Wednesday assorted links

1. The Norwegian century continues (WSJ): “When Norwegian athletes take to the ice and snow at the Olympics, they don’t mess around: the Scandinavian nation of just 5 million has won the most medals of any country in the history of the Winter Games.”

2. NYT profile of Vargas Llosa, not just the usual.

3. Are we running out of trademarks?  Recommended, worthy of its own post, but not easy to excerpt.

4. Ideas for improving peer review.

5. Japanese plans for the tallest wooden skyscraper.


3. I've heard that part of the reason for the odd name choices from the Asian entries is that Ford and GM had hoarded a lot of the best names without ever intending to use them.

I think the biggest problem was mentioned:

"Meanwhile, free speech advocates have grown increasingly vocal about the pervasive trademarking of everyday words."

There are endless sequences of words, and many made up words yet to be invented. It's just stupid and frustrating that, for example, Windows became a Microsoft trademark decades after the term "windows" became commonplace in computer science.

Look, we ran out of integers five years ago and colors 15 years ago. Is it any surprise we run out words for trademarks? Heck, IUPAC says that by 2040 all of the molecules will have been discovered.

And by 2050, every book that can be written will have been written. We'll just need its ISBN number to find it, but we may run out of those first.

Do we need ISBNv6?

LOL. You can always choose a arbitrary name like "XEROX", so there's not any danger of trademark depletion. Reminds of a nerd cartoon that said due to internet domain restrictions the last domain of "" was taken. Absurd.

The real peer review problem:

Limited numbers of high prestige positions exist and we want to sort on quality without being easily sued for bias and good-old-boys networks,

The half-assed solution:

Let's measure applicant quality based on simple publication metrics.

The predictable outcome:

Aspiring scientists find it easier to hack the metrics than to improve their experiments.

The predictable correction:

Let's add some more rules to the algorithms to stop popular metric hacks.

The highly anticipated outcome:
New rules suck down thousands of man-hours to finalize and once they are in place take about three years to hack in a new and interesting manners that are likely worse than the current problems.

"Let’s add some more rules"

That's precisely how most bureaucracy (mal)functions and how American government operates at every level.

But the #4 Peer-review reference is narrowly focused on employment effects in the biochemistry community. You are correct about the Publish/Perish mess -- it's a well known tale. The "publications-proxy" for quality has long been hacked, but the core oligarchic academic/scientific communities are largely unaffected in their wallets and prestige.

The bulk of #4 comes down to publication is highly valuable for no particularly good reason. This means that scientists will "willingly" become "slave labor" as peer reviewers as this is highly valuable for their careers. Likewise, abusing the position of peer reviewer also happens because it is highly valuable - if peer reviewing did not build prestige nor determine funding levels nobody would bother hacking it.

We have made publications a valuable gatekeeper. Like all gatekeepers, a huge crop of rent seekers set up shop and start collecting tolls (as we see in universities, med schools, and government agencies). Eventually these rent seekers extract sufficient rents that their positions are deemed valuable enough for another round of rent seekers to set up shop riding herd on them (e.g. education administration, inspector generals, ombudsmen).

Decades ago publications were mostly worthless. You could afford to have just a few monographs to your name and still be counted as a worthy professor (I mean heck you could get by with zilch for research if you were a good teacher). Then we started using publications and positions to rank people - too much work/risk to actually evaluate their whole corpus of contributions. Peer review became necessary only when poor publications became valuable enough to sink the reputations of all other published scholars. As time went on we began using peer review for truly stupendous amounts of status and money. Like all such gatekeeping functions, peer review is readily corruptible and has been for some time.

I mean seriously, if a bad peer review can on net move millions of dollars (e.g. large NIH grants) we'd be idiots not to suspect every step in the process gets corrupted. Will paying peer reviewers do much? Not on your life. The pittance of money made on a hourly basis will always be peanuts compared to the ability of peer review to set on up with a comfortable position for life. At best it tinkers around the edges, but the fundamental problem remains: Publish or Perish corrupts everything it touches. Peer review was just a rule set added on to stop metric hacking, it too is now getting metric hacked. Color me completely unsurprised.

1: "nation"

So, when East and West Germany were splitting Olympic medals, would "nation" apply?

West Germany + DDR +Germany exceed Norway in medal count. The question is whether Grossdeutchland (pre 1945 Germany) athletes born in present day Poland should be excluded from the Germany count.

Also, if fairness mattered, Russia should get credit for any USSR athletes that were born inside the current Russian federation.

4. All papers should first be approved by an independent body of statisticians. Their sole job would be to review the statistical methods of the paper, looking for evidence of p-hacking, use of too small sample sizes, dodgy data smoothing etc.

Why publish "papers?"

Let everyone have Github style pages, publishing work and conclusions, accepting public comments, and answering those they wish. Nuisance comments can be swept into a visible but rejected spam bucket.

Wood makes sense for earthquake reasons. When my aunt and her husband lived in Tokyo, they felt earthquakes almost every day.

In a world where democracy is constantly bemoaned, it is the fundamental tenet of America. In a world where probabilities are constantly calculated, possibilities become neglected. America is the land of the possible because of democracy. In chess, there are pieces that act as representatives, for instance, when an endangered pawn is protected by a knight. Moreover, a pawn can be instrumental in a checkmate, thus assigning equality, though pieces are not endowed with equal strengths. And yes, the all-powerful queen acts a symbol. When I think of American queens, I think of John F. Kennedy or Alberta King.

I think reinforced concrete is better for walls. I've heard the claim about wood but I doubt it. Reinforced concrete can stop a 2-by-4 board in a hurricane/typhoon or tornado/cyclone a lot better than wood. That said, because concrete roofs are often not constructed correctly at the retail level, for my Philippine house I choose a wood rafter/truss frame roof covered by a steel roof. The rest is reinforced concrete. The best of all worlds IMO. Plus concrete walls don't burn, unlike wood walls.

How's the tagalog coming?

The best reform of peer review would be to deemphasize it. It's an administrative convenience to help en editor decide what papers to publish. It's not the secret sauce that magically turns an ordinary paper into Science.

Just ask yourself
Is the subject appropriate for the journal?
Are the methods adequate to address the subject?
Does it give a fair description of the other work in the field?
Are major changes necessary for the paper to adequately address its subject, or to reach its intended audience?

And then write the report. Don't try to be the holy guardian of the inner sanctum, just write a report on what the paper has to do to accomplish its goals and be approximately as good as other papers in the field.

2. What butt kissing. Give me a break. Vargas Lllosa's books never achieved the same fame as Gabriel Garcia Marquez because they're not as fun to read. And what the hell does the literary content of a novel have to do with whether it's author kissed up to Fidel Castro?

Have you read "The Fest of the Goat", "Captain Pantoja and the Special Service", "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter", "Who Killed Palomino Molero?" or "Death in the Andes", to name a few?

I have read both authors and I think that García Marquez does not have anything so fun. Give them a try, especially "The feast..." or "Aunt Julia..."

If you have, well... maybe it is a matter of taste. I am one of those who thinks that, although García Marquez is good, it is somewhat overrated, especially on his short stories.

I will give them another go. The few books of his I tried to get into felt very dry. Can't recall which one unfortunately. I'd describe Garcia Marquez as being crazy colorful and just kind of exuberant with imagination. It's a cliche, but they really did feel magical.

I definitely didn't get that with Vargas Lllosa, but like I said it's worth a try reconsidering.

I think one of the reasons that I have been put off by Vargas Llosa is that his political columns always felt so predictable. The same old anti-communist, pro commerce stuff. I don't even disagree with that stance actually, but it's hardly original. It has been no surprise that he has backed Rajoy unconditionally.

Hoosier - the truly great prose writers of the 20th century did not suck up to dictators. Whatever their faults, Tolkien, Proust, Joyce, Peguy, Kafka, Wodehouse, Waugh, and others at that level had the common sense not to be the playthings of the likes of Castro. How does that connect with their talent? - well, a modicum of common sense is pretty much necessary for the real genius that inheres in the ability to write a long narrative that does not, in the end, leave us disappointed.

Feel free to tell me I don't know what I am talking about. But I do.


I agree that Vargas Llosa's columns are predictable, but many times they are written for a Latin American audience who has not heard those arguments, as there is not a long tradition of classic liberalism in the continent. But, as you said in your first comment, the literary content of a novel should not normally be affected to the political views of the author.

My problem with García Marquez is that I had to read a lot of his stories in high school in Chile, which are a little repetitive and not that interesting for a teenager (even with all the prostitutes in them). When I got to his novels, I thought they were all the same, so I always found him overrated. I can see that he is talented, but I do not really enjoy his work that much, feeling that much of the writing is to show off rather than tell a compelling story.

In fairness, I did not enjoy Vargas Llosa's first novel that I read in school (The Time of the Hero), but I did not read much of his again until I became an adult, when I really enjoyed it. "Aunt Julia..." is light and fun. "The Goat..." is gripping.

Oh, and do not read "The Neighborhood", that is the only of his novels that I have read that I though was bad. "Conversation in the Cathedral" is heavy and may not be enjoyed by all.

In addition to the ones I mentioned in my first comment, I can add that "The Way to Paradise" and "The Dream of the Celt" are enjoyable too (the former is better than the latter), but I would start with the ones I first mentioned.

I have not read the rest of his novels.

Cool, will make it a point in 2018 to give him another try. As regards to kissing up to Castro, you say (the other commentator) it's common sense, but does it make sense to beat your wife? Abuse drugs? No, but you'll find plenty of authors engaging in these activities with no sanction. As I was saying, best to leave the politics out of the arts. I guess there are exceptions like Guernica, but they're few and far between. We turn to the arts to escape from politics, not engage with it. (at least I do!)

I find this more a problem with the left than the right, but the way Castro is treated- especially in Florida- is one big exception.

Llosa licks America's boots.

a so-what phony.

Yep, a phony.

Aunt Julia was probably one of the funniest books I've ever read; the movie is even funny when it picks on Albanians instead of Argentines. It is well know that Argentines, the Dutch and Brazilians are by far the most offensive races of men known to woman.

+1 with Aunt Julia being really funny.

#1 Trump was right. We do need more people from Norway.

Darn right! Norwegians are the best you can get!

Actually ... this shows the value of a strong social welfare system. Everybody can try their hand at sport, because it's fun, and they aren't stressed out that they'll die homeless on the street.

Yes, having a vast amount of oil wealth is indeed a luxury. The Norwegian oil fund is over $1 Trillion for a country of 5 million. So, they have $200K invested per person in international markets.

Don't worry, self-driving cars and a universal basic income are right around the corner. Everyone pick their sport!

Winter olympics is a joke. Let's see if Norway wins the World Cup then we can talk.

Actually, Brazil, thanks to its biological superiority, is the country with more World Cup triumphs and the current Olympic soccer champion.

Good point, fewer people compete at the winter Olympic sports.

Bonus trivia:

I was in Berlin in 1990, attending Goethe Institute, and during that time interval, West Germany won the world cup. I remember the sound of a whole city cheering! Next morning, one Asian American student commented in class that the cheering had made him feel unsafe.

Alas, the Hungarian women's champion failed to place.

The World Cip of WHAT? Cross country skiing?

If you mean soccer, well, the Norwegians won’t win that WC soon, but they are better than 75% of the other nations and there’s only 5 million Norwegians.

The US would need a fund of $65 trillion dollars to match Norway's.

Let's print more money then!


"they aren’t stressed out that they’ll die homeless on the street"

That is not a widespead fear you know.

Some of our best athletes are from very poor backgrounds so are either victims or beneficiaries [you choose] of our social welfare system.

While we may be OK, not everyone is.

"We're often told that to be poor in the US is much worse than being poor in the social democracies of Europe. And the bottom 10% in the US are indeed worse off than the bottom 10% in Sweden. But they're better off than the bottom 10% in Germany or France: places where we are told that there is indeed that social democracy."

People who play sports for fun aren't likely to become Olympic champions. The Spartans became great warriors because (not despite) they only ate black gruel and had a rite of passage (krypteia) that involved surviving only with a knife. Because of much harsher living conditions in ages past Norway retains a tradition of a strong work ethic and frugality, which social democracy erodes over time.

lol, of course you have Spartan fantasies.

I don't live there anymore, but my impression from many visits is that the erosion of work ethics caused by social democracy is already pretty advanced.

Norway doesn't even have enough homegrown talent to automate their welfare system, they need fraudsters like these, at exorbitant rates:

Accenture started as Arthur Anderson Consulting on a Univac?

That is a long run for "fraudsters."

Ha, I decided to check.

"Arthur Edward Andersen was born in Plano, Illinois. John William and Mary Aabye Andersen, Arthur Andersen’s parents, had immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1881."

So some sympathy is to be expected.

Not really about sympathy, I realize Anderson Consulting is different from Anderson (accounting).

The issue is that in terms of doing honest work, Norway outsources lots of it, Polish tradesmen, Swedish store clerks, and Accenture to administer the payments from social services.

Evidently, the secret of prosperity is only outsourcing poor peoples jobs as in America.

#5 Have they said if they will use WMDs there or torture and murder POWs there?

I have often thought that we are running out of good acronyms. The Affordable Care Act is a good example. "Obamacare" as a word only flourished because the title of the act itself left a vacuum. "The Tax Cut and Jobs Act" is another example begging for better abbreviations.

NSF and NIH grant submissions have taken up too many good acronyms.

1) That's because no one but Norwegians really care about Cross-Country Skiing. And they are all "asthmatics".

2) The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta is one of my favourite books. I always felt that the best books about radicals comes from people who share some of the philosophical or political commitments but are sane enough to see the folly or tragedy of it all. The fact that he ended up on the classical liberal spectrum makes a lot of sense given how well he diagnoses radical psychology.

He is a running dog of America's interests.

There is definitely a bit of a Marco Rubio feel to him in his conservatism.

He is a traitor.

Cain is a traitor.

#1: What does Olympic medals really say about a country? Is it a proxy of government subsidies in sports? Actually, proxy of government subsidies to extremely unpopular and upper class sports, right? (exception to hockey, maybe)

I really don't see how this really matters to a country.

You are obviously a couple stones short of an end.

In reality, the countries don't compete, individuals do. The jingoistic "medal count" doesn't mean a thing in terms of athletic excellence. The sad part of the Olympics is that it's rife with graft, corruption and drugs. Someday it will be revealed that being selected, for instance, to an Olympic hockey team might be contingent on a donation to the coach's retirement fund.

I am not sure about corruption and drugs, but the point about athletes and not countries competing is totally true. But we got to keep that tribalism alive and well. Unless it comes from Trump.

Aren't the modern Olympics supposed to be a mild, positive, tribalism which *plot twist* includes running parties and sex in an Olympic village?

There is of course ample graft, corruption and drugs in the Olympics. However, participant selection is the least corrupt part of it. Here, incentives are properly aligned, in that many people want the best athletes to be selected. The idea that there is "pay for play" is quite absurd.

I have close family members who have participated in Olympics, World championships and other competitions on the very highest level. They do confirm the graft and corruption in many cases, e.g. selecting locations for the events and bribed judges in some sports. As for drugs use, their best guess is that it is not quite as rampant as the worst doomsday proclaimers suggest, but obviously still somewhat common. But pay for play? Never. (The one possible exception is for athletes who are very, very far from winning any medals, competing for countries that lack traditions in a particular sport. They may want to pay someone to just get to participate and get some exposure. If that is the case, it has exactly zero impact on the actual competition.)

"Is it a proxy of government subsidies in sports? Actually, proxy of government subsidies to extremely unpopular and upper class sports, right? (exception to hockey, maybe)"

That is why America takes all that swimming medals anspd Serena Williams has all those gold medals...

Thiago, I think we need and deserve a psychological rationale for your behavior and naming convention choice.

#1 Someone invented an entire Olympics full of obscure sports that only Norwegians and a few other sun-deprived northerners play seriously, and then we're supposed to be surprised they dominate. I therefore declare the Down Under Olympics open. Send your cricket (test, one day and T20) and rugby union (15s and 7s), rugby league, Aussie Rules football (mens and womens) and Netball teams, but don't be surprised when Australia dominates the medal count (OK, the kiwis will probably win the rugby... but zip, nada, nothing for Norway) We could even dream up some weird combinations to match the Nordic Combined (the name is a bit of a giveaway) like cricket in the morning and kangaroo shooting in the afternoon and award ourselves even more gold medals...

I would watch this.

Dude, I think Africans would win. Recall the "Jamaican bobsled team". Or as you say the Kiwis, the Blacks, would win 15s rugby (I don't watch the sport, in fact all this is from memory).

Bonus trivia: there's 64 posts prior to this one, and there's 64 squares on a chessboard, and I love chess (my name is a derivative of a chess opening). Coincidence, or Bayesian probability?

each player starts with 16 pieces, which for a time means that half the board is covered. Planned obselence or reflecting pool flat iron?

Banned again...

Any idea how to solve #3?

The solution to the academic publishing mess is to don't publish. But then again, if you want that sweeet academic gig......there's a price to be paid for any good thing that lots of other people want, as we know from economics. Also ignore invitations to edit, contribute to, or review submissions for journals that no one ever heard of or that probably are scam-journals.

Another solution: Publish only in the top journals and if rejected there, give up. On the other side, hiring/promotion committees etc., should look only at research published in these few top journals. I realize that leaves most people out of luck, but I believe that's a good thing. They can scramble for honest work like most of the rest of the population, invent a new cool awesome app, or learn to toss a basketball, run for political office, write a best selling book, become a movie star, panhandle, learn to make do with little.

I'm not talking about research grant applications, about which I have no experience. But removing anonymity and check out reviewers' qualifications up front would help rather than hurt.

It may be necessary to hire people to be reviewers, and they should not be active researchers or affiliated with any institution. To circumvent obvious bias and incompetence (to the degree possible). This won't solve every problem but it will help.

#1. Maybe so, but their male curling team really crapped the bed this year.

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