LinkFest 2016-10-07

James Lovelock: ‘Before the end of this century, robots will have taken over’

I was introduced to the Gaia Hypothesis by SimEarth on a Mac LC. That was a great game, and it is a neat idea. James Lovelock also introduced me to John Brockman's, through Brockman's book The Third Culture. I always find it fun to read things written by eminent scientists after they are too old to care what other people think, and this interview does not disappoint.

Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials


80% of data in Chinese clinical trials have been fabricated

No one in my line of work would be surprised.

Knowledge, Human Capital and Economic Development: Evidence from the British Industrial Revolution, 1750-1930

This goes on the pile of evidence for my cocktail party theory that technological progress [what most people call scientific progress] is harmed when science is more pure.

The camel doesn’t have two humps: Programming “aptitude test” canned for overzealous conclusion

I can't find the link now, but I am pretty sure I referenced this draft paper at some point on this blog. It has one of the funniest retractions I have seen:

Though it’s embarrassing, I feel it’s necessary to explain how and why I came to write “The camel has two humps” and its part-retraction in (Bornat et al., 2008). It’s in part a mental health story. In autumn 2005 I became clinically depressed. My physician put me on the then-standard treatment for depression, an SSRI. But she wasn’t aware that for some people an SSRI doesn’t gently treat depression, it puts them on the ceiling. I took the SSRI for three months, by which time I was grandiose, extremely self-righteous and very combative – myself turned up to one hundred and eleven. I did a number of very silly things whilst on the SSRI and some more in the immediate aftermath, amongst them writing “The camel has two humps”. I’m fairly sure that I believed, at the time, that there were people who couldn’t learn to program and that Dehnadi had proved it. Perhaps I wanted to believe it because it would explain why I’d so often failed to teach them. The paper doesn’t exactly make that claim, but it comes pretty close. It was an absurd claim because I didn’t have the extraordinary evidence needed to support it. I no longer believe it’s true.

I don't follow the Retraction Watch blog, but I am unlikely to since poor Larry Summers and James Watson are unfairly lumped together with a guy who exaggerated his conclusion.

The Forgotten Revolution

Via Logarithmic HIstory: Plutarch attributed to Hipparchus a discovery that would be forgotten for two millennia, Schröder numbers. The Ionian Greeks were truly something special.

The Pit of Despair

I was horrified today to learn of the work of Harry Harlow, Ph.D. Harlow actually stumbled into his most famous work because he was attempting to lower the cost of his laboratory by raising his own rhesus monkeys. He raised them Skinner style, fed and warm, but bereft of any contact with either their mothers or other juveniles. He discovered that his monkeys went crazy from this lack of social interaction. Instead of thinking to himself, gee, that was dumb, Harlow instead decided to do this on purpose to see what happens when you deprive an animal of something that it needs. Does that count as a sin against nature?

I came across this little tidbit in an article in the New Yorker about solitary confinement. The article is tough going, but I can recommend it if you are interested in matters of crime and punishment. The reason Harlow came up is that what he saw in his monkeys is oftentimes seen in prisoners who undergo extended periods of solitary confinement. The article is an extended reflection on whether solitary confinement is making things worse or better in American prisons. The article refers to a study done in 2003 on just that question but regrettably fails to cite it. Ah well. I'm sure the experimental design would just annoy me.

I am generally sympathetic to the conclusion of the article that solitary confinement is probably not worth it overall, given that those subjected to it are generally rendered less fit for society than they were previously, and the violence in the general prison population continues unabated.  By way of counter-example, British prisons are cited for a different approach (but again no data!)

Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focussed on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.

This too makes sense. Prison violence is not irrational. You do what you got to do to survive. To shank. It's a verb.

However, on the other hand, it is a bit unwise to hold up England as a paragon of criminal rehabilitiation. If anything, the English slums are worse than the prisons in some respects. For example, take the experience of Theodore Dalyrymple, who found that his patients were much healthier after a stint in prison than they were when left to their own devices. If anything, the English seem to have quelled violence in the prisons by unleashing it on the countryside. Perhaps part of the problem is that you can only punish (and thereby rehabilitate) a good man.

It would be helpful to see some real data on this. Perhaps I will troll through the work of Steve Sailer to see if something pertinent comes up. I do know that a large part of the problem is that American jurisprudence has constitutionalized criminal justice to such a degree that the only options left to the ordinary modes of government are longer sentences and harsher penalties. The better European policing referenced in the New Yorker article is actually a result of Europeans having fewer rights than Americans do.