Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Reading Feed (June 2020)


Blog: Bits and Pieces | A Joyless Victory — "Harvard does not acknowledge that the policy was wrong; only that it was likely to be interpreted as technically illegal under a peculiar interpretation of Title VII by a couple of judges. So from a purely personal standpoint, I find the outcome unsatisfying, because I never would have guessed that the policy was unlawful—only unwise and, in restraining students’ freedom of association off-campus, out of step with the spirit of American civil rights..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | How to Live in a World Gone Mad? — "We should discount signals which come at the cost of a tweet but we can’t and so the pressures to conform are intense. If your job isn’t protected, stay off social media or at least use a pseudonym. Even if you do nothing today, the crowd may come after you years later so you can never feel safe. I wish I had better answers."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | How to identify interesting boats and sailors — "Boats with quirks tend to contain interesting people; often they have made Unconventional Life Choices, including of course long sea voyages, often solo. They have often made extraordinary efforts to go to sea – I once met a man in late middle age who had crossed the Irish Sea in an easterly gale in a 17ft open boat he had constructed himself using (non-marine-grade) plywood, and who was engaged in a boat-based camping tour of Ireland. This turned out to be entirely consistent with the rest of his history..."


Blog: Market Design | New seminar series on Marketplace Algorithms and Design.


Blog: Things of Interest | It's probably time to stop recommending Clean Code — "[T]he major problem I have with Clean Code is that a lot of the example code in the book is just dreadful."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | We are living in a (very temporary) dining paradise — "The owner and/or best chef is in the restaurant at a higher rate than usual — where else can he or she go? Menus have been slimmed down, so there are fewer dishes, which means fresher ingredients and less delegation of cooking tasks. Most menus have new dishes, not otherwise available, often in the direction of comfort food, which is a comfort because it tastes good!"

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Why I like Nate Silver — "There are standard reasons to like Nate Silver, which I do not wish to deny. But here is what I find striking: whenever he considers political or normative questions, he continues to use his full range of intellect and emotional maturity..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Can Philosophy Make People Generous? — "The test had people read the arguments and then decide how much of a promised payment they would they like to give to charity. An average of $2.58 was contributed to charity (of $10) in the control group (no argument). The best argument increased giving by 54% to $3.98. Not bad. Here’s the argument which won:..."


Blog: My Biased Coin | STOC Workshop on "Algorithms with Predictions"

Blog: Market Design | Strategy proofness in auctions, beyond the frontiers of our most reliable knowledge


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Average is Over, installment #1437 — "Over the past few decades, we find that about 80% of the widening residual wage inequality to be within jobs."

Blog: Market Design | Pandemic policies work differently in different places

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Ubundling the Police in NYC — "The wildly disproportionate stats followed another report showing that cops issued 99 percent of jaywalking tickets to Black and Hispanic people in the first quarter of this year."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Lead headline and sub-header for The New York Times — “Overlooked No More: Valerie Solanas, Radical Feminist Who Shot Andy Warhol / She made daring arguments in “SCUM Manifesto,” her case for a world without men. But her legacy as a writer and thinker was overshadowed by one violent act.”


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Covid 6/25: The Dam Breaks

Blog: My Biased Coin | Writing Code for a Paper : A Note to Students

Blog: GiveWell | Why you’ll see more matching campaigns at GiveWell — "In order to make a more truthful claim about matching, we plan to verify that the donors who provide matching funds for GiveWell campaigns would not have otherwise donated. We are taking the following steps to do so:..."

Blog: Wired | Scientists Taught Mice to Smell an Odor That Doesn’t Exist


Blog: Zvi Mowshowitz @ Cool Stuff Inc. | We Have Normality: A Core Set 2021 Review

Blog: Reading the China Dream | Zhang Yongle, "The Harm of Studying Abroad" — "Sixth, if you live abroad for a long time, you will miss many theoretically interesting things happening in China. Society in the West has been settled for hundreds of years, and not that much that is really new occurs. But China is entering a new era, full of potential. Theorists think about reality, and reality is nothing other than the sum of potentials. For many things, if you are not present, then it is very difficult to feel how potentials might develop, and how to transform these potentials into reality in the face of particular circumstances. Theory needs to have a sense of the present, otherwise it will lose its necessary penetration." / "Seventh, and not to be ignored, is that academic norms can limit your thought. Scholarly disciplines in Europe and the US are divided up very precisely, and very often an expert only needs to know two or three things to secure his livelihood. In addition, everyone’s concerns are based on their own living situations. Many of those who study abroad choose what they are going to study based on the logic of their life situations, sometimes picking something that no one else has ever done in the hopes that this will guarantee them a living. This kind of logic is of course understandable. But as China’s history enters a new era, a different kind of virtue may be required. To think more about your job and less about the contribution you can make to your country, is another kind of harm."

Blog: JeffTK | Preview On Hover

Blog: Jeffrey.Zeldman | Adelle Mono & Adelle Mono Flex

Blog: Marginal Revolution | A Burning — "What impressed me more was the less obvious commentary on social media which is very relevant to the US. How does the pressure and potential of being seen by many others alter our choices? There are multiple mobs in A Burning; two of the mobs, one virtual, the other not, result in the brutal murders of innocent people, a third mob launches a star."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Cheer up — "From my vantage point, both American politics and economics look much better than they did a month ago. To be sure that is relative but nonetheless this should be cheering you up. China and India have sought to deescalate their conflict. Most of Europe continues to reopen without a surge in cases, and American death rates still are falling. The advantages of police reform are much overstated, but still I think we will get something modestly better than the status quo."d


Blog: Ben.Kuhn | My weekly review habit


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Get BARDA More Money! — "I think diverting funding from lung treatments to vaccines is the right thing to do. Note that we are not talking about reducing spending on patients. BARDA, as the name suggests, funds advanced research and development. Thus, the administration is diverting funding from advanced research and development for lung treatments to vaccines. What’s better a vaccine that prevents a lung treatment from ever being needed or a lung treatment? A billion dollars spent on vaccines looks a lot more productive right now than a billion dollars spent on investigating new lung treatments. The real scandal is how little we are spending on advanced research for vaccines–$2.2 billion is a pittance, less than a day’s worth of economic loss caused by COVID..."

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | Big Tech Won’t Be the Same If Everyone Works From Home — "If Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies shift toward everyone working from home, it will mean less reliance on esprit de corps and morale to ensure performance, and more management using direct financial incentives and project- and output-based monitoring. Virtual tools can help organize teams, but they simply can’t replicate the intellectual frisson of 'gathering the smart people' together, and this could damage performance and innovation." Of course, that wouldn't be a problem if big tech was in a healthy competitive equilibrium, but, well...

Opinion: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | It’s a Good Summer to Explore America at Random — "These days every trip is also a Covid-19 research venture, whether you like it or not. In Marietta, restaurant servers wore masks, as they are required to do, but no one else did. There was an indoor bar with patrons, and a nightclub with live music indoors and presumably a crowd—I wasn’t going to look. In the hotel breakfast room, the only visitor we saw started the conversation by referring to “the baloney virus, not the corona virus.”

Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Quantum Computing Since Democritus: New Foreword!


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Our regulatory state is failing us — "The Transportation Security Administration withheld N-95 masks from staff and exhibited 'gross mismanagement' in its response to the Coronavirus crisis – leaving employees and travelers vulnerable during the most urgent days of the pandemic, a senior TSA official alleges in a new whistleblower complaint."

Blog: Market Design | The UpFront market for television ads: is it time to change its timing? — "[A]dvertisers wishing to purchase blocks of advertising for Fall television series have to do so early, in the Spring, in what is called the upfront market. This runs so early that some of the shows are still in the early planning stage, so that advertisers have some descriptions of plot lines and target demographics, but they are buying ads in shows that no one has seen yet..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The course of Covid-19 in the United States — "Do note it is better for everyone if you think the death rate is still rising!"

Blog: Marginal Revolution | That was then, this is now — "About 55 percent of British servicemen [in World War II] were married... That is from Daniel Todman’s Britain’s War 1942-1947, a book I already have reviewed positively."

Blog: Schneier on Security | Zoom Will Be End-to-End Encrypted for All Users


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Covid-19 6/18: The Virus Goes South

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Which figures from 1968/1969 look good in retrospect?

Blog: Schneier on Security | Security Analysis of the Democracy Live Online Voting System


Blog: My Biased Coin | Algorithms with Predictions: Survey and Workshop

Blog: Market Design | Peter Jaworski on The Case for Voluntary Remunerated Plasma Collections

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The impact of Protestant Evangelism on economic outcomes — "Thirty months after the program ended, significant differences in the intensity of religiosity disappear, but those in the treatment group are less likely to be Catholic and more likely to be Protestant, and there is some mixed evidence that their consumption and perceived relative economic status are higher. We conclude that this church-based program may represent a method of increasing noncognitive skills and reducing poverty among adults in developing countries."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Comparative Institutional Failure — "While too many American police are escalating encounters like it’s 1990, and the FDA is slow-playing regulatory approval as if these are normal times, and the CDC is somehow still using fax machines, the Federal Reserve has junked old shibboleths about inflation and deficit spending and embraced a policy that might have scandalized mainstream economists in the 1990s. Rejecting the status-quo bias that plagues so many institutions, this 106-year-old is still changing with the world. Why haven’t other American institutions done the same?"

Blog: Schneier on Security | Bank Card "Master Key" Stolen — "The breach resulted from the printing of the bank's encrypted master key in plain, unencrypted digital language at the Postbank's old data centre in the Pretoria city centre. / According to a number of internal Postbank reports, which the Sunday Times obtained, the master key was then stolen by employees. / One of the reports said that the cards would cost about R1bn to replace. The master key, a 36-digit code, allows anyone who has it to gain unfettered access to the bank's systems, and allows them to read and rewrite account balances, and change information and data on any of the bank's 12-million cards."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

Blog: MISinformation | Creating a positive lab culture — "For the past five years or so, I open my first conversation with students with the following: 'Welcome! We are so glad you are here. You were admitted, because we believe that you have what it takes to be fabulously successful in our program. That said, graduate school can be hard and there will be times when things aren't going well...'"

Blog: Wired | The FDA Revokes Its Emergency Use Authorization for Hydroxychloroquine


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Database of 1,100 superspreading events

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Implications of Heterogeneous SIR Models for Analyses of COVID-19

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Why non-distanced social and commercial interactions have resumed so quickly — "People have solved for the equilibrium. First, the socially-distanced goods, such as food delivery, are starting to rise in price. The non-distanced goods have been falling in relative price, and so now people are moving along their demand curves and engaging in less distancing. Second, the longer the pandemic will run, the harder it is to use intertemporal substitution as a 'make up'..."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Bloody Well Pay Them — "Countries that follow the WHOs guidance to rely exclusively on voluntary, unpaid donors all have shortages of plasma (hmmm…what’s the WHOs track record like?) So what do these countries do? Import plasma from the paid-donor countries..."


Blog: Overcoming Bias | The Commanding Heights of Culture

Blog: Market Design | Paul Milgrom corrects the record on spectrum auctions and market design — "In a recent Twitter rant and a pair of subsequent articles in Promarket, Glen Weyl and Stefano Feltri invent a conspiratorial narrative according to which the academic market design community is secretive and corrupt, my own actions benefitted my former business associates and the hedge funds they advised in the 2017 broadcast incentive auction, and the result was that far too little TV spectrum was reassigned for broadband at far too little value for taxpayers. The facts bear out none of these allegations."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Delivery service price cap regulations — "Restaurants that were great at selling in the first place might be worse off. But it is far from obvious that these apps and their prices should be decreasing efficiency. Some other restaurants might be worse off because it is harder for them to carve up or segment the market, but that change likely is efficiency-enhancing. / And if the apps do indeed speed the bankruptcy of the lesser restaurants (presumably what the critics have to believe), over the longer haul prices will indeed go up and the good restaurants will earn back some of what they lost up front."


Twitter: Reopening a library — "Maybe things would be less overwhelming if staff weren't in a state of constantly trying and failing to prevent patron misbehavior, but they are." / "How many times can you refuse to use someone's computer for them or touch their device, followed by a torrent of abuse and complaints about bad service, before you just decide it's easier to risk death than to deal with one more person yelling at you?" h/t Tyler Cowen.


Blog: Marginal Revolution | The NIH Should Run Human Challenge Trials for COVID — "The main impediment to human challenge trials appears to be skittish firms rather than bureaucratic governments which is why challenge trials should test multiple vaccines under the auspices of the NIH. The NIH umbrella can protect the firms and increase the efficiency of the trials."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Should departments own and control journals? — "One risk is that the different general interest journals become too much alike, too subject to the same pressures, and too homogenized. And the actual 'monopoly' danger, to the extent there is one, is that the American Economic Association controls too many top journals..."

Blog: Schneier on Security | Availability Attacks against Neural Networks

Blog: Marginal Revolution | A new study of face masks — "Depending on the region we analyse, we find that face masks reduced the cumulative number of registered Covid-19 cases between 2.3% and 13% over a period of 10 days after they became compulsory. Assessing the credibility of the various estimates, we conclude that face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%." This seems a little too good to be true, but still I believe it more than the earlier null results

Blog: Fredrik deBoer @Medium | The educational standardization trap — "Does this mean that we should drop numeracy from high school or college curricula entirely? No. To simply excuse students from any quantitative learning would be doing them a disservice. But we should be vastly more flexibility in our definition of what quantitative literacy means. Substituting statistics for algebra is a good start; statistics, after all, are applied mathematics, and are from my vantage point far more likely to be of real-world use than algebra. A course in Excel or database management software would entail mathematical reasoning without the onerous difficulties so many students encounter in algebra or geometry, to say nothing of calculus."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Buy your apples from Abraham Aardvark


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety? — Endorse. I have maybe never heard a policy proposal more stunningly, obviously good than "unbundle the police".


Blog: The Grumpy Economist | Perpetuities, debt crises, and inflation — "By replacing 300 ore more separate government bonds with three (fixed rate, floating rate, and indexed perpetuities), treasury markets would be much more liquid. Perpetuities never need to be rolled over. As you can imagine the big dealer banks hate the idea, and then wander off to reasons that make MMT sound like bells of clarity. That they would lose the opportunity to earn the bid/ask spread off the entire stock of US treasury debt as it is rolled over might just contribute."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Our regulatory state is failing us

Blog: Marginal Revolution | 13.3% unemployment rate — "That one surprised me, as indeed it did most other economists. What should I learn from this episode? After all, labor market adjustment was relatively slow coming out of the 2008 crisis. My tentative hypothesis is that 'matching' is more important than I had thought (and I already thought it was quite important, relative to other macro commentators). One feature of the current layoffs and rehirings is that the ties between workers and firms apparently were not so severed in the first place..."


Blog: Ben.Kuhn | Wireless is a trap — "Wifi (and bluetooth, etc.) sucker you in by making it seem like they “just work.” But if you investigate, you’ll often find that the wireless link is operating in a degraded state that performs much worse than a wired equivalent. Since this degradation is silent, it’s often not obvious that the problem is the wireless—instead, you’ll probably conclude that it’s your device/software/self."

Blog: JeffTK | Growing Independence — "Part of my approach to parenting has been that I want to let my kids be as independent as possible, as early as possible. Not only does it make their lives better, because they can meet their own needs how they want, but it makes my life easier, because they can handle more on their own. Sometimes this involves a bit more effort up front, but I think it's substantially less effort in total..."


Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Jonathan Dowling (1955-2020) — "The quantum computing community of the southern US, not to mention of Twitter and Facebook, and indeed of the entire world, will be poorer without this inimitable, louder-than-life presence." cf. SMBC | Jonathan Dowling.


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Operation Warp Speed Needs to Go to Warp 10 — "OWS, however, should be bigger and should have more diverse vaccine candidates. OWS has spent well under $5 billion. At current rates, the US economy is losing about $40 billion a week. Thus, if $20 billion could advance a vaccine by just one week that would be a good deal."


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Covid-19 6/4: The Eye of the Storm

Blog: Market Design | David Levine on market design, in the Journal of Economic Literature — A very pointed review of Posner and Weyl's Radical Markets: "Market design is great and it is hard. Allocating oil leases is not the same as allocating the radio spectrum. Thick markets are not the same as thin markets. Auctions are complicated. Private information may lie on the buyer side, on the seller side, or both. Real market designers know this. They tailor solutions to problems: having designed an algorithm for allocating residents to hospitals and faced with the problem of matching kidney donors to patients they did not blindly claim to have solved that problem, but instead dug into the details and designed an algorithm for the kidney matching problem. Real market designers sweat the details: they improve lives and prosperity. Listen to real market designers."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | That was then, this is now, Mayday 1971 edition — "The police chief made one last attempt to dissuade him. Let’s just suppose the crowd is big enough to shut down the government, Jerry said. Wouldn’t it be better for us, he gently suggested, if the militants could crow only that they had defeated the police, rather than the mighty U.S. military?"


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Our regulatory state is broken, installment #1837 — "'Just let them go,' two of the health officials recall being told."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Is this why budget deficits might prove sustainable?


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Model this New York City police force

Blog: Market Design | Market Design, Human Behavior, and Management, by Chen, Cramton, List and Ockenfels — "There is probably no other field in economics and management science, where researchers and practitioners gain so much by carefully listening to and working with one another. In this spirit, perhaps the most foundational change for generation of knowledge is that researchers will increasingly have to use the carpool lane in their own work, for riding alone will soon be an inefficient choice in the knowledge production game"

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Police Union Privileges Revisited

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Karl Friston on “immunological dark matter”

Blog: The Atlantic | Since I Met Edward Snowden, I’ve Never Stopped Watching My Back


Blog: Marginal Revolution | How equity ownership shapes values — "Results show that investment in stocks led to a more right‐leaning outlook on issues such as merit and deservingness, personal responsibility, and equality. Subjects also shifted to the right on policy questions. These results appear to be driven by growing familiarity with, and decreasing distrust of markets. The spread of financial markets thus has important and underappreciated political ramifications."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Fight the Virus!

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Alex Armlovich on blood plasma donors and markets — "What I don’t understand is, why doesn’t the city’s antibody testing program directly link up to plasma donation? I had to go through a bunch of hassle to find out where to donate, and I think the information & coordination friction is a bigger deterrent than anything else. And why isn’t there more collection capacity in the city itself; the long commute seems unnecessary. If this is scientifically important enough to merit real donor spending from biotech, it seems like the city should make even a minimal investment in reducing process friction..."

Blog: Slate Star Codex | Book Review: Origin of Consciouness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind — "Julian Jaynes’ The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is a brilliant book, with only two minor flaws. First, that it purports to explains the origin of consciousness. And second, that it posits a breakdown of the bicameral mind. I think it’s possible to route around these flaws while keeping the thesis otherwise intact. So I’m going to start by reviewing a slightly different book, the one Jaynes should have written. Then I’ll talk about the more dubious one he actually wrote...."