I had the impression that, since recognition of [problem] dates back at least to [person from a long time ago], there was a voluminous literature and [statistics to deal with the problem] was a solved problem, so I’m a little troubled that you seem to be trying to invent your own methods and aren’t citing much in the way of prior work.

This anonymous critique is saying that I’m not building on top of what there already is but instead re-inventing the wheel, perhaps even a square one. Underlying the criticism is a view of scientific progress as accumulating knowledge over time. We know more stuff now than we used to (but some things we think we know now we still get wrong!) and this is because new scientists don’t just start finding out how everything works (the goal of science) from scratch, but instead read what research has already been done and try to build on top of that. At least that is the general idea. However, we know from actual scientific practice that scientists often don’t build on top of prior work, perhaps because the body of prior work is already so large that having an overview of it is beyond current human cognitive capacity. Alternatively, because the prior work is often inaccessible, badly structured, not searchable, etc. Othertimes scientists are just lazy.

The first problem is in principle unsolvable because improving human cognitive ability/capacity will accelerate the accumulation of knowledge. However, we will (very soon) improve upon the present situation (Shulman & Bostrom, 2014).

The second problem is faster to fix, requiring either ubiquitous open access or guerrilla open access. The first option is coming along fast for new material, but won’t solve it for old material already locked down by copyright. Probably Big Copyright is going to lobby for extending copyright protection further, which means that even just waiting for copyright to expire is not a legal option.

A delicious example of scientists not building on top of relevant prior works is the concept of construct proliferation (Reeve & Basalik, 2014), which is when we invent a new word/concept to cover the same region in conceptual space as previous concepts already covered. This is itself a redundant copy of the earlier term construct redundancy. This meta-problem is fairly obvious, so my guess is that there is a long list of terms for it, thus illustrating itself.

Yet I argue the opposite…

Given the above, why would one willingly want to not read the earlier literature/build on top of prior work on a topic before trying to find solutions? There are some possible reasons:

One reason is personal. Perhaps one just really likes the experience of finding an interesting problem and coming up with solutions. This is closely related to a couple of concepts: openness to experience, typical intellectual engagement, need for cognition, epistemic curiosity (and more), see (Mussel, 2010) and (Stumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011). Incidentally these also show strong concept overlap (this is yet another term to refer to the situation where multiple concepts cover some of the same area in conceptual space, however it is different in that it is explicitly continuous instead of categorical).

A career reason to invent new constructs is a desire to make a name for yourself and get a good job. A well-tested way to do that is to introduce a new concept and accompanying questionnaire that others then hopefully use. This can result in hundreds or thousands of citations. For instance, the original paper for need for cognition has 5063 on Scholar since 1982 / 153 per year, the original paper for typical intellectual engagement has 410 citations since 1992 / 18 per year, and that for epistemic curiosity has 156 since 2003 / 13 per year. The later papers do have lower citation counts per year, perhaps indicating some conceptual satiation, but the papers are still way above the norm. To put it another way, since it is clearly unnecessary to read much of the relevant prior work to get published, one may as well skip this.

Scientifically speaking, neither of the above two reasons are relevant. The first has more to do with personality disposition towards solving new problems, whereas the second is due, to some degree, to perverse incentives.

Exploratory bridge building

Are there any good scientific reasons to sometimes start from scratch? I think so. Think of it this way: Many scientific questions can be approached in multiple ways. We can build a large analogy out of that idea.

Imagine a many-dimensional space where some regions are impassable or slow to pass, and where there are one or more regions or points from which useful resources can be extracted. We, the bridge engineers, start somewhere in this space (all in the same place) and have to find resources but we don’t know exactly where they will be found, so we don’t know exactly which directions to move in. Furthermore, imagine that we can build bridges (vectors) in this space by adding them together and that we can only move on the bridges (or in them). This means that one can now travel in a particular direction, at least slowly. If the resources are far away from the beginning position, it is easy to see that one could never reach them without adding vectors together. This forms the basis of the general preference for building on prior work.

How do we know which direction to build bridges in if we don’t know where the resources are? We can expand the analogy further by saying that no one has the ability to see further than a short distance. Instead, what engineers have is a noisy measure of how close their current position is to the nearest resource, and their measures don’t even agree perfectly with each other. Noisy here meaning that they is only roughly correct, to varying degrees and with different biases. Sometimes what appears to be a good general direction towards a resource ends up in a resource poor dead end, i.e. all directions to move closer to the nearby resources thru impassable or difficult to pass regions.

Those familiar with evolutionary biology should now see where I’m going with this. If we reduce my analogy, we can say that approaches to answers in science can end up in local maximums in the science fitness landscape. When this happens, one has to go back and move in a new direction somewhere.

Still, this leaves us with the question of how far we should move back. Often it may be necessary to go back only some of the way and start a new branch of the same root bridge from that point. Sometimes, however, a very early part of the bridge moved into a regional that can only result in slow progress or even a dead-end. When this happens, one has to start over entirely.

Decision making

Because all engineers are short sighted, it is impossible for them to know when it is time to start over. Worse than that, engineers have a kind of tunnel vision such that when they have once traveled out on given bridge from their homeland, they will be less capable of spotting good directions to build other root bridges from. In other words, once one has learned of a particular approach to a problem, it can be difficult to go “back to basics” and start over with new ideas. One needs a pair of fresh eyes. The only way to do this is to get an engineer who has never been to this space before, avoid informing him of the already built bridges and let him choose where to build his first bridge and let him work on it for some time to see if he ends up in a dead end or a previously unknown resource rich area. Even if the engineers have already found one good resource region, they might wonder whether there are more. Finding more resources probably requires moving in a new direction from the beginning or at least from an early part of the bridge.


It is clear that as a large team project neither extreme solution is optimal: 1) always building on prior work, or 2) never building on prior work. Instead, some balance must be found where some, probably most, engineers are dedicated to building on top of the fairly recent prior work, but some engineers should try to backtrack and see if they can find a better route to a currently known resource area or identify new areas.

Who should start new bridges? We may posit that the engineers vary in their psychological attributes in ways that have an effect on their efficiency of building on prior bridges or starting their own root bridges/branches. In that case, engineers who are particularly good at spotting new directions and working on their own bridge alone would be good for the role of pioneer/Rambo engineers. Even if there are no differences between the efficiency of the engineers re. building new branches/roots or building on top of prior work, if only a few engineers are inclined to working alone perhaps finding new resources (reason #1), the team is in the optimal situation where most build on fairly recent prior work but some don’t.


Given the abstractness of the space bridge engineer analogy, one should probably do a visualization, or maybe even a small computer game. The last is beyond my coding ability at the time being and the first requires more time than I have.


Earlier posts: Something about certainty, proofs in math, induction/abduction, Is the summed cubes equal to the squared sum of counting integer series?

The things I’m going to say for math are equally true for logic, so whenever I write “math”, just mentally substitute to “math and logic”.

Here I’m going to be talking about something different than the normal empiricist approach to philosophy of math. Briefly speaking, that approach states that mathematical truths are just like truths in empirical science because they really are knowable in kind of the same way and there is no special math way of knowing things. The knowability can be either thru inductive generalizations (enumerative induction) or thru a coherentist view of epistemic justification (which I adhere to and which is closely related to consilience).

When a sound proof isn’t enough

I asked a mathy friend of mine to find out whether all numbers of the series:

S. 9, 99, 999, 9999, …

are divisible by 3. Let’s call this proposition P. A moment’s reflection should reveal the answer to be yes, but it is not so easy to give a formal proof of why this is the case*.

My mathy friend came up with this:


What he is calling cross sum is a translation of the Danish tværsum, but it looks like it refers to something unrelated. However, I managed to find the English term: digit sum. The recursive version is digital root.

I’m not sure it is quite formatted correctly (e.g. ai should just be a, I think), but the idea is something like this:

  1. Each of the numbers in S can be constructed with the summation equation given, a=9 and for k→∞. E.g. for k=2, summation is n=9*100+9*101+9*102=9+90+900=999.
  2. The 10 modulus 9 is 1, which is just to say that dividing 10 by 9 gives a remainder of 1.
  3. Some equations with digit roots and modulus which aims to show that the digit root of each member of S is the same (?).
  4. Finally, because we know that having a digital root of 9 means a number is divisible by 3, then all members of S are divisible by 3.

I’m not sure why he is using modulus, but presumably there is some strong connection between modulus and digital roots that I’m not familiar with. A reader of this post can probably come up with a better proof. :)

However, let’s assume that we have a proof that we think is sound (valid+has true premises). How certain should we be in our belief that P is true (by which I just mean, what probability should we assign to P being true), given that we think we have a sound proof? The answer isn’t 100%. To see why, we need to consider that uncertainty in a conclusion can come from (at least) three sources: 1) uncertainty inherent in the inference, 2) uncertainty in the premises, and 3) uncertainty about the inference type.

The first source is the one most familiar to scientists: since we (usually) can’t measure the entire population of some class of interest (e.g. humans, some of which are dead!), we need to rely on a subset of the population, which we call a sample. To put it very briefly, statistical testing is concerned with the question of how to infer and how certain we can be about the properties of the population. This source is absent when dealing with deductive arguments about math.

The second source is our certainty in the premises. Assuming a roughly linear transfer of justification from premises (in conjoint form) to conclusion in deductive arguments means that the certainty in a conclusion we derive from a set of premises cannot be stronger than our certainty in our premises. In empirical domains, we are never 100% certain about our premises since these themselves are infested with these sources of uncertainty. However, for math, this brings us back to the question of how certain we are about the assumptions we use in proofs. Generally, these can be deduced from simpler principles until we in the end get down to the foundations of math. This again brings us to the question of which epistemology is right: foundationalism or coherentism (or exotic infinitism, but few take that seriously)? Can we really be 100% certain about the foundations of math? Weren’t some very smart people wrong in the past about this question (some of them must be, since they disagree)? What does this show about how certain we should be?

The third source is our human fallibility in even knowing which structure the argument has. Who has not made countless errors during their lifetime in getting mathematical proofs right? Thus, we have ample empirical evidence of our own failing to correctly identify which arguments are valid and which are not. The same applies to inductive arguments.

The place for experiments in math

If the above is convincing, it means that we cannot be certain about mathematical conclusions, even when we have formal proofs.

Often, we use a suitable counterexample to show that a mathematical claim is false. For instance, if someone claimed that naive set theory is consistent (i.e. has no inconsistencies), we would point the person to Russell’s paradox. However, coming up with this counterexample wasn’t easy, it remained undiscovered for many years. Counterexamples in math are, as far as I know, usually found thru expert intuition. While this sometimes works, it isn’t a good method. A better method is to systematically search for counterexamples.

How could we do that? Well, we could simply try a lot of numbers. This would make it impractical for humans, but not necessarily for computers. Thus, when we have a mathematical claim of the type all Xs are Ys, we can try to disprove it by generating lots of cases and checking whether they have the property that is claimed (i.e. they shouldn’t have X&~Y). Sometimes we can even do this in an exhaustive or locally exhaustive (e.g. try all numbers between 1 and 1000) way. Other times the search space is too large for modern computers, so we would need to use sampling. This of course means that we introduce type 1 uncertainty discussed above.

Still, if continued search as described above fails to disprove a mathematical claim, my contention is that this increases our certainty about the claim, just as it does in regular empirical science. In my conversation with mathy people, they were surprisingly unwilling to accept this conclusion which is why I wrote up this longer blogpost.

Experimental code for members of S

So, are all members of S divisible by 3?

# divisible by 3 ------------------------------------------------------------
depth = 20
results = numeric()
for (i in 1:depth) {
  #repeat 9 i times
  x_rep = rep(9, i)
  #place next to each other, then convert to numeric
  x = str_c(x_rep, collapse = "") %>% as.numeric
  #save modulus 3
  results[i] = x %% 3
#> [1] 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

So, the first 20 members of S are divisible by 3. This increases the strength of my belief in P, even if the proof above (or something similar) turns out to work.

My intuitive proof

The reason I said that a moment’s reflection should be sufficient is that the following informal proof springs immediately to my mind:

  1. All members of S are multiples of the first member of S.
    Specifically, the vector of factors to use is, F: 1, 11, 111, 1111, …
  2. If n is divisible by k, then n*i is also divisible of k, where n, k, and i are all non-zero integers.
  3. 9 is divisible by 3.
  4. Thus, all members of S are divisible by 3.

Maybe someone can find a way to prove (1) and (2).

Other R code

Some other R code I wrote for this post, but didn’t end up discussing in the post.

# digital root ------------------------------------------------
digital_root = function(x) {
  #convert to chr
  x_str = as.character(x)
  #split into digits, unlist, convert back to num
  x_split = str_split(x_str, "") %>% unlist %>% as.numeric
  #get sum of digits
  x_sum = sum(x_split)
  #if is has more than 1 digit, call digital sum on result
  #otherwise return result
  if (x_sum > 9) {
  } else {

digital_root(9) == 9
digital_root(99) == 9
digital_root(999) == 9
digital_root(12) == 3
digital_root(123) == 6
digital_root(1234) == 1
# distributive? -----------------------------------------------------------
depth = 100
results = matrix(nrow=depth, ncol=depth)
for (i in 1:depth) {
  for (j in 1:depth) {
    ij = i + j
    results[i, j] = digital_root(ij) == digital_root(i) + digital_root(j)

In the review of a paper submitted to ODP some time ago, the issue of a general extremism factor in religion came up. Unfortunately, Dutton deleted the submission thread, so the discussion is forever lost to history (possibly could be recovered from backups of the forum, but not worth the trouble; Yes I looked at the Wayback Machine with no luck).

Specifically, the topic was if and how one could rank order Christian denominations on a more/less extremist scale. Much discussion about them actually assumes this pattern (e.g. saying that , but as far as I know, it has not yet been examined empirically. I see two ways to examine it empirically:

1. A person-level approach
Person-level data where their beliefs re. a number of matters are given as well as their denomination. This allows for the calculation of mean acceptance rates of these beliefs within each denomination. These mean acceptance rates may then be factor analyzed to see if there is a general factor. For this to work, one would need at the very least 3 religious beliefs of central importance re. extremism (e.g. young earth creationism, stance towards homosexuals, atheists, abortion, sex outside marriage, freedom of speech wrt. religious criticism). Furthermore, one will need a number of different denominations, I’d say as least 10.

2. A denomination-level approach
Alternatively, one could examine it if one could find official beliefs from each denomination re. a range of issues. Critically, these must be expressible in numerical forms because that is required for factor analysis to work. Because the beliefs of persons belonging to a denomination often conflict with official beliefs (e.g. in Catholicism), the first approach is probably better.

Religious beliefs among Muslims
I was recently reminded of the above due to re-seeing Pew Research’s large-scale study of the beliefs of Muslims in their home countries. The dataset is publicly available and is fairly massive: 250 variables and a sample size of 32.6k. The questions cover socioeconomic variables as well as a large number of questions about stuff like Sharia:

sharia law

We see that there is a wide variety of beliefs, both within and between countries. Because persons can be grouped by country, this makes it possible to conduct factor analysis both at the case-level (within each country or pooled) and at the country-level. Islam does not have that many denominations, so a denomination-level analysis does not seem possible.

Predictive validity in country of origin studies
My studies of immigrant performance in Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands have shown that Islam prevalence in the homeland has some predictive validity for the socioeconomic outcomes of the migrants. If some of this predictive validity is due to religious conflict or religious extremism, then the degree of extremism in the home country should be a moderating (interaction) variable. It doesn’t initially appear to be the case because the major outlier with regards to socioeconomic performance is usually Indonesia, but as we can see above, they seem to be fairly extremist in their beliefs, at least with regards to Sharia.

A very quick look
Examining the factor structure of the religious beliefs require a number of hours dedicated to re-coding variables. This is because for some questions, they were only asked if they interviewee answered a particular way to an earlier question. I don’t have time to do this right now. I’m hoping posting this will inspire someone else to dig into it (write me an email/direct tweet/etc.).

However, to show that the idea is fruitful I did a little analysis. I used the following variables:

  • Q13. Generally, how would you rate Islamic political parties compared to other political parties? Are they better, worse or about the same as other parties?
  • Q14.Some feel that we should rely on a democratic form of government to solve our country’s problems.Others feel that we should rely on a leader with a strong hand to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your opinion?
  • Q15. In your opinion, how much influence should religious leaders [IN IRN: religious figures] have in political matters? A large influence, some influence, not too much influence or no influence at all?
  • Q16. Which one of these comes closest to your opinion, number 1 or number 2? [morality and religion]
    Number 1 – It is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values
    Number 2 – It is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values
  • Q20. Thinking about evolution [IN IRN: of humans and other living things], which comes closer to your view?
    Humans and other living things have evolved over time
    Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time
  • Q26. Which comes closer to describing your view? [IN IRN: In general,] Western music, movies and television have hurt morality in our country, OR western music, movies and television have NOT hurt morality in our country?
  • Q34. On average, how often do you attend the mosque for salah and Jum’ah Prayer [IN RUS: Friday afternoon prayer]?
  • Q36. How important is religion in your life – very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?
  • Q37. How comfortable would you be if a son of yours someday married a Christian?  Would you be very comfortable, somewhat comfortable, not too comfortable or not at all comfortable?
  • Q38. How comfortable would you be if a daughter of yours someday married a Christian?  Would you be very comfortable, somewhat comfortable, not too comfortable or not at all comfortable?
  • Q43a. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in Heaven, where people who have led good lives [IN TUR: life without sin] are eternally rewarded?
  • Q43b. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in Hell, where people who have led bad lives [IN TUR: life of sin] and die without being sorry are eternally punished?
  • Q43c. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in angels?
  • Q43d. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in witchcraft?
  • Q43e. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in the ‘evil eye’ or that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone?
  • Q43f. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in predestination or fate (Kismat/Qadar)?
  • Q43g. Which, if any, of the following do you believe: in  jinns?

They were picked because they stood out to me as useful when I was scrolling down the list of variables, not because I examined all variables and handpicked these. There should be many more useful variables (good! because we like to extract general factors from indicators of a wide variety).

I re-coded them all so that higher values correspond to more extreme religious beliefs as judged by me, e.g. unacceptability of children marrying Christians (Q37-38). “Don’t know” and “refusal” were coded as missing. One could recode “don’t know” as the mean of each scale instead, perhaps, but this would require some more work from me.

Then factor analysis was run as usual. Results are shown further below. A general factor seems confirmed. I hereby dub it general religious factor (GRF), hopefully no one has used that term or letter combination yet (not true according to Google!). There was a lot of missing data however because not all interviewees wanted to answer all questions and not all questions was asked in all countries. We can impute this data (takes 11 mins on my computer, large dataset!). This does not change the general pattern of the results (good, otherwise the imputation would be introducing error), but it does allow us to calculate a mean GRF score for every country (i.e. mean of each case from that country; not taking weights into account).

Mean level by country (reordered):


Aside from Indonesia, which I had heard was less extremist, these results are not that surprising. The Muslim populations in central Asia and Europe are less extremist than those in MENAP.

Country-level GRF
Next up is calculating the country-level data. To do a country-level analysis, we need the mean score for each variable for each country. This is fairly tedious to calculate by hand or low-level code, but Hadley has made it fairly easy with plyr (or dplyr). This reduces the dataset to a 26 x 17 matrix from the original 32.6k x 17. I factor analyzed it as before. For comparison, we plot the loadings together:


Aside from the generally stronger loadings at the country-level (common finding), loadings are fairly similar. Factor congruence is .98, correlation is .87. At the country-level, only one variable has a negative loading and only slightly (believing in the existence of evil eyes, a belief not central (included in?) to Islam as far as I know).

One can also extract country-level scores from the country-level analysis and compare them with the mean scores from the individual-level analysis.


The findings are essentially the same whether we analyze at individual-level and then aggregate (x-axis), or aggregate and then analyze (y-axis). This is not a spurious finding as loadings can change quite a bit between levels depending on the way the data are aggregated.

There is a lot more one could do with this but I will leave it here for now. If someone knows of a suitable open access/science journal to publish this in, let me know. I could use Winnower, but I want some input from people who actually study religion in a comparative religi(on)ology.

Files uploaded to OSF: osf.io/pwcgz/

I’ve always considered myself a very rational and fairly unbiased person. Being aware of the general tendency for people to overestimate themselves (see also visualization of the Dunning-Kruger effect), this of course reduces my confidence in my own estimates of these. So what better to do than take some actual tests? I have previously taken the short test of estimation ability found in What intelligence tests miss and got 5/5 right. This is actually slight evidence of underconfidence since I was supposed to give 80% confidence intervals. This of course means that I should have had 1 error, not 0. Still, with 5 items, the precision is too low to say whether I’m actually underconfident or not with much certainty, but it shows that I’m unlikely to be strongly overconfident. Underconfidence is expected for smarter people. A project of mine is to make a test with the confidence intervals that is much longer so to give more precise estimates. It should be fairly easy to find a lot of numbers for stuff and have people give 80% confidence intervals for the numbers. Stuff like the depth of the deepest ocean, height of tallest mountain, age of oldest living organism, age of the Earth/universe, dates for various historical events such as ending of WW2, beginning of American Civil war, and so on.

However, I recently saw an article about a political bias test. I think I’m fairly unbiased. As a result of this, my beliefs don’t really fit into any mainstream political theory. This is as expected because the major political ideologies were invented before we understood much about anything, thus making it unlikely that they would tend to get everything right. More likely, they would probably get some things right and some things wrong.

Here’s my test results for political bias:

Screenshot from 2015-09-16 20:38:35 Screenshot from 2015-09-16 20:41:05

So in centiles: >= 99th for knowledge of American politics. This is higher than I expected (around 95th). Since I’m not a US citizen, presumably the test has some bias against me. For bias, the centile is <= 20th. This result did not surprise me. However, since there is a huge floor effect, this test needs more items to be more useful.

Next up, I looked at the website and saw that they had a number of other potentially useful tests. One is about common misconceptions. Now since I consider myself a scientific rationalist, I should do fairly well on this. Also because I have read somewhat extensively on the issue (Wikipedia list, Snopes and 50 myths of pop psych).

Unfortunately, they present the results in a verbose form. Pasting 8 images would be excessive. I will paste some of the relevant text:

1. Brier score

Your total performance across all quiz and confidence questions:

This measures your overall ability on this test. This number above, known as a “Brier” score, is a combination of two data points:

How many answers you got correct
Whether you were confident at the right times. That means being more confident on questions you were more likely to be right about, and less confident on questions you were less likely to get right.

The higher this score is, the more answers you got correct AND the more you were appropriately confident at the right times and appropriately uncertain at the right times.

Your score is above average. Most people’s Brier’s scores fall in the range of 65-80%. About 5% of people got a score higher than yours. That’s a really good score!

2. Overall accuracy

Answers you got correct: 80%

Out of 30 questions, you got 24 correct. Great work B.S. detector! You performed above average. Looks like you’re pretty good at sorting fact from fiction. Most people correctly guess between 16 and 21 answers, a little better than chance.

Out of the common misconceptions we asked you about, you correctly said that 12/15 were actually B.S. That’s pretty good!

No centiles are provided, so it is not evident how this compares to others.

3. Total points

Screenshot from 2015-09-16 22:12:06

As for your points, this is another way of showing your ability to detect Fact vs. B.S. and your confidence accuracy. The larger the score, the better you are at doing both! Most people score between 120 and 200 points. Looks like you did very well, ending at 204 points.

4. Reliability of confidence intervals

Reliability of your confidence levels: 89.34%

Were you confident at the right times? To find out, we took a portion of your earlier Brier score to determine just how reliable your level of confidence was. It looks like your score is above average. About 10% of people got a score higher than yours.

This score measures the link between the size of your bet and the chance you got the correct answer. If you were appropriately confident at the right times, we’d expect you to bet a lot of points more often when you got the answer correct than when you didn’t. If you were appropriately uncertain at the right times, we’d expect you to typically bet only a few points when you got the answer wrong.

You can interpret this score as measuring the ability of your gut to distinguish between things that are very likely true, versus only somewhat likely true. Or in other words, this score tries to answer the question, “When you feel more confident in something, does that actually make it more likely to be true?”

5. Confidence and accuracy

Screenshot from 2015-09-16 22:16:37

When you bet 1-3 points your confidence was accurate. You were a little confident in your answers and got the answer correct 69.23% of the time. Nice work!

When you bet 4-7 points you were underconfident. You were fairly confident in your answers, but you should have been even more confident because you got the answer correct 100% of the time!

When you bet 8-10 points your confidence was accurate. You were extremely confident in your answer and indeed got the answer correct 100% of the time. Great work!

So, again there is some evidence of underconfidence. E.g. for those I betted 0 points, I still had 60% accuracy, tho it should have been 50%.

6. Overall confidence

Your confidence: very underconfident

You tended to be very underconfident in your answers overall. Let’s explore what that means.

In the chart above, your betting average has been translated into a new score called your “average confidence.” This represents roughly how confident you were in each of your answers.

People who typically bet close to 0 points would have an average confidence near 50% (i.e. they aren’t confident at all and don’t think they’ll do much better than chance).
People who typically bet about 5 points would have an average confidence near 75% (i.e. they’re fairly confident; they might’ve thought there was a ¼ chance of being wrong).
People who typically bet 10 points would have an average confidence near 100% (i.e. they are extremely confident; they thought there was almost no chance of being wrong).

The second bar is the average number of questions you got correct. You got 24 questions correct, or 80%.

If you are a highly accurate better, then the two bars above should be about equal. That is, if you got an 80% confidence score, then you should have gotten about 80% of the questions correct.

We said you were underconfident because on average you bet at a confidence level of 69.67% (i.e. you bet 3.93 on average), but in reality you did better than that, getting the answer right 80% of the time.

In general, results were in line with my predictions: high ability + general overestimation + imperfect correlation of self-rated ability and actual ability results in underconfidence. My earlier result indicated some underconfidence as well. The longer test gave the same result. Apparently, I need to be more confident in myself. This is despite the fact that I scored 98 and 99 on the assertiveness facet on the OCEAN test on two different test taking sessions with some months in between.

I did take their additional rationality test, but since this was just based on pop psych Kahneman-style points, it doesn’t seem very useful. It also uses typological thinking because it classifies people into 16 classes, clearly wrong-headed. It found my weakest side to be planning fallacy, but this isn’t actually the case because I’m pretty good at getting papers and projects done on time.



I had heard good things about this book, sort of. It has been cited a lot. Enough that I would be wiling to read it, given that the author has written at least one interesting paper (Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science). Generally, it is written in popsci style, very few statistics making it impossible to easily judge how much certainty to assign to different studies mentioned in the text. Generally, I was not impressed or learned much, tho not all was necessarily bad. Clearly, he wrote this book in an attempt to appeal to many different people. Perhaps he succeeded, but appeals that work well on large parts of the population rarely work well on me.

In any case, there are some parts worth quoting and commenting on:

The results were as clear as could be in support of Shweder. First, all four of my Philadelphia groups confirmed Turiel’s finding that Americans make a big distinction between moral and conventional violations. I used two stories taken directly from Turiel’s research: a girl pushes a boy off a swing (that’s a clear moral violation) and a boy refuses to wear a school uniform (that’s a conventional violation). This validated my methods. It meant that any differences I found on the harmless taboo stories could not be attributed to some quirk about the way I phrased the probe questions or trained my interviewers. The upper-class Brazilians looked just like the Americans on these stories. But the working-class Brazilian kids usually thought that it was wrong, and universally wrong, to break the social convention and not wear the uniform. In Recife in particular, the working-class kids judged the uniform rebel in exactly the same way they judged the swing-pusher. This pattern supported Shweder: the size of the moral-conventional distinction varied across cultural groups.

Emil’s law: Whenever a study reports that socioeconomic status correlates with X, it is mostly due to its relationship to intelligence, and often socioeconomic status is non-causally related to X.

Wilson used ethics to illustrate his point. He was a professor at Harvard, along with Lawrence Kohlberg and the philosopher John Rawls, so he was well acquainted with their brand of rationalist theorizing about rights and justice.15 It seemed clear to Wilson that what the rationalists were really doing was generating clever justifications for moral intuitions that were best explained by evolution. Do people believe in human rights because such rights actually exist, like mathematical truths, sitting on a cosmic shelf next to the Pythagorean theorem just waiting to be discovered by Platonic reasoners? Or do people feel revulsion and sympathy when they read accounts of torture, and then invent a story about universal rights to help justify their feelings?
Wilson sided with Hume. He charged that what moral philosophers were really doing was fabricating justifications after “consulting the emotive centers” of their own brains.16 He predicted that the study of ethics would soon be taken out of the hands of philosophers and “biologicized,” or made to fit with the emerging science of human nature. Such a linkage of philosophy, biology, and evolution would be an example of the “new synthesis” that Wilson dreamed of, and that he later referred to as consilience—the “jumping together” of ideas to create a unified body of knowledge.17
Prophets challenge the status quo, often earning the hatred of those in power. Wilson therefore deserves to be called a prophet of moral psychology. He was harassed and excoriated in print and in public.18 He was called a fascist, which justified (for some) the charge that he was a racist, which justified (for some) the attempt to stop him from speaking in public. Protesters who tried to disrupt one of his scientific talks rushed the stage and chanted, “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”19

For more on the history of sociobiology, see: www.goodreads.com/book/show/786131.Defenders_of_the_Truth?ac=1

But yes, human rights bug me. There is no such thing as an ethical right ‘out there’. Human rights are completely made up. While some of them are useful as model for civil rights, they are nothing more. Worse, human rights keep getting added which are both inconsistent, vague and redundant. See e.g. www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139598/jacob-mchangama-and-guglielmo-verdirame/the-danger-of-human-rights-proliferation

I say this as someone who strongly believes in having strong civil rights, especially regarding freedom of expression, assembly, due process and the like. However, since pushing for new human rights attracts social justice warriors, this of course means that the new rights not only conflict with previous rights (e.g. freedom of expression), but also obviously concern matters that should be a matter of national policy (e.g. resource redistribution), not super-national courts and their creeping interpretations. See e.g. this document: www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf or even worse, this one: A EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK NATIONAL STATUTE FOR THE PROMOTION OF TOLERANCE. The irony is that tolerance consists exactly in letting others do what they want: Wiktionary: The ability or practice of tolerating; an acceptance or patience with the beliefs, opinions or practices of others; a lack of bigotry.

Psychopaths do have some emotions. When Hare asked one man if he ever felt his heart pound or stomach churn, he responded: “Of course! I’m not a robot. I really get pumped up when I have sex or when I get into a fight.”29 But psychopaths don’t show emotions that indicate that they care about other people. Psychopaths seem to live in a world of objects, some of which happen to walk around on two legs. One psychopath told Hare about a murder he committed while burglarizing an elderly man’s home:
I was rummaging around when this old geezer comes down stairs and … uh … he starts yelling and having a fucking fit … so I pop him one in the, uh, head and he still doesn’t shut up. So I give him a chop to the throat and he … like … staggers back and falls on the floor. He’s gurgling and making sounds like a stuck pig! [laughs] and he’s really getting on my fucking nerves so I … uh … boot him a few times in the head. That shut him up … I’m pretty tired by now so I grab a few beers from the fridge and turn on the TV and fall asleep. The cops woke me up [laughs].30


This is the sort of bad thinking that a good education should correct, right? Well, consider the findings of another eminent reasoning researcher, David Perkins.21 Perkins brought people of various ages and education levels into the lab and asked them to think about social issues, such as whether giving schools more money would improve the quality of teaching and learning. He first asked subjects to write down their initial judgment. Then he asked them to think about the issue and write down all the reasons they could think of—on either side—that were relevant to reaching a final answer. After they were done, Perkins scored each reason subjects wrote as either a “my-side” argument or an “other-side” argument.
Not surprisingly, people came up with many more “my-side” arguments than “other-side” arguments. Also not surprisingly, the more education subjects had, the more reasons they came up with. But when Perkins compared fourth-year students in high school, college, or graduate school to first-year students in those same schools, he found barely any improvement within each school. Rather, the high school students who generate a lot of arguments are the ones who are more likely to go on to college, and the college students who generate a lot of arguments are the ones who are more likely to go on to graduate school. Schools don’t teach people to reason thoroughly; they select the applicants with higher IQs, and people with higher IQs are able to generate more reasons.
The findings get more disturbing. Perkins found that IQ was by far the biggest predictor of how well people argued, but it predicted only the number of my-side arguments. Smart people make really good lawyers and press secretaries, but they are no better than others at finding reasons on the other side. Perkins concluded that “people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly.”22

Cite is: Perkins, D. N., M. Farady, and B. Bushey. 1991. “Everyday Reasoning and the Roots of Intelligence.” In Informal Reasoning and Education, ed. J. F. Voss, D. N. Perkins, and J. W. Segal, 83–105. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

From Plato through Kant and Kohlberg, many rationalists have asserted that the ability to reason well about ethical issues causes good behavior. They believe that reasoning is the royal road to moral truth, and they believe that people who reason well are more likely to act morally.
But if that were the case, then moral philosophers—who reason about ethical principles all day long—should be more virtuous than other people. Are they? The philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel tried to find out. He used surveys and more surreptitious methods to measure how often moral philosophers give to charity, vote, call their mothers, donate blood, donate organs, clean up after themselves at philosophy conferences, and respond to emails purportedly from students.48 And in none of these ways are moral philosophers better than other philosophers or professors in other fields.
Schwitzgebel even scrounged up the missing-book lists from dozens of libraries and found that academic books on ethics, which are presumably borrowed mostly by ethicists, are more likely to be stolen or just never returned than books in other areas of philosophy.49 In other words, expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behavior, and it might even make it worse (perhaps by making the rider more skilled at post hoc justification). Schwitzgebel still has yet to find a single measure on which moral philosophers behave better than other philosophers.

Oh dear.

The anthropologists Pete Richerson and Rob Boyd have argued that cultural innovations (such as spears, cooking techniques, and religions) evolve in much the same way that biological innovations evolve, and the two streams of evolution are so intertwined that you can’t study one without studying both.65 For example, one of the best-understood cases of gene-culture coevolution occurred among the first people who domesticated cattle. In humans, as in all other mammals, the ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk) is lost during childhood. The gene that makes lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) shuts off after a few years of service, because mammals don’t drink milk after they are weaned. But those first cattle keepers, in northern Europe and in a few parts of Africa, had a vast new supply of fresh milk, which could be given to their children but not to adults. Any individual whose mutated genes delayed the shutdown of lactase production had an advantage. Over time, such people left more milk-drinking descendants than did their lactose-intolerant cousins. (The gene itself has been identified.)66 Genetic changes then drove cultural innovations as well: groups with the new lactase gene then kept even larger herds, and found more ways to use and process milk, such as turning it into cheese. These cultural innovations then drove further genetic changes, and on and on it went.

Why is this anyway? Why don’t we just keep expressing this gene? Is there any reason?

In an interview in 2000, the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said that “natural selection has almost become irrelevant in human evolution” because cultural change works “orders of magnitude” faster than genetic change. He next asserted that “there’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain.”77

I wonder, was Gould right about anything? Another thing. Did Gould invent his Punctuated Equilibrium theory because it postulates these change-free periods which can be conveniently claimed for humans the last 100k years or so in order to keep his denial of racial differences consistent with evolution or?

Religion is therefore well suited to be the handmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism. To take one example, religion does not seem to be the cause of suicide bombing. According to Robert Pape, who has created a database of every suicide terrorist attack in the last hundred years, suicide bombing is a nationalist response to military occupation by a culturally alien democratic power.62 It’s a response to boots and tanks on the ground—never to bombs dropped from the air. It’s a response to contamination of the sacred homeland. (Imagine a fist punched into a beehive, and left in for a long time.)

This sounds interesting. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_Attack_Database

The problem is not just limited to politicians. Technology and changing residential patterns have allowed each of us to isolate ourselves within cocoons of like-minded individuals. In 1976, only 27 percent of Americans lived in “landslide counties”—counties that voted either Democratic or Republican by a margin of 20 percent or more. But the number has risen steadily; in 2008, 48 percent of Americans lived in a landslide county.77 Our counties and towns are becoming increasingly segregated into “lifestyle enclaves,” in which ways of voting, eating, working, and worshipping are increasingly aligned. If you find yourself in a Whole Foods store, there’s an 89 percent chance that the county surrounding you voted for Barack Obama. If you want to find Republicans, go to a county that contains a Cracker Barrel restaurant (62 percent of these counties went for McCain).78

This sounds more like assortative relocation + greater amount of relocation. Now, if only there were more local democratic power, then people living in these different areas could self-govern and stop arguing about conflicts that would never arise. E.g. healthcare systems: each smaller area could decide on its own system. I like to quote from Uncontrolled:

This leads then to a call for “states as laboratories of democracy” federalism in matters of social policy, or in a more formal sense, a call for subsidiarity—the principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority. After all, the typical American lives in a state that is a huge political entity governing millions of people. As many decisions as possible ought to be made by counties, towns, neighborhoods, and families (in which parents have significant coer­cive rights over children). In this way, not only can different prefer­ences be met, but we can learn from experience how various social arrangements perform.



To those who don’t know Bostrom, he’s a prof of filosofy at Oxford. His book concerns superintelligence which is defined “any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest“, even right-tail performance. The book is basically a series of comments about how to best go on about developing this and the dangers it entails.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was this:

Box 9 Strange solutions from blind search

Even simple evolutionary search processes sometimes produce highly unexpected results, solutions that satisfy a formal user-defined criterion in a very different way than the user expected or intended.

The field of evolvable hardware offers many illustrations of this phenomenon. In this field, an evolutionary algorithm searches the space of hardware designs, testing the fitness of each design by instantiating it physically on a rapidly reconfigurable array or motherboard. The evolved designs often show remarkable economy. For instance, one search discovered a frequency discrimination circuit that functioned without a clock—a component normally considered necessary for this function. The researchers estimated that the evolved circuit was between one and two orders of magnitude smaller than what a human engineer would have required for the task. The circuit exploited the physical properties of its components in unorthodox ways; some active, necessary components were not even connected to the input or output pins! These components instead participated via what would normally be considered nuisance side effects, such as electromagnetic coupling or power-supply loading.

Another search process, tasked with creating an oscillator, was deprived of a seemingly even more indispensible component, the capacitor. When the algorithm presented its successful solution, the researchers examined it and at first concluded that it “should not work.” Upon more careful examination, they discovered that the algorithm had, MacGyver-like, reconfigured its sensor-less motherboard into a makeshift radio receiver, using the printed circuit board tracks as an aerial to pick up signals generated by personal computers that happened to be situated nearby in the laboratory. The circuit amplified this signal to produce the desired oscillating output.16

In other experiments, evolutionary algorithms designed circuits that sensed whether the motherboard was being monitored with an oscilloscope or whether a soldering iron was connected to the lab’s common power supply. These examples illustrate how an open-ended search process can repurpose the materials accessible to it in order to devise completely unexpected sensory capabilities, by means that conventional human design-thinking is poorly equipped to exploit or even account for in retrospect.

The tendency for evolutionary search to “cheat” or find counterintuitive ways of achieving a given end is on display in nature too, though it is perhaps less obvious to us there because of our already being somewhat familiar with the look and feel of biology, and thus being prone to regarding the actual outcomes of natural evolutionary processes as normal—even if we would not have expected them ex ante. But it is possible to set up experiments in artificial selection where one can see the evolutionary process in action outside its familiar context. In such experiments, researchers can create conditions that rarely obtain in nature, and observe the results.

Which reminds me that I really, really ought to start using genetic algorithms for stuff, like creating shorter versions of cognitive measures (paper, blogpost).



This is quite possibly the worst non-amateur book I’ve ever read. My notes to this book are so many that in the latter parts of the book, I got tired of noting the errors and oddities, just wishing to get it over with.

To those unfamiliar with this kind of thing, go read Sokal and Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense, or Dawkins’ review for the lazy. The very short version is that there exists a bunch of intellectuals working at fancy universities who write pure gibberish dressed up in hear-incomprehensible language, and they not only get away with it, they are revered by many, and their stuff in taught in mandatory courses at normal universities. Case in point, I’m taking such a course as part of my minor in information science. As far as I can tell, this class has nothing relevant to the minor. There was nothing information theoretic or science about it.

Let’s get to it. I will use long quotes because I don’t want the reader to think that I’ve quoted stuff out of context. The reaction of many people to this kind of literature is disbelief that it is real or common. I have talked with many physicists who did not believe me. I had to show them the quotes. So I will do the same here.

This default position has become common sense not only for social scientists, but also for ordinary actors via newspapers, college education, party politics, bar conversations, love stories, fashion magazines, etc. 2 The social sciences have disseminated their definition of society as effectively as utility companies deliver electricity and telephone services. Offering comments about the inevitable ‘social dimension’ of what we and others are doing ‘in society’ has become as familiar to us as using a mobile phone, ordering a beer, or invoking the Oedipus complex—at least in the developed world.

Latour thinks it is common to invoke to Ødipus complex, as common as to ordering a beer?!

In the course of the book we will learn to distinguish the standard sociology of the social from a more radical subfamily which I will call critical sociology. 7 This last branch will be defined by the following three traits: it doesn’t only limit itself to the social but replaces the object to be studied by another matter made of social relations; it claims that this substitution is unbearable for the social actors who need to live under the illusion that there is something ‘other’ than social there; and it considers that the actors’ objections to their social explanations offer the best proof that those explanations are right.

Italics are in the original. Is he saying that when people object to being analyzed in a particular way, this is the best proof that it is a correct analysis??

To clarify, I will call the first approach ‘sociology of the social’ and the second ‘sociology of associations’ (I wish I could use ‘associology’). I know this is very unfair to the many nuances of the social sciences l have thus lumped together, but this is acceptable for an introduction which has to be very precise on the unfamiliar arguments it chooses to describe as it sketches the well-known terrain. I may be forgiven for this roughness because there exist many excellent introductions for the sociology of the social but none, to my knowledge, for this small subfield of social theory that has been called—by the way, what is it to be called? Alas, the historical name is ‘actor-network-theory’, a name that is so awkward, so confusing, so meaningless that it deserves to be kept. If the author, for instance, of a travel guide is free to propose new comments on the land he has chosen to present, he is certainly not free to change its most common name since the easiest signpost is the best—after all, the origin of the word ‘America’ is even more awkward. I was ready to drop this label for more elaborate ones like ‘sociology of translation’, ‘actant-rhyzome ontology’, ‘sociology of innovation’, and so on, until someone pointed out to me that the acronym A.N.T. was perfectly fit for a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail-sniffing, and collective traveler. An ant writing for other ants, this fits my project very well! 9 Ideally, the word sociology should work best, but it cannot be used before its two components—what is social and what is a science—have been somewhat revamped. As this book unfolds, I will use it more and more often though, reserving the expression ‘sociology of the social’ to designate the repertoire to which other social scientists, in my view, limit themselves too readily.

Besides apparently not being able to settle on a name for the field, despite decades of ‘work’ in it… he rambles on with incoherent sentences. Did no one proof read this? (The answer appears to be “no” for there are typos spread around in the book, giving the impression that no one proof read it.)

Then comes the typical language abuse: actant-rhyzome ontology?? actant is their word for actor which also means something else. rhizome is a technical term from biology. ontology is from philosophy.

Do not miss the good part about the ant (apparently choosing this term because it fits with the abbreviation?) that is both blind and myopic. [A friend suggested a more charitable interpretation, namely that the ant has one blind eye and one myopic one. I guess that is possible!]

In what follows I am not interested in refutation—proving that the other social theories are wrong—but in proposition. How far can one go by suspending the common sense hypothesis that the existence of a social realm offers a legitimate frame of reference for the social sciences? 11 If physicists at the beginning of the previous century were able to do away with the common sense solution of an absolutely rigid and indefinitely plastic ether, can sociologists discover new traveling possibilities by abandoning the notion of a social substance as a ‘superfluous hypothesis’? This position is so marginal, its chance of success so slim, that I see no reason to be fair and thorough with the perfectly reasonable alternatives that could, at any point, smash it into pieces. So, I will be opinionated and often partial in order to demonstrate clearly the contrast between the two viewpoints. In exchange for this breach of fairness, I will try to be as coherent as possible in drawing the most extreme conclusions from the position I have chosen to experiment with. My test will be to see how many new questions can be brought to light by sticking firmly, even blindly, to all the obligations that this new departure point is forcing us to obey. The final test will be to check, at the end of this book, if the sociology of associations has been able to take up the relay of the sociology of the social by following different types of new and more active connections, and if it has been able to inherit all that was legitimate in the ambition of a science of the social. As usual, the result of whether this has been successful or not will be up to the reader.

Read that part again. The use of terms from relativity is a hallmark of Latour. He does not appear to understand the theory and did in fact write a 40 page paper about his misunderstandings.

Latour, B. (1988). A relativistic account of Einstein’s relativity. Social Studies of Science, 18(1), 3-44.
Twice does Latour misunderstand the word “quantum”, apparently thinking it is just a fancy synonym for “quantity”. E.g.:
I have left aside in this book the question of quantitative sociology not because I
believe more in qualitative data, but because the very definition of whichquantumto
tally is at stake in the different definitions of the social vector I am going to follow here. [footnote 14]
The reader will discover here a set of complicated instructions to make displacement more costly and more painful. The reason for this is that I want to break the habit of linking the notions of ‘society’, ‘social factor’, and ‘social explanation’ with a sudden acceleration in the description. When sociologists of the social pronounce the words ‘society’, ‘power’, ‘structure’, and ‘context’, they often jump straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history, to mobilize gigantic forces, to detect dramatic patterns emerging out of confusing interactions, to see everywhere in the cases at hand yet more examples of well-known types, to reveal behind the scenes some dark powers pulling the strings. Not that they are wrong since its perfectly true that older social relations have been packaged in such a way as to seem to provide a ready explanation for many puzzling subjects. But the time has come to have a much closer look at the type of aggregates thus assembled and at the ways they are connected to one another.
Not even sure what this is.
Where should we start? As always, it is best to begin in the middle of things, in medias res. Will the reading of a newspaper do? Sure, it offers a starting point as good as any. As soon as you open it, it’s like a rain, a flood, an epidemic, an infestation. With every two lines, a trace is being left by some writer that some group is being made or unmade. Here it’s the CEO of a big company who deplores the fact that five years after the merger the firm’s various branches are still not fully integrated. She wonders how to ‘promote a common corporate culture’. A few lines further down finds an anthropologist explaining that there is no ‘ethnic’ difference between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, but that it’s really a ‘class difference’ that has been ‘instrumentalized’ by colonialists and then ‘naturalized’ as a ‘cultural’ one. In the letters section, a Scot reminds his readers of the ‘Glorious Alliance’ between France and Mary Queen of Scots, which explains why Scotland should not share the rabid Europhobia of Englishmen. A correspondent from France tries to explain why second generation girls from Algeria that show up at school with an Islamic veil are seen by their teachers as ‘fanatics’ who ‘exclude themselves’ from the French Republic. In the Europe section, it is explained that EU functionaries are more and more thinking ‘as Europeans’ and are no longer ‘loyal to their nationalities’. In the Music section, a fierce dispute divides Baroque ensembles according to the frequency of their tuning forks, pelting one another with accusations such as ‘modernist’, ‘unfaithful to the tradition’, ‘academic’. In the Computer section, the writer mocks the attachment of Macintosh users to their utterly marginal machines and puts forward a ‘cultural interpretation’ for what he calls a form of ‘techno-fanaticism’. Further down an editorialist predicts that Iraq, though its borders are fairly recent, will exist as a nation and will not split up along the older dividing lines of religion and historical ‘zones of influence’. Another column mocks the accusation that those against the war in Iraq are ‘anti-American’. It never stops.
This is the opening of a new chapter. He sure does read some other newspapers than I do.
This is a larger point about the vocabulary of ANT with which I should familiarize the reader at this early stage in order to avoid confusing the language of this book with the landscape we are going to visit. I find it best to use the most general, the most banal, even the most vulgar repertoire so that there will be no risk of confusing the actors’ own prolific idioms. Sociologists of the social, as a rule, do just the opposite. They are keen to produce precise, well chosen, sophisticated terms for what they say the actors say. But then they might run the risk of confusing the two meta-languages—since actors, too, have their own elaborate and fully reflexive meta-language. If they practice critical sociology, then there is an even greater risk to render actors mute altogether. ANT prefers to use what could be called an infralanguage, which remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next. In my experience, this is a better way for the vocabulary of the actors to be heard loud and clear—and I am not especially worried if it is the social scientists’ jargon that is being downplayed. If I had to provide a checklist for what is a good ANT account—this will be an important indicator of quality—are the concepts of the actors allowed to be stronger than that of the analysts, or is it the analyst who is doing all the talking? As far as writing reports is concerned, it means a precise but difficult trial: Is the text that comments on the various quotes and documents more, less, or as interesting as the actors’ own expressions and behaviors? If you find this test too easy to meet, then ANT is not for you.
Infralanguage? Ok.

It would be possible to attenuate the differences between the two schools by saying that ‘naturally’ all social scientists agree that groups have to be made and remade anew through some other non-social means, and that there is never a grouping that can sustain its existence without some keeping up. To be sure, everyone will agree that, for instance, popular festivals are necessary to ‘refresh social ties’; that propaganda is indispensable to ‘heat up’ the passions of ‘national identities’; that traditions are ‘invented’; that it is good for a company to distribute a journal to ‘build loyalties’; that without price tags and bar codes it would be very difficult to ‘calculate’ a price; that for a child to become ‘responsible’ early spanking cannot do any harm; that without a totem it would be difficult for a tribe to recognize that they are ‘members’ of the same clan. These sorts of expressions flow effortlessly from our keyboards. But their precise effect depends on how exactly we understand ways of speaking which all allude to the ‘making’ of groups. For sociologists of the social, such terms designate the many avatars that the same social order can take or the variegated tools with which it ‘represents’ itself or through which it is ‘reproduced’. 29 For them, ‘social forces’ are always already present in the background so that the precise means to achieve their presence matters a great deal—but not that crucially.

The use of nonsensical single quotation marks and italics is found in the entire book. Unfortunately, they do not copy from the PDF, and I’m too lazy to recreate them except for in some cases.

To take two of the very few technical terms I will need in this introductory book, it makes a huge difference whether the means to produce the social are taken as intermediaries or as mediators. At the beginning, the bifurcation seems small, but it will later on lead us into different territories. To be sure, this nuance will be fully visible only at the close of this book—if the reader is patient enough to reach it! Yet we should try to get familiar with it as early as possible as it will be our shibboleth throughout.

Very few technical terms? Hm! Since he continues to redefine common terms, sometimes without saying it, using terms from actual sciences in new ways, and introducing new words like infralanguage without defining them, I’d say that it is more than a “very few”.

In most situations, we use ‘social’ to mean that which has already been assembled and acts as a whole, without being too picky on the precise nature of what has been gathered, bundled, and packaged together. When we say that ‘something is social’ or ‘has a social dimension’, we mobilize one set of features that, so to speak, march in step together, even though it might be composed of radically different types of entities. This unproblematic use of the word is fine as long as we don’t confuse the sentence ‘Is social what goes together?’, with one that says, ‘social designates a particular kind of stuff’. With the former we simply mean that we are dealing with a routine state of affairs whose binding together is the crucial aspect, while the second designates a sort of substance whose main feature lies in its differences with other types of materials. We imply that some assemblages are built out of social stuff instead of physical, biological, or economical blocks, much like the houses of the Three Little Pigs were made of straw, wood, and stone. To avoid this confusion between the two meanings of social, we have to open a second source of uncertainty, one dealing this time with the heterogeneous nature of the ingredients making up social ties.

I can think of multiple common meanings of social, but this is not one of them. Dictionary.com agrees.

It is not by accident that this expression, like that of ‘person’, comes from the stage. Far from indicating a pure and unproblematic source of action, they both lead to puzzles as old as the institution of theater itself—as Jean-Paul Sartre famously showed in his portrait of the garc¸on de cafe´who no longer knows the difference between his ‘authentic self’ and his ‘social role’. 40 To use the word ‘actor’ means that it’s never clear who and what is acting when we act since an actor on stage is never alone in acting. Play-acting puts us immediately into a thick imbroglio where the question of who is carrying out the action has become unfathomable. As soon as the play starts, as Irwin Goffman has so often showed, nothing is certain: Is this for real? Is it fake? 41 Does the audience’s reaction count? What about the lighting? What is the backstage crew doing? Is the playwright’s message faithfully transported or hopelessly bungled? Is the character carried over? And if so, by what? What are the partners doing? Where is the prompter? If we accept to unfold the metaphor, the very word actor directs our attention to a complete dislocation of the action, warning us that it is not a coherent, controlled, well-rounded, and clean-edged affair. By definition, action is dislocated. 42 Action is borrowed, distributed, suggested, influenced, dominated, betrayed, translated. If an actor is said to be an actor-network, it is first of all to underline that it represents the major source of uncertainty about the origin of action—the turn of the word ‘network’ will come in due time. Like Jesus on the cross, it is of the actor that one should always say: ‘Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.’

Some very peculiar ideas about acting.

What is even more dangerous in the inconsiderate acceptance of hidden variables is to shift from the sociology of the social to critical sociology. 47 This is the only discipline that finds itself scientific when it not only ignores data and replaces it with uncontroversial data from already assembled social forces, but also when it takes the indignant reactions of those who are thus ‘explained’ as what proves the unbearable truth of the critics’ interpretations. At this point sociology stops being empirical and becomes ‘vampirical’. It’s the great tragedy of the social sciences that this lesson was not heeded and that critical sociologists still consider as their treasure what they should rather be ashamed of, namely confusing what obfuscates data with what is revealed by it. Would you qualify as ‘scientific’ a discipline that puts to one side the precise information offered by fieldwork and replaces it by instances of other things that are invisible and those things people have not said and have vocally denied? For once, it’s sociologists of associations who are following common sense. For them, controversies about agencies have to be deployed to the full, no matter how difficult it is so as not to simplify in advance the task of assembling the collective.

Second, if agency is one thing, its figuration is another. What is doing the action is always provided in the account with some flesh and features that make them have some form or shape, no matter how vague. ‘Figuration’ is one of those technical terms I need to introduce to break the knee-jerk reactions of ‘social explanation’ because it is essential to grasp that there exist many more figures than anthropomorphic ones. This is one of the many cases where sociology has to accept to become more abstract. To endow an agency with anonymity gives it exactly as much a figure as when it is endowed with a name, a nose, a voice, or a face. It’s just making it ideo- instead of anthropomorphic. Statistical aggregates obtained from a questionnaire and given a label—like A and B types in the search for the causes of heart disease—are as concrete as ‘my red-faced sanguine neighbor who died last Saturday from a stroke while planting his turnips because he ate too much fat’. To say ‘culture forbids having kids out of wedlock’ requires, in terms of figuration, exactly as much work as saying ‘my future mother-in-law wants me to marry her daughter’. To be sure the first figuration (anonymous) is different from the second one (my mother-in-law), but they both give a figure, a form, a cloth, a flesh to an agency forbidding me or forcing me to do things. As far as the question of figuration is concerned, there is no reason to say that the first is a ‘statistical abstraction’ while the other would be a ‘concrete actor’. Individual agencies, too, need abstract figurations. When people complain about ‘hypostasizing’ society, they should not forget that my mother-in-law is also a hypostasis—and so are of course individuals and calculative agents as much as the infamous Invisible Hand. This is exactly what the words ‘actor’ and ‘person’ mean: no one knows how many people are simultaneously at work in any given individual; conversely, no one knows how much individuality there can be in a cloud of statistical data points. Figuration endows them with a shape but not necessarily in the manner of a smooth portrait by a figurative painter. To do their job, sociologists need as much variety in ‘drawing’ actors as there are debates about figuration in modern and contemporary art.

Everybody suffers from multiple personality disorder?

And lots of more fancy terms. The following paragraph has a few more:

To break away from the influence of what could be called ‘figurative sociology’, ANT uses the technical word actant that comes from the study of literature. Here are four ways to figure out the same actant: ‘Imperialism strives for unilateralism’; ‘The United States wishes to withdraw from the UN’; ‘Bush Junior wishes to withdraw from the UN’; ‘Many officers from the Army and two dozen neo-con leaders want to withdraw from the UN.’ That the first is a structural trait, the second a corporate body, the third an individual, the fourth a loose aggregate of individuals makes a big difference of course to the account, but they all provide different figurations of the same actions. None of the four is more or less ‘realist’, ‘concrete’, ‘abstract’, or ‘artificial’ than the others. They simply lead to the entrenchment of different groups and thus helps to solve the first uncertainty about group formation. The great difficulty in ANT is not to be intimidated by the type of figuration:ideo-, or techno-, or bio-morphisms are ‘morphism’ just as much as the incarnation of some actant into a single individual.

This belief in the ‘lived world’ is a nice case of ‘misplaced concreteness’ to use Whitehead’s term: an account full of individuals might be more abstract than another consisting only of collective actors. A billiard ball hitting another one on the green felt of a billiard table might have exactly as much agency as a ‘person’ directing her ‘gaze’ to the ‘rich human world’ of another ‘meaningful face’ in the smoke filled room of the pub where the tables have been set up. This is not what phenomenologists and sociologists of the social might say, but then listen to what the players themselves are saying about their own ‘behaviors’ and the unpredictable ‘action’ of their billiard balls. They seem to produce quite a lot of the very imbroglios which are strictly forbidden by the theory that states that a radical difference should be maintained between ‘action’ and ‘behavior’.68 Here again, social scientists have too often confused their role of analyst with some sort of political call for discipline and emancipation.

Once this second meaning of social as association is in place, we can understand what was so confusing about the sociologists of the social. They use the adjective to designate two entirely different types of phenomena: one of them is the local, face-to-face, naked, unequipped, and dynamic interactions; and the other is a sort of specific force that is supposed to explain why those same temporary face-to-face interactions could become far-reaching and durable. While it’s perfectly reasonable to designate by ‘social’ the ubiquitous phenomenon of face-to-face relations, it cannot provide any ground for defining a ‘social’ force that is nothing more than a tautology, a sleight of hand, a magical invocation, since it begs the question of how and through which means this increase in durability has been practically achieved. To jump from the recognition of interactions to the existence of a social force is, once again, an inference that does not follow from the premise.

Normal definition of social don’t work because eh..

Are sociologists of the social so foolish that they are unable to detect such a tautology in their reasoning? Are they really stuck in the mythical belief of another world behind the real world? Do they really believe in this strange bootstrapping of a society born out of itself? 76 Of course not, since they never really use it in practice and so are never confronted by the contradiction inherent in the notion of a ‘self production’ of society. The reason why they never draw the logical conclusion that their argument is contradictory is that they use it somewhat more loosely. When they invoke the durability of some social aggregates they always, wittingly or unwittingly, lend to the weak social ties the heavy load coming from the masses of other nonsocial things. It is always things—and I now mean this last word literally—which, in practice, lend their ‘steely’ quality to the hapless ‘society’. So, in effect, what sociologists mean by the ‘power of society’ is not society itself—that would be magical indeed—but some sort of summary for all the entities already mobilized to render asymmetries longer lasting. 77 This use of a shorthand is not tautological, but it is dangerously misleading since there is no empirical way to decide how all that stuff has been mobilized any longer—and worst of all, there is no way to know if such a load is still active. The idea of a society has become in the hands of later-day ‘social explainers’ like a big container ship which no inspector is permitted to board and which allows social scientists to smuggle goods across national borders without having to submit to public inspection. Is the cargo empty or full, healthy or rotten, innocuous or deadly, newly made or long disused? It has become anyone’s guess, much like the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The tautology is.. contradictory?

This, for me, has always been a great surprise: How is it that, in spite of this massive and ubiquitous phenomenon, sociology remains ‘without object’? It is even more startling when you realize that this discipline emerged a full century after the Industrial Revolution and has been evolving in parallel with the largest and most intensive technical developments since the Neolithic. Not only that, but how to explain that so many social scientists pride themselves in considering ‘social meaning ’instead of ‘mere’ material relations, ‘symbolic dimension’ instead of ‘brute causality’? Much like sex during the Victorian period, objects are nowhere to be said and everywhere to be felt. They exist, naturally, but they are never given a thought, a social thought. Like humble servants, they live on the margins of the social doing most of the work but never allowed to be represented as such. There seems to be no way, no conduit, no entry point for them to be knitted together with the same wool as the rest of the social ties. The more radical thinkers want to attract attention to humans in the margins and at the periphery, the less they speak of objects. As if a damning curse had been cast unto things, they remain asleep like the servants of some enchanted castle. Yet, as soon as they are freed from the spell, they start shuddering, stretching, and muttering. They begin to swarm in all directions, shaking the other human actors, waking them out of their dogmatic sleep. Would it be too childish to say that ANT played the role of the Charming Prince’s kiss tenderly touching Sleeping Beauty’s lips? At any rate, it is because it was an object-oriented sociology for object-oriented humans that this school of thought was noticed in the first place—and that it makes sense to write an introduction to it.

This one starts out well enough.

In plain English, to say something is constructed means that it’s not a mystery that has popped out of nowhere, or that it has a more humble but also more visible and more interesting origin. Usually, the great advantage of visiting construction sites is that they offer an ideal vantage point to witness the connections between humans and non-humans. Once visitors have their feet deep in the mud, they are easily struck by the spectacle of all the participants working hard at the time of their most radical metamorphosis. 108 This is not only true of science but of all the other construction sites, the most obvious being those that are at the source of the metaphor, namely houses and buildings fabricated by architects, masons, city planners, real estate agents, and homeowners. 109 The same is true of artistic practice. 110 The ‘making of’ any enterprise—films, skyscrapers, facts, political meetings, initiation rituals, haute couture, cooking—offers a view that is sufficiently different from the official one. Not only does it lead you backstage and introduce you to the skills and knacks of practitioners, it also provides a rare glimpse of what it is for a thing to emerge out of in existence by adding to any existing entity its time dimension. Even more important, when you are guided to any construction site you are experiencing the troubling and exhilarating feeling that things could be different, or at least that they could still fail—a feeling never so deep when faced with the final product, no matter how beautiful or impressive it may be.

The difficulty was to make sense of this experience—and this took a very long time. That scientists were sometimes angry at us was not in itself that significant. Studying up does not mean being submitted to the agenda of those we study: what some disgruntled scientists concluded from our research remains their business, not ours. As far as I can tell from the confusing episodes of what has been called the ‘Science Wars’, they might have concluded that the white purity of science should never be sullied by the dark and greasy fingers of mere sociologists. 129 If they have not learned anything from their encounters with us, this is too bad for them and there is not much we can do. But even if they drew the wrong conclusion, their furor at what sociologists were so clearly missing in trying to explain their work was for me a crucial sign. No matter how misguided their reactions, it showed that whenever a social explanation was provided there was something very tricky going on. Instead of establishing some connection between two entities, it often happens that one entity is substitutedby another one. At which point the necessary search for causality has become a wholly different enterprise dangerously close to prestidigitation.

He is referring to Sokal’s critique here, citing it in footnote 129. They did not learn anything? lol?

It is exactly at such a juncture that we have to choose to be literal, naive, and myopic. Refusing to understand only half is sometimes a virtue. After all, physicists got rid of the ether only when one of them was moronic enough to ask how the small handle of a clock could be ‘superimposed’ on the big one: everyone else knew, he chose not to. 135 With all due respect, I propose to do the same with this great mystery of the social. Everyone seems to know what it means to ‘relate’ religion and society, law and society, art and society, market and society, to have something at once ‘behind’, ‘reinforced’, ‘invisible’, and ‘denied’. But I don’t!

Not quite sure what this is supposed to refer to. Anything better with history of ether in physics than me, please fill in here.

With my voluntarily narrowed mind I’d say that if social element A is said to ‘cause’ the existence of B, C, and D, then not only should it be able to generate back B, C, and D, but it should also account for the differences between B, C, and D, except if it can be shown that B, C, and D are the same thing, in which case their differences can be declared unimportant. If you peruse the social history literature and look at the number of things that are supposed to be caused by ‘the force of society’, the rise of the modern state, the ascent of the petty bourgeoisie, the reproduction of social domination, the power of industrial lobbies, the invisible hand of the market, individual interactions, then the relation might just be one where a single cause has a million effects.136 But a cause is a cause is a cause. Is the causing element able to account for the differences between millions of effects—in which case can I generate B, C, and D as consequences when I hold A as a cause? Or are these differences between millions of events really immaterial—in which case sticking simply to cause A implies that I hold everything as important, minus marginal perturbations? In both cases, the A cause is indeed, for all practical purposes, substitutable with the millions of B, C, Ds, etc. But with the ‘ascent of the petty bourgeoisie’, do I really grasp what happened in England, France, and Germany from the 15th to the 20th century? With the ‘automatic feedback of the invisible hand’, do I really grasp the millions of market interactions throughout the whole world? When holding the law of falling bodies, do I grasp everything pertinent there is to say about the planet’s interactions as well as in the pendulum movement of my mother’s old clock? Does ‘society’ or the ‘market’ contain in potentia what it is supposed to cause or not? ‘Of course not’ would respond the unanimous choir of social theorists, ‘we never claimed such a stupid philosophy of causes’. But then what exact role do they really give to ‘social forces’?

A real gem! The differences between the same things can be said to be unimportant!

Law of falling bodies presumably refers to Newton’s law of universal gravitation.

As I have said in the introduction, to use the word social for such a process is legitimated by the oldest etymology of the word socius: ‘someone following someone else’, a ‘follower’, an ‘associate’. To designate this thing which is neither one actor among many nor a force behind all the actors transported through some of them but a connection that transports, so to speak, transformations, we use the word translation—the tricky word ‘network’ being defined in the next chapter as what is traced by those translations in the scholars’ accounts. 144 So, the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting. If some causality appears to be transported in a predictable and routine way, then it’s the proof that other mediators have been put in place to render such a displacement smooth and predictable (see Part II). I can now state the aim of this sociology of associations more precisely: there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties,but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations. Through this book, we will hopefully learn to widen the gap between an account that makes use of the social as traditionally construed and this other one that purports to deploy strings of mediators. To learn ANT is nothing more than to become sensitive to the differences in the literary, scientific, moral, political, and empirical dimensions of the two types of accounts.

Another nonsensical redefinition.

Next up, let’s talk nonsense about sociobiology:

To pursue our project we don’t have to tackle these difficult philosophical questions. We just need to be open-minded about the shape in which former objects of nature might present themselves in the new associations we are following. To our great surprise, once the artificial boundary between social and natural was removed, non-human entities were able to appear under an unexpected guise. For instance, rocks might be useful to knock an idealist back to his senses, but rocks in geology seemed to be much more varied, much more uncertain, much more open, and deploy many more types of agencies than the narrow role given to them in empiricist accounts. 147 Steel desks offer a great opportunity for angry realists to thump the table in the name of ‘material constraints’ so as to bring sociologists back to reality, but laminated steel in metallurgy offers so many conundrums on the ways material resistance may occur that there is almost no relation between what positivist philosophers and material scientists call ‘matter’. 148 The inflexible drive of genetic make-up may be great for socio-biologists to ridicule the socialist dream of nurturing a better humanity, but genes in biogenetics take so many contradictory roles, obey so many opposite signals, are ‘made up’ of so many influences that if there is one thing that cannot be done with them it is to silence an adversary. 149 Computers might offer an advertisement for the best example of hype, but chips in computer science require vast institutions in order to live up to their reputation as ‘formal machines’. 150 Everywhere, the empirical multiplicity of former ‘natural’ agencies overflows the narrow boundary of matters of fact. There exists no direct relation between being real and being indisputable.

Is biogenetics something else than normal genetics? Is there a non-bio genetics? Alien genetics? A subfield of xenobiology perhaps?

It’s not too late to abuse math too:

This introduction to ANT begins to look like another instance of Zeno’s paradox, as if every segment was split up by a host of mediators each claiming to be taken into account. ‘We will never get there! How can we absorb so many controversies?’ Having reached this point, the temptation is great to quit in despair and to fall back on more reasonable social theories that would prove their stolid common sense by ignoring most of the sources of uncertainty I have reviewed. We could swallow one, maybe two, but not four in a row. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to speed things up: this type of science for that type of social should be as slow as the multiplicity of objections and objects it has to register in its path; it should be as costly as it is necessary to establish connections among the many mediators it finds swarming at every step; and it should be as reflexive, articulated, and idiosyncratic as the actors cooperating in its elaboration. It has to be able to register differences, to absorb multiplicity, to be remade for each new case at hand. This is why the four sources of uncertainty have to be tackled courageously all at once, each adding its set of differences to the others. If one is missing, the whole project falls apart.


A sudden flash of self-reflection?!

It’s thus a fair question to ask why the literature of social science is often so badly written. There are two reasons for this: first, scholars strive to imitate the sloppy writings of hard scientists; second, because contrary to the latter, they do not convoke in their reports actors recalcitrant enough to interfere with the bad writing.

False alarm.

But is it not somewhat disingenuous to retain the tricky word network to describe such a benchmark of literary quality? I agree that it does not resemble other words I have used up to now like group, actor, actant, group, fluid, and non-human, which are chosen voluntarily because of their benighted meaninglessness. This one, on the contrary, has too many meanings! The confusion took place—it is our fault entirely—because some of the earlier objects described by ANT were networks in the technical sense—metrology, subways, telephones— and also because when this term was introduced twenty-five years ago, the Internet had not struck—nor had al-Qaida for that matter. So, network was a novelty that could help in eliciting a contrast with ‘Society’, ‘institution’, ‘culture’, ‘fields’, etc. which were often conceived as surfaces, floods of causal transfers, and real matters of fact. But nowadays, networks have become the rule and surfaces the exception. It has lost its sharp edge. 185 If I believed in jargon and if worknet or action net had any chance to hold, I would offer it as a substitute so as to make the contrast between technical networks and worknets, the latter remaining a way for social scientists to make sense of the former. 186 Work-nets could allow one to see the labor that goes on in laying down net-works: the first as an active mediator, the second as a stabilized set of intermediaries.

More random allusions (9-11), and choosing words deliberately that are confusing.

A very strange part of the book is the Dialog in the middle. In the dialog, a professor and a student talk about ANT, and the student brings up the usual objections: nonsense dressed in fancy language, useless as a theoretical perspective, etc. The professor is Latour and he responds akin to Latour elsewhere in the book. The dialog is strange in that Latour seems to halfway understand the problems with ANT, but still engages in it. Dishonest or merely very confused?

The problem is that social scientists use scale as one of the many variables they need to set up before doing the study, whereas scale is what actors achieve by scaling, spacing, and contextualizing each other through the transportation in some specific vehicles of some specific traces. 244 It is of little use to respect the actors’ achievements if in the end we deny them one of their most important privileges, namely that they are the ones defining relative scale. It’s not the analyst’s job to impose an absolute one. As every reader of relativity theory knows, absolute frames of reference generate only horrible deformations, spoiling any hope of superimposing documents in some readable format, while soft and slimy ‘mollusks of reference’ (Einstein’s term) allow physicists to travel from one frame to the next if not smoothly, then at least continuously. 245 Either the sociologist is rigid and the world becomes a mess or the sociologist is pliable enough and the world puts itself in order. Here again the duties of empirical relativism are akin to those of morality.

As in every previous case of Latour using “as every… knows”…

Scale is the actor’s own achievement. Although this is the oldest and, in my view, the most decisive proposition made by ANT, 247 I have never encountered anyone who could accept to even glance at the landscape thus revealed—no more, if I dare the parallel, than Galileo could tempt his ‘dear and respected colleagues’ to have a look through his makeshift telescope. The reason is that we tend to think of scale— macro, meso, micro—as a well-ordered zoom. It is a bit like the marvelous but perversely misleading book The Powers of Ten, where each page offers a picture one order of magnitude closer than the preceding one all the way from the Milky Way to the DNA fibers, with a photo somewhere in the middle range that shows two young picnickers on a lawn near Lake Superior. 248 A microsecond of reflection is enough to realize that this montage is misleading—where would a camera be positioned to show the galaxy as a whole? Where is the microscope able to pin down this cell DNA instead of that one? What ruler could order pictures along such a regular trail? Nice assemblage, but perversely wrong. The same is true of the zooming effect in the social realm, except that, in this case, it is taken not as a clever artistic trick, but as a most natural injunction springing from the sturdiest common sense. Is it not obvious that IBM is ‘bigger’ than its sales force? That France is ‘wider’ than the School of Mines that is much ‘bigger’ than me? And if we imagine IBM and France as having the same star-like shape as the command and control war room I mentioned earlier, what would we make of the organizational charts of IBM’s corporate structure, of the map of France, of the picture of the whole Earth? Are they not obviously providing the vastly wider ‘framework’ into which ‘smaller things’ have to be ‘situated’? Does it not make perfect sense to say that Europe is bigger than France, which is bigger than Paris that is bigger than rue Danton and which is bigger than my flat? Or to say that the 20 th century provides the frame ‘in which’ the Second World War has ‘taken place’? That the battle of Waterloo, in Stendhal’s The Charter house of Parma, is a vastly more important event than Fabrizio del Dongo’s experience of it? While readers might be ready to listen patiently to the claims of ANT for a new topography, they won’t take it any further if it goes too much against every commonsensical reaction. How could ‘putting things into a frame’ not be the most reasonable thing to do?

An odd critique of zooming.

It’s worth noting at this point that ANT has been accused of two symmetric and contradictory sins: the first is that it extends politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology; the second is that it is so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage—being content only to connive with those in power. 349 Although the two accusations should cancel each other out—how can one extend politics so much and yet doing so little for it?—they are not necessarily contradictory. Since the Left has always leaned on some science to reinforce its project of emancipation, politicizing science amounts to depriving the exploited from the only chance they have of redressing the balance by appealing to objectivity and rationality. 350 Although the false sciences have to be exposed—they are nothing but barely disguised ideology—there resides in the purely scientific ones the only court of appeal capable of adjudicating all the disputes. Only the most reactionary people rejoice at a weakening of reason. If not, the underdogs are left with ‘mere’ power relations—and at that game the lambs will be eaten much faster than the wolves. Moreover, by delivering the keys of a politicized science to the hands of the powerful, ANT turns into nothing but a ‘sociology of engineers’, or worse, a group of consultants teaching those who have been freed from the disciplining power of reason to be even more Machiavellian, even more scheming, even more indifferent to the difference between science and ideology. In the name of the extension of networks, the naked emperor gets more of the latest ‘wearables’. 351 ANT is nothing but an extended form of Machiavellianism.

Are they contradictory or not? And don’t tell Latour about advanced modal logic!

And finally in his conclusion:

I am well aware that I have not said enough to substantiate any of these numerous points. This book is just an introduction to help the interested reader in drawing the social theory consequences of the sociology of science. It’s not for me to say if anyone will end up using these tricks in any trade. At least now nobody can complain that the project of actor-network-theory has not been systematically presented. I have voluntarily made it such an easy target that a sharpshooter is not needed in order to hit it.

What Latour presents is neither precise, clear, introductory or systematic. It is a verbiage of misused, redefined, made-up without definitions mixture of language in essence presenting very simple ideas. It is exactly the kind of confused drivel that Sokal et al has claimed.

BMI is often used a proxy for fat percent or similar measures. BMI has a proven track record of predictive power of many health conditions, yet it still receives lots of criticism due to the fact that it gives misleading results for some groups, notably body builders. There is a conceptual link here with the criticism of simple IQ tests, such as Raven’s which ‘only measure ability to spot figures’. Nonverbal matrix tests such as Raven’s or Cattell’s do indeed not measure g as well as more diverse batteries do (Johnson et al, 2008). These visual tests could be similarly criticized for not working well on those with bad eyesight. However, they are still useful for a broad sample of the population.

Criticisms like this strike me as an incarnation of the perfect solution/Nirvana fallacy:

The perfect solution fallacy (aka the nirvana fallacy) is a fallacy of assumption: if an action is not a perfect solution to a problem, it is not worth taking. Stated baldly, the assumption is obviously false. The fallacy is usually stated more subtly, however. For example, arguers against specific vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, or vaccines in general often emphasize the imperfect nature of vaccines as a good reason for not getting vaccinated: vaccines aren’t 100% effective or 100% safe. Vaccines are safe and effective; however, they are not 100% safe and effective. It is true that getting vaccinated is not a 100% guarantee against a disease, but it is not valid to infer from that fact that nobody should get vaccinated until every vaccine everywhere prevents anybody anywhere from getting any disease the vaccines are designed to protect us from without harming anyone anywhere.

Any measure that has more than 0 validity can be useful in the right circumstances. If a measure has some validity and is easy to administer (BMI or non-verbal pen and paper group tests), they can be very useful even if they have less validity than better measures (fat% test or full battery IQ tests).

Anyway, BMI should probably/perhaps retired now because we have found a more effective (but surely not the best either!) measure:

Our aim was to differentiate the screening potential of waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) and waist circumference (WC) for adult cardiometabolic risk in people of different nationalities and to compare both with body mass index (BMI). We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that used receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curves for assessing the discriminatory power of anthropometric indices in distinguishing adults with hypertension, type-2 diabetes, dyslipidaemia, metabolic syndrome and general cardiovascular outcomes (CVD). Thirty one papers met the inclusion criteria. Using data on all outcomes, averaged within study group, WHtR had significantly greater discriminatory power compared with BMI. Compared with BMI, WC improved discrimination of adverse outcomes by 3% (P < 0.05) and WHtR improved discrimination by 4–5% over BMI (P < 0.01). Most importantly, statistical analysis of the within-study difference in AUC showed WHtR to be significantly better than WC for diabetes, hypertension, CVD and all outcomes (P < 0.005) in men and women.
For the first time, robust statistical evidence from studies involving more than 300 000 adults in several ethnic groups, shows the superiority of WHtR over WC and BMI for detecting cardiometabolic risk factors in both sexes. Waist-to-height ratio should therefore be considered as a screening tool. (Ashwell et al, 2012)

Ashwell, M., Gunn, P., & Gibson, S. (2012). Waist‐to‐height ratio is a better screening tool than waist circumference and BMI for adult cardiometabolic risk factors: systematic review and meta‐analysis. obesity reviews, 13(3), 275-286.

Johnson, W., Nijenhuis, J. T., & Bouchard Jr, T. J. (2008). Still just 1 g: Consistent results from five test batteries. Intelligence, 36(1), 81-95.

In a comment on research of psychedelics, I found this gem:

.Your brain is a matrix that is dispensing substances known as neurotransmitters which don’t actually transmit anything but rather their purpose is to alter the rate and manner in which energy is affected. The resulting diffusion of energy is a 3-dimensional fractal continuously expanding outward in all directions or your ora which is being observed by a Consciousness at a given distance so it appears as a sphere. your ora could and perhaps is being observed at multiple distances giving rise to the sphere within spheres notion. As the observer perceives your ora it analyzes the resulting fractals (like divining the surface of the sun) and forms ideas within itself and then these ideas are conveyed back to you as thoughts to see how You react. This is either due to its choice or more likely due to the nature of “knowing” Let me deconstruct the word know for you, there is a line (l) intersected (->l) that diverges (->K) in (N) and around (O) to double you (W). The act of analyzing and conveying the information is perhaps the 1/2 to 2 second delay in “our” reality Didn’t Plato note that man by his nature is a member of a group which could be taken a step farther by saying man by his nature needs another to “be”. In this reality we are observed so that perhaps we become aware. So what I perceive as my conscious mind is my perception of the observed sphere (that hazy mirrored reflection) and my thoughts which are actually the interpretation of the observed sphere by another. Here is a way to examine what I mean, become a point in space then a sphere then back to a point again over and over, you can easily “see” a star and manipulate it by changing the perceived distance but when you are the point and become the sphere and back again you can only “feel” a sense of expansion and contraction. If we are only this then why do we perceive so readily from the outside and not vise versa. My subconscious is the swirling chaos of the 3-d fractal while my higher consciousness is that part of the interaction that escaped the analysis of the observer and is expanding infinitely fleeing from the observers expanding sphere of analysis. With its own analysis slowing it the only hope for rapture is becoming the leading edge expanding exponentially to complete dissipation. ora becoming light I meant.

My favorite part:

My subconscious is the swirling chaos of the 3-d fractal while my higher consciousness is that part of the interaction that escaped the analysis of the observer and is expanding infinitely fleeing from the observers expanding sphere of analysis.

I kinda want a t-shirt with it now.

For the uninitiated, see: emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?p=3629, emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?p=3490, emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?p=2537

I had my first Twitter controversy. So:

I pointed out in the reply to this, that they don’t actually charge that much normally. The comparison is here. The prices are around 500-3000 USD, with an average (eyeballed) around 2500 USD.

Now, this is just a factual error, so not so bad. However…

If anyone is wondering why he is so emotional, he gave the answer himself:

A very brief history of journals and science

  • Science starts out involving few individuals.
  • They need a way to communicate ideas.
  • They set up journals to distribute the ideas on paper.
  • Printing costs money, so they cost money to buy.
  • Due to limitations of paper space, there needs to be some selection in what gets printed, which falls on the editor. Fast forward to perhaps 1950’s, now there are too many papers for the editors to handle, and so they delegate the job of deciding what to accept to other academics (reviewers). In the system, academics write papers, they edit them, and review them. All for free.
  • Fast forward to perhaps 1990 and what happens is that big business takes over the running of the journals so academics can focus on science. As it does, the prices rise becus of monetary interests.
  • Academics are reluctant to give up publishing in and buying journals becus their reputation system is built on publishing in said journals. I.e. the system is inherently conservatively biased (Status quo bias). It is perfect for business to make money from.
  • Now along comes the internet which means that publishing does not need to rely on paper. This means that marginal printing cost is very close to 0. Yet the journals keep demanding high prices becus academia is reliant on them becus they are the source of the reputation system.
  • There is a growing movement in academia that this is a bad situation for science, and that publications shud be openly available (open access movement). New OA journals are set up. However, since they are also either for-profit or crypto for-profit, in order to make money they charge outrageous amounts of money (say, anything above 100 USD) to publish some text+figures on a website. Academics still provide nearly all the work for free, yet they have to pay enormous amounts of money to publish, while the publisher provides a mere website (and perhaps some copyediting etc.).

Who thinks that is a good solution? It is clearly a smart business move. For instance, popular OA metajournal Frontiers are owned by Nature Publishing Group. This company thus very neatly both makes money off their legacy journals and the new challenger journals.

The solution is to set up journals run by academics again now that the internet makes this rather easy and cheap. The profit motive is bad for science and just results in even worse journals.

As for my claim, I stand by it. Altho in retrospect, the more correct term is parasitic. Publishers are a middleman exploiting the the fact that academia relies on established journals for reputation.