Self-Embedded Agent


Beliefs as emotional strategies

I enjoyed this write-up. 

Buuut... I have to ask: how do we know your emotional stories are ' correct' and not just-so-stories?

Sure I can imagine that the whole story with the mother and the child is factually correct, yet is it really the reason that the child is giving up prematurely?

Maybe just maybe the child simply doesn't like doing hard things, doesn't like math, or is genuinely untalented or maybe there is completely different crazy complex story about the relations with their relatives, some deep early childhood trauma.

From personal and other people's experiences I agree that hearing the 'right emotional story' can be satisfying and give a sense of relief. Sometimes it will even lead me/other people to make short-term change. But that's different from it making any long-term changes (like changing one's work ethic), and even that doesn't mean it is true [just a helpful delusion!].  

[Prediction] The Consequences of Radical Reform

Is it possible that political reform may have a causal influence on economic outcomes? Sure. 

Does this study prove and - more importantly- rigorously quantify this influence? No. 

The statistics are simply not powerful enough to yield such strong conclusions. 

The effect size is small, there is clear garden-of-forking-paths going on (only finding a real effect on urbanization), one has to mediate for a simple west-east axis. It is also highly suspicious that the effect only starts to take effect after 1850. etc etc etc

This could be pure noise. The study does not adequately reject the null hypothesis. 

[Prediction] The Consequences of Radical Reform

I am quoting notJosephConrad :

Would it really kill economists to stick some reference to effect size in the abstracts of these things? If this were a clinical trial, and the authors were like "hey, good news, napoleolimumab increases modernization, now FDA-approved for your unsightly problems with Prussian stagnation" they'd have the common decency to say "10 years of french reforms increases the primary endpoint of urbanization in 1900 by 9% from 41% to 50%" But instead i had to hunt through the text for it like a goddamn animal (page 23, if you care. They also have a point estimate of 36% GDP increase.

But now that they forced me to go through the paper, some not-terribly informed thoughts:

1. I have the usual concerns about econ research -- were any of these analyses pre-specified? How many different analyses were tried before they went with this one, etc.

2. If I am reading this correctly, by 1850 no changes are seen. So all the positive effect of the new institutions is from 1850-1900. Interesting.

3. Riffing on '2' -- maybe this can be spun as another example of "industrialization changes everything" or "conservatism is a better default in the absence of massive scientific/technological change." Blowing up institutions in 700 AD does you no good, because there's no innovation to take advantage of, you just get chaos. Blowing up institutions in 1800 AD helps, because it enables social shifts to take advantage of new modes of production.

4. And just for honesty: my prediction was "can't discern an obvious effect" (which in retrospect was idiotic given that if it were a null effect it never would have been published)

In other words, this is chasing noise, zero-value research. Daron Amoglu is the most-cited economist in the world. His speciality is development economics. One of the foundational axioms is that historical contigencies have large effects on economic development decades or centuries later. This is a highly problematic assumption, one I think is mostly wrong. However, it is a treasure trove for telling 'interesting stories'. 

All these questions are implictly highly politicized. There is a pretension that economists are doing value-free research. This is a good ideal but very difficult; in practice there is an enormous incentive to p-hack noise into providing fodder for socially-approved stories.

My take-away message:

  1. You cannot trust 99% of social science research &Almost all social science researchers are highly sophisticated frauds 

 2. All big claims about the social world are so highly correlated with an implicit background worldview that is highly politicized. 

3. Never trust anything in a social science paper that you have not personally checked. 

What's the evidence on falling testosteron and sperm counts in men?

Thank you Waveman.

For the record, it wasn't my intention to antagonize anybody with my tongue-in-cheek phrasing. Nostalgic macho cowboys have feelings too =)

From Waveman's article:

These findings indicate that the past 20 yr have seen substantial age-independent decreases in male serum T concentrations, decreases that do not appear to be the consequence of the contemporaneous trends in health and lifestyle considered here. It remains unclear to what these apparent population-level decreases in T are attributable.

What's the evidence on falling testosteron and sperm counts in men?

Coming back at this issue it seems possibly quite serious, it certainly seems underexamined.

I found this Vox article and the wikipedia page useful. It seems quite clear that there is quite a large drop in Western countries. That a similar drop isn't seen in non-Western countries is especially telling.

The Vox article also points towards research into in-utero exposure to certain chemicals permanently decreasing sperm count. This also seems quite scary.

For example, there’s compelling data that in utero phthalate exposure is linked to a decrease in something called “anogenital distance,” or AGD, in male babies. AGD is the space between the anus and the genitals, and a man’s is usually twice as long as a woman’s. In men, a shorter AGD has been associated with poorer semen quality, less testosterone, and a higher risk of infertility.

One of the scientists to first describe this phenomenon, Mount Sinai’s Shanna Swan, told Vox that these early chemical exposures have lifelong results. “The lowered androgen and alteration of development that happens in utero [results in] changes that are lifelong,” she said. “They are not correctable. Maybe in the future with genetic modification, you can alter a man’s germ cells that produce his sperm — but for now, if those are impacted adversely, a man will have a lowered sperm count his whole life.”

Separately, a March 2019 study found exposure to phthalates and polychlorinated biphenyl — again, two ingredients found in plastics — damaged the quality of sperm exposed to the chemicals.


This Forbes article is a typical piece about falling testosterone counts in men. Much is made of changing cultural mores, social expectations of men, etc. The biological component seems to get mentioned only in passing.

I found this article by urologists quite frightening. The effect size is eye-popping.

After controlling for confounders—including year of study, age, race, BMI, comorbidity status, alcohol and smoking use, and level of physical activity—total testosterone was lower among men in the later (2011-2016) versus earlier (1999-2000) cycles (P < 0.001). Mean total testosterone decreased from 1999-2000 (605.39 ng/dL), 2003-2004 (567.44 ng/dL), 2011-2012 (424.96 ng/dL), 2013-2014 (431.76 ng/dL), and 2015-2016 (451.22 ng/dL; all P < .0001).

Different kinds of language proficiency

Another thing to note that your Swedish & Finnish and English vocabularies might not have a proper inclusion relation. My technical & academic vocabulary is larger in English than in my native language, but for household appliances/vegetables/flowers it's the other way around. 

Never Go Full Kelly

I initially gave this post a double upvote after a skim-read. The topic is of clear interest, and these ideas are new to me. Unfortunately, after taking a closer look I found the details difficult to follow. I decided to look at the linked paper. It seems you are trying to summarize this paper, perhaps this could be stated clearly at the top of the post.

Timeline of AI safety

Ah! Excuse me for my drive-by comment, I should have clicked the link.

Timeline of AI safety

The effort is commendable. I am wondering why you started at 2013?

Debatably it is the things that happened prior to 2013 that is especially of interest.

I am thinking of early speculations by Turing, Von Neumann and Good continuing on to the founding of SI/MIRI some twenty years ago and much more in between I am less familiar with - but would like to know more about!

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