Keeping up with the FITs, No. 13
featuring Razib Khan interviewing Steven Pinker
Matt Taibbi talks about what Andrey Mir calls post-journalism
Surveys found a third of Republicans think the asymptomatic don’t transmit Covid-19, or that the disease kills fewer people than the flu or car crashes. But Democrats also test out atrociously, with 41% thinking Covid-19 patients end up hospitalized over half the time — the real number is 1%-5% — while also wildly overestimating dangers to children, the percentage of Covid deaths under the age of 65, the efficacy of masks, and other issues.
This is the result of narrative-driven coverage that focuses huge amounts of resources on the wrongness of the rival faith.
As usual with the pieces I link to in the “Keeping up. . .” series, I recommend the whole thing.
Tyler Cowen looks at the coverage of President Biden’s economic proposals.
given all the stuff about Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little policy debate about it, and remarkably little attempt to persuade the American public that this spending is a good idea.
…My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: “With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.”
Self-recommending, as Tyler would say.
Zvi Mowshowitz shares one of my pet peeves.
no one is willing to fund them and no one wants them to happen, because policy isn’t about effectiveness, so letting someone study effectiveness would interfere with policy.
He is referring to interventions (like mask mandates). If you wanted to “follow the science,” you would first do some science. Institute mask mandates in one random set of communities, and don’t institute them in another random set. Then compare the results. This is just one of many, many experiments that our health establishment is not about to run.
Steven Pinker is interviewed by yet another FITs star, Razib Khan. Pinker says,
We've figured out how to survive in niches that we weren't particularly adapted to. And even people who hold the most florid, wacko conspiracy theories, you know, they they hold a job, they can keep gas in the car, they get the kids to school on time. So it's not as if they're stark raving mad. So there's got to be something about rationality that accommodates both what our species clearly is capable of, but also the weird beliefs that are capturing so much attention.
Later Pinker says,
there's nothing inherently logical about the difference between me or you. Anything that I insist on for me, I've got to pretty much have to grant to you. That's the basis of the golden rule and the categorical imperative, and the view from nowhere and the veil of ignorance. And so while it is technically true, that you can't get an ought from an is you get to an ought pretty quickly if you combine if you start with self interest and the sociality, that is, there are some things that I want, I can't deny them to you if I want to be in any kind of discourse with you. So that's a theoretical argument. And then I end the book by saying that not not only is that does that show that reason, is not irrelevant to morality, once you grant the premise of self interest and sociality, but in practice, a lot of the great moral movements began with an argument that that you actually had philosophers or activists, thinkers, who laid out an argument for some barbaric practice of the day like, like sadistic torture is a form of criminal punishment, or slavery or persecuting religious heretics are the absolute right of kings. They showed why those practices were not consistent with other values that that people claim to hold.
feel like the climate in this country on topics that you talked about in "The Blank Slate", which I thought to be frank was pretty definitive that the blank slate was false. I feel like it's gone in reverse. It's, and this is not like, this is not a continuous monotonic process. I feel like something has happened, particularly in the last 10 years. You know, one of the reasons that you were, I mean, I mean, you're you're a prominent public person before this, but in the whole, you know, Larry Summers affair, that wouldn't even be a discussion today, like there would be no discussion. So I feel like, you know, liberals, the left, whatever you want to call them, they've taken a really, really strong turn against some of these ideas about human nature that you were trying to push into the mainstream
Soon Pinker replies
But there are younger people who are getting sick of being intimidated out of speaking their minds out of being told what to think. There are there is a push back in a number of organizations I'm sure you're familiar with like, heterodox, like Fire, like Fair Light and Academic Freedom Alliance like Free Speech Union like Counterweight. And it says... A lot of it - a lot of this, this repression comes from bullying campaigns by minorities and intimidated administrators who just don't want to make trouble. And so they acquiesce to the bullies. There is at least an opening for the reasonable I don't want to say necessarily majority, but probably are a majority to - to start pushing back.
Interestingly, the US states have effectively run natural experiments in the efficacy of masking (or at least of masking mandates). Take a look at the graphs for "new cases" (i.e. positive tests) and for deaths for Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana:
These states have all pursued very different masking policies, but it is not possible to discern from these graphs when masking was mandated in each state and when it was not. In fact, their graphs are nearly indistinguishable from each other, which strongly implies that these masking policies are utterly pointless.
I think it’s funny how Tyler feels the need to say self-recommending, especially when it is himself that is self-recommending. But it’s endearing.