Double standards in art

Some double standards in art are taken completely for granted. For instance, parents are expected to appreciate shows or concerts put on by young kids—as long as their own children are involved. And if you’ve ever enjoyed obscure or non-commercial art, such as fanfic, comics, music, videos, blogs, or just random people on social media, we tend to embrace its flaws and limitations, even when the same flaws and limitations may be unacceptable in mainstream media.

Another example, is the way that we often judge sequels in terms of the original. We might say that a video game sequel is worse than the first one, because it didn’t improve much on the original. Logically, if it improves on the original game by a nonzero amount, it’s a better game, but that’s not the logic we tend to follow.

And why is that? What theories of “goodness” are people using that allow these apparent double standards?  Here are several ideas for what might make the difference.

[Read more…]

Puzzle solving skills

Back when I was looking for a job, I did a lot of interview prep with other people. Among other things, that means practicing brainteasers in front of white boards. But as it turns out, I am extremely good at this already and don’t need the practice. Recreational math was a hobby in my youth, I participated in math competitions in college, and I’m mildly competitive in the US Puzzle Championship. I don’t want to brag, but friends have told me I ought to brag more often, so I am bragging. I am ridiculously good at puzzles.

So if I’m “good” at puzzles, what skills does that mean I have?  It’s hard to say.  (Does this imply that I’m also good at the jobs I interview for? Eh.)

There are, of course, many very different kinds of puzzles, and perhaps each category of puzzles requires unique skills. To name a few categories: programming puzzles where you seek to write an algorithm; logic problems where you deduce a solution from structured clues (e.g. Sudoku); puzzles where you make multiple moves in sequence (e.g. Sokoban); math problems; jigsaw puzzles; and what I call “linchpin” puzzles, where the goal is to have a particular realization. Some puzzle solving “skills” are more properly understood as puzzle-solving knowledge–knowing the solution to a bunch of common puzzles gives you a set of tools to solve new puzzles. But I also think there are a few general puzzle-solving skills, which I’ll try to describe.

[Read more…]

Mixed race in the 2020 US Census

TL;DR: The 2020 US Census shows a very large increase in the “Two or More Races” group. However, at least some of this likely has to do with changes in the question design and coding procedures, and shifting constructions of race.

The US Census construction of Race

When the US Census asks about race and ethnicity, it tries to reflect the way that racial/ethnic identity is constructed in the United States, but it also has to obey certain constraints. As a result there are some outstanding differences between race as it is constructed by US residents, and race as it is constructed by the US Census. For example, Middle Eastern Americans often do not identify as White, and are not perceived as White (and I suspect this perception has increased since 9/11), but in the US Census they are still classified as white.

Another outstanding difference is in how the US Census defines “race” vs “ethnicity”. According to the Census, “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” and its negation are the only ethnic categories, and are excluded from the racial categories. I can say from my own experience with surveys, that this system is really weird, and causes no end of confusion among respondents.

[Read more…]

Direct expertise in social justice

In a social justice context, it’s taken as a standard principle that when talking about group X, the ultimate authorities are members of group X. From this principle, people draw a variety of conclusions and cultural practices. For example:

  1. If someone is a part of group X, then we should take their opinion on the subject seriously.
  2. When people say the wrong things about group X, we can infer that this comes from people who are not part of group X, who failed to listen.
  3. If you’re not part of group X, you should stop talking about them, instead amplifying the voices of people within that group.

The way I think about it, there’s a certain kind of expertise that comes from having direct experience with an identity. We might call it “direct experience expertise”, but I think just “direct expertise” has a nicer ring to it.

Direct expertise has justifications, but also limitations. Trusting experts is a useful and justifiable rule of thumb. However, like other forms of expertise, there are cases where experts are wrong, or where they disagree. I also find some of the conclusions listed above to be unwarranted. In this article, I’ll explore the source and scope of direct expertise.

[Read more…]

Good communication

What is the shape of a raindrop? Going by the common raindrop symbol, you might think it’s round on the bottom and pointy on the top. In actuality, they are spherical when small, and become more pancake-shaped at larger sizes. The biggest raindrops make parachute shapes before breaking up into smaller drops (see video). So that’s an interesting, if not particularly useful, scientific fact.

So the next question is, do you feel misled by the raindrop symbol? Are you incensed by the misinformation?

So this is another one of those posts where I look back at the atheoskeptical movement, and talk about things that have bugged me for a long time. I’m thinking back to an old skepticism website, which used this as its symbol:

alt: raindrop symbol with a circle and slash symbol.

[Read more…]

Poe’s Law is and always was bad

It’s time for another trip to the ruins of New Atheism, to scavenge for clues about its downfall. Today we examine Poe’s Law, an adage that states that there is no parody of religious fundamentalism so extreme that it won’t be mistaken for the real thing.

This episode was inspired by a video by Sarah Z (1 hr), about a seemingly unrelated topic: made up stories on Tumblr. The central thread in her video is an obviously fictional story on Tumblr about a woman giving money to a homeless man, and being interrupted by a fedora’d dipshit. And with one thing and another it ends with a Gangnam Style dance number.

This tumblr story was posted to Reddit, where it was a joke about tumblr SJWs make shit up to reinforce their own persecution complex, and have so little attachment to reality that they believe their own nonsense.

The story isn’t just fake though. It’s a fake fake story. The story was not created by a tumblr SJW, and was in fact never posted on Tumblr in the first place. The screenshot was engineered by an apparently anti-SJW redditor who habitually created fake screenshots along similar lines. So in truth, it’s a story about how anti-SJWs make up shit to reinforce their own worldview, and have so little attachment to reality that they believe their own nonsense.

[Read more…]

COVID and perspectives on causality

Recently, people have been circulating a statistic from the CDC that says 94% of death certificates listing COVID-19 as a cause of death also list at least one other cause of death. For instance, if someone catches COVID, can’t breathe anymore and dies, perhaps the doctors would also list “Respiratory failure” as one of the causes of death, in addition to COVID. Come to think of it, why do only a third of COVID deaths include respiratory failure as a cause, how exactly is COVID killing people if not by causing respiratory failure?  Before parading around this statistic, I have to ask, do we really understand what it’s even saying?

That misleading statistic came to my attention because a friend wrote a Vox article about it. He brings not a medical perspective, but a psychology perspective, discussing the cognitive biases that make people bad at understanding causation.

Causation is also a favorite topic of mine as well, although I come at it from a different set of perspectives: philosophy, physics, and law. And although I don’t have medical expertise, it’s not hard to find the medical standard of causation from google, so I include that at the end.

[Read more…]