We are supposed to simultaneously worship diversity and pretend it doesn’t exist

Friday, January 31st, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurraySocial scientists tend to be leftists, Steve Sailer notes, but the bulk of their findings have long tended to support rightists:

Charles Murray, a rare man of the right in the social sciences, has been pointing out this paradox since his 1984 book Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980.

Now 77, Murray began planning to write his new book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class four years ago.

The title Human Diversity is impertinent because we are supposed to simultaneously worship diversity and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humanity is proclaimed to be both a rainbow of diverse delights and a beige putty that is wholly molded by arbitrary social injustices.

But would writing an honest book entitled Human Diversity be worth the abuse? Murray’s wife was skeptical. He explains in its Acknowledgments:

My wife and editor, Catherine…initially tried to talk me out of writing ‘Human Diversity.’ When I began work in the fall of 2016, the nastiness associated with the reaction to The Bell Curve was a distant memory. Did I really want to go through that again?

A kind and sensitive man, Murray had found the ignorant and malignant backlash against his 1994 magnum opus coauthored with the late Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, to be a depressing experience. The hate campaign against Murray contributed to virtually nobody paying attention to his fascinating 2003 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

But Murray finally got out of the media’s doghouse with 2012’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 by the expedient of applying his superb analytic skills solely to white Americans.

Still, in early 2017 a leftist goon squad at expensive Middlebury College assaulted Murray and a professor, Alison Stanger, who was attempting to interview him:

Then came the radicalization of the campuses, when we learned that the bad old days were back no matter what. “Confound it!” said Catherine, or two syllables to that effect, on the day I returned from the riot at Middlebury. “If they’re going to do this kind of thing anyway, go ahead and write it.”

On the other hand, Human Diversity is not intended to be a sharp stick in the eye for Murray’s abusers. It is aimed instead at intelligent readers who want to learn about the state of the human sciences a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Human Diversity is something of a meta-review of recent meta-analyses that have been published in dozens of subdisciplines to summarize countless individual studies.

We’re lucky to have Murray to guide us through so much. Although Murray has made his career largely at think tanks rather than in academia, he is by nature less argumentative than professorial. He works hard at making his vast amount of material comprehensible. His prose style is pleasingly informal.

And Murray’s books have always been appealing physical objects, with elegant fonts, uncluttered graphs, and a little extra leading between the lines to make the text look less daunting.

He’s almost got me considering the hardcover edition — but the Kindle edition is too convenient, especially for quoting.

The gun is mounted on an unstable platform

Friday, January 31st, 2020

In Men, Machines, and Modern Times, Elting E. Morison looks at how we learn to live and work with innovation. He illustrates the three stages of users’ resistance to change — ignoring it, rational rebuttal, and name-calling — first with an example from naval history:

The governing fact in gunfire at sea is that the gun is mounted on an unstable platform, a rolling ship. This constant motion obviously complicates the problem of holding a steady aim. Before 1898 this problem was solved in the following elementary fashion. A gun pointer estimated the range of the target, ordinarily in the nineties about 16oo yards. He then raised the gun barrel to give the gun the elevation to carry the shell to the target at the estimated range. This elevating process was accomplished by turning a small wheel on the gun mount that operated the elevating gears. With the gun thus fixed for range, the gun pointer peered through open sights, not unlike those on a small rifle, and waited until the roll of the ship brought the sights on the target. He then pressed the firing button that discharged the gun. There were by 1898, on some naval guns, telescope sights, which naturally greatly enlarged the image of the target for the gun pointer. But these sights were rarely used by gun pointers. They were lashed securely to the gun barrel, and, recoiling with the barrel, jammed back against the unwary pointer’s eye. Therefore, when used at all, they were used only to take an initial sight for purposes of estimating the range before the gun was fired.

Notice now two things about the process. First of all, the rapidity of fire was controlled by the rolling period of the ship. Pointers had to wait for the one moment in the roll when the sights were brought on the target. Notice also this: there is in every pointer what is called a “firing interval” — that is, the time lag between his impulse to fire the gun and the translation of this impulse into the act of pressing the firing button. A pointer, because of this reaction time, could not wait to fire the gun until the exact moment when the roll of the ship brought the sights onto the target; he had to will to fire a little before, while the sights were off the target. Since the firing interval was an individual matter, varying obviously from man to man, each pointer had to estimate from long practice his own interval and compensate for it accordingly.

These things, together with others we need not here investigate, conspired to make gunfire at sea relatively uncertain and ineffective. The pointer, on a moving platform, estimating range and firing interval, shooting while his sight was off the target, became in a sense an individual artist.

In 1898, many of the uncertainties were removed from the process and the position of the gun pointer radically altered by the introduction of continuous-aim firing. The major change was that which enabled the gun pointer to keep his sight and gun barrel on the target throughout the roll of the ship. This was accomplished by altering the gear ratio in the elevating gear to permit a pointer to compensate for the roll of the vessel by rapidly elevating and depressing the gun. From this change another followed. With the possibility of maintaining the gun always on the target, the desirability of improved sights became immediately apparent. The advantages of the telescope sight as opposed to the open sight were for the first time fully realized. But the existing telescope sight, it will be recalled, moved with the recoil of the gun and jammed back against the eye of the gunner. To correct this, the sight was mounted on a sleeve that permitted the gun barrel to recoil through it without moving the telescope.

These two improvements in elevating gear and sighting eliminated the major uncertainties in gunfire at sea and greatly increased the possibilities of both accurate and rapid fire.

You must take my word for it, since the time allowed is small, that this changed naval gunnery from an art to a science, and that gunnery accuracy in the British and our Navy increased, as one student said, 3000% in six years. This does not mean much except to suggest a great increase in accuracy. The following comparative figures may mean a little more. In 1899 five ships of the North Atlantic Squadron fired five minutes each at a lightship hulk at the conventional range of 1600 yards. After twenty-five minutes of banging away, two hits had been made on the sails of the elderly vessel. Six years later one naval gunner made fifteen hits in one minute at a target 75 by 25 feet at the same range — 1600 yards; half of them hit in a bull’s eye 50 inches square.

Now with the instruments (the gun, elevating gear, and telescope), the method, and the results of continuous-aim firing in mind, let us turn to the subject of major interest: how was the idea, obviously so simple an idea, of continuous-aim firing developed, who introduced it into the United States Navy, and what was its reception?

The idea was the product of the fertile mind of the English officer Admiral Sir Percy Scott. He arrived at it in this way while, in 1898, he was the captain of H.M.S. Scylla. For the previous two or three years he had given much thought independently and almost alone in the British Navy to means of improving gunnery. One rough day, when the ship, at target practice, was pitching and rolling violently, he walked up and down the gun deck watching his gun crews. Because of the heavy weather, they were making very bad scores. Scott noticed, however, that one pointer was appreciably more accurate than the rest. He watched this man with care, and saw, after a time, that he was unconsciously working his elevating gear back and forth in a partially successful effort to compensate for the roll of the vessel. It flashed through Scott’s mind at that moment that here was the sovereign remedy for the problem of inaccurate fire. What one man could do partially and unconsciously perhaps all men could be trained to do consciously and completely.

Acting on this assumption, he did three things. First, in all the guns of the Scylla, he changed the gear ratio in the elevating gear, previously used only to set the gun in fixed position for range, so that a gunner could easily elevate and depress the gun to follow a target throughout the roll. Second, he rerigged his telescopes so that they would not be influenced by the recoil of the gun. Third, he rigged a small target at the mouth of the gun, which was moved up and down by a crank to simulate a moving target. By following this target as it moved and firing at it with a subcaliber rifle rigged in the breech of the gun, time pointer could practice every day. Thus equipped, the ship became a training ground for gunners. Where before the good pointer was an individual artist, pointers now became trained technicians, fairly uniform in their capacity to shoot. The effect was immediately felt. Within a year the Scylla established records that were remarkable.

At this point I should like to stop a minute to notice several things directly related to, and involved in, the process of innovation. To begin with, the personality of the innovator. I wish there were time to say a good deal about Admiral Sir Percy Scott. He was a wonderful man. Three small bits of evidence must here suffice, however. First, he had a certain mechanical ingenuity. Second, his personal life was shot through with frustration and bitterness. There was a divorce and a quarrel with that ambitious officer Lord Charles Beresford, the sounds of which, Scott liked to recall, penetrated to the last outposts of empire. Finally, he possessed, like Swift, a savage indignation directed ordinarily at the inelastic intelligence of all constituted authority, especially the British Admiralty.

There are other points worth mention here. Notice first that Scott was not responsible for the invention of the basic instruments that made the reform in gunnery possible. This reform rested upon the gun itself, which as a rifle had been in existence on ships for at least forty years; the elevating gear, which had been, in the form Scott found it, a part of the rifled gun from the beginning; and the telescope sight, which had been on shipboard at least eight years. Scott’s contribution was to bring these three elements appropriately modified into a combination that made continuous-aim firing possible for the first time. Notice also that he was allowed to bring these elements into combination by accident, by watching the unconscious action of a gun pointer endeavoring through the operation of his elevating gear to correct partially for the roll of his vessel. Scott, as we have seen, had been interested in gunnery; he had thought about ways to increase accuracy by practice and improvement of existing machinery; but able as he was, he had not been able to produce on his own initiative and by his own thinking the essential idea and modify instruments to fit his purpose. Notice here, finally, the intricate interaction of chance, the intellectual climate, and Scott’s mind. Fortune (in this case, the unaware gun pointer) indeed favors the prepared mind but even fortune and the prepared mind need a favorable environment before they can conspire to produce sudden change. No intelligence can proceed very far above the threshold of existing data or the binding combinations of existing data.

In 1900 Percy Scott went out to the China Station as commanding officer of H.M.S. Terrible. In that ship he continued his training methods and his spectacular successes in naval gunnery. On the China Station he met up with an American junior officer, William S. Sims. Sims had little of the mechanical ingenuity of Percy Scott, but the two were drawn together by temperamental similarities that are worth noticing here. Sims had the same intolerance for what is called spit and polish and the same contempt for bureaucratic inertia as his British brother officer. He had for some years been concerned, as had Scott, with what he took to be the inefficiency of his own Navy. Just before he met Scott, for example, he had shipped out to China in the brand new pride of the fleet, the battleship Kentucky. After careful investigation and reflections he had informed his superiors in Washington that she was “not a battleship at all — but a crime against the white race.” The spirit with which he pushed forward his efforts to reform the naval service can best be stated in his own words to a brother officer: “I am perfectly willing that those holding views differing from mine should continue to live, but with every fibre of my being I loathe indirection and shiftiness, and where it occurs in high place, and is used to save face at the expense of the vital interests of our great service (in which silly people place such a child-like trust), I want that man’s blood and I will have it no matter what it costs me personally.”

From Scott in 1900 Sims learned all there was to know about continuous-aim firing. He modified, with the Englishman’s active assistance, the gear on his own ship and tried out the new system. After a few months training, his experimental batteries began making remarkable records at target practice. Sure of the usefulness of his gunnery methods, Sims then turned to the task of educating the Navy at large. In thirteen great official reports he documented the case for continuous-aim firing, supporting his arguments at every turn with a mass of factual data. Over a period of two years, he reiterated three principal points: first, he continually cited the records established by Scott’s ships, the Scylla and the Terrible, and supported these with the accumulating data from his own tests on an American ship; second, he described the mechanisms used and the training procedures instituted by Scott and himself to obtain these records; third, he explained that our own mechanisms were not generally adequate without modification to meet the demands placed on then by continuous-aim firing. Our elevating gear, useful to raise or lower a gun slowly to fix it in position for the proper range, did not always work easily and rapidly enough to enable a gunner to follow a target with his gun throughout the roll of the ship. Sims also explained that such few telescope sights as there were on board our ships were useless. Their cross wires were so thick or coarse they obscured the target, and the sights had been attached to the gun in such a way that the recoil system of the gun plunged the eyepiece against the eye of the gun pointer.

This was the substance not only of the first but of all the succeeding reports written on the subject of gunnery from the China Station. It will be interesting to see what response these met with in Washington. The response falls roughly into three easily identifiable stages. First stage: At first, there was no response. Sims had directed his comments to the Bureau of Ordnance and the Bureau of Navigation; in both bureaus there was dead silence. The thing — claims and records of continuous-aim firing — was not credible. The reports were simply filed away and forgotten. Some indeed, it was later discovered to Sims’s delight, were half-eaten-away by cockroaches.

Second stage: It is never pleasant for any man’s best work to be left unnoticed by superiors, and it was an unpleasantness that Sims suffered extremely ill. In his later reports, beside the accumulating data he used to clinch his argument, he changed his tone. He used deliberately shocking language because, as he said, “They were furious at my first papers and stowed them away. I therefore made up my mind I would give these later papers such a form that they would be dangerous documents to leave neglected in the files.” To another friend he added, “I want scalps or nothing and if I can’t have ‘em I won’t play.”

Besides altering his tone, he took another step to be sure his views would receive attention. He sent copies of his reports to other officers in the fleet. Aware as a result that Sims’s gunnery claims were being circulated and talked about, the men in Washington were then stirred to action. They responded, notably through the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, who had general charge of the equipment used in gunnery practice, as follows: (1) our equipment was in general as good as the British; (2) since our equipment was as good, the trouble must be with the men, but the gun pointer and the training of gun pointers were the responsibility of the officers on the ships; and most significant (3) continuous-aim firing was impossible. Experiments had revealed that five men at work on the elevating gear of a six-inch gun could not produce the power necessary to compensate for a roll of five degrees in ten seconds. These experiments and calculations demonstrated beyond peradventure or doubt that Scott’s system of gunfire was not possible.

This was the second stage — the attempt to meet Sims’s claims by logical, rational rebuttal. Only one difficulty is discoverable in these arguments; they were wrong at important points. To begin with, while there was little difference between the standard British equipment and the standard American equipment, the instruments on Scott’s two ships, the Scylla and the Terrible, were far better than the standard equipment on our ships. Second, all the men could not be trained in continuous-aim firing until equipment was improved throughout the fleet. Third, the experiments with the elevating gear had been ingeniously contrived at the Washington Navy Yard — on solid ground. It had, therefore, been possible to dispense in the Bureau of Ordnance calculation with Newton’s first law of motion, which naturally operated at sea to assist the gunner in elevating or depressing a gun mounted on a moving ship. Another difficulty was of course that continuous-aim firing was in use on Scott’s and some of our own ships at the time the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance was writing that it was a mathematical impossibility. In every way I find this second stage, the apparent resort to reason, the most entertaining and instructive in our investigation of the responses to innovation.

Third stage: The rational period in the counterpoint between Sims and the Washington men was soon passed. It was followed by the third stage, that of name-calling — the argumentum ad hominem. Sims, of course, by the high temperature he was running and by his calculated over-statement, invited this. He was told in official endorsements on his reports that there were others quite as sincere and loyal as he and far less difficult; he was dismissed as a crackbrained egotist; he was called a deliberate falsifier of evidence.

The rising opposition and the character of the opposition were not calculated to discourage further efforts by Sims. It convinced him that he was being attacked by shifty, dishonest men who were the victims, as he said, of insufferable conceit and ignorance. He made up his mind, therefore, that he was prepared to go to any extent to obtain the “scalps” and the “blood” he was after. Accordingly, he, a lieutenant, took the extraordinary step of writing the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to inform him of the remarkable records of Scott’s ships, of the inadequacy of our own gunnery routines and records, and of the refusal of the Navy Department to act. Roosevelt, who always liked to respond to such appeals when he conveniently could, brought Sims back from China late in 1902 and installed him as Inspector of Target Practice, a post the naval officer held throughout the remaining six years of the Administration. And when he left, after many spirited encounters we cannot here investigate, he was universally acclaimed as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”

It is difficult to understand why this should be such a formidable task

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

In the third chapter of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, while discussing sex differences in neurocognitive functioning, Charles Murray presents a simple test of visuospatial skills, the Piaget water-level test.

Go ahead and give it a try.

Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question.

After you’re finished, go ahead and read the text below the diagram:

Halpern Bottle Tilting Question Diagram

The test-taker is asked to draw a line to show how the water line would look in the tilted bottle. The correct answer is a horizontal line relative to the earth. Halpern reports that the best estimate, summarizing results over many studies, is that about 40 percent of college women get it wrong. Effect sizes favoring males range from –0.44 to –0.66. In Halpern’s words, “It is difficult to understand why this should be such a formidable task for college women.” And yet the result has been replicated many times, has been confirmed internationally, and is just about impossible to explain as a product of culture or socialization (if you doubt that, give it a try).

Most of the church’s followers were fanatics, cultists, and weirdos

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

In April, 1966, a former showman named Anton LaVey created a new role for himself, shaving his head and forming the Church of Satan:

LaVey organized his church around a philosophy of self-indulgence and excess—aptly mirroring the times—but still played around with devil worship motifs, vamping in a cape, and wearing a bulbous ring that he claimed could grant little children their wishes. His Jaguar even had a personalized license plate: SATAN9. “People like to have a hell of a time, don’t they?” LaVey asked during an interview around that time with Joe Pyne, a syndicated talk show host.

LaVey's Black House

P.T. Barnum had a circus tent, and LaVey had the Black House, where he kept a pet lion and performed rituals. He would sometimes don a hood with two horns and surround himself with nude women in front of a fireplace that he’d converted into an altar. LaVey’s theatricality attracted the attention of some Hollywood players, like Sammy Davis Jr. and the actress Jayne Mansfield, who was rumored to have had an affair with LaVey. Black-and-white photos from that era show the two posing together campily. In one, Mansfield playfully clutches a skull while LaVey fans his cape out beside her, and in another, she prepares to drink from a chalice that he cradles in his hand.

LaVey and Mansfield

It sounds like LaVey’s dark magic worked just fine. Years later an informant claimed LaVey was plotting Ted Kennedy’s death, so the FBI investigated:

The FBI’s San Francisco office pulled records it had on LaVey dating back to the mid-’70s, when a tipster told the bureau that LaVey had purchased handguns, a shotgun and a rifle. Other files showed that LaVey had once supposedly been “interested” in joining the National Socialist White People’s Party, which had been known, in an earlier incarnation, as the American Nazi Party.

LaVey had no arrest history, but he’d been linked to a tragedy once before. His relationship with Mansfield had reportedly ended with LaVey’s putting a curse on Sam Brody, the actress’ attorney and boyfriend, promising that he’d die in a car crash. In 1967, not long after the hex was supposedly cast, Brody and Mansfield were killed in a wreck on a highway near New Orleans.


For a man who referred to himself as the “Black Pope,” the notoriety of being linked to an FBI investigation might have been a welcome development when he was first seeking attention for his church. This older version of LaVey, though, decided to come right out with it: He had nothing to do with any assassination plot.

“LaVey advised that of any political official, he has the highest regard for Senator Kennedy and his family,” according to the FBI records. And LaVey could sympathize with the threats that Kennedy often received; he told the agents that he had been the victim of physical and verbal attacks because of his position in the Church of Satan.

LaVey checked his recent phone messages, and noticed that he’d received calls from the Chicago area on October 23 and October 27. But he told the agents that he didn’t know the identity of the caller and hadn’t tried dialing the number that had been left for him.

And then LaVey shared some surprising news with the agents: His role as the head of the church was all a charade. Most of the church’s followers, he said, were “fanatics, cultists, and weirdos,” the records show. “[H]is interest in the Church of Satan is strictly from a monetary point of view,” the agents noted, “and spends most of his time furnishing interviews, writing material, and lately has become interested in photography.”

88% of phones “lost” by the researchers were handed into the police by Tokyo residents, compared to 6% of the ones “lost” in New York

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

If you lose your wallet or phone in a big city, it’s probably gone forever, unless that big city is Tokyo:

In 2018, over 545,000 ID cards were returned to their owners by Tokyo Metropolitan Police – 73% of the total number of lost IDs. Likewise, 130,000 mobile phones (83%) and 240,000 wallets (65%) found their way back. Often these items were returned the same day.

“When I was living in San Francisco, I remember a news story about someone in Chinatown who lost their wallet and someone else turned it in to the police,” says Kazuko Behrens, a psychologist from SUNY Polytechnic Institute, New York, US. It was such a rare case that the finder was interviewed on the local news channel and given the title “Honest man”. Such acts of ostensible integrity aren’t such a rarity in Behrens’s native Japan. “For [Japanese people] it is like, ‘Yeah! Of course they would hand it in.’“. In some ways it has become more rare if you don’t turn in a wallet. That would be a real surprise.


The officers based at Japan’s small neighbourhood police stations, called k?ban, have a very different image from police elsewhere. These stations are abundant in cities (in Tokyo there are 97 per 100 square kilometres, compared to 11 police stations per 100 square kilometres in London) meaning you are never too far from help.

The officers stationed at the k?ban are friendly – they are known to scold misbehaving teens or help the elderly cross the road. “If a child sees a police officer on the road, they usually greet them,” says Masahiro Tamura, a lawyer and law professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan. “For the elderly living in the neighbourhood, police officers will call upon their residence to make sure they are alright.”


In a study comparing dropped phones and wallets in New York and Tokyo, 88% of phones “lost” by the researchers were handed into the police by Tokyo residents, compared to 6% of the ones “lost” in New York. Likewise, 80% of Tokyo wallets were handed in compared to 10% in New York. The abundance of police stations must make it easier, but is there something else going on?

Oddly, there is an exception:

Lost umbrellas, on the other hand, are rarely retrieved by their owners. Of the 338,000 handed in to Lost Property in Tokyo in 2018, only 1% found their way back to their owner.

They’re impervious to racism and other forms of prejudice

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayAlmost all human traits are partly heritable, Charles Murray notes:

That’s been known for decades. But until a few years ago, no one knew what specific bits of DNA code determine any given trait. Now, however, geneticists have identified at least a few hundred variants in the DNA code that are statistically associated with important traits such as intelligence, depression and risk tolerance. Over the next decade, they are on track to identify thousands of variants associated with dozens of traits. That achievement will open up the ability to score genetic potential on those traits and thereby revolutionize the social sciences.

The methods of scoring are improving almost monthly, but the essence is simple. Each variant has a version (more precisely, one of the alleles in a single nucleotide polymorphism) associated with a small boost to the trait in question. If you add up those small boosts, you have a score for that trait, in the same sense that you have an IQ score if you add up all the correct answers to the questions on an IQ test. In the case of DNA variants, it is called a “polygenic score.”

Polygenic scores are revolutionary because they are causal in only one direction. They don’t drop because tests make you nervous or rise because you grew up rich. They’re impervious to racism and other forms of prejudice. Socioeconomic and cultural environments can play an important role in how those bits of DNA are expressed, but they don’t change the codes themselves. That means polygenic scores will offer social scientists something they’ve never had before: a secure place to stand in assessing what is innate and what is added by the environment.

Progress during the past five years has been rapid for many traits. In the case of IQ, the share of the variation in scores that can be explained from genetic material alone went from zero in 2015 to 5% in 2018 and 11% in 2019. That doesn’t tell us much about any individual’s IQ, but it’s enough to be useful in addressing many important issues.


I don’t expect such analyses will be free of controversy. I am asserting that they are technically feasible, will be conducted within a few years, and will offer powerful tests of questions that have been argued for decades.

I expect we’ll be discussing Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class quite a bit in the coming weeks.

Fungi in general just don’t like high temperatures

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

In terms of infections, it’s bacteria, parasites, and viruses that kill us, but fungi are responsible for 72% of the local extinctions of animals and 64% among plants:

Unlike viruses and most bacteria, fungi can survive — and survive for years — in dry or frigid environments outside of hosts. All they need to do is make spores: small, hardy reproductive structures containing all the necessary DNA to grow a new fungus. As spores, fungi can tough out adverse conditions and drift thousands of miles in the wind to find more livable settings.

Aspergillus sydowii, for example, hitches a ride in dust storms from Africa to the Caribbean, where it infects coral reefs. They’re also ubiquitous in the air; there are one to ten spores in every breath you take.

Wheat stem rust, a common fungus that causes $60 billion of crop damage a year, produces up to 1011 spores per hectare, and they can travel 10,000 kilometers through the atmosphere to find new hosts. That’s only taking into account one of its five spore forms, which are produced at different times in its life cycle.

For plants in general, fungi are the number one infectious threat, far above bacteria or viruses. Many fungi are also generalists that use a scorched-earth strategy to parasitize a wide range of hosts. To invade host cells, viruses need to sneak their way in by fitting into specific proteins like a key in a lock. Because viruses need to have this precision, it’s hard for them to jump from one species to another one with a different set of proteins, and it’s a big deal when it does happen. Fungi, on the hand, don’t need to enter cells; like the mold that eats your bread, it squirts its digestives juices and rots everything in sight. While viruses nimbly pick your locks, fungi are like a bomb that will blow up your door — or anyone else’s.

Being generalists has another added bonus for fungal pathogens: They can completely wipe out a main host while living in other species as backup. For bacteria or viruses, killing an entire species is usually a bad bet for survival; get rid of your host and you’ve got nowhere to go yourself. In contrast, the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which eats away at the skin of amphibians, is able to infect 508 different organisms, killing 100% of some species but lurking in others without doing much harm. The unaffected species act as reservoirs that can harbor and even spread B.dendrobatidis as it “looks” for other hosts.

Some fungi can also lie in wait in the environment, not as spores but as living fungi that feed on decaying matter. For example, the fungus that causes white nose syndrome, Geomyces destructans, has been recovered in the soil in bat caves, and scientists think that it lurks in caves during the summer, surviving off of nutrients in the dirt and bat guano (droppings). The fungus can only infect hibernating bats, so it must live outside of its host for the majority of the year. Come winter, bats go into hibernation and the infection cycle starts again. G. destructans, too, is extremely deadly, killing 90% of the animals it infects or an estimated 6 million bats since it first appeared in North America in 2006. The fungus wakes bats up during their hibernation, which makes them burn out their fat reserves too quickly and starve to death.

That G. destructans can only infect bats during hibernation is a clue to the key reason we don’t have much to fear from fungal infections. During hibernation, the normally warm-blooded bats drop their body temperatures significantly to save energy — and that’s when G. destructans attacks. Fungi in general just don’t like high temperatures. A 2009 analysis of 4,802 fungal strains found that the number of surviving strains drops off rapidly as incubation temperature increased from 30° to 40° Celsius. The researchers suggest that fighting off fungus may be one reason why our body temperature is fastened at 37° C.

Microbiologist and immunologist Arturo Casadevall has even speculated that the anti-fungal protection of warm bodies may have been one of our ancestors’ advantages over the dinosaurs. In the aftermath of the massive plant die-off of the K-T extinction 65 million years ago, fungi likely thrived on plentiful rotting vegetation. As they proliferated, fungal diseases could have contributed to the selection pressure that killed off cold-blooded dinosaurs, opening the door for the ascent of warm-blooded mammals. Casadevall’s theory is speculative at this point, but the high virulence, adaptability, and transmissibility of modern fungi show why fending off fungal disease could have been quite advantageous for our fuzzy ancestors. So it seems we have warm-bloodedness to thank for protecting us from most pathogenic fungi, with a few exceptions.

(Hat tip to Gwern.)

R naught is the number of cases one case generates

Monday, January 27th, 2020

In epidemiology, the basic reproduction number (denoted R0, r nought) is the number of cases one case generates (on average over the course of its infectious period, in an otherwise uninfected population):

This metric is useful because it helps determine whether or not an infectious disease can spread through a population. The roots of the basic reproduction concept can be traced through the work of Alfred Lotka, Ronald Ross, and others, but its first modern application in epidemiology was by George MacDonald in 1952, who constructed population models of the spread of malaria.


R0 < 1

the infection will die out in the long run. But if

R0 > 1

the infection will be able to spread in a population.

Generally, the larger the value of R0, the harder it is to control the epidemic. For simple models and a 100% effective vaccine, the proportion of the population that needs to be vaccinated to prevent sustained spread of the infection is given by 1 – 1/R0.

Values of R0 of well-known infectious diseases
Disease Transmission R0
Measles Airborne 12–18
Diphtheria Saliva 6-7
Smallpox Airborne droplet 5–7
Polio Fecal-oral route 5–7
Rubella Airborne droplet 5–7
Mumps Airborne droplet 4–7
HIV/AIDS Sexual contact 2–5
Pertussis Airborne droplet 5.5
2019-nCoV Airborne droplet 3-5
SARS Airborne droplet 2–5
(1918 pandemic strain)
Airborne droplet 2–3
(2014 Ebola outbreak)
Bodily fluids 1.5-2.5

Western Samoa suffered the highest known mortality of any state during the 1918-1921 pandemic

Monday, January 27th, 2020

The current efforts to curb coronavirus should remind us of the Samoan experience with the 1918 flu — or, rather, with the two very different Samoan experiences:

In 1918 the Samoan archipelago was split between American Samoa (a United States territory) and Western Samoa (previously a German colony but under New Zealand governance from 1914). The 1918 influenza pandemic killed a quarter of Western Samoans, while leaving American Samoa unscathed. Why were their experiences so different?

In late 1918 a second wave within a single pandemic of influenza was spreading throughout Asia and the Pacific. On 30 October 1918 the Union Steamship Company’s Talune left Auckland for its run through Polynesia. The new, more lethal influenza variant had arrived in Auckland with the spring, and several crew members were ill. On 7 November the Talune reached Apia, the main port of New Zealand-occupied Western Samoa.

In 1918 the two Samoas had been divided for nearly twenty years. The United States had sought American Samoa for Pago Pago harbour, a protected anchorage and coaling stop. Western Samoa had become a German colony, and under German rule efforts were made to increase its economic viability and attract European settlers. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Britain had asked New Zealand to occupy Western Samoa to prevent its use by German naval forces.

The two Samoas were in regular contact with each other, and controlled all access to the outside world through two ports: Pago Pago in the east and Apia in the west. The dangers of ship-borne disease were well known, and exclusion of many diseases, especially plague, had been implemented since the imposition of colonial governance nineteen years before.

How then to explain the differing responses to the approach of the pandemic? When the Talune docked in Western Samoa she was not put in quarantine. No word had come from Auckland by wireless, and the ship’s captain did not mention that influenza was in New Zealand. In fact, the captain instructed ill crew and passengers to hide their malady so as to prevent being delayed in Apia.

The Germans had developed their colony of Western Samoa as a commercial enterprise. European-owned plantations occupied one-fifth of the land, supported by a network of European planters and shipping agents. Three times more foreign ships visited Apia than Pago Pago. When the issue of quarantine arose, the New Zealand Governor, Colonel Logan, faced the hostility of this trading community, as well as significant logistical difficulties. Logan needed a larger infrastructure to cope with the number of ships quarantined, and would have had difficulty enforcing any such restrictive edict.

This disinclination to act also had an institutional element. Western Samoa had been taken by New Zealand only four years before, and Logan had received little guidance regarding the territory. In addition, the civilian medical staff in Samoa were both widely scattered and not well respected, and no medical advice regarding quarantine reached Logan.

German administration in Samoa had undermined traditional local authority by taking away the distribution of chiefly titles and reducing the stature of these leaders in local eyes. Thus when New Zealand forces assumed control they found a diminished set of traditional power bases, too weakened to act as effective proxies.

Facing a lack of experience, a dearth of instructions and an unhelpful infrastructure, Logan perceived little support. He chose to wait for directives. The port remained open.

American Samoa presented a different set of circumstances. During nineteen years of benign neglect the administration in Pago Pago had learned to act autonomously. Without oversight from Washington the naval bureaucracy had left most affairs to the traditional Samoan nobility and did not interfere in the granting of titles. The medical staff were naval officers with knowledge of quarantine.

To officials in Washington, American Samoa was a naval station with an incidental indigenous population. There was scant need for traders to maintain a permanent presence in the colony and no effort to attract settlers. This facilitated the American Governor’s use of quarantine: the absence of a trader community allowed General Poyer to impose measures without resistance, and the small number of ships visiting Pago Pago made such an effort manageable. When descriptions of the flu reached Poyer, he acted decisively. Quarantine was established, and implemented under the leadership of traditional chiefs. With modifications, the quarantine in American Samoa continued, with no fatal cases of influenza reported, until late 1921.

In contrast, Western Samoa suffered the highest known mortality of any state during the 1918-1921 pandemic. At least 24 percent of the population died, and most who died were between 18-50 years of age. Half of the most productive age cohort of Western Samoa, and the chiefly and religious elites, died. Western Samoa collapsed.

All the rigidity and strength the pickup needs comes from everything you’re looking at

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Lean-design guru Sandy Munro suggests that the Tesla Cybertruck may only need $30 million in capital expenditures to tool up for production of 50,000 units per year:

Tesla’s secret sauce is the fact it appears the truck’s exoskeleton also act as its body panels. So, all the rigidity and strength the pickup needs comes from everything you’re looking at, and it just needs welding and assembly. The fact there’s no painting involved, just plain stainless steel, is also a tremendous cost-saver, per Munro.

The control tones had to be within the range of normal human speech

Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Those beeps you hear in recordings of astronauts in space have a name — Quindar Tones:

First, let’s be specific about those beeps: there’s actually two different beeps that happen, one a sine wave tone at a frequency of 2.525 KHz that lasts for 250 milliseconds, and one that’s a sine wave tone at 2.475 KHz, for the same duration.

That first and slightly higher tone is called the intro tone and the lower one is the outro. As their names suggest, one is for the start of something, and one for the end.

What that something is related to how the CapCom — that means “capsule communicator” which was what they called the ground control team member (usually an astronaut) who was in charge of talking directly to the astronauts on the spacecraft. Having one person designated to communicate with the astronauts helps reduce any possible confusion and cross-talk.

Since the CapCom would be in the busy, noisy Mission Control room, they’d want to choose when to open their microphones to talk to the spacecraft, so NASA used a push-to-talk (PTT) system.

It’s like how a CB works, if you’re as miserably old as I am and remember that — you hold down a button while you talk, and let up when you’re done.

This is normally not a big deal to implement, but the space program had very unique requirements. In the setup that NASA developed, which used tracking stations all over the world to keep in near-constant communication with the spacecraft, the audio from CapCom to be sent into space was transmitted to the various stations across the globe via dedicated telephone lines.

These lines were just for voice audio — if NASA wanted to send control signals like transmit on and off, they’d need to run a whole parallel set of wires, which would be expensive. So, they came up with a solution: use the same lines for control signals as well!

Because the lines were optimized for human voice audio, the control tones had to be within the range of normal human speech, which is why the tones are audible.

The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Both Marine Corps air wings and Navy Tactical Air have glaring capability holes, which could be filled by repurposing Air Force platforms:

The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s.


The Air Force’s number one priority is procuring a fleet of more than 1,700 F-35s and 100 B-21 heavy bombers, which is an enormously expensive goal. The Air Force is also updating its part of the nuclear triad, beginning to develop its sixth-generation air-dominance platforms, recapitalizing elements of the F-15 fleet, procuring the KC-46, re-engining the B-52, and more. To help pay for these priorities, the Air Force has published plans for accelerated retirement of both the B-1 and the B-2 and continues to loudly proclaim its desire to retire the A-10. (Warthog).


It would be difficult for the Marine Corps to imagine a better aircraft than the A-10. The current A-10C configuration provides a partial glass cockpit, a full suite of laser and GPS precision-guided weapons, targeting pods, and tactical data links, as well as a mission-computer capable of continuous upgrades. The A-10 is equally capable in roles such as close air support, strike coordination and reconnaissance, forward air controller airborne, and tactical recovery of aviation personnel. It can execute offensive air support, air reconnaissance, and self-defense anti-air warfare. It could also readily fill the Corps’ light-attack gap due to its legendary ability to dispense and absorb damage and its gun.

For a Marine air-ground task force commander, especially a special purpose or Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) commander, a Marine A-10 has sufficient loiter and slow speed capability to provide both close and stand-off escort to air combat element (ACE) tilt rotor and rotary wing elements while having enough speed to work with Harriers, Hornets, and Lightnings. Such capability would allow ACE assets escorted access into higher threat areas than are currently feasible. For a Marine expeditionary brigade or Marine expeditionary force, A-10s would massively enhance ACE offensive air support, deep air support, and close air support capabilities. With an upgrade to fly Intrepid Tiger II pods, A-10 EW capabilities could even support Marine maneuver non-kinetically.

Though the A-10 is exclusively land based, the expeditionary nature of a Marine air-ground task force in no way precludes its employment. OV-10s were always land based as are F/A-18Ds. Marine EA-6Bs were exclusively land based until their retirement. F/A-18C squadrons remain split between those that support a Navy carrier air wing (CVW) and those that remain land based. The C-130s attached to a MEU ACE remain land based while the MEU is afloat. Having a land-based component to an afloat expeditionary force is the norm for the naval services, not the exception.

Close air support is a classic example. Though the F-35 can provide close air support, the role does not capitalize on the aircraft’s capabilities. An F-35 knocking down air defenses and attacking command-control nodes followed by A-10s executing close air support in the newly lowered threat environment is the definition of a synergistic effect. The Marine A-10s providing close air support in the newly lowered threat zones free F-18s and F-35s to stay forward and shape the battlespace. The combination of aircraft creates and sustains a virtuous circle. The A-10 thus complements and enables the F-35 instead of competing with it.

The A-10 is also an inexpensive aircraft to fly. At $6,118 per hour, the flight hour costs for the A-10 are minuscule compared to any fixed wing aircraft the Marine Corps is currently flying.


With the reintroduction of a B-1 as a maritime patrol bomber, the Navy would reconstitute a capability that was divested after World War II—a capability that takes distributed fires to a logical extreme. In an airborne operations in support of maritime operations fight, B-1Bs could support fast-attack craft/fast inshore attack craft defense with heavy loads of cluster munitions or other precision-guided munitions, as well as function in a strike coordination and reconnaissance role to bring other assets into the fight. In permissive environments, the B-1s heavy precision-guided munitions load would provide a massive anti-surface warfare magazine. In non-permissive environments, a single B-1B can carry 24 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles from a sanctuary halfway around the world.


At the design level, this not only brings symmetry, but overmatches the current heavy asymmetric anti-surface warfare advantages enjoyed by both the Chinese, with their anti-ship cruise missile equipped H-6 series bombers, and the Russians, with their newly modernized anti-ship cruise missile carrying TU-22M Backfires. A B-1 can also bring all its anti-ship cruise missile back if they are not expended, something that is not guaranteed with a carrier air wing strike.

B-1Bs also bring an aerial mining capability far beyond the current fleet capabilities with both gravity and extended range versions of the Quickstrike series mines. The extended range Quickstrikes mate the mine with a winged joint direct-attack munition kit, meaning the B-1 can sow denser minefields that are faster than anything in the current inventory, while remaining at standoff ranges. En route to a strike, a Bone could provide theater intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance support to a maritime operations center or over the horizon targeting for surface action groups, enhancing their survivability and lethality. With its heavy weapons load it could also free carrier air wing assets for other missions or reduce the numbers of carrier air wing assets needed for a strike, increasing carrier flexibility. B-1Bs already provide close air support to the Joint Force and could continue to do so while providing outstanding armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and forward air controller airborne capabilities in support of troops on the ground—plus the heavy conventional bombing capability that the Navy has never possessed.

Upgrades could unlock even more potential with anti-submarine warfare on the table, as B-1Bs could be modified to carry the HAAWC air-launched torpedo, creating synergy between hunter P-8s and heavily armed killer B-1s. It could be modified to carry the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM ER) and its developmental cousin the Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) and team with carrier based Growlers to knock down air defense radars with anti-radiation homing shots.[5] It could serve as an arsenal jet, supporting hitherto unexplored air to air combinations for defensive counter air and offensive counter air missions or be a mothership for a future air launched unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles.

Two of the greatest advantages to Navy acquisition of the B-1B are directly associated with the Air Force’s desires to divest itself of the bomber: its lack of nuclear role and its lack of broadband low observability. The lack of a nuclear role means there is no treaty obligations preventing its retention. The B-1 was intended to be a penetrating nuclear bomber, but the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) removed its nuclear capabilities and made it subject to yearly inspections by Russian observers. Because of the required yearly inspections, the Air Force has fully invested in the infrastructure to support them. The Navy could retain all the existing infrastructure to support New START inspections without paying for them. This precludes costly spending to build new hangars or other base infrastructure.

The lack of low observability capabilities is also highly advantageous to the Navy. Though overland penetration demands the highest levels of survivability, the open ocean provides a wholly different threat environment, especially when coupled with standoff weapons. Additionally, because the B-21 will need extensive, specialized hangarage to support its maintenance, the existing B-1 infrastructure will not suffice, even if the B-1 is retired. Since the Air Force will not be able to use those hangars, signing them over to the Navy will function create infrastructural savings, freeing up budget dollars for B-21 infrastructure. A true win-win situation.

B-1Bs cost $49,144 per flight hour, a little more than flying a section of F-35Cs or a division of F/A-18Fs but with intercontinental range and 75,000 pounds of munitions.

The action-name trend for boys is a backlash

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Parents tend to be more conservative about naming baby boys, Isabelle Kohn says, but when they do get creative, they turn them into throat-ripping action heroes:

Recently, there’s been a surge in female babies being named things like Echo, Victory and Ireland, and the girls’ names coming out of Hollywood are even more flamboyant. We all know Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, but have you met Hilary Duff’s spawn Banks Violet Bair, Cardi B’s Kulture Kiari Cephus or Kylie Jenner’s mononymous child accessory Stormi?

Whereas it’s rare to see boys with more expressive names that set them apart, it’s normal — expected, even — to see girls with names or spellings that make them stand out (lookin’ at you, Maddisyn). Laura Wattenberg, a naming expert and self-proclaimed “Baby Name Wizard” who combs through annals of Social Security Administration (SSA) data to suss out naming trends, says the most popular “unique” girls’ names in recent years have been Genesis, Serenity, Heavenly, Promise, Legacy, Treasure and Egypt. Basically, she says, if it’s a word, it can — and will be — a girl’s name.

By contrast, expressive naming practices don’t seem to apply to baby boys at all. According to research from the SSA, parents are three times more likely to give girls “unusual” names than they are boys, a phenomenon often referred to by naming experts as the “originality gap.” The result of this gap is hordes of boys named Andrew. And Greg, and Michael, and Matt, Sam, Mark, Chris and Ryan — humble, simple and inoffensive names that convey neither the expressiveness nor poetry of feminine monikers like Eden, Phoenix or Diva Muffin, the label Frank Zappa so kindly applied to his daughter.

“For most of recent history, Western boys have been given drab, biblically informed names like Brian, John or Nicholas,” says Matthew Hahn, a professor of biology and informatics at the University of Indiana who co-authored a 2003 study comparing baby name trends to evolutionary models. “In general, they’ve been nowhere near as ‘creative.’” They’ve also been extremely patriarchal — it’s an honor to be named after the (male) head honcho of your family, and first-born boys are particularly prone to being gifted with grandpa’s nominative legacy.


According Wattenberg, a new breed of rugged, hyper-macho and blatantly “action-oriented” names for boys has exploded in popularity in recent years, and their inventiveness is starting to match the creativity and expressiveness that girls names have always enjoyed. Combing through pages of recent Social Security Administration data, she found that the usage of “doer” names like Racer, Trooper and Charger have risen more than 1,000 percent between 1980 and 2000, and have increased exponentially ever since.

In a recent Namerology article on the topic, she lists several of the burlier, more aggressive names that have been picking up steam: Angler, Camper, Tracker, Trapper, Catcher, Driver, Fielder, Racer, Sailor, Striker, Wheeler — deep breath — Breaker, Roper, Trotter, Wrangler — still going — Lancer, Shooter, Slayer, Soldier, Tracer, Trooper — wait, “Slayer”? — Blazer, Brewer, Charger, Dodger, Laker, Pacer, Packer, Raider, Ranger, Steeler, Warrior — kill me — Dreamer, Jester and — wait for it — Rocker.


For today’s parents, it seems the more aggressive and bloodthirsty the name, the better. Wattenberg’s research found that 47 boys were named “Raider” in 2018, and “Hunter” tops the brawny baby charts as the country’s most popular hypermasculine name. According to Hahn, names like these give parents a way to be creative without breaking the masculinity mold. They’re expressive, vivid and undeniably unique, but they’re also pulsating with testosterone and so certifiably burly that he suspects some parents are using them as anti-bullying shields. “Who’s going to make fun of Striker?” he says. By the same token, names like “Shooter,” “Gunner” or “Slayer” seem particularly resistant to playground taunting.


It’s also possible, he says, that the action-name trend for boys is a backlash to the evolving definition of masculinity. As the concept of masculinity evolves into something more dynamic, personal and sensitive than the John Wayne stereotype of the past, groups of conservationist parents are staking a claim on the increasingly endangered species of traditional manhood by naming their children after the most stereotypically masculine things possible. “It could be a backlash to changing norms around what it means to be a man, and a staking of a position about masculinity and traditional values,” he suggests.

Where do you want to be if the bad guy suddenly regains consciousness with a gun in his hand?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Greg Ellifritz looks at the Texas church attack and discusses post-shooting procedures:

Given the fact that you have at least five people on the volunteer security team, how would you optimally deploy those individuals after the threat is neutralized?  Seriously.  Stop right now and think about it.  Before reading further, think about what the security team’s priorities should be after the immediate threat is no longer active.

The security staff member who took the shot approached the bad guy, kicked his gun away from him and covered the lifeless body. This is a very common reaction, especially in police shootings. I would argue that approaching the down bad guy and kicking his gun away isn’t the best course of action.

The bad guy may be playing dead. He may also be momentarily unconscious, but not out of the fight When people fall to the ground, it’s easier to get blood circulating to the brain. The person you assumed was dead may suddenly regain consciousness on the ground. Low blood pressure from hypovolemic shock reduces blood flow to the brain. When the body falls, the circulatory system doesn’t have to fight gravity any more and many times people will spontaneously “wake up.”

Where do you want to be if the bad guy suddenly regains consciousness with a gun in his hand?

I would argue that standing over the now animate armed bad guy is a poor place to be.

There’s no need to separate him from the weapon if you have enough people to cover him with a lethal force threat option. Approaching the down bad guy is dangerous. Don’t do it.

Instead, move forward only far enough that there are no innocent parties between you and the downed criminal. Get behind whatever cover you can find (the church pews would work pretty well in this case). From that position of cover, keep your gun trained on the bad guy until police arrive.

Who should do this job if you have more than one security staff member available?

I would argue that the shooter may not be the best person to perform this role. After the shooting, adrenaline will start affecting the guy who took the shot faster than the other people on the team. His hands will likely start shaking. Sometimes those folks will also get nauseous or light-headed. Do you really want the shaky-handed guy who is about to throw up covering down on the bad guy until the police arrive?

If I had five armed security staff members in a shooting like this, I would assign a different person to cover the bad guy and move the shooter to a someplace quiet and non-threatening until the cops arrive.

Why are medieval buildings made of squares and rectangles?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Why are medieval buildings made of squares and rectangles?