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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Jeremiah

The official audio version of Astral Codex Ten, with an archive of posts from Slate Star Codex. It's just me reading Scott Alexander's blog posts.
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Slightly Skew Systems of Government

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/18/20 • 10 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/17/slightly-skew-systems-of-government/

[Related To: Legal Systems Very Different From Ours Because I Just Made Them Up, List Of Fictional Drugs Banned By The FDA]

I.

Clamzoria is an acausal democracy.

The problem with democracy is that elections happen before the winning candidate takes office. If somebody’s never been President, how are you supposed to judge how good a President they’d be? Clamzoria realized this was dumb, and moved elections to the last day of an official’s term.

When the outgoing President left office, the country would hold an election. It was run by approval voting: you could either approve or disapprove of the candidate who had just held power. The results were tabulated, announced, and then nobody ever thought about them again.

Clamzoria chose its officials through a prediction market. The Central Bank released bonds for each candidate, which paid out X dollars at term’s end, where X was the percent of voters who voted Approve. Traders could provisionally buy and sell these bonds. On the first day of the term, whichever candidate’s bonds were trading at the highest value was inaugurated as the new President; everyone else’s bonds were retroactively cancelled and their traders refunded. The President would spend a term in office, the election would be held, and the bondholders would be reimbursed the appropriate amount.

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06/18/20 • 4 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/16/open-thread-156-25/

Normally this would be a hidden thread, but I wanted to signal boost this request for help by Professor Steve Hsu, vice president of research at Michigan State University. Hsu is a friend of the blog and was a guest speaker at one of our recent online meetups – some of you might also have gotten a chance to meet him at a Berkeley meetup last year. He and his blog Information Processing have also been instrumental in helping me and thousands of other people better understand genetics and neuroscience. If you’ve met him, you know he is incredibly kind, patient, and willing to go to great lengths to help improve people’s scientific understanding.

Along with all the support he’s given me personally, he’s had an amazing career. He started as a theoretical physicist publishing work on black holes and quantum information. Then he transitioned into genetics, spent a while as scientific advisor to the Beijing Genomics Institute, and helped discover genetic prediction algorithms for gallstones, melanoma, heart attacks, and other conditions. Along with his academic work, he also sounded the alarm about the coronavirus early and has been helping shape the response.

This week, some students at Michigan State are trying to cancel him. They point an interview he did on an alt-right podcast (he says he didn’t know it was alt-right), to his allowing MSU to conduct research on police shootings (which concluded, like most such research, that they are generally not racially motivated), and to his occasional discussion of the genetics of race (basically just repeating the same “variance between vs. within clusters” distinction everyone else does, see eg here). You can read the case being made against him here, although keep in mind a lot of it is distorted and taken out of context, and you can read his response here.

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06/17/20 • 26 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/15/the-vision-of-vilazodone-and-vortioxetine/

I.

One of psychiatry’s many embarrassments is how many of our drugs get discovered by accident. They come from random plants or shiny rocks or stuff Alexander Shulgin invented to get high.

But every so often, somebody tries to do things the proper way. Go over decades of research into what makes psychiatric drugs work and how they could work better. Figure out the hypothetical properties of the ideal psych drug. Figure out a molecule that matches those properties. Synthesize it and see what happens. This was the vision of vortioxetine and vilazodone, two antidepressants from the early 2010s. They were approved by the FDA, sent to market, and prescribed to millions of people. Now it’s been enough time to look back and give them a fair evaluation. And...

...and it’s been a good reminder of why we don’t usually do this.

Enough data has come in to be pretty sure that vortioxetine and vilazodone, while effective antidepressants, are no better than the earlier medications they sought to replace. I want to try going over the science that led pharmaceutical companies to think these two drugs might be revolutionary, and then speculate on why they weren’t. I’m limited in this by my total failure to understand several important pieces of the pathways involved, so I’ll explain the parts I get, and list the parts I don’t in the hopes that someone clears them up in the comments.

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Wordy Wernicke's

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/13/20 • 3 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/11/wordy-wernickes/

There are two major brain areas involved in language. To oversimplify, Wernicke’s area in the superior temporal gyrus handles meaning; Broca’s area in the inferior frontal gyrus handles structure and flow.

If a stroke or other brain injury damages Broca’s area but leaves Wernicke’s area intact, you get language which is meaningful, but not very structured or fluid. You sound like a caveman: “Want food!”

If it damages Wernicke’s area but leaves Broca’s area intact, you get speech which has normal structure and flow, but is meaningless. I’d read about this pattern in books, but I still wasn’t prepared the first time I saw a video of a Wernicke’s aphasia patient (source):

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[Classic] Proving Too Much

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/13/20 • 5 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/13/proving-too-much/

The fallacy of Proving Too Much is when you challenge an argument because, in addition to proving its intended conclusion, it also proves obviously false conclusions. For example, if someone says “You can’t be an atheist, because it’s impossible to disprove the existence of God”, you can answer “That argument proves too much. If we accept it, we must also accept that you can’t disbelieve in Bigfoot, since it’s impossible to disprove his existence as well.”

I love this tactic so much. I only learned it had a name quite recently, but it’s been my default style of argument for years. It neatly cuts through complicated issues that might otherwise be totally irresolvable.

Because here is a fundamental principle of the Dark Arts – you don’t need an argument that can’t be disproven, only an argument that can’t be disproven in the amount of time your opponent has available.

In a presidential debate, where your opponent has three minutes, that means all you need to do is come up with an argument whose disproof is inferentially distant enough from your audience that it will take your opponent more than three minutes to explain it, or your audience more than three minutes’ worth of mental effort to understand the explanation.

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The Obligatory GPT-3 Post

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/12/20 • 26 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/10/the-obligatory-gpt-3-post/

I.

I would be failing my brand if I didn’t write something about GPT-3, but I’m not an expert and discussion is still in its early stages. Consider this a summary of some of the interesting questions I’ve heard posed elsewhere, especially comments by gwern and nostalgebraist. Both of them are smart people who I broadly trust on AI issues, and both have done great work with GPT-2. Gwern has gotten it to write poetry, compose music, and even sort of play some chess; nostalgebraist has created nostalgebraist-autoresponder (a Tumblr written by GPT-2 trained on nostalgebraist’s own Tumblr output). Both of them disagree pretty strongly on the implications of GPT-3. I don’t know enough to resolve that disagreement, so this will be a kind of incoherent post, and hopefully stimulate some more productive comments. So:

OpenAI has released a new paper, Language Models Are Few-Shot Learners, introducing GPT-3, the successor to the wildly-successful language-processing AI GPT-2.

GPT-3 doesn’t have any revolutionary new advances over its predecessor. It’s just much bigger. GPT-2 had 1.5 billion parameters. GPT-3 has 175 billion. The researchers involved are very open about how it’s the same thing but bigger. Their research goal was to test how GPT-like neural networks scale.

Before we get into the weeds, let’s get a quick gestalt impression of how GPT-3 does compared to GPT-2.

Here’s a sample of GPT-2 trying to write an article:

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Take the New Nootropics Survey

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/08/20 • 1 min

A few years ago I surveyed nootropics users about their experiences with different substances and posted the results here. Since then lots of new nootropics have come out, so I’m doing it again. If you have nootropics experience, please take The 2020 SSC Nootropics Survey. Expected completion time is ~15 minutes.

Thanks!

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Problems With Paywalls

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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06/06/20 • 13 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/04/problems-with-paywalls/

I.

I hate paywalls on articles. Absolutely hate them.

A standard pro-business argument: businesses can either make your life better (by providing deals you like) or keep your life the same (by providing deals you don’t like, which you don’t take). They can’t really make your life worse. There are some exceptions, like if they outcompete and destroy another business you liked better, or if they have some kind of externalities, or if they lobby the government to do something bad. But in general, if you’re angry at a business, you need to explain how one of these unusual conditions applies. Otherwise they’re just “helping you less than you wish they did”, not hurting you.

And so the standard justification for paywalls. Journalists are providing you a deal: you may read their articles in exchange for money. You are not entitled to their product without paying them money. They need to earn a living just like everyone else. So you can either accept their deal – pay money for the articles – or refuse their deal – and so be left no worse off than if they didn’t exist.

But I notice feeling like this isn’t true. I think I would be happier in a world where major newspapers ceased to exist, compared to the world where they exist but their articles are paywalled. Take a second and check if you feel the same way. If so, what could be going on?

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Bush Did North Dakota

Astral Codex Ten Podcast

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05/31/20 • 10 min

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/05/28/bush-did-north-dakota/

Continuing yesterday’s discussion of fake news:

Guess et al says that 46% percent of Trump voters endorsed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Does this mean fake news is very powerful?

We can compare this to belief in various other conspiracy theories, as measured by the 2016 Chapman University Survey Of American Fears. About 24% believe there’s a government conspiracy to cover up the truth about the moon landing, 30% about Obama’s birth certificate, and 33% about the North Dakota crash.

This last one is especially interesting because there was no unusual crash in North Dakota when the survey was written. The researchers included it as a placebo option to see if people would endorse a conspiracy theory that didn’t exist. 33% of them did.

Before we make fun of these people, consider: there’s a strong presumption that surveys don’t contain made-up questions. There was no “don’t know” option included on the poll, just various shades of “agree” or “disagree”. In order to condemn the people who “agreed” that the government was probably covering up the crash, we would have to assert that the more correct answer was “disagree”. In other words, that people should have an assumption of trusting the government, until they get some specific reason to distrust it. You can make that argument, but it’s not obvious. You could also start from the opposite assumption, where the government is guilty until proven innocent.

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So, I kind of deleted the blog. Sorry. Here’s my explanation.

Last week I talked to a New York Times technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex. He told me it would be a mostly positive piece about how we were an interesting gathering place for people in tech, and how we were ahead of the curve on some aspects of the coronavirus situation. It probably would have been a very nice article.

Unfortunately, he told me he had discovered my real name and would reveal it in the article, ie doxx me. “Scott Alexander” is my real first and middle name, but I’ve tried to keep my last name secret. I haven’t always done great at this, but I’ve done better than “have it get printed in the New York Times“.

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FAQ

How many episodes does Astral Codex Ten Podcast have?

Astral Codex Ten Podcast currently has 795 episodes available.

What topics does Astral Codex Ten Podcast cover?

The podcast is about Podcasts, Technology and Science.

What is the most popular episode on Astral Codex Ten Podcast?

The episode title 'Slightly Skew Systems of Government' is the most popular.

What is the average episode length on Astral Codex Ten Podcast?

The average episode length on Astral Codex Ten Podcast is 26 minutes.

How often are episodes of Astral Codex Ten Podcast released?

Episodes of Astral Codex Ten Podcast are typically released every 1 day, 22 hours.

When was the first episode of Astral Codex Ten Podcast?

The first episode of Astral Codex Ten Podcast was released on Oct 11, 2017.

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