Locklin on science

Russian empire aerospace refugees

Posted in Progress by Scott Locklin on March 5, 2021

The fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 is one of those human disasters little appreciated; I think even the Russians don’t appreciate what was lost. 1913 Russia was rapidly industrializing, and had built an absurdly efficient bureaucracy: making the  efficient Wilhelmine bureaucracy look bad. Russia’s rate of change in 1913 was  astounding; post Port Arthur, they really cracked the whip on modernization and industrialization. They did it with 1/3 the per-capita number of bureaucrats of Germany’s bureaucracy. 

Russia of the era was a former undeveloped wasteland to the east,  fairly recently expanded into Asia in the same way the American nation conquered North America. Huge, populous, formerly backwards and primitive; it was becoming a modern national empire at an astounding rate. Contra our contemporary views of WW-2 era Germans with their absurd ideas that slavs were physically or mentally inferior, the  German view of the time was more or less that ideas of the Ancient Greeks were the root of civilization and progress (aka kultur): and the Russians were the direct cultural descendants of the Byzantines. This was  terrifying to the Germans, and was probably why WW-1 was inevitable as much as any other nonsense about diplomatic secret treaties and Serbian assassins.

If you have any Russian friends, or you used to watch Chekov’s character on Star Trek, you know that most of the stuff you think was invented by other cultures was invented in Russia; mostly in those days, which were a giant blossoming of Russian creativity. Powered flight, the telegraph, the radio, the arc weldertracked vehicles, the icebreaker,  the semi-automatic rifle, the monorail, the diesel locomotive, the seismograph, the punched card, the parachute, mercury pumps, light bulbs, the incandescent light bulb and diving suits, fire extinguishers, the periodic table, genetics, immunology,  innovations in artillery and machine tools, oil tankers, mechanical calculators, anesthetics, tanks, electric trains, radio, modern beekeeping, genetics, brassieres, centrifugal fans, central heating, table glass, space flight, electric cars, adsorption chromatography, television, the hearing aid. You can read about all of these on the (probably very incomplete) wiki page on Russian inventions, as well as the later Soviet and post-Soviet Russian inventions. An astoundingly creative people with a genius both for abstract sciences, machinery and creative thought. You may quibble with their primacy (I don’t think it matters), but they mostly thought up on their own.

“dees was invented by a little old lady in Minsk”

The tragedy is the Russian civil war of 1917 interrupted this great progress and it wasn’t resumed for 15-20 years, when the German threat to the West caused Stalin to open the gulag and crack the whip again. Worse for the Russians and humanity in general; they lost many of their most creative people, who had to move to America or the UK and start from scratch as a stranger in a new land. It was good for America to have them in the fight against the Soviet system, but it was bad for the world, in that centers of productive genius are more likely in hot-spots of homogeneity. You can’t have renaissance Florence if Michelangelo and Cellini were sent off to England or India halfway through their most productive periods (it works OK if they go to Rome or whatever; again, homogeneity, lines of communication, locality).

There were probably thousands of talented engineers from the former Russian Empire who made their way to America (and, for that matter, France, the UK and Germany). History only remembers the giants, but they were giants indeed. I’ll limit it to a few examples from aerospace for their military applicability.

Michael Gregor was a talented aircraft designer, responsible for many unsung innovations in 30s and WW-2 era aircraft design. A former Georgian engineer, he left the Soviet Union in 1921 to avoid being persecuted or killed. 

Michael Stroukoff was an aerospace entrepreneur in the US who designed gliders and cargo aircraft. He was a war hero in WW-1, but had to flee after the Whites lost the civil war.

Alexander Kartveli was an absolute giant of American aerospace, cofounded the Republic Aviation company, and designed the legendary P-47 Thunderbolt, the less stellar but still innovative F-84, and my personal favorite, the F-105 Thunderchief. Also a Georgian, a minor nobleman (many in Georgia); he emigrated to America to avoid death in the gulag, which would have been his fate in the Soviet Union.

Kartveli’s cofounder at Republic was Alexander Seversky. A Russian nobleman, his lifespan would also have been measured in weeks had he not emigrated to America during the 1917 revolution. A daredevil, top-ranked dogfighting ace and Russian war hero, he was a huge influence on General Mitchell and strategic bombing ideas. He literally invented in-flight refueling, which is a technology America still dominates the world in. In addition to the things Republic overtly worked on, he was instrumental in the intercontinental bomber; the B-36, and that father of all modern commercial jet flight, the B-47. All because America took in this persecuted political refugee. Mind you the Soviets never were able to master in flight refueling, and they really never developed intercontinental bombers either (the Tu-160 White Swan‘s capabilities are marginal, and came very late in the game after bombers didn’t really matter so much). A truly great man in every way; he was a huge asset to the US; charismatic and socially helpful; he even founded a decent school.

Finally there was Igor Sikorsky. We know him as the father of helicopters in the US, but he was also a huge pioneer in large ocean crossing aircraft n the 1930s. He fled in 1917 because the Soviets threatened to shoot him. Mind you in 1917, Sikorsky was already a hugely accomplished aerospace engineer; a literal national treasure. And the political imbeciles threatened him with death, as far as I can tell because he was a religious man. As a result, and funded by fellow Russian refugee Sergei Rachmaninoff, the US excelled at strategic reconnaissance in the 1940s and had helicopters before anybody else did in appreciable numbers. The Russians later regretted the hell out of this, even in Soviet times, and see him as a native son, which with a name like “Igor Sikorsky” he really was. One of the White Swans is named after him. Even the Ukrainians named a street after him, despite his Russian roots (he was born in Kiev).

Of course there were thousands of other Russian engineers and talents who fled the Bolsheveks. Just as there were thousands of Jewish nuclear physicists fleeing the Nazis, and later other Russian people who fled the dying soviet system. I think the aerospace example is more pertinent to my point in all this as it was the high technology of the 1917-1960 era and had obvious military importance.

The US presently seems poised to begin widespread political persecution of … people who have been historically recognized as “the American people.” People at the highest levels are openly talking about reeducation camps, lustration of government institutions, political vetting of military forces, hysterical conspiracy theories, deplatforming, political vetting for apolitical private sector jobs, closing down churches and synagogues, travel certificates, banning people’s ability to communicate or do financial transactions. The US has been working itself up to this for about 20 years now, since the “war on terror” started, and the oligarch weaponization of “woke” politics to keep the left from raising their taxes post Occupy Wall Street. Now it’s a war of terror, and the enemy, as they say, is us. Conservative family-oriented religious people like Sikorsky and Seversky have achieved pariah status; the government and institutions apparently think it can do without them, despite their being the backbone of every functioning civilization for all of human history.  They worry about political loyalty in the rank and file military: I’d posit they need to worry about the actual talent that makes the country function technologically and infrastructure wise. Because an awful lot of those people are very talented; just like they were in the dying Russian empire. The tall poppies get chopped down in this situation: not the midget ones.

It’s no longer news that legions of talented engineers are fleeing the California nightmare dystopia for more agreeably governed places. More than half the state is thinking about it. Really; I’d say this has already happened, and California is finished.  What probability would you give that an innovative and not-obviously-evil tech company is being founded in California in 2021? I think Miami or Houston has a better chance than Mountain View or San Francisco. Hell I think bloody Fairbanks has a better chance.

As America descends into the California model of madness and tech-mediated kakistocracy, the smart and adventurous Americans; the kind that found tech companies, or build devilish new weapons for governments, will leave.  I know many  who have. Virtually everyone I speak to (of course a biased set) is thinking about it. Left wing, right wing: people in tech, military technology, finance, crypto; they see the US heading over the waterfall into madness and want no part of it. 

The talented tenth of a percent of Americans are poised to scatter to the winds; there is no real sink for the talent source spigot. Governmental entrepreneurs in other countries who want to build their country up should probably consider giving them an obvious landing spot. For a century, America was that landing spot for the talented, for the innocent wastrels persecuted, and they helped make the place powerful beyond imagining.  I certainly wouldn’t consider a place like China (they have enough empty cities for it), Russia or Belarus, but if the fall of the US takes its sphere of influence with it, those countries have a fighting chance of remaining civilized, and Russia at least does have a history of adopting talented people and integrating them with their society; even leaving them some autonomy. Smaller countries should also consider it. I can’t stand the climate in Singapore, and who knows what will happen with their next generation of leadership, but it could grow its power and influence by importing 10,000 Americans on some kind of talent visa, and giving them a rapid path to citizenship. Japan or Taiwan could build a semi-autonomous tech colony for American refugees.  One of the European countries could pull it off as well if they had the strategic vision and could withstand the pressures from the US and US proxies in the EU. Certainly the EU mandarins complain about demographics and innovation a lot: recruiting thousands of talented American engineers with families seems like a good idea. 

Singapore building supersonic stealth drones for $10m; seems more innovative than Lockheed to me


Of course, nutbags in the US government and witch hunting looneys in society at large who support this sort of thing could change their ways. You’d think the lights going out in the two biggest states in the country would cause them to think maaaaybe there is something wrong with how they’re running things. The thought is too complicated though, and the idea that there are 1000 Severskys  looking into foreign entrepreneur visas at this very moment never occurs to such people who think they are the smart set.  If they ever notice, they’ll probably do something awful like making US citizenship irrevocable (they already effectively are), and not allowing ‘critical workers’ to leave.


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  1. Raul Miller said, on March 5, 2021 at 11:37 am

    It seems like the “madness” you’re talking about has been building for decades, and is kind of baked into a variety of our institutions and systems at this point.

    And then there’s the pandemic, which has injured and/or shut down many sectors of our economy.

    This is going to be a bit rough…

    • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:00 pm

      I really think something happened after occupy; it was a real changepoint. There are memes about it.

      • Raul Miller said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:06 pm


        Akin to crystallization in a supersaturated fluid.

        • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:15 pm

          I watched a documentary about Noam Chomsky the other night. I miss that left; the one that cared about ratcheting down the war machine and helping poor people. You could see the seeds of its demise though.

          • Raul Miller said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:36 pm

            My impression was that Chomsky was himself more of a propagandist than a charity activist.

            Also… I sort of suspect that a significant part of what he labeled “propaganda” was emergent failure modes from incorporating “the efficient market hypothesis” as a basis for laws, regulations, and policy.

            • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 1:08 pm

              I never liked him either, and I find his anarchist political ideology to be deeply silly, but the documentary was good and I miss an activist left that didn’t cheer every time the bombers blow up a Syrian wedding party, or something bad happens in the Ozarks. He’s right the acceptable discourse in the US is fairly narrow. It’s particularly narrow and weird now.

              • Altitude Zero said, on March 5, 2021 at 5:45 pm

                I’ve always despised communism, and still do, but, say what you will, if you had put a six foot four man in a sun dress and a wig in front of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, and told them that this was a woman, they would have howled with laughter, and started talking about “late-Capitalist bourgeoisie decadence”. And they would have had a point.

                • Raul Miller said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:07 pm

                  We do seem to be trying to implement The Benny Hill Show as our vision of the future. And, trying to imagine anything good about the segments of our society which want this is… difficult.

                  Meanwhile, one of the things that keeps bugging me about communism is that it smells a lot like historic christian activism. (The routine communist objections to capitalism smell like a slightly paraphrased variant of Matthew 19:21, for example. Which suggests, in turn, that badly regulated commercial activities had been causing severe popular problems well back into the roman empire.)

                  It’s sort of like the whole world is something of a comic tragedy. A really boring comic tragedy, but still…

                • sigterm said, on March 16, 2021 at 3:19 pm

                  Lenin? You mean “aunt Lena”? And Stalin, the guy who called the head of the NKVD his “little blackberry”?

      • Chiral3 said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:19 pm

        I never regarded Occupy as anything other than a Wikipedia entry that indexed the zeitgeist. A few hundred out of work people were faced with the biggest challenge of their insignificant lives, not terribly distinct from many visitors to downtown Manhattan: where to take a shit when you really have to go.

        • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:33 pm

          I dunno seemed to freak people out. Maybe it’s a false correlate and the left by then were completely useless already. I still miss principled people who thought maybe it was bad to genocide east timor because genocide generally considered harmful.

          • Chiral3 said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:44 pm

            I could be dead wrong but I always equated it at an amplification of the psychology, particularity in the media. The negative feedback loop has no precedent: some of those people neg am’d their mortgages, had degrees from cow colleges, and was wondering where their cheese went.

            I remember during occupy taking the subway to Union Square to meet a friend at Craft Bar. I got out and walked north and noticed some cops and some people standing around, more than usual, but all bored on their phones. I got to Craft first and sat at the bar. On the TV was live coverage of the “clash between protestors and police at Union Square”.

            I don’t think most people understand what happened during the crisis. Funnily, there has never been a definitive lay-tome put out on it. I chalked it up to those that know know. It’s all certainly more complex than most understand. If it’s about money, the people made back their money and then some. Even it it was a loss they certainly don’t equate it with the stimulus we are currently seeing or the tantrum and inflation they read about in the WSJ today.

            I still maintain that the thread is multi-disciplinary, made more complex by globalization, and dates back decades. That’s why I say Occupy “indexes” a time and not a particular thing.

            • Chiral3 said, on March 5, 2021 at 10:01 pm

              One more thought, on Chomsky. If he represents the academic left that’s the left I want back. Never met the guy but if we had dinner together I could imagine a bunch of spirited disagreements that inevitably slid into a all night discussion about linguistics or neuroscience.

              As an aside his greatest contribution to my life wasn’t his works (I’ve read a good amount) but the defunct Canadian band the Weakerthans, which I heard in the closing credits of one of his films decades ago.

  2. gmachine1729 said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    I’m rather surprised to read this, because my impression has always been that Russia attained its height relative to the world during the Soviet era. Tsarist Russia did lose a major war with Japan in 1904-1905.

    • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:27 pm


      Peak would have been much higher without WW-1 and the Bolshies. Probably would ultimately have fought with the Kaiser who were also on the rise.

      While Port Arthur was a huge psychological moment in history (first military victory of a non-white power over pasty people since ancient times; was a big deal to everyone who thought in those terms, which was everyone), we’re only talking about 250 casualties. Hardly a major war.

      • JMcG said, on March 5, 2021 at 12:42 pm

        Tsushima Strait was what really shocked people. The Russians were overwhelmed by the Japanese in the first steel battleship fleet action. Battleships were pinnacle military technology at that time.
        Perry had only visited Japan fifty years prior to the battle.
        It had to have been much more a shock than Pearl Harbor was to the US. The Japanese lost three torpedo boats as against over twenty ships for the Russians.

        • Scott Locklin said, on March 5, 2021 at 1:05 pm

          I suppose you’re right, but my point is the overall war wasn’t so large in terms of number of casualties and overall importance. Everyone underestimated the Japanese. The Russians certainly didn’t in WW-2; they cut through them like they didn’t exist in Manchuria.

          • gmachine1729 said, on March 5, 2021 at 3:18 pm


            Russian Empire
            Empire of Japan
            Commanders and leaders
            Nicholas II
            Russian Empire Aleksey Kuropatkin
            Russian Empire Anatoly Stessel
            Russian Empire Yevgeni Alekseyev
            Russian Empire Stepan Makarov †
            Russian Empire Wilgelm Vitgeft †
            Russian Empire Robert Viren
            Russian Empire Zinovy Rozhestvensky
            Ōyama Iwao
            Kodama Gentarō
            Nogi Maresuke
            Kuroki Tamemoto
            Oku Yasukata
            Empire of Japan Tōgō Heihachirō
            1,365,000 (total)[1]

            700,000 (peak)
            1,200,000 (total)[1]

            650,000 (peak)
            Casualties and losses
            34,000–52,623 killed or died of wounds
            9,300–18,830 died of disease
            146,032 wounded
            74,369 captured
            8 battleships sunk
            Total: 43,300–120,000[2][3]

            47,152–47,400 killed
            11,424–11,500 died of wounds
            21,802–27,200 died of disease
            2 battleships sunk
            Total: 58,000–86,100[2][3]

            > my point is the overall war wasn’t so large in terms of number of casualties and overall importance.
            The number of casualties was 6 figures. It would quite high in overall importance. It was the mark of rise of Japan as a world power. Lately, I’ve read more about how Japanese revolutionized particle theory, about Yukawa’s meson theory in 1935 and Tomonaga’s renormalization in 1943-1948. Needless to say, during WWII, they were world class in pretty much all aspects of technology as well.

            > The Russians certainly didn’t in WW-2; they cut through them like they didn’t exist in Manchuria.
            Japan was exhausted by then, and their best people in Manchuria has mostly been transferred to the Pacific theater of the war.

            I heard from certain adults as a kid about how Japanese are un-innovative copycats, including from Chinese resentful with respect to Japanese WWII atrocities, but once I learned more serious science/technology and history as an adult, I realized that the Japanese, after exposure to modern science and technology from the West, were extremely innovative. In fact, they were quite creative in mathematics as well starting from 17th century based on only 13th century Chinese math, which was arguably the most advanced in the world then in arithmetic and algebra but lacked rigorous mathematical proof and trigonometry. They independently figured out determinants (and resultants) decades before West, Bernoulli numbers in connection to sums of powers about the same time, and power series for sin and arcsin about 50 years after West. More details below: https://gmachine1729.wpcomstaging.com/2021/01/20/collection-of-sources-about-chinese-japanese-mathematics-pre-full-contact-with-west/

            By the way, the Russians in science and technology in some sense actually started later than the Japanese did much due to its remote and relatively landlocked location. It was really only in early 18th century that Russia began to seriously learn from the West, and other than Lomonosov, I don’t know of any world class Russian scientist or engineer before the 19th century. Of course, the Russians did have the major advantage of cultural and linguistic (and also geographic) proximity to Western Europe, so they caught up relatively quickly, though surely, I get the impression that Russia was throughout the 19th century always quite a bit behind the West in industry and development of capitalism. Though Russia had been catching up, the major setback vis-a-vis Japan, and especially the highly destructive WWI and subsequent civil war resulted in her further falling behind. My take is that though Russia was since 19th century indisputably mostly world class in science, in industry and especially light industry at scale, Russia was always a fair bit behind the West.

          • JMcG said, on March 5, 2021 at 5:31 pm

            I agree. It’s remarkable how badly the US and Great Britain underestimated them in 1941 though. I don’t want to hijack your post, though.

            Thanks for your work here, always a great deal of food for thought.

      • Inquirer said, on March 6, 2021 at 4:38 am

        The Battle of Adowa was the first military victory of a non-white power over pasty people. Ethiopia defeated Italy.

        • gmachine1729 said, on March 6, 2021 at 1:16 pm

          Doesn’t look like it was significant. However, the Russo-Japanese War certainly was. As for non-white vs pasty (which means pale complexion), many East Asians have very light complexion too, sometimes pastier than whites. As for the first major military victory of the East against the West, I would actually say it happened in 13th century in the Mongol conquests of Russia and Eastern Europe. Speaking of which, I actually consider the Russians to be far from fully white, given that they have much Finnic-Ugric and Turkic ancestry. Many Russians (and non-Indo-European Finns too) despite the light colored hair and eyes on the surface actually have facial proportions closer to East Asians than to Western whites. One can somewhat reliably discern Russian faces from Western European white faces thru that. For instance, this former Soviet Red Army officer Andrei Martyanov has mostly the flat and wide face associated with Mongols. In https://www.claritypress.com/product/disintegration-indicators-of-the-coming-american-collapse/ is a picture of him. Lenin’s father was also mostly of Mongol-Turkic ancestry. Peter the Great had some Mongol ancestry too, and Lomonosov was from Kholmogory in a northern island of Russia, the name of which is derived from kolme = three in Finnish and gori (in Russian) = mountain = vuori (in Finnsih). It was only in the last year of two that I noticed that the Indo-European Aryan conqueror descended Indian Brahmins are actually whiter than arguably most Russians, from an anatomy point of view especially, despite that Russians are typically classified as white and Indians as Asian. The naming is also in some sense absurd, because the Native American Indians, who are racially Asian or Mongoloid, are totally different from the Indians in/from India.

        • bobbybabylon said, on March 7, 2021 at 5:10 pm

          The First Italo-Ethiopian War is significant because it is the first defeat of a colonizing white nation (not white power – Italy wasn’t exactly top ranked ) by a black power on their own terms, as opposed to the Zulu and Asanteman wars. Thus they, and Liberia remained free from European colonization. Insignificant to some, significant to others.

          The Japanese beat a proper power using the contemporary superweapons – battleships. The closest black people have come to that are the South African Wars and the Revolt of the Lash.

          Note that both had assistance though. Japan nearly went broke, but was save by American (Jewish) banking help.

          The Russians helped the Ethiopians via their Orthodox Christian connection.

          • Altitude Zero said, on March 11, 2021 at 3:28 am

            The Ethiopians deserve more credit than they often get. Brave men, despite some genuinely appalling governments…

  3. Altitude Zero said, on March 5, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    The United States was blessed by having enemies who espoused insane ideologies in the 20th Century – it looks like China will be blessed in the same way in the 21st…

    • Chiral3 said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:15 pm

      This is a good one AltZero. I may need to pass it off as my own if you don’t mind.

      • Altitude Zero said, on March 9, 2021 at 3:09 am

        No problem, be my guest, try using it as a pick-up line, maybe…

  4. […] Russian empire aerospace refugees […]

  5. Walt said, on March 5, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    The tragedy is the Russian civil war of 1917 interrupted this great progress and it wasn’t resumed for 15-20 years, when the German threat to the West caused Stalin to open the gulag and crack the whip again.

    Woodrow Wilson gave us both Hitler and Stalin. Perhaps we really are the Great Satan. Looks like it’s our turn.

    Virtually everyone I speak to (of course a biased set) is thinking about it. Left wing, right wing: people in tech, military technology, finance, crypto; they see the US heading over the waterfall into madness and want no part of it.

    Yep. Russia might even have more religious freedom in 5 years. AFAIK there have been no COVID-related closures of churches in Russia.

    My dad was a Cold War engineer and was always impressed by Russian engineers’ ability to do something that worked as well as the American version at 10% the cost.

    • Scott Locklin said, on March 6, 2021 at 10:17 am

      The aesthetics of this; like something out of Warhammer:

      The US hasn’t had that kind of confidence in itself since the 50s.

      • Dave said, on March 7, 2021 at 6:29 pm

        Dark thought but I think that confidence got replaced over time by confusion and self contempt starting in the 1960s. Might have to do with the end of segregation and the radical immigration laws implemented at the time. It’s insane to how beautiful, confident and strong America and the country looked in the 1950s.

  6. Chiral3 said, on March 5, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    I am not sure if this is an interesting comment or not but I’ll mention it. Scott, and others, I suspect we are all, ballpark, similar ages. Starting a PhD we had to choose a language, which I don’t think kids have to do any more. We used to call them “reading languages”. In my sphere and time the choices were German and Russian; in other words, you didn’t have a choice. I chose German. The idea was to be able to read scientific papers, in my case zeitschrift fur physik and other assorted wunderbar gedanken. What was amazing to me when I spent time in the physics and math libraries with the Russian stuff was how, despite a adiabatic nature of our respective systems, so may discoveries were time aligned but unique in their discovery.

    • anon said, on March 6, 2021 at 7:09 am

      We’re not in the same age ballpark. Beginning Ph.D students my age do still pick a reading language. In my field usually French, Russian or German.

      Non sequitur: Scott, for somebody who wants to work in a hard science, how valuable do you think a Ph.D. from a US institution will be in the coming years compared to one from a strong foreign college? NUS would be one of the foreign colleges I’m comparing. It still seems that the US schools have all the clout. I have some options open right now but badly don’t want to be stuck in the USA when the place goes seriously off the deep end.

      • Scott Locklin said, on March 6, 2021 at 9:56 am

        If you end up in industry, nobody gives a shit where you came from. Academia, the US luxury brands don’t have a stink on them yet (Harvard kind of does), but it really depends on your thesis advisor’s network. NUS might net you a cool job in China in 10 years in a way that a thesis from Georgia Tech (or whatever) won’t.

      • MadRocketSci said, on March 6, 2021 at 3:26 pm

        Off topic, (triggered by your post about the early Russian accomplishments) but there is a half-formed idea I’ve had recently:

        If we want to avoid a full-on dark age, we really need to figure out a way to honor and reward independent reinvention. The way things stand now, the original discoverer (modulo priority fights) takes all the (academic credit, $$ at the patent office, what have you.) We’ve had a generation or two of people who have grown up inventing, designing, and building things. Then we have the last two generations, some of whom may *want* to be scientists and engineers, but are relegated to “implementation” and “integration” because no one has time for people to dick around in a lab or a machine shop. “Everything important has already been done before” crossed with “if it’s been done before, it’s being done in China, so it better be new.”

        In order to have a career where you learn how to *be* the sort of scientist that can go after the “high-hanging fruit”, you need an entire career of picking at the low-hanging fruit. “If it’s been done, just buy it from a catalog and quit wasting time” doesn’t teach you how to do real invention/discovery.

        After the generation of original giants die off, the people who have replaced them don’t have a clue how to fill their shoes, because society has spent their lives front-loading them with mountains of results, but not how any of the results were achieved.

        Of course, if you have a dark age, you get the breathing room for a new generation of discoverers to grow for free, because all the old achievements are dead and buried and they *have* to reinvent it all.

        • JMcG said, on March 6, 2021 at 5:13 pm

          Excellent comment. I think one of the characters in Lucifer’s Hammer had an extensive library on foundational technology that he wrapped carefully and hid in a septic tank. He was a diabetic and had hidden a text on synthesizing insulin, if I recall correctly.

        • Raul Miller said, on March 6, 2021 at 5:21 pm

          Off topic indeed. But topical for the year.

          From my point of view, we have ossified our copyright and patent systems with silly constraints. Copyright was supposed to provide short term protection, but “short term” now means “longer than a human lifespan”. Patent is sort of irrelevant now, because the system itself is spammed (but not totally irrelevant because that spam has a “guilty until proven innocent” character for anyone willing to wade into the mess). And then there’s DMCA which means that laws designed to protect Mickey Mouse hobble our food production equipment and systems.

          All of which enforces outsourcing of most of our high tech systems and industries because our laws get in the way so much that business people need the jurisdictional fig leaf to make things work. But that in turn means that our ossified intellectual property laws offer no actual protection whatsoever, because the “smart money” business people have evaded them by going out of jurisdiction.

          I suppose that the post-wwii economic treaties (meant to prevent another wwii) are a critical part of this, also. But a side effect is a distinct lack of practical experience informing most of our decisions.

          And, I guess that’s the good thing about identity politics: They give people something to be distracted by while we live in the golden age of Mickey Mouse.

          Seriously, though… this pandemic has shut down a lot of our economic systems, and getting things running again is going to be a pain — probably comparable to the great depression in scale. And, probably with people being about as happy. Some people have been working, of course. And, they deserve to be rewarded — they took the risks, they put in the effort, it’s just right that they get the benefits. But there’s plenty of other law abiding citizens (or maybe “previously law abiding citizens) who have listened to our “shut things down” representatives: the Trump administration. And they’re going to be expressing a contrary point of view because they’ll need a contrary view to survive.

          Recovering is going to be a bit rough.

          Hopefully (from my perspective) without another massive world war at the tail end. But maybe I’ll be dead by then, and not have to worry about it. And, who knows — we’ve been admiring the war fighting abilities of other countries, maybe that means that my perspective is the wrong perspective.

          Of course what this also means is that already most everyone is sick of these topics. And, possibly sick from the pandemic.

          • Scott Locklin said, on March 6, 2021 at 6:01 pm

            I thought about writing about the Wuhan coof; early days of pandemic were a classic data science problem, and I pretty much nailed the IFR by the end of March. I was kinda busy dealing with the economic exigencies of this problem though, and didn’t feel like arguing with the entire world establishment (who still haven’t admitted how wrong they were and likely never will even if they’re standing at the gallows). Anyway, take your vitamins; especially vitamin-D is really the only actionable thing since I’m not making policy.

            I have no idea what the downstream consequences will be, but I remember reading Ernst Junger’s diary in January of last year and wondering at how boring life has been compared to what people went through from 1913 to 1945. Probably, not so much any more. But you never know; might just go back to being boring.

            • Igor Bukanov said, on March 7, 2021 at 2:49 pm

              There is no proof that supplementing with D helps with Covid. As immune-regulating hormone, not a real vitamin, D may help to suppress a cytokine storm during severe Covid. But immune-suppression properties of D may lead to infection in the first place. So we do not know if on average it is helpful. My anecdotal observations from Norway among Russian-speaking friends who moved here and who typically got a low level of D due to lack of sun support that.

              With other deceases that were thought to be worsen by a low level of D the end conclusion was typically that low D was a consequence of the decease or unrelated or more data were needed. There are also cases where a low level indicates hidden inflammation and D supplements while helping short-term made things worse long-term the same way as Novocain helps short-term with tooth pain.

              Now, as a vegan, I do take D supplements outside the summer, but I take D in doses that match roughly what a person gets through meat.

              • Raul Miller said, on March 7, 2021 at 8:41 pm

                Can you point at anything about this “immune-suppression”? It would also be interesting to read up on those other diseases you mentioned.

                The best I can find is https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756755/ though perhaps https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2193760/ could be mis-interpreted to say that vitamin D is immunosuppressive.

                Anyways, as I understand it, a part of the reason vitamin D is recommended is that, statistically speaking, covid 19 victims have had a tendency to be vitamin D deficient.

                Vitamin D is synthesized by the body from sunlight, but on lockdown many people have tended to stay indoors.

                So unless there’s a strong reason to remain deficient, I am uncomfortable with a recommendation that we should avoid vitamin D.

                Anyways, … maybe it’s like this: there’s a lot of statements flying around about the best way to handle things. This is good, because it gives people a chance to think for themselves (and well tend to favor those with the best approaches to handling information and misinformation), but it’s also good to encourage critical thinking, especially about ideas we ourselves hold and observations our own sources actually represent.

                • Igor Bukanov said, on March 11, 2021 at 5:25 pm

                  See, for example, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25048990/ , that discusses how apparently a low level of D may indicate hidden disease when supplementing with D makes things worse.

                  • Raul Miller said, on March 12, 2021 at 1:18 am

                    Always good to look for reproduction efforts on any scientific discovery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis is going to remain an issue for decades, because of institutional inertia. And, it’s going to have some sad failure modes (which, I suppose, some politicians will try to be aware of and expound upon).

                    I went looking on this vitamin D issue, and the thing I found which seemed like possible followup work was https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7281985/ which also suggests a dose dependence issue in the context of inflammatory problems. (Vitamin D, as an oil soluble vitamin has always carried an overdose risk, so I guess that this is something that a responsible person should already understand, though finding a relevant threshold might require an informed conversation with an insightful medical practitioner, and maybe some experimentation.)

              • Scott Locklin said, on March 8, 2021 at 1:01 pm

                Well, there’s no “proof” the vaccine works either, but there is extremely strong evidence, especially if you’re a Bayesian. The effects may be comparable.


                We also can’t prove anything about how the bloody thing is transmitted, nor do we know much about the other corona viruses in common circulation (for example; how often do they appear in cases of viral pneumonia, especially HCoV-OC43), nor do we have a clear understanding of the details of the various ways it can kill you. Taking your argument about vitamin-D to its logical conclusion, we shouldn’t do anything about Coronavirus.

                FWIIW in researching the subject I also found some remarkable things about vitamin-K;

                Note, if this research pans out, vitamin-K is vastly more effective as a CVD treatment than statins, with basically zero side effects. Note that statins are taken by something like 12% of the US population, have extremely marginal statistics supporting their positive effects on health (they do lower cholesterol; big deal), and have enormous side effects, including muscle wasting and effective brain damage. There are similar Bayesian arguments on the relationship between vitamin-K3 and CVD as there are for vitamin-D and the wuhan coof (aka Japanese CVD rates, overall correlation between K deficiency and CVD, etc etc). Imagine one were able to actually prove popping some K3 pills is vastly more effective than statins, and rona-death is basically a vitamin-D deficiency. Aka, Sun, Steel and Natto will make you into a health superman. Do you think the modern medical establishment is capable of processing this information and making public health recommendations that bankrupt drug manufacturers? I don’t.

                I make fun of the Joe Rogans of the world for popping supplements based on the nebulous “research” of cranks selling various forms of snake oil. However there is evidence that sometimes they’re correct, and that the public health authorities are fiends who make decisions and policy recommendations on their effects on stock prices more than their effects on people’s health. As such, I take my vitamins, and while it may be a false correlation, I at least look better nekkid than “muh science” goobers who don’t.

                • Altitude Zero said, on March 9, 2021 at 3:18 am

                  Because Covid very quickly became a front in the war against the Orange Man, the whole subject has become so drenched in lies, accusations, and bad faith, nobody really knows anything about it, at least not anything you can count on. This will probably be the case for every national crisis from now on.The basic lack of trust in institutions in this country beats anything I’ve ever seen,and I grew up in the sixties and seventies. And, sadly, this lack of trust is fully warranted.

                  • Raul Miller said, on March 9, 2021 at 4:30 am

                    There’s a variety of things going on here, of course.

                    Perhaps the most fundamental is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law — people make mistakes, and institutions are full of people. We always only approximate our best courses of action.

                    Still, jokes about the mandarin orange guy aside, we have some difficult ground to backtrack through, rolling back legal precedent established in the course of implementing the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient-market_hypothesis#. If I understand the issues correctly, it turns out that beating the market has always been trivial, as long as you have sufficient discipline. But, also, the market can be efficient only when it is properly regulated. So the EMH was something of a “as long as you stay in bounds” thing, but regulations in the context of international jurisdictions become … tangled, conflicted and often strange.

                    And then there’s things like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis#. Short form here might be that we need to learn to use our own observations when judging our understanding of what we see reported.

                    Which brings us to the internet, the USA’s short run as the world’s only superpower and the reactions to that in other countries, and the USA’s constitutional structure (especially institutions like lobbying, corporate law and limited liability and the laws structured around the commerce clause (which is to say, a bulk of our federal laws which have structured this country)).

                    Anyways, long story short: people need to learn that it’s not specifically USA institutions which have questionable trustworthiness. Ours do have weaknesses which people outside our jurisdictions have been learning to exploit, and which we need to learn how to repair, restructure, replace and recalibrate. But we’ve got a lot of capable people just looking for better ways to spend their time.

                    And, these outside pressers aren’t entirely a bad thing, given how far off track we were. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else has our best interests at heart. (Also, it’s not like any country has ever been immune to outside influences.)

                    Anyways, … I think we’re sort of in a process of flipping right side up after running into the ground.

                    And, what with having most of our economy shut down from covid lockdowns, it’s going to be a bit rough. For some people, it will be worse than the great depression. (For others, it’s more about annoyances.)

                    • Altitude Zero said, on March 11, 2021 at 3:36 am

                      Personally, I don’t see any flipping right side up yet, it seems to me that we are still burrowing. And yeah, institutions are always screwing up, but trust me, our institutions used to work better – much better. I used to joke about the local DMV back in the early ’80’s – Hell, transport them to the Current Year,and they would look like a paragon of efficient public service, compared to what we have now. Things are starting to seize up, and not just in the public sector.

                • Igor Bukanov said, on March 11, 2021 at 5:56 pm

                  The problem is that all those finding indicates that a low level of D is associated with increased risk of Covid. They do not indicate that supplementing with D will help to prevent the disease. The complication is that during Covid D is helpful as it pacifies the immune system preventing cytokine storm. But this is a specific helpful short-term measure with good understanding of mechanism. As https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25048990/ points out, a low level of D may indicate hidden inflammation when long-term supplementing is harmful.

                  And to see how little we know about D, consider https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3511627/ especially the paragraph about immunity that described mouse with zero vitamin D. Apparently immune system was able mostly to adjust for that.

                  Finally, consider the observation from the last paper your sited, https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-21211/v1. It lists Spain and Italy as countries where a low D in aging population is associated with increased risk of Covid. In https://www.amazon.com/Food-Western-Disease-Evolutionary-Perspective/dp/1405197714 Staffan Lindeberg argues that it was consumption of white bread that is historically associated with symptoms of low D, not lack of Sun exposure. And people still eat a lot of white bread in Southern Europe. While in Scandinavia, where one can expect low D due to luck of UV exposure and where people eat bread at least partially or whole from unprocessed flour from whole grains the cases of Covid has been much lower even in Sweeden that has not implemented lockdown measures.

      • Mike in Boston said, on March 10, 2021 at 11:08 pm

        In case it is helpful, where I work (research-y group within a defense giant) hiring of Ph.D.s happens as follows: one of the group leaders calls up each of his faculty buddies and asks, “So, anybody really good coming out of your lab this year?”

  7. Inquirer said, on March 6, 2021 at 4:46 am

    The U.S. appears to be undergoing Balkanization. States going their own in response to covid, for example. DC, having lost all credibility this decade, will have authority only in mega cities, but everywhere else their authority will be weak or ignored. This gives me hope California refugees can find somewhere to live in peace in the U.S.

    • Scott Locklin said, on March 6, 2021 at 10:13 am

      It’s an agreeable vision, and is how the country is supposed to work. Fedgov still has the power to print money and import new voters though.

  8. DamnItMurray said, on March 6, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    yup, spot on. But the post concentrates on two specific countries, without mentioning the bigger crisis at play. At the time of the Bolsheviks, not only Russia but almost all civilized countries were experiencing some sort of economic, scientific, and cultural boom. In the teens of the last century, America was well on its way to becoming a powerhouse, Russia and China had finally managed to break from an ancient stagnating bureaucratic system, and Western Europe, well, there’s hardly going to be any period in human history that short with such an immense contribution to science. Nowadays though, there seems to be an astonishing lack of progress, even in rising players like China. It’s hard to say whether it’s because we’ve reached peak oil, peak intelligence or peak-ing duck, or a combination of contributing factors, but people are getting fatter, stupider, and reproducing WAY less. The whole human empire, as it seems, is at a plateau.

    • Roger Bigod said, on March 7, 2021 at 1:35 am

      Sperm counts have gone down 50% over he last 50 years or so. The best guess is impurities in water and food, perhaps tiny fragments of plastic. It isn’t lower testosterone levels. There are hundreds or thousands of tests every day, and that large a change should have been noticed. It’s difficult to study because of the tiny amounts of contamination and the long time period. There’s been a similar fall in sperm counts in dogs, which could be a place to start. [ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160809095138.htm ]

      It does raise the question of what other effects of testosterone are altered. If you lower the mean of a variable with a Gaussian distribution in a population, it may not be noticeable hear the mean, but it will decrease the right tail by a marge factor. Intellectual aggressiveness may depend on a testosterone effect, in which case the noticeable loss of progress may be an effect. Again, very hard to demonstrate.

      One of the myriad possible suggestions for the decline of the Roman Empire was toxin in the water (lead IIRC).

      • Kirk said, on March 14, 2021 at 9:01 pm

        It’s long been my thought that people are going to look at the cavalier way we’ve been dumping estrogen and estrogen-like compounds into the environment as being akin to the Roman use of lead in everything. They’re gonna laugh at our folly, in other words.

        Testosterone levels may not have gone down, but the estrogen and analogs to it have gone way, way up–Even the fish are having reproductive problems. You don’t want to know what some of the fish hatcheries are having to go through–You here anecdotal stories from the operators, and just kinda go “Wow…”.

  9. averros said, on March 6, 2021 at 6:50 pm

    I’m one of the emigrant Russian engineers (I moved to US shortly after USSR fell apart… wasn’t possible before, as I’m not Jewish) whose leaving merited an article in Izvestiya (The News – one of the big Soviet newspapers) as an example of “brain drain” – I was a recipient of the top Soviet civilian awards for sci/tech contributions when I still was a university student.

    Guess what… I moved from Bay Area to Austin last December. California started to uncannily resemble the Soviet Union, complete with politically-motivated denial of employment and witch-hunts on dissidents. I’m quite sure the State of Kommiefornia can do without my taxes (I’m in 0.01%), and the Silly-con Valley Big Tech / VC complex morphed into something which makes me nauseous just from watching.

    • Walt said, on March 7, 2021 at 1:04 am

      I’m not sure how quickly Austin will become just as bad, but I’m guessing soon. I went on one interview where the recruiter kept saying, “Austin” as if it was a good thing. I decided not to pursue it further. I moved back down by family. Not all parts of California are as bad as the Bay. In fact, many are liberated zones by comparison. Several inland counties have been carrying on as normal without obeying any of Newscum’s edicts.

      In the long term, we need to try to improve things where we are. Obviously Sodom by the Sea (San Francisco) is a lost cause, but not all counties and municipalities are. We can work with local people and officials to nullify bad federal law and develop local identities with proximal institutions we can influence and control.

      • averros said, on March 7, 2021 at 3:31 am

        Most Californians moving to Austin aren’t liberals (I’ve seen a number 73% identifying as conservatives, though I’m not sure how reliable this information is). This kind of makes sense because liberals love their echo chambers, and quite a few “liberals” in CA are just pretending to be so to avoid ostracism. This migration could actually turn Travis county red (Austin proper is hopeless… government and big U).

        • Scott Locklin said, on March 7, 2021 at 10:21 am

          Anecdotally I have a few pals who moved there recently: they’re all right-leaning and complain about Austin government. Congratulations on your escape.

          • chiral3 said, on March 7, 2021 at 1:32 pm

            I know a slew of people that moved there too. Haven’t heard any big ol’ complaints about big ol’ Texas. They were so fed up with where they came from that I don’t think it mattered; the rage would see them through. Texas, at least outwardly, symbolizes everything that is anti-CA. Maybe that’s the answer to “why Texas?” Fuck you Gavin, and the Guilfoyle you rode in on! Not to mention the Musks and Rogans contributing to the rush. But sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Austin is fun and trendy the way Naples FL is fun and trendy and, for the same reasons, the mason jar margaritas and brisket with bacon-jam brussel sprouts and the rough-hewn ripped lumber walls erected in consultation with acoustical experts can be fatiguing after a while. Maybe the music scene with re-emerge someday when the real musicians can pay their rent comfortably enough to leave their Patreon accounts for a moment. But that’s consumer driven type-1 fun. I know far fewer people that are moving to Bozeman, Cody, SLC areas, which I consider infinitely more interesting places, although the property prices are shooting up there and the locals are getting prickly. Maybe it’s because I prefer type-2 fun and would rather have mountains, rivers, lakes, and some ruggedness in a variable landscape. Not sure anyone will find their tribe moving to TX but, an a minimum, the temperature will be lower not always running into the identity politics and rules for living being espoused by the chronically offended. Silicon Prairie v2.0!

            • chiral3 said, on March 8, 2021 at 3:07 pm

              I slotted Trevanian’s Shibumi as a (re)read in my current stack. I could use a dose of fictional asceticism. Have you read?

              • Scott Locklin said, on March 8, 2021 at 9:33 pm

                I assume you’re talking to me; never heard of it. Worth it presumably?

  10. Montius said, on March 9, 2021 at 5:31 am

    Bravo, sir.

    The Mannerheim at the end is *chef’s kiss*. He and Simo Häyhä are some of my favorite historical humans. Finns punch well above their weight class when fighting commies.

  11. Nosebag said, on March 9, 2021 at 9:28 pm

  12. Ivan said, on March 10, 2021 at 9:32 am

    A couple of years back my friend was driving through the Donbass, and his driver, a local, after about an hour of unbroken silence gestured vaguely towards it all – the ruined houses, the shell craters, burnt-out tanks rusting by the road – and said: «We pay for murdering the Tsar». God is just. We’ve been paying each and every day for the last hundred years, but that penance is almost over.

    • Altitude Zero said, on March 10, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      And of course, the imbeciles who currently run this country are currently trying to get the Donbass conflict stoked up again, Flat-out, pure evil, but of course all the dead Ukrainians and Russians will give these assholes a feeling of power and importance. Words fail me.

      • Ivan said, on March 11, 2021 at 11:55 am

        Personally I place much hope in neocons. If they somehow manage to provoke Putin, Russian tanks will be in Kiev in no time, and the long and bloody joke that is Ukranian statehood will end. Independent Ukraine is an insult, but Putin is an old man who always saw himself as a stabilising influence, and all he really wants by now is to live out his days in peace. So, go team Biden, I guess.

        • Altitude Zero said, on March 11, 2021 at 5:13 pm

          “Personally I place much hope in neocons”

          Well, if you want a bloody inconclusive war that will end up killing lots of people, making everybody poorer, and damaging US interests, history says that you’re betting on the right team. My own opinion is that western Ukraine should remain independent, while eastern Ukraine is allowed to join Russia, but, like partitioning Iraq, that just plain makes too much sense to ever be implemented, and with passions running so high, it’s probably impossible anyway.

          • Raul Miller said, on March 12, 2021 at 1:23 am

            I do not know much about the actual situation in the Ukraine, but I do know that much of what I have heard about it has sounded… propaganda laden. I guess, however the situation collapses there, I expect to be hearing from a lot of opinionated and unhappy people over the years.

    • Walt said, on March 11, 2021 at 5:19 pm

      God is just.

      Amen, and this gives me hope about the inevitable defeat of the wicked running the USSA in rebellion against God. Psalm 119:52

  13. Daniel H said, on March 10, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    The destruction of merit in US is pretty much a done-deal now. It is very likely that in the near future being “smart”, that is, have the ability to do complex physics and engineering tasks will be considered as racist. I work at a US national lab where the job requires very highly specialized knowledge of physics and applied mathematics. Recently, our lab leadership has passed a fatwa that every job needs to have at least one “minority” candidate. We have discussions of top candidates being “white male” and how we have too many of them. In fact, if we end up making an offer to a white male we need to provide an explanation in writing why we did so and why the minority candidates did not get the job. I once made the mistake of simply saying “no qualified minorities applied” but that caused HR to flip its lid.

    The unfortunate reality is that getting in the field requires hard work with years spent in learning complicated math and physics, and with the modern importance of large-scale computing, computer programming. This type of dedication needs a very specific type of obsessive personality, something which could be culturally predominant in some groups and not others. Hence, the situation of being male (mostly white and Asian) dominant (amongst the top performers) is unlikely to change and when the leadership of such places realize this inevitable truth they will simply eliminate merit completely, making universities and some national labs (not all) job programs for “minorities”. We have enough built up technical credit to keep going for a while so people won’t notice immediately, but the decline has already begun.

    I think this process is essentially universal across the US and I don’t think any private company or research org is much better, or will remain so for long. I am also not sure if there are countries outside the US which are immune from this madness either. EU is a intellectual wasteland and the EU bureaucracy is insane, making progress glacial or impossible. (For example: there is a tendency in EU to pick projects in which many people can participate and then essentially killing all other efforts. This leads to years wasted if that pick is incorrect, as it very likely is being determined by bunch of incompetent political appointees).

    Pretty depressing stuff, really, to see what has happened to this country. The process has been going on for decades now, though it was not immediately apparent at least in the hard-sciences and mathematics. No longer. The barbarians are inside the walls.

    • Raul Miller said, on March 10, 2021 at 7:45 pm

      HR, in my experience, effectively has had the job of ensuring that qualified people do not get hired.

      More specifically, typically they’re afraid of making mistakes, and overcompensate by making different mistakes.

      The compensating tactic could be described ad “bury them in their own red tape”. Instead of saying “no qualified minorities applied” instead make it their problem and list the minority candidates that HR had suggested, along with detailed descriptions of their failings. (This needs to be detailed because HR is going to go through that list of issues and use it for vetting future candidates.)

  14. remnny said, on March 14, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you for this article. It’s one hell of a whitepill to know that, even in the face of the most stifling systemic insanity, you can just fuck off to somewhere else.

  15. Imperial Abandon - The三Stack said, on May 12, 2021 at 11:55 am

    […] media propaganda on the subject.On the matter of abandonment, there was recently a good article by Scott Locklin, who has also noticed a trend and likened elite abandonment of America to an earlier one from the […]

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