• Josh

May 2021 (Links, NMR)

Updated: 5 days ago


I have a lot more links saved up, but this month has been busy and I didn’t have a chance to get them all in before the first of the month. Next month may be a bit heavy as a result!

COVID Updates:

  • It's a race against the clock: Vaccines vs Variants. Lots of talk about "vaccinations per person", or "number of fully vaccinated people". How about this though:

<1 means virus replication is slowing down

In this current vaccination era, the best way to visualize "how a country is doing on COVID" is this one, I think. US is still struggling to maintain R<1, whereas Canada and Germany have recently lost it (and have gone back into significant lockdowns). India's the one to watch out for: more cases than ever, but also a lack of testing, as reflected in their >15% positive test ratio (still rapidly rising).

Israel, on the other hand, remains the country to beat. They have recently lifted outdoor mask restrictions, they've fully reopened schools, even bars and nightclubs are open for business, and cases continue to plummet. While the rest of us are trying to get going on a first dose, Israel is prepping to start administering third doses. The UK, another vaccine success story, is in talks to open a "travel corridor" for vaccinated people between the UK and Israel. I didn't even put Japan on the list, because they've been disappointingly slow at administering vaccines. There are calls again to cancel the 2020 Olympics, set to start in about three months (July 23). We will see what happens; for now, I'm still working from home 90% of the time.

Real World:

  • The US may be going back to the moon, via SpaceX and Elon Musk. More of this, please!

  • Why do no females play in the NBA? Is it a rule, like the one that says men can’t play in the WNBA? No, apparently it’s perfectly allowed to recruit / draft females in the NBA: in the early days, attempts to draft women were voided by the league (this was at least in part direct sexual exclusion); more recently in 1977, Lusia “Lucy” Harris became the first woman to be drafted without it getting voided, but she didn't try out (she was pregnant at the time); in 1980, Ann Meyers became the first to actually try out for a team (she didn't make the final team). -- Broke: They're allowed to try out, women are just bad at basketball! -- Woke: They're "allowed" to try out, but the whole system is sexist against women, and they'd never let a woman in because it would prove that women are just as good as men. -- Bespoke: On average, men and women have different bodies. In every country with height statistics, men are 4-11% taller than women (in the US, this is 5-6 inches); men (on average) have more muscle mass than women; among other physiological differences. Basketball is a physical sport; height, muscle, and aggression matter! That said, should we conclude that no woman has ever been qualified to join the NBA? Of course not! The first woman to join the NBA faces the difficult road of facing a totally male-dominated league, being constantly singled out at "the only woman", asking for new locker rooms to be built (just for her!), etc. Further, a woman who plays at an NBA level will be an absolute superstar if they instead joins the WNBA; why wouldn't they go where their talents will really shine? In short, I expect that in a world in which 10% of the NBA is female, lots of women try out for the NBA; in a world in which 0% of the NBA is female (our world), I'm not surprised that almost none do. Representation matters.

  • From CNN: "Babies and toddlers who received one dose of antibiotics were more likely to have asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergies, celiac disease, problems with weight and obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder later in childhood, according to the study published Monday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings." Effects like this are extremely hard to detect in safety trials, which necessarily have a short(er) timescale. I continue to update in the direction of being extra careful of childhood medical interventions.


  • Spencer Greenberg scoops something I wanted to write about, three years ago; I'm confident he was clearer than I would have been, and pleased we had similar thoughts on the topic. Basically: think about what your pet theory predicts, something precise and unlikely to be true if your theory is false, and then go look that thing up. It's a kind of natural experiment. (I may still write my version anyway, we'll see.)

  • The best education is available for free online. Learn psychology starting today, by starting Steven Pinker's Intro Psychology course (here's the first lecture), or Paul Bloom's Intro Psychology course (here's the first lecture).

  • Does IQ matter? Are people with high IQ more likely to think IQ doesn't matter? Some good discussion in Jacob Falkovich's twitter thread and comments therein. The discussion turned me on to a nice site for free psychometric tests, and I took an IQ test for the first time since I was like 14., [add screenshot of result]

  • I like my book reviews of Charles Murray books like I like this blog: a few paragraphs about the actual Real World topic, followed by a 10,000 word treatise on the Meta Level implications. For some of the flavor:

If you care about someone's skills as potential employee, it is better to give them a work-sample test that assesses the specific skills that you're interested in, than it is to rely on a general IQ test, and it's far better to use an IQ test than to use mere stereotypes. If our means of measuring individuals aren't reliable or cheap enough, such that we still end up using prior information from immutable demographic categories, that's a problem of grave moral seriousness—but in light of the mathematical laws governing reasoning under uncertainty, it's a problem that realistically needs to be solved with better tests and better signals, not by pretending not to have a prior."
  • Eric Weinstein releases his long-promised paper on Geometric Unity, his attempt at a physical Theory of Everything. It's highly technical and I haven't read it, but you can see some explanatory videos of the basic concepts here (it's very nicely done). He tried so hard to launch it with a full explanation on Joe Rogan's podcast, but Joe shot him down because most people listen rather than watch the podcast, they got tangled up talking about "beauty", and the whole thing ended up being very frustrating and hard to watch (it's episode #1628, discussion starts around 67:20, or -2:10:00 at this link).

  • Rereading some of the best old Scott Alexander posts, which are in one place on LessWrong. At least read this one if you haven't already; it's not the most important but for sure it's the most fun.

Just For Fun:

New Month Resolution

Last month, I resolved to

  • [Body] ...go to the gym at least 10 times.

I only went 6 times. I think it may be better in the future to make resolutions around a weekly rate, rather than a cumulative monthly one (New Week Resolutions??). This, because I tend to blow it off at the beginning of the month, and then have a lot to do towards the end of the month and have to frantically do the thing every day, when a few times a week would actually be better. [0.5 points]

  • [Mind] ...consume one podcast per day, unless there is a very good specific reason to consume more; my other listening time will be spent on Audible.

I didn’t do this. I did cut down on my diversity of podcast listening, but I filled in the rest by re-listening to the first season of Hello From the Magic Tavern. I feel cleansed, but I lost out on a lot of interesting ideas. [0 points]

  • [Spirit] ...(a) not wear t-shirts during the day or when going out of the house, and (b) I will meditate 10 times this month.

I did not wear t-shirts (only sweaters or button-shirts), and it was kind of nice. I felt good. On the other hand, I only meditated 6 times. Same comment as before: a few times per week would be better. [1.5 points]

May 2021:

In May 2021, I resolve that:

  1. [Body] I will not drink alcohol, and I will go to the gym at least 2 times per week*;

  2. [Mind] [none]

  3. [Spirit] I will (a) stop stress-picking my nails, and (b) meditate at least 2 times per week.

Current tally: Body/Mind/Spirit = 4.0/2.0/3.0 points.

*Known obstruction: I am on vacation the first week of May with no gym access.

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