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. You can see the other roundups via the category page.
- How Much Malaria is Biodiversity Worth?: “very day, almost everything we do is about prioritisation. When I pick BLT or egg-mayo, I’m prioritising. When a small business owner decides whether to hire a new worker or install a new machine, they’re prioritising. When we decide to increase the cost of energy in order to reduce future climate change, we’re prioritizing. [...] Whenever any person, group or government makes any decision about how to spend or what to work on they are implicitly making these comparisons. And they’re doing it badly, carelessly, and unconsciously. There are some groups working to tackle the challenge of global prioritisation. Organisations like the Disease Control Priorities Project try to engage with a specific part of the challenge. The Copenhagen Consensus has engaged lots of specialists in a broad range of fields to present the case for many types of opportunity, and has worked on comparing the best of them.”
- Redistributing Wealth Upward [Washington Post]: “Which is the more redistributionist of our two parties? In recent decades, as Republicans have devoted themselves with laser-like intensity to redistributing America’s wealth and income upward, the evidence suggests the answer is the GOP. The most obvious way that Republicans have robbed from the middle to give to the rich has been the changes they wrought in the tax code — reducing income taxes for the wealthy in the Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts, and cutting the tax rate on capital gains to less than half the rate on the top income of upper-middle-class employees.”
- The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment [PDF]: “The conventional wisdom about negative political campaigning holds that it works, i.e., it has the consequences its practitioners intend. Many observers also fear that negative campaigning has unintended but detrimental effects on the political system itself. An earlier meta-analytic assessment of the relevant literature found no reliable evidence for these claims, but since then the research literature has more than doubled in size and has greatly improved in quality. We reexamine this literature and ﬁnd that the major conclusions from the earlier meta-analysis still hold. All told, the research literature does not bear out the idea that negative campaigning is an effective means of winning votes, even though it tends to be more memorable and stimulate knowledge about the campaign. Nor is there any reliable evidence that negative campaigning depresses voter turnout, though it does slightly lower feelings of political efﬁcacy, trust in government, and possibly overall public mood.”
- Morality as Means: “So, I’ve argued that we have reason to care about morality because it is a means, recommended by social rationality, to our common ends. Another issue I’d like to consider is whether morality is merely a means. In other words, is moral behaviour intrinsically good (does it ‘add more goodness’ simply in virtue of being moral?), or is it merely good insofar as it brings about non-morally good effects (such as fulfilling some person’s desires)? I think it is merely a means. Suppose we have a moral obligation to keep our promises. I might then increase the quantity of moral behaviour in the world by promising to do things that I intended to do anyway. (‘I promise to breathe in… I promise to breathe out…’) Clearly there is nothing particularly good about such behaviour.”
- Should We Ban Cigarettes?: “Proctor says, cigarettes, not guns or bombs, are the deadliest artifacts in the history of civilization. If we want to save lives and improve health, nothing else that is readily achievable would be as effective as an international ban on the sale of cigarettes. [...] Some argue that as long as a drug harms only those who choose to use it, the state should let individuals make their own decisions, limiting its role to ensuring that users are informed of the risks that they are running. But tobacco is not such a drug, given the dangers posed by secondhand smoke, especially when adults smoke in a home with young children. Even setting aside the harm that smokers inflict on nonsmokers, the free-to-choose argument is unconvincing with a drug as highly addictive as tobacco, and it becomes even more dubious when we consider that most smokers take up the habit as teenagers and later want to quit. Reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke to a level that was not addictive might meet this objection.”
- Rubio Shows Why “In God We Trust” Must Go: “Exhibiting stunning insensitivity to the millions of Americans who do not profess a belief in any deities, Rubio declared: ‘Our national motto is In God we Trust, reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.’ [...] Defenders of the national motto have often disingenuously claimed that the affirmation is not at all religious, but instead should be understood as a benign acknowledgment of the nation’s religious heritage. Many nonbelievers have found it rather odd that the nation must make a factual affirmation of a belief in a divinity in order to “acknowledge heritage,” but most have quietly gone along with it. [...] Rubio shows us, however, that such assumptions are wrong. He shows us that even educated, high-ranking leaders – never mind the average guy down the street – can see the In God We Trust motto as validating religious Americans and implying that nonbelievers lack ‘the most important American value of all.’ “
- The Importance of Gratitude – Developing the Gratitude Attitude in 59 Seconds: “I am an atheist, but like many atheists out there – who are good, kind, and fulfilled people despite not having let religion into their lives – I absolutely see the need to appreciate what I have everyday. It keeps you grounded, sane, and generally makes you a nicer person to be around. If you can appreciate the little things while striving towards your own big goals, you’ve got it made. So often we forget to appreciate what we have, what we have achieved and what we are working towards. The importance of gratitude was more recently bought to my attention, as something you can strive towards doing more of as an actionable being, rather than a simple concept in the book 59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman.”
- Stop Buying into Mass Consumerism: “Every September, parents drag their unappreciative kids along with them to pick out stationary for the new school year. New pencils, new pens, new pencil cases, new rulers, new erasers, new pads, new folders, new dividers, new plastic wallets, new paper wallets, new paint brushes, new staplers, new hole punches, new rolls of sellotape, new packs of tack… The list goes on. I honestly don’t know what the parents think their child is going to do with all these new goodies – and more to the point, what the hell did they do with all of last years new goodies? Do they really need ten folders, six packs of staples and a green glow-in-the-dark lunch box? When I ring up the total the parents often gasp at the cost, at which point, as if by clockwork, the child will chime in with ‘I will use it all though’. HOW? HOW WILL YOU USE IT ALL?”
- What Happens When We Turn the World’s Most Famous Robot Test on Ourselves?: “But the Turing Test’s application is no longer limited to questions of artificial intelligence: Social scientists too are getting in on the action and using the test in a completely new way — to compare different human subjects and their ability to pass as members of groups to which they do not belong, such as religious and ethnic minorities or particular professional classes. With the Turing Test, sociologists can compare the extent to which subjects can understand people who are different from them in some way.”
- Passwords Are Not Broken, But How We Choose Them Sure Is: “I’ve been reading a lot about how passwords are no longer good security. The reality is more complicated. Passwords are still secure enough for many applications, but you have to choose a good one. And that’s hard. The best way to explain how to choose a good password is to describe how they’re broken. The most serious attack is called offline password guessing. There are commercial programs that do this, sold primarily to police departments. There are also hacker tools that do the same thing.”
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