From the bookmarks

I won’t talk much about these links or cover them in any detail – but I do encourage you to have a closer look if some of this stuff sounds interesting:

i. Are All Dictator Game Results Artifacts? – “How much would participants in a Dictator Game give to the other person if they did not know they were in a Dictator Game study?”

Given how long people have known about stuff like the Hawthorne effect, I almost can’t believe nobody ever got the idea of doing something like this at some point in the past. I however have no problem believing the results.

ii. Finnish war pics. Fascinating stuff.

iii. The kind of people who apparently receive elite research prizes in Denmark these years – exhibit B: Claudia Welz (Danish link). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a good English webpage describing her activities, in order to illustrate just how mad it is that a person like that receives that kind of money from the Danish taxpayers in order to do the kind of ‘research’ she does, and my life is definitely too short to translate the crap that’s put up at the Danish site.

Exhibit A is of course Milena Penkowa. Naturally more deserving people have received the prize as well this year – at least most of the recipients probably won’t feel any strong need to talk about imaginary entities in their publications.

Here’s a related link (in Danish). It’d be a lot cheaper to just give these people unemployment insurance. I’m sure not all of this research is equally useless, but even so my willingness to pay for this kind of stuff is, well, let’s put it diplomatically – not exactly super high. I don’t really understand why people can not just study that kind of stuff (and less useless stuff…) themselves, during their own time, when they’re not working.

iv. A few more Steven Farmer pharmacology lectures:

There’s a bit of annoying microphone-related noise in parts of the second video and parts of the third one, but aside from that they’re quite good and this should not stop you from watching the videos if you find the topics covered interesting.

v. Twelve Month Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Suicide Attempts in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys.

vi. Does Educational Status Impact Adult Mortality in Denmark? A Twin Approach.

vii. Aspirin, angioplasty, and proton beam therapy: The economics of smarter health care spending.

May 31, 2013 Posted by | economics, history, Lectures, medicine, papers, Pharmacology, Psychology, random stuff | 4 Comments

A few Cochrane reviews

Some reviews I had a look at after browsing the site:

i. Omega 3 fatty acids for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease (Review), by Hooper et al.

Main results Forty eight randomised controlled trials (36,913 participants) and 41 cohort analyses were included. Pooled trial results did not show a reduction in the risk of total mortality or combined cardiovascular events in those taking additional omega 3 fats (with significant statistical heterogeneity). Sensitivity analysis, retaining only studies at low risk of bias, reduced heterogeneity and again suggested no significant effect of omega 3 fats. […]

Authors’ conclusions It is not clear that dietary or supplemental omega 3 fats alter total mortality, combined cardiovascular events or cancers in people with, or at high risk of, cardiovascular disease or in the general population. There is no evidence we should advise people to stop taking rich sources of omega 3 fats, but further high quality trials are needed to confirm suggestions of a protective effect of omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health.”

(The review has 196 pages, so naturally there’s more stuff here if you’re interested…)

ii. Group behaviour therapy programmes for smoking cessation.

Main results

A total of 53 trials met inclusion criteria for one or more of the comparisons in the review. Thirteen trials compared a group programme with a self-help programme; there was an increase in cessation with the use of a group programme (N = 4375, relative risk (RR) 1.98, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.60 to 2.46). There was statistical heterogeneity between trials in the comparison of group programmes with no intervention controls so we did not estimate a pooled effect. We failed to detect evidence that group therapy was more effective than a similar intensity of individual counselling. There was limited evidence that the addition of group therapy to other forms of treatment, such as advice from a health professional or nicotine replacement, produced extra benefit. There was variation in the extent to which those offered group therapy accepted the treatment. Programmes which included components for increasing cognitive and behavioural skills were not shown to be more effective than same length or shorter programmes without these components.

Authors’ conclusions

Group therapy is better for helping people stop smoking than self help, and other less intensive interventions. There is not enough evidence to evaluate whether groups are more effective, or cost-effective, than intensive individual counselling. There is not enough evidence to support the use of particular psychological components in a programme beyond the support and skills training normally included.”

iii. There is no convincing evidence that Ginkgo biloba is efficacious for dementia and cognitive impairment.

“36 trials were included but most were small and of duration less than three months. Nine trials were of six months duration (2016 patients). These longer trials were the more recent trials and generally were of adequate size, and conducted to a reasonable standard. Most trials tested the same standardised preparation of Ginkgo biloba, EGb 761, at different doses, which are classified as high or low.

The results from the more recent trials showed inconsistent results for cognition, activities of daily living, mood, depression and carer burden. Of the four most recent trials to report results three found no difference between Ginkgo biloba and placebo, and one reported very large treatment effects in favour of Ginkgo biloba. There are no significant differences between Ginkgo biloba and placebo in the proportion of participants experiencing adverse events. […]

Authors’ conclusions

Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe in use with no excess side effects compared with placebo. Many of the early trials used unsatisfactory methods, were small, and publication bias cannot be excluded. The evidence that Ginkgo biloba has predictable and clinically significant benefit for people with dementia or cognitive impairment is inconsistent and unreliable.”

iv. Antiplatelet agents and anticoagulants for hypertension.

Main results

Four trials with a combined total of 44,012 patients met the inclusion criteria and are included in this review. Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) did not reduce stroke or ’all cardiovascular events’ compared to placebo in primary prevention patients with elevated blood pressure and no prior cardiovascular disease. In one large trial ASA taken for 5 years reduced myocardial infarction (ARR 0.5%, NNT 200), increased major haemorrhage (ARI 0.7%, NNT 154), and did not reduce all cause mortality or cardiovascular mortality. In one trial there was no significant difference between ASA and clopidogrel for the composite endpoint of stroke, myocardial infarction or vascular death.

In two small trials warfarin alone or in combination with ASA did not reduce stroke or coronary events.

The ATC meta-analysis of antiplatelet therapy for secondary prevention in patients with elevated blood pressure reported an absolute reduction in vascular events of 4.1% as compared to placebo. Data on the 10,600 patients with elevated blood pressure from the 29 individual trials included in the ATC meta-analysis was requested but could not be obtained.

Authors’ conclusions

Antiplatelet therapy with ASA for primary prevention in patients with elevated blood pressure provides a benefit, reduction in myocardial infarction, which is negated by a harm of similar magnitude, increase in major haemorrhage.

The benefit of antiplatelet therapy for secondary prevention in patients with elevated blood pressure is many times greater than the harm. […]

Further trials of antithrombotic therapy including with newer agents and complete documentation of all benefits and harms are required in patients with elevated blood pressure.”

May 30, 2013 Posted by | medicine, papers | Leave a comment

Khan Academy videos of interest

I should point out that a lot of good stuff has been added to the world history category since last I visited that part of the site – especially stuff about World War 1.

Some videos from the site:


Some related numbers from wikipedia (Khan also briefly covers this aspect in another video):

“The Serbian Army declined severely towards the end of the war, falling from about 420,000[2] at its peak to about 100,000 at the moment of liberation. The Kingdom of Serbia lost 1,100,000 inhabitants during the war (both army and civilian losses), which represented over 27% of its overall population and 60% of its male population.[5][6] According to the Yugoslav government in 1924: Serbia lost 265,164 soldiers, or 25% of all mobilized people. By comparison, France lost 16.8%, Germany 15.4%, Russia 11.5%, and Italy 10.3%.”

There are huge error bars around these numbers, but that World War 1 was ‘a bloody affair’ for Serbia probably doesn’t even begin to cover it…


I’ve put the rest below the fold.

Continue reading

May 30, 2013 Posted by | history, Khan Academy, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Cochrane reviews

I recently added the Cochrane site to my sidebar, but I figured a post was in order as well – people almost never click the links in the sidebar. I’ve blogged reviews from the Cochrane foundation a couple of times before, but I’ve only ever read studies via links from other channels; I’ve never really sat down and had a good long look at the stuff available at the site. I have had a closer look now, and I like what I see.

If you care about evidence-based medicine and health stuff more generally this site is a goldmine. Let’s say you want to know something about “organ transplantation” – one search later and the results of 602 reviews on the topic are now available to you.. “Cancer” gives you 695. “Type 2 diabetes” – 1759.

In my opinion more people should know about a site like this, and more people should use it to obtain greater knowledge about health matters. It would be very surprising if some of the reviews did not contain troublesome flaws and inaccuracies, but compared to the type of information and -information sources most people make use of when making health-related decisions in their everyday lives this stuff is pure gold.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | diabetes, medicine, studies | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

i. History of evolutionary thought (featured).


It’s hard to quote from this article but I decided to anyway; it’s an excellent overview article and you should really read it all even though it’s a rather long article. An interesting aspect here is how close to Darwin some people were back in the past, and how reasonably similar ideas have popped up again and again throughout history – to take some examples:

Epicurus (341–270 BC) anticipated the idea of natural selection. Lucretius explicated these ideas in his De rerum natura. In the Epicurean system, it was assumed that many species had been spontaneously generated from “Gaia” in the past, but that only the most functional forms survived to have off-spring. The Epicureans do not seem to have anticipated the full theory of evolution as we now know it and seem to have postulated a separate abiogenetic events for each species rather than postulating a single abiogenetic event coupled with the differentiation of species over time from a single (or small number of) originating parent organism(s).” […]

“the Afro-Arab writer al-Jahiz, wrote in the 9th century. In the Book of Animals, he considered the effects of the environment on an animal’s chances for survival, and described the struggle for existence.[25] Al-Jahiz also wrote descriptions of food chains.[26] Al-Jahiz speculated on the influence of the environment on animals and considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive. The Book of Animals states,

Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”


“In 1377 Ibn Khaldun wrote the Muqaddimah in which he asserted that humans developed from “the world of the monkeys”, in a process by which “species become more numerous”” […]

The article points out this aspect explicitly and notes that: “It is possible to look through the history of biology from the ancient Greeks onwards and discover anticipations of almost all of Charles Darwin‘s key ideas. […] but such anticipations should not be taken out of the full context of the writings or of cultural values of the time which could make Darwinian ideas of evolution unthinkable.[66]

A little more from the article; here’s a quote on the role of the church in the Middle Ages (and later):

“During the Early Middle Ages, Greek classical learning was all but lost to the West. However, contact with the Islamic world, where Greek manuscripts were preserved and expanded, soon led to a massive spate of Latin translations in the 12th century. Europeans were re-introduced to the works of Plato and Aristotle, as well as to Islamic thought. Christian thinkers of the scholastic school, in particular Abelard and Thomas Aquinas, combined Aristotelian classification with Plato’s ideas of the goodness of God, and of all potential life forms being present in a perfect creation, to organize all inanimate, animate, and spiritual beings into a huge interconnected system: the scala naturæ, or great chain of being.[6][32]

Within this system, everything that existed could be placed in order, from “lowest” to “highest”, with Hell at the bottom and God at the top—below God, an angelic hierarchy marked by the orbits of the planets, mankind in an intermediate position, and worms the lowest of the animals. As the universe was ultimately perfect, the great chain was also perfect. There were no empty links in the chain, and no link was represented by more than one species. Therefore no species could ever move from one position to another. Thus, in this Christianized version of Plato’s perfect universe, species could never change, but remained forever fixed, in accordance with the text of Genesis. For humans to forget their position was seen as sinful, whether they behaved like lower animals or aspired to a higher station than was given them by their Creator.[6]

Creatures on adjacent steps were expected to closely resemble each other, an idea expressed in the saying: natura non facit saltum (“nature does not make leaps”).[6] This basic concept of the great chain of being greatly influenced the thinking of Western civilization for centuries (and still has an influence today). It formed a part of the argument from design presented by natural theology. As a classification system, it became the major organizing principle and foundation of the emerging science of biology in the 17th and 18th centuries.[6]

As I pointed out above it’s hard to choose what to quote because there’s so much good stuff here; if you find this topic interesting you really should read it all. The article is probably easier to read if you’ve heard about people like Hutton, Mendel, Lamarck etc. before and have some familiarity with the concepts mentioned and the (diverse sets of) fields involved; but as the excerpts also illustrate there’s always a link (or several links) if a specific concept is unfamiliar, and I actually believe the article is very readable even if you don’t know a lot about this stuff – though I should note that I may be mistaken, given that I’ve read about most of the concepts and topics covered in the article before.

I should probably point out here that I believe this is really wikipedia at its finest – the featured rating is well-deserved. And note that this part of wikipedia in general contains some really great stuff; the article on evolution, the article about Darwin, and the article about genetics, to take but three other relevant articles about related topics, are also all of them featured. There’s a lot of stuff here. Another place to look is in the archives of Razib Khan’s blog; he’s written some good stuff on related topics.

ii. Triceratops (featured). I doubt there’s a reader of this blog who has not heard the name of these animals or could not tell me roughly how they looked like, but how much do you actually know about those guys? After reading this article you’ll know more..

iii. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (‘good article’). A lot of interesting lives have been lived by people in the past, and many of the stories of these people never get told. This guy lived a remarkable life:

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (French pronunciation: ​[maʁki də la fajɛt]; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France. Lafayette was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a leader of the Garde nationale during the French Revolution. […]

Lafayette was the most important link between the American and the French Revolutions. As an ardent supporter of the United States’ constitutional principles he called on all nations to follow the American example. […] Under Lafayette’s influence Louis XVI issued the edict of toleration in 1787 (Edict of Versailles), which particularly benefitted the Huguenots.[2] Back in France in 1788, Lafayette was called to the Assembly of Notables to respond to the fiscal crisis. Lafayette proposed a meeting of the French Estates-General, where representatives from the three traditional orders of French society—the clergy, the nobility and the commoners—met. He served as vice president of the resulting body. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was largely based on his draft.[3] Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale in response to violence. During the French Revolution, Lafayette attempted to maintain order—to the point of ordering the Garde nationale to fire on demonstrators at the Champ de Mars in July 1791—an action for which he ultimately was persecuted by the Jacobins. In August 1792, as the radical factions in the Revolution grew in power, Lafayette tried to flee to the United States through the Dutch Republic. He was captured by Austrians and spent more than five years in prison.

Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release from prison in 1797. He refused to participate in Napoleon’s government, but was elected to the Chamber of Deputies under the Charter of 1815, during the Hundred Days. With the Bourbon Restoration, Lafayette became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815, a position he held until his death. […]

In France, Lafayette worked with Thomas Jefferson to establish trade agreements between the United States and France. These negotiations aimed to reduce U.S. debt to France, and included commitments on tobacco and whale oil.[57] He joined the French abolitionist group Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for free blacks. In 1783, in correspondence with Washington, he urged the emancipation of slaves; and to establish them as tenant farmers.[58] […]

King Louis XVI convoked the Assembly of Notables on 29 December 1786, in response to France’s fiscal crisis. The King appointed Lafayette to the body, in the comte d’Artois’ division, which met on 22 February 1787. In an address first read to the assembly, then signed and endorsed by Lafayette, it was proposed to lower unnecessary spending, which included, among other things, purchase of useless estates and gifts to courtiers.[77] He called for a “truly national assembly”, which represented the three classes of French society: clergy, nobility, and commons.[78] On 8 August 1788, the King agreed to hold an Estates General the next year. Lafayette was elected to represent the nobility (Second Estate) from Riom in the Estates General.[79]

The Estates General convened on 5 May 1789; debate began on whether the delegates should vote by head or by Estate. If voting was by Estate then the nobility and clergy would be able to overturn the commons; if by head, then the larger Third Estate could dominate. Before the meeting, he agitated for the voting by head, rather than estate […]

Lafayette was unwilling to cooperate with Napoleon’s government. In 1804, Napoleon was crowned Emperor after a plebiscite in which Lafayette did not participate. He remained relatively quiet, although he spoke publicly on Bastille Day events.[134] After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson asked if he would be interested in the governorship. Lafayette declined, citing personal problems and the desire to work for liberty in France.[135] […] As the restored monarchy of Charles X became more conservative, Lafayette re-emerged as a prominent public figure. […] Throughout his legislative career, he continued to endorse causes such as freedom of the press, suffrage for all taxpayers, and the worldwide abolition of slavery.[149] […]

American President Andrew Jackson ordered that Lafayette be accorded the same funeral honors as John Adams and George Washington. Therefore, 24-gun salutes were fired from military posts and ships, each shot representing a U.S. state. Flags flew at half mast for thirty-five days, and “military officers wore crepe for six months”.[157][158] The Congress hung black in chambers and asked the entire country to dress in black for the next thirty days.[159] […] Lafayette reputation in America has always stood very high, and both the popular mind and the scholarship. […] Lafayette reputation among French historians is more problematic. François Furet includes him among the 14 most important actors of the French Revolution, where he played a critical role in 1789-92. He is praised as the embodiment of the liberal ideals of 1789, but he had few eulogies. French historians have said he was too ambitious and yet too mediocre an intellect to play a bigger role. […] To historians on the left, he was a traitor to the glorious cause. To historians on the right, he was too ineffective to be their hero. [168]

Although I’ve blogged some of them before, I guess I should point out that Khan Academy has some quite good videos about the French Revolution and related stuff here.

iv. Klondike Gold Rush (‘good article’).


“The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush, the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was a migration by an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered here on August 16, 1896 and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a “stampede” of would-be prospectors. The journey proved too hard to many and only between 30,000 and 40,000 managed to arrive. Some became wealthy; however, the majority went in vain and only around 4,000 struck gold. The Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899 after gold was discovered in Nome, prompting an exodus from the Klondike. […] To accommodate the prospectors, boom towns sprang up along the routes and at their end Dawson City was founded at the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon River. From a population of 500 in 1896, the hastily constructed town came to house around 30,000 people by summer 1898. Poorly built, isolated and unsanitary Dawson suffered from fires, high prices and epidemics. Despite this, the wealthiest prospectors spent extravagantly gambling and drinking in the saloons. The Native Hän people, on the other hand, suffered from the rush. Many of them died after being moved into a reserve to make way for the stampeders.”

An estimated 100.000 people tried to reach the goldfields. The 1900 United States Census put the population of the US at 76.2 million at that time so the estimated number of people leaving their homes in order to dig for gold corresponds to ~0,13% of the total population of the United States at that time; more than one in a thousand of the entire population… (not all prospectors were Americans, but a great majority – ~60-80%, according to the article – were).

“The region was mountainous, the rivers winding and sometimes impassable; the short summers could be hot, while from October to June, during the long winters, temperatures could drop below −50 °C (−58 °F).[60][61][n 10]

Aids for the travelers to carry their supplies varied; some had brought dogs, horses, mules or oxen, whereas others had to rely on carrying their equipment on their backs or on sleds pulled by hand.[64] Shortly after the stampede began in 1897, the Canadian authorities had introduced rules requiring anyone entering Yukon Territory to bring with them a year’s supply of food; typically this weighed around 1,150 pounds (520 kg).[65] By the time camping equipment, tools and other essentials were included, a typical traveler was transporting as much as a ton in weight.[65] […]

Of the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people who reached Dawson City during the gold rush, only around 15,000 to 20,000 finally became prospectors. Of these, no more than 4,000 struck gold and only a few hundred became rich.[28] By the time that most of the stampeders arrived in 1898, the best creeks had all been claimed, either by the long-term miners in the region, or by the first arrivals of the year before.[131] […]

Skagway rapidly became famous in the international media; the author John Muir described the town as “a nest of ants taken into a strange country and stirred up by a stick”.[181] […] the White Pass leading from Skagway to the Klondike closed in late 1897 and around 5,000 prospectors found themselves stuck in the town, unable to progress or to return home.[182] […] The town was effectively lawless, dominated by drinking, gunfire and prostitution.[184] The visiting NWMP Superintendent Sam Steele noted that it was “little better than a hell on earth … about the roughest place in the world”.[185] Nonetheless, by the summer of 1898, with a population—including migrants—of between 15,000 and 20,000, Skagway was the largest city in Alaska.[186] […]

In late summer 1897 Skagway and Dyea fell under the control of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith and his men, who arrived from Seattle shortly after Skagway began to expand.[187][188] He was an American confidence man whose gang, 200 to 300 strong, cheated and stole from the prospectors traveling through the region.[189][n 23] He maintained the illusion of being an upstanding member of the community, opening three saloons as well as creating fake businesses to assist in his operations.[191][192] One of his scams was a fake telegraph office where one of his men dressed as a telegraph operator would charge to send messages all over the US and Canada, often pretending to receive a reply.[193] Opposition to Smith steadily grew and, after weeks of vigilante activity, he was killed in Skagway during the shootout on Juneau Wharf on July 8, 1898.[187][194] […]

Prices remained high in Dawson and supply fluctuated according to the season. During the winter of 1897 salt became worth its weight in gold, while nails, vital for construction work, rose in price to $28 ($760) per lb (0.45 kg).[218] Cans of butter sold for $5 ($140) each.[219] The only eight horses in Dawson were slaughtered for dog food as they could not be kept alive over the winter.[218][n 27] The first fresh goods arriving in the spring of 1898 sold for record prices, eggs reaching $3 ($81) each and apples $1 ($27).[222]

Under these conditions scurvy, a potentially fatal illness caused by the lack of vitamin C, proved a major problem in Dawson City, particularly during the winter […] Dysentery and malaria were also common in Dawson, and an epidemic of typhoid broke out in July and ran rampant throughout the summer. […]

Gambling was popular, with the major saloons each running their own rooms; a culture of high stakes evolved, with rich prospectors routinely betting $1,000 ($27,000) at dice or playing for a $5,000 ($140,000) poker pot. […] Wealthy prospectors were expected to drink champagne at $60 ($1,600) a bottle, and the Pavilion dancehall cost its owner, Charlie Kimball, as much as $100,000 ($80 million) to construct and decorate.[234] Elaborate opera houses were built, bringing singers and specialty acts to Dawson.[235] Tales abounded of prospectors spending huge sums of money on entertainment — Jimmy McMahon once spent $28,000 ($760,000) in a single evening, for example.[236] Most payments were made in gold dust and in places like saloons, there was so much spilled gold that a profit could be made just by sweeping the floor.[223]

v. Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. A very (advanced? sophisticated? expensive?) aircraft.


“The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. The bomber has a crew of two and can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg)-class JDAM GPS-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.

Development originally started under the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (ATB) project during the Carter administration, and its performance was one of the reasons for his cancellation of the B-1 Lancer. ATB continued during the Reagan administration, but worries about delays in its introduction led to the reinstatement of the B-1 program as well. Program costs rose throughout development. Designed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman with assistance from Boeing, the cost of each aircraft averaged US$737 million (in 1997 dollars).[3] Total procurement costs averaged $929 million per aircraft, which includes spare parts, equipment, retrofitting, and software support.[3] The total program cost including development, engineering and testing, averaged $2.1 billion per aircraft in 1997.[3]

Because of its considerable capital and operating costs, the project was controversial in the U.S. Congress and among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The winding-down of the Cold War in the latter portion of the 1980s dramatically reduced the need for the aircraft, which was designed with the intention of penetrating Soviet airspace and attacking high-value targets. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Congress slashed plans to purchase 132 bombers to 21. In 2008, a B-2 was destroyed in a crash shortly after takeoff, and the crew ejected safely.[4] A total of 20 B-2s remain in service with the United States Air Force.

The B-2 is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 ft, with a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles unrefuelled and over 10,000 nautical miles with one refueling. Though originally designed primarily as a nuclear bomber, it was first used in combat to drop conventional bombs on Serbia during the Kosovo War in 1999, and saw continued use during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[5]

May 28, 2013 Posted by | evolution, genetics, history, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Promoting the unknown, a continuing series

I handed in my paper today – so I’ll have more time for blogging and similar activities this week than I did last week.

A few of the pieces below are not actually that unknown, but I guess I’d still like them to see them reach a wider audience..

May 27, 2013 Posted by | music | Leave a comment


I have a paper deadline approaching, so I’ll be unlikely to blog much more this week. Below some links and stuff of interest:

i. Plos One: A Survey on Data Reproducibility in Cancer Research Provides Insights into Our Limited Ability to Translate Findings from the Laboratory to the Clinic.

“we surveyed the faculty and trainees at MD Anderson Cancer Center using an anonymous computerized questionnaire; we sought to ascertain the frequency and potential causes of non-reproducible data. We found that ~50% of respondents had experienced at least one episode of the inability to reproduce published data; many who pursued this issue with the original authors were never able to identify the reason for the lack of reproducibility; some were even met with a less than “collegial” interaction. […] These results suggest that the problem of data reproducibility is real. Biomedical science needs to establish processes to decrease the problem and adjudicate discrepancies in findings when they are discovered.”

ii. The development in the number of people killed in traffic accidents in Denmark over the last decade (link):

Traffic accidents
For people who don’t understand Danish: The x-axis displays the years, the y-axis displays deaths – I dislike it when people manipulate the y-axis (…it should start at 0, not 200…), but this decline is real; the number of Danes killed in traffic accidents has more than halved over the last decade (463 deaths in 2002; 220 deaths in 2011). The number of people sustaining traffic-related injuries dropped from 9254 in 2002 to 4259 in 2011. There’s a direct link to the data set at the link provided above if you want to know more.

iii. Gender identity and relative income within households, by Bertrand, Kamenica & Pan.

“We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We establish that gender identity – in particular, an aversion to the wife earning more than the husband – impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. The distribution of the share of household income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp cli ff at 0.5, which suggests that a couple is less willing to match if her income exceeds his. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. Within couples, if the wife’s potential income (based on her demographics) is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. Couples where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfi ed with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband.” […]

“In our preferred speci fication […] we fi nd that if the wife earns more than the husband, spouses are 7 percentage points (15%) less likely to report that their marriage is very happy, 8 percentage points (32%) more likely to report marital troubles in the past year, and 6 percentage points (46%) more likely to have discussed separating in the past year.”

These are not trivial effects…

iv. Some Khan Academy videos of interest:

v. The Age Distribution of Missing Women in India.

“Relative to developed countries, there are far fewer women than men in India. Estimates suggest that among the stock of women who could potentially be alive today, over 25 million are “missing”. Sex selection at birth and the mistreatment of young girls are widely regarded as key explanations. We provide a decomposition of missing women by age across the states. While we do not dispute the existence of severe gender bias at young ages, our computations yield some striking findings. First, the vast majority of missing women in India are of adult age. Second, there is significant variation in the distribution of missing women by age across different states. Missing girls at birth are most pervasive in some north-western states, but excess female mortality at older ages is relatively low. In contrast, some north-eastern states have the highest excess female mortality in adulthood but the lowest number of missing women at birth. The state-wise variation in the distribution of missing women across the age groups makes it very difficult to draw simple conclusions to explain the missing women phenomenon in India.”

A table from the paper:

Anderson et al

“We estimate that a total of more than two million women in India are missing in a given year. Our age decomposition of this total yields some striking findings. First, the majority of missing women, in India die in adulthood. Our estimates demonstrate that roughly 12% of missing women are found at birth, 25% die in childhood, 18% at the reproductive ages, and 45% die at older ages. […] There are just two states in which the majority of missing women are either never born or die in childhood (i e, [sic] before age 15), and these are Haryana and Rajasthan. Moreover, the missing women in these three states add up to well under 15% of the total missing women in India.

For all other states, the majority of missing women die in adulthood. […]

Because there is so much state-wise variation in the distribution of missing women across the age groups, it is difficult to provide a clear explanation for missing women in India. The traditional explanation for missing women, a strong preference for the birth of a son, is most likely driving a significant proportion of missing women in the two states of Punjab and Haryana where the biased sex ratios at birth are undeniable. However, the explanation for excess female deaths after birth is far from clear.”

May 22, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, economics, Khan Academy, marriage, medicine, papers | Leave a comment

Diabetes and the lungs – and some related thoughts on running

“The finding of abnormal lung function in some diabetic subjects suggests that the lung should be considered a “target organ” in diabetes mellitus; however, the clinical implications of these findings in terms of respiratory disease are at present unknown.”

Malcolm Sandler wrote this almost 25 years ago. What’s happened since then? Well, I should perhaps point out that you still today have a situation where highly educated individuals who’ve had diabetes for decades may not even be aware that their disease may affect the lung tissue – I should know, because until a few years ago I didn’t know this. You care about the kidneys, you care about the feet, the eyes, the heart, sometimes the autonomous nervous system – but your lungs aren’t very likely to be brought up in a discussion with the endocrinonologist unless you happen to be a smoker, and in that case the concern is cancer risk and cardiovascular risk.

One main explanation is likely that the effects of the disease are minor, and so do not have much influence on the quality of life of the patient:

“Clear decrements in lung function have been reported in patients with diabetes over the past 2 decades, and many reports have suggested plausible pathophysiological mechanisms. However, at the present time, there are no reports of functional limitations of activities of daily living ascribable to pulmonary disease in patients with diabetes. Accordingly, this review is directed toward a description of the nature of reported lung dysfunction in diabetes, with an emphasis on the emerging potential clinical implications of such dysfunction.” (my emphasis, quote from this review)

I am interested in this matter because, well, at least partly because I’m just the kind of person who takes an interest in such matters. But recently I’ve also started to become a bit curious about whether the disease may have already have had an impact on my own lung function, ‘compared to baseline’. It’s far from certain – most studies find that microvascular complications are correlated (say if your eyes start to display signs of damage, it’s more likely that one may also observe damage to the kidneys) and that the link between those complications and metabolic control is strong; and my metabolic control is close to optimal, and my eyes and kidneys look fine.

I’m a long-distance runner. I run ~35 km/week now (and increasing with ~3 km/week), so of course I should not have breathing difficulties walking up and down stairs, and I don’t. And as the quote above makes clear even for patients who may be impacted, the damage is not likely to be all that major. So the fact that I don’t have any overt lung problems isn’t relevant – we wouldn’t expect such to present anyway. But it is worth asking whether I perform as well as I would do without my disease when I run. The obvious answer would be ‘of course not’  – for reasons unrelated to my lungs (taking blood samples take time, loading up on carbohydrates during a run after the blood sample is taken takes time – and I can’t do these things while running). But is there an impact from the lungs as well? I don’t know. Maybe. You can’t observe the counterfactual.

Which is why I thought this recent-ish meta-analysis was interesting:

“Background: Research into the association between diabetes and pulmonary function has resulted in inconsistent outcomes among studies. We performed a metaanalysis to clarify this association.

Methods: From a systematic search of the literature, we included 40 studies describing pulmonary function data of 3,182 patients with diabetes and 27,080 control subjects. Associations were summarized pooling the mean difference (MD) (standard error) between patients with diabetes and control subjects of all studies for key lung function parameters.

Results: For all studies, the pooled MD for FEV 1 , FVC, and diffusion of the lungs for carbon monoxide were -5.1 (95% CI, -6.4 to -3.7; P<.001), -6.3 (95% CI, -8.0 to -4.7; P<.001), and -7.2 (95% CI, -10.0 to -4.4; P<.001) % predicted, respectively, and for FEV 1 /FVC 0.1% (95% CI, -0.8 to 1.0; P = .78). Metaregression analyses showed that between-study heterogeneity was not explained by BMI, smoking, diabetes duration, or glycated hemoglobin (all P<.05).

Conclusions: Diabetes is associated with a modest, albeit statistically significant, impaired pulmonary function in a restrictive pattern. […]

Our metaanalysis shows that diabetes, in the absence of overt pulmonary disease, is associated with a modest, albeit statistically significant, impaired pulmonary function in a restrictive pattern. The results were irrespective of BMI, smoking, diabetes duration, and HbA1c levels. In subanalyses, the association seemed to be more pronounced in type 2 diabetes than in type 1 diabetes. Our study adds evidence for yet another organ system to be involved in bothtype 1 and type 2 diabetes. As a consequence of exclusion criteria, the levels of functional impairment fell within values that are generally considered to be normal. However, to place this in perspective, the magnitude of impairment found in our study closely resembles that of smoking per se.57 Similarly, given the relatively high prevalence of diabetes in COPD,58 it is tempting to speculate that (uncontrolled) diabetes may accelerate progressive lung function decline. However, from our metaanalysis summarizing crosssectional studies, it is difficult to draw conclusions on causality and progression into overt pulmonary diseases.” (my emphasis)

Whether you smoke or not is certainly not a trivial effect when you’re considering the fitness level of a long-distance runner! I know the effects are smaller for T1’s, but this is most certainly an effect to have in mind. Back when I ran my marathon three years ago both me and my brother were surprised that he did so much better than I did (he came in more than half an hour before I did, despite the fact that we both assumed beforehand that I was the one who was in better shape).

I consider some of the findings quite weird, and it’s hard to make heads or tails of some of this stuff:

“One would expect that a longer exposure to diabetes would proportionally increase the chance of connective tissue being nonenzymatically glycated. However, our study suggests that a longer duration is not necessarily associated with additional loss of pulmonary reserves. This is in line with previous longitudinal studies on this topic.59,60 […]

It is intriguing to observe that the pulmonary system remains relatively spared in diabetes when compared with other organs with wide microvascular beds. It is speculated that the large pulmonary reserves protect against severe pulmonary dysfunction.

Because neither the duration of diabetes nor glycemic state appeared to influence the association in our study, one might question whether there is a causal relationship between diabetes and impaired pulmonary function.”

I’ll try to keep my eyes open for updates on this stuff – although the estimated effects may not be big enough for people to seek out medical advice, they’re huge if you’re a long-distance runner considering whether it’s even worth it to participate in future official runs solely for the sake of improving your performance in such competitions.

On a sidenote I should point out that I don’t (/no longer) run in order to obtain a faster time in an official run – I run because I like to run, and I no longer have much desire to participate in official runs – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care at all about that stuff some years back when I started out participating in such runs. Imagine what happens with your desire to participate in such official runs if you don’t seem to be able to improve your time much even with strict adherence to running schedules, especially considering the fact that other people who in other respects are similar to you can out-perform you without doing a lot of work. I was above 70 km/week and had several 30+ kilometer runs behind me before my marathon; my brother never even crossed the 40 km/week threshold. And he beat me by more than half an hour. Go figure. I had a bad run for diabetes-related reasons so during the day this was not a surprising outcome, but it was a profoundly annoying outcome. And no, I was not ‘overtraining’; I was rather at the point where a 25+ km run was the ‘standard running distance’ – you know, that distance you managed without thinking much about it every Tuesday, and Saturday, with a short 20 km run in between – and I decreased the kilometer count up to the run as advised by the plan I was following (more or less stringently, but compared to the people whom I entered the goal line with the word ‘more’ is by far the more accurate one). And no, it’s not like I hadn’t heard about interval training, and it’s not like this stuff is hard to implement in a hilly place like Aarhus.

I did make progress from I started running to the point where I decided not to really consider ‘official runs’ to be be worth it anymore – the first half-marathon took me more than 2 hours, the best one I did in an hour and 47 minutes (this performance was achieved at a point in time where I ran 65 km/week and at least cared somewhat about speed and time taken – so, yeah… Compare this again with my brother, whose next goal is 1.35, without ever having been near 50 km/week). Right now my ‘standard running distance’ is 12-15 km – I like to run, but I have a very limited desire to participate in official runs in the future. It’s not worth it – if I go back to very-high intensity training I may improve my official performances, but that could just as easily be due to factors completely unrelated to my actual shape, like whether I was lucky about the starting blood glucose (fewer tests during the run, less time wasted on that), or whether I’d slept well. Who cares? And it’s not like I need to participate in these runs to motivate myself to get out there – I find running enjoyable as it is, especially in the summer when the weather is nice.

But in case you’d forgotten because of all the personal stuff in the end – to just reiterate the main points that made me start out writing this post:

“Diabetes is associated with a modest, albeit statistically significant, impaired pulmonary function in a restrictive pattern. […] the magnitude of impairment found in our study closely resembles that of smoking”.

This is perhaps also a good illustration of how dangerous diabetes is; the fact that the disease may impact the performance of the lungs in a manner not too dissimilar from smoking is not even considered clinically relevant; the patients have much bigger problems to worry about as it is.

May 21, 2013 Posted by | diabetes, papers, personal | Leave a comment


i. “The paradox of money is that when you have lots of it you can manage life quite cheaply. Nothing so economical as being rich.” (Robertson Davies)

ii. “Like a real academic, she was wary of people outside the academic world — ‘laymen’ they called them — who seemed to know a lot. Knowledge was for professionals of knowledge.” (-ll-)

iii. “If you don’t hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you’ll get.” (-ll-)

iv. “I was embarrassed to be such a fool in a situation that I had told myself and other people countless times I would never submit to — talking to a psychiatrist, ostensibly seeking help, but without any confidence that he could give it. I have never believed these people can do anything for an intelligent man he can’t do for himself. I have known many people who leaned on psychiatrists, and every one of them was a leaner by nature, who would have leaned on a priest if he had lived in an age of faith, or leaned on a teacup reader or an astrologer if he had not enough money to afford the higher hokum.” (-ll-)

v. “Be sure you choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don’t choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very creditable one, will choose you.” (-ll-)

vi. “Unhappiness of the kind that is recognized and examined and brooded over is a spiritual luxury.” (-ll-)

vii. “Promise is most given when the least is said.” (George Chapman)

viii. “In his discussions of such matters as “What is justice?” or “What is virtue?” he took the attitude that he knew nothing and had to be instructed by others. (This is called “Socratic irony,” for Socrates knew very well that he knew a great deal more than the poor souls he was picking on.) By pretending ignorance, Socrates lured others into propounding their views on such abstractions. Socrates then, by a series of ignorant-sounding questions, forced the others into such a mélange of self-contradictions that they would finally break down and admit they didn’t know what they were talking about.

It is the mark of the marvelous toleration of the Athenians that they let this continue for decades and that it wasn’t till Socrates turned seventy that they broke down and forced him to drink poison.” (Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong)

ix. “Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” (George Orwell)

x. “The problem with being consistent is that there are lots of ways to be consistent, and they’re all inconsistent with each other.” (Larry Wall)

xi. “Each instant of life is a step toward death.” (Pierre Corneille)

xii. “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindnesses and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart, and secure comfort.” (Humphry Davy)

xiii. “men of sense often learn from their enemies. […] It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties.” (Aristophanes)

xiv. “Men of ill judgement oft ignore the good
That lies within their hands, till they have lost it.” (Sophocles)

xv. “Unwanted favours gain no gratitude.” (-ll-)

xvi. “A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party: there is no battle unless there be two.” (Seneca)

xvii. “There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blamable, than, in philosophical disputes, to endeavor the refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretense of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality.” (David Hume)

xviii. “The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads through the avenues of science and learning; and whoever can either remove any obstructions in this way, or open up any new prospect, ought so far to be esteemed a benefactor to mankind.” (-ll-)

xix. “No conclusions can be more agreeable to scepticism than such as make discoveries concerning the weakness and narrow limits of human reason and capacity.” (-ll-)

xx. “The art of the quoter is to know when to stop.” (Robertson Davies)

May 20, 2013 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

Some of these, though I don’t remember precisely which, are from the wikipedia list of unusual articles I recently linked to:

i. S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897 (featured).


S. A. Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 was an ill-fated effort to reach the North Pole in which all three expedition members perished. S. A. Andrée (1854–97),[1] the first Swedish balloonist, proposed a voyage by hydrogen balloon from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada, which was to pass, with luck, straight over the North Pole on the way. The scheme was received with patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, a northern nation that had fallen behind in the race for the North Pole.

Andrée neglected many early signs of the dangers associated with his balloon plan. Being able to steer the balloon to some extent was essential for a safe journey, and there was plenty of evidence that the drag-rope steering technique he had invented was ineffective; yet he staked the fate of the expedition on drag ropes. Worse, the polar balloon Örnen (Eagle) was delivered directly to Svalbard from its manufacturer in Paris without being tested; when measurements showed it to be leaking more than expected, Andrée refused to acknowledge the alarming implications of this. Most modern students of the expedition see Andrée’s optimism, faith in the power of technology, and disregard for the forces of nature as the main factors in the series of events that led to his death and the deaths of his two companions Nils Strindberg (1872–97) and Knut Frænkel (1870–97).[2]

After Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel lifted off from Svalbard in July 1897, the balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were unhurt but faced a grueling trek back south across the drifting icescape. Inadequately clothed, equipped, and prepared, and shocked by the difficulty of the terrain, they did not make it to safety. As the Arctic winter closed in on them in October, the group ended up exhausted on the deserted Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard and died there. For 33 years the fate of the Andrée expedition remained one of the unsolved riddles of the Arctic. The chance discovery in 1930 of the expedition’s last camp created a media sensation in Sweden, where the dead men were mourned and idolized.”

ii. Raven paradox.

“The Raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black—even though intuitively these observations are unrelated.”

iii. Voynich manuscript.

“The Voynich manuscript, described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”,[3] is a work which dates to the early 15th century (1404–1438), possibly from northern Italy.[1][2] It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.

Some pages are missing, but there are now about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the 1500s, seeming to present illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses for medical purposes. However, most of the plants do not match known species, and the manuscript’s script and language remain unknown. Possibly some form of encrypted ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. It has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a famous case of historical cryptology. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels. None of the many speculative solutions proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified.[4]

iv. Infinite monkey theorem. Most people have heard about this one, but the article may have some stuff you didn’t know. This part made me laugh:

“In 2003, lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth MediaLab Arts course used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Celebes Crested Macaques in Paignton Zoo in Devon in England for a month, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.[10]

Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages[11] consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and the monkeys continued by urinating and defecating on it. ”

v. Boston Massacre.

“The Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street by the British, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British Army soldiers killed five civilian men and injured six others. British troops had been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation. Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob formed around a British sentry, who was subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He was eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who were subjected to verbal threats and thrown objects. They fired into the crowd, without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two more people died later of wounds sustained in the incident.

The crowd eventually dispersed after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promised an inquiry, but reformed the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder. Defended by the lawyer and future American President, John Adams, six of the soldiers were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The sentence that the men guilty of manslaughter received was a branding on their hand.

Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event […] heightened tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies. The event is widely viewed as foreshadowing the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War five years later. […]

The Boston Massacre is considered one of the most important events that turned colonial sentiment against King George III and British Parliamentary authority. John Adams wrote that the “foundation of American independence was laid” on March 5, 1770, and Samuel Adams and other Patriots used annual commemorations (Massacre Day) of the event to fulminate against British rule.[68] Christopher Monk, the boy who was wounded [and crippled – US] in the attack and died in 1780, was paraded before the crowds as a reminder of British hostility.[29] Later events such as the Boston Tea Party further illustrated the crumbling relationship between Britain and its colonies. Although five years passed between the massacre and outright revolution, and direct connections between the massacre and the later war are (according to historian Neil Langley York) somewhat tenuous,[69] it is widely perceived as a significant event leading to the violent rebellion that followed.[70][71]

vi. History of Chinese Americans. I thought this was a fascinating article – it has a lot of stuff.

Chinese immigration to the U.S. consisted of three major waves, with the first beginning in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked as laborers, particularly on the transcontinental railroad, such as the Central Pacific Railroad. They also worked as laborers in the mining industry, and suffered racial discrimination. While industrial employers were eager to get this new and cheap labor, the ordinary white public was stirred to anger by the presence of this “yellow peril.” Despite the provisions for equal treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 1868 Burlingame Treaty, political and labor organizations rallied against the immigration of what they regarded as a degraded race and “cheap Chinese labor.” Newspapers condemned the policies of employers, and even church leaders denounced the entrance of these aliens into what was regarded as a land for whites only. So hostile was the opposition that in 1882 the United States Congress eventually passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigration from China for the next ten years. This law was then extended by the Geary Act in 1892. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the only U.S. law ever to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race.[1] These laws not only prevented new immigration but also brought additional suffering as they prevented the reunion of the families of thousands of Chinese men already living in the U.S. (that is, men who had left China without their wives and children); anti-miscegenation laws in many states prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women.[2]

In 1924 the law barred further entries of Chinese; those already in the United States had been ineligible for citizenship since the previous year. Also by 1924, all Asian immigrants (except people from the Philippines, which had been annexed by the United States in 1898) were utterly excluded by law, denied citizenship and naturalization, and prevented from marrying Caucasians or owning land.[3]

Only since the 1940s when the US and China became allies during World War II, did the situation for Chinese Americans begin to improve, as restrictions on entry into the country, naturalization and mixed marriage were being lessened. In 1943, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was once again permitted — by way of the Magnuson Act — thereby repealing 61 years of official racial discrimination against the Chinese. Large-scale Chinese immigration did not occur until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965[4] lifted national origin quotas.[5] […] As of the 2010 United States Census, there are more than 3.3 million Chinese in the United States — about 1% of the total population. […]

Of the first wave of Chinese who came to America, few were women. In 1850, the Chinese community of San Francisco consisted of 4018 men and only 7 women. In 1855, women made up only two percent of the Chinese population in the U.S., and even in 1890 it had increased to only 4.8 percent. The lack of visibility of Chinese women in the general public was due partially to factors such as the cost of making the voyage when there was a lack of work opportunities for Chinese women in America, harsh working conditions and having the traditional female responsibility of looking after the children and extended family back in China. The only women who did go to America were usually the wives of merchants. […] With the heavily uneven gender ratio, prostitution grew rapidly and the Chinese sex trade and trafficking became a lucrative business. From the documents of the 1870 U.S. Census, 61 percent of 3536 Chinese women in California had been classified as prostitutes as an occupation. The existence of Chinese prostitution was detected early, after which the police, legislature and popular press singled out Chinese prostitutes for criticism and were seen as further evidence of the depravity of the Chinese and the repression of their women by their patriarchal cultural values.[25] […]

After the 1893 economic downturn, measures adopted in the severe depression included anti-Chinese riots that eventually spread throughout the West from which came racist violence and massacres. Most of the Chinese farm workers, which in 1890 made up a 75 percent share of all Californian agricultural workers, were expelled. The Chinese found refuge and shelter in the Chinatowns of large cities. The vacant agricultural jobs subsequently proved to be so unattractive to the unemployed white Europeans that they avoided to sign up; most of the vacancies were then filled by Japanese workers, after whom in the decades later came Filipinos, and finally Mexicans.[64] […]

Other laws included the Cubic Air Ordinance, which prohibited Chinese from occupying a sleeping room with less than 500 cubic feet (14 m3) of breathing space between each person, the Queue Ordinance,[70] which forced Chinese with long hair worn in a queue to pay a tax or to cut it, and Anti-Miscegenation Act of 1889 that prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women, and the Cable Act of 1922, which terminated citizenship for white American women who married an Asian man. The majority of these laws were not fully overturned until the 1950s, at the dawn of the modern American civil rights movement. […] Many Western states also enacted discriminatory laws that made it difficult for Chinese and Japanese immigrants to own land and find work. Some of these Anti-Chinese laws were the Foreign Miners’ License tax, which required a monthly payment of three dollars from every foreign miner who did not desire to become a citizen. Foreign-born Chinese could not become citizens because they had been rendered ineligible to citizenship by the Naturalization Act of 1790 […]

Between 1850 and 1875, the most popular complaint against Chinese residents was their involvement in prostitution.[85] During this time, Hip Yee Tong, a secret society, imported over six-thousand Chinese women to serve as prostitutes.[86] Most of these women came from southeastern China and were either kidnapped, purchased from poor families or lured to ports like San Francisco with the promise of marriage.[86] Prostitutes fell into three categories, namely, those sold to wealthy Chinese merchants as concubines, those purchased for high-class Chinese brothels catering exclusively to Chinese men or those purchased for prostitution in lower-class establishments frequented by a mixed clientele.[86] In late-19th century San Francisco, most notably Jackson Street, prostitutes were often housed in rooms 10×10 or 12×12 feet and were often beaten or tortured for not attracting enough business or refusing to work for any reason.[87] […]

Another major concern of European-Americans in relation to Chinatowns was the smoking of opium, even though the importation and consumption of opium long predated Chinese immigration to the United States.[92] Tariff acts of 1832 established opium regulation and in 1842 opium was taxed at seventy-five cents per pound.[93] In New York, by 1870, opium dens had opened on Baxter and Mott Streets in Manhattan Chinatown,[93] while in San Francisco, by 1876, Chinatown supported over 200 opium dents, each with a capacity of between five and fifteen people.[93] After the Burlingame Commercial Treaty of 1880, only American citizens could legally import opium into the United States, thus Chinese businessmen had to rely on non-Chinese importers to maintain opium supply.”

vii. Eye (cyclone) (featured).

“The eye is a region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones. The eye of a storm is a roughly circular area, typically 30–65 km (20–40 miles) in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the most severe weather occurs. The cyclone’s lowest barometric pressure occurs in the eye, and can be as much as 15 percent lower than the pressure outside the storm.[1]

In strong tropical cyclones, the eye is characterized by light winds and clear skies, surrounded on all sides by a towering, symmetric eyewall. In weaker tropical cyclones, the eye is less well defined, and can be covered by the central dense overcast, an area of high, thick clouds that show up brightly on satellite imagery. Weaker or disorganized storms may also feature an eyewall that does not completely encircle the eye, or have an eye that features heavy rain. In all storms, however, the eye is the location of the storm’s minimum barometric pressure: the area where the atmospheric pressure at sea level is the lowest.[1][2]

May 19, 2013 Posted by | history, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Minor change regarding comment policy

Akismet is letting a lot of crap through the filter and I get angry when I see people post spam on my blog. So I’ve decided to change my comment policy – from now on, the first comment people make is withheld until I’ve approved it – and so after you’ve gotten one comment approved by me your future comments will appear immediately after you’ve posted them.

I do not know if people who’ve posted in the past (basically almost everybody who might decide to comment here on the blog have done this…) are also required to have a comment approved by me or not – I hope not, but in that case it’ll still be only the first comment.

I’d have preferred not to have had to make this change, but I can’t accept the fact that I have to delete spam comments manually on a daily basis – that’s completely unacceptable. And it is a rather minor change.

If you want to test whether the first-time approval is required for you even though you’ve posted comments here before, and/or you just want to get that first-time approval over with now, you can leave a semi-random comment below (you can make it a general feedback comment if you like…) and check if it appears immediately – I’ll be very lax about approving comments to this post from people who’ve posted here before, though the main rule still applies (‘don’t be a jerk..’). New readers are encouraged to introduce themselves here if they feel like it (I know some people reading along prefer to remain anonymous/hidden/invisible/whatever). If you have questions about comment policy this is probably the place to ask them – but before people start asking such questions I’ll point out that if you try to add value to the discussion and argue in good faith you have nothing to fear. In over half a decade I’ve only ever banned one [1] individual.

All that said, this is my blog – it’s my place. I post a lot of different stuff, and some of that stuff’s personal. This is not a sphere where you can just say whatever you like, though you’re very much encouraged to say and share interesting stuff as people sometimes (though much too rarely) do.

In completely unrelated news I’ve recently engaged in a discussion on gene-expression where I left a few comments here – I do not often post stuff elsewhere so I figured if people were interested and hadn’t seen this I might as well leave a link.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | blogging | 4 Comments

Moral event horizons

I realized that there are some aspects of my moral compass which I’ve never really touched upon here on the blog before which might help readers better realize ‘where I’m coming from’.

So yesterday I was thinking about which acts people might do to me (or to people I care a great deal about) that would put them outside the narrow circle of people I’d be interested in ever interacting with again. Unforgivable acts. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept mentioned in the title, here’s a link.

Highly educated people, which most of my readers presumably are or at least will be at some point, are less likely to be religious, and they’re probably also less likely to be moral absolutists and more likely to take situational factors and -details into account when passing judgments than are most humans. If you’re better able to handle complexity you’re able to make use of more complex moral algorithms. Which probably means that readers of this blog will have a harder time coming up with unforgivable acts than are people in general.

I’d be curious to know what’s on your specific list (even if you’ve never made a list – no, especially if you’ve never made a list).

All actions for which I’d support the death penalty naturally go on my list – so burning people alive because you like to burn people alive and think that it’s a lot of fun, for example, will make you cross my horizon. But the relevant punishment metric here is permanent punishment by social rejection undertaken by an individual, not death – so limiting myself to such types of criminal behaviour is very, well, limiting; surely there are actions which I consider to be unforgivable but which I do not believe should merit capital punishment? It turns out that the answer is yes – two things which immediately sprang to mind to me was 1) violence as a (not self-defence-related) conflict resolution mechanism, and 2) serious threats used as status signals/power displays/bargaining tools. If you behave that way it’s game over – we’ll never interact again, at least not if I remember who you are or recognize you. You may think these preferences are very common, but through the chess club I’ve interacted with people from different social and educational backgrounds and I can tell you they’re certainly very far from universal. Presumably part of what sets me apart from people who think differently in the West is the fact that I do not consider alcohol intoxication (or drugs) to be a mitigating factor in such circumstances. This is relevant because a lot of bad behaviour, including criminal behaviour, is alcohol-related. My motivation for rejecting people based on these metrics is not only that I perceive of such acts as reprehensible, but also that such behaviour covaries strongly with a variety of other unfavourable traits and behaviours, and so I take it that the acts can reasonably reliably be used by me as an indicator variable for whether I’d be likely to get enough out of the relationship for it to be worth pursuing.

I have been considering if severe breaches of trust should be treated in a similar manner, and I do believe that in severe cases I would react that way. But what constitutes a ‘severe breach’ is not entirely clear to me ex ante, and to complicate matters further a breach of trust is always a two-sided affair; it’s always partly your own fault if you’re subject to such an act because you were the one who chose to trust the other party, which is the entire reason why that trust could be violated (if one trusts a fool, who’s the fool?). Most cases of rape incidentally to some extent belong in this category as well; stranger rapes only make out a small fraction of all rapes, and many of the others involve to some extent a breach of trust by one party – the concepts of consent and trust are closely interrelated.

In the past I tended to punish political divergence from my own viewpoints much more severely than I do now when it comes to social stuff. It’d not be easy for me to identify a lot of truly unforgivable viewpoints, but I know that at least one such viewpoint does exist – if you favour executing people who leave your religion, like a lot of people do even today, then we don’t have anything to talk about. Game over, I can’t ever trust you.

On a related if also different note; it’s not a specific thing he does, but there’s a certain ‘type’ of domineering male (arrogant, sense of entitlement, likes power) which I’ll actively avoid just because of his personality characteristics. I mention this type specifically because that type of person will sometimes want to interact with me; most other ‘types’ I avoid, to the extent that such types exist, generally don’t want to interact with me either so I don’t really need to do anything to achieve the preferred outcome in those cases.

My impression is that I tend to punish impoliteness much more severely than most people do. Behave like a jerk when you’re around me and you won’t be around me for long. You don’t need to be particularly polite, you just need to not be impolite – the two are not collectively exhaustive.

I should point out that I’m perfectly aware that the rejection strategy I employ involves potentially missing out on stuff – people may change their minds and become pleasant people with whom to interact even though they did something ‘unforgivable’ at some point in the past. So there’s no need to think up a counter-example where you illustrate that it’d be absurd for me to keep rejecting the guy, and so it’s better always to retain the option of reconnecting. I know such ‘counterexamples’ exist – some people do change, but on average it still seems smarter to me not to interact with people who did X, because a lot of people never did X in the first place and they’re on average more likely to be pleasant people.

As mentioned I’d love to know what you guys think about these (and related) matters. It doesn’t necessarily need to be outright unforgivable actions; it could also just be opinions/viewpoints/actions which will mean that you’ll cut contact (but may consider reinitiating later).

May 13, 2013 Posted by | ethics, personal | 6 Comments


i. Currently there’s a really high profile chess tournament being played in Norway – I guess most of the people who’d be interested in such matters already know, but just in case you didn’t here’s a link.

In marginally related matters, I recently managed to get into the top 100 list of players on the Playchess tactics trainer rating list. I’ve done a lot of tactis sessions over time, and it has paid off – I’ve become a pretty strong tactician, and even though I know it’s silly to do so I actually feel a bit proud about this. My level is comparable to 2100+ elo rated players like this, this and this, and literally only a handful of players on the list have higher average performances than my highest performance (for example my best performance, 2341, is much higher than the average performance – 2181 – of GM Evgeny Romanov, who has a 2640 elo rating – and with 56 tactics sessions on his part this is not due to small sample size).

ii. Some pictures of what bureaucracy looks like around the world (via MR).

iii. Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families? I should point out that back when I was reading THP the linguistic evidence presented always seemed less convincing to me than did stuff like bones, old middens, and genes.

iv. A wikipedia list of unsual articles. I don’t want to pick out examples – this article is awesome, just go have fun! I’d read quite a few of the articles linked there, but it’s a very long list and there’ll be a lot of stuff in there you haven’t seen before even if you’ve spent a lot of time on wikipedia in the past.

v. A review of heavy metal contaminations in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils from China, by Wei & Yang.

“This paper reviews quite a few heavy metal contamination related studies in several cities from China over the past 10 years. The concentrations, sources, contamination levels, sample collection and analytical tools of heavy metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils were widely compared and discussed in this study. The results indicate that nearly all the concentrations of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn, As, Hg and Cd are higher than their background values of soil in China. Among the cities, the contamination levels of the heavy metals vary in a large range. The geoaccumulation index shows that the contamination of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd is widespread in urban soils and urban road dusts of the cities. Generally, the contamination levels of Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd are higher than that of Ni and Cr. Agricultural soils are also significantly influenced by Cd, Hg and Pb derived from anthropogenic activities. The integrated pollution index (IPI) indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts of the developed cities and the industrial cities have higher contamination levels of the heavy metals. The comparison of the IPIs of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hongkong reveals that the contamination levels of the metals in urban road dusts are higher than that in urban soils in the cities. Moreover, the main sources of the metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils are also different.”

The English in this article is occasionally, well, horrible. But the findings are interesting:

“According to the IPI [integrated pollution index], approximately 65% of all the cities have high or extremely high contamination levels of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts. This indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts in the cities have been significantly impacted by heavy metals derived from anthropogenic activities. […] the concentrations of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in the urban soils in all the cities exceed their background values. […] The concentrations of Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni in urban soils in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang are much higher than their PTE-MPC [““maximum permissible concentrations of potential toxic elements (PTE-MPC)” for agricultural soils according to soil quality standards of China (CEPA, 1995)”]. The highest concentrations of the metals are also found in the three cities. This may be attributed to the urban soil samples which were mainly collected from industrial areas in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang. The concentrations of Cd in the cities are all higher than their PTE-MPC with an exception of Taicang and Beijing.”

vi. Colour Constancy Across the Life Span: Evidence for Compensatory Mechanisms.

“We find that, to a large extent, hue perception is invariant with age; the direction but not the magnitude of the small observed age-related hue changes are predicted by the yellowing of the lens. […] Our main finding is that colour appearance mechanisms are to large extent unaffected by the known age-related changes in the optical media (yellowing of the lens) whereas the ability to discriminate between small colour differences is compromised with an increase in age.”

vii. A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety, by Moffitt et al.

“The need to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression is the earliest and most ubiquitous demand that societies place on their children, and success at many life tasks depends critically on children’s mastery of such self-control. We looked at the lives of 1,000 children. By the age of 10 y, many had mastered self-control but others were failing to achieve this skill. We followed them over 30 y and traced the consequences of their childhood self-control for their health, wealth, and criminal offending.”

The findings are what you’d expect – people with poor impulse control as children did worse on a lot of metrics (health, substance abuse, SES, crime, …) as adults. As it’s an observational study (though an impressive one; “we report findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study of a complete birth cohort of 1,037 children born in one city in a single year, whom we have followed from birth to the age of 32 y with 96% retention”), I’d say the policy implications of the findings are not clear.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | anthropology, Chess, personal | Leave a comment

Optimal information disclosure strategies?

I recently wanted to look up stuff on optimal information disclosure strategies in social settings – i.e. stuff on how to make the implicit information sharing strategies people use more explicit in order to better optimize them. The goal would be to better understand which (classes of personal-) information to share with whom, at which point in time, etc. This stuff is hard – inappropriate information sharing, both in the form of oversharing and undersharing, as well as related issues such as those of (lack of) reciprocity, are common pitfalls in social settings, and given how social feedback systems tend to work people are often not informed when they make errors in judgment in this area. I haven’t really found the sort of stuff I’ve been looking for, and I think it’s probably because I’m not looking the right places (use the right search terms). If readers know where to find such material I’d be interested to learn more – I have a comment section for a reason..

Here are some examples of what may happen when people don’t optimize:

The sketches are sufficiently exaggerated and sufficiently specific to not feel like personal attacks on people who engage in not-too-dissimilar strategies, which is why (/some people think) they’re funny. Flawed information sharing strategies are not the only things which make these sketches funny, nor are information sharing strategies the only applied strategies which are suboptimal here; but they are an important part of the problem in quite a few of the sketches (do note that non-verbal information shared is relevant as well..). Do note that the examples here are for one domain-specific application only; this stuff also applies to friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and people you’ve never met before. I’m well aware that different strategies are optimal in different domains, even though different domains likely share many similar features at the (optimal) strategy level.

Anyway, coming up with good strategies seems to me to be really hard. I assume the fact that most online dating sites don’t seem to use user-uploaded videos even now in the youtube age is probably a clue that using this medium is highly likely to lead to oversharing. Maybe there’s a cost component as well (it’s easier to just write a bit of stuff about yourself), but I’m not convinced this explanation is satisfactory without adding coordination problems and similar stuff as well (you don’t want to be the only one making a video because that presumably makes you look desperate compared to the people who do not?). I’m still a bit confused as to why videos aren’t more common in this area; they somehow seem efficient. Do privacy concerns drive this as well? I don’t know.

I tend to rely on ‘personal judgment’ regarding when to share what and in which manner; but as mentioned I’ll often find it hard to tell if my ‘personal judgment’ is off because I don’t really know very much about this stuff, and I rarely make an effort of ‘inviting new people into my life’ so I don’t have a lot of experience either. Learning these skills requires a certain amount of trial and error, sure, but it should be possible to study this stuff as well. To some extent I rely on implicit models of my own (‘personal judgment’ does include variables such as ‘time we’ve known each other’, ‘estimated degree of intimacy’, ‘information shared by the other party in the past’, etc.), but these models are likely flawed and incomplete and they don’t contain much information about dynamic elements in the equation because that’s the stuff I find particularly hard to figure out; stuff like who is supposed to ‘escalate’ – and how and ‘how far’ to ‘escalate’ – when a desire to move the social relationship from one point to another on the implicit intimacy-scale exists. Where to find better models, or at least a conceptual treatment of this kind of stuff?

Or am I overthinking all of this and the implementation of near-optimal information sharing strategies is basically considered irrelevant by most people because only severe deviations from the norm are ever (surreptitiously) punished anyway? Social interaction stuff is very complex so this would make sense; if it’s easy to get things not-quite-right it’ll often be optimal for the other party to allow for a wide margin of error.

A problem I have with the explanation in the above paragraph is that even if the level of model complexity involved here is staggering, most people do seem to engage to some extent in such optimization processes anyway – using whichever sources of information they consider to be reliable and informative (for example I’m aware that some subreddits are filled with this kind of stuff). They wouldn’t do this if ‘semi-normal’ deviations from ‘acceptable behaviour’ didn’t matter, so on some ‘relevant’ margins they clearly do.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Psychology, random stuff | 2 Comments

Ten days in a mad-house

You can read the book here. Here’s the wikipedia article about the author, Nellie Bly. I found the book via this tvtropes article (the real life section). I liked it and gave it a 3 on goodreads, where the average rating is 3.78. It’s about a (very sane) woman who had herself committed to an insane asylum in the late nineteenth century, in order to publish an account of her experiences there (there had been ‘reports of neglect and brutality’ as wikipedia puts it). “The book’s graphic depiction of conditions at the asylum caused a sensation which brought Bly lasting fame and prompted a grand jury to launch its own investigation with Bly assisting. The jury’s report resulted in an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.” (link – the course of this investigation is also briefly described in the last part of the book). It’s an interesting historical document. To illustrate what kind of experience she went through to the people who’ll not read the entire post, I’ll note that there’s a chapter in there named simply ‘Choking and beating patients’ – so, yeah.. I figured the post was long enough as it was at that point, so I haven’t added stuff from that chapter. From a 21st century perspective, some of the nurses were little short of murderers – an illustrative quote: “”While I was there a pretty young girl was brought in. She had been sick, and she fought against being put in that dirty place. One night the nurses took her and, after beating her, they held her naked in a cold bath, then they threw her on her bed. When morning came the girl was dead. The doctors said she died of convulsions, and that was all that was done about it.”

Some more stuff from the book:

“I went down to the rear of the room and introduced myself to one of the women, and asked her all about herself. Her name, she said, was Miss Anne Neville, and she had been sick from overwork. She had been working as a chambermaid, and when her health gave way she was sent to some Sisters’ Home to be treated. Her nephew, who was a waiter, was out of work, and, being unable to pay her expenses at the Home, had had her transferred to Bellevue.

“Is there anything wrong with you mentally as well?” I asked her.

“No,” she said. “The doctors have been asking me many curious questions and confusing me as much as possible, but I have nothing wrong with my brain.”

“Do you know that only insane people are sent to this pavilion?” I asked.

“Yes, I know; but I am unable to do anything. The doctors refuse to listen to me, and it is useless to say anything to the nurses.”

Satisfied from various reasons that Miss Neville was as sane as I was myself, I transferred my attentions to one of the other patients. I found her in need of medical aid and quite silly mentally, although I have seen many women in the lower walks of life, whose sanity was never questioned, who were not any brighter. […]

All the windows in the hall were open and the cold air began to tell on my Southern blood. It grew so cold indeed as to be almost unbearable, and I complained of it to Miss Scott and Miss Ball. But they answered curtly that as I was in a charity place I could not expect much else. All the other women were suffering from the cold, and the nurses themselves had to wear heavy garments to keep themselves warm. […] “It is so very cold here, I want to go out,” I said.

“That’s true,” he said to Miss Scott. “The cold is almost unbearable in here, and you will have some cases of pneumonia if you are not careful.”

With this I was led away and another patient was taken in. I sat right outside the door and waited to hear how he would test the sanity of the other patients. With little variation the examination was exactly the same as mine. All the patients were asked if they saw faces on the wall, heard voices, and what they said. I might also add each patient denied any such peculiar freaks of sight and hearing. At 10 o’clock we were given a cup of unsalted beef tea; at noon a bit of cold meat and a potatoe, at 3 o’clock a cup of oatmeal gruel and at 5.30 a cup of tea and a slice of unbuttered bread. We were all cold and hungry. After the physician left we were given shawls and told to walk up and down the halls in order to get warm. […]

As the doctor was about to leave the pavilion Miss Tillie Mayard discovered that she was in an insane ward. She went to Dr. Field and asked him why she had been sent there.

“Have you just found out you are in an insane asylum?” asked the doctor.

“Yes; my friends said they were sending me to a convalescent ward to be treated for nervous debility, from which I am suffering since my illness. I want to get out of this place immediately.”

“Well, you won’t get out in a hurry,” he said, with a quick laugh.

“If you know anything at all,” she responded, “you should be able to tell that I am perfectly sane. Why don’t you test me?”

“We know all we want to on that score,” said the doctor, and he left the poor girl condemned to an insane asylum, probably for life, without giving her one feeble chance to prove her sanity. […]

The boat stopped and the old woman and the sick girl were taken off. The rest of us were told to sit still. At the next stop my companions were taken off, one at a time. I was last, and it seemed to require a man and a woman to lead me up the plank to reach the shore. An ambulance was standing there, and in it were the four other patients.

“What is this place?” I asked of the man, who had his fingers sunk into the flesh of my arm.

“Blackwell’s Island, an insane place, where you’ll never get out of.” […]

Mrs. Louise Schanz was taken into the presence of Dr. Kinier, the medical man.

“Your name?” he asked, loudly. She answered in German, saying she did not speak English nor could she understand it. However, when he said Mrs. Louise Schanz, she said “Yah, yah.” Then he tried other questions, and when he found she could not understand one world of English, he said to Miss Grupe:

“You are German; speak to her for me.”

Miss Grupe proved to be one of those people who are ashamed of their nationality, and she refused, saying she could understand but few worlds of her mother tongue.

“You know you speak German. Ask this woman what her husband does,” and they both laughed as if they were enjoying a joke.

“I can’t speak but a few words,” she protested, but at last she managed to ascertain the occupation of Mr. Schanz.

“Now, what was the use of lying to me?” asked the doctor, with a laugh which dispelled the rudeness.

“I can’t speak any more,” she said, and she did not.

Thus was Mrs. Louise Schanz consigned to the asylum without a chance of making herself understood. Can such carelessness be excused, I wonder, when it is so easy to get an interpreter? If the confinement was but for a few days one might question the necessity. But here was a woman taken without her own consent from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz begged in German to know where she was, and pleaded for liberty. Her voice broken by sobs, she was led unheard out to us. […]

When Miss Grupe came in I asked if I could not have a night-gown.

“We have not such things in this institution,” she said.

“I do not like to sleep without,” I replied.

“Well, I don’t care about that,” she said. “You are in a public institution now, and you can’t expect to get anything. This is charity, and you should be thankful for what you get.”

“But the city pays to keep these places up,” I urged, “and pays people to be kind to the unfortunates brought here.”

“Well, you don’t need to expect any kindness here, for you won’t get it,” she said, and she went out and closed the door. […]

I could not sleep, so I lay in bed picturing to myself the horrors in case a fire should break out in the asylum. Every door is locked separately and the windows are heavily barred, so that escape is impossible. In the one building alone there are, I think Dr. Ingram told me, some three hundred women. They are locked, one to ten to a room. It is impossible to get out unless these doors are unlocked. A fire is not improbable, but one of the most likely occurrences. Should the building burn, the jailers or nurses would never think of releasing their crazy patients. This I can prove to you later when I come to tell of their cruel treatment of the poor things intrusted to their care. As I say, in case of fire, not a dozen women could escape. All would be left to roast to death. Even if the nurses were kind, which they are not, it would require more presence of mind than women of their class possess to risk the flames and their own lives while they unlocked the hundred doors for the insane prisoners. Unless there is a change there will some day be a tale of horror never equaled. […]

I was never so tired as I grew sitting on those benches. Several of the patients would sit on one foot or sideways to make a change, but they were always reproved and told to sit up straight. If they talked they were scolded and told to shut up; if they wanted to walk around in order to take the stiffness out of them, they were told to sit down and be still. What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 A. M. until 8 P. M. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.

I have described my first day in the asylum, and as my other nine were exactly the same in the general run of things it would be tiresome to tell about each. […]

As I passed a low pavilion, where a crowd of helpless lunatics were confined, I read a motto on the wall, “While I live I hope.” The absurdity of it struck me forcibly. I would have liked to put above the gates that open to the asylum, “He who enters here leaveth hope behind.” […] The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.”

May 8, 2013 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment

On loneliness

Some papers:

i. Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network, by Cacioppo, Fowler, and Christakis.

“The discrepancy between an individual’s loneliness and the number of connections in a social network is well documented, yet little is known about the placement of loneliness within, or the spread of loneliness through, social networks. We use network linkage data from the population-based Framingham Heart Study to trace the topography of loneliness in people’s social networks and the path through which loneliness spreads through these networks. Results indicated that loneliness occurs in clusters, extends up to three degrees of separation, is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks, and spreads through a contagious process. The spread of loneliness was found to be stronger than the spread of perceived social connections, stronger for friends than family members, and stronger for women than for men.”

I almost fell down my chair when I read the first half of this sentence: “The average person spends about 80% of waking hours in the company of others, and the time with others is preferred to the time spent alone (Emler, 1994; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004).” I really shouldn’t have been all that surprised because I’d seen numbers on related stuff before (“the percentage of people living in single person households [in Denmark is] 20,3 %.”) – here’s another link (in Danish), according to which 33% of adult Danes above the age of 25 do not have a cohabitating partner (as can be inferred from the other estimate, only a subset of these people actually live alone. However do note that not all people who do not ‘live alone’ actually interact socially with the people with whom they live; I’m a case in point, as for various reasons it’s exceedingly rare that I socially interact with my roommate). It’s presumably not surprising that someone like me would tend to underestimate how much time most normal people spend in the company of others during an average day, but the magnitude of the difference did catch me by surprise.

“Humans are an irrepressibly meaning-making species, and a large literature has developed showing that perceived social isolation (i.e., loneliness) in normal samples is a more important predictor of a variety of adverse health outcomes than is objective social isolation (e.g., (Cole et al., 2007; Hawkley, Masi, Berry, & Cacioppo, 2006; Penninx et al., 1997; Seeman, 2000; Sugisawa, Liang, & Liu, 1994). […]

Loneliness has […] been associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (Wilson et al., 2007), obesity (Lauder, Mummery, Jones, & Caperchione, 2006), increased vascular resistance (Cacioppo, Hawkley, Crawford et al., 2002), elevated blood pressure (Cacioppo, Hawkley, Crawford et al., 2002; Hawkley et al., 2006), increased hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical activity (Adam, Hawkley, Kudielka, & Cacioppo, 2006; Steptoe, Owen, Kunz-Ebrecht, & Brydon, 2004), less salubrious sleep (Cacioppo, Hawkley, Berntson et al., 2002; Pressman et al., 2005), diminished immunity (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1984; Pressman et al., 2005), reduction in independent living (Russell, Cutrona, De La Mora, & Wallace, 1997; Tilvis, Pitkala, Jolkkonen, & Strandberg, 2000), alcoholism (Akerlind & Hornquist, 1992), depressive symptomatology (Cacioppo et al., 2006; Heikkinen & Kauppinen, 2004), suicidal ideation and behavior (Rudatsikira, Muula, Siziya, & Twa-Twa, 2007), and mortality in older adults (Penninx et al., 1997; Seeman, 2000).” […]

“Lower levels of loneliness are associated with marriage (Hawkley, Browne, & Cacioppo, 2005; Pinquart & Sorenson, 2003), higher education (Savikko, Routasalo, Tilvis, Strandberg, & Pitkala, 2005), and higher income (Andersson, 1998; Savikko et al., 2005), whereas higher levels of loneliness are associated with living alone (Routasalo, Savikko, Tilvis, Strandberg, & Pitkala, 2006), infrequent contact with friends and family (Bondevik & Skogstad, 1998; Hawkley et al., 2005; Mullins & Dugan, 1990), dissatisfaction with living circumstances (Hector-Taylor & Adams, 1996), physical health symptoms (Hawkley et al., In press), chronic work and/or social stress (Hawkley et al., In press), small social network (Hawkley et al., 2005; Mullins & Dugan, 1990), lack of a spousal confidant (Hawkley et al., In press), marital or family conflict (Jones, 1992; Segrin, 1999), poor quality social relationships (Hawkley et al., In press; Mullins & Dugan, 1990; Routasalo et al., 2006), and divorce and widowhood (Dugan & Kivett, 1994; Dykstra & De Jong Gierveld, 1999; Holmen, Ericsson, Andersson, & Winblad, 1992; Samuelsson, Andersson, & Hagberg, 1998). […] When people feel lonely, they tend to be shyer, more anxious, more hostile, more socially awkward, and lower in self esteem (e.g., (Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Cacioppo et al., 2006)).”

ii. Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms, by Hawkley & Cacioppo. From the article:

“A growing body of longitudinal research indicates that loneliness predicts increased morbidity and mortality [12–19]. The effects of loneliness seem to accrue over time to accelerate physiological aging [20]. For instance, loneliness has been shown to exhibit a dose–response relationship with cardiovascular health risk in young adulthood [12]. […] The impact of loneliness on cognition was assessed in a recent review of the literature [9]. Perhaps, the most striking finding in this literature is the breadth of emotional and cognitive processes and outcomes that seem susceptible to the influence of loneliness. Loneliness has been associated with personality disorders and psychoses [23–25], suicide [26], impaired cognitive performance and cognitive decline over time [27–29], increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease [29], diminished executive control [30, 31], and increases in depressive symptoms [32–35]. The causal nature of the association between loneliness and depressive symptoms appears to be reciprocal [32]” […]

“Our model of loneliness [8, 9] posits that perceived social isolation is tantamount to feeling unsafe, and this sets off implicit hypervigilance for (additional) social threat in the environment. Unconscious surveillance for social threat produces cognitive biases: relative to nonlonely people, lonely individuals see the social world as a more threatening place, expect more negative social interactions, and remember more negative social information. Negative social expectations tend to elicit behaviors from others that confirm the lonely persons’ expectations, thereby setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy in which lonely people actively distance themselves from would-be social partners even as they believe that the cause of the social distance is attributable to others and is beyond their own control [37]. This self-reinforcing loneliness loop is accompanied by feelings of hostility, stress, pessimism, anxiety, and low self-esteem [8] and represents a dispositional tendency that activates neurobiological and behavioral mechanisms that contribute to adverse health outcomes. […]

Loneliness differences in immunoregulation extend beyond inflammation processes. Loneliness has been associated with impaired cellular immunity as reflected in lower natural killer (NK) cell activity and higher antibody titers to the Epstein Barr Virus and human herpes viruses [70, 80–82]. In addition, loneliness among middle-age adults has been associated with a smaller increase in NK cell numbers in response to the acute stress of a Stroop task and a mirror tracing task [71]. In young adults, loneliness was associated with poorer antibody response to a component of the flu vaccine [72], suggesting that the humoral immune response may also be impaired in lonely individuals.”

iii. One of the studies also cited above: Women, Loneliness, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease, by Thurston & Kubzansky.


To examine associations between loneliness and risk of incident coronary heart disease (CHD) over a 19-year follow-up period in a community sample of men and women. […]

Hypotheses were examined using data from the First National Health and Nutrition Survey and its follow-up studies (n = 3003). Loneliness, assessed by one item from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies of Depression scale, and covariates were derived from baseline interviews. Incident CHD was derived from hospital records/death certificates over 19 years of follow-up. Hypotheses were evaluated, using Cox proportional hazards models. […]

Among women, high loneliness was associated with increased risk of incident CHD (high: hazard ratio = 1.76, 95% Confidence Interval = 1.17-2.63; medium: hazard ratio = 0.98, 95% Confidence Interval = 0.64-1.49; reference: low), controlling for age, race, education, income, marital status, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and body mass index. Findings persisted additionally controlling for depressive symptoms. No significant associations were observed among men.”

(The last sentence may be important.)

iv. The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review, by Heinrich & Gullone. The first parts you can skip without missing out on anything, but there’s a lot of useful stuff in there as well and you shouldn’t give up on it just because the first part isn’t very good (IMO). I’ve quoted extensively from the paper because there’s a lot of stuff in there – from the article:

“With a particular focus on the adolescent developmental period, this review is organized into five sections: Drawing on developmental and evolutionary psychology theories, the nature of social relationships and the function they serve is first discussed. In the second section, loneliness is introduced as an exemplar of social relationship deficits. Here a definition of loneliness is provided, as well as an explanation of why it may pose a situation of concern. This is followed by a review of the prototypic features of loneliness through examination of its affective, cognitive, and behavioral correlates. The fourth section includes a review of theories related to the antecedent and maintenance factors involved in loneliness. Finally, methodological and theoretical considerations are addressed, and conclusions and proposals for future research directions are put forth.” […]

“Empirical evidence […] suggests that lonely and nonlonely people do not differ in either the daily activities they engage in, or in the amount of time they spend alone (e.g., see Hawkley et al., 2003).” [My initial reaction is to be very skeptical about that claim/finding.] “Thus, loneliness is clearly distinguishable from the objective state of solitude, social isolation, or being alone. Indeed, in a study examining adolescents’ perceptions of loneliness and aloneness, Buchholz and Catton (1999) found that loneliness was described as an aversive state arising from a sense of yearning for another person(s), and associated with negative feelings such as sadness and hopelessness. In contrast, however, aloneness was not viewed negatively. […but I’m aware that this distinction is relevant and may be important.] In fact, whereas loneliness is by definition an undesirable condition, aloneness or solitude may actually be a desirable or positive condition fostering creativity, facilitating self-reflection, self-regulation, identity formation, concentration, thinking, and learning (Buchholz & Catton, 1999; Fromm-Reichmann, 1959; Larson, 1999; Larson, Csikszentmihalyi, & Graef, 1982; Storr, 1988; Winnicott, 1958). Burger (1995) and Larson (see Larson, 1999, for a review) have shown that college students and adolescents, respectively, may seek and appreciate solitude for such positive reasons, rather than as a means of avoiding possibly anxiety-provoking social interactions. However, Larson has also shown that while solitude may be associated with cognitive benefits, such as increased concentration, these benefits come at the cost of lowered mood states (e.g., sadness, irritability, loneliness, and boredom).” […]

“loneliness has been found to be significantly associated with shyness, neuroticism, social withdrawal, and a lower frequency of dating, as well as extracurricular and religious participation (Hojat, 1982b; Horowitz, French, & Anderson, 1982; Jones, Freemon, & Goswick, 1981; Russell et al., 1980; Stephan, Faeth, & Lamm, 1988). Associations between loneliness and poorer social interaction quality have also been demonstrated (Hawkley et al., 2003, Jones et al., 1982, Rotenberg, 1994; Segrin, 1998; Wheeler et al., 1983). For example, Hawkley et al. (2003) found loneliness to be related to less positive and more negative feelings during social interactions. More specifically, loneliness was significantly correlated with less intimacy, comfort, and understanding, and more caution, distrust, and conflict. Importantly, Hawkley et al. also demonstrated that these effects of loneliness on social interaction quality were present after controlling for depressed affect and neuroticism.

Perhaps not surprisingly then, loneliness has also been linked to low social competence, peer rejection and victimization, a lack of high quality friendships, and more negative appraisals of social support (Crick & Ladd, 1993; Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Parker & Asher, 1993; Riggio, Watring, & Throckmorton, 1993; Rubin & Mills, 1988). Larson (1999) has also observed that lonely adolescents are rated by parents and teachers as less well-adjusted. Moreover, loneliness has been found to be associated with higher school dropout rates (Asher & Paquette, 2003), poor academic performance (Larson, 1999; Rotenberg, 1999b; Rotenberg & Morrison, 1993), and juvenile delinquency (Brennan, 1982). However, perhaps most pertinent to the issue of psychosocial problems is the consistent finding that loneliness is associated with low self-esteem (Brage, Meredith, & Woodward, 1993; Hymel, Rubin, Rowden, & LeMare, 1990; Jones, 1982; Larson, 1999; Moore & Sermat, 1974; Olmstead, Guy, O’Mally, & Bentler, 1991; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982; Schultz & Moore, 1988). Yet, despite the typically lower self-esteem of lonely people, Cacioppo et al. (2000) have reported that lonely people have no less social capital to offer than nonlonely people.” […]

“it would appear lonely people experience predominantly negative affect, which can be summarized as four clusters of feelings: desperation, depression, impatient boredom, and self-deprecation. […] while longitudinal investigations (e.g., Brage & Meredith, 1994; Cutrona, 1982; Olmstead et al., 1991) have suggested that low self-esteem plays a causal role in the development and maintenance of loneliness, it is likely that a reciprocal relationship exists between loneliness and low self-esteem (Peplau, Miceli et al., 1982). To elaborate, since social relationships constitute a major aspect of people’s self-conceptions (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1999; Peplau, Miceli et al., 1982; Sippola & Bukowski, 1999), and given its relationship with social relationship deficiencies, loneliness may lead to negative self-conceptions thereby undermining one’s self-regard (Peplau, Miceli et al., 1982), and resulting in a vicious cycle wherein low self-esteem and loneliness reinforce one another.

Not surprisingly then, lonely people have been found to view themselves in a negative and self-depreciating manner, believing that they are inferior, worthless, unattractive, unlovable, and socially incompetent (Horowitz et al., 1982; Jones et al., 1981; Jones & Moore, 1987; Jones, Sansone, & Helm, 1983; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982; Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982; Spitzberg & Canary, 1985; Zakahi & Duran, 1982, 1985). Lonely people have also been observed to hold greater discrepancies than nonlonely people between their actual selves (i.e., how they believe they are) and their ideal selves (i.e., how they would ideally wish to be; Kupersmidt et al., 1999; Eddy, 1961, cited in Peplau, Miceli et al., 1982).

Unfortunately, given Gardner et al.’s (2000) assertion that “the arousal of social hunger may direct attention toward and bias memory for social cues” (p. 487), and their observation that failure to meet belongingness needs gives rise to selective retention of social information, self-conceptions may also be more salient for lonely people than nonlonely people. In support of this notion, loneliness has indeed been found to be associated with self-consciousness and a heightened degree of self-focus (Goswick & Jones, 1981; Jones, Cavert, Snider, & Bruce, 1985; Jones et al., 1981, 1982; Moore & Schultz, 1983). Moreover,Weiss (1973) has argued that these inclinations may result in a “tendency to misinterpret or exaggerate the hostile or affectionate intent of others” (p. 21). This is a contention that has been at least partially supported by Cutrona’s, (1982) finding that lonely people are more sensitive to rejection.”

Numerous studies have indicated that the social behavior of lonely individuals is marked by inhibited sociability and ineffectiveness. For example, lonely people are typically shy (e.g., Anderson & Harvey, 1988; Cacioppo et al., 2000; Cheek & Busch, 1981; Dill & Anderson, 1999; Hojat, 1982a; Jackson, Soderlind, & Weiss, 2000; Jones et al., 1981; Kalliopuska & Laitinen, 1991; Qualter & Munn, 2002), introverted (Cutrona, 1982; Hojat, 1982a; Jones et al., 1981; Kalliopuska & Laitinen, 1991), less affiliative/sociable (Cacioppo et al., 2000; Cutrona, 1982), and less willing to take social risks (Hojat, 1982a; Jones et al., 1981; Moore & Schultz, 1983). Lonely people also seem to be less assertive than nonlonely people (Bell & Daly, 1985; Cutrona, 1982; Gerson & Perlman, 1979; Hojat, 1982a; Jones et al., 1981; Sermat, 1980; Sloan & Solano, 1984). […] Jones et al. (1982) have revealed that, at least in mixed-sex college student pairs, lonely people make more statements focusing on themselves, respond more slowly to their partner, ask fewer questions, and change the discussion topic more often than nonlonely people. Thus, the self-focused behavior which lonely people appear to engage in during social interactions may undermine relationship development, furthering feelings of loneliness. […]

Rubenstein and Shaver (1980, 1982) have observed that people’s responses to loneliness tend to fall into four categories: active solitude (e.g., study or work, write, listen to music, exercise, walk, work on a hobby, go to a movie, read, play music), spending money (e.g., spend money, go shopping), social contact (e.g., call a friend, visit someone), and sad passivity (e.g., cry, sleep, sit and think, do nothing, overeat, take tranquilizers, watch television, drink or get ‘stoned’). In coping with loneliness, they found that severely lonely people characteristically adopt a ‘sad passivity’ coping strategy, whereas people who are infrequently lonely tend to adopt the other three strategies. […] perceived social skills are affected by loneliness, with greater loneliness being associated with lower self-perceived social competence. Therefore, coping behavior is influenced by perceived social skills, which in turn are negatively affected by loneliness. […] to summarize, lonely people appear to behave in a self-absorbed, socially ineffective manner towards others, and are typically passive when faced with loneliness and stress.”

v. A Meta-Analysis of Interventions to Reduce Loneliness, by Masi, Chen, Hawkley & Cacioppo.

“In summary, meta-analysis of the randomized group comparison studies revealed a small but significant effect of the interventions on loneliness. Of note, interventions that addressed maladaptive social cognition had a sizable mean effect compared to the other intervention types. […] The current study used meta-analytic techniques to determine quantitatively whether the outcomes of loneliness interventions varied based on study design, intervention type, or other study characteristic. Compared to single-group pre-post and nonrandomized group comparison studies, randomized group comparison studies had a small but significant mean effect size (–0.198, p < .05). Within this group, the mean effect size for interventions that addressed maladaptive social cognition was larger than that for interventions that attempted to improve social skills, enhance social support, or increase opportunities for social interaction. A primary criterion for empirically supported therapies is that they demonstrate efficacy in randomized controlled trials (Chambless & Hollon, 1998). By this criterion, our meta-analysis suggests certain interventions, particularly those that use CBT, can reduce loneliness. […]

With an intervention effect size of –0.198, the average treatment group scored 0.198 standard deviations lower in loneliness, which is equivalent to 8.05 × 0.198 = 1.59 units on the UCLA Scale. Thus, with the control group mean at 41.17, the reduction in loneliness in the average treatment group was equivalent to a decrease from 41.17 to 39.58 on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. […] Because clinical significance is defined as “returning to normal functioning” (Jacobson, Roberts, Berns, & McGlinchey, 1999), a 1.59-point decrease in the UCLA Loneliness score clearly did not return study participants to the level of healthy, community-living individuals. Moreover, a meta-analysis of 302 social and behavioral intervention meta-analyses (reviewed in Lipsey & Wilson, 2001) showed that, on average, interventions in this field have generated a mean effect size of 0.50. A mean effect size of –0.198 falls in the bottom 15% of this distribution, suggesting that loneliness interventions to date have not attained the degree of efficacy achieved by interventions targeting other social and behavioral outcomes.”

May 6, 2013 Posted by | papers, Psychology | 3 Comments

The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Pew)

Here’s the link. I won’t comment on this stuff (much), but here’s some data – click to view figures/tables full size:

Support for sharia

Sharia apply only to muslims

What do sharia supporters want

Right to choose veil and wife must obey

Religious freedom

Some people might say there’s a problem here. To take an example in order to illustrate that problem, take a closer look at the preferences of the South Asian (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh) muslims. Among South Asian muslims the median % of muslims who back the idea of sharia as the official law of the land is 84 % (p.16). 76 % of the sharia supporters in that region favour executing those who leave islam (see above). Multiply the two and you get that ~64% of South Asian muslims – a clear majority – are in favour of killing apostates. Yet 97 % of them say religious freedom is a good thing. You do the math.


Honour killings

May 2, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, islam | Leave a comment

What people will (and will not) say to others..

Here are 5 statements:

“You have a nice place.”

“You’re a bit lazy, and I’m sure you’d have gotten more out of the latest lecture if you’d read the material more carefully beforehand.”

“you have a fantastic episodic memory.”

“I love that you actually read these kinds of things…”

“The place would have looked less messy if you’d dusted a bit before we arrived.”

Yesterday I was told 3 of those things. One is a direct quote, the other two are English translations of what was said in Danish. I don’t think it takes a lot of work for you to realize which of the above statements I ‘made up’.

There’s a lot of stuff you can’t say. And a lot of stuff you’re expected to say. And there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t go into either of those categories.

I assume that saying nice things to others will most often make others think you’re more likely to be a nice person, because saying nice things is certainly something most people would assume that nice people are more likely to do (doing nice things is a stronger signal than saying nice things, but saying nice things provides many psychological benefits as well).

Providing constructive criticism will often be a much more risky thing to do than to say something nice, even if that criticism includes potentially much more useful information. This is, among other things, because the more potentially useful the criticism provided is, the more likely the other party is to respond emotionally, rather than rationally, to the criticism in question. So people are unlikely to run the risk of providing useful constructive criticism to another individual before they know the other party well (…and presumably have said a lot of nice things to them). Granted, someone who knows the other individual well is also more likely to be able to provide constructive criticism so this dynamic is not without benefits (lower signal to noise ratio), but the total amount of constructive criticism supplied would surely be much higher if it was costless to provide it to strangers. One big problem is that it’s hard to credibly commit to not taking constructive criticism personally and responding emotionally.

At this point it seems to me that most people who interact with me regularly are being nice to me and mostly say nice things to me. I find it interesting that I rarely explicitly acknowledge that this fact may not necessarily have anything to do with me and my attributes, and that people may say nice things simply because of how they believe such statements reflect on themselves (‘I’m the kind of person who says that he has a nice place. That’s what nice people say – so I must be a nice person.’). Also, communication strategies may be implicit and not subject to close scrutiny by the people employing them – indeed it may be optimal not to subject your communication strategies to close scrutiny, as an implicit approach to these matters makes it harder to evaluate e.g. the level of sincerity displayed (and thus makes you more likely to successfully claim at the very least plausible deniability when you’re not being perfectly honest). Different perceptions of an individual’s status, attributes, etc., may make some sincere nice statements from one individual to the other seem insincere to the receiver (making a (negative) emotional response more likely).

Maybe a good way of thinking about this stuff is in terms of a binary social (verbal) feedback varible, which may be either ‘nice’ or ‘critical’, and then making an analogy to consumption vs investment. Nice things being said have consumption value; we like when others say nice things about us, and we derive pleasure from that. Criticism has investment characteristics; it’s initially costly (it hurts to be told you’re lazy), but it may have large positive effects in the long run if potential improvement strategies are addressed. Most of income is consumption – we’re mostly told nice things. If consumption is very low (not enough social validation from peers), it may be better for an individual to lower income than to invest the marginal unit of income; even potentially very useful criticism may not be very welcome when you feel socially rejected by others. Actually you’ll only be willing to undertake an investment (accept critical remarks) once your consumption is higher than some specific baseline level (people are required to say a lot of nice things to others before they’re allowed to say less nice things to them without repercussions).

I don’t know. I like when people say nice things to me, so I’m certainly not telling anybody to stop doing that. But social stuff is confusing when you start to think about it.

On a related note – yesterday three people said something nice to me. Yesterday was a good day.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | rambling nonsense, random stuff | Leave a comment