Links & What I've Been Reading Q3 2020
High Replicability of Newly-Discovered Social-behavioral Findings is Achievable: a replication of 16 papers that followed "optimal practices" finds a high rate of replicability and virtually identical effect sizes as the original studies.
How do you decide what to replicate? This paper attempts to build a model that can be used to pick studies to maximize utility gained from replications.
Guzey on that deworming study, tracks which variables are reported across 5 different drafts of the paper starting in 2011. "But then you find that these variables didn’t move in the right direction. What do you do? Do you have to show these variables? Or can you drop them?"
I've been enjoying the NunoSempre forecasting newsletter, a monthly collection of links on forecasting.
The 16th paragraph in this piece on the long-term effects of coronavirus mentions that 2 out of 3 people with "long-lasting" COVID-19 symptoms never had COVID to begin with.
Gwern's giant GPT-3 page. The Zizek Navy Seal Copypasta is incredible, as are the poetic imitations.
Ethereum is a Dark Forest. "In the Ethereum mempool, these apex predators take the form of “arbitrage bots.” Arbitrage bots monitor pending transactions and attempt to exploit profitable opportunities created by them."
Tyler Cowen in conversation with Nicholas Bloom, lots of fascinating stuff on innovation and progress. "Just in economics — when I first started in economics, it was standard to do a four-year PhD. It’s now a six-year PhD, plus many of the PhD students have done a pre-doc, so they’ve done an extra two years. We’re taking three or four years longer just to get to the research frontier." Immediately made me think of Scott Alexander's Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.
The Progress Studies for Young Scholars youtube channel has a bunch of interesting interviews, including Cowen, Collison, McCloskey, and Mokyr.
From the promising new Works in Progress magazine, Progress studies: the hard question.
I've written a parser for your Kindle's My Clippings.txt file. It removes duplicates, splits them up by book, and outputs them in convenient formats. Works cross-platform.
A new ZeroHPLovecraft short story, Key Performance Indicators. Black Mirror-esque.
A great skit about Ecclesiastes from Israeli sketch show The Jews Are Coming. Turn on the subs.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. 16 years after Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, a new novel from Susanna Clarke! It's short and not particularly ambitious, but I enjoyed it a lot. A tight fantastical mystery that starts out similar to The Library of Babel but then goes off in a different direction.
The Poems of T. S. Eliot: the great ones are great, and there's a lot of mediocre stuff in between. Ultimately a bit too grey and resigned and pessimistic for my taste. I got the Faber & Faber hardcover edition and would not recommend it, it's unwieldy and the notes are mostly useless.
Antkind by Charlie Kaufman. A typically Kaufmanesque work about a neurotic film critic and his discovery of an astonishing piece of outsider art. Memory, consciousness, time, doubles, etc. Extremely good and laugh-out-loud funny for the first half, but the final 3-400 pages were a boring, incoherent psychedelic smudge.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. Very similar to another book I read recently, Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I prefer Durrell. Lowry doesn't have the stylistic ability to make the endless internal monologues interesting (as eg Gass does in The Tunnel), and I find the central allegory deeply misguided. Also, it's the kind of book that has a "central allegory".
Less than One by Joseph Brodsky. A collection of essays, mostly on Russian poetry. If I knew more about that subject I think I would have enjoyed the book more. The essays on his life in Soviet Russia are good.
Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science by Stuart Ritchie. Very good, esp. if you are not familiar with the replication crisis. Some quibbles about the timing and causes of the problems. Full review here.
The Idiot by "Dostoyevsky". Review forthcoming.
Borges and His Successors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts: a collection of fairly dull essays with little to no insight.
Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism by J.C.D. Clark: a dry but well-researched study on an extraordinarily narrow slice of cultural politics. Not really aimed at a general audience.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. A wild semi-autobiographical semi-post-apocalyptic semi-science fiction monster. It's a 900 page slog, it's puerile, the endless sex scenes (including with minors) are pointless at best, the characters are uninteresting, there's barely any plot, the 70s counterculture stuff is just comical, and stylistically it can't reach the works it's aping. So I can see why some people hate it. But I actually enjoyed it, it has a compelling strangeness to it that is difficult to put into words (or perhaps I was just taken in by all the unresolved plot points?). Its sheer size is a quality in itself, too. Was it worth the effort? Could I recommend it? Probably not.
Novum Organum by Francis Bacon. While he did not actually invent the scientific method, his discussion of empiricism, experiments, and induction was clearly a step in that direction. The first part deals with science and empiricism and induction from an abstract perspective and it feels almost contemporary, like it was written by a time traveling 19th century scientist or something like that. The quarrel between the ancients and the moderns is already in full swing here, Bacon dunks on the Greeks constantly and upbraids people for blindly listening to Aristotle. Question received dogma and popular opinions, he says. He points to inventions like gunpowder and the compass and printing and paper and says that surely these indicate that there's a ton of undiscovered ideas out there, we should go looking for them. He talks about cognitive biases and scientific progress:
we are laying the foundations not of a sect or of a dogma, but of human progress and empowerment.
Then you get to the second part and the middle ages hit you like a freight train, you suddenly realize this is no contemporary man at all and his conception of how the world works is completely alien. Ideas that to us seem bizarre and just intuitively nonsensical (about gravity, heat, light, biology, etc.) are only common sense to him. He repeats absurdities about worms and flies arising spontaneously out of putrefaction, that light objects are pulled to the heavens while heavy objects are pulled to the earth, and so on. Not just surface-level opinions, but fundamental things that you wouldn't even think someone else could possibly perceive differently.
You won't learn anything new from Bacon, but it's a fascinating historical document.
The Book of Marvels and Travels by John Mandeville. This medieval bestseller (published around 1360) combines elements of travelogue, ethnography, and fantasy. It's unclear how much of it people believed, but there was huge demand for information about far-off lands and marvelous stories. Mostly compiled from other works, it was incredibly popular for centuries. In the age of exploration (Columbus took it with him on his trip) people were shocked when some of the fantastical stories (eg about cannibals) actually turned out to be true. The tricks the author uses to generate verisimilitude are fascinating: he adds small personal touches about people he met, sometimes says that he doesn't know anything about a particular region because he hasn't been there, etc.