Tuesday assorted links

1. Alex Zook tweet storm review of Stubborn Attachments.  Opener: “longterm-ism can be founded on many grounds, ranging from compounding economic growth to physics to intuitions about how to treat future generations. this felt *very* natural to me, and held stronger ground than typical moral philosophy arguments grounded in toy worlds”  And another review.  And here is the DC filtering of the Stubborn Attachments book party.

2. The new Hollywood trailer with Godzilla, Ghidrah, Mothra, and Rodan.  Let’s hope it is sufficiently morally serious.

3. AlphaFold.

4. Better not to know?

5. Addis Ababa photo fest.

6. New list of unacceptable French thinkers.


6. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . . so THAT's what all those protests in Paris are all about!!

They believed that the penal system was replacing the punishment of criminal acts by the creation of the figure of the individual dangerous to society (regardless of any actual crime), and predicted that a "society of dangers" would come. They also have defined the idea of legal consent as a contractual notion and a ‘trap’, since "no one makes a contract before making love"


4. This is a cute test that confirms some territory between placebo and priming. But I still regard it as good news. It shows that we can use mind over body after all.

"I am a human being, and human beings are good at this stuff."

(And anyone who answers this negatively is just buying into the wrong vision, the "wrong genes.")

The links adjoining the article led to even more interesting stuff. Opposition to dogs used in medical research by the VA and general opposition to everything being done by the current administration.

'Let’s hope it is sufficiently morally serious.'

You mean its anti-nuclear message will be as obvious today as it was when Godzilla first appeared on the screen, back when Tom Lehrer was singing?

Why tweetstorms? Really, why? If you've got more to say on a topic, isn't it better disseminated on another platform?

Twitter is a local maximum. You have to go to where the people are.

"Most books should just be articles. Most articles should just be blog posts. And most blog posts should just be tweets." - Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart)

Give me the single tweet, then, and not a tweetstorm.


Tweetstorms belong right there with iPhone screens getting larger, Amazon building brick and mortar, and [some other great example that just slipped my mind]

Great examples of what? I'm with the original poster: Twitter is only useful for the mindless buffoonery kind of social media.

Twitter replaces long form communication through a deliberate and self-conscious rejection of long form. Eventually, media subverts Twitter and recreates long form media through Tweetstorms.

Phones compete to become smaller and more convenient, while also more powerful. In the processes deliberately replacing many functions of laptop computers. Then they start expanding again until they become indistinguishable from computers. (hello iPad).

Both are simulacra of a sort.

PS: poor and ignorant is correct. If your objective is mass-marketing and/or creating viral messages and PR, you have no choice but to include Twitter in your strategy.

Ah, okay. I was a bit confused because to my knowledge Amazon brick and mortar stores haven't really taken off that much. Makes sense now.

Instead of complaining how about you create this other platform and make more money than Jack Dorsey?

1. I'm reading Stubborn Attachments and enjoying it. But it's hard to get my head around Cowen as a "libertarian." He sees (limited) redistribution as beneficial to growth and stability, and skips over the question entirely of the morality of gunpoint redistribution, and the efficacy of government redistribution vs private charity.

I guess I'd have to describe Cowen as a pragmatic libertarian within an authoritarian framework.

To say this as gently as possible, WC, if no nation on earth operates in absence of "gunpoint redistribution" that question might be the odder thought. That is, odder than accepting tax as part of the human framework.

Sub-national entities, tribes, etc to my knowledge all did redistribution, including: "The Camp Chief supervised the butchering and division of meat, all families ... and western woodlands tribes in organized, military-like cooperative groups."

Even then life was pretty far from a libertarian ideal.

You mean they didn't just leave the meat in a pile and fight over it like a pack of hyenas?

(Actually, not even hyenas act like hyenas...)

You're just now figuring out that the small tribes in which we evolved were not libertarian?

Tribal values don't scale well, by definition.

Libertarianism doesn't scale well either

As far as I can tell, the only things that scale beyond a small tribe are nationalism and religion, although a corporation of self-interested individuals might be a libertarian version.

"the only things that scale beyond a small tribe"

Trade, of course. Large scale trade allows higher levels of specialization.

Free trade scales beyond both. Think about it. Iran, a Muslim country, sells oil to China, which throws Muslims into concentration camps. Neither side really bats an eyelash. When you pump Saudi oil into your gas tank, you transcend both the nation of KSA and its weird form of religion, even though I'm sure you value free speech and other liberties that don't exist over there.

Some libertarians still think of an "origin story" about man in the wilderness, forming voluntary associations. Never happened. It takes a village (tm), from there you can choose dissociation, if that's your thing.

I mean, you could live like a hermit in the forest and not have to answer to anyone. The issue comes when you want to enjoy the fruits of the labor of a community but not answer to that community. Why should they owe you anything?

"But it's hard to get my head around Cowen as a "libertarian.""

I think of myself as a libertarian leaning conservative. Perhaps Cowen could best be described as libertarian leaning economist.

" libertarian leaning conservative" is pretty much the definition of a cuckservative.

#1-3 the polity that is DC of course. But to be sincere, congratulations you deserve the adoration.

#6 They told us it wouldn't lead to that. Surely they told the truth? Slippery slippery

6. The inevitable march of progress appears to have stalled on some fronts.

#4: I hope all those companies getting money for playing around with saliva and cheek swab samples include this info as disclaimer =)

3. The "An indictment of pharma" section of #3 is especially interesting.

Yeah I skipped most of it because it all seemed very long but I went back because of your comment.

> pharmaceuticals engage in “research” so narrowly defined that it rarely contributes to our understanding of basic biology

Now if I were to take my pre-existing biases and apply them to this problem -- could it be that the restrictiveness of developing novel pharmas in accordance with the FDAs rules has had the effect of limiting the research ambitions of pharma companies?

Hard to do initially aimless exploratory research if there's no profit in it.

Hard to profit on the result of research if the FDA won't let you make money off of it until you do 10 years' worth of research.

Maybe. IDK. Guess I'll have to read the whole thing now 🙃

I also went back, I think I would look at the intellectual property regime before FDA rules.

There are a lot of ideas in this world, but for-profit companies are not interested in any of the ones which cannot be locked up as intellectual property.

So maybe don't expect them to take broad interest in science, and just throw more money at state colleges who should.

Nah, state colleges are interested in quantity more than quality of research. When we try to make them go for quality they hack the metrics to bump citation counts.

The truth is most people with money cannot judge good science from bad. The temptation to take the money and run is high because honest failure does not look terribly different from shirking. Getting a metric that is valid and not-hackable is pretty hard. Getting humans not to be lazy at the margin is pretty challenging.

While I agree with 80 or 90% of what you say, that leaves 10 or 20% to disagree with passionately.

Just kidding. But look at DARPA or similar as an example of excellence in funding. It is possible.

I don't think the author is critical enough about the failure of the academic community. (Of course, Alphafold's win is a single data point, so significant caution while extrapolating it to an indictment of all academic protein modeling is necessary (and criticism is therefore premature)). But if the academics haven't even bothered to determine which elements to use in their modeling (point locations, point contacts, distribution functions, etc.) to get best results, then the work is applied research rather than basic research. There may be "progress" but without studying the basics (what metrics to optimize) it's at best a haphazard helter-skelter shooting in the dark rather than a methodological examination of the problem. Science isn't supposed to reward sloppy work, but from his comments it seems the entire protein folding academic community is based on the "ready-shoot-aim" paradigm. That's one problem with using an established baseline as the norm.

@#3 - AlphaFold - excellent link, the best of the bunch, and Li's comment is right on. Screen scrape of most relevant passage of blog posts for non-specialists below. CASP stands for techniques for protein folding, which can be done either by crystallography (visual inspection) or by solving energy equations (which in theory can have more solutions than feasibly possible to compute) in math.

I will echo Li's comment and give an anecdote a professor once told us: in the 1960s there was a craze for 'closed form solutions' for solving energy transfer problems like the partial differential heat equation (used for example to solve what shape a component like a radiator fin should have to efficiently radiate, conduct or convection away heat). These elegant solutions took a lot of time and were the stuff of many a PhD thesis. But along came fast, cheaper computers and "numerical analysis" and put out of business hundreds of such specialists, PhD math types, by simply dividing up a surface to be analyzed into 1000s of chucks and letting a computer figure out how much heat passes through the chucks and then rearranging the chucks to design a 'fin' for example. It was a dramatic 'sea change'. We might be seeing the same with AlphaFold.

And now for my rant: And why is this? PATENTS. CONTROL + F + PATENTS, no hits again! It does not pay to NOT be inefficient and milk your science grant and move along, tunnel vision like, with the status quo. After all, science grants DON'T allow patents (they don't pay for them). If you're part of a research group, why would you want to patent something? To get a grant, you often have to show the government that others have already done something similar, and if you decide to stake your grant proposal on something radical, like AlphaFold has done, you might not get funded. These grants take time to write up, they go to a specific bureaucrat, often the same one bureaucrats sees all proposals from a particular field, and if this person sees too much craziness from you, the applicant, the next time he or she may not fund you. Better to do the 'tried and true' and that means designing heat fins with elegant, hard to solve, closed form solutions, not numerical techniques, as per my anecdote above. And what Li said.

“What just happened?”

Now that the serious and respectable matters are out of the way, I can finally engage in some gossip. This part will be quite the rant. Like I alluded to in the very beginning of this post, there was, in many ways, a broad sense of existential angst felt by most academic researchers at CASP13, including myself. In a delicious twist of irony, we the people who have bet their careers on trying to obsolete crystallographers are now worried about getting obsoleted ourselves.

I think many of us went through the following phases: (i) fearing that the DeepMind team outsmarted us all by some brilliant fundamental insight, combined with virtuoso engineering; (ii) breathing a sigh of relief that the insights were not radically different from what most of the field was thinking; (iii) (slightly) belittling DeepMind’s contribution by noting its seeming incrementality and crediting their success to Alphabet’s resources.

Setting aside the validity of the above sentiments, the underlying concern behind them is whether protein structure prediction as an academic field has a future, or whether like many parts of machine learning, the best research will from here on out get done in industrial labs, with mere breadcrumbs left for academic groups. Truth be told, I don’t know the answer, and I think it’s possible that some version of this will come to pass. What is clear is that the protein structure field has a new, and formidable, research group. For academic scientists, especially the more junior among us, we will have to contend with whether it’s strategically sound for our careers to continue working on structure prediction. Despite the size of the Baker and Zhang groups for example, I never felt intimidated by them, because on the novelty front I always felt I was several steps ahead. But with DeepMind’s entry I will have to reconsider, and from conversations with others this appears to be a nearly universal concern. Just like in machine learning, for some of us it will make sense to go into industrial labs, while for others it will mean staying in academia but shifting to entirely new problems or structure-proximal problems that avoid head-on competition with DeepMind.

I don’t think we would do ourselves a service by not recognizing that what just happened presents a serious indictment of academic science. There are dozens of academic groups, with researchers likely numbering in the (low) hundreds, working on protein structure prediction. We have been working on this problem for decades, with vast expertise built up on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, and not insignificant computational resources when measured collectively. For DeepMind’s group of ~10 researchers, with primarily (but certainly not exclusively) ML expertise, to so thoroughly route everyone surely demonstrates the structural inefficiency of academic science

4. You could probably throw these things in 2 or 3 buckets:
A) Things that will affect children and alter the course of their development.
B) Things that affect how people treat one-another, especially the socio-economic opportunities open to them.
C) Things that affect adults as they approach middle and old age.

In case (A), you're going to risk setting up self-fulfilling prophecies by telling people to just not try to develop certain skills sets. Keeping in mind here that genes are not inevitabilities and we don't know all of them.
In case (B), this is the Gattaca scenario - someone can't get a job because the employer ran a DNA test that said they have a low IQ. IMO, genetic information should be private. On the other hand, a young adult *might* if they don't already know certain things, make better career choices if they have this information. But again, there is still some risk of creating self-fulfilling prophecies, and I sort of prefer to let people explore their potential on their own instead of telling them it's written in stone. If someone is genetically predisposed to NOT be talented at music, they will probably figure that out by themselves.
In case (C), it's probably better to know, not withstanding that some people may suffer from anxiety - at least these a chance of changing the environmental factors that determine whether those genetic influences are realized.

"someone can't get a job because the employer ran a DNA test that said they have a low IQ."

That would be stupid. An IQ test would be more accurate. A better example would be something like:
"someone can't get a job because the employer ran a DNA test that said they have a 25% chance of contracting a very expensive disease"

"IMO, genetic information should be private. "
I agree, but isn't the Libertarian position going to be that the individual has a choice of whom they decide to work for?

True, but there's always norms of appropriate professional ethnics. DNA tests as a condition of employment should be heavily frowned upon.

#6 the intellectuals criticize the psychiatrists that pushed the idea that in 100% of the cases of sexual relationships between adults and teens less than 15 YO the outcome is adverse psychological and physical effects. The "risk" they see is the idea of harm might be abused to punish innocent people.

Hocquenghem: " We took great care to speak exclusively of an indecent act not involving violence and incitement of a minor to commit an indecent act. We were extremely careful not to touch, in any way, on the problem of rape, which is totally different ............we don't regard ourselves as legislators, but simply as a movement of opinion that demands the abolition of certain pieces of legislation. Our role isn't to make up new ones. As far as this question of consent is concerned, I prefer the terms used by Michel Foucault: listen to what the child says and give it a certain credence. This notion of consent is a trap, in any case. What is sure is that the legal form of an intersexual consent is nonsense."

The problem is we don't know what fraction of the sexual relationships between adults and children leave adverse effects for the children. The intellectuals recoil and just say "we're not talking about rape/abuse". What if 50% of said relationships do cause harm? Is it worth to criticize laws protecting children if 1 out of 100 cases is harmless?

Unless someone puts some numbers of the table is not possible to establish if the intellectuals are discussing even a common or hypothetical situation.

Well the intellectuals were certainly right about one thing: the state has used underage sex crimes as a means to expand their power of preemptive and infinitive incarceration, and create a category of thought crimes and the "society of dangers"

Pretty dicey stuff. But Foucault remains in good standing, while Milo (guy saying similar stuff but on the receiving end of the relationship) is beyond the pale. Makes sense.

Didn’t Lolita give enough insight on this question?

There are certain things that are easy to understand for even a minor French intellectual, but that will always be well below the possibility of apprehension of an American mind. Sorry guys, your brains are inadequate.

If you're so smart how come you ain't rich?

Typical American answer. Sad.

I LOVE that they kept Mothra. The red-headed stepchild of butterflies. Fierce, so long as there aren't any blue light zappers around.

"History shows again and again/
How nature points out the folly of man"

"Fierce, so long as there aren't any blue light zappers around."

Which is what Godzilla is of course.

Did you know: The "electrical discharge insect control system" was mentioned in a published article in 1911 and patented in 1932. Demand driven in part by the fruit tree industry.

6. New? 1977? Looks like Tyler has jumped on the bandwagon trying to judo flip protests against censorship and suppression of unacceptable viewpoints back on today's victims. You oppose pedophilia? Then you are a hypocrite if you object to state universities banning conservative speakers from given lectures. Pathetic.

To be fair, he did step up to the plate for Noah Carl and should get plaudits for that. Unfortunately, this looks like the sort of "on the other hand" balancing he would have to do to protect his flank from the left.

'Protect his flank'? Do you somehow think Cowen is a Civil War general at Shiloh?

I could see Tyler moonlighting as a reenactor.

msgkings, you might be out of the loop, but 'protecting your flank' is still a thing.

Protecting your flank....from what? What happens if his flank is unprotected?

Getting fired. Tenured professors have been fired for less.” See the McAdams case.

Its not like a college campus is open to just any point of view. https://www.thefire.org/spotlight/reports/spotlight-on-speech-codes-2019/

Oh please. Cowen isn't getting fired for random musings on his blog.

In deep blue Virginia, you never know. The governor is a fanatic. But if not fired, bullied. Academic bullying is nightmarish. Here is a recent example of what happens to you when you don't sign a letter in support of a ballot measure that the department chair demands you sign: https://judithcurry.com/2018/12/12/cliff-mass-victim-of-academic-political-bullying/#more-24557

Cowen is obviously less of a snowflake than you. I'm not worried about him.

"Protecting your flank....from what? What happens if his flank is unprotected?"

I was just gibbing you about the Civil War reference. As if military flanks disappeared with horses.

Ah, copy that. My joke was better using the Civil War...maybe I should have gone back to Napoleon....

So you mean Tyler's title of 6 was second-degree. F...! I made a fool of myself. But the desire for censorship is so widespread in America now that every hint of it makes me overreacting. Need vacations far away...

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