five points. The same data initially showed Mr. Biden ahead by seven points in Florida, where Mr. Trump was by then the projected winner.

As a result, there was already reason to be cautious about estimates showing great strength for Mr. Biden. But rather than become a source of uncertainty, Mr. Biden’s positive numbers in the AP/NORC data appeared to become a source of confidence — as Mr. Biden’s strength in the early vote appeared to confirm expectations.

One indication that Fox’s modeling was prone to overestimate Mr. Biden was its publicly available probability dials, which displayed the likelihood that Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump would win the key battleground states.

At various points, these estimates gave Mr. Biden at least an 87 percent chance of winning Ohio and at least a 76 percent chance of winning Iowa; Mr. Trump ultimately won both by nearly 10 points.

Maybe most tellingly, Fox gave Mr. Biden a 95 percent chance to win North Carolina — even at a point when it was quite obvious that Mr. Trump would win the state once the Election Day vote had been counted.

Through a Fox News spokesperson, Mr. Mishkin said, “The program that translated the decision desk’s numbers into the probability dials was not working properly at times.” Fox stopped using the probability dials on air, though they remained available online.

But even if the dials were erroneously overconfident or otherwise not exactly to Fox’s liking, they nonetheless erred in almost exactly the same way as the Arizona call. In all four states, including Arizona, the AP/NORC data greatly overestimated Mr. Biden; the early vote count leaned heavily toward Mr. Biden; and the Fox estimates confidently swung toward Mr. Biden.

Whether it was inaccurate AP/NORC data, misunderstanding the “late” mail vote, technical issues or overconfident modeling, there’s not much reason to believe that there was a factual basis for a projection in Arizona. It came very close to being wrong. If it had been, it could have been disastrous.

The public’s confidence in elections would have taken another big hit if Mr. Trump had ultimately taken the lead after a call in Mr. Biden’s favor. It would have fueled the Trump campaign’s argument that he could and would eventually overturn the overall result. After all, he would have already done so in Arizona.

14) More GPT: “10 Ways GPT-4 Is Impressive but Still Flawed”

OpenAI said the new system could score among the top 10 percent or so of students on the Uniform Bar Examination, which qualifies lawyers in 41 states and territories. It can also score a 1,300 (out of 1,600) on the SAT and a five (out of five) on Advanced Placement high school exams in biology, calculus, macroeconomics, psychology, statistics and history, according to the company’s tests.

Previous versions of the technology failed the Uniform Bar Exam and did not score nearly as high on most Advanced Placement tests.

On a recent afternoon, to demonstrate its test skills, Mr. Brockman fed the new bot a paragraphs-long bar exam question about a man who runs a diesel-truck repair business.

The answer was correct but filled with legalese. So Mr. Brockman asked the bot to explain the answer in plain English for a layperson. It did that, too.

15) Emily Oster’s take on teen mental health:

Has independence declined over time?


The argument that the physical independence of children has declined over time comes down to a bit of data and a lot of “look around, it’s obvious.” The authors draw on an academic book that analyzes changes in parenting advice over time and shows that earlier eras more often portray children as independent, going out and playing alone in early childhood, and having more adult responsibilities (like jobs) at the age of 11 or 12. 

You can see this even in something like The Baby-Sitters Club. The seventh graders in these books — published from 1986 to 2000 — are babysitting for young infants, including at night, making dinner, cleaning the house, and so on. The feel of the world is somewhat different than what many of us experience with our children now. 

For more concrete data, the authors draw on a survey in European countries that focused on how much independent mobility kids were given. For metrics like “Can children walk home from school alone?” independent mobility declined over the period 1990 to 2010. And this is Europe! The U.S. tends to be even more cautious.

The authors seemingly worry here about both physical independence and free time. Kids are in school for more hours, and in extracurricular activities and homework for more hours. Their time is more structured and less free. They also comment specifically on the loss of ability to engage in slightly risky activities (climbing a big tree, for example) out of the sight of adults. 

It would be helpful to have even more precise data about this — and perhaps a better sense of when these changes really picked up — but it seems hard to argue with the conclusion that, relative to the 1980s, children have less physical freedom…

What is the link between independence and happiness?

If we acknowledge that independence has gone down, making the link to happiness would require knowing those factors are related.

The evidence here is a lot more indirect.

One argument is that children like to play (this seems obvious, but is also shown in data) and — this part is less obvious — that play often means without adults. There is some review data on this, and the authors point to one study in which kids between the ages of 4 and 6 were asked to classify pictures into play versus not play. The interesting finding is that when they see pictures where a teacher is involved, they are less likely to classify them as play. Play seems to be when it’s just kids. 

Other data presented would be consistent with this, but has multiple interpretations. Adolescent and teen mental health tends to improve in the summer; this is a time of more independence, but there are other changes too. It’s hard to link that directly to independence.

The play evidence is on short-term happiness. When we turn to the longer-term links, the authors move quickly from data to theory. 

The authors link their ideas to theories about locus of control. It has been widely demonstrated that having low levels of internal locus of control — basically, feeling that you do not have a lot of control over your own life — leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety. Feelings of internal locus of control have declined over time. The authors hypothesize that independence at younger ages, with the associated need to problem-solve, could contribute to higher levels of internal locus of control. By extension, the loss of this time may contribute to the decline in these levels. This fits, but requires us to stretch beyond the data in the link between independence and these feelings.

A second theoretical link is with self-determination theory, which suggests that people are happier if they feel like they are living in accordance with their own desires, rather than being driven from the outside. The authors again hypothesize — although this isn’t something we see directly in data — that independence might play a role in increasing these feelings of self-determination. 

A final point relates to our evolutionary background. For most of human history, and still in many societies today, children had more freedom (and more was expected of them in terms of contribution to the larger group). The common setup we have today, with the combination of scaffolding and expectation, is counter to this. So perhaps kids are not adapted to it. (I’d recommend Hunt, Gather, Parent for a different type of perspective on this.) 

The authors make a few other points — looking at correlations between parenting styles and child outcomes, and reflecting on what adults say about their formative life experiences. 

These sections are both the most interesting and — the authors acknowledge this — the most under-evidenced claims. The argument “things were different in paleolithic times” can be both true and also not responsible for an increase in mental health issues. It seems like an area that would be ripe for more research, which would probably have a more significant experimental component. 

The paper spends less time on the “how” of making this work. Our built and social environment isn’t necessarily set up for kids to play outside all day until dark. The answer is probably: baby steps. Could a child walk themselves home from school or the bus stop? Could you work with another neighborhood family to let the kids do some unsupervised play in a way that you were both comfortable with? Summer can be a good opportunity here. The authors of the paper are writing for pediatricians, and arguing that providers should talk to families about what might be possible for them…

The role of risk in childhood

However: I think these issues bear thinking about even if they do not explain this particular trend, or only partially relate. A key point made in the paper is that many parents right now spend a lot of time protecting their children from exploring slightly risky situations — things that would stretch their problem-solving just a bit, or even scare them a little. When I reflect on my childhood, experiences like those did stick with me, but they were also very formative.  

I spent a fair amount of my childhood playing unsupervised in the parking lot of the church down the street. One game, “elimination,” involved trying to catch a tennis ball thrown against the wall, with the loser having to stand on the wall while other people tried to throw the ball to hit them. I do not remember this especially fondly, but I cannot help but wonder whether experiences like that better prepared me for the metaphorical ball-throwing that is part of talking in the public eye. 

The point is not that our children need to play elimination in a parking lot. But I was compelled by this piece to some reflection on scaffolding, and perhaps a greater need to look at where we are comfortable introducing independence to our kids. We have a strong and appropriate parental instinct to protect our children. The point here is that letting them go a little freer is actually part of that protection. 

Yes! So much this.

16) I loved this article on Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour helping out with his kids’ hockey team, “What happens when a top NHL coach takes the helm of a Pee Wee team?”

Brind’Amour may be the most decorated assistant coach for a youth hockey team in the country. And the guy next to him in flip flops and a black Hurricanes jumpsuit, retired Kings and Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, might be a close second.

But on days like this, Williams says, “we’re just dads.”

Brind’Amour, 52, has just returned from the NHL All-Star Game in South Florida. One day, he was offering instruction to superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. A couple of days later, he is teaching hockey fundamentals to a team that includes Brooks, Jagger and Williams’ 11-year-old daughter, Jade…

As Brind’Amour enters the building, he stands by the glass and stares at the empty rink. In the NHL, he’s known for his emotional, motivating speeches. But he isn’t one to give a lot of pep talks to 11-year-olds.

Williams sat next to Brind’Amour in the Hurricanes dressing room as a teammate for six years, then played for him for several more. The retired center says when Brind’Amour speaks to people, you can feel the emotion. He’ll talk to the kids, but the message, the lessons, carry a different tone.

“You teach 11 year olds about discipline, how to play the game, how you win and how you lose, it’s almost like life as well,” Williams says. “To have a good attitude, bad attitude, that’s what coaches look for. There’s so many things you can learn in every sport. Really hockey, it teaches you a lot of things. He’ll tell them to ‘stay with it’ and teaches them how to be good hockey players — and people.”

The bold part is because I had the amazing privileges to coach Jade for one season of rec soccer.  She was so amazingly good despite being new to soccer.  (And I talked to Justin Williams a few times, but just coach to soccer dad, never as a hockey fan).

17) I had never heard of the Mensa Fallacy before, but given my lack of respect for Mensa and my love for selection bias as an explanation for almost everything, I loved this:

Now at ISIR in Vienna in 2022, we get this talk:

High intelligence is associated with mental health problems in a sample of intellectually gifted Europeans
Mr. Jonathan Fries 1 , Dr. Tanja G. Baudson2,3,4 , Dr. Kristof Kovacs 5 , Dr. Jakob Pietschnig1
1 Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna,
2 HS Fresenius Heidelberg University of Applied Sciences, Heidelberg, Germany
3 Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE)
4 MENSA in Deutschland gGmbH, Germany
5 Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

Background: High intelligence is a well-known predictor of favorable health outcomes and longer lifespans. However, recent evidence suggests that the proposed linear relationship between health and cognitive ability might not extend to the upmost end of the intelligence spectrum, indicating that intellectually gifted individuals exhibit high prevalences in an array of specific physical and mental health conditions, so-called overexcitabilities. Presently, only few targeted investigations of this research question have been carried out, and none outside the USA. Here, our objective was to replicate and extend previous accounts to numerous uninvestigated overexcitabilities in a sample of intellectually gifted Europeans.

Methods: We conducted a preregistered survey among members of MENSA, the world’s largest society of individuals scoring in the highest two percent of the intelligence distribution. In all, 615 (307 female) members of the chapters from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom participated. Results: Compared to reference populations, the intellectually gifted sample showed considerably elevated rates of several conditions, such as autism spectrum disorders (risk ratio = 2.25), chronic fatigue syndrome (RR = 5.69), depression (RR = 4.38), generalized anxiety (RR = 3.82), or irritable bowel syndrome (RR = 3.76). Previously reported conditions such as asthma, allergies, or autoimmune diseases were within the general population range…

It’s a textbook example of sampling bias. The samples rely on Mensa samples. For this study to work, Mensans have to be representative of smart people in general, or at least, not be a biased sample for the things examined. But everybody knows Mensans are dorks and this is a club for underachievers. For some amusing quantitative evidence, check out the Reddit subreddit overlap tool. The strongest overlap for being in Mensa is also being in introverted personality subreddits, with a 60x+ rate. Now, low achievement for one’s intelligence can be explained by only a few things: bad work ethic, physical disability, and mental illness. These often go together (genetic fitness factor). Mensans are below average achievers for their intelligence level, and this has a lot to do with their other traits. Obviously, then, studying Mensa people and finding that they have a high rate of various issues compared to a normal population does not tell you that intelligence is associated with these problems, but rather that you have strong sampling bias. 

18) I can’t help but finding it hilarious that this exists as actual research: “Worldwide Temporal Trends in Penile Length: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”


Seventy-five studies published between 1942 and 2021 were evaluated including data from 55,761 men. The pooled mean length estimates were flaccid length: 8.70 cm (95% CI, 8.16–9.23), stretched length: 12.93 cm (95% CI, 12.48–13.39), and erect length: 13.93 cm (95% CI, 13.20–14.65). All measurements showed variation by geographic region. Erect length increased significantly over time (QM=4.49, df=2, p=0.04) in several regions of the world and across all age groups, while no trends were identified in other penile size measurements. After adjusting for geographic region, subject age, and subject population; erect penile length increased 24% over the past 29 years.


The average erect penis length has increased over the past three decades across the world. Given the significant implications, attention to potential causes should be investigated.

19) Someday we’ll know a lot more about our microbiome and all sorts of health conditions, “Chronic fatigue syndrome is a puzzle. Your gut microbiome may have the key.”

Two recent studies funded by the National Institutes of Health point to changes in the microbiome as a possible cause of ME/CFS, and they provide new avenues toward diagnosing and caring for people with the ailment. Certain bacteria in the gut that produce substances involved in metabolism and the immune system were found to be less abundant in patients with ME/CFS than in control groups.

Human digestive systems are home to trillions of microorganisms that help digest food and send signals to other parts of the body. The gut “should be a very rich, diverse, tropical rainforest,” says Suzanne Vernon, research director of the Bateman-Horne Center, a leading center of ME/CFS research. Vernon hypothesizes that viral infections such as COVID-19 can lead to a “disruption” in this gut ecosystem, often felt in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

In most people, the microbiome quickly returns to normal. But for some, “the gut disruption stays,” Vernon says, leading to long-term problems in regulating many body functions…

In the two recent studies published in Cell Host & Microbe, research groups at Columbia University and the Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit institute headquartered in Maine, performed detailed analyses of the microbes in stool samples from patients with ME/CFS and compared them to healthy controls.

The two groups found similar bacteria species were less present in ME/CFS patients compared to control patients. They homed in on bacteria that produce butyrate, a fatty acid involved in regulating metabolism and the immune system. Butyrate plays several roles in directing the body’s response to infections, while also protecting the barrier between the intestine and the circulatory system, regulating genetic changes in cells, and more, says Brent Williams, lead author on the Columbia study. Williams and his colleagues extensively analyzed the role of butyrate in ME/CFS patients’ guts, even identifying a correlation between low levels of bacteria that produce this acid and more severe symptoms.

Parallel findings from the Jackson Laboratory team suggest the bacteria that produce butyrate could be used to diagnose ME/CFS. Previous research has identified microbiome issues in ME/CFS patients, but the new findings help clarify which microbes could be related to the illness. “What the new studies did was to take it a step further, and to really identify the different bacterial species,” says Vicky Whittemore, program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who was not involved in the new research.

20) In honor of March Madness, this was really good. And I love that the Big East just let football go and refused to have all other sports ruled by it, “How the Big East Rose From the Ashes of Its Doomed, Picked-Over Predecessor: Wednesday marks the beginning of the Big East men’s basketball tournament—and the 10-year anniversary of a bold move that likely saved the conference from extinction”

21) I used to watch baseball a lot but stopped completely because it’s long and boring.  Sounds like the new rules changes will actually help a lot. 

22) The whole Ken White piece on the Stanford free speech debacle (referenced in a post earlier this week) is just terrific. 

Everyone in this story makes me angry.

Judge Duncan is part of a culture of turning the federal judiciary into a conservative grievance LiveJournal. He’s also part of a pathetic culture of conservative victimology and free-speech hucksterism. The American right is trumpeting a purported concern for freedom of speech, based mostly on cries of “cancel culture” and gripes about how other people are using their free speech and association, while campaigning vigorously to use government force to limit speech they don’t like. The Federalist Society is complicit, off the bench and on it.

The right-wing media (check out the links in item 6 on David Lat’s update) is campaigning to make money and clicks off of that conservative victimology. In the process it’s undermining everything that was ever admirable or worthwhile about American conservatism and making it into a cult of crybabies. Meanwhile, it’s torpedoing whatever American consensus we’ve ever had in favor of free speech values, conveying to half of America’s youth that free speech is cynical bullshit and to the other half that it’s a bludgeon to own the libs.

Associate Dean Steinbach and her ilk are campaigning to undermine free speech legal and social norms, striving to make someone’s subjective reaction to speech an unquestionable justification for suppressing it. Academic freedom is under state assault and she’s busily undermining it and telling students they have a right to shut people up.

Stanford, and schools like it, are shitting the bed over controversial speakers. Decide that students can shut down speeches they don’t like, if you want to take that path. If not, protect speakers from disruption and have the students escorted out if they shut down a speech. Don’t half-ass it and then apologize afterwards.

And students. Students think that they should be able to dictate which speakers their peers invite, who can speak, what they can say, and who can listen. They’re not satisfied with the most free-speech-exceptionalist system in the world that lets them respond to speech by assembling, protesting, and reviling people of authority like Judge Duncan. They demand the right not just to speak, but to control the speech of others. That’s straight-up thuggish, an aspiration born of a fascist soul. These are law students. They are training to express themselves for a living. If their view is “we can’t respond to awful speech, we can only stop it from happening,” then they’re going to be terrible lawyers.

Law students also persist in imagining that they invented the world. They believe they discovered that free speech laws and norms protect awful speech and awful people. They believe they discovered the plea “yes, but what you don’t understand is that this speech is really bad.” They believe that they are so self-evidently right, good, trustworthy, and noble that it’s obvious that we should let them decide who talks and who doesn’t. And they are too hubris-swollen — not too stupid, but too drunk with self-righteousness — to see that exceptions to free speech have always been used most harmfully against the powerless, and always will be. They’re too full of themselves to see that “let a crowd decide who is allowed to speak” is a horrific norm to promote with grotesque historic resonance. Some of them will grow out of this.

23) If you think everybody who questions what we are doing with medicalizing adolescent gender transitions is an area for reasonable concern is just a transphobe bigot you probably gave up on me in anger a long time ago. But, if not, you really owe it to yourself to read what happened at the famous gender clinic in Britain. 

But there is also a less generic moral to this story: the importance of the distinction between values and facts in social justice movements, particularly for institutions in the business of producing objective information. Medical science can and should fully embrace the values of trans equality. To that end, it should produce reliable knowledge and safe and effective interventions that help those with gender identity incongruence or distress to flourish. This entails attending to hidden biases and other distortions of knowledge production. Instead trans rights activism demands the endorsement of a set of contestable “facts”: that gender identity is innate and objectively known even by children, while sex is a social construction; that trans identification never arises from psychological distress; that the sudden rise in trans identification, including marked changes in sex and age demographics, is satisfactorily explained by greater trans visibility and acceptance; that regret over medical transition is rare; that blockers are safe and reversible, promote mental health and avert suicide risks. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it package deal, and to question any part of it is to be “anti-trans”.

Examples abound in Time to Think of the permeation of this activist logic within GIDS. A clinician who declared that she didn’t herself have a gender identity was branded transphobic. Natal sex was no longer referred to as a fact observed at birth, but as “assigned”. Or consider events following the publication in 2018 of a controversial book, Transgender Children and Young People: Born in your own body. Its editors proposed that the “‘transgender child’ is a relatively new historical figure, brought into being by a coalition of pressure groups, political activists and knowledge makers”. Following complaints, a copy of the book was removed from the Tavistock library. A clinic director who sent an email letting staff know where the book could be purchased more cheaply ended up with a note on his HR file, and the prospect of disciplinary action, for abusing the Trust’s email policy.


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