The US Supreme Court is fascinating. It has an almost mythological quality, with nine wise people passing their judgment wearing special robes. Knowledge about its functioning is not bland and faceless, it is highly personal, with the histories and personalities of each of The Nine being highly important. They are appointed for life, unlike a state official, but like a king or pope. I especially love how some of the names of seminal court cases have poetically fitting names, even though they are just based on the names of the involved parties. For example, Brown v. Board of Education is…

In a widely acclaimed essay from 2012, Steven Pinker describes what he calls The False Allure of Group Selection”.

I think the essay is very sensible, and puts up a well-defined challenge for group selection, which I will address.

In his first paragraph he asks:

Does this mean that the human brain has been shaped by natural selection to promote the welfare of the group in competition with other groups, even when it damages the welfare of the person and his or her kin?

I think this a decent definition of group selection; although “damage” should be understood as including…

Scott Alexander of the blog SlateStarCodex is one of my favorite current writers. Recently, a NYT writer wanted to write a piece about him, which would include his full name. This led to Scott Alexander taking down his blog in an attempt to avoid this outcome. You can read about all this from Scott himself.

In summary, Scott Alexander thinks it can have drastic consequences for his life if his full name is revealed in the NYT. It is unclear what is gained from revealing his full name. …

In relationships and dating there are many sayings, many of which are of doubtful veracity. In this post I will analyse three of them:

  1. It’s important not to seem too interested in the person you are dating.
  2. If you have sex with a guy on the first day you meet, it will make it less likely that a relationship will develop.
  3. The best looking girls are more boring.

I think these three share a common theme in that people have observed a correlation between the outcomes, and this correlation is basis for the advice. However, correlation and causality is famously…

What exactly is the political left and right? In the classical economic sense it is simple to follow: The left wants more state control, regulation and redistribution, and the right wants less of those things. However, increasingly issues that are not strictly economical become part of this divide. To name some examples, it is more right-wing to support a originalist reading of the constitution and be against transgender initiatives; and it’s more left-wing to support things like immigration and the environment.

So what is the base principle? I believe it is this:

The left wing is more guided by (more…

The dictionary definition of scientism is:

“Excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.”

An alternative formulation of this is: “Putting too much weight on scientific research over other types of evidence.”

I posit that scientism is an underrated problem in the modern world, causing a large amount of damage. The best visual example of this is the 1992 official food pyramid:

Much of this has since been discredited or is now seen as doubtful. To just take some examples: many are skeptical that white bread and rice are good for you in such large amounts; milk and…

[Edit: I wrote a more succinct and updated version of this post here. Probably read that instead.]

In this article from the New York Times, they claim that there is extreme gender discrimination in tech:

In a 2016 experiment conducted by the tech recruiting firm Speak With a Geek, 5,000 résumés with identical information were submitted to firms. When identifying details were removed from the résumés, 54 percent of the women received interview offers; when gendered names and other biographical information were given, only 5 percent of them did.

This turned out to be fake. (Twitter thread with details). The…

In the recent article Evaluating the replicability of social science experiments in Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015, the authors re-do 21 social science studies published in Nature and Science.

In this post I will read just the summaries of those studies and guess which ones will replicate, before seeing the results.

[Edit: Now turned into a full quiz at 80.000 hours:

My general heuristic is the following:

  • If the study implies that social scientists are modern day wizards, that can easily manipulate peoples choices through priming or similar, it won’t replicate
  • If the study results involves wishful…

Many people are worried about the AI alignment problem: That in the future we may develop a superintelligent general AI, which may become extremely powerful and be an existential threat to humanity. This problem was described in Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence. Wait But Why featured a good description of the problem. Here is a recent podcast about the topic with Sam Harris and Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Steven Pinker is famously skeptical of the potential dangers of superintelligent AIs, and has recently published an article fleshing out this position: We’re told to fear robots. But why do we think they’ll turn on…

Languages evolve in a similar way as animals evolve: Constantly, unpredictably and in a way that increases fitness in the current environment. In the same way that survival and mate choice forms species, the way people choose to use words forms language. If an old word is not useful anymore, it may disappear from language or change its meaning; and if a new meaning is needed it tends to get incorporated into the language. …

Jonatan Pallesen

Scientist. Also see

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