Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sokal v.2017

I am crying simultaneously from laughter and sadness.

I can't even pick a favorite quote:
  • After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.
  • We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.
  • Five references to fake papers in journals that don’t exist is astonishing on its own, but it’s incredible given that the original paper we submitted had only sixteen references total (it has twenty now, after a reviewer asked for more examples).
  • Another cites the fictitious researcher “S. Q. Scameron,” whose invented name appears in the body of the paper several times.
  • For example, one reviewer graded our thesis statement “sound” and praised it thusly, “It capturs [sic] the issue of hypermasculinity through a multi-dimensional and nonlinear process”.
  • The other reviewer marked the thesis, along with the entire paper, “outstanding”
    in every applicable category.
  • [W]e suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.
My only objection is calling this "social science". Don't give real social science a bad name by associating it with crap that is entirely unhinged from the scientific method.

Monday, May 15, 2017


On Ethics and Economics, by Amartya Sen: I'd be curious how he would update these arguments after seeing the last 30 years of behavioral economics. Most of his argument is based on a far too narrow notion of what can constitute "utility".

The Brain, by David Eagleman: Entertaining book companion to the equally entertaining documentary miniseries. Lots of interesting phenomena but frustratingly lacking in deep/detailed explanations. Very pop-sci.

Why Nations Fail, by Daren Acemoglu: Very impressively thorough, but the ratio of facts to ideas is about a thousand times too high for my personal taste. Highly recommended to history nerds. In terms of ideas, my main complaint is that he dismisses culture too quickly. Culture and institutions are inextricably linked but not trivially and not constantly and that interaction should have been discussed. This is even more true in modern, politically-inclusive societies in which culture drives institutions more than anything else and more than the other way around.

Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha: Hoo boy. I'm gonna have to write a separate blog post about this one and Sex at Dusk.

Sex at Dusk, by Lynn Saxon*: A response to Sex at Dawn. In case I don't get around to writing that separate blog post, this is the most satisfying slam-dunk takedown of not only irresponsible but intentionally misleading pseudoscience that I've ever read. There is no shortage of pseudoscience masquerading as legitimate research out there, but most of the time the response from credible scientists is to laugh/sigh it off and get on with work, because responding would be both Sisyphean and Pyrrhic. Given the cult status Sex at Dawn has attained (I've lost count of the number of times I've heard it casually referenced as proof that humans are naturally polyamorous), thank goodness Lynn didn't leave it alone.

Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas: The first quarter of the book would have sufficed; after that the amateur navel-gazing got more tiring than it was worth. But it was nonetheless interesting.

Economics Rules, by Dani Rodrik: I'm not sure who this book was written for. Non-economists wouldn't be interested and economists don't need to hear it. To the extent it could be valuable to professionals, it would be much moreso as a concrete and detailed JEP paper (for example; or something similar). Anyway, as far as the content goes it was pretty much fine; while I don't agree with some of what he says within microeconomics, I can't argue about macro. But, I will say that if you don't want to think of economic models as special cases of some hypothetical grand unifying model, but you do want people to apply specific models more carefully and according to some objective principles, those objective principles sound like a key part of a unifying model to me.

Guys can be cat ladies too, by Michael Showalter: I'm waiting for the sequel, "How to turn your reluctant guy into a cat lady".


* For some reason I might infer was nefarious if I were the type to do that, I can't find this book by searching within amazon. What the heck....? But the amazon link is the first hit with google...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

norms and immigration

One more immigration post and I promise I'll get off this topic for awhile.

I forgot to explicitly say another thing about the cultural effects of immigration that I'm not particularly concerned about: that immigrants will bring foreign social norms with them that are inferior to existing American norms, and our society will succumb to the bad effects of those norms. This is probably closer to what most people are referring to when they object to immigration on cultural grounds*.

It's true that detrimental norms could come into play in the whole gamut of societal contexts: academic cheating, bribery, corruption, nepotism, vigilantism, trust, respect for the rule of law**, etc etc etc. So it's hard to confidently assert that that there is no risk in any area, or to confidently say at what point exactly we should start to worry, but I'm pretty sure we're not remotely close to a concerning margin yet.

The reason is that stable norms are equilibria in the repeated game of life. Of the five types of norms I've previously listed, category 4 (decision heuristics that aren't just chosen individually but are promoted as a society and thus take on some quality of a norm, such as not hitchhiking, eating breakfast, not drinking alone) and category 5 (arbitrary signals and traditions like wearing ties) are victimless when broken and thus already handled by various arguments here. Category 1 norms are coordination norms that are easily self-enforced, like driving on the right side of the street. I trust it's obvious why we don't need to be worried about immigrants undermining these norms. But Category 2 and 3 norms, which are group cooperation norms that facilitate the common good, are also self-enforcing, just not quite as easily as bare coordination norms (because some external enforcement is necessary). And so for the exact same reason, I'm not terribly worried about their survival.

These norms are self-enforcing through social sanctions and, sometimes, the law itself. An isolated individual may easily be able to casually shoplift but he couldn't promote a norm of acceptability of casual shoplifting because anyone more integrated in the culture would gasp in horror at the thought, tell him to quit, and/or distance themselves from him. A critical mass of likeminded immigrants would have to simultaneously push for this new norm, and that's incredibly unlikely. If you don't believe me, I dare you to try: a lot of what development economists do is try to promote new norms and it is not easy. Add on top of that the fact that immigrants are an outgroup that Americans are even more resistant to taking cues from, that immigrants' offspring will be raised in the American context, and that new immigrants themselves will be strongly motivated to adopt American norms in order to fit in and succeed in their new home, and cultural assimilation in terms of cooperative norms seems all but certain.

Hence my narrow focus previously on cultural effects in terms of people's preferences over the types of communities they live in, rather than these more fundamental aspects of culture that are much less fragile.


* Although, I suspect the true desire is more often to preserve your culturally familiar and homogeneous community, but claiming a morally higher ground position that your community's norms are superior and should be protected is a convenient way to argue. Motivated reasoning is powerful (and usually subconscious - I'm not accusing anyone of lying, but of subconsciously being more likely to come up with and believe arguments that favor their underlying motives).

** This one can, in my opinion, be taken too far: Australians are downright comically respectful of the letter of the law. My favorite example is when Matt and I, a couple South Africans, a couple Europeans, and some Australians were hanging out and our plan to find a quiet pub to keep chatting at was thwarted by holiday crowds, so Matt suggested we pick up some beers at a bottle-o and take them to the park. Non-australians, in unison: "Great!" Australians, in unison: "*gasp* but... but that's illegal!" This took me by surprise when I moved here since Australia is supposed to have a kind of rugged outback culture reminiscent of American frontier culture, with its independent live-and-let-live, keep-the-government-off-my-back mentality, but the big cities at least seem to have very little of that hanging on.