Giant Animals, IQ Threshold Effects, Putin Gives Up on Nukes, and More
Links and Best of Twitter, 2/24/23
If you read Swedish, or just want to use Google Translate, I discussed the intellectual decline of the American right with the magazine Timbro Smedjan.
My conversations with Michael Tracey over the last month:
I usually check out after an hour, or two at the most, but Michael sometimes takes calls for an ungodly amount of time. If you’re interested mostly in our discussions they don’t take nearly as long as an entire recording. On February 10, we talked about the Seymour Hersh story alleging that the US blew up the Nord Stream pipeline.
Finally, in order to attract new participants to the forecasting tournament and give old participants something to aspire to, Salem Center and CSPI are offering $5,000 to the person who does best in the tournament between February 15 and when it closes at the end of July.
On to the links.
1. Freddie on censoring his comments for them being too homophobic and obsessed with gender issues. I have to do a bit of housecleaning myself, which makes me sympathetic here. Quality control is important, which is why just blindly saying you are pro-free speech in internet forums naturally leads to disaster. Sort of like why public parks and sidewalks have people defecating outside while private spaces don’t.
2. Life on earth used to be much bigger than it is now.
It never fails. Every time I give a talk or presentation on fossils, someone in the audience asks me, Why was life so much bigger in the past?
I can see what they’re envisioning: 70-ton dinosaurs that were longer than three school buses, 9-foot millipedes that looked like walking carpets, and mammoths that were, well, of mammoth proportions. All of these giants once roamed the planet, along with many other creatures that would make us feel puny standing in their shadows. Just last week, researchers announced that they had found fossil evidence in New Zealand of ancient 340-pound penguins.
I once saw the bones of a giant sloth at a museum and was mesmerized by the sight. The modern sloth is itself a weird freak of nature. Like what’s the advantage of being really slow and stupid looking? Years ago, I saw a documentary that showed how the modern sloth comes down from its tree to defecate. This puts it at risk of being preyed upon, but no one knows why it does it.
3. On countries in the Indo-Pacific turning against China.
4. Podcast with the head of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) from the Trump administration, that is, the part of the federal government that forces contractors to have affirmative action programs. It must be listened to in order to be believed, with him bragging about all the diversity they forced on the private sector and their embrace of “intersectionality.” Part of my work is to make sure that the next Republican administration appoints different sorts of people to such positions.
I brought this up to someone who worked in the White House under Trump, and he was appalled by the conversation. A lot of this stuff just flew under the radar, but it’s now being brought to light. Relatedly, Vivek tells the NYT that repealing EO 11246, which the OFCCP enforces, will be the first thing he does when he gets into office. I’m confident it has a good chance of happening the next time a Republican is elected, thanks mostly to me.
5. On Peter Obi, the presidential candidate who captured the heart of the Nigerian youth.
6. Someone brought to my attention this ACX book review contest entry from May on Consciousness and the Brain.
7. No numbers in this story, but it seems to claim “Sushi terrorism” in Japan — that is, a few videos of kids licking sushi on conveyor belts in restaurants — is keeping people in the country from dining out (Time, via Apple News). Relatedly, according to this, Japanese old people watch TV all day and become scared of crime. Asian neuroticism is an extremely underrated force in explaining global culture and politics.
8. Podcast with transcript on what we can learn from text analysis of emails sent out by members of Congress.
9. Ezra Klein on the decline of construction productivity.
10. Emil on whether there is a threshold effect, beyond which IQ stops predicting higher income, looking at data from Finland and Sweden. There appears to be some evidence for this in Sweden, and none in Finland. Putting aside any threshold effect, I’ve always been struck by how weak the relationship is between IQ and income. In Finland, with no threshold effect, you see that being at the 99th percentile of intelligence only gets you to about the 70th percentile of income, and there tends to be a lot of variation in these models.
One thing I’ve noticed is that many smart people I know go into debt to become doctors or lawyers, or spend years chasing scarce academic or journalist jobs, when they could’ve just gone to work at Walmart after graduating from high school, worked their way up to local manager, and been financially better off. It seems that above a certain IQ threshold, and even at lower levels, people tend to feel entitled to what seem like higher status jobs, even if they pay less. A person with a 110 IQ might aspire to run a local business that makes a lot of money, while one at 125 might see something like that as beneath him and dream of doing investigative reporting. Sometimes this is based in idealism, other times it’s just desire for status and wanting to feel better than others.
10. Hilarious story of how a pro sports diversity guru, white guy, rose to prominence by what looks like having set up a fake Jussie Smollett-style hate crime against himself as a college student.