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.

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