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March gwern.net link roundup

If we don't have media threads anymore, let's just post links in comments to your posts? with a separate thread for"DiscussinGwern" ))

Remembering school math fondly

"Mathematics practically applied to the useful and fine arts" by Baron Charles Dupin is a neat one, it shows some application.

(but the math teachers in our school were all sworn to the idea that we should do it because we just should:)

Is Rhetoric Worth Learning?

Also, remember *Captain Brassbound's Conversion*? Lady Cicely was my Rhetorics Ideal for a while...

Is Rhetoric Worth Learning?

I think rhetorics can be "friendly" and "adversarial", and the two things require different skills (and of course there is "art".)

**About friendly rhetorics:**

at the meetings of our team for bioconservation, being the "scribe" meant you have fewer chances to put in your own five cents, and kind of more desire for others' clarity of thought:) so in practice it meant mutual training:

  • asking people to clarify;
  • tracking who said what (we sent out write-ups afterwards and naturally people got upset if their position was misrepresented);
  • sometimes reminding everybody we need A Conclusion;
  • preparing tea (it is better for the voice than speaking "drily", it's *not* beer (which not everybody likes or can afford), it means you can stuck the kettle into someone's cold hands and so make them welcome without a hitch in the discussion, & the making of it can be used for a break from That One Topic which nobody agrees upon);
  • speaking shortly. I still remember the time when we couldn't decide how best to chart a pigsty (being built somewhere on protected land), and I said "there's a GPS", and there was blessed silence :)

**For adversarial rhetorics,** the one thing that helps most is letting 'em know you come prepared - it means they will waste resources on weighing their own arguments against your possible answers; so:

  • decide what you want to say beforehand and have all references either learnt or written down;
  • if possible, BYOS - bring [copies of] your original sources (law print-outs, etc), earmarked and highlighted;
  • if you can help it, don't enter arguments you expect to lose, if this means setting a dangerous precedent or a hit to your image;
  • do not get off topic, do not be less than polite (which is harder when you have limited time and need shortcuts - informality can hurt, and it will be easily used against you);
  • citing precise figures is good - there's a "but the numbers speak for themselves" feel about them, and if you are wrong about them, you will have maid "a noble mistake", unless, well, it was obviously not noble;
  • study the other side's sources closely;
  • if you work with journalists, demand reading the piece before publication and check, at least, all names in it (srsly).

I notice that I'm thinking about "friendly rhetorics" as having two sides, and "adversarial rhetorics" as having three - you, your opponent. and the observers; I am merely used to this setting, but it doesn't mean it can't be the other way round.

Global insect declines: Why aren't we all dead yet?

Not an expert; I think a better question would be not "why aren't we dying" but "what we can actually see if...". We're not dying on "this" scale due to very many reasons. Here's just some thoughts I had, all "weak hypotheses".

So, maybe:

1) we need better studies, and simply cannot say anything from "undifferentiated insect biomass" (seriously, what part of it was pollinators, what part - predators, etc?)

2) due to some weird thing, most of the effect is happening in the sea, not on land (how much organic matter is washed out now, and how it compares to 50 years before?)

3) it's not extinction we should be looking out for, but rapid evolution of other organisms that are going to occupy the freed niches (since the one rule of biology says "it will be consumed" :); an especially interesting problem here is evolution of communities, not of species. Think drier plains & Artemisia, Atriplex, etc -based herbaceous layer instead of the usual "full-blooded Poaceae-Fabaceae seesaw"? Dunno when desertification will catch up, but if Ambrosia is going to be typical of the new coenoses, pollinators are gonna sell out.

(that's just off the top of my head)

Science like a chef

cough quality of ingredients cough :)

Hufflepuff Cynicism

And sometimes, it's about money.


Me: "There was a patch of forest here."

Internal voice: "There are other places, some of them defendable."

Me: "They burned it down."

IV: "Yeah, but you don't get to see the success stories. You know there are success stories."

Me: "The ground's still hot."

IV: "And that's what will certainly happen to those other places if you don't survey them first."

Me: "It's about money."

IV: "...okay, let's go get a life."

Hammers and Nails

My favourite trick is "noticing when I am not actually upset/angry/tired with someone or something". I started doing it before I learned about LW - back then I called it "don't fall down before you're hit" in my head. For example, I come to visit a friend who has a young child, and have to sit outside for half an hour before she picks her phone - but the weather is fine, and I notice I'm not actually annoyed by having to wait.

Paper Trauma

Also, I feel like people should snowclone "X is not a special snowflake" more. "My textbook is not a special snowflake [and I may buy a better one]" (it really sticks if you have to offload a hundred such textbooks), "my pen is not a special snowflake [and I can write with it, dammit]", "my notes are not special snowflakes [and don't have to be perfect or legible]". Just imagine things being manufactured , as in there being hundreds of thousands of them.

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