The weekly link roundup is where I list links for the links that I liked for the week. Remember that I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in every article. Feel free to comment or ask. Lastly, it may be worth noting that I do try to sort these links in the order that I like them, descending.
- Schelling Fences on Slippery Slopes: “Slippery slopes are themselves a slippery concept. Imagine trying to explain them to an alien: ‘Well, we right-thinking people are quite sure that the Holocaust happened, so banning Holocaust denial would shut up some crackpots and improve the discourse. But it’s one step on the road to things like banning unpopular political positions or religions, and we right-thinking people oppose that, so we won’t ban Holocaust denial.’ And the alien might well respond: ‘But you could just ban Holocaust denial, but not ban unpopular political positions or religions. Then you right-thinking people get the thing you want, but not the thing you don’t want.’ This post is about some of the replies you might give the alien.”
- Is That Your True Rejection?: “What would it take to get you to change your mind about libertarianism? What are the arguments such that, if they were decisively refuted, you would actually change your mind? When I ask myself this question, I think my actual political views would change primarily with my beliefs about how likely government interventions are in practice to do more harm than good. I think my libertarianism rests chiefly on the empirical proposition—a factual belief which is either false or true, depending on how the universe actually works—that 90% of the time you have a bright idea like ‘offer government mortgage guarantees so that more people can own houses,’ someone will somehow manage to screw it up, or there’ll be side effects you didn’t think about, and most of the time you’ll end up doing more harm than good, and the next time won’t be much different from the last time.”
- We Don’t Need No Education: “Conservatives would have you believe that our disappointing economic performance has somehow been caused by excessive government spending, which crowds out private job creation. But the reality is that private-sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions; the big difference this time is an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did under President George W. Bush. And, if we had those extra jobs, the unemployment rate would be much lower than it is — something like 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent. It sure looks as if cutting government when the economy is deeply depressed hurts rather than helps the American people.”
- The Triviality of the Debate Over “Is-Ought” and the Definition of “Moral”: “The problem of how statements of fact are related to moral judgments has dominated recent moral philosophy. Associated with this problem is another, which has also been given considerable attention – the question of how morality is to be defined. The two issues are linked, since some definitions of morality allow us to move from statements of fact to moral judgments, while others do not. In this article I shall take the two issues together, and try to show that they do not merit the amount of attention they have been given. I shall argue that the differences between the contending parties are terminological, and that there are various possible terminologies, none of which has, on balance, any great advantage over any other terminology. So instead of continuing to regard these issues as central, moral philosophers could, I believe, ‘agree to disagree’ about the ‘is-ought’ problem, and about the definition of morality, provided only that everyone was careful to stipulate how he was using the term ‘moral’ and was aware of the implications and limitations of the definition he was using. Moral philosophers could then move on to consider more important issues.”
- Epiphany Addiction: “‘Epiphany Addiction’ is an informal little term I came up with to describe a process that I’ve observed happen to people who try to work on their personal issues. How it works is that someone will be trying to solve a problem they have, say a lack of confidence around other people. They’ll come across a piece of advice or a motivational snippet that will lead them have an epiphany or a profound realization. This often happens when someone is reading self-help books or articles. [...] The problem with these epiphanies is that they can make you feel really charged up, and like something has clicked into place in your mind, and that your life will be different from now on. They usually don’t lead to any tangible results though. You walk around for a day or two feeling ready to take on the world, but you don’t act any differently, and the ‘high’ soon wears off.”
- Affluence Today: “Roughly matching the one billion people living in extreme poverty, there are about a billion living at a level of affluence never previously known except in the courts of kings and nobles. [...] If you’re shaking your head at the excesses of the superrich, though, don’t shake too hard. Think again about some of the ways Americans with average incomes spend their money. In most places in the U.S., you can get your recommended eight glasses of water a day out of the tap for less than a penny, while a bottle of water will set you back a dollar fifty or more. [...] Most of us are absolutely certain that we wouldn’t hesitate to save a drowning child, and that we would do it at considerable cost to ourselves. Yet while thousands of children die each day, we spend money on things we take for granted, and would hardly notice if they were not there. Is that wrong? If so, how far does our obligation to the poor go?”
- Blogging Better Angels – The Bad Old Days: “Pinker’s first major theme is that, when comparing the present to past eras, we tend to forget just how violent the past really was. Some people speak fondly of “the good old days”, which they romanticize as a peaceful, pastoral existence lacking the squalor and dangers of modern civilization. But the reality is that our civilization, today, is probably the safest and most peaceful that the planet has ever known. For ordinary people throughout most of history, life was a constant struggle to survive, with violence an omnipresent reality and death from war, crime or disease a perpetual danger. What’s more, the people of those eras accepted, and even cheered on, a level of brutality and violence that most people today would find sickening and unimaginable.”
- Book Review – The Nurture Assumption: “The latest book I read was The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris, which was supposed to argue that parents don’t really have much of an effect on how their kids turn out. This sounded ridiculous when I first heard it, but people I trusted like Steven Pinker kept endorsing it, so I finally picked it up. The thesis might be a little more subtle than that. Parents can still impact their kids’ biological development – to take an extreme example, if you malnourish a baby, that’s going to hurt brain development. They can still guide them into certain areas by, again to take an extreme example, making them go to music lessons every day starting at age four. But they don’t have to worry that by being too strict or not strict enough or just the right amount of strict but at the wrong time they’re going to seriously harm their children’s adult personalities. The most dutiful helicopter parents probably wouldn’t change much by plopping their kids on the couch every day and telling them not to bother them.”
- Wall Street Is Too Big to Regulate: “The Barclays interest-rate scandal, HSBC’s openness to money laundering by Mexican drug traffickers, the epic blunders at JPMorgan Chase — at this point, four years after Wall Street wrecked the global economy, does anyone really believe we can regulate the big banks? And if we broke them up, would they really stay broken up? [...] Some economists in and around the University of Chicago, who founded the modern conservative tradition, had a surprisingly different take: When it comes to the really big fish in the economic pond, some felt, the only way to preserve competition was to nationalize the largest ones, which defied regulation.”
- Welfare Recipients Are Actually Mostly White And Less Likely Than The Average American To Use Drugs: “The idea is that lazy people of color are using ‘your’ taxpayer dollars (it is always assumed that ‘those people’ do not also pay taxes) to avoid work while getting high on illegal drugs, but the truth is that this is bunk and it is not-so-thinly-veiled racism. I, for one, do not want my tax dollars to go towards programs that intend to punish people on welfare for using drugs when it is simpler to just help pay for welfare for the needy and not add yet another hurdle to the process that is designed to shame, scapegoat, reinforce racial stereotypes that aren’t even remotely accurate, and make it more difficult to get assistance when it is needed.”
- Bayesians, Frequentists, and Lance Armstrong: “As social scientists, at least as regards what we can empirically assess, we tend to make statements of probability rather than fact. So rather than say that Armstrong did or did not use performance enhancers, we would talk about how likely versus not likely it is that he used the substances. It frustrates many people that we rarely make categorical statements, but we’re trying to be honest about what we know and don’t know.”
- How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science: “The sampling technique has revealed flaws in common stereotypes. Take the one about how women like to talk much more than men. When Mehl actually measured how many words men and women speak each day, he found there was practically no difference — both men and women speak around 17,000 words a day, give or take a few hundred. [...] When male scientists talked to other scientists about their research, it energized them. But it was a different story for women.
‘For women, the pattern was just the opposite, specifically in their conversations with male colleagues,’ Schmader said. ‘So the more women in their conversations with male colleagues were talking about research, the more disengaged they reported being in their work.’ Disengagement predicts that someone is at risk of dropping out.”
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