What Reality are Trump People Living In?

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

What reality are Trump people living in?, Jer Clifton wonders aloud:

As luck would have it, I happen to be a researcher at Penn who studies the impact of primal world beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of reality writ large such as “the world is fascinating.”


So I had this fantastic theory that Republicans would see the world as way more dangerous than Democrats. I though that might explain Republicans’ “irrational” a) fear of criminals which manifests as interest in law and order and support for mandatory minimums, c) fear of ISIS, d) fear of Mexicans, e) fear of people coming to take their guns, f) fear of government, and g) fear of out-group members generally. At their last convention, and indeed for every single Republican debate, it seemed like candidates were always trying to out-terrorize each other (“No, I understand the great peril we are in!”…”No, no. I understand it better.”)

However, this theory was wrong. Republicans see the world as slightly more dangerous, but it’s very slight.


Let’s talk about the biggest differences, because they both make sense and don’t make sense: first hierarchical and second just.

The “hierarchical” primal concerns the nature of differences. Namely, does difference imply that something is better or worse? For those who believe that reality is hierarchical, if two things are different that tends to (not always) imply that one is better than the other. Likewise, for those who see reality as nonhierarchical, differences are likely surface and meaningless distinctions and probably distractions. Under the latter view, any attempt to organize the world into “better” or “worse” things will either fail or be inaccurate and superficial. However, for folks who see the world as hierarchical, most things can be fairly usefully ranked and ordered from better or worse. This includes objects, from knives to countries, and people, from individuals to ethnic groups. The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans on average see the world as more hierarchical, or, to put it a different way, Democrats gloss over differences.

It makes sense, therefore, that the second biggest distinction between Republicans and Democrats concerns whether or not the arc of life trends towards justice. Does life find a way to reward those who do good and punish those who do bad? Is the world a place where working hard and being nice pays off? With plenty of exceptions, Republicans tend to say ‘Yes’ and Democrats say ‘No.’


Trump supporters out-Republican their Republican peers by seeing the world as even more hierarchical and just.

What does this all mean?

Those who see the world as hierarchical and just will tend to assume in small ways that successful people are better people. This might help explain infatuations with billionaires generally.

If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then political correctness appears foolish. PC culture is a real problem because it glosses over differences that really matter. This might explain a deep frustration on the Right about political correctness that the Left just doesn’t get.

I’ve often been confused by why Americans need to talk about their country like it’s the best country in the history of the world. But, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, and America is the most powerful country in the world, then it stands to reason that America is also the best. It would feel false to say, “America is unique” without also saying, “America is the best.”

Finally, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then we will have more difficulty mixing with and including out-groups. Obviously, hispanic or African American culture is different than the culture of small-town white America where, according to Haidt, sanctity concerns matter more.

Gnon rewards those who follow His laws.

Primordial Pressure Cooker

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

For nearly a century, the origin of life has been traced back to a “primordial soup“:

Under the conventional theory, life supposedly began when lightning or UV rays caused simple molecules to join together into more complex compounds. This culminated in the creation of information-storing molecules similar to our own DNA, housed within the protective bubbles of primitive cells. Laboratory experiments confirm that trace amounts of molecular building blocks that make up proteins and information-storing molecules can indeed be created under these conditions. For many, the primordial soup has become the most plausible environment for the origin of first living cells.

But life isn’t just about replicating information stored within DNA. All living things have to reproduce in order to survive, but replicating the DNA, assembling new proteins and building cells from scratch require tremendous amounts of energy.


This process works a bit like a hydroelectric dam. Instead of directly powering their core metabolic reactions, cells use energy from food to pump protons (positively charged hydrogen atoms) into a reservoir behind a biological membrane. This creates what is known as a “concentration gradient” with a higher concentration of protons on one side of the membrane than other. The protons then flow back through molecular turbines embedded within the membrane, like water flowing through a dam. This generates high-energy compounds that are then used to power the rest of cell’s activities.

Life could have evolved to exploit any of the countless energy sources available on Earth, from heat or electrical discharges to naturally radioactive ores. Instead, all life forms are driven by proton concentration differences across cells’ membranes. This suggests that the earliest living cells harvested energy in a similar way and that life itself arose in an environment in which proton gradients were the most accessible power source.

Recent studies based on sets of genes that were likely to have been present within the first living cells trace the origin of life back to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These are porous geological structures produced by chemical reactions between solid rock and water. Alkaline fluids from the Earth’s crust flow up the vent towards the more acidic ocean water, creating natural proton concentration differences remarkably similar to those powering all living cells.

The studies suggest that in the earliest stages of life’s evolution, chemical reactions in primitive cells were likely driven by these non-biological proton gradients. Cells then later learned how to produce their own gradients and escaped the vents to colonise the rest of the ocean and eventually the planet.

What are the evolutionary roots of West African sprinting and East African distance running dominance?

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Jon Entine argues that Usain Bolt’s Olympic gold shows again why no Asian, white, or East African will ever be crowned world’s fastest human, but Razib Khan argues that Entine’s wrong — because better drugs and biological engineering mean that the fastest human alive is soon going to be non-African, probably Chinese.

Khan sees running a few seconds faster in the 100 meter dash as a non-adaptively beneficial trait, but Steve Sailer wouldn’t be surprised if the ability to outrun those who are after you and mean to do you harm were an important life skill that is highly adaptive in Darwinian terms:

For example, in 1982, when I had just moved to Chicago, I was headed into the Century Mall on N. Clark St., when a black teen rushed out, followed by two twenty-something Hispanic security guards in close pursuit. I watched them head up Clark Street with the teen in sneakers pulling away from the guards in shiny black leather shoes.

But whether sprinting ability or distance running ability is best for survival depends upon how long pursuers’ sightlines extend in your home terrain.

The shoplifter then turned left at the first corner. It occurred to me that was an important life decision he had just made: if it was a dead end he was in big trouble. But if it were a thru street then he just needed to make a series of seemingly random turns until he had lost his pursuers.

In contrast, if the pursued had headed into open grassland, his pursuers could keep him in sight for a long time, so his better sprinting ability might prove nugatory if they had more endurance.

Perhaps in forested or brush covered terrain, as in West Africa, sprinting is selected for because the pursued individual can get lost faster, while in open grassland, as in East Africa, endurance running is the surest way to get away.


Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

The field of geomythology relates ancient stories of great floods to real events:

Around the tsunami-prone Pacific, flood stories tell of disastrous waves that rose from the sea. Early Christian missionaries were perplexed as to why flood traditions from South Pacific islands didn’t mention the Bible’s 40 days and nights of rain, but instead told of great waves that struck without warning. A traditional story from the coast of Chile described how two great snakes competed to see which could make the sea rise more, triggering an earthquake and sending a great wave ashore. Native American stories from coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest tell of great battles between Thunderbird and Whale that shook the ground and sent great waves crashing ashore. These stories sound like prescientific descriptions of a tsunami: an earthquake-triggered wave that can catastrophically inundate shorelines without warning.

Other flood stories evoke the failure of ice and debris dams on the margins of glaciers that suddenly release the lakes they held back. A Scandinavian flood story, for example, tells of how Odin and his brothers killed the ice giant Ymir, causing a great flood to burst forth and drown people and animals. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this might describe the failure of a glacial dam.

While doing fieldwork in Tibet, I learned of a local story about a great guru draining a lake in the valley of the Tsangpo River on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau – after our team had discovered terraces made of lake sediments perched high above the valley floor. The 1,200-year-old carbon dates from wood fragments we collected from the lake sediments correspond to the time when the guru arrived in the valley and converted the local populace to Buddhism by defeating, so the story goes, the demon of the lake to reveal the fertile lake bottom that the villagers still farm.

Surprises of the Faraday Cage

Friday, August 5th, 2016

We thought we understood the Faraday Cage:

The Faraday cage effect involves shielding of electrostatic and electromagnetic fields. A closed metal cavity makes a perfect shield, with zero fields inside, and that is in the textbooks. Faraday’s discovery of 1836 was that fields are nearly zero inside a wire mesh, too. You see this principle applied in your microwave oven, whose front door contains a metal screen with small holes. The screen keeps the microwaves in, while allowing light, with its much smaller wavelength, to pass through.


So I started looking in books and talking to people and sending emails. In the books, nothing! Well, a few of them mention the Faraday cage, but rarely with equations. And from experts in mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering, I got oddly assorted explanations. They said the skin depth effect was crucial, or this was an application of the theory of waveguides, or the key point was Babinet’s principle, or it was Floquet theory, or “the losses in the wires will drive everything…”

And then at lunch one day, colleague n+1n+1 told me, it’s in the Feynman Lectures [2]! And sure enough, Feynman gives an argument that appears to confirm the exponential intuition exactly.


Now Feynman is a god, the ultimate cool genius. It took me months, a year really, to be confident that the great man’s analysis of the Faraday cage, and his conclusion of exponential shielding, are completely wrong.


In closing, I want to reflect on some of the curious twists of this story, first, by mentioning three lessons:

L1. There are gaps out there. If you find something fundamental that nobody seems to have figured out, there’s a chance that, in fact, nobody has.

L2. Analogies are powerful. I would never have pursued this problem had I not been determined to understand the mathematical relationship between the Faraday cage and the trapezoidal rule.

L3. Referees can be useful. Thank you, anonymous man or woman who told us the Faraday cage section in our trapezoidal rule manuscript wasn’t convincing! We removed those embarrassing pages, and proper understanding came months later.

And then three questions:

Q1. How can arguably the most famous effect in electrical engineering have remained unanalyzed for 180 years?

Q2. How can a big error in the most famous physics textbook ever published have gone unreported since 1964?

Q3. Somebody must design microwave oven doors based on laboratory measurements. Where are these people?

(Hat tips to our Slovenian guest and Ross.)

Puzzling Statistics

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Why do the human sciences record pervasive behavioral differences among racial groups, such as in violent-crime rates?

One explanation is that these disparities originate in complex interactions between nature and nurture.

But, of course, only dangerous extremists hold that theory.

The much more respectable sentiment is that statistical differences among the races are the fault of bad white people, such as George Zimmerman and Minnesota policeman Jeronimo Yanez.

Last week, on his way to Warsaw on Air Force One, President Barack Obama was looking at social media. According to The New York Times, he alerted his press secretary that:

He had decided to make a statement himself as soon as they landed, and had told his aides to collect statistics demonstrating racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Now, you might think that’s putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps the administration should objectively evaluate the evidence first, rather than order its media flacks to dredge up some data justifying the president’s prejudices?

But that would be wrong. Everybody knows that culture or evolution can’t have anything to do with hereditary racial differences in performance. If you even consider those possibilities, you must be one of the bad white people you’ve been warned about.

Instead, we know that science has proved that statistical differences among the races are all due to a vast conspiracy to plunder blacks. Nothing makes 21st-century people who think they are white richer than having a lot of black bodies around. Just ask MacArthur genius Ta-Nehisi Coates. He’ll tell you.

“Why are there all these puzzling statistics that don’t agree with the stereotypes promoted by our national leaders?”

And yet, here’s a statistic published in 2011 that doesn’t support the Coates-Obama orthodoxy:

While young black males have accounted for about 1% of the population from 1980 to 2008…(b)y 2008, young black males made up about a quarter of all homicide o?enders (27%)…

In other words, young black males are about 27 times more likely to kill somebody than the average American.

Interestingly, that datum comes from the Obama administration’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, which published a report entitled Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008.

One reason young black males are disproportionately homicidal is that they are young (homicide rates are highest among 18- to 24-year-olds). Another factor is that they are male (according to the BJS, “Males were 7 times more likely than females to commit murder in 2008”).

That the police keep a warier eye on men than women and the young than the old is never seen as offensive. It’s just common sense.

Yet profiling blacks as tending to be more threatening than whites (not to mention Hispanics or Asians) is the worst offense imaginable under today’s ruling ideology. For instance, the day after the Dallas antiwhite atrocity, the first two policy responses that Hillary Clinton recommended in an interview with Wolf Blitzer were: “National guidelines for police about the use of force” and “We need to look more into implicit bias.”

Transplanting Mitochondria

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Transplanting mitochondria extends life — in mice:

Dr Enríquez and his colleagues worked on that scientific stalwart, the mouse. Many genetic strains of lab mice are available, and the team started with two whose mitochondria had been shown by DNA analysis to have small but significant differences—about the same, Dr Enríquez reckons, as the ones between the mitochondria of modern Africans and those of Asians and Europeans, people whose ancestors left Africa about 60,000 years ago. They then copied the procedure for human mitochondrial transplants by removing fertilised nuclei from eggs of one strain, leaving behind that strain’s mitochondria, and transplanting them into enucleated eggs of the second strain, whose mitochondria remained in situ. A group of the first strain, left unmodified, was employed as a control. The researchers raised the mice and kept an eye on how they developed.

While the animals were young, few differences were apparent between modified and unmodified individuals. But as murine middle age approached, at around the animals’ first birthdays, differences began to manifest themselves. Modified mice gained less weight than controls, despite having the same diet. Their blood-insulin levels fluctuated less after fasting, suggesting they were more resistant to diabetes. Their muscles deteriorated less rapidly with age. And their telomeres—protective caps on the ends of their chromosomes whose shortening is implicated in ageing—stayed lengthier for longer.

Not all of the changes were beneficial. Young, unmodified mice had lower levels of free radicals—highly reactive (and therefore damaging) chemicals produced by mitochondria—than did their modified brethren, though even that difference reversed itself after the animals were 30 weeks old. But the combined result of the various changes was that the modified mice lived longer. Their median age at death was about a fifth higher than that of their unmodified cousins.

Given the fundamental metabolic role played by mitochondria, it makes sense that replacing one set with another, more distantly related set causes profound changes. The surprise is that those changes seem largely positive. Most biologists would have predicted the opposite, assuming that nuclear and mitochondrial DNA would co-evolve to interact optimally, so that mixing versions which have not co-evolved would be harmful.

Though unsure what to make of his discovery, Dr Enríquez suggests that a concept called hormesis might offer an explanation. This is the observation that a small amount of adversity can sometimes do an animal good, by activating cellular repair mechanisms that go on to clear up other damage which would otherwise have gone untreated. The biochemical cost of coping with mismatched mitochondria might, therefore, be tempering the animals’ metabolisms in ways that improve their overall health.

Is transgenderism an autism spectrum disorder?

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Steve Sailer has a vague hunch that the transgender movement is somehow related to what he calls the Nerd Liberation movement, the most unexpectedly successful identity movement of his lifetime:

It’s not clear if autism, Asperger’s, and/or nerdism is becoming more common, but it’s definitely more of an identity than it once was.

There has been a little research into this subject, breaking trans people up into three main categories:

  1. Effeminate early transitioning male to female trans individuals (ladyboys) are of course not very nerdy at all. They tend to be people persons (e.g., prostitutes) and not big on logic.
  2. Female to male trans are very nerdy.
  3. Late transitioning masculine male to female trans people (the Wachowskis, the baseball stats person, my MBA school teammate, the economist, etc.) tend to be at least as nerdy as the average man and much more nerdy than the average woman.

I’ve found that the third category, which includes most of the celebrities and high achievers, tends to have a science fiction aspect to their interests. They often seem like characters from old Heinlein sci-fi stories.

Heinlein, a dedicated professional writer, believed in fan service and studied the wants of his various kinds of fans. In 1941 he was both guest of honor and de facto host of a convention for sci-fi fans at which he emphasized to the attendees that, sure, they might be social outcasts today, but they would be a world-changing elite tomorrow!

It doesn’t strike me as absurd that Heinlein would have sensed a market for these kind of fantasies among some sci-fi fans as early as 1958, the year of his solipsistic transsexual time travel short story “All You Zombies.”

In general, much of transgenderism seems like a weird flavor of a sci-fi fan’s traditional interest in Subduing Nature through New Technology.

Our Dumb World

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

As far as average IQ scores go, Gregory Cochran notes, this is what the world looks like:


But there are two relevant tests: the Stanford-Binet, and life itself. If a country scored low on IQ but at the same time led the world in Cavorite production, or cured cancer, or built spindizzies, we would say “screw Stanford-Binet”, and we would be right to do so.

Does that happen? Are there countries with low average scores that tear up the technological track? Mostly not – generally, fairly high average IQ seems to be a prerequisite for creativity in science and mathematics. Necessary, although not sufficient: bad choices (Communism), having the world kick you in the crotch (Mongols), or toxic intellectual fads can all make smart peoples unproductive.


You could improve the situation, raise the average, by selection for IQ. But that takes a long time, and I know of no case where it was done on purpose. You could decrease inbreeding, for example by banning cousin marriage. That only takes one generation. You could make environmental improvements, iodine supplementation being the best understood. People assume that there are a lot of other important environmental variable, but I sure don’t know what they are. In practice the rank ordering of populations seem to be the same everywhere, which is not what you would expect if there were strong, malleable environmental influences.

Is it easy to notice such differences? Well, for ordinary people, it’s real easy. Herero would ask Henry why Europeans were so smart – he said he didn’t know. But with the right education, it apparently becomes impossible to see. Few anthropologists know that such differences exist and even fewer admit it. I’m sure that most have never even read any psychometrics – more importantly, they ignore their lying eyes. Economists generally reject such explanations, which is one reason that they find most of the Third World impossible to understand. I must give credit to Garret Jones, who is actually aware of this general pattern. Sure, he stepped on the dick of his own argument there at the end of his book, but he was probably lying, because he had to. Sociologists? It is to laugh.

Generally, you could say that the major job of social science is making sure that people do not know this map. Not knowing has its attractions: practically every headline is a surprise. The world must seem ever fresh and new to the dis-illuminati – something like being Henry Molaison, who had his hippocampus removed by a playful neurosurgeon and afterwards could not create new explicit memories.

So when we tried a new intervention aimed at eliminating the GAP, and it failed, Molaison was surprised, even if 47 similar programs had already failed. Neurologically, he was much like a professor of education.

Lifetime Violence and IQ

Monday, July 11th, 2016

One of the most consistent findings in the criminological literature is that African American males are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates that far exceed those of any other racial or ethnic group, but this racial disparity was completely accounted for after including covariates for self-reported lifetime violence and IQ.

Garwin and the Mike Shot

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

In Building the H-Bomb: A Personal History, Kenneth Ford explains how Richard Garwin designed the first H-Bomb, based on the Teller-Ulam mechanism, while still in his early twenties:

In 1951 Dick Garwin came for his second summer to Los Alamos. He was then twenty-three and two years past his Ph.D. Edward Teller, having interacted with Garwin at the University of Chicago, knew him to be an extraordinarily gifted experimental physicist as well as a very talented theorist. He knew, too, that Fermi had called Garwin the best graduate student he ever had.

So when Garwin came to Teller shortly after arriving in Los Alamos that summer (probably in June 1951) asking him “what was new,” Teller was ready to pounce. He referred Garwin to the Teller-Ulam report of that March and then asked him to “devise an experiment that would be absolutely persuasive that this would really work.” Garwin set about doing exactly that and in a report dated July 25, 1951, titled “Some Preliminary Indications of the Shape and Construction of a Sausage, Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951,” he laid out a design with full specifics of size, shape, and composition, for what would be the Mike shot fired the next year.

Researchers Examine Family Income And Children’s Non-Cognitive Skills

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Why do children of the successful do better than children of the unsuccessful?

VEDANTAM: Well, we’ve known for a very long time that family income really matters. This could be because schools in richer neighborhoods are better schools. But it could also be that rich parents are able to give their children more learning opportunities outside of school. I was speaking with the economist Barbara Wulf. She’s at the University of Wisconsin. Along with Jason Fletcher, she recently decided to explore another explanation. She asked if income disparities might also be linked to disparities in what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. Many researchers think that it’s these skills that undergird not just academic performance in school but a host of other abilities later in life, including in the workplace. Here’s Wulf.

BARBARA WULF: When we think about who is a good employee and who’s likely to succeed in the workplace, you hear a lot of attention paid to these what I’ll call non-cognitive skills. So they pay attention, they are persistent, they are eager. So they have a set of characteristics that make them good employees.

GREENE: OK. So people who have these non-cognitive skills – better employees. But tie this to American education and sort of the income disparity.

VEDANTAM: Wulf and Fletcher analyzed data from a national survey, David, that tracked children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The survey data allowed the researchers to track the effects of family income on what parents and teachers were reporting about these children as they went through elementary school. The researchers find there’s a very strong correlation between family income and these non-cognitive skills. In other words, when it comes to being cooperative or dealing with conflict productively, children from wealthier families on average seem to have more of these skills than children from poorer families.

GREENE: OK. So this is actually making the connection. We’ve always known that there’s this income disparity. Now we’re sort of understanding that income disparity might be because if you’re less affluent, I mean, you’re just not developing these skills you’re talking about.

“NPR searches valiantly, blindfolded,” in Charles Murray‘s words.


Saturday, June 25th, 2016

In 1945, Eastman Kodak suddenly received a flood of complaints from business customers who had recently purchased sensitive X-ray film:

Black exposed spots on the film, or “fogging,” had rendered it unusable. This perplexed many Kodak scientists, who had gone to great lengths to prevent contaminations like this.

Julian H. Webb, a physicist in Kodak’s research department, took it upon himself to dig deeper and test the destroyed film.


According to an article Webb would write in 1949 for the American Physical Society, the paper and cardboard used for packaging in the ’40s were often salvaged from wartime manufacturing plants where radium-based instruments were also produced. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can cause flecks of spots or fogging when “in intimate contact with (sensitive film) for a period several weeks.” During wartime, Kodak took precautions to avoid radium contamination. It moved packaging manufacturing to mills where Kodak had full control over the raw materials.

One of these mills was located along the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana; it specialized in producing strawboard, used as a stiffener board between sheets of film. When Webb investigated the mysterious fogging in 1945, he found that it originated not from the X-ray film itself but the packaging, which he tracked to this particular mill, and specifically, the production run of strawboard from August 6, 1945. After testing the radioactive material on the strawboard, he discovered — rather alarmingly — that the spots on the film were not caused by radium nor any other naturally occurring radioactive material, but “a new type radioactive containment not hitherto encountered.” What was this unknown radioactive material, he must have wondered, and what was it doing in southwest Indiana?


While he was studying the Indiana samples, Webb got word that a particular production run of strawboard from a plant in Tama, Iowa was also contaminated and fogging the Kodak film it carried. While Tama was 450 miles from Vincennes, there were striking similarities. The two production runs of strawboard had been completed within a month of each other. Tama’s radioactive spots also failed the radium test, meaning the cause was something else. Most telling, however, was that both mills sat next to rivers, with Vincennes on the Wabash River and the Iowa River cutting through Tama.

Webb found that the strawboard from both mills had a significant concentration of beta-particle radiation activity but little to no alpha-activity. (Beta-particle radiation can penetrate paper, human skin and are sometimes considered dangerous. Alpha-particle radiation is stopped by paper, easily absorbed and generally considered safe if not ingested). Additionally, photographic evidence allowed Webb to estimate the half-life of the artificial radioactive material he was seeking at approximately 30 days. The results corresponded to the presence of an artificial radioactive material he would later identify as Cerium-141, which is “one of the more prolific fission products of the atom bomb.”

Furthermore, Webb concluded there was no possible way the straw could be the carrier of the containment, since it was stored in warehouses (and not outside) for a considerable amount of time prior to being used. Had the Cerium-141 gotten directly into the straw, it would have decayed by the time the straw was processed, rendering the radiation hardly detectable. This brought Webb to a frightening explanation: The contamination came from the river water. Additional evidence would fall in the rain. According to Webb, “stronger activity occurred in the strawboard” after periods of heavy precipitation, establishing that the radioactive material was being deposited via precipitation and came from a far-flung place.

While it is unclear whether Webb knew about the Trinity test when he was conducting his research in 1945, his report from 1949 is unabashedly clear: “The most likely explanation of the source of this radioactive contaminant appears to be that it consisted of wind-borne radioactive fission products derived from the atom-bomb detonation in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.”

The problem came up again later:

On January 27, 1951, the first atomic detonation at the new Nevada Proving Ground took place. Days later and 2,500 miles away, a Geiger counter at Kodak’s headquarters in New York state measured radioactive readings 25 times above normal after a snowstorm. Declassified 1952 documents obtained by Popular Mechanics reveals that Kodak alerted the Atomic Energy Commission about this out of concern this testing would wreck its film just as had happened in 1945. The AEC responded that it would look into it, but assured Kodak there was little reason to worry, even allowing the company to issue a press release to the Associated Press stating that snow “that fell in Rochester was measurably radioactive…” but “there is no possibility of harm to humans and animals.”

In March 1951, a frustrated Kodak threatened to sue the U.S. government for the “considerable amount of damage to our products resulting from the Nevada tests or from any further atomic energy tests…” Finally the company and the government came to an agreement. The AEC would provide Webb, by now the head of Kodak’s physics division, with schedules and maps of future tests so that Kodak could take the necessary precautions to protect its product. In return, the people of Kodak were to keep everything they knew about the government’s Nevada nuclear testing a secret.

Psychedelics Make People Weird

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Early psychedelic research took in brilliant scientists and spit out crazy weirdos:

A 2011 study found that a single dose of psilocybin could permanently increase the personality dimension of Openness To Experience. I’m emphasizing that because personality is otherwise pretty stable after adulthood; nothing should be able to do this. But magic mushrooms apparently have this effect, and not subtly either; participants who had a mystical experience on psilocybin had Openness increase up to half a standard deviation compared to placebo, and the change was stable sixteen months later. This is really scary. I mean, I like Openness To Experience, but something that can produce large, permanent personality changes is so far beyond anything else we have in psychiatry that it’s kind of terrifying.

(Related: 1972 study finds LSD may cause permanent increase in hypnotic susceptibility, which other sources have linked to being “fantasy prone” and “creative”)

And that’s one dose. These researchers were taking psychedelics pretty constantly for years, and probably experimented with the sort of doses you couldn’t get away with giving research subjects. What would you expect to happen to their Openness To Experience? How many standard deviations do you think it went up?

It seems possible to me that psychedelics have a direct pharmacological effect on personality that causes people to be more open to unusual ideas. I know this is going against most of the latest research, which says psychedelics have no long-term negative mental health effects and do not cause psychosis. But there’s a difference between being schizophrenic, and being the sort of guy who is still a leading neuroanatomist but also writes books about the geometric relationships between consciousness and the space-time continuum.

I’m not sure anyone has ever done studies to rule out the theory that psychedelics just plain make people weird. Indeed, such studies would be very difficult, given that weird people with very high Openness To Experience are more likely to use psychedelics. This problem would even prevent common sense detection of the phenomenon – even if we noticed that frequent psychedelic users were really weird, we would attribute it to selection effects and forget about it.

In this situation, the early psychedelicists could be a natural experiment giving us data we can’t get any other way. Here are relatively sober scientists who took psychedelics for reasons other than being weird hippies already. Their fate provides signal through the noise which is the general psychedelic-using population.

Ten to Twelve Percent Slower

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Transgender athlete Joanna Harper explains what happened after her transition:

In 2005, nine months after starting HRT, I was running 12% slower than I had run with male T levels; women run 10-12% slower than men over a wide range of distances. In 2006 I met another trans woman runner and the she had the same experience. I later discovered that, if aging is factored in, this 10-12% loss of speed is standard among trans women endurance athletes. The realization that one can take a male distance runner, make that runner hormonally female, and wind up with a female distance runner of the same relative capability was life changing for me.