The Steven Pinker podcast and transcript will be ready next week, November 7 is a live event with Joseph Henrich, a Conversation with Tyler, Arlington campus 6 p.m.  If you don’t already know, here is Joseph Henrich:

Joseph Henrich…[is]…an expert on the evolution of human cooperation and culture…

Henrich’s research has challenged the typical narrative about human evolution to show how our collective brains – our ability to socially interconnect and learn from one another – is the driving factor behind our evolutionary success. Henrich presents these compelling arguments in his latest book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (2015).

Co-author of Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation (2007), Henrich’s research seeks to discover the role of culture in shaping our evolution; how evolutionary theory can help us understand how we learn and transmit culture; the role of war and conflict in the evolution of cooperation and sociality; what factors drive innovation and cultural evolution; and ultimately what has allowed humankind to flourish over other species.

Henrich earned his MA and PhD in anthropology from University of California at Los Angeles. He currently teaches at Harvard University as a professor of human evolutionary biology.

So what should I ask Joseph Henrich?

Department of Ho-Hum

by on October 14, 2016 at 1:33 pm in Science | Permalink

That is the next Conversation with Tyler, October 24th, at George Mason in Arlington, you can register here.

What should I ask him?  I thank you all in advance.

And these days, that means today is a Messy day:

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead. Using research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, as well as tales of inspiring people doing extraordinary things, I explain that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion, and disarray that produce them.

As I wrote the book, I grappled with the way Martin Luther King’s speechmaking style evolved from careful preparation to impromptu genius. I tried to tease out the connections between the brilliant panzer commander Erwin Rommel, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, and the primary campaign of Donald Trump. I interviewed Stewart Brand about the world’s most creative messy building – and Brian Eno about the way David Bowie would reject perfection in favour of something flawed and interesting every time.

I loved writing this book.

As I’ve already written, it is Tim’s best and deepest book.  Here is the book’s home page.  You can order the book here, it is out today a messy day it must be.

From the comments, on cyberattacks

by on September 30, 2016 at 2:18 pm in Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

As someone who does software and hardware, I don’t think we are anywhere near the point where a mix of hardware and software in everyday things will give us anything more than sorrow. We are already seeing rather scary things with the Internet of Things: Denial of service attacks larger than anything we’ve ever seen, because networked software is often faulty, and selling it only in hardware means vulnerabilities stay forever. It’s not just that someone can take over your CCTV camera, or the system controlling your lightbulbs, but that their computing power can be used to attack any business or individual at any time.

We have seen attacks this week that were large enough to shut down any online payment processor. For instance, imagine that the set of people with the resources for launching those attacks wanted to stop Hillary from taking online donations for as long as possible: I’d not bet against them being able to do that for a couple of weeks at the least, and that’s today. Every day more devices with weak security and no updates are sold. We see records of attack strength beaten every month: Akamai has trouble handling them today. The more devices we sell, the bigger the weapon we are handing out, and we are lacking any mechanisms to increase security because incentives are all wrong.

That is from Bob.

Power Poses Are Dead

by on September 26, 2016 at 3:11 pm in Economics, Science | Permalink

wonder-woman-power-poseDana Carney one of the co-authors of the famous paper (462 citations) that led to the famous TED talk (36 million views) and innumerable articles in the popular press on “power poses” (e.g. This Simple ‘Power Pose’ Can Change Your Life And Career) writes that after reviewing the evidence:

    1. I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of “power poses.” I do not think the effect is real.
    2. I do not study the embodied effects of power poses.
    3. I discourage others from studying power poses.
    4. I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore.
    5. I do not talk about power poses in the media and haven’t for over 5 years (well before skepticism set in)
    6. I have on my website and my downloadable CV my skepticism about the effect and links to both the failed replication by Ranehill et al. and to Simmons & Simonsohn’s p-curve paper suggesting no effect. And this document.

This cannot have been easy to write. Bravo.

Anti-mind, anti-man, anti-life

by on September 24, 2016 at 7:30 am in Medicine, Religion, Science | Permalink

Curing disease is good, right? No. Jemima Lewis, writing in the Telegraph, says curing disease is a sickeningly bad idea:

…the Zuckerberg-Chans have the most ambitious vision yet: developing new technologies and medicines to tackle every disease ever invented.

We’d better hope they don’t succeed. What would it do to the human race if we were granted eternal health, and therefore life? Without any deaths to offset all the births, we would have to make room on earth for an extra 208,400 people a day, or 76,066,000 a year – and that’s before those babies grow old enough to reproduce themselves.

Within a month of Mr Zuckerberg curing mortality, the first wars over water resources would break out. Within a year, the World Health Organisation would be embarking on an emergency sterilisation programme. Give it a decade and we’d all be dead from starvation, apart from a handful of straggle-bearded tech billionaires, living in well-stocked bunkers under San Francisco.

I’m shocked that anyone can write such depraved things in a major newspaper. In a decent culture this kind of thing would be relegated to some sick corner of the dark web. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, however. Ayn Rand villains exist. Look around.

This Andrew Gelman post on the replication crisis and the role that blogs have played in generating that crisis starts off slow but just builds and builds until by the end it’s like holy rolling thunder. Here is just one bit:

Fiske is annoyed with social media, and I can understand that. She’s sitting at the top of traditional media. She can publish an article in the APS Observer and get all this discussion without having to go through peer review; she has the power to approve articles for the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; work by herself and har colleagues is featured in national newspapers, TV, radio, and even Ted talks, or so I’ve heard. Top-down media are Susan Fiske’s friend. Social media, though, she has no control over. That’s must be frustrating, and as a successful practioner of traditional media myself (yes, I too have published in scholarly journals), I too can get annoyed when newcomers circumvent the traditional channels of publication. People such as Fiske and myself spend our professional lives building up a small fortune of coin in the form of publications and citations, and it’s painful to see that devalued, or to think that there’s another sort of scrip in circulation that can buy things that our old-school money cannot.

But let’s forget about careers for a moment and instead talk science.

When it comes to pointing out errors in published work, social media have been necessary. There just has been no reasonable alternative. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to publish peer-reviewed letters in journals criticizing published work, but it can be a huge amount of effort. Journals and authors often apply massive resistance to bury criticisms.

If you are interested in the replication crisis or the practice of science read the whole thing.

Aside from the content, I also love Gelman’s post for brilliantly mirroring its metaphor in its structure. Very meta.

Equally, in a world where academics are obliged to offer up each piece of work to be evaluated as internationally significant, world leading etc., they will seek to signal such a rating discursively. A study by Vinkers et al. in the British Medical Journal uncovered a new tendency towards hyperbole in scientific reports. They found the absolute frequency of positive words increased from 2.0% (1974-80) to 17.5% (2014), which amounts to a relative increase of 880% over four decades. 25 individual positive words contributed to the increase, particularly the words “robust,” “novel,” “innovative,” and “unprecedented,” which increased in relative frequency up to 15 000%”). The authors comment upon an apparent evolution in scientific writing to ‘look on the bright side of life’.

That is by Liz Morrish, via Mark Carrigan.

Might growing deconcentration possibly be either a partial cause or symptom of the Great Stagnation? Yasin Ozcan and Shane Greenstein report:

Using patents as indicators of inventive activity, this article characterizes the concentration of origins of invention from 1976 to 2010, and how these changed over time. The analysis finds pervasive deconcentration in virtually every area related to ICT, but it can explain only a small part of this trend. Deconcentration happens despite the role of lateral entry by existing firms. New firm entry drives part of the deconcentration, but this alone cannot explain the change. A single supply factor in the market for ideas, such as the breakup of AT&T, also cannot explain the trend. Finally, eleven percent of patents change hands through mergers and acquisitions activity, but this does not make up for the declines in concentration in the origins of invention.

Worth a ponder…

Arrived in my pile

by on September 12, 2016 at 8:24 pm in Books, Science | Permalink

Daniel C. Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

Due out in February!

Susan Athey will discuss machine learning, government and policy analysis in her keynote on Monday morning (Sept. 12) at Artificial Intelligence: The Economic and Policy Implications a mini-conference sponsored by the Technology Policy Institute at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. I will then moderate one of two panels featuring computer scientists and AI experts. More information and reservations here. Should be fun.

A Horror Movie

by on September 9, 2016 at 7:22 am in Science | Permalink

From a new paper in Science.
Hat tip: Monique van Hoek.

There are separate issues that get muddled up under this label.

1. There’s a semantic debate among mathematical evolutionary biologists about what the best fitness accounting system is (e.g., inclusive fitness as promoted by the Oxford crowd, or a pluralistic approach favored by most other mebs). This debate will seem totally stupid to economists. This debate shouldn’t be confused with the empirical question of whether intergroup competition has shaped genetic or cultural evolution.

2. The difference between genetic vs. cultural evolution, and between cultural group selection and genetic group selection. Many researchers like Boyd and Richerson have argued against the importance of genetic group selection for humans but FOR the importance of intergroup competition shaping cultural evolution. Much modelling suggests that conditions that normally inhibit the importance of GGS in genetic systems are mitigated in cultural evolutionary systems–because of multiple stable equilibrium (think folk theorem with different populations stuck at different equilibrium)

3. Empirically, a lot of evidence suggests that intergroup competition has shaped cultural evolution (institutions, social norms, religions, etc.)

Two recent target articles in BBS with full commentaries and replies are the places to start

I would avoid the opinions of web-publishing non-experts, who have not contributed to the primary literature and don’t understand cultural evolution.

In general I thought the comment thread on group selection was excellent.

Here is one bit from Steve Lohr’s longer article at the NYT:

For the moment, Amazon seems to be the most aggressive recruiter of economists. It even has an Amazon Economists website for soliciting résumés. In a video on the site, Patrick Bajari, the company’s chief economist, says the economics team has contributed to decisions that have had “multibillion-dollar impacts” for the company.

Another Amazon jobs site lists openings for economists. As of Friday, there were 34.

Seeing this emerging job market, the National Association for Business Economics held its first meeting for technology company economists in April in San Francisco. Another is set for October in Silicon Valley.

The article has many other interesting segments.