The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Sciences by Kieran Healy

The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Science is written for graduate students in the social sciences, but useful for any writer. For people not doing sophisticated data analysis, the key suggestions are to use a text editor like Emacs for writing, Markdown for formatting, git—such as on GitLabs—for version control, and a translator program like Pandoc to translate your text file into a variety of formats, such as epub, pdf, doc and so forth. Additionally, he strongly recommends automated backing up of your data with a cloud service. He mentions two standards but if you go that route consider a privacy focused service like SpiderOak, or the free software alternative, NextCloud.

Details

The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Science is worth reading for anyone involved with writing, research or data analysis. It introduces the problem of thinking about the tools that we use to do our work and serves as a technical primer for a particular style of writing.

Kieran Healy starts with a dichotomy, c.f. Section 1.2. There are two computer revolutions. One revolution is trying to abstract out the technology and present people with an easy, touch interface to accomplish specific tasks. Using your phone to take a picture, send a text message, post to social media, play YouTube videos, etc. are all examples of this type of technology. It’s probably the dominate form of computing now.

The other revolution are the complex computing tools that are being developed that cannot be used via a touch interface. At this point, there is no way to use an open source neural net like Google’s TensorFlow in a way that is going to make sense to the vast majority of people.

As we move to using a keyboard, this tension can be seen in the different types of tools we can use to write, research and do analysis. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, etc. were designed to be digital equivalents to their analog predecessors – the typewriter, the overhead projector, the double entry account book or the index file. Of course, the digital equivalents offered additional capabilities, but it was still tied to the model of the business office. The goal for these tools, even as they include PivotTables and other features, is to be relatively easy to learn and use for the average person in an business office.

The other computing revolution is bringing tools to the fore that are not tied to these old models of the business office and is combining them in interesting new ways. But, these tools have a difficult learning curve. For example, embedding programming code that can be written into a text analysis to generate calculations when it is typeset is not a feature the average person working in a typical office needs. But, it clearly has some advantages in some contexts, such as for data analysts.

Complexity makes mistakes easier to make. So, it requires a different way of working. We have to be careful to document the calculations we use, track versions from multiple sources, be able to fold changes back into a master document without introducing errors, and so forth. The Office model of handing a “master document” back and forth and the process bottlenecked waiting for individuals making revisions isn’t going to work past a certain minimum baseline level of complexity that we are slowly evolving past.

So, laying out this case, he then suggests various tools to consider: a text browser such as Emacs, Markup for formatting, git for version control, Pandoc for translating text documents into other formats, backup systems, a backup cloud service, etc. All of these tools are equally important to complex writing of any sort, whether it be for writing long works of fiction, research analysis, collaborative writing, and other circumstances we are more likely to find ourselves in, which these more powerful tools help make possible.

2018 Experiments, 1st Quarter Follow-up

New Year resolutions always seem like an exercise in futility. Everyone does them. But, it is difficult to get the social support to make any kind of New Year resolution work. Failure is expected. Starting out in the aftermath of a holiday like New Year’s Eve probably doesn’t help much either.

New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on one big change, and they are rarely conceived in such a way as to accommodate the inevitable failures of implementation that come with trying anything new. And when doing something, you always learn things that differ from our preconceptions when starting out. So, you have to build in some flexibility into your program, and a resolution tends toward absolutes.

All of this is true of the changes I tried to make at the start of 2018. I started in December 2017 trying to eat a ketogenic diet, start a HIIT Burpee and Running Program, and consistently do some form of meditation.

On the ketogenic diet, it is possible to lose a significant amount of weight. Within a few weeks of starting it, I lost just over ten pounds, probably the bulk of it due to water weight.

However, I found it difficult to stick to because eating is such a social activity. Invariably, there was a birthday party, a holiday, or some other social occasion where people encouraged me to come off diet. If I ate one thing, the next comment was, “Well, since you already ate cake, why not have some cookies too?” The holiday season was particularly challenging.

In retrospect, my suggestion is to not tell anyone that you are on a diet, whether it is ketogenic or some other type. As soon as people hear that you are on a diet, I believe social forces kick in, and people will try, likely not even consciously, to bring you back to your default routine. Few people will support your effort, particularly if your diet impacts them in any way.

If you are lucky enough to have a spouse or significant other joining you, it will be much easier to keep on diet. If you are on your own, you’re on your own. Keep a low profile and use excuses like you aren’t feeling well, aren’t hungry, and so forth to skip eating when out. Socializing is a killer of diets. If you like socializing, eat before you go and try to find activities where you are active and not eating.

I haven’t been following a ketogenic diet closely for several weeks. I started again in April, but I plan to keep it low profile. Thankfully, the few people that might read this post don’t care what I eat.

The HIIT Burpee program has been the biggest success thus far. Doing the program is probably another factor in why I am not taking off any weight, quite the opposite actually.

I started with the idea of 12 sets of timed burpees. But, in retrospect, the key issue is not time but the number of burpees per set.

The program probably should just be setting an interval timer with budgeting about 3-5 seconds per burpee in the set and then take a minute rest in between sets. With 12 sets, the whole thing can be done in less than 20 minutes. But, it should be noted that it hurts, and it probably shouldn’t be done more than twice a week.

Start from 1 per set and work your way up. If 12 sets is too much, do 2 rounds of 6 sets or 3 rounds of 4 sets, with 3 to 5 minutes of rest to catch your breath per round. If you do these exercises on concrete, it helps to wear a set of leather work gloves if you don’t want bloody finger tips.

In the beginning of the HIIT program, I also laid off doing any running because the program is punishing. Until you adapt to the program, don’t try to do anything else. I went from 3 per set and a total of 36 burpees to 6 per set with a total of 72 burpees, for the last five weeks. There has been significant increases in tone and muscle, even over this short period. I have missed 3 out of 28 sessions. I think it makes sense to plan for a week off every quarter, which wasn’t in my original plan. I am going to start trying to work in some running sessions this quarter.

As for meditation, I did manage to do around 50 consecutive days of meditation. Overall, I think it is a good practice. However, I had problems with my android phone I was using to time the individual sessions, and thereafter, I haven’t been regularly doing it.

The problem with my phone ended up being an opportunity. I learned how to get an inexpensive phone set-up with LineageOS. Then, I used the same idea and changed my primary computing platform, buying an old ASUS 201 laptop with bad wi-fi and adding a usb wi-fi adapter and installing Libreboot and Parabola Linux, all for $83.

Parabola is an Arch distribution, which took some getting used to changing from Debian. But, it was not too bad a transition. I find I spend more time on the command line and associated tools in it, e.g., this post was written in Emacs and posted to cafebedouin.org using org2blog. Hopefully, the org2blog set-up will help me to write more original content for cafebedouin.org.

Also I also am trying to stick to a reading list. I have been putting any new books I hear about on a preliminary list for next year rather than trying to read them. I haven’t really been reading much over this quarter. I have been sidetracked on a series of other projects. But, today, I am recommitting to reading and writing more, doing daily meditation, twice a week physical training, and eating better. I’ll follow-up in three months, and we’ll see how it goes.

Swimming Against the Stream of Convenience

A year ago, I deleted my Facebook account. It was a bit of a watershed moment for my digital life because it was the start of a process, where I took a hard look at my use of the “free” services offered by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple and tried to assess whether other alternatives, particularly paid ones, were better based on factoring in other considerations than cost.

Facebook was the obvious starting point. On the plus side, it helped me to keep in touch with my extended family, a few groups I liked to participate in use the platform, and the calendar of events integration into Google calendar made it very easy to plan and take advantage of all the events my city has to offer.

On the negative side, those benefits came with a cost to my well-being and to society at large. During the U.S. election, it gave me a window into the thought-processes of people in my extended social circle, and I found I started liking them a lot less. It was obvious to me that people were being manipulated, less obvious to me is that I was one of those people. Reading “The Data That Turned The World Upside Down,” I had a realization that Facebook was manipulating everyone’s thoughts and interactions that used it, and by continuing to use it, I was essentially saying it was alright. It wasn’t.

But, once your mind goes down that route, then you can’t stop. You have to look at everything. Google has more than double the advertising revenue of Facebook. Yet, I used Google for almost everything, such as email, photo storage, contacts, etc. And, the influence they have, such as the companies that surface when using search, maps, or their other products is profound, but the algorithm is even more opaque than Facebook’s. You really have no idea what kind of influence Google is having over your choices, and it is impossible to have any transparency about what is going on behind the scenes and the intent behind it. Again, using Google means you agree the convenience is worth being manipulated. For me, it wasn’t worth it.

I changed my search engine to DuckDuckGo. I switched off of Gmail to one email provider then another. I switched off Google Drive to NextCloud, a free software cloud storage solution. With Nextcloud, I was able to migrate documents, pictures, contacts and notes off of Google’s servers. Some services, such as managing RSS feeds, were also part of NextCloud, which Google chose to no longer support when they retired Google Reader.

And once you go this far, it’s a short step to look at things like Wallabag to replace Feedly. Or eliminating other social media applications that are affiliated with feudal Internet companies, such as Instagram, Whatsapp, Hangouts, etc.

Once there, I was able to take bigger steps, such as installing LineageOS onto my android phone and Linux on the desktop to replace Microsoft Windows. Or using free alternatives to apps, such as those in F-Droid over those in Google Play or LibreOffice instead of the Microsoft Office suite. These moves were organic extensions of the thought processes quitting Facebook began.

Still, some things have no ready replacements. If you don’t use Google Maps, what are the alternatives? Those that exist are objectively nowhere near as good.

Choosing to not use Amazon is possible, but it comes with significant inconvenience, trade-offs and costs. Is it better to go to Wal-Mart rather than order from Amazon? What about paying 20% more by shopping elsewhere? Consider that over half of U.S. households have a subscription to Amazon Prime. Shipping costs alone make shopping for some products online prohibitive.

For Amazon, I’ve stopped buying ebooks from them. There is a lot of reading material to choose from in this world. I try to stick to DRM free books, but failing that, I try to use services that are not Amazon and available via the library, such as OverDrive. While OverDrive is not as good from a reading experience perspective, it does have the advantage of not being part of the feudal Internet.

The only Apple product I have ever used is iTunes and iPod related devices. I find other programs integrating my music collection to be easier to use. So, my exposure to Apple is negligible.

Being against the feudal Internet is swimming against the stream of convenience. It means more cost, more aggravation, and more of your time troubleshooting problems that would “just work” if you let Google, Apple or Microsoft manage everything for you.

Looking back after a year, choosing the path less travelled by has indeed made all the difference. Not everyone can do it — due to financial, time, or other constraints — but it is worth doing, if you can.

The Fallacy of Calories In / Calories Out as a Mental Model for Weight Control

One of the common comments people make about weight control is: “It’s just calories in / calories out.” It’s true, but it’s also wrong in important ways.

For example, one of the things that we know happens once people reach their thirties is that they start to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. In medical terms, this process is called “sarcopenia with aging”, and it accelerates further when most people reach their seventies.

So, “sarcopenia with aging” is slowly reducing “calories out” for most people older than 30, and this subtly shifts the equation of “calories in / calories out” over time. It’s a force that requires that we either:

  1. Consciously change our eating habits to reduce calorie intake as we age
  2. Work to reduce sarcopenia through a program of strength training

But, doesn’t the human body’s homeostatic mechanisms guide us to reduce intake as we burn fewer calories? Yes, it does. Except we live in a cultural environment that makes every effort to disconnect eating from feelings of hunger. Make sure to eat three square meals a day is an idea that puts food consumption on a predictable schedule. From there, the concept has evolved further, where food has become primarily a recreation for many people.

Consider the ever expanding “holiday” and spectacle seasons. Is it a coincidence that the Super Bowl (or pick your holiday/spectacle of choice) party is an excuse to eat and drink in ways that make weight control difficult, if not impossible?

The same dynamic is in play with ever increasing portion sizes and richer, more calorie dense food.  Movie theaters sell large tubs of popcorn, soda and candy to justify increased prices, which offset decreased ticket sales. Whether you are talking about eating out in restaurants or convenience food, there are billions of dollars being spent delivering just one message: “Eat more.”

Why? Imagine if everyone in the United States cut their calorie intake by 100 calories a day, how many billions of dollars of revenue would that cost food companies in a year? Conversely, the opposite is also true. More calories equals more revenue.

In the context of this dynamic, the “calories in / calories out” argument is problematic. On one level, it suggests that weight is an individual problem. It is as if the billions spent on food marketing, the dearth of sound nutritional advice available to most people, the socio-economic constraints of food availability, etc. are all irrelevant. On another level, the idea of an “equation” implies that “calories out” is a viable approach to a weight problem, and it is why exercise is so often offered as a solution.

But, the treadmill, the elliptical machine, the stationary bike, the aerobics class or other cardio exercise is not how you address the problem of “sarcopenia with aging”. And cardio exercise, by itself, is not enough. There is a saying, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.” Unless you are someone like an elite endurance athlete logging +100 miles of running a week, the only way to bring weight under control is to eat less, not more. Exercise can be an important catalyst for changes, making them happen faster. But, exercise can also undermine weight control as it drives increased appetite and can make it more difficult to eat less.

We need to eat less in an environment where we are always incentivized to eat more. Saying “it’s just calories in / calories out,” is like saying, “Just eat less.” It’s correct, but it’s missing taking into account many of the factors that make that so hard.

 

Omelets, Perfection & Life

Several years ago, I stumbled across an article in Gourmet magazine called “Chasing Perfection” by Francis Lam. This is how it starts:

“Before Chef Skibitcky got ahold of my brain, I, like every other rational person, thought an omelet was something anyone can make. You throw eggs in a pan, stir them around, fold them in half, and put them on a plate. Done. No-brainer. It only gets interesting when you start tossing in other things—ham, some cheese, maybe a sautéed mushroom or two.”

Reading on, this article about the “perfect omelete” made with just a few simple ingredients: three eggs, salt, pepper and a little butter “got ahold of my brain”. I had to try my hand at it. How hard can it be? It’s turned into a minor obsession.

I have gone through periods over the last several years since, trying to make this “perfect omelete”. I’ve come close, maybe one or two times. It turns out it is pretty hard and the key is having good technique.

Since then, I’ve had friends ask me for a omelete making recipe, “for the lay person,” the unobsessed. I now recommend this article that explains some of the finer details. Initially, I was skeptical about adding Boursin, “the French Velveeta.” But, it does a nice job of adding a little fudge factor that helps you get that soft internal texture that you hope to get with the classic french omelet.

The things I might suggest that would improve this recipe for people that don’t make 30 omelets during a breakfast/lunch shift is to use lower heat (somewhere between low and medium, but closer to low – with a final 5-10 second burst of high heat at the end), breaking up the curds as they form with a fork if you can’t get them with the spatula, and adding a little butter around the edges helps to roll it up at the end. Even if you aren’t much of a cook, it’s worth giving it a try.

If you were like me before reading this article, you’ve probably never had a really well-prepared omelet. You will be amazed at the difference. Omelette making may, in the end, be trivial. But, I like how the “Chasing Perfection” article ends. Lam writes:

Three eggs, salt, pepper, and a little butter. That’s all there is in a classic French omelet, but it’s enough to keep reteaching me this vital lesson: Things are only simple when you’ve stopped asking the right questions of them, when you’ve stopped finding new ways to see them. Because what you find, when you learn how to find it, is that even simple things can be wonderfully, frustratingly, world-openingly complex.

Omelette making invites us to ask: What else in my life, besides omelets, have I stopped asking the right questions about? Where have I settled for the simple answer rather than “the frustratingly, world-openingly complex” one? The advantage of omelete making is that even when you make mistakes – it doesn’t roll off right, the skin of the omelete is too thick, or you didn’t stir enough and have to settle for a scramble – the end result is always a really tasty egg dish that’s still better than 90% of what you’ve have eaten in your life.

Revolution For One

“You see the beauty of my proposal is / It needn’t wait on general revolution / I bid you to the one-man revolution— / The only revolution that is coming.”

—Frost, Robert. “Build Soil.”

Change is a constant. Paradoxically, remaining the same, over time, requires change. Our bodies, like the Ship of Theseus, change and mutate, cells replacing cells. Continuity evolves, and stasis is relative.

Pick some idyllic life moment. Imagine remaining in that moment indefinitely. Would not our perception of our emotions revert to the mean? Does not the perception of joy require occasional experience of its opposite?

Further, would you not be different by dint of not evolving along with everything else in your life, by remaining static when most everything else is changing? Doesn’t holding on to a moment constitute a change? Doesn’t the change of relation to the world imply that we were not as we once were — even if as an individual, we have not changed?

And, it is these relationships with family, friends, and neighbors that provide the deep, textured sense of ourselves, of our personal identity. These relationships serve as the basic building blocks of
social networks that form our world — extended family, work colleagues, churches, local organizations, and neighborhoods. These, in turn, lead to larger groups: tribes, cities, ethnicities,
nationalities, religions, etc. Like individuals, these social groups form, grow, change, diminish and die over time.

Evolution within a group slows or speeds up in proportion with the turnover rates of the group. Communities often get an influx of new members that change the social dynamics in significant ways. Original or older members often change in response to their lived experience. Others leave the community. A strong community culture can live beyond the lives of its progenitors, durable yet malleable, with a general tendency to change at slower average rates than individual constituent members.

As we move up in size, the informal networks between individuals form into larger groups and develop governance models, it is clear that the difficulty of unmaking these arrangements is proportional to the number of individuals, the size of the institutions involved, and the complexity of the informal social networks that underpin their formal structure. Except in a rare unravelling, by-laws and Constitutions are neither made nor unmade overnight.

On the level of nations, political revolutions typically require decades to create the right conditions for possible success and even during their acute phases, they can take decades to resolve. Sweeping social movements that effect society at large, such as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the propagation of a new major religion, the current Digital Revolution, and so forth happen over time spans measured in centuries.

There is nothing controversial in these ideas. But, if we accept them as true, then there are interesting implications regarding the kinds of change that are futile and those that are fertile for individuals to pursue.

Ideas about general revolution, revolutions lead by charismatic leaders, preferred social policy instituted by government by political parties, and issue advocacy are, largely, futile. Let’s look at each in turn.

General revolution is often discussed in terms that suggest that there might be a leader or vanguard group that sparks a general revolution or general strike that will bring down the current socio-political environment and lead to some utopian social order. While it may be true that the conditions of a general revolution may manifest in some form — such as the majority of humanity displaced by automation in a global economy or that some group will take over from the current elites in some place and institute a new social order — the historical conditions cannot be manufactured. Success of these efforts comes from opportunities of circumstance and are limited to a locality or region. The integration necessary for some kind of global movement is still centuries off.

The central problem is that it is impossible to know in advance whether the conditions are ripe and what the consequences of any particular action might be. A classic example is the assassins of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. They could not have guessed that the repercussions of their actions would be World War I and setting the stage for much of what happened in the Twentieth Century. While they may have achieved their objective of creating a Yugoslavia, they did not live to see it nor did Yugoslavia last.

But what about someone “important”? It is possible to create “revolution”, top-down, through various forms of authoritarian control. However, there seems to be a limit on the amount of control formalized systems can exert over society or even small social networks. A CEO can declare their business a “paperless office” and remove all the printers, but this is rarely enough to make that goal a reality. Employees just outsource that function to the local copy shop.

Same is true of many other rules imposed from above. You could look at the effectiveness of efforts of social control in the United States, such as the War on Drugs, War on Crime, War on Terror, and so forth to see that there are always limitations of enforcement in top down control in the service of a political agenda. It also appears that top down control always inspires significant resistance.

Further, efforts of top down control are elite projects primarily concerned about maintaining the status quo, creating enough change to maintain their power. If anything, they are counter-revolutionary. Almost always, the goal of top-down projects is to consolidate an individual’s power or the power of a political elite. It benefits only a small subset of society.

What of the everyday individual? Most people understand that their ability to change society is limited. This likely accounts for much of the disengagement that the citizenry has with democratic institutions at all levels of government around the world, with many developed
countries having participation levels of sixty percent or less in federal elections.

Another strategy is to focus on issues that are relevant to a particular community and are amenable to reform: immigration, justice, education, the environment, healthcare, etc. Most of these are within the Overton Window, because they facilitate the perpetuation of a slightly more enlightened status quo when successful. If you look at the pattern behind any kind of major reforms in these areas, change happens on the scale of decades, in the rare times that they happen at all.

“A man’s illusions about himself and others are not basically different from the illusions which groups, classes, and parties have about themselves. Indeed, they come from the same source: the dominate ideas, which are the ideas of the dominant class, even if they take an antagonistic form.”

–Raoul Vaneigem, “The Revolution of Everyday Life.”

So, what is to be done? What is a fertile form of revolution for individuals to engage in that live in some historical moment that is not conducive to their preferred alternative order? The individual has very limited influence beyond their own thinking and experience and those in their immediate social sphere. So, the first task is to focus on where you have the greatest influence, over your own mind and those close to you socially.

There’s nothing wrong with participating in electoral politics, engaging in public assemblies, listening and giving speeches, signing petitions, leafleting, picketing, attending vigils, boycotting, acts of civil disobedience, strikes, and so forth. These are valid ways of pushing back against the established order, or if you’d rather, engaging in political activity. But, if that is your main mode of action or involvement with the world, then you are taking the illusion as reality.

Fertile forms of revolution are redefining our identity and interacting with a group of fellow travellers in terms that do not use dominate narratives as the reference point. Practically, this often means a refusal to participate in the larger popular culture and an attempt to create an alternative culture based on different values. 

One extreme example of this behavior can be seen in religious groups like the Amish. But, the question is also one of degree. Professional organizations, intentional communities, ethnic minorities, and others create a degree of separateness in order to maintain their distinct character. Yet, at the same time and on some level, they are integrated into the wider society in which they are part. Even the Amish do not live in a hermetically sealed bubble.

Speaking of the Amish, it might be good to end on an apocryphal story:

There once was a bus load of tourists that were visiting Amish country. Upon reaching their destination, the tourists got out of their bus, and they saw an Amish man waiting beside the road. They ask him: what does it mean to be Amish? He started talking about Jesus. They stoppud him, saying, “We know all about that. How is being Amish different?” The Amish man thought for a moment and then asked them, “How many of you own television sets?” Everyone raised their hands. Then he said, “How many of you believe that television has a detrimental impact on your life?” Again, most everyone raised their hands. Finally, he asked: “How many of you are willing to give up television?” No hands went up. Then he said, “That’s what it means to be Amish.”

While we all cannot be Amish, we can all be as critical of our culture as the Amish are of technology. The revolution of single individuals and of small communities to reject mass culture, even in the form of mass political movements, and focus on renouncing those elements that we feel are detrimental and building smaller communities around alternative values is the only revolution that is always possible, and it is a better approach than trying to fix the problems of the larger society. Like television, the problems of society will not be solved by advocating for better programming.

Ask Your Doctor: Is Castration Right for You?

I came across a book on Amazon the other day, “Castration: The Advantages and the Disadvantages,” by Victor T. Cheney. I have to admit I initially found it hilarious. Between my social conditioning, the slightly humorous reviews, the fact that Amazon makes it very clear that the item is available for gift wrap, it made me laugh.

But, as I took a closer look, it seems to be offered in earnest; it is a topic of interest for the author because he had to undergo castration as part of a treatment for his prostate cancer. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the book makes a scientific claim, i.e., castration tends to prolong life.

Up to this point, the only scientific claim I’ve ever seen for prolonging life is calorie restriction. “Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast.” But, the trouble is this: “Whether prolonged CR increases life span (or improves biomarkers of aging) in humans is unknown. In experiments of nature, humans have been subjected to periods of nonvolitional partial starvation. However, the diets in almost all of these cases have been of poor quality. The absence of adequate information on the effects of good-quality, calorie-restricted diets in nonobese humans reflects the difficulties involved in conducting long-term studies in an environment so conducive to overfeeding.”[1]

There is a similar problem with castration. There is evidence that castrated dogs live longer:

“The initial dataset contained 80,958 records of dog death. When juvenile dogs and those with unknown sterilization status were removed there were 70,574 FC dogs, representing 185 breeds. The average number of diagnoses recorded per dog was 2.9 (range 1-32). Overall, 30,770 (43.6%) dogs were intact and 39,804 (56.4%) dogs were sterilized at the time of death. The mean age of death for intact dogs was 7.9 years versus 9.4 years for sterilized dogs.[2]”

One and a half years is a ~19% increase. If we assume a similar increase in humans over the current average life expectancy of ~75 years for U.S. men, this would be an additional 14 years of life.

There is evidence that supports this level of additional life expectancy:

“To examine the effects of castration on longevity, we analyzed the lifespan of historical Korean eunuchs. Korean eunuchs preserved their lineage by adopting castrated boys. We studied the genealogy records of Korean eunuchs and determined the lifespan of 81 eunuchs. The average lifespan of eunuchs was 70.0 ± 1.76 years, which was 14.4-19.1 years longer than the lifespan of non-castrated men of similar socio-economic status. Our study supports the idea that male sex hormones decrease the lifespan of men.”[3]

But, it’s not conclusive. One obvious problem with the Korean eunuch data is we would need to know whether castration provides a longevity benefit when average life expectancy has increased to current levels.

So, does castration lengthen the lifespan of human males? Is it a testable hypothesis? Presumably, it is possible to collect data on lifespans of people that have been castrated for one reason or another via a national health database and if the set was large enough, to statistically control for the effects of cancer, madness and other factors on lifespan. Still, it wouldn’t be conclusive.

Testing this hypothesis would require a sufficiently large study of male volunteers willing to undergo castration in order to further our knowledge of its impact on lifespan. But, this seems impossible. Who would do it? How would make sure that this was a freely elected decision? Could an experiment of this sort even make it through an Institutional Review Board, even in the unlikely scenario where you found an academic researcher willing to stake their career on a study such as this? Is even considering a study like this ethical?

In the end, it is extremely unlikely there will be a definitive study on castration, with an infinitesimally small chance of it happening in my lifetime. So, I’ll never know for certain whether castration would improve my chances of living longer. But, the evidence seems to suggest that it an option worth considering. If I were to go to my doctor and ask whether castration is right for me, what do you think the chances she’ll refer me to a good psychiatrist rather than a good surgeon?