College Return-on-Investment (ROI)

Open Question: Is a college education worth the expense, including tuition, opportunity costs, debt obligation, etc.?

“Using data from the expanded College Scorecard, this report ranks 4,500 colleges and universities by return on investment. A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges finds that bachelor’s degrees from private colleges, on average, have higher ROI than degrees from public colleges 40 years after enrollment. Community colleges and many certificate programs have the highest returns in the short term, 10 years after enrollment, though returns from bachelor’s degrees eventually overtake those of most two-year credentials.”

A First Try at ROI

False Praise

Open Question: Why is false praise seen as so much less harmful than false criticism?

“Presumably the reason we now allow suits for false defamation is that we see a net social harm there; others are liable to be misled, causing misallocations of resources and relations. In addition, resources may be wasted in back-and-forth defamation battles. But it seems to me that we should also expect similar social harms to result from false positive comments, not just false negative comments. So maybe we should consider having law discourage those as well.”

-Robin Hanson, “Why Not Also Punish False Praise?OvercomingBias.com. October 31, 2019.

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

“What if we take this seriously? What gifts is it going to give us if we love something, and we love it with rigor, and we love it with commitment?”

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

Strikes me as an important question for many things in our lives that we trivialize because they aren’t “important” enough. What happens when we choose to love something, whether it deserves it or not, and how does it change it/them/us in the process?

The only caveat is to try to love wisely. It’s impossible to know where love will lead us, but if the chances are good a love will lead us down a bad path, perhaps it would be better to choose a different one.

Eat [and Drink] Less Plastic

Drink water from your tap. Drinking water is one of the biggest contributors to microplastic ingestion, but bottled water has about double the microplastic level of tap water, according to Mason, making it a poor choice for those who want to consume less plastic. Some bottled waters have also been found to have high levels of PFAS chemicals. Mason says that unless you know your tap water is unsafe, you should opt for that over anything in a plastic bottle.”

-Kevin Lorea, “How to Eat Less Plastic.” Consumer Reports. August 13, 2019.
  • Drink water from your tap.
  • Don’t heat food in plastic.
  • Avoid plastic food containers.
  • Eat more fresh food.
  • Minimize household dust.
  • Reducing plastic pollution is going to require government intervention.

Open question: Does microplastic pollution and its effects on hormones and reducing fertility an existentional threat to the human species?

More Confounders | Slate Star Codex

“So why did they get such different results from so many earlier studies? In their response to Kripke, they offer a clear answer:

They adjusted for three hundred confounders.

This is a totally unreasonable number of confounders to adjust for. I’ve never seen any other study do anything even close. Most other papers in this area have adjusted for ten or twenty confounders. Kripke’s study adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, BMI, alcohol use, smoking, and twelve diseases. Adjusting for nineteen things is impressive. It’s the sort of thing you do when you really want to cover your bases. Adjusting for 300 different confounders is totally above and beyond what anyone would normally consider.

Reading between the lines, one of the P&a co-authors was Robert Glynn, a Harvard professor of statistics who helped develop an algorithm that automatically identifies massive numbers of confounders to form a ‘propensity score’, then adjusts for it. The P&a study was one of the first applications of the algorithm on a controversial medical question. It looks like this study was partly intended to test it out. And it got the opposite result from almost every past study in this field.”

—Scott Alexander, “More Confounders.” Slate Star Codex. June 24, 2019.

Open question: Are sleep aids bad for you?

Open question: Are confounders one of the central problems of reproducibility in science?

Outer Limits — Real Life

“Today, one of the best predictors of one’s political orientation is the density of the neighborhood they live in; people who live in the suburbs are also more likely to get their news from broadcast and local television. Taken together, this means suburbanites see fewer strangers in their everyday lives, and fill that void with sensationalized accounts of ever-present, creeping danger.

This creates fertile ground for reactionary, conservative political movements. While most suburbanites still get a majority of their news from these older media sources, more of them are getting it from apps like Facebook and Nextdoor, where the ideas broadcast through outlets like Fox can fester person-to-person. In this way the suburbs get the social functions of the city street, but with suburban-style tools of control and segregation.”

—David A. Banks, “Outer Limits.” Real Life. June 20, 2019.

Something that occurs to me is that the prevalence of far-right conservative ideas among the 65 and older set in the United States might be a symptom of loneliness.

If you have few friends and little social connection, are unemployed, and are considered a marginal Other, you might start looking for belonging wherever you can find it. A Ku Klux Klan outfit might give a sense of relevance back to a person who has grown old and has no experience with being marginalized.

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us | WIRED

“Each of us has our precious things, and as we care for them we locate the essence of our humanity.”

—Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” Wired. April 2000.

Figured it was time to revisit this old classic and get a feel for how prescient it was almost 20 years on. Still feels right on, particularly around CRISPR. The problems of runaway nanotechnology still seems far off, but it’s visible on the horizon.

Open question: Can technology’s risk of causing human extinction be mitigated?

Why Is It So Important For You to Have a Baby? Quiz

“Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 70. Beside each number rate how important each statement is to you. Zero (0) means that the statement is not very important or is least descriptive of you. Five (5) means that the statement is very important or very descriptive of you. Use the numbers between 0 and 5 to show graduations between these extremes. If the statement doesn’t seem to apply to your situation, place an X beside it. There are no right or wrong answers. Have your spouse take the evaluation separately. Then compare the two answer sheets and discuss where you agree and differ.”

Why Is It So Important For You to Have a Baby?

American Concentration Camps

“No, Trump is not doing any of this because of illegal immigration—an issue that had been in decline for a decade before took office. His iceboxes and dog cages are part of an explicitly nationalist project. The goal is putting the country under the control of the right kind of white people. Trump has made it clear that he wants to stifle all non-white immigration, period. And the reasons aren’t hard to figure out. His administration just got caught using a literal question of immigration to suppress opposition votes and boost “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” The GOP simply can’t win national elections without doing that sort of thing anymore.

And as history shows, when a leader starts putting people in camps to stay in power, it doesn’t usually end with the first group they detain.”

—Jonathan M. Katz, “Concentrate on the Camps.” The Long Version. May 31, 2019.

Check out Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of FDR’s Japanese Concentration Camps, if you want a point of comparison.

Open Question: Is the prison industrial complex in the United States a system of concentration camps?

Knife Missiles

“Designated the Hellfire R9X, the missile has no explosive warhead—instead, its payload is more than 100 pounds of metal, including long blades that deploy from the body of the missile just before impact.

‘To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,’ according to the WSJ. Some officials referred to the weapon as ‘the flying Ginsu,’ because the blades can cut through concrete, sheet metal, and other materials surrounding a target.”

—Sean Gallagher, “Drones used missiles with knife warhead to take out single terrorist targets.” Ars Technica. May 9, 2019.

Coming soon to a law enforcement department near you. Thanks, Iain M. Banks (no. 6); I feel safer already!