A Weekly Link Roundup contains links to articles on the web that I found worth reading. Remember, I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask. And if you need a couple hundred more links, don’t be afraid to look to the link roundup category.
Link Roundups used to contain a summary of the discussions I’ve participated in here and elsewhere on the blog, but I’ve decided to separate that into a new upcoming “Discussion Roundup” series.
- The Order of Things – What College Rankings Really Tell Us: “There is no right answer to how much weight a ranking system should give to these two competing values. It’s a matter of which educational model you value more—and here, once again, U.S. News makes its position clear. It gives twice as much weight to selectivity as it does to efficacy. It favors the Yale model over the Penn State model, which means that the Yales of the world will always succeed at the U.S. News rankings because the U.S. News system is designed to reward Yale-ness.”
- Our Worst Subjects: “‘I prefer to give to local organizations.’ I’ve heard this a lot. Imagine a high school student who sits down to study for exams. Her chemistry book is lying closest to her on the desk, so she decides to study chemistry. Her father points out that since she has an A in chemistry and a D in geometry, studying geometry might help her grades more. ‘But that book is all the way over there in my backpack,’ the student points out; ‘I prefer to study locally.’”
- If You Demand Magic, Magic Won’t Help: “I was pondering the philosophy of fantasy stories, and it occurred to me that if there were actually dragons in our world—if you could go down to the zoo, or even to a distant mountain, and meet a fire-breathing dragon—while nobody had ever actually seen a zebra, then our fantasy stories would contain zebras aplenty, while dragons would be unexciting. Now that’s what I call painting yourself into a corner, wot? The grass is always greener on the other side of unreality.”
- Thick and Thin: “Personally, I wonder if part of the problem is the great difficulty of explaining the analysis of a thick problem to someone without a similar depth of knowledge. At best, they believe you because you’ve been right in the past. Or, sometimes, once you have developed the answer, there is a ‘thin’ way of confirming your answer – as when Rochefort took Jasper Holmes’s suggestion and had Midway broadcast an uncoded complaint about the failure of their distillation system – soon followed by a Japanese report that ‘AF’ was short of water.”
- To Give or To Get: The Paradox of Choice and Pro-social Spending: “To be sure, some choice is good. [...] But too many choices make us worse off. [...] Is it possible to avoid the paradox of choice? In a society where there is an option for everything (my local drug store carries about 30 different brands of floss!) it seems impossible. But here’s one idea: spend your money on other people (what’s called prosocial spending), it will make you happier.”
- The Frozen Stream of Time: “I’m blogging through Good and Real by Gary Drescher, perhaps the best book on naturalism I’ve read yet. So far I’ve summarized Drescher’s views on the mind and consciousness. Next, Drescher turns to some paradoxes in physics, starting with the nature of time.”
- Think Outside the Box: The Cutest Response to Creationism Ever: “‘I found these puzzle pieces laying here next to this box. Want to help me put it together?’
‘No. It’s a picture of a duck. There’s no point doing all the work. The box already told me what it is.’
‘Some of these pieces don’t seem to match the picture. I’d like to figure out why.’”
- Did Thomas Jefferson Really Father a Child With Sally Heming? And If Not, How Did The Storry Get Born?: “The claim that Thomas Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings began with James Thomson Callender, a notorious journalist and scandalmonger. Callender had demanded that Jefferson, who was elected president in 1800, appoint him postmaster of Richmond, Va. At one point during the summer of 1802, Callendar shouted from in front of the White House, ‘Sir, you know that by lying [in press attacks on President John Adams] I made you President!’”
- Superhappiness: “Is happiness more akin to intelligence or lifespan, something that transhumanists should strive to enhance without limit – with the almost unimaginable implications that such an indefinite increase entails? [...] I don’t intend to answer this question here. As it happens, I predict that superintelligent posthumans will be animated by gradients of bliss that are literally billions of times richer than anything biologically accessible today; but whether or not such civilisations exist beyond extremely low density branches of the universal wave function is pure conjecture. Instead, I want to raise ten objections to the indefinite amplification of well-being – and sketch out ten possible replies.”
- Sometimes Happiness is Choice: “If someone assaults you, steals from you, or cheats on you, you have every right to feel upset or angry [...] Yes, these feelings make sense—but past a certain point, they may do you more harm than good. They may even trap you in an endless loop of paralysis and negativity. Freeing yourself from this trap is critical to moving on with your life.”
- Would Paying Politicians More Attract Better Politicians?: “Whenever you look at a political system and find it wanting, one tempting thought is this: Maybe we have subpar politicians because the job simply isn’t attracting the right people. And, therefore, if we were to significantly raise politicians’ salaries, we would attract a better class of politician. [...I]s there any evidence that paying politicians more actually improves quality?”
- How States are Restricting Political Speech: “State law — this is the state of John McCain, apostle of political purification through the regulation of political speech — says that anytime two or more people work together to influence a vote on a ballot measure, they instantly become a ‘political committee.’ This transformation triggers various requirements — registering with the government, filing forms, establishing a bank account for the ‘committee’ even if it has raised no money and does not intend to. This must be done before members of this fictitious ‘committee’ may speak.”
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