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Rivetting Roundup 2019/01/07

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1. Remember the hoax grievance papers being accepted for publication (Sokal Squared? Well, the professor behind them, Peter Boghossian, is being accused of violating the ethical treatment of humans. The humans in the study… are peer reviewers and editors. The Reason reports:

“This charge makes Boghossian sound like Dr. Frankenstein. But the “human subjects” in question are the peer reviewers and journal editors who accepted Boghossian’s hoax papers for publication. Their reputations may have suffered as a result of being duped—and they were indeed unwitting participants in the experiment—but their physical well-being was not compromised. Moreover, it may not have been obvious to Boghossian and his co-conspirators that research conducted outside his field, bearing no formal connection to Portland State University, was still subject to IRB approval.”

Musa al-Gharbi, a sociology fellow at Columbia University and director of communications for Heterodox Academy, tells me he thought it “highly plausible that had they followed standard protocol, the IRB board would have rejected their proposal for political/ideological reasons. […] “There is a long tradition within the field of philosophy in carrying out hoaxes like these,” he says. “They virtually never involve IRB approval.


Year in Review

1Steven Pinker on why the world is getting better on 52-insights.

There’s a second reason and that is there is a bias among journalists and intellectuals generally toward accentuating the negative as a way of appearing wise and not naive.

It is a moral stance that journalists and intellectuals tend to adopt where they feel like gulls if they point to positive events and appear like prophets. If they remind people of all the ways in which they may be doomed, that is a dynamic that goes back to the Old Testament.

It is an increasing theme within journalism, and many journalists are quite upfront about it.  They believe that any positive development is not serious journalism but is corporate public relations or government propaganda.”

2. Niall Ferguson explains why we are all living in Disneyland: “Back in the 1970s the joke was that rundown Glasgow was Disneyland. “Aye, because this disnae work, and that disnae work . . . ” Well, we all live in “Disnaeland” now.” 

Famously known for bulletting and numbering his arguments Ferguson warns democratic leaders can’t win for this seven reasons:

“1) You can’t do anything about demographics, and for most democracies these are terrible.

2) You have inherited welfare states that transfer resources from younger to older voters, but the latter tend to be more numerous and turn out more in elections, so you can’t reform welfare and survive.

3) Your safety valve is that you can borrow from the bond market, and interest rates are very low, but that’s now changing and you can’t do anything about it because central banks are independent.

4) Your ageing population creates a demand for foreign labour and students, but immigration is politically unpopular, even when the immigrants come from northern Europe and genuinely ease skills shortages.

5) You might just be able to overcome these problems if there were a real external threat, but the truth is that ordinary people just aren’t that scared of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, much less Kim Jong-un.

6) As for climate change, ask Macron how his proposed fuel tax is going.

7) Finally, social media have made it almost impossible for you to control the narrative. You can tweet to your heart’s content, but you are firing a water pistol into an ocean of extreme views and fake news.”

One of the points Ferguson makes is that today is “the key is to buy the rumour and sell the news — or rather buy ahead of the hope and sell ahead of the reality check” and  “the brightest people in my generation had gone into politics rather than finance. Without quite meaning to, the bankers contrived to make one thing easier than it had ever been before: government borrowing.

Of course, you might not like Ferguson since he concludes with the prediction socialist regimes will soon come to democracies “they’ll find out the true meaning of Disnaeland. Because believe me, kids: nothing disnae work quite like socialism.”



1. APA has issued its first-ever guidelines for practice with men and boys. ”

But something is amiss for men as well. Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of color.

APA’s new Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men strive to recognize and address these problems in boys and men while remaining sensitive to the field’s androcentric past. Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”

There is no doubt this will come to some as another gynocentric attack although that is not the wish of the foundation: “But just as this old psychology left out women and people of color and conformed to gender-role stereotypes, it also failed to take men’s gendered experiences into account. Once psychologists began studying the experiences of women through a gender lens, it became increasingly clear that the study of men needed the same gender-aware approach, says Levant.”

2. Global Wealth Report (Credit Suisse) for 2018 has some interesting findings. The financial crisis affected men more than women due to the fact that women prefer the stable parts of the economy which are owned or subsidized by the government and thus unlikely to fail completely.

But is there a gender dimension to the millennials’ problems? The answer is yes. Millennial women and men have both had a difficult time but, overall, the women have been less severely affected than the men. Female millennials have done better than their male counterparts because the industries most affected by the financial crisis and the global recession that followed tended to be male dominated – finance and construction, for example – while the more stable parts of the economy were not – education, health care and public administration, for example. The outcome shows up most dramatically in unemployment rates. In the United States, average unemployment rates for men and women in their 20s were almost identical in the 1990s. This changed even before the financial crisis, with the female unemployment rate in this age group averaging 6.8% compared to the male rate of 7.4%.The male [unemployment] rate then rose rapidly after the crisis, peaking at 17.8% in April 2010, when the female rate also peaked, but at a much lower level of 10.8%. A greater rise in male unemployment rates after the financial crisis was also seen in the European Union.”

3. Should we replace GGGI with BIGI?

“Researchers from Essex and the University of Missouri used these factors to calculate BIGI scores for 134 nations, representing 6.8 billion people. Surprisingly their new measure found men are, on average, more disadvantaged than women in 91 countries compared with a relative disadvantage for women in 43 countries.

Professor Gijsbert Stoet, from the Department of Psychology at Essex, explained: “No existing measure of gender inequality fully captures the hardships that are disproportionately experienced by men in many countries and so they do not fully capture the extent to which any specific country is promoting the well-being of all its citizens. 

“The BIGI provides a much simpler way of tackling gender inequality and it focuses on aspects of life that are directly relevant to all people. Used alongside other existing indicators, it provides additional and different information to give a more complete assessment of gender equality, making it easier for policy-makers to introduce changes to improve the quality of life for both men and women. 

“We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media.

Until now the Global Gender Gap Index, introduced in 2006, has been one of the most established and well-used measures of national gender inequality, used by academics and policy makers across the world

But Professor Stoet argues it does not measure issues where men are at a disadvantage, such as harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service and more occupational deaths. He says the complexity of the Global Gender Gap Index also means it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether gender differences are the result of social inequalities or personal preference.”” 

4. The every enjoyable Scott Alexander asks What happened to 90s environmentalism?

“And the story with peak resources seems entirely different. You will still occasionally see people saying “The Earth can’t support our greed, soon we will run out of everything”, and reasonable people will nod along with this and admit it is very wise. But you hear it like once a year now, as opposed to it being a constant refrain. This idea was never intellectually defeated at all, at least not on the popular level. It just faded away. […] Imagine that twenty years from now, nobody cares or talks about global warming. It hasn’t been debunked. It’s still happening. People just stopped considering it interesting. Every so often some webzine or VR-holozine or whatever will publish a “Whatever Happened To Global Warming” story, and you’ll hear that global temperatures are up X degrees centigrade since 2000 and that explains Y percent of recent devastating hurricanes. Then everyone will go back to worrying about Robo-Trump or Mecha-Putin or whatever.

If this sounds absurd, I think it’s no weirder than what’s happened to 90s environmentalism and the issues it cared about.”

5. Quiltette: The journalist Will Storr has a new book:  Selfie: How We Became so Self-Obsessed and What it’s Doing to Us . Without reading it doesn’t seem likely that narcissism can be attributed to self-esteem value, but based on Storr’s interview it only played a part. It seems a must read for this year.

“But another huge part of the story is the economy. If there’s one single idea that underpins Selfie, it’s that a huge part of who we are, as a people, emerges from our environment. 2,500 years ago, in ancient Greece, where the Western personality came into being, it was the ecology of the place that was of critical importance. The rocky coasts and poor soil forced us into becoming individualistic hustlers, because that’s who we needed to be in order to survive. Today, when we’re not so tied to the land, it’s the economy.

In the 1980s our economy went through a massive change. It was the era of neoliberalism, which saw an end to the relatively collective world we’d been immersed in for decades. Reagan and Thatcher wanted to save us from the economic mess of the 1970s by increasing competition wherever they could. So we became more competitive. Think about who we were, in the West, in 1965 versus who we were in 1985. We’d changed from hippies to yuppies—an absolute revolution in self. What happened right in the middle of those dates? Our economy transformed.

Self-esteem was a kind of neoliberal remix of the “Human Potential” ideas around self that emerged in the 1960s. It was the right idea for its time, which was why it caught on.”


1. The New Yorker has a piece on Viktor Orbán possibly setting his sights on the EU.

“Fidesz and other right-wing parties in the E.U. contend that unelected bureaucrats are making consequential decisions—regulating markets, inflicting rules on technology and economic development, setting quotas of refugee resettlements—without the participation of European citizens; increasingly, voters agree.” […] The E.U. has been unable to deal with the big issues it faces: despite years of trying to develop a more practical and equitable refugee policy, it hasn’t come up with an effective means of assisting the countries where most migrants arrive. It has also been unable to deal with the small issues—in a recent attempt to mollify the roughly eighty per cent of Europeans who dislike daylight-saving time, the E.U. Commission proposed that each country choose its own time zone, a move that would seriously disrupt the single market”

The article warns of the upcoming EU elections:

“In 2014, he argued that, after the “great Western financial collapse” of 2008, the world had awoken to a new reality, as dramatic as that of 1945 or 1990, except that this time no one realized it. Orbán offered a critique of Western liberalism: he believed that the idea that one could do whatever one wanted as long as it didn’t infringe on the freedoms of others had resulted not in justice but in the strong dominating the weak. […] Four years later, Orbán had refined his idea. “There is an alternative to liberal democracy: it is called Christian democracy,” he said at this summer’s gathering. “And we must show that the liberal élite can be replaced with a Christian-democratic élite.” Orbán offered some clarification. “Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture,” he said. “Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration.”

Referring to the upcoming European elections, he said, “The opportunity is here. Next May, we can wave goodbye not only to liberal democracy and the liberal undemocratic system that has been built on its foundations but also to the entire élite of ’68.””

2. The old story of big pharmacy and lobbyists – but this time with a twist – they resoundingly lost. StatNews covers the story how 168 words were slipped inside a American 250-page bill and the people responsible are Republicans, usually believed to be beholden to the lobby.

But all that maneuvering was for naught. On Tuesday, it became official: A change took effect that will cost the industry nearly $12 billion over the next 10 years.

“This might well be the biggest political loss that PhRMA has suffered in a decade,” Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard, told STAT.


PhRMA was “twisting every arm, trying to use the influence of their campaign contributions in both parties,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas),  one of the most vocal advocates for lower prescription drug prices in Congress, told STAT in late December.

The group went “berserk,” as one lobbyist for PhRMA put it.

PhRMA’s members were gobsmacked that the group could be surprised by such a big change, especially when Republicans were in control. “We pay you guys so much goddamn money in dues to be our eyes and ears,” a second drug industry lobbyist griped. “How could you let this happen?”

“It was kind of a watershed moment, [a realization] that we can no longer rely on a solid red line of support,” the second drug industry lobbyist added, referring to Republicans.”

3. Foreign Affairs on the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron:

“In a sense, Macron is the victim of his own success. In the wave of enthusiasm for a clean sweep of the old political parties that followed his victory last year, he was able to fill the National Assembly with handpicked supporters, many with no political experience. This left the field clear for the president and his lieutenants to formulate policy without consulting with the party’s base or its deputies. The République en Marche failed to set down the sort of local roots that might have allowed word of growing anger at the base to filter up to the top. Those at the top were left free to persuade themselves that because they found the logic of their reforms convincing, no one could fail to agree. “Who would not want cleaner air?” they reasoned. Hence, “Who would not be willing to accept a higher tax on fossil fuels?” Their awakening has been a rude one.”

4. The Atlantic describes the situation in which president Trump uses his legal powers to take control of the country.

Protests erupt. On Twitter, Trump calls the protesters traitors and suggests (in capital letters) that they could use a good beating. When counterprotesters oblige, Trump blames the original protesters for sparking the violent confrontations and deploys the Insurrection Act to federalize the National Guard in several states. Using the Presidential Alert system first tested in October 2018, the president sends a text message to every American’s cellphone, warning that there is “a risk of violence at polling stations” and that “troops will be deployed as necessary” to keep order. Some members of opposition groups are frightened into staying home on Election Day; other people simply can’t find accurate information online about voting. With turnout at a historical low, a president who was facing impeachment just months earlier handily wins reelection—and marks his victory by renewing the state of emergency.

Headlines that make you want to factory reset the world:

“Universities launch drive to recruit more white males as low numbers give them ‘minority group’ status” (The Telegraph)

“Student drug dealers spared jail as judge says he was impressed by the grammar in their text messages” (The Telegraph)

“Chinese arthouse film breaks box office records after viewers mistake it for romcom” – this was due to deliberate clever misleading marketing -(The Guardian)

UK army recruitment ads target ‘snowflake’ millennials” – they are calling on “snowflakes, selfie addicts, class clowns, phone zombies, and me, me, millennials” – (The Guardian)


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