Great civilisations are not murdered

March 27th, 2018

Peter Turchin’s Ultrasociety explains how peaceful, stable societies came about:

As war created large states, empires, and nation-states, societies evolved measures to suppress internal conflict and violence. Reduced internal violence is the obverse of increased cooperation. Surprising as it may seem, the trend towards greater peace was already noticeable during the Ancient and Medieval historical eras, long before the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Of course, wars between empires dwarfed intertribal conflicts in scale. Huge armies fought increasingly bloody battles, and the numbers of casualties mounted. But the key point is that these wars moved away from imperial centers, towards the frontiers. More and more people — those living far from frontiers where battles were fought — never experienced conflict, and could enjoy relative prosperity.

There is no contradiction between larger armies and larger butcher’s bills from warfare, on the one hand, and on the other, a greater part of the population enjoying peace. What is important from the point of view of quality of life is not how many people, in total, are killed, but what the chances are that I (or you, or someone you care about) will be killed. In other words, the important statistic is the risk of violent death for each person.

War serves to weed out societies that go bad:

When discipline, imposed by the need to survive conflict, gets relaxed, societies lose their ability to cooperate. A reactionary catchphrase of the 1970s used to go, “what this generation needs is a war,” a deplorable sentiment but one that in terms of cultural evolution might sometimes have a germ of cold logic.

At any rate, there is a pattern that we see recurring throughout history, when a successful empire expands its borders so far that it becomes the biggest kid on the block. When survival is no longer at stake, selfish elites and other special interest groups capture the political agenda. The spirit that “we are all in the same boat” disappears and is replaced by a “winner take all” mentality. As the elites enrich themselves, the rest of the population is increasingly impoverished. Rampant inequality of wealth further corrodes cooperation.

Beyond a certain point a formerly great empire becomes so dysfunctional that smaller, more cohesive neighbors begin tearing it apart. Eventually the capacity for cooperation declines to such a low level that barbarians can strike at the very heart of the empire without encountering significant resistance. But barbarians at the gate are not the real cause of imperial collapse. They are a consequence of the failure to sustain social cooperation. As the British historian Arnold Toynbee said, great civilisations are not murdered — they die by suicide.

Differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real

March 26th, 2018

David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard, dances around the stark biological reality of race:

With the help of these [DNA-sequencing] tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.

He then goes on to throw other scientists — and popularizers of science — under the bus:

To understand why it is so dangerous for geneticists and anthropologists to simply repeat the old consensus about human population differences, consider what kinds of voices are filling the void that our silence is creating. Nicholas Wade, a longtime science journalist for The New York Times, rightly notes in his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History,” that modern research is challenging our thinking about the nature of human population differences. But he goes on to make the unfounded and irresponsible claim that this research is suggesting that genetic factors explain traditional stereotypes.

One of Mr. Wade’s key sources, for example, is the anthropologist Henry Harpending, who has asserted that people of sub-Saharan African ancestry have no propensity to work when they don’t have to because, he claims, they did not go through the type of natural selection for hard work in the last thousands of years that some Eurasians did.

He totally mischaracterizes Wade and Harpending, Steve Sailer notes:

I can’t see anywhere in Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance where he cites Harpending to that effect. As far as I can tell, Wade’s book cites Harpending solely for his landmark 2005 paper with Cochran and Hardy: Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.

The late Professor Harpending, a National Academy of Science member, was a rare individual who was both a cultural anthropologist and a genetic anthropologist, spent 3.5 years living with hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa. He loved Africa so much that he seriously considered moving there permanently to live in the bush.

Harpending noted in his West Hunter blog with Greg Cochran that in typical African farming cultures, where weeding is done more with hoes than plows, black women tend to work harder than black men, an observation rather similar to the results found in Stanford economist Raj Chetty’s brand new paper on the gender gap in earnings of African-Americans.

This anthropological observation that most of the farming work in sub-Saharan Africa was done by women was not original to Harpending. The leftist anthropologist Jack Goody pointed out the African reverse gender gap in labor in the 1960s.


Indeed, Harpending noted that the in the two African peoples he lived with this anthropological stereotype was not true. In the hunter-gatherer Bushmen, the husbands tended to bring home the bacon much like among Europeans, and in the herding Herrero the husbands did much of herding.

Any study of gun violence should include how guns save lives

March 25th, 2018

Any study of “gun violence” should include how guns save lives, Paul Hsieh argues:

The numbers of defensive gun uses (DGUs) each year is controversial. But one study ordered by the CDC and conducted by The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council reported that, “Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence”:

Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.

Another study estimates there are 1,029,615 DGUs per year “for self-protection or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere” excluding “military service, police work, or work as a security guard,” (within the range of the National Academies’ paper), yielding an estimate of 162,000 cases per year where someone “almost certainly would have been killed” if they “had not used a gun for protection.”

(In comparison, there were 11,208 homicide deaths by firearm in the US in 2012. There were a total of 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms,” of which the majority were suicides, 21,175.)

The second point he makes is that the value of firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens should be measured in terms of lives saved or crimes prevented, not criminals killed:

As an example of the latter type of analysis, one recent Washington Post story reported that, “For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die”:

In 2012, there were 8,855 criminal gun homicides in the FBI’s homicide database, but only 258 gun killings by private citizens that were deemed justifiable, which the FBI defines as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.” That works out to one justifiable gun death for every 34 unjustifiable gun deaths.

However, this comparison can be misleading. An armed civilian does not have to kill the criminal in order to save an innocent life. As the National Research Council notes, “[E]ffective defensive gun use need not ever lead the perpetrator to be wounded or killed. Rather, to assess the benefits of self-defense, one needs to measure crime and injury averted. The particular outcome of an offender is of little relevance.”

His last point is a bit of a political Rorschach test:

The right to self-defense does not depend on statistics and numbers.

Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer

March 24th, 2018

The Heritage Foundation summarizes what we know about mass shootings:

  1. Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer.
  2. Many gun control measures are not likely to be helpful.
  3. Public mass shooters typically have histories of mental health issues.
  4. The United States does not have an extraordinary problem with mass public shootings compared to other developed countries.
  5. Mass killers often find ways to kill even without firearms.
  6. Australia did not “eliminate mass public shootings” by banning assault weapons.

An alternative universe in which golf courses are a prime subject for intellectualizing

March 23rd, 2018

The New York Times laments that its obituaries have been dominated by white men since 1851 and decides to rectify this by eulogizing the overlooked Ada Lovelace — who wasn’t actually overlooked in her lifetime, and whose death made the front page of the New York Times on December 15, 1852:

Nor has Ada, the Countess Lovelace, been ignored over the last 40 or 50 years. In the late 1970s the Pentagon named after her its new programming language Ada that it tried to impose on all defense contractors.


The real Ada was, like her friend Charles Babbage, a major celebrity in her own time. It hardly hurt that she was the only legitimate child of the most famous man in Europe in the post-Waterloo era, the poet Lord Byron. Nor did it hurt that she was born an aristocrat and married an aristocrat.

In particular, her having a rather masculine turn of intellect made her more renown during her life.

In fact, when an 1844 bestseller anticipating Darwin’s theory of evolution was published under a pseudonym, Ada Lovelace was one of the prime suspects. This is where the story takes a very Steve Sailer turn:

As it turned out to the surprise of most, the real author was a hard-working but fairly obscure Scottish journalist and golf course architect named Robert Chambers, who had come up with the idea that everything is the product of “development” while recovering from overwork by playing golf daily on The Old Course at St. Andrews, a links that had developed over centuries of play without much in the way of intelligent design until about Chambers’ day.

The reason the contributions to the theory of computer science by Lovelace (and Babbage) was overlooked in late 19th and early 20th century was of course because there were no computers. Babbage’s famous (at the time) and well-funded Analytical Engine project had failed. Similarly, nobody much cared about Leonardo da Vinci’s helicopter sketch until after the helicopter had been invented.

It would be interesting to look into whether Lovelace’s idea that her friend Babbage’s engine could turn into a general purpose computer contributed to Babbage’s notorious problem with specification creep. If he’d been able to say Enough! to what his engine was supposed to do, he might have gotten it finished. But I don’t know if Lovelace’s ideas worsened Babbage’s failings.

Interestingly, Chambers was mostly overlooked during his own lifetime (not revealing himself as the author of the bestseller until decades later), nor since then, although Secord’s book does much to revive the man’s memory.

The link between Chambers’ evolutionary thinking and his obsession with links golf courses that had originally evolved without a designer has likewise been forgotten. This is even though Chambers’ great-grandson, golf architect Sir Guy Campbell, cowrote a history of golf in the 1950s with Darwin’s grandson Bernard Darwin, spelling out how the St. Andrews links had evolved over the eons.

One could imagine an alternative universe in which golf courses are a prime subject for intellectualizing and thus Chambers is a famous figure in intellectual history. But that’s not the one we live in.

Jordan Peterson is trying to save the Western civilization by devising a post-Christian system of ethics

March 22nd, 2018

Tanner Greer totally reevaluated everything he said about Jordan Peterson and now argues that Jordan Peterson is trying to save Western civilization by devising a post-Christian system of ethics:

The spectacular rise of Jordan Peterson has caught much of the world flat-footed. Discussions of the psychology professor from the University of Toronto tend to focus on the enormous popular movement his lectures have spawned, rather than the actual ideas presented in the lectures themselves. As a result, no one seems to know who the “real” Jordan Peterson is.

In a way, this is understandable. Peterson is a man of several personae. One Peterson is the inventor of an innovative and compelling neuropsychological model of human behavior. This is the Peterson presented in a dozen research articles reviewed and published by his academic peers.

Another Peterson dispenses pieces of practical advice and dispels progressive dogmas with a quiet, fatherly charisma. This is the Peterson made famous in podcasts, television interviews, and his best selling self-help book.

And this project is grand. It is nothing less than the revitalization of Western civilization itself.

Read the whole thing, of course.

How does the number of steps to buy a gun relate to overall homicide and suicide rates?

March 21st, 2018

A recent New York Times story lamented how few steps there were to buy a gun in the US versus other countries, so sociologist David Yamane decided to ask the obvious question, Is there a patterned relationship between the number of steps someone has to go through to buy a gun in these 15 countries and the countries’ overall rates of homicide and suicide?

Homicide rates are weakly related to the number of steps it takes to buy a gun in these 15 countries. The polynomial trendline increases through the middle of the range then decreases at the high end (Japan), but the correlation is weak (0.071).

The relationship between suicide rates and the number of steps it takes to buy a gun is slightly stronger (0.085), but still weak and not in the direction suicide prevention advocates would like. The polynomial trendline increases fairly consistently through the range then jumps up somewhat at the end (again, Japan).

Looking at the combined rate of homicide and suicide, we see a still stronger though still weak correlation (0.123) with steps to buy a gun, with the polynomial trendline starting at the United States (2 steps and 14.58 combined rate) and arcing its way upward and leveling off toward Japan (13 steps and 18.71 combined rate). In between you can find two countries with 8 steps but dramatically different death rates by homicide and suicide (Austria’s 12.61 rate and Brazil’s 32.34 rate). Ditto for 7 steps: Germany 9.95 combined rate vs. Russia’s 45.91 combined rate.

The closest countries to the United States are Austria (8 steps, 12.61 combined rate) and Yemen (2 steps, 16.67 combined rate).

Will any shows from the Golden Age of TV endure?

March 20th, 2018

Will any shows from the Golden Age of TV endure?

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of television out there — by the increasing number of shows being praised by your peers, by the cascade of critically acclaimed programming on the ever-enlarging expanse of channels and pay tiers and streaming services — you’re not alone. At the Television Critics Association’s winter meeting in January, John Landgraf, the CEO of FX, highlighted the ongoing explosion in scripted programming. According to a report on Landgraf’s speech in Variety, 2017 saw 487 scripted series air on networks, cable, pay cable, and streaming services — up from 455 in 2016, which was up from 422 in 2015. Only 153 of the 2017 series aired on network TV — ABC, NBC, etc. — while 175 were on basic cable. Streaming services are the biggest driver in the latest TV boom; outlets like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu accounted for another 117 series. HBO and the other premium cable channels made up the final 42.

“Overall, the total series output on television since 2002 has grown by 168 percent,” Variety reported. By way of comparison, America’s population is up about 13 percent in the same time. The number of hours in the day has remained static, at 24. Simply put: There’s vastly more content (to use a vulgarity that reduces art to a consumable but feels proper when describing the aforementioned torrent) than ever before — and that’s not including the ever-increasing number of feature films or video games that take hundreds of hours to play or YouTube channels making millionaires out of 6-year-old kids. The fragmented nature of our viewing habits means a TV show on a pay cable station can get by with a few hundred thousand viewers if critics like it and it pulls in awards; the biggest “hits” in the world of scripted entertainment are watched by less than 5 percent of the population, if we are to trust the ratings. Of course, with a plethora of viewing options — live airing, DVRed recording, streaming on TVs and laptops and iPhones — relying on something as prosaic as the Nielsen ratings to measure popularity is a mug’s game. We need to scan Google searches and Twitter trends and Facebook topics to see what’s really driving the conversation at any given time.


For several decades, the syndication model provided repetition that helped create a common cultural currency. That model has now weakened — syndication has become less appealing to audiences — as the marketplace has been flooded with new programs and as new technologies have created new viewing options. This will likely make the sitcom almost obsolete as anything other than a day-of laugh-delivery device. The Simpsons at the peak of its powers is a show rooted in its time, one that relies as heavily on pop-culture references as it does on repeated lines of clever dialogue becoming inside jokes among initiates. Strip the show from its moment — as future audiences will experience it — and take away the repetition needed to impress the cleverness of its wordplay on viewers, and what are you left with? Something that lasts? A masterpiece that rewards critical scrutiny for future generations? Or something that fades into the ether, a pleasant memory for those born between 1970 and 1990, and perhaps an artifact of interest to scholars studying the 1990s, but few others?

We could never have imagined what happened in Venezuela

March 19th, 2018

We never could have imagined — or prepped for — what happened in Venezuela, a Venezuelan “prepper” explains:

An economic collapse this long seemed like something that was entirely out of the question. It was entirely unpredictable. I would have expected a pandemics or a coup d’etat long before this hungry zombie-like scenario.

We knew something disturbing was going to happen sooner or later. We could feel it in the atmosphere…but nothing like this. We never thought it would be impossible to find a battery, or engine oil, or gasoline (Jeez, this was an oil-producing country!!) or that kids were going to be endangered in the very door of their schools.

He lists a number of supplies he should have stockpiled and preparations he should have made. A few stand out:

A large, buried diesel custom-made aluminum tank with a proper sized generator (there is not too much space left in our place: we live in a subdivision, houses are wall to wall next to each other) with a homemade silencer, and adequately rigged to the wiring of the house for the largest systems, like freezers and air conditioning.

Enclosing our garage before the steel rebar disappeared from the white market and the production was destined to the black and grey market. (I hate fencing, it is like living in a birdcage, but this would helped a lot for peace of mind).

Perhaps a chicken coop with a couple of hens. The eggs price has been so inflated this days that a single egg costs more than the minimum wage. A hen produces more than a laborer. Do you remember that stories about the eggs, chocolate, and potatoes acting as currency in the WWII? It is becoming currency here too.

Another SUV, with a much taller ground clearance, larger tires, diesel-powered with no electronics and a huge front fender. Something heavy, strong, black or dark grey, windows covered by that plastic clear bullet proof sheeting, able to plow a pack of thugs in motorcycles out of the way without a blink.

Kitty Hawk’s Cora

March 18th, 2018

Kitty Hawk Corporation’s new Cora air taxi “is powered by 12 independent lift fans, which enable her to take off and land vertically like a helicopter” and has a range of “about 62 miles” while flying at “about 110 miles per hour” at an altitude “between 500 ft to 3000 ft above the ground”:

What’s a fire alarm for?

March 17th, 2018

What is the function of a fire alarm?

One might think that the function of a fire alarm is to provide you with important evidence about a fire existing, allowing you to change your policy accordingly and exit the building.

In the classic experiment by Latane and Darley in 1968, eight groups of three students each were asked to fill out a questionnaire in a room that shortly after began filling up with smoke. Five out of the eight groups didn’t react or report the smoke, even as it became dense enough to make them start coughing. Subsequent manipulations showed that a lone student will respond 75% of the time; while a student accompanied by two actors told to feign apathy will respond only 10% of the time. This and other experiments seemed to pin down that what’s happening is pluralistic ignorance. We don’t want to look panicky by being afraid of what isn’t an emergency, so we try to look calm while glancing out of the corners of our eyes to see how others are reacting, but of course they are also trying to look calm.

(I’ve read a number of replications and variations on this research, and the effect size is blatant. I would not expect this to be one of the results that dies to the replication crisis, and I haven’t yet heard about the replication crisis touching it. But we have to put a maybe-not marker on everything now.)

A fire alarm creates common knowledge, in the you-know-I-know sense, that there is a fire; after which it is socially safe to react. When the fire alarm goes off, you know that everyone else knows there is a fire, you know you won’t lose face if you proceed to exit the building.

The fire alarm doesn’t tell us with certainty that a fire is there. In fact, I can’t recall one time in my life when, exiting a building on a fire alarm, there was an actual fire. Really, a fire alarm is weaker evidence of fire than smoke coming from under a door.

But the fire alarm tells us that it’s socially okay to react to the fire. It promises us with certainty that we won’t be embarrassed if we now proceed to exit in an orderly fashion.

That’s Eliezer Yudkowsky leading up to his real point, that there’s no fire alarm for Artificial General Intelligence.

How psychopaths see the world

March 16th, 2018

A new study looks at how psychopaths see the world:

Here are people who can understand what their victims are thinking but just don’t care. Hence their actions. But Baskin-Sommers found that there’s more to their minds than it seems.

Most of us mentalize automatically. From infancy, other minds involuntarily seep into our own. The same thing, apparently, happens less strongly in psychopaths. By studying the Connecticut inmates, Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues, Lindsey Drayton and Laurie Santos, showed that these people can deliberately take another person’s perspective, but on average, they don’t automatically do so to the extent that most other people do. “This is the first time we’re seeing evidence that psychopaths don’t have this automatic ability that most of us have,” Baskin-Sommers says.


The U.S. prison system doesn’t assess psychopathy at intake, so Baskin-Sommers administered a standard test herself to 106 male inmates from the Connecticut prison. Of them, 22 proved to be psychopaths, 28 were not, and the rest fell in a gray zone.


The psychopaths proved to be “glib, narcissistic, and conniving,” she adds. “They can be aggressive, and they like to tell us gruesome details of murders, I think to shock us. But it’s not like that all the time. They do a lot of impression management.”

After assessing the 106 volunteers, she then gave them a computer-based task. They saw a picture of a human avatar in prison khakis, standing in a room, and facing either right or left. There were either two red dots on the wall in front of the avatar, or one dot in front of them and one dot behind them. Their job was to verify how many dots either they or the avatar could see.

Normally, people can accurately say how many dots the avatar sees, but they’re slower if there are dots behind the avatar. That’s because what they see (two dots) interferes with their ability to see through the avatar’s eyes (one dot). This is called egocentric interference. But they’re also slower to say how many dots they can see if that number differs from the avatar’s count. This shows how readily humans take other perspectives: Volunteers are automatically affected by the avatar’s perspective, even when it hurts their own performance. This is called altercentric interference.

Baskin-Sommers found that the psychopathic inmates showed the usual level of egocentric interference — that is, their own perspective was muscling in on the avatar’s. But they showed much less altercentric interference than the other inmates — the avatar’s perspective wasn’t messing with their own, as it would for most other people.

This sounds a bit like another condition:

Other groups of people also show differences in their theory of mind. For example, in one study, Frith asked people to predict where a girl might search for a marble that had been moved without her knowledge. The onlookers knew the marble’s whereabouts, so could they override their own knowledge to step into the girl’s shoes? Eye-tracking software revealed that neurotypical adults look at the same place the girl would, but people with Asperger’s syndrome are less likely to. They don’t seem to spontaneously anticipate others’ actions. “It is a bit worrying if [Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues] are proposing the very same underlying mechanism to explain callousness in psychopathy that we used previously to explain communication problems in autism, albeit based on a different test,” Frith says. “These are very different conditions, after all.”

Giving us what we actually pay attention to

March 15th, 2018

Andrew Marantz of the New Yorker looks at Reddit and the struggle to detoxify the Internet:

The_Donald, with more than half a million subscribers, is by far the biggest pro-Trump subreddit, but it ranks just below No. 150 on the list of all subreddits; it’s roughly the same size as r/CryptoCurrency and r/ComicBooks. “Some people on The_Donald are expressing their genuine political beliefs, and obviously that’s something we want to encourage,” Huffman said. “Others are maybe not expressing sincere beliefs, but are treating it more like a game—If I post this ridiculous or offensive thing, can I get people to upvote it? And then some people, to quote ‘The Dark Knight,’ just want to watch the world burn.” On some smaller far-right subreddits, the discourse is more unhinged. One, created in July of 2016, was called r/Physical_Removal. According to its “About Us” section, it was a subreddit for people who believe that liberals “qualify to get a helicopter ride.” “Helicopter ride,” an allusion to Augusto Pinochet’s reputed habit of throwing Communists out of helicopters, is alt-right slang for murder.

The_Donald accounts for less than one per cent of Reddit’s traffic, but it occupies far more than one per cent of the Reddit-wide conversation. Trolls set a cunning trap. By ignoring their provocations, you risk seeming complicit. By responding, you amplify their message. Trump, perhaps the world’s most skilled troll, can get attention whenever he wants, simply by being outrageous. Traditional journalists and editors can decide to resist the bait, and sometimes they do, but that option isn’t available on user-generated platforms. Social-media executives claim to transcend subjectivity, and they have designed their platforms to be feedback machines, giving us not what we claim to want, nor what might be good for us, but what we actually pay attention to.

There are no good solutions to this problem, and so tech executives tend to discuss it as seldom as possible, and only in the airiest of platitudes. Twitter has rebuffed repeated calls to ban President Trump’s account, despite his many apparent violations of company policy. (If tweeting that North Korea “won’t be around much longer” doesn’t break Twitter’s rule against “specific threats of violence,” it’s not clear what would.) Last fall, on his Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg addressed—sort of, obliquely—the widespread critique that his company was exacerbating political polarization. “We’ll keep working to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, and to ensure our community is a platform for all ideas and force for good in democracy,” he wrote, then stepped away as a global howl of frustration grew in the comments.

I asked a few social-media executives to talk to me about all this. I didn’t expect definitive answers, I told them; I just wanted to hear them think through the questions. Unsurprisingly, no one jumped at the chance. Twitter mostly ignored my e-mails. Snapchat’s P.R. representatives had breakfast with me once, then ignored my e-mails. Facebook’s representatives talked to me for weeks, asking precise, intelligent questions, before they started to ignore my e-mails.

Reddit has more reason to be transparent. It’s big, but doesn’t feel indispensable to most Internet users or, for that matter, to most advertisers. Moreover, Anderson Cooper’s CNN segment was hardly the only bit of vividly terrible press that Reddit has received over the years. All social networks contain vitriol and bigotry, but not all social networks are equally associated with these things in the public imagination. Recently, I typed “Reddit is” into Google. Three of the top suggested auto-completions were “toxic,” “cancer,” and “hot garbage.”

A proton battery combines the best aspects of hydrogen fuel cells and conventional batteries

March 14th, 2018

Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have produced a working-prototype proton battery, which combines the best aspects of hydrogen fuel cells and battery-based electrical power:

The latest version combines a carbon electrode for solid-state storage of hydrogen with a reversible fuel cell to provide an integrated rechargeable unit.

The successful use of an electrode made from activated carbon in a proton battery is a significant step forward and is reported in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

During charging, protons produced by water splitting in a reversible fuel cell are conducted through the cell membrane and directly bond with the storage material with the aid of electrons supplied by the applied voltage, without forming hydrogen gas.

In electricity supply mode this process is reversed; hydrogen atoms are released from the storage and lose an electron to become protons once again. These protons then pass back through the cell membrane where they combine with oxygen and electrons from the external circuit to re-form water.

A major potential advantage of the proton battery is much higher energy efficiency than conventional hydrogen systems, making it comparable to lithium ion batteries. The losses associated with hydrogen gas evolution and splitting back into protons are eliminated.

Several years ago the RMIT team showed that a proton battery with a metal alloy electrode for storing hydrogen could work, but its reversibility and rechargeability was too low. Also the alloy employed contained rare-earth elements, and was thus heavy and costly.

The latest experimental results showed that a porous activated-carbon electrode made from phenolic resin was able to store around 1 wt% hydrogen in the electrode. This is an energy per unit mass already comparable with commercially-available lithium ion batteries, even though the proton battery is far from being optimised. The maximum cell voltage was 1.2 volt.

Waking up to hidden motives

March 13th, 2018

I haven’t read The Elephant in the Brain (yet), but I enjoyed Robin Hanson’s talk with Sam Harris about hidden motives:

They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

I especially enjoyed the misguided questions from the audience.