Saturday, January 18, 2020

Certainties and Uncertainties in our Energy and Climate Futures: Steve Koonin



This is a recent (2019) talk which gives a good overview of current climate science. Speaker is Steve Koonin, formerly Undersecretary for Science, US Department of Energy (Obama administration), Caltech Provost and theoretical physicist.

See earlier post Epistemic Caution and Climate Change (including comments).

My own views (consistent, as far as I can tell, with what Steve says in the talk):
1. Evidence for recent warming (~1 degree C) is strong.

2. There exist previous eras of natural (non-anthropogenic) global temperature change of similar magnitude to what is happening now.

3. However, it is plausible that at least part of the recent temperature rise is due to increase of atmospheric CO2 due to human activity.

4. Climate models still have significant uncertainties. While the direct effect of CO2 IR absorption is well understood, second order effects like clouds, distribution of water vapor in the atmosphere, etc. are not under good control. The increase in temperature from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is still uncertain to a factor of 2-3 and at the low range (e.g., 1.5 degree C) is not catastrophic. The direct effect of CO2 absorption is modest and at the low range (~1 degree C) of current consensus model predictions. Potentially catastrophic outcomes are due to second order effects that are not under good theoretical or computational control.

5. Even if a catastrophic outcome is only a low probability tail risk, it is prudent to explore technologies that reduce greenhouse gas production.

6. A Red Team exercise, properly done, would clarify what is certain and uncertain in climate science.

Simply stating these views can get you attacked by crazy people.
Please tell me what is implausible about the following scenario: IPCC latest report has as its central projection a ~1.5 degree C warming over the next decades, assuming CO2 production continues at current levels. During those decades, battery technology could improve by an order of magnitude, due to intense R&D efforts. Solar energy cost and efficiency could also improve significantly over the same period. If these technological advances are realized by, e.g., 2040, we could substantially decrease our carbon footprint without wholesale dislocation of the world economy. It seems that huge R&D investment (nevertheless totally negligible relative to GDP or, e.g., military spending) in alternative energy and storage technologies is a no brainer...

Koonin rebuts some criticisms of his talk.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sebastian Junger: Meaning from War and Technological Isolation in America - Manifold #29



This conversation occurred just after President Trump withdrew US forces from Northern Syria. Steve, Corey and Sebastian debate ISIS and the Kurds. Sebastian argues that men who went to war after 9/11 wanted to experience communal masculinity, as their fathers and grandfathers had in Vietnam and WWII, a tradition dating back millennia. When they came home, they faced the isolation of affluent contemporary American society, leading to high rates of addiction, depression, and suicide. War veterans in less developed countries may be psychologically better off, supported by a more traditional social fabric.

Transcript

Sebastian Junger

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Book)

War (Book)

Hell on Earth (Trailer)

Restrepo (Trailer)


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Zach Hambrick on Psychometrics and the Science of Expertise -- Manifold Podcast #28



MSU Psychology Professor Zach Hambrick joins Corey and Steve to discuss general cognitive ability, the science of personnel selection, and research on the development of skills and expertise. Is IQ really the single best predictor of job performance? Corey questions whether g is the best predictor across all fields and whether its utility declines at a certain skill level. What does the experience of the US military tell us about talent selection? Is the 10,000 hour rule for skill development valid? What happened to the guy who tried to make himself into a professional golfer through 10,000 hours of golf practice?

Transcript

Science of Expertise

Zach Hambrick (Faculty Profile)

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Project 100,000 (1960s DoD Program)

Test Validity Study Report (CLA)

The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Manifold #27 Bonus Content: Left and Right Student Bloggers at MSU

This is bonus content related to our interview with Professor Andrew Hartman, The Culture Wars Then and Now (Manifold Podcast #27).



Steve and Corey talk about political polarization and bias on campus with student editors of MSU’s dueling political blogs. The left-leaning students argue that the media has blown controversies over student politics out of proportion, while the conservative writers maintain the they do not feel comfortable expressing their views in many classes. Corey asks how beneficial is it to be white in America? Is the University as bastion of open debate no longer viable, especially in the current economic environment?

Transcript.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Rule Britannia


Dom has seized the controls, but now has to operate the giant robot.

This is a unique situation: someone who understands the power of modern technology, scientific decision-making, high cognitive ability, and high functioning organizations, has significant influence in the government of one of the great nations of the world.

Please consider applying for one of these positions. Dom is a special leader -- open to new ideas and to maverick personalities, loyal to his team, and a genuinely humble and good person.

This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a positive impact in the world.

High skill immigration is one of the priorities for the new UK government. You do not need to be a UK citizen or permanent resident to be considered for these positions.
...we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos...

There are many brilliant people in the civil service and politics. Over the past five months the No10 political team has been lucky to work with some fantastic officials. But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions. This was seen by pundit-world as a very eccentric view in 2014. It is no longer seen as eccentric. ...

Now there is a confluence of: a) Brexit requires many large changes in policy and in the structure of decision-making, b) some people in government are prepared to take risks to change things a lot, and c) a new government with a significant majority and little need to worry about short-term unpopularity while trying to make rapid progress with long-term problems.

There is a huge amount of low hanging fruit — trillion dollar bills lying on the street — in the intersection of:
the selection, education and training of people for high performance,

the frontiers of the science of prediction data science,

AI and cognitive technologies (e.g Seeing Rooms, `authoring tools designed for arguing from evidence’, Tetlock/IARPA prediction tournaments that could easily be extended to consider ‘clusters’ of issues around themes like Brexit to improve policy and project management)

communication (e.g. Cialdini)

decision-making institutions at the apex of government.
We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads and perhaps some as officials. If you are already an official and you read this blog and think you fit one of these categories, get in touch.

The categories are roughly:

Data scientists and software developers
Economists
Policy experts
Project managers
Communication experts
Junior researchers one of whom will also be my personal assistant
Weirdos and misfits with odd skills

[ Please click through and read the whole post on Dom's blog ]
See also Now it can be told: Dominic Cummings and the Conservative victory 2019.

Note Added: Some of the media takes on Dom's job ad are extremely uncharitable. They (and the people they quote) assume Dom is entirely naive about when mathematical and computational methods might be useful, and when they might not. I suggest these people study his other writing carefully. For example:
More important than technology is the mindset – the hard discipline of obeying Richard Feynman’s advice: ‘The most important thing is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.’ They [quant types] were a hard floor on ‘fooling yourself’ and I empowered them to challenge everybody including me. They [quant types] saved me from many bad decisions even though they had zero experience in politics and they forced me to change how I made important decisions like what got what money. We either operated scientifically or knew we were not, which is itself very useful knowledge.
Does this sound like a person who does not understand both the strengths and limitations of data science, statistics, careful epistemology, etc. in modern politics? Underestimate him at your peril...


Thursday, January 02, 2020

Andrew Hartman: The Culture Wars Then and Now (Manifold Podcast #27)



Note: We've moved to a weekly release schedule (previously one per two weeks).

Steve and Corey talk to Andrew about his new introduction to his book The War for the Soul of America. While the left largely won the culture wars, the three wonder whether the pendulum has swung so far left that many liberals are alienated by today’s cultural norms.

Other topics: Was the left’s victory in the debate over the college curriculum pyrrhic? Is identity politics a necessary step in liberation or a problematic slide toward greater division, or both? Are current students too sensitive, and easily triggered, to take the fight to the Billionaire class?

Transcript

Andrew Hartman (Faculty Profile)

A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this program are those of the guest(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the hosts, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, or Michigan State University.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year 2020


It's been a wonderful year and a wonderful decade. All the best to everyone :-)

Be of good cheer -- we will prevail !!!


A New Year's present to you, the documentary: Bill Evans Time Remembered.

"Truth and Beauty .. forget the rest."



You can watch the whole thing on Amazon Prime.


Bonus: from 1966, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. I originally posted this video as a 2012 Christmas present to readers.



Best introspective bits about his development, improvisational ability, intellectual / analytical approach versus raw talent @30 min and thereafter.

Not bad for a heroin junkie (like Chet Baker: see earlier post Time After Time).

All About Jazz: ... He played an equal role with Miles Davis in composing Kind Of Blue, the top-selling jazz album ever, yet the association proved disastrous as Evans' shyness and pressures of the stage fed a drug addiction that led to his death in 1980. His intelligence allowed him to surpass other players with more raw talent and he inspired a rare cult-like following, but also endured critics who saw him as a fraudulent lightweight.

Evans is generally acknowledged as the most influential pianist since Bud Powell, and a primary influence on players such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. Many consider his Sunday At The Village Vanguard the best piano trio album ever and compositions such as "Waltz For Debby" are all-time standards. He is also credited with advancing harmonic and voicing structures, and pioneering modern trio format elements such as giving sidemen equal interplay during improvisations.

His career peaked early during the late 1950s and early 1960s, then went through a series of peaks and valleys for the rest of his life. The best of those latter periods were probably during the early 1970s and right before his death, although neither reached the pinnacle of his early days.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Bruno Maçães: China, Russia and the Future of Eurasia - Manifold Podcast #26



I really enjoyed this conversation. Previous posts on Bruno Maçães.

Originally from Portugal, Bruno Maçães earned a PhD in Political Science at Harvard under Harvey Mansfield, and served as Portugal’s Secretary of State for European Affairs from 2013-2015. He is regarded as a leading geopolitical thinker with deep insights concerning the future of Eurasia and relations between the West and China. He is the author of two widely acclaimed books published in 2018: The Dawn of Eurasia and Belt and Road.

Topics discussed include: China's Belt and Road Initiative, the Middle Income Trap, A Chinese World Order, Techno-Optimism in East and West, China-Russia alliance and geopolitics, the future of Eurasia and the EU.

Transcript

Russia to China: Together we can rule the World (Politico.eu)

Equilibrium Americanum (Berlin Policy Journal)

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order


Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order

History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men 2019



When asked what I want for Christmas, I reply: Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men :-)

No one ever seems to recognize that this comes from the Bible (Luke 2.14).

Linus said it best in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas!

Four years ago on Christmas day I shared the following story: Nativity 2050

For an update, see The Economist on Polygenic Risk Scores and Embryo Selection (November 2019).


And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Mary was born in the twenties, when the tests were new and still primitive. Her mother had frozen a dozen eggs, from which came Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Mary had her father's long frame, brown eyes, and friendly demeanor. She was clever, but Elizabeth was the really brainy one. Both were healthy and strong and free from inherited disease. All this her parents knew from the tests -- performed on DNA taken from a few cells of each embryo. The reports came via email, from GP Inc., by way of the fertility doctor. Dad used to joke that Mary and Elizabeth were the pick of the litter, but never mentioned what happened to the other fertilized eggs.

Now Mary and Joe were ready for their first child. The choices were dizzying. Fortunately, Elizabeth had been through the same process just the year before, and referred them to her genetic engineer, a friend from Harvard. Joe was a bit reluctant about bleeding edge edits, but Mary had a feeling the GP engineer was right -- their son had the potential to be truly special, with just the right tweaks ...

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Twilight Struggles in a Wilderness of Mirrors: Admiral Mike Rogers, the NSA, and Obama-era Political Spying


I believe that if the full story is told about Obama-era political spying, Admiral Mike Rogers (former head of NSA) will emerge as a hero. Sources say Rogers has been cooperating with the ongoing Durham investigation. Look for significant developments in the case as we approach the 2020 election...

Below is a Rogers timeline covering illegal spying using NSA data. This illegal use of data is a matter of record -- undisputed, but also largely unreported. The FISC (FISA court) report on this illegal use of data appeared in April 2017; the author is Rosemary Collyer, the head FISA judge. The report was originally classified Top Secret but was later declassified and released with redactions. Collyer uses the phrase "institutional lack of candor" when referring to behavior of federal agencies in their dealings with FISC over this issue.

Just this week, Collyer ordered the FBI to report on its abuse of FISA in surveillance of the Trump campaign, as documented in the Horowitz DOJ IG report.

More background on the earlier abuses here:
The court learned in October 2016 that analysts ... were conducting prohibited database searches “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.” The forbidden queries were searches of Upstream Data using US-person identifiers. The report makes clear that as of early 2017 NSA Inspector General did not even have a good handle on all the ways that improper queries could be made to the system.
Timeline:
November 2015-April 2016 – The FBI and DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) uses private contractors to access raw FISA information using “To” and “From” FISA-702(16) & “About” FISA-702(17) queries.

February 2016 NYT reports: Obama Administration Set to Expand Sharing of Data That N.S.A. Intercepts "The new system would permit analysts at other intelligence agencies to obtain direct access to raw information from the N.S.A.’s surveillance to evaluate for themselves."

March 2016 – NSA Director Rogers becomes aware of improper access to raw FISA data.

April 2016 – Rogers orders the NSA compliance officer to run a full audit on 702 NSA compliance.

April 18 2016 – Rogers shuts down FBI/NSD contractor access to the FISA Search System.

Mid-October 2016 – DNI Clapper submits a recommendation to the White House that Director Rogers be removed from the NSA.

October 20 2016 – Rogers is briefed by the NSA compliance officer on the Section 702 NSA compliance audit and “About” query violations.

October 21 2016 – Rogers shuts down all “About Query” activity. Rogers reports the activity to DOJ and prepares to go before the FISA Court.

October 21 2016 – DOJ & FBI seek and receive a Title I FISA probable cause order authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. At this point, the FISA Court is unaware of the Section 702 violations.

October 24 2016 – Rogers verbally informs the FISA Court of Section 702(17) violations.

October 26 2016 – Rogers formally informs the FISA Court of 702(17) violations in writing.

November 17 2016 (morning) – Rogers travels to meet President-Elect Trump and his Transition Team in Trump Tower. Rogers does not inform DNI James Clapper.

November 17 2016 (evening) – Trump Transition Team announces they are moving all transition activity to Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
Parts of the timeline are from this 2018 article, which contains much more background. However, note that the events listed above are almost entirely a matter of public record now.

The 2017 FISC report does not reveal the exact nature of the abuses of NSA surveillance data, only that the abuses occurred, and in large volume. However, Rogers' behavior suggests very strongly that some of the abuses involved spying on political opposition.

Key issues:
Who were the FBI/DOJ contractors making the illegal queries? (Fusion GPS? Opposition research firms?)

Note that Upstream Data includes intercepts from the internet backbone -- essentially ALL of our communications pass through such channels and are potentially stored at NSA data centers.

Did FBI seek the Carter Page FISA warrant because earlier (illegal) access to NSA data was interrupted by Rogers?

What did Rogers reveal to the Trump transition team that caused them to move operations from Trump Tower to a golf course in New Jersey?

FBI had access not just to ongoing communications, but stored past communications (within "two hops") of Carter Page and other Trump campaign staff. They must have known very early on (it is suggested, by early 2017) that there was no Russian collusion. So what was the purpose of the Mueller investigation?
I believe Durham's investigation will be able to address many of these questions, although results may be classified and not shared with the public.

More fun facts: (Note I've always thought NSA the most competent and least political among CIA, FBI, NSA.)
James Clapper was the architect of the Russia Report – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. It was used to push the entire Russia Narrative...

The report was technically created by a joint effort between the CIA (former Director John Brennan), FBI (former Director James Comey) and the NSA (current Director Mike Rogers) – and assembled by the DNI (former Director James Clapper).

The joint report contains one significant caveat:

CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has only moderate confidence.

Rogers stated in Senate hearing testimony that his confidence did not reach even this threshold: "I wouldn’t call it a discrepancy, I’d call it an honest difference of opinion between three different organizations and in the end I made that call.…It didn’t have the same level of sourcing and the same level of multiple sources."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Lies and Admissions: Spygate in light of the IG FISA report


Almost three years of hard work to bring the truth to light.
There was no spying   [ WE STARTED HERE ]

Okay, there was spying, but it was all legal

Some illegal things happened, but by mistake

A few bad apples did the illegal things   [ WE ARE HERE ]

Illegal spying was politically motivated and ordered from the top

Obama knew ???
No telling how far down the above list we will get, but:
Lisa Page (text to Peter Strzok 9/2/2016): POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing.
Cognitive dissonance can be painful. Learning can hurt.

Here are things you might have believed to be true (really?), but which have been debunked (e.g., by DOJ IG reports, sworn testimony, etc.):
ALL FALSE

The Steele Dossier has been verified [ FBI has known since early 2017 that it's junk, but failed to report primary source interview information undermining the dossier to FISA court. ]

The FISA applications did not depend primarily or extensively on the Steele Dossier [ Explicitly contradicted by IG Horowitz. ]

The FISA process is rigorous and was followed carefully [ See report ]

Carter Page is a Russian asset [ No, he was a CIA asset. CIA informed FBI about this but the FBI lied about it in the FISA application. This is a felony. ]

There was Russian collusion and the Mueller investigation will find it [HAHAHA]

There is no evidence of individual bias in FBI / DOJ spygate activity
[ Plentiful evidence of individual bias, so far no documentary or testimonial (IG terminology) evidence of institutional bias... Awaiting completion of Durham investigation. ] 
Please see the recent DOJ IG reports -- including the earlier one that reveals what happened to the Hillary emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop (hint, it's not what you think). If you don't want to read the reports that's fine -- just don't talk about the subject as if you know something. This compendium of excerpts from the latest IG report and quotes from Horowitz's testimony outlines some of the more serious findings.

Here's an excerpt from the latest IG report (p.188) that gives a sense what was known about the Steele dossier already in early 2017 from FBI interviews with Steele's Russian sources. None of this information made it into the multiple FISA renewal applications, the last one in June 2017.
The Primary Sub-source also informed WFO [Washington Field Office] Agent 1 that Steele tasked him/her after the 2016 U.S. elections to find corroboration for the election reporting and that the Primary Sub-source could find none. According to WFO Agent 1, during an interview in May 2017, the Primary Sub-source said the corroboration was "zero." The Primary Sub-source had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him/her in January 2017.
Regarding predication of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, note that DOJ IG Horowitz has very limited scope and powers of investigation -- all centered within DOJ/FBI. US Attorney John Durham has subpoena power and has reportedly interviewed people in the UK (Halper?) and Italy (Mifsud?) that the IG had no access to. Durham disagreed strongly with Horowitz's conclusion that the spying was properly predicated.

Horowitz's conclusion rests on the fragile thread of the Papadopoulos-Downer bar conversation, concerning information from Mifsud. It is very likely that Mifsud is a western intelligence asset, not a Russian asset. Who was behind Halper (known CIA asset) and Mifsud contacting individuals associated with the Trump campaign, beginning in early to mid 2016?

There are many earlier posts on this topic. See, for example, Deep State Update (May 2018):
... declassifying the first FISA application would show, as claimed by people like Chuck Grassley and Trey Gowdy, who have read the unredacted original, that it largely depends on the fake Steele Dossier, and that the application failed to conform to the required Woods procedures.

[ THIS IS NOW CONFIRMED BY THE IG REPORT ON FISA ABUSE. GRASSLEY, GOWDY, NUNES LARGELY CORRECT. SCHIFF NOT. ]

... the New York Times reported in December of last year that the FBI investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began when George Papadopoulos drunkenly boasted to an Australian diplomat about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was the disclosure of this episode by the Australians that “led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired,” the NYT claimed.

[ Horowitz accepts this interaction as the basis for "proper predication" of the counterintelligence spying on the Trump campaign. But see below... ]

But it now seems clear that Halper’s attempts to gather information for the FBI began before that. “The professor’s interactions with Trump advisers began a few weeks before the opening of the investigation, when Page met the professor at the British symposium,” the Post reported. While it’s not rare for the FBI to gather information before formally opening an investigation, Halper’s earlier snooping does call into question the accuracy of the NYT’s claim that it was the drunken Papadopoulos ramblings that first prompted the FBI’s interest in these possible connections. And it suggests that CIA operatives, apparently working with at least some factions within the FBI, were trying to gather information about the Trump campaign earlier than had been previously reported.

Hmm.. so what made CIA/FBI assign Halper to probe Trump campaign staffers in the first place? It seems the cover story for the start of the anti-Trump investigation needs some reformulation...

[ STAY TUNED ... WE CAN HOPE THAT DURHAM'S INVESTIGATION WILL SHED FURTHER LIGHT ON THIS. HOROWITZ HAS/HAD NO SCOPE TO PURSUE IT -- HIS CONCLUSIONS ON THIS SPECIFIC POINT ARE LIKELY TO BE SUPERSEDED BY DURHAM'S. SEE DURHAM PUBLIC STATEMENT. ]
US Attorney John Durham statement:
... our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.

Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened ...
Video will start at 12:12 -- a very revealing 5m: Durham investigation, predication of Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation, political bias, open questions about CIA involvement prior to opening of Crossfire Hurricane Aug 31, 2016, etc.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Landau, Sakharov, and thermonuclear instabilities


Above, Lev Landau. See also F > L > P > S and Out on the Tail.

An incredible story from The World of Andrei Sakharov:
... Nonetheless, in the early 1950s, Landau worked on Sakharov’s assignments. True enough, that work was in computational mathematics, not theoretical physics. Odd “material evidence” of this appears in Landau’s Collected Works: placed between the 1958 article about fermions and the 1959 article about quantum field theory is the lecture “Numerical Methods of an Integration of Partial Equations by a Method of Grids.” It was published in 1958 but, as it indicates, describes the methods developed in 1951–1952.

When you look at the article’s unexciting formulas, it’s difficult to imagine what’s behind them. What’s behind them, among other things, is the first thermonuclear bomb in the world and the suicide of the head of the security department. ...

Landau’s group did the calculations for the 1949 A-bomb, for which he received an Order of Lenin and a Stalin Prize of the Second Degree.

Landau’s contribution to the hydrogen bomb was even greater, judging by the fact that he was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor and a Stalin Prize of the First Degree. Landau’s group managed to complete the Sloyka calculations “by hand”; it was the problem akin to the one the Americans postponed until computers appeared. This required devising an entirely new method of calculation.

The processes of a thermonuclear explosion are much more complicated than an atomic one, if only because it includes the atomic one as its first step. Numerical calculations using old methods would have taken years, but the problem had to be solved in months, which ensured a new method needed to be found. However, while developing it at the Institute for Physical Problems, theorists found a serious mathematical problem—the stability of the calculations. Without solving it, they couldn’t be sure that the calculations, no matter how precise, would actually have any relationship to physical reality. The new method solved this problem. But the mathematics group directed by Andrei Tikhonov, which had been created in parallel as a failsafe, denied the problem’s very existence.

Dissent and discussion are common in science, but in this case the science was top secret and super-urgent. Beria could not wait for the problem to be resolved in a free exchange of ideas, so a meeting was convened under the chairmanship of Mstislav Keldysh, the future president of the Academy of Sciences. It lasted for several days and the discussions ended in an unusual way: based on Keldysh’s opinion, the top leadership gave the order regarding which interpretation was to be considered scientific truth—the top leadership was Nikolai Pavlov, the KGB general in charge of nuclear weapons development. And Tikhonov’s group switched to the new method of calculation.

The assignment for the Sloyka calculations sent to the Landau group was “a piece of graph paper, handwritten on both sides in green-blue ink, and it contained all the geometry and data of the first hydrogen bomb.”

[[ Sloyka = "layer cake" = early thermonuclear bomb design. ]]

This was possibly the most secret document in the Soviet project—and it could not be entrusted to any typist. After a mathematical assignment was prepared on the basis of this document at the Institute of Physical Problems, it was sent on to the Institute of Applied Mathematics where Tikhonov’s group worked. And the page disappeared there. Perhaps it was mistaken for a rough draft—it was a single handwritten page—and it was destroyed along with other drafts. But this action was not recorded, which is what led to the tragedy Sakharov describes:
The head of the Security Department from the Ministry—a man whose mere physical appearance, his stare from under drooping eyelids, elicited physical dread in me—came to investigate the extraordinary incident. Former head of Leningrad State Security during the so-called “Leningrad Affair,” when about 700 top leaders were executed there, he spent nearly an hour on Saturday with the head of Institute Security. The Institute official spent the next day, Sunday, with his family; they say he was cheerful and very affectionate with his children. He came to work on Monday 15 minutes early and shot himself before his co-workers arrived.

Andrei Sakharov with daughter, 1948.

Physicists can do stuff.

Feynman and Tukey (Working Memory); Dom and Brexit


I received this message over the weekend.
Dear Dr. Hsu,

With great interest I regularly read your excellent Information Processing Blog. With regard to your assessment of Dom Cummings' achievements I am at variance with yours. But I guess you will like the anecdote referring to Feynman.

I tried to comment directly on your blog but the whole procedure was somewhat cumbersome, so I mail my comment directly to you. Please feel free to post it at the comment section under my full name. See the comment attached.

I am a retired psychology prof from University of Mannheim, Germany specializing in intelligence research, research methodology, assessment and evaluation research.

Best regards
Werner W. Wittmann
The letter:
IQ makes the difference

If you want to learn more about what kind of difference differences in IQ make read the research of Dave Lubinski and Camilla Benbow what differences highly gifted youngsters accomplish after several decades. Dave makes their publications available at https://my.vanderbilt.edu/smpy/publications/david-lubinski/

But let me turn to a funnier anecdote for physicists like Steve Hsu

A 35 year gap:

Physicists are among the smartest high IQ people, there is no doubt. If you want a single case example take Richard Feynman. If we could have lured him to psychology an important concept probably would have been published 35 years earlier.

In 1939 Feynman as a graduate student at Princeton experimented just for fun together with his friend John Tukey (who later became the famous statistician) to assess the ability of measuring time by counting.(Gleick,1992) They run stairs up and down to accelerate their heartbeats and trained themselves at the same time to count seconds and steps. Feynman’s performance deteriorated when he talked but not when he read. Tukey instead performed well when he recited poems aloud and worse when he read. So both have detected what is now known as the two slave systems of working memory, namely the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. Now you get a feeling how much more psychology would have been advanced if brains like theirs had been invested in my discipline at that time.

As a true and convinced European I am really sorry that the English left us, the Scots and the Northern-Irish didn’t want it and maybe one day the fame of tearing the United Kingdom into parts goes to Cummings as well?

What I would say to Cummings:

“If a thing is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.” ― John W. Tukey

But he did it and now…

Boris Johnson probably to Cummings: “The moor has pled guilty the moor can go” ?

References:
Gleick,J.(1992) Genius. The life and science of Richard Feynman. New York: Pantheon Books. 
Lubinski, D., Benbow, C.P., & Kell, H.J. (2014). Life paths and accomplishments of mathematically precocious males and females four decades later. Psychological Science, 25, 2217–2232.

From Wikipedia about Working Memory 
In 1974, Baddeley and Hitch[11] introduced the multicomponent model of working memory. The theory proposed a model containing three components: the central executive, the phonological loop, and the visuospatial sketchpad with the central executive functioning as a control center of sorts, directing info between the phonological and visuospatial components.[12] The central executive is responsible inter alia for directing attention to relevant information, suppressing irrelevant information and inappropriate actions, and coordinating cognitive processes when more than one task is simultaneously performed. A "central executive" is responsible for supervising the integration of information and for coordinating "slave systems" that are responsible for the short-term maintenance of information. One slave system, the phonological loop (PL), stores phonological information (that is, the sound of language) and prevents its decay by continuously refreshing it in a rehearsal loop. It can, for example, maintain a seven-digit telephone number for as long as one repeats the number to oneself again and again.[13] The other slave system, the visuospatial sketchpad, stores visual and spatial information. It can be used, for example, for constructing and manipulating visual images and for representing mental maps. The sketchpad can be further broken down into a visual subsystem (dealing with such phenomena as shape, colour, and texture), and a spatial subsystem (dealing with location).

Re: Brexit, see these remarks from Now it can be told: Dominic Cummings and the Conservative victory 2019
I don't know enough to have a high confidence or high conviction opinion concerning Brexit. Intelligent and thoughtful people disagree strongly over whether it is a good idea or a potential disaster.

Nevertheless, I can admire Dom's effectiveness as a political strategist and chief advisor to the Prime Minister. I do know him well enough to state with high confidence that his intentions are idealistic, not selfish, and that he (someone who has spent decades thinking about UK government, foreign policy, relations with Europe) sincerely thinks Brexit is in the best interests of the British people. Dom has deeper insights and better intuition about these issues than I do!

Being a rationalist, Dom has pointed out on his own blog that it is impossible to know with high confidence what the future implications of most political decisions are... In that sphere one cannot avoid decision making under extreme uncertainty.
The epistemically careful may end up like Zhou Enlai. When asked about consequences of the French Revolution, the late premier is reported to have said: Too early to tell. If pressed for an opinion, be prepared to find that thoughtful people can disagree...

Friday, December 13, 2019

Now it can be told: Dominic Cummings and the Conservative victory 2019


Dominic Cummings has done it again!
The scale of ... triumph cannot be exaggerated. He ... had brought about a complete transformation of the European international order. He had told those who would listen what he intended to do, how he intended to do it, and he did it. He achieved this incredible feat without commanding an army, and without the ability to give an order to the humblest common soldier, without control of a large party, without public support, indeed, in the face of almost universal hostility, without a majority in parliament, without control of his cabinet, and without a loyal following in the bureaucracy. -- Brexit: victory over the Hollow Men
A few remarks. As you know I am a Rationalist and a Realist: epistemology, proper calibration of beliefs, accuracy of prediction, Bayesian reasoning, update of priors, etc. etc.

I can tell you that Dom prepared for this outcome as far back as summer 2019, before he joined No 10 Downing Street. They were deadly serious about Brexit. If they could have gotten it done in the fall, they would have. But the larger goal was positioning to win a general election. People vs Parliament, Betrayal of Democracy, Get Brexit Done. Those were the themes carefully prepared in every tactical decision along the way.

There were difficult times in the last months. I was amazed by his courage and quiet stoicism. Look up the Finnish term, Sisu. Familiar to those that attempt something great against difficult odds.


I watched the media report on UK politics, while simultaneously having some knowledge of what was really happening -- prorogation of Parliament, negotiations with the EU, Farage and the Brexit Party. My opinion of the UK and US media cannot be lower. All noise, little signal -- much of what is stated at high confidence is simply not true. (More evidence? Read the latest IG report and compare to what is said about it in national media...)

Everything is in Dom's blog. Out in the open to be read by anyone with enough intelligence to understand him. How many did? Almost none.
Dominic Cummings: You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich remainers.
What does he want? Why is he doing this? Not for money, not for fame. For love of country and human progress and civilization. Dom's dream is to make the UK a global center for science, technology, and education. He may succeed, he may fail. But he will get his chance to further shape the history -- the future -- of his homeland. Don't bet against him.


On election night, I was told that Dom's small team of physicists / data scientists had called the results more accurately than anyone else ;-)

See also

How Brexit was won, and the unreasonable effectiveness of physicists
Brexit in the Multiverse: Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign
Dept. of Physicists Can Do Stuff: Brexit!

Added: This article is reasonably accurate, as far as I can tell:

We’re all living in Dominic Cummings’ world now (Politico.eu)


Some Remarks on Brexit: I don't know enough to have a high confidence or high conviction opinion concerning Brexit. Intelligent and thoughtful people disagree strongly over whether it is a good idea or a potential disaster.

Nevertheless, I can admire Dom's effectiveness as a political strategist and chief advisor to the Prime Minister. I do know him well enough to state with high confidence that his intentions are idealistic, not selfish, and that he (someone who has spent decades thinking about UK government, foreign policy, relations with Europe) sincerely thinks Brexit is in the best interests of the British people. Dom has deeper insights and better intuition about these issues than I do!

Being a rationalist, Dom has pointed out on his own blog that it is impossible to know with high confidence what the future implications of most political decisions are... In that sphere one cannot avoid decision making under extreme uncertainty.


Brexit: Down to the Wire (October 2019):
Get ready for the general election!

Over the summer I was at the Tallinn Digital Summit in Estonia. At dinner, sitting across from a UN official, I expressed to his initial incredulity that the victory of Vote Leave three years ago was a triumph of the human spirit: a small team of talented individuals defeated overwhelmingly powerful forces arrayed against them -- the UK government, the media, the elites. After some discussion, he came to understand my perspective. ...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Manifold #25: Ted Conover on Immigration, Prisons and 21st Century Homesteading



Steve and Corey talk to Ted about his article from the August issue of Harper’s Magazine, The Last Frontier. Ted describes how Trump’s election led him to this new project on people living off the grid in Colorado’s San Luis Valley (“Appalachia without the Trees”). The three discuss how immigration has changed since he wrote Coyotes in 1987. Ted explains how working as a prison guard in Sing Sing led to the uncomfortable realization that he was getting comfortable with unnecessary violence, and offers advice to young people seeking to write interesting stories in the new media landscape.

Transcript

Ted Conover (web site)

The Last Frontier: Homesteaders on the margins of America

Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On the Road to Artificial General Intelligence • Danny Lange on game engines for AI/ML training



Great talk on the use of game engines (virtual worlds) for AI/ML agent training. Even if you are already knowledgeable about this topic, the examples he shows will be useful to guide your intuition as to what is possible, what is easy/hard with current technology and methods. Don't miss the puppies :-)

Conceptually, I would say there is not much new since the early successes with simpler (e.g., Atari) games. See papers/talks by Schmidhuber in this 2014 post. IIRC, the concept of curiosity: seeking "surprise" = large chunks of information = large model updates, was formulated already some time ago. 

One thing that is new is the use of physics engines in the virtual worlds - i.e., the AI has to deal with dynamics as in the real world. It seems to me that routine task automation, such as in manufacturing, is not that much harder than what is being done here in game worlds with good physics engines. (Note I'm not referring to the mechanical engineering or physical robotics challenges, which could be significant, just the ML part.) Replacement of humans in many routine tasks seems now a matter of economics tradeoffs and application of known technologies rather than big breakthroughs.

I've always thought we'd get to AGI after consuming a lot of FLOPS training agents in increasingly realistic virtual worlds. Of course, this makes one wonder whether we ourselves exist in a simulation ;-)

Saturday, December 07, 2019

In the Age of AI (Frontline, PBS)



Something to share with your normie (i.e., non-technical) friends :-)

I can't point to anything specific I learned from the documentary, but I was entertained and interested throughout. For a non-specialist, this is a very good introduction to the topic.


See also Manifold Podcast #16 with John Schulman of OpenAI :-)



John Schulman is a research scientist at OpenAI. He co-leads the Reinforcement Learning group and works on agent learning in virtual game worlds (e.g., Dota) as well as in robotics. John, Corey, and Steve talk about AI, AGI (Artifical General Intelligence), the Singularity (self-reinforcing advances in AI which lead to runaway behavior that is incomprehensible to humans), and the creation and goals of OpenAI. They discuss recent advances in language models (GPT-2) and whether these results raise doubts about the usefulness of linguistic research over the past 60 years. Does GPT-2 imply that neural networks trained using large amounts of human-generated text can encode "common sense" knowledge about the world? They also discuss what humans are better at than current AI systems, and near term examples of what is already feasible: for example, using AI drones to kill people.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (John Mearsheimer at SOAS)



Realism uber alles, please. Video should start at 34:55, where Mearsheimer tallies up the recent foreign policy and military disasters that the US has blundered into: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, ... The cause? Liberal Hegemony, in his terminology.

Mearsheimer:

The people who developed American foreign policy [in this era] are fools. They're fools...

We have foolishly driven the Russians into the arms of the Chinese [over Ukraine] ...

We wrecked Syria ... the United States played a very important role in trying to topple Assad ... that's hardly ever reported in the media ... a total disaster: the amount of murder and mayhem we've created in Syria and Libya ...
It is widely believed in the West that the United States should spread liberal democracy across the world, foster an open international economy, and build institutions. This policy of remaking the world in America’s image is supposed to protect human rights, promote peace, and make the world safe for democracy. But this is not what has happened. Instead, the United States has ended up as a highly militarized state fighting wars that undermine peace, harm human rights, and threaten liberal values at home. Mearsheimer tells us why this has happened.

Speaker
John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1982. He graduated from West Point in 1970 and then served five years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. He then started graduate school in political science at Cornell University in 1975. He received his Ph.D. in 1980. He spent the 1979-1980 academic year as a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs from 1980 to 1982. During the 1998-1999 academic year, he was the Whitney H. Shepardson Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Professor Mearsheimer has written extensively about security issues and international politics more generally. He has published six books: Conventional Deterrence (1983), which won the Edgar S. Furniss, Jr., Book Award; Liddell Hart and the Weight of History (1988); The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001, 2014), which won the Joseph Lepgold Book Prize and has been translated into eight different languages; The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (with Stephen M. Walt, 2007), which made the New York Times best seller list and has been translated into twenty-two different languages; Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics (2011), which has been translated into ten different languages; and The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (2018).

Bonus! Mearsheimer debates Hugh White on US-China competition in Asia.



For years, Australian policymakers have balanced China’s desire for an enhanced regional role with our desire for U.S. protection. However, contrary to the Canberra consensus, there is going to be an intense strategic rivalry between our major trading partner and our major strategic ally.

According to John Mearsheimer, one of America’s leading foreign-policy thinkers, Washington will not let China become the dominant military power in the region without putting up a serious fight. In these circumstances, it’s naïve to think that Australia can sit on the sidelines and get the best of both worlds: unconstrained trade with China while keeping the U.S. security umbrella over its head. Canberra must support Uncle Sam.

However, Australia’s future will be dominated by China, says one of Australia’s leading strategic thinkers Hugh White. Treasury forecasts show that the Chinese economy will be about 80 per cent bigger than America’s within a dozen years. In this environment, Canberra must prepare for the new strategic terrain in the wake of America’s declining leadership, and we would be unwise to support Washington in a confrontation with China that America probably cannot win.

John Mearsheimer is professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (Yale University Press).

Hugh White is professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra and author of Quarterly Essay “Without America: Australia in the new Asia” (November 2017).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Manifold #24: Jason Snyder on Neurogenesis



Happy Thanksgiving!
:-)

Steve and Corey talk to Jason Snyder (University of British Columbia) about a fundamental question of neuroscience: Do humans grow new neurons as adults? The dogma that humans do not, gave way to the dogma that they do, which is now being questioned. Adult neurogenesis has been associated with learning, better cognitive function and resistance to depression. Jason suggests that a simple error of treating young mice as models for adult humans led to excessive optimism regarding the potential for later neuronal growth. Recent findings suggest that adults grow few, if any, new neurons but that what little neurogenesis occurs can probably be enhanced by exercise.

Transcript

The Synder Lab

Warren Sturgis McCulloch Interview (1969)


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Skidelsky, Against Economics (NY Review of Books)


From the NY Review of Books, an article entitled Against Economics, which reviews the recent book by Robert Skidelsky.
Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics

Robert Skidelsky
Yale University Press

... Before long, the Bank of England (the British equivalent of the Federal Reserve, whose economists are most free to speak their minds since they are not formally part of the government) rolled out an elaborate official report called “Money Creation in the Modern Economy,” replete with videos and animations, making the same point: existing economics textbooks, and particularly the reigning monetarist orthodoxy, are wrong. The heterodox economists are right. Private banks create money. Central banks like the Bank of England create money as well, but monetarists are entirely wrong to insist that their proper function is to control the money supply. In fact, central banks do not in any sense control the money supply; their main function is to set the interest rate—to determine how much private banks can charge for the money they create. Almost all public debate on these subjects is therefore based on false premises. For example, if what the Bank of England was saying were true, government borrowing didn’t divert funds from the private sector; it created entirely new money that had not existed before.

[[ Certainly central banks influence the money supply, but the degree to which they control animal spirits, lending practices and standards, the price of credit risk in general, etc. via a single part of the yield curve is highly debatable, dependent on many factors such as investor psychology and recent events, etc. etc.  There is no doubt this is a complex question worthy of deep analysis ... 
At any instant in time there is a certain level of tolerance for borrowing from the future (private and public debt), and merely by changing this level of tolerance one can in effect create money out of thin air ... This level of tolerance is a completely emergent phenomenon and no one fully controls it. ]]

... one of the most significant books to come out of the UK in recent years would have to be Robert Skidelsky’s Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics. Ostensibly an attempt to answer the question of why mainstream economics rendered itself so useless in the years immediately before and after the crisis of 2008, it is really an attempt to retell the history of the economic discipline through a consideration of the two things—money and government—that most economists least like to talk about.
On the question of whether academic economists understand how the world works, I'll just reiterate that at the time of the last financial crisis (circa 2007-2008) I became aware through direct experience that many very prominent economists did not know what a Credit Default Swap was, did not know how the credit markets actually worked, did not know how credit risk was priced. Instead, their mental model consisted of coarse graining over all of this activity (quants, traders, mobs, speculators, thieves, fraudsters) as simply a (more or less) rational and efficient market not worthy of deep inspection.

They will all deny it now, of course. But I was there.


Note added: In the 1990s, in part due to the collapse of the Soviet empire and resulting mass emigration of top scientists to the West, there were very few opportunities in theoretical physics and related fields for young researchers. Consequently large numbers of extremely talented people left the field (largely against their will) and perhaps most of them ended up in finance. As might be expected a large number of big brains began thinking about previously obscure topics such as options pricing (derivatives, Black Scholes), credit risk, the yield curve, etc. Immediately it was noted, by myself and others, that methods from imaginary time quantum mechanics, path integrals, etc., could be applied to the pricing of derivatives -- especially exotic derivatives which had, up to that time, required significant computational resources to simulate.

The yield curve and credit derivatives are especially challenging problems. One reason is that they deal with a potentially infinite (if a continuous curve is assumed) number of degrees of freedom. As one of my former Caltech-Harvard collaborators (by the 1990s a quant-trader, now a hedge fund magnate) described it, modeling the yield curve compared to pricing equity derivatives is like quantum field theory compared to simple quantum mechanics.

In modeling the yield curve one immediately asks: what are the underlying dynamics? What are reasonable consistency conditions? What is the impact of a "shock" like a change in the Fed funds rate? A moment of reflection reveals that market psychology plays a huge role in setting the model parameters... A bit of historical investigation shows radical changes in the yield curve (and, consequently, the effective "money supply") over time. One can in effect create money out of thin air!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Manifold Podcast #23 Tim Searchinger: Biofuels vs Foods



Steve and Corey talk to Tim Searchinger about the unintended consequences of biofuels policies. Searchinger argues that these policies do not consider the opportunity costs of using plants for fuel rather than food. Combined with crazy carbon accounting principles, existing rules make cutting down trees in the US, shipping them to Europe and burning them in power plants count as carbon neutral under the Kyoto protocol. The three also discuss how eating less beef in the developed world along with educating women, family planning, and reducing child mortality in the developing world can decrease stress on land use and emissions.

Transcript

Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050

Timothy Searchinger is a Research Scholar in the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Good and Bad Journalism on Embryo Screening: The Economist vs Science Magazine


Modern genetics will improve health and usher in “designer” children (Economist), which I linked to in the last post, does an excellent job of covering the scientific, technical, and ethical issues raised by recent advances in polygenic risk prediction and embryo screening.

The author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, is an experienced science writer with (if I recall correctly) a degree in Physics. His forthcoming book is an ambitious scientific / intellectual history of John von Neumann!

What did Ananyo get right in his article?

1. He gives an overview of polygenic risk scores (PRS) and the underlying science behind GWAS studies and construction of risk predictors
2. He describes how PRS will have important applications in health care as well as in IVF
3. He discusses the important ethical and societal aspects of embryo screening

As someone who works in this area, I can say that I don't know of any popular work that combines the clarity, precision, and concision of this article (3 pages).

Unfortunately, not all journalism reaches this high standard.

For example, a really terrible ("click-bait") article appeared in the News section of Science recently, which conflated embryo screening to reduce disease risk with the optimization of complex traits such as IQ or height. I had numerous email exchanges with the writer (a self-described "non-scientist"), running to thousands of words, and including references to published work on disease risk reduction from genomic prediction. The resulting story was irresponsible, and very confusing to readers. I can judge this directly and empirically from communications I received in reaction to it.

Here is the letter we submitted to Science in response to the article. We do not know whether our letter will be published, but the News editor has already made significant revisions to the original article in response to our complaints.
Dear Editor,

Your news article Screening embryos for IQ and other complex traits is premature, study concludes (Oct 24 2019) contained significant errors, which we correct below. 
Each year roughly 2 million IVF embryos are genetically screened worldwide. In many developed countries, a significant fraction of all babies are born via IVF (e.g., almost 10% in Denmark). Reproductive health and IVF are serious matters and deserve serious journalism, not the inaccurate sensationalism of your article. Errors persist in the article even after numerous email exchanges (consisting of thousands of words of text, including references to published research) with your writer, informing your journalist clearly of these misrepresentations.

1. Your article failed to cite published work that shows significant risk reduction for complex disease conditions using polygenic predictors to select between sibling embryos. These results, which we emphasized many times to the writer, explicitly contradict this entire paragraph of the article:

The work "is the first to empirically test the viability of screening embryos" for traits that are influenced by many genes, says sociologist and demographer Melinda Mills of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Such embryo screening goes beyond today's testing for single-gene disorders and currently "isn't plausible," she concludes.

[ Note: this paragraph has been altered now in the Science article. The original is given above. Science added this to the modified article, but still without referencing our work: *Clarification, 5 November, 10:05 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the context of a quote from Melinda Mills to emphasize that she was referring to screening for desirable traits, not disease risks. ]

Carmi et al. is not the first to empirically test embryo screening. Our published work predates it. Furthermore, Carmi’s work uses far less sibling data than our preceding work - an order of magnitude fewer siblings, 2-3 orders of magnitude fewer families (28 vs several thousand). Carmi’s analysis relies primarily on “simulated” data, ours is 100% empirical. We made your writer abundantly aware of the published work validating differentiation of real siblings (not “synthetic genomes”) by polygenic disease status, linking to it in email correspondence:

“You would be negligent to cite a BioRxiv preprint without thoroughly addressing our peer-reviewed, formally published work in the field, significantly predating this preprint.”

Your article misleads the reader to think that the dozens of IVF clinics and laboratories working with Genomic Prediction to screen embryos for complex (polygenic) disease risk do so without detailed, published validation. This is an irresponsible, unprofessional, and dangerous misrepresentation. We reserve the right to seek damages.

2. The article, and especially the title of the article, conflates screening embryos for disease with optimizing embryos for IQ, and gives the false impression that Carmi address the use-case of our patients: relative risk reduction of disease. This is misleading, as we repeatedly emphasized in writing with your journalist: “You will misrepresent our test if you fail to make this distinction...” , etc. The reader is misled by the article - especially the headline - to think that Carmi’s work addresses the current polygenic use-case of screening embryos for relative risk reduction of disease, rather than Carmi’s futuristic thought experiment of IQ optimization. This conflation is irresponsible, and a disservice to everyone, particularly to the IVF families using screening to reduce polygenic disease risk.

From IVF scientific pioneer Prof. Simon Fishel, external to Genomic Prediction. Fishel is former Deputy Scientific Director of the world's first IVF clinic, which included Nobel prize winning colleagues Dr. Steptoe and Dr. Edwards. His response to the Science article: "IVF itself was a revolutionary new technology that also endured an initial response of similar misrepresentation. There is no reason to repeat the mistakes of the past; Science should aim to convey the state of the field with less inaccuracy."

We ask that you publish this letter, and publish a correction to the article. We also ask that you recommit yourself to serious science reporting.

Sincerely,

Prof. Stephen Hsu
Dr. Nathan Treff
Laurent C. A. Melchior Tellier
Dr. Jia Xu
Prof. Simon Fishel
Note, I commented on Carmi et al. when it first appeared, here. This commentary was one of the first things I shared with the journalist and it makes very clear the difference between optimization of traits such as height or IQ (which Genomic Prediction does not do) and disease risk reduction (which is the main focus of our report).

The following is from an email I sent to the writer and editors:
... disease conditions are themselves complex traits and are typically referred to as such, so the risk of confusion is high. From the Wikipedia article on Complex Traits: "Examples of complex traits include height, circadian rhythms, enzyme kinetics, and many diseases including diabetes and Parkinson's disease." ...
Hence the title of the Science article Screening embryos for IQ and other complex traits is premature, study concludes is extremely misleading.

The most important scientific point: we have demonstrated that polygenic predictors can differentiate between two adult siblings, one with the disease and the other without. This is the gold standard validation relevant for embryo selection -- the predictor can identify from DNA alone the sibling with higher risk of the disease. The evidence is very strong that we can reduce disease risk through embryo screening, and IVF parents have a right to make use of this capability.

In an era of rapid scientific progress and technological change, the public deserves careful, accurate reporting -- not sensationalism.

For future reference, here are simple sentences which a journalist can include in any future article on this topic:
Published validation studies, using genomic data from thousands of families, have shown that polygenic scores can predict which of two adult siblings has the disease, and which one is healthy. It is reasonable to conclude that these predictors can reduce disease risk through IVF embryo screening.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Economist on Polygenic Risk Scores and Embryo Selection


The graph at bottom says it all.

What is it worth to know that you, or your child, or your embryo, are in the top or bottom risk group for a broad array of common diseases?
Economist: Sometime next year, if all goes to plan, a gay male couple in California will have a child. The child in question will have been conceived by in vitro fertilisation. In this case a group of eggs from a female donor are now being fertilised by sperm from both fathers (half from one, half from the other). Of the resulting embryos, the couple will choose one to be implanted in a surrogate mother. An uplifting tale of the times, then, but hardly a newsworthy event. Except that it is.

Where the story becomes newsworthy is around the word “choose”. For the parents, in conjunction with a firm called Genomic Prediction, will pick the lucky embryo based on a genetically estimated risk of disease. Such pre-implantation testing is already used in some places, in cases where there is a chance of parents passing on a condition, such as Tay-Sachs disease, that is caused by a single faulty gene. Genomic Prediction is, however, offering something more wide-ranging. It is screening embryos for almost 1m single-nucleotide polymorphisms (snps). These are places where individual genomes routinely differ from one another at the level of an individual genetic letter. Individual snp differences between people rarely have much effect. But add them up and they can raise or lower by quite a lot the likelihood of someone suffering a particular disease. Generate several embryos and snp-test them, then, and you can pick out those that you think will grow up to be the healthiest. ...
Economist podcast interview with the author of the article, who is also working on a book about John von Neumann!

PDF version of article.

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