Author Archives: Benquo

Parkinson's Law and the Ideology of Statistics

The anonymous review of The Anti-Politics Machine published on Astral Codex X focuses on a case study of a World Bank intervention in Lesotho, and tells a story about it:

The World Bank staff drew reasonable-seeming conclusions from sparse data, and made well-intentioned recommendations on that basis. However, the recommended programs failed, due to factors that would have been revealed by a careful historical and ethnographic investigation of the area in question. Therefore, we should spend more resources engaging in such investigations in order to make better-informed World Bank style resource allocation decisions. So goes the story.

It seems to me that the World Bank recommendations were not the natural ones an honest well-intentioned person would have made with the information at hand. Instead they are heavily biased towards top-down authoritarian schemes, due to a combination of perverse incentives, procedures that separate data-gathering from implementation, and an ideology that makes this seem like the natural and normal thing to do.

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The Debtors' Revolt

Dear Evan,

You asked whether I had anything in writing to point you to about the history of the great international debtors' revolt of the 20th century, more commonly called the World Wars. I didn't, and I have had some trouble figuring out what the best approach is, in part because it's not clear who my audience is or which feedback if any is trying to learn something new rather than condition me to say more familiar things. Without an idea of someone who might understand me, there is no such thing as an attempt to communicate. The epistolary format has worked well for me recently, so I am going to try to explain what I know to you, personally, and publish at least my original email, and any back-and-forth you're willing to share.

I want to start by explaining the importance of this history. If I tell you that the old world has been overthrown by a class of debtor-aristocrats, and society converted en masse into a debtor aristocracy, you might think of exemplary cavaliers such as Thomas Jefferson and get the wrong idea. Instead, I'll start with an anecdote about the sort of person I mean, so you can see the relationship between membership in a debtor class, shame, class privilege (including "racial" privilege), and opposition to language. Next I will talk a little bit about the mechanism by which the debtor aristocracy propagates itself. Then I'll go into the chronology of the Money Wars. Along the way I will try to clearly signpost standard search terms, related bodies of recorded knowledge, and particular books or essays that might be relevant, but there are a lot, and I will try to write this in a way that at least potentially stands alone - please do err on the side of asking me questions (or trying to restate things in your own words to check whether you understand) rather than assuming you should do your own research first, because that will help me create a canonical summary I can point others to, and I expect that you are better informed than the typical person I need to explain this to.

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How to Interpret Vitamin D Dosage Using Numbers

I am sick of people rejecting good evidence about vitamin D because they are confused about the bad evidence and can't be bothered to investigate, so I am going to explain it.

Let's look at this like a 19th century physician who woke up from a coma this morning to trawl the public internet for info (I helped), knowing about evolution and bodies and counting and skepticism but not about "metastudies" or "scientific consensus" or "USDA guidelines." How much vitamin D do we need?

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Ivermectin Looks Good for COVID-19 Prophylaxis

Early on in the pandemic, Ivermectin was one of the few interventions that seemed promising, but since then I'd seen mainly negative headlines about faked pro-Ivermectin data, so I implicitly categorized it with hydroxychloroquine as a discredited hypothesis. But in response to my recent blog post on Machiavellian attitudes towards informing the public, ChristianKl from LessWrong asked me why I hadn't mentioned Ivermectin along with vitamin D. After a quick Google Scholar search, I found that the evidence for it seems surprisingly strong.

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Dr Fauci as Machiavellian Boddhisattva

If you parse what US authority figures like Dr Fauci are explicitly saying about COVID, you end up learning things like:

On the other hand, yesterday I visited a toy store that sells Dr Fauci figurines for children, insists that everyone wear masks regardless of vaccination status, and limits the number of people in the store.

Corporate mass media was happy to broadcast lies like "masks don't work" early in the pandemic. But while official state announcements clearly indicated the direction in which the press was expected to distort the narrative, they were careful not to brazenly say the opposite of the truth, that masks don't work, only to tell ordinary people not to use them because healthcare workers needed them. A literal-minded person who read and believed actual government statements rather than news and opinion articles would have inferred from the start that masks worked.

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Should I Double Dip on Vaccines?

The usually reliable Zvi writes:

If you have had one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should you then get a shot of Pfizer or Moderna? If it is available, absolutely, yes you should.

When people give orders like this instead of making assertions about matters of fact, I have to assume that if there's no stated cost-benefit calculation, then no cost-benefit calculation was performed. So I have to do my own.

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Normies vs Statistical Normality

There are many different kinds of people. We hear about and from suburban professional Americans ("normies") a lot because a lot of our shared stories about what is going on are about them.

Microeconomically rational agents with similar beliefs and preferences will usually act similarly, and a statistical normal can emerge from this. But sometimes the details of a situation mean that the best thing to do looks very unusual.

Normies aren't microeconomically rational. Their main motivation is that they feel safe if they resemble some shared idea of normality, and scared otherwise. This is a cybernetic perceptual-control process. Normies will often justify their own actions, and reward and punish others', on the basis of what is normal. This leads to ganging up on people who aren't trying to follow the herd, even if they aren't hurting anyone.

If you're holding onto an autonomous perspective, you're alienated from opposition to autonomous perspectives. That doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. It just means you're in a conflict. It's helpful to be able to understand and predict the actions of people who are trying to hurt you, but it's not helpful to misinterpret a conflict as a disagreement you ought to try to reconcile.

Normies claim to be a larger and more powerful coalition than they actually are by conflating their conformity target with statistical normality. This can make it seem more dangerous or surprising than it is to be out of sync with normies.

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