Ineffective Theory

Links for February 2021

A water treatment plant in Florida is attacked — attacker raises sodium hydroxide level in an apparent attempt to poison people. I’m pretty sure “thanks to a vigilant operator” is one of the ten scariest phrases in the English language. We haven’t really explored the long tail of cybersecurity risk: be unsurprised by unwelcome surprises in the next decade.

Andrew Gelman comments on Alvaro de Menard’s review (previously posted here) of the state of the social science literature.

Here’s a 10 terapixel image of the night sky. I don’t think I can reliably tell galaxies from the dimmer stars.

The New York Times finally gets around to publishing their piece on SSC and the rationalists; the word “rancid” comes to mind, among others. (I include this link because it seems culturally important, not because it’s worth your time to read.) Here’s Scott’s reply; if you read anything on this, read that first and last. Variously irate commentary is provided by Scott Sumner, Jason Crawford, Matt Yglesias, Noah Smith, and Scott Aaronson (with a follow-up), among others. Finally, Tanner Greer comments: “Mortals know that when Olympians feud, it is never Olympians who die.”

Rob Rhinehart on the evil octopus — if you’re irate about what happened, this is the piece that Scott Alexander thinks you should read. The title of this article is “The New York Times”, which I think is how we know it’s not really about the NYT. They’re just one of the arms of the Kraken. As Leonard Cohen points out, the Kraken is everything.

When nothing determines status but status itself — when there are no objective outside measures of the quality of one’s work — social dynamics become much more toxic. Greer’s explanation is based on a link between personal uncertainty and personal insecurity. I think the story goes beyond that. An illegible incentive can drive a group to behave in a certain way without any individual being aware of what’s happening; in “a world where one’s reputation rests on little more than reputation itself”, there’s a pretty strong illegible incentive to fight tooth-and-nail for reputation.

Vitalik Buterin on prediction markets — how modern ones can fail, and lessons for futarchy.

Also by Vitalik, here’s a nice introduction to zk-SNARKs.