One of the things I was most criticized for on my old blog – and upon reflection, criticized for fairly – was my propensity to engage in bravery debates.
There’s a tradition on Reddit that when somebody repeats some cliche in a tone that makes it sound like she believes she is bringing some brilliant and heretical insight – like “I know I’m going to get downvoted for this, but believe we should have less government waste!” – people respond “SO BRAVE” in the comments. That’s what I mean by bravery debates. Discussions over who is bravely holding a nonconformist position in the face of persecution, and who is a coward defending the popular status quo and trying to silence dissenters.
These are frickin’ toxic. I don’t have a great explanation for why. It could be a status thing – saying that you’re the original thinker who has cast off the Matrix of omnipresent conformity and your opponent is a sheeple (sherson?) too fearful to realize your insight. Or it could be that, as the ...
Our past can be summarized as a sequence of increasingly fast eras: animals, foragers, farmers, industry. Foragers grew by a factor of about four hundred over two million years, farmers grew by a factor of about two hundred over ten thousand years, and the industry economy has so far grown by a factor of about eight hundred over three hundred years. If this trend continues then before this era grows by another factor of a thousand, our economy should transition to another even faster growing era.
I saw the latest Star Trek movie today. It struck me yet again that such stories, set two centuries in our future, imagine a unlikely continuation of industry era styles, trends, and growth rates. At current growth rates the economy would grow by a factor of two thousand over that time period. Yet their cities, homes, workplaces, etc. look quite recognizably industrial, and quite distinct from either farmer or forager era styles. The main ways their world is different from ours is in continuing industry era trends, such as ...
A lot of people are uncomfortable with haggling, but just one quick question at a hotel's front desk has a great chance of earning you a better room on your next vacation or work trip.
Consumer Reports recently published the results of a huge survey of hotel guests, and the results were impressive. Only 28% of respondents reported asking for upgrades or a lower rate when they checked in, but a whopping 78% of those who did were successful. Even if you can't get a bigger room, you might be able to get Wi-Fi or parking fees reduced or eliminated if you just ask nicely.
There are a few things you can do to tilt the odds even further in your favor. As we've mentioned before, you shouldn't ask for any special treatment when other guests are within earshot. You should also try to check in late, if possible, which will give the front desk clerks a better idea of available inventory. And if you're traveling for a special occasion ...
Two dozen leading experts in the brain recently converged for a daylong meeting at Stanford University. The meeting focused on a review of the current state of research and scientific knowledge related to software products and approaches that aim to defend against age-related cognitive decline. This meeting follows a similar meeting held five years ago which resulted in the 2008 Expert Consensus on Brain Health.
Sponsored by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, the meeting convened amid “mounting concern” about claims from commercial “brain training” programs.
“We need to be cautious as scientists,” said Ulman Lindenberger, director of the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute. “When you look at the claims of these programs, they are really wildly exaggerated, because they make promises to you not only that you’ll get better on the task that you are training, but that you actually get a new brain so to speak, that cognitive abilities like your memory in general improve by playing these games ...
For the past month, I’ve been using TrackYourHappiness.org – created as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University – with the goal of learning more about what impacts my happiness, and to what degree.
TrackYourHappiness is free to use, but fairly intense. You fill out an intense survey at the beginning, and then the experiment begins. For the next few weeks, you’re texted randomly, multiple times throughout the day, with questions you need to answer. Your mission is to respond as quickly as possible with how you’re feeling at that exact moment (the experiential sampling method).
In the name of worthwhile data, I stuck through the few weeks of random interruptions, being sure to diligently fill out the survey as soon as I received it. Three weeks later, the report was ready.
I found some correlations that surprised me, and some that didn’t. Below is a summary of what I’ve learned from my happiness report. If you find these takeaways interesting and/or are interested in learning more ...
http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/meta-morphogenesis.html Winter Intelligence Oxford - Organized by the Future of Humanity Institute htt...
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I am currently working on a validation metric for binary prediction models. That is, models which make predictions about outcomes that can take on either of two possible states (eg Dead/not dead, heads/tails, cat in picture/no cat in picture, etc.) The most commonly used metric for this class of models is AUC, which assesses the relative error rates (false positive, false negative) across the whole range of possible decision thresholds. The result is a curve that looks something like this:
Where the area under the curve (the curve itself is the Receiver Operator Curve (ROC)) is some value between 0 and 1. The higher this value, the better your model is said to perform. The problem with this metric, as many authors have pointed out, is that a model can perform very well in terms of AUC, but be completely miscalibrated in terms of the actual probabilities placed on each outcome.
A model which distinguishes perfectly between positive and negative cases (AUC=1) by placing a probability of 0.01 on positive ...
Dentists recommend buying a new toothbrush every 3-4 months, but it's hard to remember when it's time to get a new one. One simple way to remember is to just buy a new toothbrush whenever you buy toothpaste.
One poster on reddit offers up this clever tip. A full-sized toothpaste tube should last roughly three months if only one person is using it, so once it's empty, you know it's about time to get rid of the worn-down brush. If you don't trust yourself to remember this trick at the store, just stockpile some extra brushes in your bathroom, and replace yours whenever you've used up the very last dollop of toothpaste.
Photo by Stocksnapper (Shutterstock).
Hamdan Azhar writes:
I came across this graphic of vaccine-attributed decreases in mortality and was curious if you found it as unattractive and unintuitive as I did. Hope all is well with you!
My reply: All’s well with me. And yes, that’s one horrible graph. It has all the problems with a bad infographic with none of the virtues. Compared to this monstrosity, the typical USA Today graph is a stunning, beautiful masterpiece. I don’t think I want to soil this webpage with the image. In fact, I don’t even want to link to it.
The post uuuuuuuuuuuuugly appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.
Thanks to Bryan Castañeda and Andy.
Aunt Pythia is yet again gratified to find a few new questions in her inbox this morning. Sad to say, today’s column really has nothing to do with sex, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. And don’t forget:
I’m an academic in a pickle. How do I deal with papers that are years old, that I’m sick of, but that I need to get off my slate and how do I prevent this from happening again? I always want to do the work for the first 75% of the paper and then I get bored. But then I’m left with a pile of papers which, with a biiiit more work, they could be done.
Not Yet Tenured
One thing they never teach you in grad school is how to manage projects, mostly because you only have one project in grad school, which is to learn everything the first two years then ...
New meetups (or meetups with a hiatus of more than a year) are happening in:
Other irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups are taking place in:
The remaining meetups take place in cities with regular scheduling, but involve a change in time or location, special meeting content, or simply a helpful reminder about the ...
I've written before about Moran Cerf -- celebrated neuroscientist, former military hacker, and good-guy bank robber -- who also happens to be a great storyteller. Here's a video in which Cerf recounts some clever and fascinating neuroscience experiments that use neurofeedback to help people resolve competition between different thoughts and wills in their minds. The applications are even more interesting -- mentally controlling a robotic arm, for example.
Moran Cerf: Hacking the brain (Thanks, Moran!)
Abstract - Since decades Artificial Intelligence is striving for an understanding and the production of general intelligence. In an attempt to put the relevant issues into a wider frame, the...
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Science is not magic, no matter what the movies might tell us. It operates under very real, and very palpable constraints.
One of these is money. You can’t just recite equations like they’re incantations, and pull change out of the ether. It takes time, and time costs money. Time to develop the discipline, and the integrity, time to put that discipline to use.
It is a radical shift in how to handle knowledge, and this radical nature is especially clear when you place it beside the ways in which people have historically handled knowledge.
Myths and legends, fairy tales and fables. Pretty stories that tie everything up in a neat little bow. The desire to build such stories and sustain them is a deeply human one, but one that any scientist who seeks to advance the frontier of human understanding must overcome.
And perhaps the most powerful constraint on all science is closely linked to humanity’s desire for simple little stories.
It is the assumptions that are inherited. The unknown unknowns. The ...
At some point you've been told to fake it 'til you make it, and that's because with a little effort you can delude yourself into believing—and then becoming—whatever you hope to be. As A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy, points out in this quote, we're a lot more flexible and less stubborn than we may think. He explains:
Our behavior greatly affects our thoughts and attitudes. If you are feeling a lack of confidence or have an urge to change something within yourself, you must “act your way into a new way of thinking,” rather than trying to think your way into a new way of acting.
Not sure how to fake-act? A few body language changes can make a big difference.
Photo by VLADGRIN (Shutterstock).
Lots of us are willing to work when we’re feeling inspired, but what about when you’re not? According to Seth Godin, the true creative professional distinguishes himself by doing work even when he’s not in the mood.
Here’s what Godin has to say in an interview for our new 99U book:
Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.
The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white ...
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is broken. Robert F. Kennedy said as much in his first major presidential campaign speech. Simon Kuznets, the father of GDP, acknowledged its shortcomings. GDP is an imperfect indicator of human well-being at best, and outright misleading at worst.
Still, we shouldn’t scrap GDP and start over.
Up to a point, GDP does tell us important facts about people’s lives, livelihoods and aspirations. Living on a dollar a day is miserable no matter how you look at it.
Choking on economic growth, of course, is equally bad. There are a few simple, well-established steps we ought to take to bring GDP closer to where we should be. That, by the way, isn’t “Green GDP” or “green accounting.” It’s honest accounting.
Start with accounting for the true value of natural assets still in the ground. We don’t “produce” coal. We extract it. And the fact that the ton of coal extracted today is ...
Lee Sechrest sends along this article by Brian Haig and writes that it “presents what seems to me a useful perspective on much of what scientists/statisticians do and how science works, at least in the fields in which I work.” Here’s Haig’s abstract:
A broad theory of scientific method is sketched that has particular relevance for the behavioral sciences. This theory of method assembles a complex of specific strategies and methods that are used in the detection of empirical phenomena and the subsequent construction of explanatory theories. A characterization of the nature of phenomena is given, and the process of their detection is briefly described in terms of a multistage model of data analysis. The construction of explanatory theories is shown to involve their generation through abductive, or explanatory, reasoning, their development through analogical modeling, and their fuller appraisal in terms of judgments of the best of competing explanations. The nature and limits of this theory of method are discussed in the light of relevant developments in scientific methodology.
I found this ...
Steven Miller, the Deputy Commissioner and Acting Commissioner of the IRS, is testifying before the Ways and Means Committee today regarding what the Republicans are terming “targeting of conservative groups” for the 501(c)(4), tax-exemption. Here are a couple things I learned. Steven Miller is not a politically appointed Commissioner. Apparently, the Commissioner is a politically appointed position. Miller was a Deputy Commissioner which means he is a civil servant. In other words, he worked up through the ranks. He is a career employee. The last real Commissioner, Douglas Shulman, was appointed by President Bush and served from March 24, 2008 until Nov, 9, 2012. He was the Commissioner during the alleged “targeting” incidents. The Commissioner before that was Mark Everson. He also appointed by President Bush and served from May 1, 2003 to May 28, 2007. It interesting to note that Shulman retired just three days after President Obama won re-election. However, he did serve during President Obama’s first term. I don’t know why he retired three days after President Obama ...
This is the fourth is a series of posts analyzing the claims of DonMcLeroy, former chairman of the Texas School Board of Education and young Earth creationist. I recently interviewed Don on the SGU about his successful insertion into the Texas science textbook standards language requiring books to address stasis and suddenness in the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.
In parts 2 and 3 I addressed Don’ stasis and suddenness arguments. They are classic denialist fallacies – focusing on lower order details as if they call into question higher order patterns (they don’t). In this case, Don is arguing that the fact that many (not all) species display relative morphological stability in the fossil record, with episodes of (geologically) rapid speciation events, calls into question the bigger picture of the change of species over time in an exquisitely evolutionary pattern.
The former is a reflection of the tempo of evolutionary change and an artifact of the fossil record, while the latter is home-run unequivocal evidence for common descent and evolutionary change. Don ...
I am a mother of five children. I live in Fremont, California. In 2009, my youngest child, who was three, was diagnosed with autism. The diagnosis came from her social and communication impairment and highly repetitive behavior. She did not play with other children. She had no imaginary play. She made no eye contact with anyone. She had no spontaneous language. She did not understand questions. Her language was restricted to repeating what she heard (echolalia). In other words, she didn’t use language to communicate. She could stack blocks for hours. She would line up toys and have a meltdown if you moved a toy out of line. Everything had to be according to her rules or she was in chaos. She had highly repetitive routines that would escalate into unrest or panic. For example, she would go to wash her hands, turn the water on, turn the water off, turn the water on, and so on. Each time through the routine she would get more upset that she couldn’t ...
The Dow is at an all-time high. Here’s the past 12 months:
Once upon a time it might have meant something good, in a kind of “rising tide lifts all boats” sort of way. Nowadays not so much.
Of course, if you have a 401K you’ll probably be a bit happier than you were 4 years ago. Or if you’re an investor with money in the game.
On the other hand, not many people have 401K plans, and not many who do don’t have a lot of money in them, partly because one in four people have needed to dip into their savings lately in spite of the huge fees they were slapped with for doing so. Go watch the recent Frontline episode about 401Ks to learn more about this scammy industry.
Let’s face it, the Dow is so high not because the economy is great, or even because it is projected to be great soon. It’s mostly inflated out of a combination of easy Fed money for banks ...
Cara is ultra-light software that turns any web camera into an intelligent sensor. Accurate, insightful, real world analytics in real time.
We often refer to morality as being a force; for example, some charity is “a force for good” or some argument “has great moral force”. But which force is it?
Consider the possibility that it is gravity. In statements like “Sentencing guidelines should take into account the gravity of the offense”, the words “gravity” and “immorality” are used interchangeably. Gravitational language informs our moral discourse in other ways too: immoral people are described as “fallen”, sin is a “weight” upon the soul, and we worry about society undergoing moral “collapse”. So the argument from common usage (is best argument! is never wrong!) makes a strong case for an unexpected identity between morality and gravity similar to that between (for example) electricity and magnetism.
We can confirm this to the case by investigating inverse square laws. If morality is indeed an unusual form of gravitation, it will vary with the square of the distance between two objects.
Imagine a village of a hundred people somewhere in the Congo. Ninety-nine of these people are malnourished, half-dead of ...
Henry Markram’s Human Brain Project (HBP), backed by 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) funding Jan. 2013 from the European Commission, plans to integrate findings from the Allen Brain Atlas, the National Institutes of Health-funded Human Connectome Project, and the Brain (“Brain Activity Map”) project, Wired reports.
The HBP is an ambitious attempt to build a complete model of a human brain using predictive reverse-engineering and simulate it on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. Markram plans to give the EU an early working prototype of this system within just 18 months.
According to Brown University neuroscientist John Donoghue, one of the key figures in the Brain project, the HBP provides a means to test ideas that would emerge from Brain Activity Map data, and Brain Activity Map data would inform the models simulated in the Human Brain Project.
Markram is simultaneously doing four things: running a wet lab that amasses data through experiments on brain tissue, building a small-scale ...
When the hippocampus, the brain’s primary learning and memory center, is damaged, complex new neural circuits — often far from the damaged site — arise to compensate for the lost function, say life scientists from UCLA and Australia who have pinpointed the regions of the brain involved in creating those alternate pathways.
The researchers found that parts of the prefrontal cortex take over when the hippocampus is disabled. Their breakthrough discovery, the first demonstration of such neural-circuit plasticity, could potentially help scientists develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and other conditions involving damage to the brain.
Learning after brain damage — a surprising finding
In the research, UCLA‘s Michael Fanselow and Moriel Zelikowsky in collaboration with Bryce Vissel, a group leader of the neuroscience research program at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, conducted laboratory experiments with rats showing that the rodents were able to learn new tasks even after damage to the hippocampus.
While the rats needed additional training, they nonetheless learned ...
Nobel Laureate Dr Peter Doherty speaks at Skeptics Victoria! http://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/ Professor Peter Doherty presents to the Victorian Skeptics on Monday 18 March 2013. The talk is...
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