Research Debt

Programmers talk about technical debt: there are ways to write software that are faster in the short run but problematic in the long run. Managers talk about institutional debt: institutions can grow quickly at the cost of bad practices creeping in. Both are easy to accumulate but hard to get rid of. Research can also have debt.

The insidious thing about research debt is that it’s normal. Everyone takes it for granted, and doesn’t realize that things could be different.

Source: Research Debt

What makes gambling wrong but insurance right? – BBC News

Gamblers and insurers both place bets on the future, so how do they compare?

Legally and culturally, there is a clear distinction between gambling and insurance. Economically the difference is less visible. Both gambler and insurer agree that money will change hands depending on what transpires in some unknowable future.

Risk-sharing mutual aid societies are now among the largest and best-funded organisations on the planet – we call them “governments”.

Source: What makes gambling wrong but insurance right? – BBC News

The position of the risk takers and the potential outcomes of the bet are what matter and differentiate the two. Insurance serves to share reduced risk whereas gambling serves to increase it.

The reason this matters is because there is a discontinuity in outcomes when the loser loses so much that they are unable to pay their debts (financial, contractual, societal, etc.) and these losses spill over to other people and the rest of society. If someone gets so sick or wounded that they cannot pay their medical bills (the cost of their physical rehabilitation), then not only is the person bankrupt but the hospital’s ability to provide services to others is impacted negatively.

When a gambler bets at a casino, the gambler is increasing their ceiling of possible outcomes while lowering the floor and the average (because the odds are in favor of the house or else they’d go broke). When someone buys insurance, the insured individual is raising their floor of possible outcomes while lowering the ceiling and the average (because the odds are in favor of the underwriter or else they’d go broke).

People with higher floors of possible outcomes can tolerate more risk. Society historically has benefited substantially when this risk is well managed (e.g. due to trading ships possibly getting lost at sea or an experiment failing).

Insurance can also be seen as the abstraction of shared risk (as the article points out). Two merchants could each swap half their goods with the other’s ship to hedge their risk against a single ship sinking. Or one merchant could financially back the other by paying for half the cost, taking half the losses, and receiving half the profit from a single ship. Or an underwriter could issue insurance based on the statistical likelihood of the single ship sinking. It is more abstract, but the desired outcome is the same — someone else is sharing in your life or endeavour, helping you weather setbacks and worse.

Insurance is about protecting your floor of outcomes and those of the people who depend upon you; it’s about avoiding the worst.

Gorsuch’s Selective View of ‘Religious Freedom’ – The Atlantic

in a lot of areas—anti-discrimination law, for example, or medical care, to name just two—religious claims involve the rights of many different people, each of whom has a claim to freedom of conscience. Those claims don’t depend on formal labels or church membership; and they all must be weighed in the balance. Balancing is hard, subjective, and ultimately often unsatisfying; yet balancing is the soul of constitutional law.

In the United States, whose culture and history has been shaped by Christianity, it’s easy to skip the balancing stage. Many people assume that “religious freedom” centers around familiar “religious” beliefs—Christianity, in other words—as opposed to those of religious outsiders, whether they are Mormons, Muslims, or atheists.

Source: Gorsuch’s Selective View of ‘Religious Freedom’ – The Atlantic

You can’t be socially progressive and economically conservative — Quartz

You don’t support something if you don’t care whether or not it happens.

if there’s no social progress funding, there’s no social progress. Passive support is no support at all.

if you want to be socially progressive, you have to stop looking at what you’re giving up and instead look at what you have and what others need. You can still live comfortably while helping others to live more comfortably and have more opportunity. If that doesn’t sound rewarding to you, that’s fine—you’re just not socially progressive.

Source: You can’t be socially progressive and economically conservative — Quartz

Escape to another world | 1843

As video games get better and job prospects worse, more young men are dropping out of the job market to spend their time in an alternate reality. Ryan Avent suspects this is the beginning of something big

it is possible that just as past generations did not simply normalise the ideal of time off but imbued it with virtue – barbecuing in the garden on weekends or piling the family into the car for a holiday – future generations might make hours spent each day on games something of an institution

That view hinges, however, on a crucial distinction: are those dropping out to tune in to video-game worlds jumping, lured by the attraction of the games they play, or have they been pushed?

Other gamers tell similar stories: friends made while playing, skills they discovered or honed, discussions that led to jobs, and hours spent away from the troubles of a world that occasionally needs to be blocked out. Theirs are not the only stories. There is addiction. … games become the destructive vice of choice for some sets of players, taking the place of drugs or alcohol in a tragic but familiar narrative. But the game is a symptom of some broader weakness, sometimes of character, occasionally of mental health – and, perhaps, of society too.

the choices we make in life are shaped by the options available to us. A society that dislikes the idea of young men gaming their days away should perhaps invest in more dynamic difficulty adjustment in real life. And a society which regards such adjustments as fundamentally unfair should be more tolerant of those who choose to spend their time in an alternate reality, enjoying the distractions and the succour it provides to those who feel that the outside world is more rigged than the game.

Source: Escape to another world | 1843

Judge Derrick Watson’s Decision to Block Trump’s Travel Ban Is Judicial Overreach – The Atlantic

The president of the United States has power to bar “any class of aliens” both as immigrants and as nonimmigrants and to impose on their ordinary comings and goings “any restrictions he may deem appropriate.”

That’s the language of the U.S. Code, the law of the land as enacted by Congress, under Congress’ own constitutional power over immigration and naturalization.

the rights of the Constitution belong only to Americans

Judge Derrick Watson’s imaginative reasoning asserts a new power to disregard formal law if the president’s words create a basis for mistrusting his motives.

Source: Judge Derrick Watson’s Decision to Block Trump’s Travel Ban Is Judicial Overreach – The Atlantic


Is it still the rule of law if reasoning, motive, or intent invalidate it?

The Gruesome Case That Made Voltaire a Crusader for the Innocent

In eighteenth-century France, the wrongful execution of Jean Calas sparked the interest of Voltaire, an unlikely advocate who fought to set the record straight.

One writer on capital punishment described this case as “the beginning of the abolition movement.” With its formal finding of a wrongful execution, the case became exhibit No. 1 in what has emerged as a key argument against the death penalty—that sometimes, we misfire.

Source: The Gruesome Case That Made Voltaire a Crusader for the Innocent

Is Facebook A Structural Threat To Free Society? – TruthHawk

Is Facebook a structural threat to free society? I make the argument.

I don’t want to hammer the data point too much, but it is important to show just how much data Facebook has. If it interests you, privacy advocates have written thousands of words on the subject.

Remember that Facebook feeds are not chronological. Facebook decides what posts you see, and who sees your posts.

I’d like you to seriously consider the idea that Facebook has a greater ability to understand the human psyche than every psychologist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and behavioral economist in human history combined.

Facebook’s user manipulation, detailed above, is both ethically questionable and terrible PR. What if you could get the same results without actually testing on users?

Facebook is openly and proudly building the capability to simulate the human psyche. When such capacity is sufficiently advanced, there will be no need to test on actual users. Those users can be used only to verify results from the simulation.

Facebook is the biggest personal data collector in history. It is openly working on simulating human beings for research. It has all the tools needed to manipulate people’s realities, emotions, thoughts, and political preferences. And it continues to build these capabilities, especially with virtual reality.

This alone is a risk center for our society. This centralization of private data, power, and influence is dangerous.

Facebook will be the most powerful tool for political power and manipulation in history. Someone, somehow, will take control of it. We are sleepwalking into allowing a gaping weakness to develop in our social and political structure.

Source: Is Facebook A Structural Threat To Free Society? – TruthHawk

Systems Smart Enough To Know When They’re Not Smart Enough | Big Medium

Google and others offer wrong answers with matter-of-fact authority.

The reasonable desire for speed has to be tempered by higher-order concerns of fact and accuracy.

the more Google and other answer machines become the authorities of record, the more their imperfect understanding of the world becomes accepted as fact. Designers of all data-driven systems have a responsibility to ask hard questions about proper thresholds of data confidence—and how to communicate ambiguous or tainted information.

How can we make systems that are not only smart enough to know when they’re not smart enough… but smart enough to say so and signal that human judgment has to come into play?

Source: Systems Smart Enough To Know When They’re Not Smart Enough | Big Medium

The Chromatic Typewriter «TwistedSifter

The Chromatic Typewriter is a conceptual art piece by Tyree Callahan. The Bellingham, Washington-based artist modified a 1937 Underwood Standard typewriter, replacing the letters and keys with different colours and associated pads. … It’s important to remember this is a conceptual art piece and not entirely functional.

Source: The Chromatic Typewriter «TwistedSifter

RE: Introducing the Chromatic Typewriter! by Tyree Callahan