Links and Books, June 2021

Posted on 30 Jun 2021 by Steve Markham


  • WaPo contra lab-leak hypothesis. I’m not going to pretend that you can simply trust WaPo on anything, since verything is political these days. But this article summarizes my opinion about COVID origins. Lab-leak is plausible, but nature is the null hypothesis and there is no compelling evidence (yet).
  • A project of one’s own, by Paul Graham. “It’s a bit sad to think of all the high school kids turning their backs on building treehouses and sitting in class dutifully learning about Darwin or Newton to pass some exam, when the work that made Darwin and Newton famous was actually closer in spirit to building treehouses than studying for exams.”
  • Atlantic on Aduhelm (paywalled). “This situation underscores a big problem in how we pay for drugs in the United States. In theory, one regulator’s decision about whether to approve a drug for sale could be entirely separate from another regulator’s decision of whether to spend public resources on it—and if so, how much. That’s how most countries do it. Here in the United States, however, a mix of legal constraints and political obstacles leaves the government little choice about whether to cover approved drugs. FDA approval and payment policies are tightly linked.” Everything not forbidden is required. h/t r/SSC, which also has the full text
  • Zezov contra Zvi on GoF research. I can recommended this on its own merits, and especially since it’s a variation on the 0 or 2 but not 1 theme. But it also cites a bunch of interesting sources, so even if you skim this and click through the links, it’s worth your time. If you have no time, the summary is “you can’t blindly talk about a policy in isolation, without talking about what would need to be true for it to be implemented” and “would I prefer, on net, to be in a world where it was easier to suppress disfavored research? I think that the answer here is a clear ‘no’.”
  • Basal Testosterone Renders Individuals More Receptive to Minority Positions. Manly men more likely to agree with fringe opinions? Well, testosterone encourages risk-taking, and for a social creature it’s risky to hold a fringe opinion (usually embarrassing, sometimes hugely rewarded), so, maybe. “Given the importance of minorities for innovation and change within societies, our results suggest that individuals with high levels of testosterone may play an important role as catalysts of social change.” The results in the paper aren’t much more interesting than the abstract, but the methods is a master class on the scientific method. “In sum, two hypotheses can be derived from the current literature that provides conflicting views of how basal testosterone shapes individuals’ receptivity toward majority and minority positions (i.e., they predict different forms of interaction effects). The present study aimed to pit these competing hypotheses against each other.” (h/t SSC)
  • Simon DeDeo on Mindscape discussing why some explanations feel more compelling than others. His model of explanations breaks Bayes’ Theorem into four parts instead of two. Lots of interesting discussion.


  • Finished Tunnel in the Sky By Robert Heinlein. Like a sci-fi version of Hatchet. I loved it.
  • Expanded Universe volume 1, a collection of short stories and essays by Heinlein. Loving it so far. Heinlein might be my new favorite author. Don’t ask me who the old one is; I’m not sure I had one.
  • On The Banks of Plum Creek. We finished Farmer Boy sometime in May but I think I left it off the list. We are loving these books, despite having read them all before.
  • Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. Audiobook version, since that seems to help me get into things better. I like the voice actor–it’s one person doing all the voices, not a cast like Tunnel in the Sky–and I slowed it down to 1.6 to enjoy it better. It’s 30 hours, so I had to postpone the audiobook of Dune until I finish this one.
  • Dune. Audiobook this time. Made it farther, but never got sucked in.
  • On the Shores of Silver Lake.
  • Scout Mindset by Julia Galef. Recommend it.
  • The Vanishing of the American Adult by Ben Sasse. I’m only a third of the way through it. I don’t agree 100%, but I definitely agree with the overall thrust, and I find it thought-provoking. It makes me want to home-school Kyle more than I already do. Hopefully the rest of the book clarifies what that might look like.


  • “Media suburbs” as a descriptive terms for Medium, SubStack, and other platforms that writers escape to when kicked out of major orgs like NYTimes or whatever. It’s not an entirely good thing (fractured, winner-take-all, no consistent standards) but it’s easy to see why many writers prefer it. I heard it from Sam Harris, though I’m not sure he coined the phrase.
  • “All that was necessary to avoid this multitude of Biden administration/democratic/leftist fiascos was for Donald Trump to behave like a leader, gentleman and statesman for about two months before and after the 2020 election. He couldn’t do it.” WSJ Letter to Editor
  • “If you can’t face the prospect of coming back to the ruins of your cabin, burned down by drunken looters, other than with the quiet determination to build another, then don’t bother to start. Move to a target area and wait for the end.” –Heinlein (writing in the 40s about the pioneer spirit that would be necessary to rebuild after an atomic war)
  • “He is obviously very successful in it, since he’s India’s youngest billionaire. But that means nothing if you can’t play chess, so let’s see how he does against former world champion Vishwanathan Anand.” Agadmator, my favorite Chess YTer.
  • “Don’t scar on the first cut” –Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, during Making Sense #253, about corporate policies based on a single incident. In the same interview he said, “I think we’re going to look back on this period of time like [we do now with] smoking, and social media is going to be cigarettes. Everyone is doing it. Everyone kind of had a sense that it is probably bad for you. … This can’t be right, but it feels good. … Wow.  We were all addicted horribly to this incredibly toxic thing.”
  • “Our judgment isn’t limited by knowledge nearly as much as it’s limited by attitude.” Julia Galef, Scout Mindset