Shirtgate and Common Decency

November 19th, 2014

What should have been the best week of Dr. Matt Taylor’s professional life ended with him weeping on TV as he apologized for his alleged crime — wearing a racy shirt:

Many of my friends and colleagues on the anti-PC right have responded with understandable outrage. And it’s true: Taylor’s confession of wrongdoing did feel forced — awfully North Korean.

Still, the feminists have a point. Although I like the shirt (which is now selling like hotcakes), I would never wear it to a nice restaurant, never mind on a globally broadcast TV interview. The reason I wouldn’t wear it has very little to do with my fear of offending feminists. It’s simply unsuitable professional attire. I’d ask critics of the feminist backlash, would you wear it on a job interview? How about to church or synagogue?

Where feminists seem remarkably self-absorbed is in their assumption that only their sensibilities matter. It is hardly as if feminist-friendly career women in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering, and math) are the only people who might reasonably dislike the shirt. But here’s astrophysicist Katie Mack tweeting: “I don’t care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn’t appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM.”

Okay, maybe. But why are feminist motives so special? What if you’re a devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew working in the humanities? What if you like cartoonishly sexy ladies, but you hate guns? What if you’re simply the kind of person who thinks male professionals should wear a jacket and tie on TV?

In short, feminists want a monopoly on when everyone must be outraged or offended. A few weeks ago, feminist idiots rolled out a video of little girls dressed as princesses, cursing like foul-mouthed comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Unlike Taylor, they set out to offend. But that was in support of feminism, so it was okay. (I’d like to see the parents of those kids tearfully apologizing for exploiting their kids as cheap propaganda props.)


For millennia, good manners were understood as the means by which strangers showed each other respect. Now, too many people demand respect but have lost the ability, or desire, to show it in return.

(Hat tip to Charles Murray.)

Republicans Are Douchebags

November 19th, 2014

Scott Alexander found a couple online lists of “biggest douchebag names” and ran them against Clarity Campaigns‘ database of names and political affiliations — and found that Republicans are douchebags:

I can think of two three hypotheses.

First, douchebags are disproportionately Republican.

Second, the parents who name kids douchebag names are disproportionately Republican, and Republicanism is partly hereditary (I almost missed this one, but JayMan reads this blog and I know he would call me on it if I forgot).

Third, “douchebag” is a tribally-coded slur. If someone asks “Have you ever noticed that all assholes are named things like ‘Moishe’ or ‘Avram’ or ‘Menachem’?” – then they’re telling you a lot more about the way they use the word ‘asshole’ than about the Moishes and Menachems of the world.

Farmed Bluefin

November 19th, 2014

The Japanese treasure the rich red meat of hon-maguro or true tuna:

At an auction in Tokyo, a single bluefin once sold for $1.5 million, or $3,000 a pound.

All this has put the wild Pacific bluefin tuna in a perilous state. Stocks today are less than one-fifth of their peak in the early 1960s, around the time Japanese industrial freezer ships began prowling the oceans, according to an estimate by an international governmental committee monitoring tuna fishing in the Pacific. The wild population is now estimated by that committee at 44,848 tons, or roughly nine million fish, down nearly 50% in the past decade.


Not long ago, full farming of tuna was considered impossible. Now the business is beginning to take off, as part of a broader revolution in aquaculture that is radically changing the world’s food supply.


With a decadeslong global consumption boom depleting natural fish populations of all kinds, demand is increasingly being met by farm-grown seafood. In 2012, farmed fish accounted for a record 42.2% of global output, compared with 13.4% in 1990 and 25.7% in 2000. A full 56% of global shrimp consumption now comes from farms, mostly in Southeast Asia and China. Oysters are started in hatcheries and then seeded in ocean beds. Atlantic salmon farming, which only started in earnest in the mid-1980s, now accounts for 99% of world-wide production — so much so that it has drawn criticism for polluting local water systems and spreading diseases to wild fish.

Until recently, the Pacific bluefin tuna defied this sort of domestication. The bluefin can weigh as much as 900 pounds and barrels through the seas at up to 30 miles an hour. Over a month, it may roam thousands of miles of the Pacific. The massive creature is also moody, easily disturbed by light, noise or subtle changes in the water temperature. It hurtles through the water in a straight line, making it prone to fatal collisions in captivity.

Super Revenue

November 18th, 2014

The real superhero money comes not from movies but from licensed products, where the real hero isn’t Batman, Superman, or one of the Avengers:

It’s actually Spider-Man who is the superheroic earner, with licensing profits that in 2013 outpaced those of the Avengers ($325 million), Batman ($494 million), and Superman ($277 million). The Hollywood Reporter lists the data reported by the Licensing Letter.

According to the data, Marvel also sees far more licensed products shipped than DC does.


November 18th, 2014

Ordinary people have three kinds of cones in their eyes, attuned to red, green, and blue, but a few people, mostly women, are tetrachromats, with four kinds of cones:

For years, researchers weren’t sure tetrachromacy existed. If it did, they stipulated, it could only be found in people with two X chromosomes. This is because of the genes behind color vision. People who have regular color vision have three cones, tuned to the wavelengths of red, green, and blue. These are connected to the X chromosome — most men have only one, but most women have two. Mutations in the X chromosome cause a person to perceive more or less color, which is why men more commonly have congenital colorblindness than women (if their one X chromosome has a mutation). But the theory stood that if a person received two mutated X chromosomes, she could have four cones instead of the usual three.

Note the use of most in that paragraph:

The original story stated that all men have one X and one Y chromosome and that all women have two X chromosomes. This statement neglected to include those with Klinefelter Syndrome and transgender individuals. We regret the error.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Arthur Rankin Jr. Dies

November 18th, 2014

Animation legend Arthur Rankin Jr. has died. He and his partner, Jules Bass, produced many classics — especially holiday classics:

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
  • The Little Drummer Boy
  • The Hobbit
  • The Last Unicorn
  • Thundercats

Creator of “Choose Your Own Adventure” Dies

November 18th, 2014

R.A. Montgomery, co-author and publisher of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, has passed away.

Choose Your Own Adventure 001f Cave of Time

His partner, Edward Packard, was considered the better writer, but Montgomery had his strengths:

Montgomery, on the other hand, often eschewed internal consistency in favor of big ideas, and his books have their own bizarre charm. While Packard was writing the standard sword-and-sorcery story The Forbidden Castle about dragons, knights, and princesses, Montgomery unleashed the berserk House of Danger which involved super-intelligent monkeys plotting to destabilize the world economy via counterfeiting, psychic detectives, Civil War ghosts, alien abduction, holograms, age regression, cannibalism, secret environmental conspiracies, and one ending that has the reader turned into Genghis Khan.

Why Are So Few Blockbuster Drugs Invented Today?

November 17th, 2014

Why are so few blockbuster drugs invented today?

On Sept. 25, 1990, James D. Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, and at the time the director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, wrote a letter to this paper making a prediction: “The ability to sequence DNA quickly and cheaply will also provide the technological basis for a new era in drug development.”

At that moment, the idea that the human genome would lead to a multitude of cures for diseases seemed inevitable and irresistible. DNA is, after all, nature’s instruction booklet for building living things; open that book and read its instructions, the thinking ran, and the botched instructions that result in diseases would be revealed. From there, a logical series of steps would arrive at a cure. Once a malfunctioning gene was isolated, scientists would find the protein coded by that gene. Then they’d use that protein as a target. Finally, they’d run tests of tens of thousands of unique chemical entities that drug companies have stockpiled over the years, to find one that fit the target like a key in a lock, to correct its function.

But this golden road to pharmaceutical riches, known as target-based drug discovery, has often proved to be more of a garden path. The first disappointment has been that most diseases affecting large numbers of people are not caused by a handful of mutations that can be unearthed as easily as digging potatoes in a field. Geneticists have called this the problem of “missing heritability,” because despite what they promised in the 1990s, they have found no single genetic variants that are necessary and sufficient to cause most forms of widespread diseases like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or cancer.

The second disappointment is that even when a genetic variation can be plainly linked to a disease, the process for figuring out what to do about it rarely works as efficiently as advertised. Compounds that appear to hit a designated target right between the eyes still often fail to be safe and effective in animal and human studies. Biology is just way too complicated.

“If you read them now, the claims made for genomics in the 1990s sound a bit like predictions made in the 1950s for flying cars and anti-gravity devices,” Jack Scannell, an industry analyst, told me. But rather than speeding drug development, genomics may have slowed it down. So far it has produced fewer returns on greater investments. Scannell and Brian Warrington, who worked for 40 years inventing drugs for pharmaceutical companies, published a grim paper in 2012 that showed the plummeting efficiency of the pharmaceutical industry. They found that for every billion dollars spent on research and development since 1950, the number of new drugs approved has fallen by half roughly every nine years, meaning a total decline by a factor of 80. They called this Eroom’s Law, because it resembled an inversion of Moore’s Law (the observation, first made by the Intel co-founder Gorden E. Moore in 1965, that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately about every two years).


So far, most drug companies have continued to devote a vast majority of their funding to target-based research, even as more traditional methods of drug discovery have proved more productive. A study published last year by David Swinney found that only 17 of 50 novel drugs approved by the F.D.A. between 1999 and 2008 came from target-based research, compared with 28 from what Swinney calls “phenotypic” discovery, made by studying living cells in Petri dishes, animals and humans. Many of the drugs in this latter category — Alamast for allergies, Amitiza for constipation, Abreva for herpes cold sores, Ranexa for angina, Veregen for genital warts and Keppra, Excegran and Inovelon for seizures — were discovered by chemists who didn’t set out knowing what the drugs’ targets were, or even how they worked. In one now well known case of nontargeted research, scientists developed a drug for angina and found that while it wasn’t effective for relieving chest pain, it did cause erections in the study’s male volunteers. The researchers changed course, and Viagra was born.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

November 16th, 2014

Can money buy happiness? Yes, but buying happiness isn’t straightforward:

What matters a lot more than a big income is how people spend it. For instance, giving money away makes people a lot happier than lavishing it on themselves. And when they do spend money on themselves, people are a lot happier when they use it for experiences like travel than for material goods.


Numerous studies conducted over the past 10 years have shown that life experiences give us more lasting pleasure than material things, and yet people still often deny themselves experiences and prioritize buying material goods.


“What we find is that there’s this huge misforecast,” he says. “People think that experiences are only going to provide temporary happiness, but they actually provide both more happiness and more lasting value.” And yet we still keep on buying material things, he says, because they’re tangible and we think we can keep on using them.


One of the main reasons why having more stuff doesn’t always make us happy is that we adapt to it. “Human beings are remarkably good at getting used to changes in their lives, especially positive changes,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside. “If you have a rise in income, it gives you a boost, but then your aspirations rise too. Maybe you buy a bigger home in a new neighborhood, and so your neighbors are richer, and you start wanting even more. You’ve stepped on the hedonic treadmill. Trying to prevent that or slow it down is really a challenge.”

One approach that can work, she says, is consciously trying to foster appreciation and gratitude for what you have. The process of adaptation, after all, comes from taking what you have for granted, so you can slow it down by reminding yourself of why you value what you have.

It could be as simple as setting aside time every day to follow the traditional advice of “counting your blessings.” Or you might want to keep a daily journal or express your gratitude to other people. The key is to find a way to remain conscious of everything you own and avoid simply adapting to having it around.


Increasing variety, novelty or surprise can also help you to enjoy your possessions more. “When things become unchanging, that’s when you adapt to them,” Prof. Lyubomirsky says.

If you keep a painting hanging in the same spot on the same wall, for example, you’ll stop noticing it after a while. But swap it with a painting from another room, and you’ll see each of them with fresh eyes, and appreciate them more. Try sharing your possessions with other people, too, and opening yourself up to new experiences, she says.

This could even mean depriving yourself of your possessions for a while, perhaps by lending them or sharing them with someone else. Elizabeth Dunn, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the book “Happy Money,” recently conducted an experiment where she sent people home with a big bag of chocolate, telling some of them to eat as much of it as they could and others that they were forbidden to eat it. A third group could choose how much to eat.

The result? The people who had been forbidden from eating chocolate were able to enjoy their next chocolate bar much more than those who’d either eaten a lot or consumed their normal amount. “Giving something up temporarily can actually help to preserve our capacity to enjoy it,” Prof. Dunn says.


The paradox of money is that although earning more of it tends to enhance our well-being, we become happier by giving it away than by spending it on ourselves.


What moves the needle in terms of happiness is not so much the dollar amount you give, Prof. Dunn says, but the perceived impact of your donation. If you can see your money making a difference in other people’s lives, it will make you happy even if the amount you gave was quite small.


It’s also important to consider how what you’re buying will affect how you spend your time. That big house in the suburbs may seem like a good idea, but a 2004 study by Alois Stutzer and Bruno Frey of the University of Zurich found that people with longer commutes reported lower overall life satisfaction, all other things being equal. They calculated that you would need a 40% raise to offset the added misery of a one-hour commute.


Finally, although much of the research in this field is on spending money rather than saving it, the researchers agree that spending more than you can afford is a route to misery. Taking care of your basic needs and achieving a level of financial security is important.


“Savings are good for happiness; debt is bad for happiness. But debt is more potently bad than savings are good,” Prof. Dunn says. “From a happiness perspective, it’s more important to get rid of debt than to build savings.”

This cutting-edge science seems to be delivering advice I’ve heard somewhere before. Don’t covet material things, make a habit of counting your blessings, give to those in need, give up fine food from time to time — where have I heard all this before?

Glen A. Larson Dies at 77

November 15th, 2014

Glen A. Larson just passed away. The Mormon TV producer was an only child who went on to father nine children by three wives — ordinary, Hollywood, sequential wives, not polygamous sister-wives.

His Mormon beliefs influenced his sci-fi hit, Battlestar Galactica.

He also helped bring the novel Cyborg to TV — as The Six Million Dollar Man.

Female Secret Service Bodyguards

November 15th, 2014

Female Secret Service bodyguards are not as awesome at hand-to-hand combat as you might expect from watching TV, Steve Sailer notes, citing this New York Times account of the White House intrusion a few weeks ago:

As the officer stationed there tried to lock the doors, Mr. Gonzalez “barged through them and knocked her backward.” She told him to stop but he continued on to the East Room.

“After attempting twice to physically take Gonzalez down but failing to do so because of the size disparity between the two, the officer then attempted to draw her baton but accidentally grabbed her flashlight instead,” the report said. “The officer threw down her flashlight, drew her firearm, and continued to give Gonzalez commands that he ignored.”

Mr. Gonzalez entered the East Room, but then exited, heading down the hallway. Two officers stationed in the White House, assisted by two plainclothes agents who had just finished their shifts, tackled him.

Too Many Cooks

November 14th, 2014

Adult Swim’s Too Many Cooks “intro” takes our pop culture to yet another level of weirdly meta self-reference:

Ten Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC

November 14th, 2014

Ten Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC:

Dogs Playing Dungeons & Dragons

November 14th, 2014

Dogs Playing Poker is fine, but Dogs Playing Dungeons & Dragons is better:

Dogs Playing D&D

Alternative Scientific History

November 12th, 2014

Science asked its readers what one piece of scientific knowledge from today they would share, if they could go back in time, and how might it change the course of history?

The responses show an almost laughable ignorance of the real world:

If I could travel back in time, I would transport to Syracuse, Sicily, in 222 B.C.E. to introduce the fundamental theorem of calculus to Archimedes 10 years before his death. As the great mathematical genius of his era, he would have been most poised to understand and disseminate the knowledge of linking the concept of a derivate of a function with the concept of the integral.… So much technology of today, from the internal combustion engine to the principles of economics, has been made possible due to calculus.

The internal combustion engine was made possible due to calculus?

As the future scientific envoy, I have an audience with Emperor Qin and present my gift: Women are capable of doing the same thing as men; they even can do better. Certainly, with adequate data, glorious accomplishment stories, and plenty of examples, such as Madame Curie, Mrs. Thatcher, Deng Yaping, and Oprah Winfrey, I can convince Emperor Qin to give women more chances to receive education and give full play to their talent in science and technology, culture, politics, and the military. In that way, more than 2000 years later, China would surely be a super power stronger than today.…


I would go back to ancient Rome on the morning of 15 March, 44 B.C.E., to the steps of the Roman Senate, and share Bayes’ Theorem with Julius Caesar. In the days leading up to his assassination, Rome was awash with rumors of an assassination plot. According to legend, an old soothsayer had forewarned Caesar himself of a great danger that threatened him on the Ides of March, and Caesar’s own wife Calpurnia had a premonition of her husband’s murder and tried to warn him of the danger. But were these dark forebodings and dire prophecies just idle gossip (noise) or a credible forecast of the future (signal)? Given this uncertainty, I would advise Caesar to guess the prior probability of an assassination plot and then update his prior based on the sundry rumors swirling around Rome. Had Caesar applied Bayesian reasoning, it is likely he would have followed his wife’s advice and stayed home on that fateful day. Had he done so, Bayes’ Rule might have changed the course of history, for the Roman Republic might have yet been saved, and perhaps we would all still be speaking Latin.


In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published his Principia outlining the fundamentals of what quickly became called Newtonian mechanics. I would travel back to Cambridge, England, 5 years before this date and teach Einstein’s, theory of relativity to Isaac Newton. The obvious change in history resulting from this action would of course be a massive head start for the field of modern physics.… However, I would argue that a less obvious but possibly more important consequence of this historical change would be its effect on how we teach science. Currently, high school students and first year undergraduates are taught the limited version of physics discovered by Newton. Only students who choose to continue in the discipline learn Einstein’s more generalized form of mechanics and how classical mechanics is encompassed in this modern understanding. If Newton had discovered both his and Einstein’s contributions at the same time, the result would be an educational system that introduces a more complete view of physics to a wider audience of people from an earlier age.…

You see, more people would move beyond simple Newtonian physics, if only Newton had understood relativity! Clearly!

Instead of a piece of technical knowledge, I would share something that would provide perspective: the photo of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972. “The Blue Marble,” as it is often called, shows both the unity and finitude of the planet and its resources. The photo is emblematic of the modern environmental movement’s birth in the 1970s. I would bring this photo to early 19th-century Britain, during the Industrial Revolution, when consumption of Earth’s resources began to increase dramatically. Providing this information 150 years earlier would be an opportunity for the soon-to-be industrialized culture of western Europe to reconsider its relationship with the planet.

I’m sure early 19th-century Britain would react to the photo in the exact same way as late 20th-century America.

“Hello, Professors [Svante Arrhenius and Arvid Högbom], I travel back in time from 2013 to tell you that…since the early 20th century, Earth’s mean surface temperature has increased by about 0.8°C. The primary cause is greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise another 1.1°C to 2.9°C, even for their lowest emissions scenario. Global warming isn’t just about things getting hotter; other changes include stormier, drier, and even colder conditions.” The next day, they wrote to the government and the scientific associations to call people’s attention to global warming and adaptations to eliminate it. Actions like reducing fossil fuel use, planting trees, and conserving water were known by people all over the world. Instead of destroying the planet, every single man on Earth began to protect and sustain it in their daily life.

I can imagine the swift Swedish reaction to the threat of mildly warmer temperatures.

I would choose Thomas Edison in the beginning of the year 1900 in New York City. I would describe the events of the future and how he and I could help keep our environment cleaner. I would give him designs to solar panels and hope that the future of solar technology would make America and other countries independent of oil production. Thomas Edison’s name alone could create Edison Panels that would be on every Victorian home in the world, especially in hard-to-reach locations…. Fewer trees would be cut, and the world would remain more rural and yet prosper from a new power source.

Edison supposedly did recommend harnessing the sun’s energy, for what it’s worth. Solar-thermal energy might be practical early in the Industrial Revolution, but photovoltaic would be a long, long way off.

I would be inclined to bring the Romans knowledge of movable type and paper, or maybe glasswork and lenses. I’m not sure that you can do much with an understanding of the heliocentric solar system, the periodic table, evolution, etc.