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Linksposting - most of 2022
There’s irregular, and then there’s irregular. Not posting any ‘monthly’ linksposts since March is the latter. Woops.
Many of these are quite a bit older, found by me in the months and months in which I have not been linksposting. All I can say is (a) they’re still good and (b) woops. I’m avoiding things that many of you will have already seen, and also trying only to post things that still hold up (along at least one axis).
I’m going to try do this more going forward because I essentially no longer use Facebook—it’s become almost unusable for me. I previously used it very frequently as a links repository–slash–microblogging platform (most of these links were posted to my Facebook timeline months ago). I think a lot of people liked my content there, and I really enjoyed posting there; I’m going to miss it, but it is actively unpleasant to go on the app now. I will try to use this Substack more to capture at least some of what I miss from Facebook.
If you’re here from Facebook, or if you’re not but you like these links or my writing, you can put your email here to get more of my links and my less formal writing.
Scott and Scurvy – if you click on only one of these links, make it this one. You will learn more about science, human knowledge, and our relationship to nature from this one post than from any other single source I know of. For a hook, how about the following: our modern knowledge of scurvy comes not from the famous lemons-on-boats experiments in the eighteenth century, but from watching malnourished guinea pigs in the twentieth. Bonus fun fact: the technical name for vitamin C, ‘ascorbic acid’, literally means ‘not-scurvy acid’—‘scorbic’ being an old adjective meaning ‘relating to scurvy’.
The enchanting smell (and revolting flavor) of rain – A genuinely astounding phenomenon. The evolutionary angle isn’t covered, but seems obvious at least to me, and it’s equally fascinating. If you're not endlessly astonished by biology, then you're clearly not thinking about it enough.
Rod McKuen Was the Bestselling Poet in American History. What Happened? – Two proposed answers: ‘AIDS’ and ‘he was actually just bad’. I think ‘Reagan’ and ‘punk’ are also seriously possibilities. But it’s more than worth exploring these little bits of lost culture; those who cannot remember the past are condemned to read Rupi Kaur.
Thoughts on Deano – It’s not unlikely that you have read the original ‘Deano’ post already (linked here for those of you who haven’t—it’s a truly fascinating social analysis of modern Britain). While it’s two years old now, it’s still worth discussing; this is the best follow-up that I know of.
The three best things I have read about the nuclear threat on the web this year:
Putin’s Nuclear Threat Makes Armageddon Thinkable – philosophically richer than you might think, and an incredible post-Schelling analysis of ‘norms’ and risks.
Balance of Terrors – again, very philosophically rich, and a fantastic introduction to Günther Anders (who I’d not heard of before this, and whose writings have been deeply instructive).
And How to Survive Being Attacked by Nuclear Missiles, in 60 Seconds – because, well, it might be relevant.
(If you click on this last link, you’ll notice the GDPR cookie warning that you have to click through; it would be very funny and I would love you forever if you Fermi estimated the micromorts from this.)
Martin Lewis: 'UO is just as important as UX: A tip for anyone developing their website or app' – Self-promotion, but I believe that I brought this post into existence. When Lewis was at the Cambridge Union I asked him a question about the design of the MSE website that he answered very capably, and that very week he posted this—essentially just a cleaned-up version of that answer. For some context, so you can read this post on a deeper level than the normies, my question was about whether or not Lewis was deliberately trying to appeal to ‘boomer’-ness with the design of his website. Also, if you’ve not already read it, the Bagehot column on Martin Lewis from April is highly recommended.
The "Eat Local" myth pervades – More capable than any other analysis of this myth I’ve seen, and directly lays the blame not on ‘irrationality’ or ‘common misconceptions’ or the environmental movement, but (correctly) on the agriculture lobby.
The Myth of the Placebo Effect – I have no idea how seriously to take this, but it’s really thought-provoking. Especially good on the social implications of placebo, which you see all the time in discussions of bullshit 'alternative medicine': 'Oddly enough, when treatment and placebo arms yield similar results, rather than reasoning that a treatment is ineffective, society often erroneously concludes that the placebo itself is effective.' But I don’t know how to balance this with things like this great post from Sam, which seems to require that the placebo effect is real.
The headline for this one is dated by now, but I simply cannot leave it out. Bottom line up front: the virus that’s found in the smallpox vaccine is not cowpox. What is it? Nobody knows. How did it get into vaccines? No clue. What the fuck? Yes. We literally cannot identify where the smallpox vaccine came from, and we just jabbed a bunch of unidentified viral materials into billions of people and hoped for the best. And it fucking worked. More things in heaven and earth.
Descriptive statistics, causal inference, and story time – On the relationship between quantitative and qualitative. Here, rather than qualitative studies merely suggesting hypotheses that must be checked against quantitative data (the most common position from quant bulls), the relationship is flipped: quantitative data is incomplete without an account of causal relationships, which can only come from qualitative knowledge. I have my own take about how this fits with Judea Pearl, but you should read it yourself.
Liberation Psychology – A detailed long-read on Frantz Fanon, courtesy of Kwame Anthony Appiah, whose academic brutality here is almost inexplicable until you get to the section on Ghana. It’s worthwhile and constructive brutality, though. Great as an introduction to the thinker who has been invoked so much recently on the topic of race, or as something to make you rethink what you thought you knew about Fanon’s context.
This tweet is so good:
The Great Split: a radical history of Sydney philosophy – Of interest to those who care about the history of analytic philosophy, or those who care about 1960s student politics, or those who just want to put into perspective exactly how toothless and boring today's student/staff/administration squabbles are. The best quote:
'"It is now clear that [David Armstrong] will not leave any of us in peace. It seems necessary that he be discredited & driven from the University. I shall henceforth support any tactic (within certain limits) that seems likely to help the achievements of this end."
What are the Pac Man bad guys supposed to be? – By generalising Betteridge’s law a bit, you can probably guess that the answer is not ‘ghosts’. But wait—what? If you’ve ever wanted an example of ‘your culture is so all-encompassing that it’s nearly impossible for you to think of alternatives to basic cultural assumptions‘ that isn’t impossibly controversial (like Sapir–Whorf) or endlessly politicised, how about the assumption that the Pac Man bad guys are ghosts.
How Many People Are In The Invisible Graveyard? – How many people were killed by bureaucratic delays in vaccine approval and rollout? The answer is probably about 200,000; even at an absolute lowest-bound estimate, ‘it is clear that over ten thousand lives could have been saved even if the FDA had just scheduled meetings sooner and worked through the 2020 holidays.’ Never before has anger at bureaucratic red tape and regulation mattered so much.
“Vermont Is so Great and Cities and Towns Places!” is definitely an album about Vermont cities and towns – This one just made me so happy. People are so weird, in such glorious ways.
Ghosts – This one made it onto This American Life, and is from last year, so maybe you do know this already. But fuck me! Essential for anyone thinking about AI, the future of writing, or the intersection between culture and technology.
A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be—The UK has transitioned into a class system based on generational housing wealth, this is still not properly noted.
And I’ll end on a genuine masterpiece, what is (in my opinion) the unquestionable magnus opus of the most innovative and forward-thinking cultural collaborators in Britain today. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Adrian Chiles and Adrian Chiles’ headline-writer, with: I have a urinal in my flat and it has changed my life – so why are people appalled?