Information Processing

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Homo Sapiens 2.0: Genetic Enhancement and the Future of Humanity

A discussion at the 92nd street Y in NYC, Nov. 24 2014.
Moderator Jamie Metzl is joined by George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Columbia University bioethicist Robert Klitzman, New York Stem Cell Foundation Co-Founder and CEO Susan Solomon, and Princeton Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Policy Lee Silver to discuss the opportunities and challenges of human genetic engineering, among the most important issues of the coming millennia.



Here's a link in case the embedded player doesn't work: http://92yondemand.org/homo-sapiens-2-0-genetic-enhancement-future-humanity/#sthash.YuscIir9.dpuf

More from Jamie Metzl.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Citizenfour and Sisu



NYBooks: ... In an interview about Citizenfour with the New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, Snowden has said that his action seemed to him necessary because the American officials charged with the relevant oversight had abdicated their responsibility. He meant that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate had utterly failed to guard against extraordinary abuses of the public trust under the pretext of national security. Nor had they undertaken the proper work of setting limits to government spying on Americans consistent with the spirit of the First Amendment and the letter of the Fourth Amendment.

...Snowden is often called a “fanatic” or a “zealot,” a “techie” or a “geek,” by persons who want to cut him down to size. Usually these people have not listened to him beyond snippets lasting a few seconds on network news. But the chance to listen has been there for many months, in two short videos by Poitras on the website of The Guardian, and more recently in a full-length interview by the NBC anchorman Brian Williams. The temper and penetration of mind that one can discern in these interviews scarcely matches the description of fanatic or zealot, techie or geek.

An incidental strength of Citizenfour is that it will make such casual slanders harder to repeat. Nevertheless, they are likely to be repeated or anyway muttered in semiprivate by otherwise judicious persons who want to go on with their business head-down and not be bothered. It must be added that our past politics give no help in arriving at an apt description of Snowden and his action. The reason is that the world in which he worked is new. Perhaps one should think of him as a conscientious objector to the war on privacy — a respectful dissident who, having observed the repressive treatment endured by William Binney, Thomas Drake, and other recent whistle-blowers, does not recognize the constitutional right of the government to put him in prison indefinitely and bring him to trial for treason. ...

What seems most remarkable in that hotel room in Hong Kong is Snowden’s freedom from anxiety. He is fearful, yes ... He knows that he is at risk of being subjected to “rendition” or worse. But there is no theatrical exaggeration here, and no trace of self-absorption. He has made his commitment and that is that. ...

... [Snowden] realizes that if he keeps his identity a secret, the government will rally all its powers and those of the media to convert the treacherous and hidden leaker into the subject of the story. His intuition is that the best way to counter such a distraction will be to make the story personal right away, but to render the personal element dry and matter-of-fact. He will do this in the most unobtrusive and ordinary manner. He will simply admit that he is the person and spell out the few relevant facts about his life and work.

The undeclared subject of Citizenfour is integrity—the insistence by an individual that his life and the principle he lives by should be all of a piece.
Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter.

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gender differences in preferences, choices, and outcomes: SMPY longitudinal study



The recent SMPY paper below describes a group of mathematically gifted (top 1% ability) individuals who have been followed for 40 years. This is precisely the pool from which one would hope to draw STEM and technological leadership talent. There are 1037 men and 613 women in the study.

The figures show significant gender differences in life and career preferences, which affect choices and outcomes even after ability is controlled for. (Click for larger versions.) According to the results, SMPY men are more concerned with money, prestige, success, creating or inventing something with impact, etc. SMPY women prefer time and work flexibility, want to give back to the community, and are less comfortable advocating unpopular ideas. Some of these asymmetries are at the 0.5 SD level or greater. Here are three survey items with a ~ 0.4 SD or more asymmetry:
# Society should invest in my ideas because they are more important than those of other people.

# Discomforting others does not deter me from stating the facts.

# Receiving criticism from others does not inhibit me from expressing my thoughts.
I would guess that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and leading technologists are typically about +2 SD on each of these items! One can directly estimate M/F ratios from these parameters ...
Life Paths and Accomplishments of Mathematically Precocious Males and Females Four Decades Later  (Journal: Psychological Science)

David Lubinski, Camilla P. Benbow, and Harrison J. Kell
Vanderbilt University

Two cohorts of intellectually talented 13-year-olds were identified in the 1970s (1972–1974 and 1976–1978) as being in the top 1% of mathematical reasoning ability (1,037 males, 613 females). About four decades later, data on their careers, accomplishments, psychological well-being, families, and life preferences and priorities were collected. Their accomplishments far exceeded base-rate expectations: Across the two cohorts, 4.1% had earned tenure at a major research university, 2.3% were top executives at “name brand” or Fortune 500 companies, and 2.4% were attorneys at major firms or organizations; participants had published 85 books and 7,572 refereed articles, secured 681 patents, and amassed $358 million in grants. For both males and females, mathematical precocity early in life predicts later creative contributions and leadership in critical occupational roles. On average, males had incomes much greater than their spouses’, whereas females had incomes slightly lower than their spouses’. Salient sex differences that paralleled the differential career outcomes of the male and female participants were found in lifestyle preferences and priorities and in time allocation.
See also these poll results from the Harvard Crimson.
Crimson: ... The gender gap was also apparent in career choice. Men were far more likely to hope to eventually work in finance and entrepreneurship than women, while women were much more likely to aspire to careers in nonprofits and public service, health, and media or publishing. [ Note: these are super high achieving HARVARD kids in the survey, not state-U types ... no one has more "privilege" than they do, so I think it's fair to conclude that they might be expressing their relatively unconstrained actual preferences here. ]

The Hollow Men: video and audio



Highly recommended talk by Dominic Cummings at the UK Institute for Public Policy Research. See also The Hollow Men (original essay).

Podcast version here and below.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Additivity and complex traits in mice



How well can we predict complex phenotypes in mice from genomic data? The figure below, from a recent Nature Genetics paper (Speed and Balding doi:10.1038/nrg3821), shows prediction accuracies for a set of 139 traits -- including behavioral and disease phenotypes. Significant chunks of heritability are easily captured by linear models with additive effects. The population of mice used in the study are derived from crosses of 8 original inbred strains (see photo). For similar predictive results in dairy cows, see here.

This suggests that human population variation in complex traits is also likely to be approximately linear: mostly due to additive genetic effects. You may have noticed that I am gradually collecting copious evidence for additivity. Far too many scientists and quasi-scientists are infected by the epistasis or epigenetics meme, which is appealing to those who "revel in complexity" and would like to believe that biology is too complex to succumb to equations. ("How can it be? But what about the marvelous incomprehensible beautiful sacred complexity of Nature? But But But ...")

I sometimes explain things this way:
There is a deep evolutionary reason behind additivity: nonlinear mechanisms are fragile and often "break" due to DNA recombination in sexual reproduction. Effects which are only controlled by a single locus are more robustly passed on to offspring. ...

Many people confuse the following statements:

"The brain is complex and nonlinear and many genes interact in its construction and operation."

"Differences in brain performance between two individuals of the same species must be due to nonlinear (non-additive) effects of genes."

The first statement is true, but the second does not appear to be true across a range of species and quantitative traits.
See also discussion in section 3 of my paper On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other complex traits.



Compare to the additive heritability estimates below. Note the different K's correspond to different choices of genetic similarity matrices (GSMs; see paper). Just ignore all the dots except the ones with largest r2 or h2 for each phenotype. All of the underlying predictive models are linear. It is possible that some phenotypes have even greater broad sense (including non-additive) heritability and that nonlinear models will be required to capture this variation.



Some examples of behavioral traits measured in this mouse population.
EPM: (maze) distance travelled, time spent, and entries into closed and open arms
FN: time taken to sample a novel foodstuff (overnight food deprivation)
Burrowing: Number of pellets removed from burrow in 1.5 hours
Activity: Activity measured in a home cage in 30 minutes
Startle: Startle to a loud noise
Context freezing: Freezing to the context in which a tone is associated with a foot shock
Cue freezing: Freezing to a tone after association with a foot shock

"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings."




Ursula K. Le Guin, remarks at the National Book Awards. She acknowledged her fellow fantasy and sci-fi writers, who have for so long watched “the beautiful awards,” like the one she received, go to the “so-called realists.”
New Yorker: ... I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

20 years @15 percent: does Harvard discriminate against Asian-Americans?



This is the brief filed yesterday against Harvard, alleging discrimination against Asian-American applicants. A related suit was filed against UNC, with perhaps another to come against Wisconsin. Re: the graph above, note that Caltech has race-blind admissions.
... Harvard is engaging in racial balancing. Over an extended period, Harvard’s admission and enrollment figures for each racial category have shown almost no change. Each year, Harvard admits and enrolls essentially the same percentage of African Americans, Hispanics, whites, and Asian Americans even though the application rates and qualifications for each racial group have undergone significant changes over time. This is not the coincidental byproduct of an admissions system that treats each applicant as an individual; indeed, the statistical evidence shows that Harvard modulates its racial admissions preference whenever there is an unanticipated change in the yield rate of a particular racial group in the prior year. Harvard’s remarkably stable admissions and enrollment figures over time are the deliberate result of systemwide intentional racial discrimination designed to achieve a predetermined racial balance of its student body.
The statistical signal of managing fluctuations from year to year (evidence of a race-based target as opposed to independent individual consideration of applicants) might be even stronger for lesser Ivys, which probably see larger variations in yield compared to Harvard. It will be fascinating to see Harvard administrators and admissions officers testifying under oath as to how enrollment by ethnic group has been kept so stable over the years. Legal analysis on SCOTUSblog.

The historical parallels with anti-semitic practices of the early 20th century are reviewed in detail:
... In a letter to the chairman of the committee, President Lowell wrote that “questions of race,” though “delicate and disagreeable,” were not solved by ignoring them. The solution was a new admissions system giving the school wide discretion to limit the admission of Jewish applicants: “To prevent a dangerous increase in the proportion of Jews, I know at present only one way which is at the same time straightforward and effective, and that is a selection by a personal estimate of character on the part of the Admissions authorities ... The only way to make a selection is to limit the numbers, accepting those who appear to be the best.

... The reduction in Jewish enrollment at Harvard was immediate. The Jewish portion of Harvard’s entering class dropped from over 27 percent in 1925 to 15 percent the following year. For the next 20 years, this percentage (15 percent) remained virtually unchanged.

... The new policy permitted the rejection of scholastically brilliant students considered “undesirable,” and it granted the director of admissions broad latitude to admit those of good background with weaker academic records. The key code word used was “character” — a quality thought to be frequently lacking among Jewish applicants, but present congenitally among affluent Protestants.
This is what our country has come to:
... According to the Princeton Review: "Asian Americans comprise an increasing proportion of college students nationwide. Many Asian Americans have been extraordinarily successful academically, to the point where some colleges now worry that there are ‘too many’ Asian Americans on their campuses. Being an Asian American can now actually be a distinct disadvantage in the admissions processes at some of the most selective schools in the country ...

... If you’re given an option, don’t attach a photograph to your application and don’t answer the optional question about your ethnic background. This is especially important if you don’t have an Asian sounding surname. (By the same token, if you do have an Asian sounding surname but aren’t Asian, do attach a photograph.)"
Please do not comment on this post unless you have read the brief. Comments that are dealt with directly in the brief will be deleted. I hope at least a few serious journalists take the time to read it.

See also Defining Merit, and my Bloomberg editorial on this subject: Transparency in College Admissions.
... Schools like Harvard and Princeton brag that each year they reject numerous applicants ... who score a perfect 2400 on the SAT. How would we feel if it were revealed that almost all of these rejected top scorers, year after year, were Asian-Americans? I challenge Harvard and Princeton to refute this possibility.

Addendum: this is one of the plaintiffs, who was rejected by Harvard.
17. Applicant’s parents are first-generation immigrants to the United States from China.

18. Applicant graduated from high school ranked 1 out of 460 students by weighted and un-weighted grade point average.

19. U.S. News and World Report ranks Applicant’s high school in the top 5 percent of all high schools in the United States.

20. Applicant achieved a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. Applicant achieved a perfect score of 800 for SAT II History and a perfect score of 800 for SAT II Math. Among other academic achievements, Applicant was named an AP Scholar with distinction, a National Scholar, and a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.

21. While in high school, Applicant participated in numerous extracurricular and volunteer activities. Among other things, Applicant was captain of the varsity tennis team, volunteered at a community tennis camp, volunteered for the high school’s student peer tutoring program, was a volunteer fundraiser for National Public Radio, and traveled to China as part of a program organized by the United States Consulate General and Chinese American Students Education and Exchange to assist students in learning English writing and presentation skills.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

de novo mutations and autism

These results suggest that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in high functioning males may be a different condition than ASD in low-IQ males and females. They also suggest many gene targets in which small "nicks" could result in lower IQ. I believe that at least part of "normal" population variation in IQ is due to effects like these.

See also Hints of genomic dark matter. Italics in abstract below are mine.
The contribution of de novo coding mutations to autism spectrum disorder
(doi:10.1038/nature13908)

Whole exome sequencing has proven to be a powerful tool for understanding the genetic architecture of human disease. Here we apply it to more than 2,500 simplex families, each having a child with an autistic spectrum disorder. By comparing affected to unaffected siblings, we show that 13% of de novo missense mutations and 43% of de novo likely gene-disrupting (LGD) mutations contribute to 12% and 9% of diagnoses, respectively. Including copy number variants, coding de novo mutations contribute to about 30% of all simplex and 45% of female diagnoses. Almost all LGD mutations occur opposite wild-type alleles. LGD targets in affected females significantly overlap the targets in males of lower intelligence quotient (IQ), but neither overlaps significantly with targets in males of higher IQ. We estimate that LGD mutation in about 400 genes can contribute to the joint class of affected females and males of lower IQ, with an overlapping and similar number of genes vulnerable to contributory missense mutation. LGD targets in the joint class overlap with published targets for intellectual disability and schizophrenia, and are enriched for chromatin modifiers, FMRP-associated genes and embryonically expressed genes. Most of the significance for the latter comes from affected females.



PI Michael Wigler interview: Sequencing the genome changed everything ; Unified theory of autism.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

National security implications of genomic technology?

Jamie Metzl on the national security implications of genomic technology.



Foreign Affairs: The Genetics Epidemic

The Revolution in DNA Science -- And What To Do About It

The revolution in genetic engineering that will make it possible for humans to actively manage our evolutionary process for the first time in our species’ history is already under way. In laboratories and clinics around the world, gene therapies are being successfully deployed to treat a range of diseases, including certain types of immune deficiency, retinal amaurosis, leukemia, myeloma, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s. This miraculous progress is only the beginning. The same already existing technologies that will soon eliminate many diseases that have victimized humans for thousands of years will almost certainly be used eventually to make our species smarter, stronger, and more robust.

The prospect of genetic engineering will be exciting to some, frightening to others, and challenging for all. If not adequately addressed, it will also likely lead to major conflict both within societies and globally. But although the science of human genetic engineering is charging forward at an exponential rate, the global policy framework for ensuring this scientific progress does not lead to destabilizing conflict barely exists at all. The time has come for a meaningful dialogue on the national security implications of the human genetic revolution that can lay the conceptual foundation for a future global policy structure seeking to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse. ...
See also his new thriller: Genesis Code. See also Genius.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Wandering physicists

This is funny, and does capture the tendency of physicists (not just old ones) to wander into other fields.



But the cartoon avoids the hard question (perhaps best addressed by historians of science) as to the actual value brought to other fields by physicists.

See, for example, Physicists can do stuff, Prometheus in the basement, and On Crick and Watson.
... Crick, 35, had already had a career in physics interrupted by the war and despaired of making his great contribution to science. Watson was a callow 23, fresh from Indiana.
It was clear to me that I was faced with a novelty: enormous ambition and aggressiveness, ... I am sure that, had I had more contact with, for instance, theoretical physicists, my astonishment would have been less great. In any event, there they were, speculating, pondering, angling for information. ...
Thanks for digging around down there -- what did you find, again? Great! I've got more horsepower, so I'll just connect the dots for you now... :-) From Wikipedia on Crick:
Crick had to adjust from the "elegance and deep simplicity" of physics to the "elaborate chemical mechanisms that natural selection had evolved over billions of years." He described this transition as, "almost as if one had to be born again." According to Crick, the experience of learning physics had taught him something important—hubris—and the conviction that since physics was already a success, great advances should also be possible in other sciences such as biology. Crick felt that this attitude encouraged him to be more daring than typical biologists who tended to concern themselves with the daunting problems of biology and not the past successes of physics.
Mastery of so difficult a subject granted the right to invade others.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Adaptive evolution and non-coding regions

This morning I attended an excellent talk: Adaptive Evolution of Gene Expression (see paper and video below), by Hunter Fraser of Stanford.

His results support the hypothesis that non-coding regions of the genome play at least as large a role in evolution and heritable variation as protein coding genes.

From an information-theoretic perspective, it seems obvious that there is much more information in the whole genome than in the ~20k coding regions. Without the additional information, it would not be possible to produce diverse organisms such as flies, worms, fish, and humans from very similar sets of genes/proteins. Strangely, though, I've found most biologists to be overly focused on protein sequences. Perhaps results like these will finally modify this prior.
Gene expression drives local adaptation in humans
Hunter B. Fraser
Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 94305.

The molecular basis of adaptation—and in particular the relative roles of protein-coding vs. gene expression changes—has long been the subject of speculation and debate. Recently, the genotyping of diverse human populations has led to the identification of many putative “local adaptations” that differ between populations. Here I show that these local adaptations are over 10-fold more likely to affect gene expression than amino acid sequence. In addition, a novel framework for identifying polygenic local adaptations detects recent positive selection on the expression levels of genes involved in UV radiation response, immune cell proliferation, and diabetes-related pathways. These results provide the first examples of polygenic gene expression adaptation in humans, as well as the first genome-scale support for the hypothesis that changes in gene expression have driven human adaptation.

This is video of a similar talk at Stanford.




Note Added: As I mentioned above, simple considerations suggest that the machinery of life must be much more complex than the diversity of specific proteins.
Evolution at Two Levels: On Genes and Form
Sean B Carroll

(This article is based on the Allan Wilson Memorial Lectures given at the University of California at Berkeley in October 2004.)

In their classic paper “Evolution at Two Levels in Humans and Chimpanzees,” published exactly 30 years ago, Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson described the great similarity between many proteins of chimpanzees and humans [1]. They concluded that the small degree of molecular divergence observed could not account for the anatomical or behavioral differences between chimps and humans. Rather, they proposed that evolutionary changes in anatomy and way of life are more often based on changes in the mechanisms controlling the expression of genes than on sequence changes in proteins.

This article was a milestone in three respects. First, because it was the first comparison of a large set of proteins between closely related species, it may be considered one of the first contributions to “comparative genomics” (although no such discipline existed for another two decades). Second, because it extrapolated from molecular data to make inferences about the evolution of form, it may also be considered a pioneering study in evolutionary developmental biology. And third, its focus on the question of human evolution and human capabilities, relative to our closest living relative, marked the beginning of the quest to understand the genetic basis of the origins of human traits. Like much of Wilson and his colleagues' body of work, this contribution had a great influence on paleoanthropologists as well as molecular biologists.

The 30th anniversary of this landmark article arrives at a moment when comparative genomics, evolutionary developmental biology, and evolutionary genetics are pouring forth unprecedented amounts of new data, and the entire chimpanzee genome is available for study. It is therefore an opportune time to examine what has been and is being revealed about the relationship between evolution at the two levels of molecules and organisms, and to assess the status of King and Wilson's hypothesis concerning the predominant role of regulatory mutations in organismal evolution.

King and Wilson used the phrase “ways of life” to include both physiology and behavior (M.-C. King, personal communication) and proposed that the evolution of both anatomy and ways of life was governed by regulatory changes in the expression of genes. From the outset of this review, I make the sharp distinction between the evolution of anatomy and the evolution of physiology. Changing the size, shape, number, or color patterns of physical traits is fundamentally different from changing the chemistry of physiological processes. There is ample evidence from studies of the evolution of proteins directly involved in animal vision [2], respiration [3], digestive metabolism [4], and host defense [5] that the evolution of coding sequences plays a key role in some (but not all) important physiological differences between species. In contrast, the relative contribution of coding or regulatory sequence evolution to the evolution of anatomy stands as the more open question, and will be my primary focus.

The amount of direct evidence currently in hand is modest, and includes examples of both the evolution of coding and of non-coding, regulatory sequences contributing to morphological evolution. However, I will develop the argument, on the basis of theoretical considerations and a rapidly expanding body of empirical studies, that regulatory sequence evolution must be the major contributor to the evolution of form.

This conclusion poses particular challenges to comparative genomics. While we are often able to infer coding sequence function from primary sequences, we are generally unable to decipher functional properties from mere inspection of non-coding sequences. This has led to a bias in comparative genomics and evolutionary genetics toward the analysis and reporting of readily detectable events in coding regions, such as gene duplications and protein sequence evolution, while non-coding, regulatory sequences are often ignored. However, approximately two-thirds of all sequences under purifying selection in our genome are non-coding [6]. One consequence of the underconsideration of non-coding, regulatory sequences is unrealistic expectations about what can currently be learned about the genetic bases of morphological diversity from comparisons of genome sequences alone. The visible diversity of any group is not reflected by the most visible components of gene diversity—that is, the diversity of gene number or of coding sequences. In order to understand the evolution of anatomy, we have to study and understand regulatory sequences, as well as the proteins that connect them into the regulatory circuits that govern development. I will begin with some historical and theoretical considerations about regulatory and coding sequence evolution, then delve into the insights offered by specific experimental models of anatomical evolution, and finally, I will revisit King and Wilson's original focus and discuss how our emerging knowledge of the evolution of form bears on current efforts to understand human evolution. ...

... Thus, while the coding sequences of the structural and regulatory proteins are constrained by pleiotropy, modular cis-regulatory regions enable a great diversity of patterns to arise from alterations in regulatory circuits through the evolution of novel combinations of sites for regulatory proteins in cis-regulatory elements [35]. This diversity is produced by the sort of “tinkering” with existing components envisaged by Jacob [19]. ... The available evidence suggests ... that the diversification of other traits that are governed by highly pleiotropic and well-conserved proteins can also be accounted for by regulatory sequence evolution.

... Based upon (i) empirical studies of the evolution of traits and of gene regulation in development, (ii) the rate of gene duplication and the specific histories of important developmental gene families, (iii) the fact that regulatory proteins are the most slowly evolving of all classes of proteins, and (iv) theoretical considerations concerning the pleiotropy of mutations, I argue that there is adequate basis to conclude that the evolution of anatomy occurs primarily through changes in regulatory sequences. ...

Thursday, November 06, 2014

US basic research down 25% in GDP terms (10 years)

Earlier this week I was in DC for a Council on Competitiveness meeting of CTOs and university VPRs. The figure below, from this report card, really scared me:


My rough guess is that US funding of physics research has been at best flat in real dollars over most of my career, but probably down significantly overall. This does not end well ...

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

JSTOR Daily and Hookups


Looks like an interesting new magazine: JSTOR Daily provides insight, commentary, and analysis of ideas, research, and current events, tapping into the rich library of scholarship on JSTOR. (For non-academics, JSTOR is an online journal repository.)

Here's an article from the new magazine:
JSTOR Daily: CAMPUS HOOKUP CULTURE: MYTH VS. REALTY

The out-of-control hookup culture on American college campuses has become a predictable subject for magazine articles, op-ed pages and blogs over the past decade or more. It’s terrific in that role, mixing titillation with a narrative of moral decline among elite young people, and giving commentators a chance to tisk at kids these days. ...

What’s Really Changing?

A recent paper by Martin Monto and Anna Carey of the University of Portland confirmed what scholars looking at sexual behavior on campus have known for a while—the notion of modern campuses as a non-stop sex-fueled party is massively overblown. Looking at survey data from two groups of students, one that was in school from 1988 to 1996 and the other from 2004 to 2012, Monto and Carey found that the “hookup era” kids didn’t have more sex, or more partners, than the earlier group. However, there was a fairly small drop in the percentage with a regular sexual partner, with more respondents saying they’d had sex with a friend or a “casual date or pickup” instead.

Writing in the American Sociological Association magazine Contexts, Elizabeth A. Armstrong of the University of Michigan, Laura Hamilton of the University of California, Merced, and Paula England of New York University agree that modern campus culture isn’t a big departure from the recent past. The big change came with the Baby Boom’s sexual revolution, and increases in casual sex since then have been relatively gradual. ...
Kind of disappointing that Tinder and Facebook and other social networking tools didn't lead to more action on campus.

When I finished my PhD at Berkeley I relocated to Cambridge, MA. I found an aging hippie (turned lawyer) through the "ride board" at the student center to share part of the drive. The stories he told during our cross country trip left me with no doubt that my generation, which came of age during the AIDS epidemic, had a pretty dull time compared to his cohort, which enjoyed free love and other goodies. A few years later I met some chicas de Sevilla who informed me that their sexual revolution had only happened recently, post-Franco :-)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Bitcoin: the Chinese connection


Discussion of the Chinese role in the recent bubble (also, use of ASICs for mining) starting @15min or so. E-payment situation (Alipay, WeChat, etc.) in PRC described @24min.
Sinica podcast: ... Joined by Zennon Kapron, fintech expert, owner of the Shanghai consultancy Kapronasia, and recent author of the book Chomping at the Bitcoin, we delve into the driving forces behind the cryptocurrency revolution in China, as well as take a quick look at the various other kinds of innovation surfacing in China's online financial sector.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Hollow Men


I highly recommend The Hollow Men II: Some reflections on Westminster and Whitehall dysfunction by Dominic Cummings. It is full of insights into the failings of bureaucracies, government by crisis and news cycle, and hollow leadership.

The essay is long, but the excerpts below give some of the flavor.
... Most of our politics is still conducted with the morality and the language of the simple primitive hunter-gatherer tribe: ‘which chief shall we shout for to solve our problems?’ Our ‘chimp politics’ has an evolutionary logic: our powerful evolved instinct to conform to a group view is a flip-side of our evolved in-group solidarity and hostility to out-groups (and keeping in with the chief could lead to many payoffs, while making enemies could lead to death, so going along with leaders’ plans was incentivised). This partly explains the persistent popularity of collectivist policies and why ‘groupthink’ is a recurring disaster. Such instincts, which evolved in relatively simple prehistoric environments involving relatively small numbers of known people and relatively simple problems (like a few dozen enemies a few miles away), cause disaster when the problem is something like ‘how to approach an astronomically complex system such as health provision for millions.’

... students leave university for politics and the civil service with degrees that reward verbal fluency, some fragments of philosophy, little knowledge of maths or science, and confidence in a sort of arrogant bluffing combined with ignorance about how to get anything done. They think they are prepared to ‘run the country’ but many cannot run their own diaries.

... Often watching MPs one sees a group of people looking at their phones listening only for a chance to interrupt, dreaming of the stage and applause. They are often persuasive in meetings (with combinations of verbal ability, psychological cunning, and ‘chimp politics’) and can form gangs. Parliaments seem to select for such people despite the obvious dangers. This basic aspect inevitably repels a large fraction of entrepreneurs and scientists who are externally oriented – that is, focused on building things, not social networking and approval.

... It is the startups who, generally, make breakthroughs and solve hard problems – not bureaucrats – but it is the bureaucrats who dominate the upper echelons of large public companies, politics, and public service HR systems. Civil service bureaucracies at senior levels generally select for the worst aspects of chimp politics and against those skills seen in rare successful organisations (e.g the ability to simplify, focus, and admit errors). They recruit ‘people who won’t rock the boat’ but of course the world advances exactly because of the efforts of people who do ‘rock the boat’. They recruit a lot of lawyers, who are trained to focus on process rather than outcome, reinforcing one of the worst aspects of bureaucracies.

... Warren Buffett has proposed institutionalising Red Teams to limit damage done by egomaniac CEOs pursuing flawed mergers and acquisitions: ‘it appears to me that there is only one way to get a rational and balanced discussion. Directors should hire a second advisor to make the case against the proposed acquisition, with its fee contingent on the deal not going through’. This seems to me to be a great idea and MPs and Permanent Secretaries should think hard about how to operationalise it in Whitehall.

... most senior MPs in all three parties are locked into a game in which they spend most of their time on a) launching gimmicks, and b) coping with crises. These two forms of activity are closely related. The only widely understood model of activity in Westminster (and one which fits well psychologically with the desire for publicity) is a string of gimmicks aimed to manipulate the media (given the label ‘strategy’ to make it sound impressive) which are announced between, and in response to, media crises, some of which are trivial and some of which reflect structural problems. Many, drawing perhaps only on the bluffing skills rewarded by PPE, have no idea what else to do.

Powerful people rush from meetings about the latest gimmick they are to announce, to meetings about the latest cockup for which they need to try to dodge the blame


... Cameron is superficially suitable for the job in the way that ‘experts’ often judge such things – i.e. basic chimp politics skills, height, glibness etc, so we can ‘shove him out to give a statement on X’. That’s it. In a dysfunctional institutional structure, someone without the skills we need in a prime minister can easily get the job with a few breaks like that.

... Our leaders are like 19th Century Germans who had lost religion of whom Nietzsche said, ‘they merely register their existence in the world with a kind of dumb amazement’. They get up every day and react to the media without questioning why: sometimes they are lauded, usually they are trashed, but they carry on in a state of ‘dumb amazement’ without realising how absurd their situation is. Meanwhile, the institutions within which they operate continue with their own momentum and dynamics, and they pretend to themselves that they are, in the phrase they love, ‘running the country’.

Talent selection



How good is high school talent scouting for football? The star system used in college recruiting seems to have good validity in predicting an NFL career.
SBNation: ... The chance of a lesser-rated recruit being drafted in the first round is nowhere close to what it is for a blue-chipper.

Consider this: While four- and five-star recruits made up just 9.4 percent of all recruits, they accounted for 55 percent of the first and second round. Any blue-chip prospect has an excellent shot of going on to be a top pick, if he stays healthy and out of trouble.

For those who don't like percentages, here are some more intuitive breakdowns based on the numbers from the entire 2014 draft:

A five-star recruit had a three-in-five chance of getting drafted (16 of 27).
A four-star had a one-in-five chance (77 of 395).
A three-star had a one-in-18 chance (92 of 1,644).
A two-star/unrated recruit had a one-in-34 chance (71 of 2,434).
Compare to standardized testing and intellectual achievements later in life:

Success, Ability, and all that: ... In the SMPY study probability of having published a literary work or earned a patent was increasing with ability even within the top 1%. The "IQ over 120 doesn't matter" meme falls apart if one measures individual likelihood of success, as opposed to the total number of individuals at, e.g., IQ 120 vs IQ 145, who have achieved some milestone. The base population of the former is 100 times that of the latter!
In other words, if you find similar numbers of IQ 120 and IQ 145 individuals achieving some milestone (e.g., CEO of tech-focused startup or STEM research tenure; roughly speaking, 120 and 145 might be equally likely for those populations), then the odds ratio at an individual level is ~ 100 to 1 in favor of the 145s.




Saturday, October 25, 2014

MSU capital campaign

At the kickoff of the $1.5 billion Michigan State University capital campaign. My co-presenter is a Rhodes Scholar candidate on the MSU swim team.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Beyond Human Science

A short story by Hugo and Nebula winner Ted Chiang. See also A Modern Borges? and Genius (Nautilus magazine article).
The Evolution of Human Science

It has been twenty-five years since a report of original research was last submitted to our editors for publication, making this an appropriate time to revisit the question that was so widely debated then: What is the role of human scientists in an age when the frontiers of scientific inquiry have moved beyond the comprehension of humans?

No doubt many of our subscribers remember reading papers whose authors were the first individuals ever to obtain the results they described. But as metahumans began to dominate experimental research, they increasingly made their findings available only via DNT (digital neural transfer), leaving journals to publish secondhand accounts translated into human language. Without DNT humans could not fully grasp prior developments nor effectively utilize the new tools needed to conduct research, while metahumans continued to improve DNT and rely on it even more. Journals for human audiences were reduced to vehicles of popularization, and poor ones at that, as even the most brilliant humans found themselves puzzled by translations of the latest findings.

No one denies the many benefits of metahuman science, but one of its costs to human researchers was the realization that they would likely never make an original contribution to science again. Some left the field altogether, but those who stayed shifted their attention away from original research and toward hermeneutics: interpreting the scientific work of metahumans.

Textual hermeneutics became popular first, since there were already terabytes of metahuman publications whose translations, while cryptic, were presumably not entirely inaccurate. Deciphering these texts bears little resemblance to the task performed by traditional paleographers, but progress continues: recent experiments have validated the Humphries decipherment of decade-old publications on histocompatibility genetics.

The availability of devices based on metahuman science gave rise to artifact hermeneutics. Scientists began attempting to "reverse engineer" these artifacts, their goal being not to manufacture competing products, but simply to understand the physical principles underlying their operation. The most common technique is the crystallographic analysis of nanoware appliances, which frequently provides us with new insights into mechanosynthesis.

The newest and by far the most speculative mode of inquiry is remote sensing of metahuman research facilities. A recent target of investigation is the ExaCollider recently installed beneath the Gobi Desert, whose puzzling neutrino signature has been the subject of much controversy. (The portable neutrino detector is, of course, another metahuman artifact whose operating principles remain elusive.)

The question is, are these worthwhile undertakings for scientists? Some call them a waste of time, likening them to a Native American research effort into bronze smelting when steel tools of European manufacture are readily available. This comparison might be more apt if humans were in competition with metahumans, but in today's economy of abundance there is no evidence of such competition. In fact, it is important to recognize that— unlike most previous low-technology cultures confronted with a high-technology one— humans are in no danger of assimilation or extinction.

There is still no way to augment a human brain into a metahuman one; the Sugimoto gene therapy must be performed before the embryo begins neurogenesis in order for a brain to be compatible with DNT. This lack of an assimilation mechanism means that human parents of a metahuman child face a difficult choice: to allow their child DNT interaction with metahuman culture, and watch their child grow incomprehensible to them; or else restrict access to DNT during the child's formative years, which to a metahuman is deprivation like that suffered by Kaspar Hauser. It is not surprising that the percentage of human parents choosing the Sugimoto gene therapy for their children has dropped almost to zero in recent years.

As a result, human culture is likely to survive well into the future, and the scientific tradition is a vital part of that culture. Hermeneutics is a legitimate method of scientific inquiry and increases the body of human knowledge just as original research did. Moreover, human researchers may discern applications overlooked by metahumans, whose advantages tend to make them unaware of our concerns. For example, imagine if research offered hope of a different intelligence-enhancing therapy, one that would allow individuals to gradually "up-grade" their minds to a metahuman-equivalent level. Such a therapy would offer a bridge across what has become the greatest cultural divide in our species' history, yet it might not even occur to metahumans to explore it; that possibility alone justifies the continuation of human research.

We need not be intimidated by the accomplishments of metahuman science. We should always remember that the technologies that made metahumans possible were originally invented by humans, and they were no smarter than we.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

ASHG 2014


Let me know if you're in SD and want to meet up! Yaniv Erlich is talking about additivity vs epistasis right now :-)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lean in, freeze eggs 2


Facebook and Apple to offer oocyte cryopreservation in benefits package. See also Lean in, freeze eggs.
New Yorker: ... Earlier this year, Facebook began offering twenty thousand dollars’ worth of o√∂cyte cryopreservation to female employees as part of its health-insurance plan. Next year, Apple will offer its employees a comparable package. (A single cycle of egg extraction can cost between ten and fifteen thousand dollars, and more than one cycle is advised for many women; cold storage is about five hundred dollars a year.)

... likely, it will appeal to women who are experiencing no immediate threat to their fertility—no threat, that is, beyond their participation in a competitive workplace in which the bearing and rearing of children is perceived as an aberrant inconvenience. To such women, egg freezing might seem to offer liberation from those wearying dictates of biology by which their older sisters, no matter how successful their careers, were bound. Better an iBaby than no baby at all.

Deferring childbearing from one’s twenties or early thirties until one’s later thirties or forties certainly has its appeal for the woman with ambitions beyond motherhood. Lots of women have chanced it, even before egg freezing came along and supplied a possible, if not entirely reliable, form of counter-infertility insurance. Still, even with this tantalizing suggestion of reproductive liberty, it’s hard to figure out exactly how long to postpone. A woman might skip having children in her twenties or thirties in order to focus on her career, only to discover by her forties that its demands—not to mention the encroachment of middle age—make motherhood even less manageable than it appeared at twenty-five or thirty.
Bonus: The price of eggs.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Genius (Nautilus Magazine)



The article excerpted below, in the science magazine Nautilus, is an introduction to certain ideas from my paper On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits.
Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming (Nautilus, special issue: Genius)

Genetic engineering will one day create the smartest humans who have ever lived.


Lev Landau, a Nobelist and one of the fathers of a great school of Soviet physics, had a logarithmic scale for ranking theorists, from 1 to 5. A physicist in the first class had ten times the impact of someone in the second class, and so on. He modestly ranked himself as 2.5 until late in life, when he became a 2. In the first class were Heisenberg, Bohr, and Dirac among a few others. Einstein was a 0.5!

My friends in the humanities, or other areas of science like biology, are astonished and disturbed that physicists and mathematicians (substitute the polymathic von Neumann for Einstein) might think in this essentially hierarchical way. Apparently, differences in ability are not manifested so clearly in those fields. But I find Landau’s scheme appropriate: There are many physicists whose contributions I cannot imagine having made.

I have even come to believe that Landau’s scale could, in principle, be extended well below Einstein’s 0.5. The genetic study of cognitive ability suggests that there exist today variations in human DNA which, if combined in an ideal fashion, could lead to individuals with intelligence that is qualitatively higher than has ever existed on Earth: Crudely speaking, IQs of order 1,000, if the scale were to continue to have meaning.

... Does g predict genius? Consider the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, a longitudinal study of gifted children identified by testing (using the SAT, which is highly correlated with g) before age 13. All participants were in the top percentile of ability, but the top quintile of that group was at the one in 10,000 level or higher. When surveyed in middle age, it was found that even within this group of gifted individuals, the probability of achievement increased drastically with early test scores. For example, the top quintile group was six times as likely to have been awarded a patent than the lowest quintile. Probability of a STEM doctorate was 18 times larger, and probability of STEM tenure at a top-50 research university was almost eight times larger. It is reasonable to conclude that g represents a meaningful single-number measure of intelligence, allowing for crude but useful apples-to-apples comparisons.

... Once predictive models are available, they can be used in reproductive applications, ranging from embryo selection (choosing which IVF zygote to implant) to active genetic editing (for example, using CRISPR techniques). In the former case, parents choosing between 10 or so zygotes could improve the IQ of their child by 15 or more IQ points. This might mean the difference between a child who struggles in school, and one who is able to complete a good college degree. Zygote genotyping from single cell extraction is already technically well developed, so the last remaining capability required for embryo selection is complex phenotype prediction. The cost of these procedures would be less than tuition at many private kindergartens, and of course the consequences will extend over a lifetime and beyond.

The corresponding ethical issues are complex and deserve serious attention in what may be a relatively short interval before these capabilities become a reality. Each society will decide for itself where to draw the line on human genetic engineering, but we can expect a diversity of perspectives. Almost certainly, some countries will allow genetic engineering, thereby opening the door for global elites who can afford to travel for access to reproductive technology. As with most technologies, the rich and powerful will be the first beneficiaries. Eventually, though, I believe many countries will not only legalize human genetic engineering, but even make it a (voluntary) part of their national healthcare systems.

The alternative would be inequality of a kind never before experienced in human history.



Note Added: I posted the following in the comments at the Nautilus site and also on Hacker News (ycombinator), which has a big thread.
The question of additivity of genetic effects is discussed in more detail in reference [1] above (sections 3.1 and also 4): http://arxiv.org/pdf/1408.3421...

In plant and animal genetics it is well established that the majority of phenotype variance (in complex traits) which is under genetic control is additive. (Linear models work well in species ranging from corn to cows; cattle breeding is now done using SNP genotypes and linear models to estimate phenotypes.) There are also direct estimates of the additive / non-additive components of variance for human height and IQ, from twin and sibling studies. Again, the conclusion is the majority of variance is due to additive effects.

There is a deep evolutionary reason behind additivity: nonlinear mechanisms are fragile and often "break" due to DNA recombination in sexual reproduction. Effects which are only controlled by a single locus are more robustly passed on to offspring. Fisher's fundamental theorem of natural selection says that the rate of change of fitness is controlled by additive variance in sexually reproducing species under relatively weak selection.

Many people confuse the following statements:

"The brain is complex and nonlinear and many genes interact in its construction and operation."

"Differences in brain performance between two individuals of the same species must be due to nonlinear effects of genes."

The first statement is true, but the second does not appear to be true across a range of species and quantitative traits.

Final technical comment: even the nonlinear part of the genetic architecture can be deduced using advanced methods in high dimensional statistics (see section 4.2 in [1] and also http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.6583....

##################

I just realized I've said all of this already in http://arxiv.org/pdf/1408.3421... (p.16):

... The preceding discussion is not intended to convey an overly simplistic view of genetics or systems biology. Complex nonlinear genetic systems certainly exist and are realized in every organism. However, quantitative differences between individuals within a species may be largely due to independent linear effects of specific genetic variants. As noted, linear effects are the most readily evolvable in response to selection, whereas nonlinear gadgets are more likely to be fragile to small changes. (Evolutionary adaptations requiring significant changes to nonlinear gadgets are improbable and therefore require exponentially more time than simple adjustment of frequencies of alleles of linear effect.) One might say that, to first approximation, Biology = linear combinations of nonlinear gadgets, and most of the variation between individuals is in the (linear) way gadgets are combined, rather than in the realization of different gadgets in different individuals.

Linear models work well in practice, allowing, for example, SNP-based prediction of quantitative traits (milk yield, fat and protein content, productive life, etc.) in dairy cattle. ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Theory of Moral Sentiments: philosophy, psychology, and economics

This podcast is an excellent discussion of some foundational questions in economics and human behavior, as explored in the work of Adam Smith. (The abstract below does not do the interview justice.)
Russ Roberts and Mike Munger on How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

EconTalk host Russ Roberts is interviewed by long-time EconTalk guest Michael Munger about Russ's new book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Topics discussed include how economists view human motivation and consumer behavior, the role of conscience and self-interest in acts of kindness, and the costs and benefits of judging others. The conversation closes with a discussion of how Smith can help us understand villains in movies.
See also: Venn Diagram for Economics, Behavioral economicsThe origins of behavioral economics: Kahneman interview, The heterdoxy strikes back, and more on Vernon Smith.
Roberts: ... this book in many ways is a psychology book intermingled with economics--The Theory of Moral Sentiments is in many ways a mixture of philosophy, psychology, and economics.

... I think modern economics has gone a little too far away from those lessons. ...

Munger: It is interesting that that theme comes up a fair amount among people that may be seen as heterodox by "true" economists. So, Friedrich Hayek often talks about scientism, the pretence of knowledge, how in the way that we model things we're making assumptions about information and structure that we don't have. But Smith's critique, and the way that you channel Smith's critique, is actually deeper, because it has to do with the nature of people and their motivations in choosing.

Roberts: ... The challenge here is that I push the idea that economics is an art and a craft, rather than a science. And it's easy to criticize economics the way I do and say: Oh, it's not scientific. People don't really maximize utility.

... Vernon Smith says this very well. I think he said it when I interviewed him and he said in lots of other places: 'Sure, people make mistakes all the time; sure, people aren't perfectly rational; so the "economic model" is silly and wrong. But in markets, markets discipline those decisions.' They teach people what works and doesn't work. They also punish bad decisions. They take away your money if you consistently make bad decisions. Markets provide you information to help you be wiser than you are on your own. So I think that's where I'd try to--that's the synthesis I'd like to think about. ...

Munger: So, I want to see your skepticism and raise you a little bit and see how far you'll go with this. When I teach class, I say homo economicus is a sociopath. No society composed of homo economicus could possibly survive.

Roberts: Yep. Munger: And the reason is, we would cheat on deals if we thought we could get away with them. So, what I want to advocate is actually--and this is a terrible thing to admit--is that Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was actually right about something: that the real way to understand the successful society is not to treat morals and the constraints that society puts on us as constraints, but as part of the objective function.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lifelong tenure



Good evening, everyone.

Let me add my sincere congratulations to those you’ve already heard tonight. Tenure at a great research university is a milestone in the life of a scholar. I hope you will take some time to reflect and to enjoy.

In psychology there is a well-known phenomenon called the Hedonic Treadmill. Individuals who achieve an important goal -- whether it is becoming a millionaire, or sports champion, or tenured professor -- are often quick to discount the achievement. Happiness levels rise only briefly, and then it’s back to the treadmill, with some new goal in mind and no measurable increase in life satisfaction.

Please do your best to resist the Hedonic Treadmill, and allow yourself more than a brief moment of happiness on this important occasion :-)


With great gifts come great responsibilities. I have two requests for each of you, now that you are firmly ensconced at the very heart of our university.

1. Think about the last 6 years and ask yourself: what can MSU do to improve the experience of junior faculty? Can we be clearer about the promotion and tenure process? Should we do more to protect new faculty from service burdens? Is there enough communication and mentoring within your department? No one is in a better position than you are, at this moment, to recognize necessary improvements, and to help make them a reality. If you don't do it, who will?

2. Make use of your tenure. Take risk in service of great achievements. Think great thoughts, ask deep questions, and attempt challenging and original projects. This promotion means that you have all the potential required to make a lasting contribution to human knowledge. With luck and hard work, you will carry it through.

Congratulations to you all.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Eichmann revealed


Archival work reveals that Hannah Arendt (Eichmann in Jerusalem) and many other observers were fooled by Eichmann during his trial. He was more than a cog, not merely banal, and did indeed think about his actions during the Holocaust. Bettina Stangneth's recent book, Eichmann before Jerusalem is fascinating reading.
NYTimes: ... The story of the Sassen interviews, one of the most important post-Holocaust documents, is itself a kind of cloak-and-­dagger account as Stangneth tells it, featuring hidden or lost tapes, faulty transcriptions, furtive meetings, profiteering and various other kinds of intrigue. ...

It is in these interviews and Eichmann’s own notes that he gave uninhibited vent to his version of the Holocaust and his involvement. Since he had a penchant for tailoring his endless chatting and voluminous writings to what he believed his audience desired, it may not be immediately evident why his statements in Buenos Aires should be considered more authentic than the “little man” portrait he painted in Jerusalem. The answer lies in the stance he took against what his Nazi and radical-right audience wanted to hear. For they were intent on either denying the Holocaust altogether, or outlandishly regarding it as either a Zionist plot to obtain a Jewish state or a conspiracy of the Gestapo (not the SS) working against Hitler and without his knowledge. Eichmann dashed these expectations. Not only did he affirm that the horrific events had indeed taken place; he attested to his decisive role in them. Hardly anonymous, he insisted on his reputation as the great mover behind Jewish policy, which became part of the fear, the mystique of power, surrounding him. As Stangneth observes: “He dispatched, decreed, allowed, took steps, issued orders and gave audiences.”

... Eichmann was far from a thoughtless functionary simply performing his duty. He proceeded quite intentionally from a set of tenaciously held Nazi beliefs (hardly consonant with Arendt’s puzzling contention that he “never realized what he was doing”). His was a consciously wrought racial “ethics,” one that pitted as an ultimate value the survival of one’s own blood against that of one’s enemies. ...

From a surprising admission of German inferiority — “we are fighting an enemy who ... is intellectually superior to us” — it followed that total extermination of the Jewish adversary “would have fulfilled our duty to our blood and our people and to the freedom of the peoples.” ...

See also this exchange: Arendt and Eichmann (NY Review of Books), and What it was like.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Psychology in the 21st Century

Highly recommended: slides from a recent talk by James Lee.



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