gwern's Comments


An open question for me is whether it makes sense to not pre-emptively archive everything.

Update: I ultimately decided to give this a try, using SingleFile to capture static snapshots.

Detailed discussion: It currently costs ~5300 links/20GB, which is not too bad but may motivate me to find new hosting as I think it will substantially increase my monthly S3 bandwidth bill. The snapshots themselves look pretty good and no one has reported yet serious problems.... Too early to say, but I'm happy to be finally giving it a try.

The Personality of (great/creative) Scientists: Open and Conscientious

"Scientists are curious and passionate and ready to argue":

This psychological assessment owes nothing to surveys or personality testing; it pays no heed to the zodiac. Instead, researchers took the linguistic data from 200 tweets each of nearly 130,000 Twitter users across more than 3,500 occupations to assess their “personality digital fingerprints”.

They used machine learning to identify the traits and values that distinguish professions from each other.

This “21st century approach for matching one’s personality with congruent occupations,” dubbed the robot career adviser, is more reliable than existing career guidance methods based on self-reports through questionnaires, the researchers argue in a January paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Personality characteristics of Twitter users were inferred using IBM Watson's Personality Insights tool. The study focused on five specific traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness) and five values (helping others, tradition, taking pleasure in life, achieving success, and excitement).

The analysis revealed that scientists combine low agreeableness and low conscientiousness with high openness.

“The combination is characteristic of people who tend to be unconventional and quirky, consistent with the image of scientists as curious and even sometimes eccentric boffins,” says one of the authors, Paul McCarthy+, an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) in Australia. “In some ways it does confirm stereotypes.”

Within the sciences, a spectrum of personality traits emerged. Those dealing with more abstract or inanimate things (mathematicians, geologists) were more open than those in the life sciences (bio-statisticians, horticulturalists), who “tended to be more extroverted and agreeable”, says McCarthy.

Scientists and software programmers, whose personality characteristics aligned closely, were generally more open to experiencing a variety of new activities, tended to think in symbols and abstractions, and found repetition boring, the researchers found.

On the spectrum of occupations, scientists are especially different from professional tennis players. “Tennis professionals are a lot more agreeable and conscientious than all others in the study — especially scientists,” says McCarthy.

“It makes sense, because to be a tennis player, you have to be highly conscientious and be willing to take direction, whereas scientists are almost the complete opposite. They don’t take direction, their openness to experiences is very high, but so is their openness to being disagreeable.”

He noted that the occupation of research director had the highest median openness scores of any of the 3,513 occupations in the study.

Inverse p-zombies: the other direction in the Hard Problem of Consciousness

"Anesthetizing the Public Conscience: Lethal Injection and Animal Euthanasia", Alper 2008: Alper reviews curare etc and argues that US lethal injections, because of the use of paralytics and slow potassium poisons rather than quick effective standard veterinarian-style sodium pentothal injections, is manufactured anesthesia awareness:

No inmate has ever survived a botched lethal injection, so we do not know what it feels like to lie paralyzed on a gurney, unable even to blink an eye, consciously suffocating, while potassium burns through the veins on its way to the heart, until it finally causes cardiac arrest. But aided by the accounts of people who have suffered conscious paralysis on the operating table, one can begin to imagine.

A Rational Altruist Punch in The Stomach

Philip Trammel has criticized my comment here: He makes 3 points:

  1. Perhaps the many failed philanthropies were not meant to be permanent?

    First, they almost certainly were. Most philanthropies were clan or religious-based. Things like temples and monasteries are meant to be eternal as possible. What Buddhist monastery or Catholic cathedral was ever set up with the idea that it'd wind up everything in a century or two? What dedication of a golden tripod to the Oracle at Delphi was done with the idea that they'd be done with the whole silly paganism thing in half a millennium? What clan compound was created by a patriarch not hoping to be commemorated and his grave honored for generations without end? Donations were inalienable, and often made with stipulations like a mass being said for the donators' soul once a year forever or the Second Coming, whichever happened first. How many funny traditions or legal requirements at Oxford or Cambridge, which survive due to a very unusual degree of institutional & property right continuity in England, came with expiration dates or entailments which expired? (None come to mind.) The Islamic world went so far as to legally remove any option of being temporary! To the extent that philanthropies are not encumbered today, it's not for any lack of desire by philanthropists (as charities constantly complain & dream of 'unrestricted' funds), but legal systems refusing to enforce them via the dead hand doctrine, disruption of property rights, and creative destruction. My is relevant, as is Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, which makes clear what a completely absurd thing that is to suggest of places like Rome or China.

    Second, even if they were not, most of them do not expire due to reaching scheduled expiration dates, showing that existing structures are inadequate even to the task of lasting just a little while. Trammel seems to believe there is some sort of silver bullet institutional structure that might allow a charity to accumulate wealth for centuries or millennia if only the founders purchased the 1000-year charity plan instead of cheaping out by buying the limited-warranty 100-year charity plan. But there isn't.

  2. His second point is, I'm not sure how to summarize it:

    Second, it is misleading to cite the large numbers of failed philanthropic institutions (such as Islamic waqfs) which were intended to be permanent, since their closures were not independent. For illustration, if a wave of expropriation (say, through a regional conquest) is a Poisson process withλ= 0.005, then the probability of a thousand-year waqf is 0.7%. Splitting a billion-dollar waqf into a billion one-dollar waqfs, and observing that none survive the millennium, will give the impression that “the long-term waqf survival rate is less than one in one billion”.

    I can't see how this point is relevant. Aside from his hypothetical not being the case (the organizational death statistics are certainly not based on any kind of fission like that), if a billion waqfs all manage to fail, that is a valid observation about the durability of waqfs. If they were split apart, then they all had separate managers/staff, separate tasks, separate endowments etc. There will be some correlation, and this will affect, say, confidence intervals - but the percentage is what it is.

  3. His third point argues that the risk needs to grow with size for perpetuities to be bad ideas.

    This doesn't seem right either. I gave many reasons quite aside from that against perpetuities, and his arguments against the very plausible increasing of risk aren't great either (pogroms vs the expropriation of the Church? but how can that be comparable when by definition the net worth of the poor is near-zero?).

A handful of relatively recent attempts explicitly to found long-term trusts have met with with partial success (Benjamin Franklin) or comical failure (James Holdeen). Unfortunately, there have not been enough of these cases to draw any compelling conclusions.

I'd say there's more than enough when you don't handwave away millennia of examples.

Incidentally, I ran into another failure of long-term trusts recently: Wellington R. Burt's estate trustees managed to, over almost a century of investment in the USA during possibly the greatest sustained total economic growth in all of human history, with only minor disbursements and some minor legal defeats, no scandals or expropriation or anything, nevertheless realize a real total return of around 75% (turning the then-inflation-adjusted equivalent of ~$400m into ~$100m).

Suspiciously balanced evidence

If you look at prediction datasets like PredictionBook or GJP or other calibration datasets (or even prediction markets with their longshot biases), which cover a wide variety of questions (far wider than most policy or political debates, and typically with neutral valence such that most predictors are disinterested), it seems like people are generally uncalibrated in the direction of extremes, not 50%.

So that's evidence against people actually holding beliefs which are biased to be too close to 50%, and suggests something else is doing on, like topic filtering or attempting to appear rhetorically reasonable / nonfanatical. (The second definitely seems like a concern. I notice that people seem to really shy away from publicly espousing strong stands like when we were discussing the Amanda Knox case, or putting a 0/100% on PB even when that is super obviously correct just from base rates; there's clear status/signaling dynamics going on there.)

What are the risks of having your genome publicly available?

It's worth noting that the Personal Genome Project was created ~2008 in part to test this question empirically: participates upload their genomes to the PGP website where it is 100% public, and they are periodically surveyed and asked if they have experienced any harms from their genome being available. As far as I know, the several hundred/thousand participants have yet to report any substantial harms happening.

Subscripting Typographic Convention For Citations/Dates/Sources/Evidentials: A Proposal

One question I forgot: how should multi-author citations, currently denoted by 'et al' or 'et al.', be handled? That notation is pretty ridiculous: not only does it take up 6 letters and is natural language which should be a symbol, it's ambiguous & hard to machine-parse, and it's not even English*! Writing 'Foo et al2010' or 'Fooet al 2010' doesn't look very nice, and it makes the subscripting far less compact.

My current suggestion is to do the obvious thing: when you elide or omit something in English or technical writing, how do you express that? Why, with an ellipsis '…', of course. So one would just write 'Foo…2010' or possibly 'Foo…2010'.

Horizontal ellipsis aren't the only kind: there are several others in Unicode, including midline '⋯' and vertical '⋮' and even down right diagonal ellipsis '⋱', so one could imagine doing 'Foo⋯2010' or '' or 'Foo⋱2010'.

The vertical ellipsis is nice but unfortunately it's hard to see the first/top dot because it almost overlaps with the final letter. The midline ellipsis is very middling, and doesn't really have any virtue. But I particularly like the last one, down-right-diagonal ellipsis, because it works visually so well - it leads the eye down and to the right and is clear about it being an entire phrase, so to speak.

* Actually, it's not even Latin because it's an abbreviation for the actual Latin phrase, et alii (to save you one character and also avoid any question of conjugating the Latin - this shit is fractal, is what I'm saying), but as pseudo-Latin, that means that many will italicize it, as foreign words/phrases usually are - but now that is even more work, even more visual clutter, and introduces ambiguity with other uses of italics like titles. Truly a nasty bit of work.

Why Do You Keep Having This Problem?

before word got to him that the layout was broken on mobile devices

Emphasizing the point even more - word didn't get to me. I just thought to myself, 'the layout might not be good on mobile. I ought to check.' (It was not good.)

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