Weekly Digest 9/20/18

Scott Alexander on causes – We used to think complex traits like intelligence were caused by one gene (an intelligence gene). However, the more we learn about genetics, the more genes we believe cause intelligence, from one to a few to dozens to now thousands. Scott says this applies to depression, psychiatry, and science more broadly, which I completely agree with. I’d argue that it applies to disciplines outside of science as well. For example, many historians will get angry when others attribute a single cause to WWI or the fall of the Roman Empire, as these earth-shattering historical events tend to have at least a few, if not many causes. (1,700 words)

Alex Tabarrok on the STEM gender gap – There’s a gender-equality paradox which is that the countries with the highest levels of gender equality (Finland, Norway, Sweden, etc.) have the lowest ratio of women to men in STEM education. There are traditionally two explanations for this paradox: 1. countries with the highest levels of gender equality are the richest countries with a welfare state that allows everyone to pursue what they actually want, and females are less interested in STEM or 2. males have greater variability so there are more of them at the top but also at the bottom. This post provides an alternate explanation. Women are better than men on average in STEM, but they’re even better on average in the humanities. Therefore, women will go into the fields where they have a larger gap in ability, leaving men STEM fields. In economic terms, men have a comparative advantage in STEM because they’re less bad in STEM than in the humanities. (1,000 words)

Esquire profile of Robert Caro – I could read profiles of Robert Caro all day. He has spent over 40 years on his Lyndon Johnson series which is far longer than I’ve even been alive. I like reading about the pivotal moments in the lives of ultra-successful people because it reminds me of the role chance plays in everyone’s life. It’s utterly crazy to think someone like Robert Caro might not have gotten published. (7,100 words)

Two articles on the Sam Harris-Ezra Klein feud here and here – As a fan of both Sam Harris and Ezra Klein, the feud didn’t make much sense to me. I still feel both people could’ve been more charitable to the other, but these two analyses on the feud better helped me understand it. The one sentence summary would be that in the argument, Sam Harris was a decoupler (separate the history of racism from discussion of scientific facts) while Ezra Klein was a contextualizer (the history of “science” to promote racism and racism in general means that discussion of scientific facts cannot be separated from a discussion of racism and politics in general). (3,100 and 7,900 words respectively)


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