Vocational doors really did open

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

A look back at what has happened to educational and job choices over the last 50 years suggests that vocational doors really did open for women during the 1970s, Charles Murray says (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1971, 38 percent of women’s bachelor’s degrees were in education. That proportion had fallen by half by the early 1980s. Meanwhile, degrees in business grew from 3 percent in 1971 to 20 percent by 1982.


Consider first the most Things-oriented STEM careers — physics, chemistry, earth sciences, computer science, mathematics, and engineering. The percentage of women’s degrees obtained in those majors more than doubled from 1971 to 1986 — but “more than doubled” meant going from 4 percent to 10 percent.

And 1986 was the high point. By 1992, that number had dropped to 6 percent, where it has remained, give or take a percentage point, ever since.


Women’s degrees in People-oriented STEM — biology and health majors — doubled in just the eight years from 1971 (9 percent) to 1979 (18 percent), remained at roughly that level through the turn of the century, then surged again, standing at 27 percent of degrees in 2017.


It looks as if women were indeed artificially constrained from moving into a variety of Things occupations as of 1970, that those constraints were largely removed, and that equilibrium was reached around 30 years ago.


The effect of the feminist revolution on the vocations of college-educated women was real but quickly reached a new equilibrium. For women with no more than a high school education, it is as if the feminist revolution never happened.


The subtext of this chapter has been that it’s not plausible to explain the entire difference in educational and vocational interests as artifacts of gender roles and socialization. If that were the case, the world shouldn’t look the way it does. In contrast, a mixed model — it’s partly culture, partly innate preferences — works just fine. In this narrative, females really were artificially deterred from STEM educations and occupations through the 1950s and into the 1960s. One of the effects of the feminist revolution was that new opportunities opened up for women and women took advantage of them.

It’s not a holiday; it’s like jail

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

The Guardian describes how coronavirus has altered day-to-day life:

Wi, a 29-year-old Chinese PhD student in the Midlands, is originally from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak and where her parents have been in self-quarantine for more than 20 days. “They can’t walk, they can’t leave their own flat – it’s not a holiday, it’s like jail,” she said. “They are unable to even open windows for fear that the virus will spread through the air.

“Now the whole of Wuhan is closed, all public transport and private cars have been stopped, so they can’t even drive their own cars on the road. So they just stay at home, eating, sleeping and watching movies. That’s all they can do,” Wi said.

Wi’s parents have not been told when they will be allowed to leave their flat. Wi has become concerned about the mental health of those in isolation in the city, after seeing posts on social media with locals saying they would rather kill themselves than remain in quarantine any longer.

“The biggest enemy is not the virus, it’s mental health. When you stay in one room for half a month, that’s horrible, you cannot go outside or get fresh air.”


“My grandma keeps wanting to go out for walks, especially when it’s sunny, but I always try to stop her and walk around the apartment with her,” she said. “It is sometimes hard to explain to my grandma how dangerous things still are, as official news on TV is mainly good news.”

This strategy seems to be missing the point. There’s nothing dangerous about being out in the fresh air and sunshine. The only danger is from close contact with other people and the things they’ve touched. Going for a walk in the suburbs or in a park, for instance, should be totally safe, and in the city it should be fairly safe as long as you’re not sharing a crowded sidewalk or elevator, touching doorknobs or elevator buttons, etc. Being cooped up doesn’t make you safer.

It deserves to mark a turning point in public understanding

Friday, February 21st, 2020

James Thompson reviews Charles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class:

Charles Murray, a sociologist by background and a datanaut by inclination, has carved out a prominent place in American intellectual debate by the simple expedient of writing clearly about difficult subjects. He is an Enlightenment Regular Guy, who does not want Americans to lose ground, or be split apart or be cast asunder by imperious elites and their lucrative patterns of frustration. He crunches data, and writes his conclusions in plain text, with helpful explanations about the harder statistical bits. No wonder some people hate him for it.

Having “The Bell Curve” on my university library shelves 26 years ago seemed somewhat daring. I was bewildered by the passions it arose. He had found a dataset and analysed it carefully, using histograms rather than correlation coefficients. I enjoyed the powerful clarity of the findings, and ruefully acknowledged that “bell curve” was a snappier phrase than “standard normal distribution”. I wish I’d had the talent to write it. Perhaps many other academics felt their noses put out of joint by a job well done.

We owe the inspiration for this book to Murray’s wife, who was so outraged by the attack he received at Middlebury College that she urged him to enter the fray on more contentious topics. Cherchez la femme. On the logical premise that “I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” Murray has obligingly bundled up all the taboo subjects, examined them and explained that they are not so frightening after all. This time he is not crunching new stuff (beyond some interesting investigations of class differences), but mostly explaining what a whole torrent of new research may mean for all of us. In that sense he is following up on his work on Human Excellence, identifying those thoughts and findings which later ages will find of note in ours. These are exciting times, and although we cannot be sure that this is a whole new chapter in our understanding of ourselves, it certainly feels it might be.

Critics will quickly note that Murray’s aim is seditious. He wishes to destroy the proposition that in a properly run society, people of all human groupings will have similar life outcomes. Clearly, they won’t, and the fast flourishing genetic revolution is what provokes Murray to provide a progress report, one he hopes will be out of date shortly. Incidentally, writing a book about the genetics of human behaviour is a selfless act. This book took a long time to write, working through complex new research, but Murray is aware it might have a shelf life of a few months. Given that his explanations of basic issues are helpful, I think it will last far longer.


The book is a master-class in explaining, and is far closer to text-book than meta-analysis, though it performs that latter function. Sadly, Murray cannot name his many advisors who looked at drafts of his book and made helpful suggestions. Contemporary academia is poisonous on race, sex and class. Happily, there are many knowledgeable people who were able to help him give an accurate and balanced account, without needing to share in the lime light. Veritas liberabit vos.

Murray is a good top-level guide to genetic discoveries precisely because he is outside the field looking in, with the purpose of being an explainer. Good writers in science quickly make you feel you knew the subject anyway. He is to behavioural science what Feynman’s lecture notes were to physics. Which reminds me of a Feynman quote highly relevant to what Murray is doing in the this book: Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


It is very strange that an author who goes to such lengths to be kind, considered and balanced should be excoriated. Stranger still that the attacks should be so rigidly extreme when the text itself is mild, cautious and proudly admiring of the average citizen. Murray is not a polemicist: he just keeps the score, and explains his judgments. He does not eschew the correct nomenclature of digging instruments. I think he makes good calls, and if you want to see the steps in his arguments, he lays them out for you in the appendices.

The purpose and test of this book is whether it will be read. I hope so. The writing invites reading. The tone is balanced, restrained, and friendly to those for whom all this research may be news. When the topics are complicated and technical, anyone can baffle. Being legible is harder. Anyone who wants to know the score on the possible causes of sex, race and class differences will be amply rewarded in understanding if they read this book. It deserves to mark a turning point in public understanding of the biological factors in human behaviour.

Opponents were reluctant to reach for him

Friday, February 21st, 2020

I remember watching this fight live, back in the day:

There came a brief pause in the action and the two men stared at each other. Vitor Belfort had tried his usual bursts and hit nothing but air. The champion, Anderson Silva stood in front of him, leaning forward at the waist. Silva was baiting him again. Everyone knew by now that the champion’s magic was in convincing the sloppy strikers of MMA to charge at him, then picking them off as they overextended. The humiliating defeat Silva had handed to Forrest Griffin two years earlier served as a reminder of just how not to fight the middleweight king.

The fact that Silva was stood there, just on the end of Belfort’s reach and just a step away, meant that he was planning something. Belfort suspected that all Silva wanted in the world right now was for him to lead. If Silva’s opponents would not chase him freely, the champion would start giving them his face, sticking it out on the front of his stance. Vitor Belfort wasn’t going to make the mistake of reaching for Silva’s head and allowing Silva to pull back and whip the rug out from under him—he had worked too hard to round out his game and fight his way back into the UFC as something more than a straight line, 1-2 puncher. No, now was the time to use his own craft and to show a patience that was not usually associated with the Belfort brand. At least, Belfort might have thought all of this if the ball of Silva’s left foot hadn’t smashed into the point of his chin from beneath and buckled his legs. Belfort crumbled straight down where he stood like a falling building.

For Silva, it was a throwaway strike. One he had already used against Dan Henderson and others. The front snap kick came smoothly out of his forward lean, which was intended to draw his opponent into attacking him. The front snap kick to the face is a hard technique to time on a moving opponent. The target area is small, and while the kick can benefit enormously from entering through the blind angle—below the opponent’s field of vision—you have to be close enough to the opponent for it to travel this path.

Because Silva had a reputation as an almost superhuman counter-fighter, opponents were reluctant to reach for him even if he gave them every provocation. The forward lean that you so often saw in Silva’s fights was a simple boxing tactic known as presenting a false distance—where the head is undefended and within striking range, but is also out in front of the fighter’s centre of gravity. Reach for a man who is presenting this false distance and he has all the space to pull back to his upright stance, plus all the distance that he could lean back from his regular position. Belfort was very much in the right in not reaching for Silva, but he ended up lingering on the end of Silva’s kicking range and suffering for it.

The Silva–Belfort front kick was awarded knockout of the year by most online publications, and the UFC listed it at the top of their list of the one hundred best knockouts in UFC history. Over the coming years the front snap kick and the front kick to the face both became common features in mixed martial arts. That was Anderson Silva in a nutshell: he made a lot of moves that never knocked anyone out, and consequently no one noticed, but the moment he scored one of those many, many highlight reel finishes, everyone went wild trying to copy what he had come up with.

On the Data-Ideas dimension, there was virtually no sex difference

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Psychologist John Holland devised his theory of vocational choice in 1959. It posited six clusters of orientations. He did this with no regard to sex differences, but — as Charles Murray points out in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class — there are huge differences in where men and women land on some of those orientations, on average:

The authors assembled a database from 81 samples that amounted to 243,670 men and 259,518 women. On average, women’s vocational interests tilted toward occupations involving work with or understanding of other people; men’s vocational interests tilted toward working with things.

The biggest tilts involved the Realistic orientation — a male preference — with an effect size of –0.84, and the Social orientation — a female preference — with an effect size of +0.68.

People vs. Things and Ideas vs. Data

On the Data-Ideas dimension, there was virtually no sex difference.

On the People-Things dimension, the effect size was +0.93, meaning that women were on the People end and men were on the Things end of the dimension — a large effect size by any standard.

Does owning a car hurt your health?

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Does owning a car hurt your health? To really answer that, you’d need a randomized trial:

But who’s going to assign long-term car ownership on the basis of a coin flip?

The city of Beijing, it turns out. Because of mounting congestion, Beijing has limited the number of new car permits it issues to 240,000 a year since 2011. Those permits are issued in a monthly lottery with more than 50 losers for every winner – and that, as researchers from the University of California Berkeley, Renmin University in China and the Beijing Transport Institute recently reported in the British Medical Journal, provides an elegant natural experiment on the health effects of car ownership.

Led by Berkeley economist Michael Anderson, the researchers followed 180 permit winners and 757 losers for roughly five years, and looked for differences caused by the acquisition of a car.

“The randomization of the lottery is what gives us confidence,” Anderson explained in a statement. “We know that the winners should be comparable to the losers on all attributes other than car ownership.”

Not surprisingly, the winners took 2.9 fewer rides a week on Beijing’s dense public-transit network, representing a 45-per-cent drop in usage. They also spent 24.2 fewer minutes each day day walking or biking than the non-winners, a 54-per-cent drop.

You’d expect these behaviour changes to have health impacts. Over all, the winners gained an average of just more than two kilograms, a difference that was not statistically significant. But the effects were more obvious when looking only at winners aged 50 or older: They gained an average of 10.3 kilograms, a statistically significant and worrisome increase.

The revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Charles Murray explores the revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1960, a few years before second-wave feminism took off in the United States, only 41 percent of women ages 25–54 were in the labor force. In 2018, that figure stood at 75 percent.

From 1960 to 2018, women went from 1 percent of civil engineers to 17 percent; from 5 percent of attorneys to 35 percent; from 8 percent of physicians to 42 percent.

Not a single woman was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 1960, nor would there be any until 1972.34 In 2018, 25 women were Fortune 500 CEOs, among them the chief executives of General Motors, IBM, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, and General Dynamics.

In 1960, there was one woman in the U.S. Senate. After the 2018 election, there were 25. In the 1960 House of Representatives, there were 19 women. After the 2018 election, there were 102.


By 2016, 1,082,669 women got bachelor’s degrees compared to 812,669 men—a 33 percent difference.


In 1960, 20 men got a professional degree for every woman who did. By 1970, the ratio was less than 10 to 1. By 1980, it was less than 3 to 1. In 2005, women caught up with men. Since then, more women have gotten more professional degrees than men in every year. As of 2016, 93,778 women got a professional degree compared to 84,089 men.

It’s time for learning

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Children are born curious:

The number of questions a toddler can ask can seem infinite — it is one of the critical methods humans adopt to learn. In 2007, researchers logging questions asked by children aged 14 months to five years found they asked an average of 107 questions an hour. One child was asking three questions a minute at his peak.

But research from Susan Engel, author of The Hungry Mind and a leading international authority on curiosity in children, finds questioning drops like a stone once children start school. When her team logged classroom questions, she found the youngest children in an American suburban elementary school asked between two and five questions in a two-hour period. Even worse, as they got older the children gave up asking altogether. There were two-hour stretches in fifth grade (year 6) where 10 and 11-year-olds failed to ask their teacher a single question.

In one lesson she observed, a ninth grader raised her hand to ask if there were any places in the world where no one made art. The teacher stopped her mid-sentence with, “Zoe, no questions now, please; it’s time for learning.”

The latest research suggests we should be encouraging questions, because curious children do better:

Researchers from the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Center for Human Growth and Development investigated curiosity in 6,200 children, part of the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

I’m not sure the causality runs that way.

Even gifted women who are attracted to STEM gravitate toward the life sciences

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Men and women have slightly different “cognitive toolboxes,” Charles Murray notes (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class), but they also have different interests, with women more interested in people and men more interested in things. For instance, men aligned with the following:

  • “The prospect of receiving criticism from others does not inhibit me from expressing my thoughts.”
  • A merit-based pay system
  • Having a full-time career
  • Inventing or creating something that will have an impact
  • A salary that is well above the average person’s
  • believe that society should invest in my ideas because they are more important than those of other people in my discipline.”
  • Being able to take risks on my job (–0.41)
  • Working with things (e.g., computers, tools, machines) as part of my job
  • “The possibility of discomforting others does not deter me from stating the facts.”
  • Having lots of money

And women aligned with the following:

  • Having a part-time career for a limited time period
  • Having a part-time career entirely
  • Working no more than 40 hours in a week
  • Having strong friendships
  • Flexibility in my work schedule
  • Community service
  • Having time to socialize
  • Giving back to the community

The men and women surveyed weren’t typical though:

The results I just presented came from members of SMPY’s Cohort 2, born in 1964–67, who at age 13 had tested in the top 0.5 percent of overall intellectual ability: the top 1 in 200.


The SMPY women were about twice as likely to take STEM majors as the general population of female undergraduates, but this was true of the men also, and so the male-female ratio in STEM degrees among the SMPY sample (1.6) was fractionally higher than the ratio in the general undergraduate population (1.5).


Even gifted women who are attracted to STEM gravitate toward the life sciences (People-oriented), not math and the physical sciences (Things-oriented). It was not a subtle tendency. Proportionally, males outnumbered females by almost two to one on the Things-oriented sciences, and females outnumbered males by almost two to one on the People-oriented sciences.

It was completely besmeared with blood, which trickled down over their ears, for they had been sacrificing that very day

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

I was recently reminded of Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s first-hand account of the discovery and conquest of Mexico. I read a paperback copy years ago, soon after reading about it in Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I was able to relocate one memorable passage in seconds by searching the e-text for “matted” (which stuck with me):

The hair of their heads was long and matted together, so that it would have been an impossibility to have put it in any shape or order without cutting it off: besides this, it was completely besmeared with blood, which trickled down over their ears, for they had been sacrificing that very day. The nails of their fingers were uncommonly long, and they held down their heads on approaching us, in token of humility. It was told us that these men were greatly revered for their religion.

Searching for “blood” is oddly rewarding:

I have myself heard the very pious Franciscan brother Toribio Motelmea say that it would certainly have been better if we could have avoided spilling so much blood, and the Indians had not given us the cause to do so; but it had this good effect, that all the inhabitants of New Spain became convinced that their idols were nothing but deceitful demons, and they experienced how much happier they were when they discontinued to worship them or sacrifice to them; and it is a fact, that the inhabitants of Cholulla, from that moment, cared very little about their idols: they took down the large one from the principal cu, and either hid it somewhere or destroyed it altogether: we, at least, never saw that one again, and they placed another there in its stead.


Before we mounted the steps of the great temple, Motecusuma, who was sacrificing on the top to his idols, sent six papas and two of his principal officers to conduct Cortes up the steps. There were 114 steps to the summit, and, as they feared that Cortes would experience the same fatigue in mounting as Motecusuma had, they were going to assist him by taking hold of his arms. Cortes, however, would not accept of their proffered aid. When we had reached the summit of the temple, we walked across a platform where many large stones were lying, on which those who were doomed for sacrifice were stretched out. Near these stood a large idol, in the shape of a dragon, surrounded by various other abominable figures, with a quantity of fresh blood lying in front of it. Motecusuma himself stepped out of a chapel, in which his cursed gods were standing, accompanied by two papas, and received Cortes and the whole of us very courteously. “Ascending this temple, Malinche,” said he to our commander, “must certainly have fatigued you!” Cortes, however, assured him, through our interpreters, that it was not possible for anything to tire us. Upon this the monarch took hold of his hand and invited him to look down and view his vast metropolis, with the towns which were built in the lake, and the other towns which surrounded the city. Motecusuma also observed, that from this place we should have a better view of the great market.

Indeed, this infernal temple, from its great height, commanded a view of the whole surrounding neighbourhood. From this place we could likewise see the three causeways which led into Mexico,—that from Iztapalapan, by which we had entered the city four days ago; that from Tlacupa, along which we took our flight eight months after, when we were beaten out of the city by the new monarch Cuitlahuatzin; the third was that of Tepeaquilla. We also observed the aqueduct which ran from Chapultepec, and provided the whole town with sweet water. We could also distinctly see the bridges across the openings, by which these causeways were intersected, and through which the waters of the lake ebbed and flowed. The lake itself was crowded with canoes, which were bringing provisions, manufactures, and other merchandise to the city. From here we also discovered that the only communication of the houses in this city, and of all the other towns built in the lake, was by means of drawbridges or canoes. In all these towns the beautiful white plastered temples rose above the smaller ones, like so many towers and castles in our Spanish towns, and this, it may be imagined, was a splendid sight.


Cortes then turned to Motecusuma, and said to him, by means of our interpretress, Doña Marina: “Your majesty is, indeed, a great monarch, and you merit to be still greater! It has been a real delight to us to view all your cities. I have now one favour to beg of you, that you would allow us to see your gods and teules.”

To which Motecusuma answered, that he must first consult his chief papas, to whom he then addressed a few words. Upon this, we were led into a kind of small tower, with one room, in which we saw two basements resembling altars, decked with coverings of extreme beauty. On each of these basements stood a gigantic, fat-looking figure, of which the one on the right hand represented the god of war Huitzilopochtli. This idol had a very broad face, with distorted and furious-looking eyes, and was covered all over with jewels, gold, and pearls, which were stuck to it by means of a species of paste, which, in this country, is prepared from a certain root. Large serpents, likewise, covered with gold and precious stones, wound round the body of this monster, which held in one hand a bow, and in the other a bunch of arrows. Another small idol which stood by its side, representing its page, carried this monster’s short spear, and its golden shield studded with precious stones. Around Huitzilopochtli’s neck were figures representing human faces and hearts made of gold and silver, and decorated with blue stones. In front of him stood several perfuming pans with copal, the incense of the country; also the hearts of three Indians, who had that day been slaughtered, were now consuming before him as a burnt-offering. Every wall of this chapel and the whole floor had become almost black with human blood, and the stench was abominable.

On the left hand stood another figure of the same size as Huitzilopochtli. Its face was very much like that of a bear, its shining eyes were made of tetzcat, the looking-glass of the country. This idol, like its brother Huitzilopochtli, was completely covered with precious stones, and was called Tetzcatlipuca. This was the god of hell, and the souls of the dead Mexicans stood under him. A circle of figures wound round its body, resembling diminutive devils with serpents’ tails. The walls and floor around this idol were also besmeared with blood, and the stench was worse than in a Spanish slaughter-house. Five human hearts had that day been sacrificed to him. On the very top of this temple stood another chapel, the woodwork of which was uncommonly well finished, and richly carved. In this chapel there was also another idol, half man and half lizard, completely covered with precious stones; half of this figure was hidden from view. We were told that the hidden half was covered with the seeds of every plant of this earth, for this was the god of the seeds and fruits: I have, however, forgotten its name, but note that here also everything was besmeared with blood, and the stench so offensive that we could not have staid there much longer. In this place was kept a drum of enormous dimensions, the tone of which, when struck, was so deep and melancholy that it has very justly been denominated the drum of hell. The drum-skin was made out of that of an enormous serpent; its sound could be heard at a distance of more than eight miles. This platform was altogether covered with a variety of hellish objects,—large and small trumpets, huge slaughtering knives, and burnt hearts of Indians who had been sacrificed: everything clotted with coagulated blood, cursed to the sight, and creating horror in the mind. Besides all this, the stench was everywhere so abominable that we scarcely knew how soon to get away from this spot of horrors. Our commander here said, smilingly, to Motecusuma: “I cannot imagine that such a powerful and wise monarch as you are, should not have yourself discovered by this time that these idols are not divinities, but evil spirits, called devils. In order that you may be convinced of this, and that your papas may satisfy themselves of this truth, allow me to erect a cross on the summit of this temple; and, in the chapel, where stand your Huitzilopochtli and Tetzcatlipuca, give us a small space that I may place there the image of the holy Virgin; then you will see what terror will seize these idols by which you have been so long deluded.”

Motecusuma knew what the image of the Virgin Mary was, yet he was very much displeased with Cortes’ offer, and replied, in presence of two papas, whose anger was not less conspicuous, “Malinche, could I have conjectured that you would have used such reviling language as you have just done, I would certainly not have shown you my gods. In our eyes these are good divinities: they preserve our lives, give us nourishment, water, and good harvests, healthy and growing weather, and victory whenever we pray to them for it. Therefore we offer up our prayers to them, and make them sacrifices. I earnestly beg of you not to say another word to insult the profound veneration in which we hold these gods.”

As soon as Cortes heard these words and perceived the great excitement under which they were pronounced, he said nothing in return, but merely remarked to the monarch with a cheerful smile: “It is time for us both to depart hence.” To which Motecusuma answered, that he would not detain him any longer, but he himself was now obliged to stay some time to atone to his gods by prayer and sacrifice for having committed gratlatlacol, by allowing us to ascend the great temple, and thereby occasioning the affronts which we had offered them.

“If that is the case,” returned Cortes, “I beg your pardon, great monarch.” Upon this we descended the 114 steps, which very much distressed many of our soldiers, who were suffering from swellings in their groins. The following is all I can communicate with respect to the size or circumference of this temple; but previously reckon upon the reader’s kind indulgence, if I should make any misstatement; for at the time when all these things were going on, I was thinking of anything but writing a book, but rather how best to fulfil my duty as a soldier, and to act up to the commands of our general Cortes. However, if I remember rightly, this temple occupied a space of ground on which we should erect six of the largest buildings, as they are commonly found in our country. The whole building ran up in rather a pyramidical form, on the summit of which was the small tower with the idols. From the middle of the temple up to the platform there were five landings, after the manner of barbacans, but without any breastworks. A perfect idea of the form of this temple may be gained from the pictures which are in the possession of several of the Conquistadores, (I have one myself,) which every one must have seen by this time. The following is what I learnt respecting the building of this temple. Every inhabitant had contributed his mite of gold, silver, pearls and precious stones thereto. These gifts were then buried in the foundations, and the ground sprinkled with the blood of a number of prisoners of war, and strewed with the seeds of every plant growing in the country. This was done in order that the gods might grant the country conquest, riches, and abundant harvests. The reader will here naturally ask the question: how we got to know that its foundations were thus filled with gold, pearls, silver, precious stones, seeds, and sprinkled with human blood, as this building had stood there for the space of one thousand years? To this I answer, that subsequent to the conquest of this large and strongly fortified city, we found it to be a positive fact; for when new buildings were being erected on the place where this temple stood, a great part of the space was fixed upon for the new church dedicated to our patron Saint Santiago, and the workmen, on digging up the old foundations to give more stability to the new ones, found a quantity of gold, silver, pearls, chalchihuis stones, and other valuable things. A similar discovery was made by a citizen of Mexico, to whom also a portion of this space had been allotted for building-ground, but the treasure was claimed for his majesty; and parties went so far as to commence a lawsuit about it, I cannot however now recollect how it terminated. Besides all this, the accounts of the caziques and grandees of Mexico, and even of Quauhtemoctzin himself, who was alive at that time, all correspond with my statement. Lastly, it is also mentioned in the books and paintings which contain the history of the country.

With respect to the extensive and splendid courtyards belonging to this temple I have said sufficient above. I cannot, however, pass by in silence a kind of small tower standing in its immediate vicinity, likewise containing idols. I should term it a temple of hell; for at one of its doors stood an open-mouthed dragon armed with huge teeth, resembling a dragon of the infernal regions, the devourer of souls. There also stood near this same door other figures resembling devils and serpents, and not far from this an altar encrusted with blood grown black, and some that had recently been spilt. In a building adjoining this we perceived a quantity of dishes and basins, of various shapes. These were filled with water and served to cook the flesh in of the unfortunate beings who had been sacrificed; which flesh was eaten by the papas. Near to the altar were lying several daggers, and wooden blocks similar to those used by our butchers for hacking meat on. At a pretty good distance from this house of horrors were piles of wood, and a large reservoir of water, which was filled and emptied at stated times, and received its supply through pipes underground from the aqueduct of Chapultepec. I could find no better name for this dwelling than the house of satan!

I will now introduce my reader into another temple, in which the grandees of Mexico were buried. The doors of which were of a different form, and the idols were of a totally different nature, but the blood and stench were the same.

Next to this temple was another in which human skulls and bones were piled up, though both apart; their numbers were endless. This place had also its appropriate idols; and in all these temples, we found priests clad in long black mantles, with hoods shaped like those worn by the Dominican friars and choristers; their ears were pierced and the hair of their head was long and stuck together with coagulated blood. Lastly, I have to mention another temple at no great distance from this place of skulls, containing another species of idol, who were said to be the protectors of the marriage rights of the men, to whom likewise those abominable human sacrifices were made. Round about this large courtyard stood a great number of small houses in which the papas dwelt, who were appointed over the ceremonies of the idol-worship. Near to the chief temple we also saw an exceedingly large basin or pond, filled with the purest water, which was solely adapted for the worship of Huitzilopochtli and Tetzcatlipuca, being also supplied by pipes underground from the aqueduct of Chapultepec. There were also other large buildings in this neighbourhood, after the manner of cloisters, in which great numbers of the young women of Mexico lived secluded, like nuns, until they were married. These had also two appropriate idols in the shape of females, who protected the marriage rights of the women, and to whom they prayed and sacrificed in order to obtain from them good husbands.

Although this temple on the Tlatelulco, of which I have given such a lengthened description, was the largest in Mexico, yet it was by no means the only one; for there were numbers of other splendid temples in this city, all of which I am unable to describe. I have to remark, however, that the chief temple at Cholulla was higher than that of Mexico, and was ascended by 120 steps: also the idol at Cholulla stood in greater repute; for pilgrimages were made to it from all parts of New Spain, to obtain forgiveness of sins. The architecture of this building was also different, but with respect to the yards and double walls they were alike. The temple of the town of Tetzcuco was also of considerable height, being ascended by 117 steps, and had broad and beautiful courtyards, equal to those of the two last mentioned, but differently constructed. It seems indeed quite laughable that each province and every town should have its own peculiar idols, which, however, never interfered with each other, and the inhabitants severally sacrificed to them.

Cortes, and the whole of us at last grew tired at the sight of so many idols and implements used for these sacrifices, and we returned to our quarters accompanied by a great number of chief personages and caziques, whom Motecusuma had sent for that purpose.

While discussing books that have influenced me, I noted that this real history is less like textbook history and more like a swords-and-sorcery novel: evil priests, hair matted with blood, commit human sacrifices atop pyramids amidst a city built on a lake inside a volcanic crater; frenzied fighting ensues.

The Aztecs’ floating gardens, or chinampas, are fascinating, but it’s hard to ignore stories of conquistadors sacrificed and eaten.

Bernal Diaz Del Castillo mentions smallpox specifically five separate times, but the main germs portion of the Guns, Germs, and Steel might have been salmonella.

One last thing, the iconic Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by Cortez or Pizarro. The morion helmet came later.

The test yielded 26 male-female comparisons

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Charles Murray continues to explain sex differences in cognitive skills (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

The most famous cognitive measure is the IQ test. The tests are designed to minimize sex differences, but minor sex differences in test scores do exist, and they have usually, though not always, favored males.


Girls outscored boys in reading in every single PISA country, with effect sizes that ranged from a low of +0.08 in Peru to a remarkable high of +0.83 in Jordan.


“Sex differences in mental rotation and line angle judgment performance were universally present across nations, with men’s mean scores always exceeding women’s mean scores.”


In all, the test yielded 26 male-female comparisons. Twelve of them amounted to an absolute effect size of less than 0.1. Women outscored men on six of the seven measures of accuracy with an effect size greater than 0.1, and they outscored men on four of the seven measures of speed with an effect size greater than 0.1.

  • Females had more accurate memory for items involving words and people.
  • On IQ-like items, women did better on the verbal ones; men did better on the spatial ones.
  • On the three subtests measuring social cognition, females were both more accurate and faster than males on all of them.
  • On the subtest measuring motor speed, males were faster than females.

What percentage of murder arrestees in New York City are young minority males?

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Benjamin Dixon, host of “the dopest political podcast in the game,” recently shared audio of Mike Bloomberg’s 2015 Aspen Institute speech, where he says, “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murdered victims — fit one MO. You can just take the description, xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, sixteen to twenty-five. That’s true in New York; that’s true in virtually every city.”

This is, of course, terribly racist.

That ninety-five percent figure is ludicrously high. What’s the real number? Let’s look at Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea’s 2019 report on Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City:

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter in NYC by Race

So, ninety-seven percent of suspects and arrestees are minorities, not ninety-five. We don’t have numbers for age and sex though.

Even when men do well in social cognition tasks, they are not using the cognitive tools most naturally suited to that purpose

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

On average males have substantially better visuospatial skills than females — as evidenced by the Piaget water-level test and the bicycle-drawing test — while women have better social cognition. Bright men can compensate, as Charles Murray explains (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, based on Diane Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities):

Males are rarely good at both systemizing and empathizing. In contrast, these skill sets are largely independent in women.


The same study found evidence that men apply systemizing skills to empathizing tasks. Put another way, even when men do well in social cognition tasks, they are not using the cognitive tools most naturally suited to that purpose.

Your two best strategies are to be really healthy and really rich

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

If you hope to live a long time, Alex Hutchinson (Endure) reminds us, your two best strategies are to be really healthy and really rich:

That’s the conventional wisdom and the statistics seem to back it up. But a surprising new study that links the longevity of Olympic athletes to their socioeconomic status offers a more nuanced picture of why elite athletes tend to outlive the rest of us. It’s not just about muscles and money — it’s also about the stress of competition, not only in sport, but in life.

Adriaan Kalwij, an economist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, combed through the records of every Dutch athlete who competed in the Summer and Winter Games between 1896 and 1964, excluding more recent years because most of those athletes are still alive. Using their birth dates, death dates and stated occupation, he was able to explore how socioeconomic status (SES) influenced their longevity.

The results, published in PLOS One in December, confirmed that the 934 Olympians outlived their age-matched Dutch peers by a few years, as other studies of elite athletes have previously found. They also found that the influence of SES has steadily increased over the past century.

In the oldest cohort of athletes, born between 1852 and 1899, SES had no significant effect on longevity. In a sense, Kalwij says, this is what you might expect of Olympians: “excellent innate health could make them ‘immune’ to a SES-lifespan gradient.”

But in the next cohort of athletes, born between 1900 and 1919, a gradient emerges. Those classed as low SES, such as unskilled labourers, lived on average five years less than medium (teachers, office workers) and high (lawyers, doctors) SES athletes.

And in the most recent cohort, born between 1920 and 1947, an even wider gap emerges: High SES athletes lived five years longer than medium SES athletes, who in turn lived six years longer than low SES athletes — a stunning difference of 11 years between the top and bottom group, despite their healthy youth.

What’s most surprising about this trend is that it’s going the wrong way. You’d expect that the strengthening of social programs such as universal health care and state pensions over the past half-century would have reduced the health penalty incurred by poverty. Instead, Kalwij’s results join a large body of data across numerous countries, including Canada, suggesting that the influence of social class on lifespan has been growing since the 1950s.

While there are numerous factors that could contribute to an SES-health gradient, including access to health care and behaviours such as smoking and drinking, Kalwij believes that psychological stress may play a role.

I think we need to keep in mind that socio-economic status changed dramatically over the 20th Century, from inherited wealth and titles to inherited traits.

Adam Savage harnesses Spot to a dog-cart

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Adam Savage wanted to use Spot, from Boston Dynamics, to take him on a trip, so he created what he called a robot rickshaw — but which I’d call a robot dog-cart: