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The Least Convenient Possible World

I tend to agree, but it depends on how something was tested. In "Darwinian Agriculture", I argue that testing by ability to persist is weaker than testing by competition against alternatives. Trees compete against each other, but forests don't. Societies often compete and their moral systems probably affect competitive success, but things are complicated by migration between societies, population growth (moral systems that work for bands of relatives may not work as well for modern nations), technological change (cooking pork), etc.

Rebutting radical scientific skepticism

There are so many possible coincidences, it would be surprising if none of them happened.

I observed 2012 transit of Venus, right on schedule.

Don't know an easy way to prove changing earth-moon distance, but changes in speed of earth's rotation can be seen as changes in number of days per year, visible in growth layers in fossil coral. Taking a magnifying glass to the right museum might allow individual verification.

Rebutting radical scientific skepticism

Great post!

Evolution of antibiotic resistance is indeed fairly easy, but how about evolving something visibly different? Evolution of simple multicellularity from a unicellular ancestor is easier than you might think:

If we can solve the earth-orbits-the-sun problem, we don't need to measure the parallax of stars accurately to show that they're really far away, which seems like an important scientific truth.

The Extended Living-Forever Strategy-Space

Since most of these would, if successful, result in an imperfect copy of yourself, rather than extending your own consciousness, you could include "have children." If you really want a perfect copy, rather than a genome enriched by a partner, then human cloning is closer to feasible than cryopreservation of adults. Cryopreservation of embryos actually works. I wonder if there would be a market for a service that promises to keep embryos frozen until life human expectancy reaches 110, say, then bring the embryo to life by whatever methods they are using then, sharing some of the trust fund with the foster parents.

Post ridiculous munchkin ideas!

Tax-deferred retirement accounts make sense if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than now. I expect tax rates to increase, so would rather pay the tax now than when I take the money out. In US, Roth IRA allows that.

"Your Money or Your Life" is worth reading. Build up your savings and decrease your spending until earnings on savings equal spending. After that, you don't have to work for money. Worthwhile work still enhances health and happiness, though.

Robert Frank's books on economics make the point that relative income is more important than widely recognized. Two examples he may have missed: 1) it's not just how much education you have, but how it compares to the competition. So the best-educated get the best jobs, but that doesn't mean everyone would have a good job if everyone was better educated. 2) losing health insurance is a disaster if you are competing for health services with the insured. But if everyone loses health insurance (e.g., Medicare collapses), doctors will have to lower their fees.

Fake Optimization Criteria

You might like the "simple practice cases" in my recently published book, Darwinian Agriculture. Has natural selection favored solar tracking by leaves because it increases photosynthesis, or because it decreases the photosynthesis of competitors? What sex ratio (in reindeer, say) is favored by natural selection, and what sex ratio maximizes meat production from a given amount of lichen? Why do rhizobial bacteria provide their legume hosts with nitrogen, if healthier plants will indirectly help other rhizobia infecting the same plant -- their most-likely competitors for the next host?

The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

It's even a little trickier than that. If overall population is increasing then one offspring this year may lead to greater proportional representation in the gene pool than two offspring next year. What few people recognize is that the opposite can be true if the population is decreasing.

But I think the original post assumed "all else being equal", to allow focus on the main points.

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Philosophical Landmines

I think that only works if you say "even if that were true, which we don't need to discuss now, I would argue that..." It's much harder to get someone to accept "for the sake of argument" something they strongly disagree with.

For example, I would only accept "morality comes from the Bible" if I had a convincing Bible quote to make my point.

Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012)

You may find this story (a scientist dealing with evidence that conflicts with his religion) interesting.

Helpless Individuals

In addition to the emotional issues you raise, there's the question of thresholds and scalability. If the puppy program already exists, giving $10 will help more puppies. But, for many scientific research projects, there's no point in even starting with less than $100K in hand. That could be $10 each from 10,000 people. An easy decision, perhaps, for the 9999th person, but who wants to give the first $10?

Elsewhere I've suggested "Social Escrow" as a solution. You pledge a certain amount, contingent on enough other people doing so and perhaps on other objective criteria. "Send us two checks. We'll tear up both if not enough other people send checks. We'll tear up the second if the research doesn't meet kilometerstone X by date Y."

Kickstarter has some of these features, but doesn't seem to fund science.

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