Locklin on science

Michael Pollan is a public menace

Posted in Book reviews, five minute university by Scott Locklin on October 7, 2021

I used to live near Pollan; probably stole his parking spot a few times at Berkeley Bowl. I remember him as one of those mincing ninnies who went in transports over the 100 different varieties of pepper or apple available in this place. This sort of consumerist “foodie” affectation is a common sort of snobbery among atheistic Berkleyites. People with Berkeley style moral autism get their pre-religious purity rituals from consumerist virtue spirals, rather than attempting to be a good person in any recognizably human sense. People who fly all over the world on a whim are more likely to drive an electric car than a V-10 truck. People who stick miles of wart-laden ding-dongs up their own assholes end up being more persnickety about sticking, say, Oscar Meyer hot dogs in their gobs. This sort of poseurism overlooks the fact that humans are basically able to do pretty well on a diet of pure seal blubber, but ultimately I can forgive such tendencies as a mild mental illness resulting from poor parenting techniques or too much soy or whatever.

Pollan, though, has gone too far. I have already gone on record stating the man has blood on his hands for his advocacy of CIA mind control drugs. I know at least two victims of his idiocy who have had very serious mental health problems because they read a book or listened to a podcast involving this blockhead, and I have strong suspicions about a third. I’m not someone who suffers fools or psychedelic users gladly, so I’m sure my sample is biased away from people susceptible to hippy dippy BS there are tens or hundreds of thousands more out there.

Now Pollan wants us all to give up coffee. Oh yeah, and he also wants you to try opium and mescaline, which are available in common household plants he wants to tell you about.

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As is usual with our, um “elites” this pile of dung will pay no price for the outright evil he has wrought. In fact, as usual, his PR weasels have made it seem like his, erm, “ideas” (mind you; quit coffee, do mescaline and opium, because we’re short crazy people and junkies and have too many productive people in America) are an important part of the “national conversation.”

Back in the dark ages before we had “enlighted”  dunghills like this yutz, people would actually consider whether or not the fashionable interests of the upper middle class might have a bad effect on the lesser orders. That was back before we had a “meritocracy”  -the old elite were big on common decency and looking after their social inferiors, if only because lower orders had to man their factories, the armies and industrial concerns. Modern upper middle class and upper class dorks think non-millionaires are moral defectives who didn’t study hard enough to go to Harvard, or were too stupid to have parents that sent them to summer in Europe. The idea of singing the praises of addictive and mind-altering chemicals wouldn’t have occurred to the regressive pre-meritocratic upper middle classes. Sure, De Quincy wrote a book about being a hop-head junkie in 1820; it wasn’t meant to tempt office workers into trying it out.

Modern upper middle class buffoons can usually survive an encounter with psychedelics, or becoming addicted to opiates or dealing with caffeine withdrawal headaches. Middle class through poor people mostly can’t. The complete lack of care for such people displayed by twee knuckleheads like Pollan really harshes on my mellow. At best it evinces an utter lack of thoughtfulness. At worst, a hostility bordering on genocidal.

 

muh consoom muh substances

Then there is the mawkish superannuated adolescence of it all.  What sort of degenerate zero in his 60s finds meaning in something as insipid as quitting coffee for a month or dropping peyote or …. opiates. These are trivial experiences, best avoided all together; only a twee urban narcissist could find them of any interest. Of course, twee NPR listening urban narcissists are to first approximation the Michael Pollan Reading Public in America these days. Unfortunately, the same people are administrators of many American institutions, which is probably why everything is so incredibly shitty current year.
 

Here’s a suggestion for 60 year old adolescents, whose subject appears to be sticking various substances in their meatsacks: become addicted to nicotine, and quit. Nicotine makes caffeine look like mid-afternoon naps for powers of concentration, and is a more intense experience to quit. There are delightful forms of it which wouldn’t even involve a risk of cancer or lung damage: I favor Freiborg and Treyer snuffs. It would actually be daring for a Michael Pollan to do this, as it violates the folkways of the twittering pustules in his social circles, who all probably think nicotine is some dangerous carcinogen (it’s not). While he’s doing this he can take up bodybuilding and steroids on a no-carb ketogenic diet; at the very least he’ll end up less of an annoying fucking nellie; at best, maybe he’ll have material for a further book. My suggestions are considerably less physiologically and psychologically dangerous than taking up opiates or cactus-mescaline, and are vastly more profound than quitting morning coffee. They also require considerably more grit and determination than Pollan’s lotus-eater habits. And if people imitated these hobbies, it might actually do people some good, quite unlike something like quitting morning coffee.
 

I could go into more details, but it’s mostly dull: his soliciting a Loompanix-famous nutty muslim junkie to help him conspire to violate drug laws by growing his own opium is both weedy and boring; this is literally the kind of antics I got up to when I was 15.  The coffee section had questionable history, even more dubious science, and … boring. The San Pedro cactus section is predictably florid and Bay Area retarded, featuring a hippy lady with fake-indian “ceremonies” and “traditions.”  You’ll find deeper insights and vastly more interesting experiences for free on bluelight or erowid.
 
I mean really, what’s next Michael Pollan? Are you going to take up smoking amphetamines while exploring ethical non-monogamy and Tantric pegging? Igobaine suppositories to quit the opium habit, with a side dish of traditional African bush meat while on photo  safari?  Perhaps Michael Pollan will smoke PCP at Burning Man, stick needles in his scrotum in an S&M ceremony and claim it helped him with his depression? I still think the nicotine to steroid bodybuilder to Janae pipeline would be more entertaining, but all of these are good options. How about the ancient Wall Street tradition of snorting blow off the ass of hookers? I could easily imagine him copying out some horse shit he read about Chimu indians making sex0rz pottery while hoovering lines off of women’s hineys, then with a slightly pretentious wikipedia tier digression on whores and coke used by the Arditi in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s anarchist Fiume. The book will culminate with him participating in the traditional ceremony; counting his loot after his last book sale, then delicately hoovering some blow off of Annie Sprinkle’s derriere, while she shoots ping pong balls out her hoo-ha, spooking his two cats, and causing some sort of cod-profundo realization about how he always wanted to be a DJ.

 
Honestly, Michael Pollan is the wine and cheese writer for the free local hippy “community” weekly newspaper. The one with the ads for strip clubs and pot stores in the back. Somehow he escaped from his rightful place in the world as obscure community paper foodie scribbler, and now he afflicts us all with his nonsense. I mean, if you actually take this ridiculous goober seriously, you do realize that people are laughing at you, right?

Just as good alternatives to big-five theories of personality

Posted in five minute university, models by Scott Locklin on December 24, 2020

It is a source of irritation to me that there exists ridiculously worthless and wrong psychological models in widespread use. Big five sends me into dangerous blood pressure levels. It’s preposterous and obviously only says something about the obsessions of the WIERD substrate it allegedly applies to, more than it says anything about the diversity of personality among human beings. When I say big-five is, worthless I don’t only mean it only applies to WIERD people, though that’s observably true; I mean it pertains to states of mind rather than permanent characteristics. It also is pretty worthless in predicting behavior, which is the only useful thing about psychometrics. I don’t care what people are feeling like when they take a test unless that maps directly onto long term behavioral patterns. Otherwise, it’s just checking in; “hey how you doin’ today?”

Five factor tests are essentially bags of words that respondents are asked to agree or disagree with. The assumption is that the bag of words form a basis set for describing human personalities. I have no doubts that they cluster very well under linear regression at least on WEIRD personalities. The problem is such models don’t have much explanatory power in explaining actual human psychological variance. 

Self testing, my results are all over the map. For example I took the thing and got this, this afternoon:

Addressing them one by one: for an extrovert, I surely do spend a lot of time by myself. I’m funny and do well at parties, but my natural set point is sitting on a mountain somewhere with a book. I’ll cop to “emotional stability” in that I’m fairly unflappable, though at various times in my life I was probably pretty neurotic. Locklin the disagreeable? Certainly I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m also the dickhead who checks in on people to make sure they’re doing OK and who notices when they’re not; disagreeable people don’t do that. Conscientious; whatever -totally varies over time there are multiple 5 year periods of my life where I did nothing but chase women and drink heavily. I do usually pick things up off the floor, and go through vast map-reduce phases of gather/sort, though sometimes my desk looks like a junk pile.  Intellect/Imagination aka “Openness” -this one is most hilarious of all. It’s true, I revel in matters of the mind, I enjoy travel, art and I like messing with new ideas. While I’m fairly creative in my thinking, I’m also extremely traditional in my thinking: something that doesn’t compute with psychologists, who obviously don’t read much history or know who Ezra Pound or LeMaitre was. Or, for that matter Freeman Dyson or Heisenberg or Mendel or Celine or  Ernst Junger or Dali …. the list is endless -particularly among artistic and scientific giants. None of this is capable of predicting, say, who I voted for in the last election, or how likely I am to check in on the nice old lady upstairs. It’s just a bunch of shaggy dog stories and stereotypes about self regarding white college students in America in the mid to late 20th century.

another bad model mapped onto other cultures

I think pretty much anything is better than this; for example, the Hippocrates theory that men come in Phlegmatic, Choleric, Sanguine and Melancholic flavors is obviously better from a behavioral point of view, as they relate to how people behave. I don’t think those clusters map onto anything real, but I know people who exemplify all of these archetypes. Particularly people in Latin countries, more or less where the idea originated in ancient times.

There is also the Japanese blood type personality test. I only know a few Japanese people, and only well enough to know they take this idea seriously. I know that the English language wiki on the subject dismisses it as superstition, where the wiki link on big-five is treated with gaping credulity, and that seems to me, well, rather culturally insensitive. I’m willing to bet Japanese blood personality is more real and possibly more useful in Japan than big-five is in the US.

There are many things that matter which five-factor tests are completely blind to, for example: energy level. Some people vibrate with energy and enthusiasm. It has nothing to do with *any* of the five factors. It probably has something to do with thyroid activity and physical fitness. Dominance -some people dominate the room, and some have to be in charge otherwise they lose their shit; others go with the flow. Secretiveness; some people are not particularly forthcoming and you have no idea what they’re up to; they may even become anxious if you pry. They’re not necessarily up to anything shady, that’s just how some people are. Spooks love hiring such people. Curiosity: some people are curious about all kinds of things; other people really like sports or whatever fills up their hours.  Curious people tend to make better scientists, engineers, mechanics and detectives. Sociopathy; imagine you forgot to look for this in a life partner or cofounder -five factor doesn’t think it’s of any importance at all, because muh factors. Self reliance: some people don’t like getting help from others, other people seem to enjoy being dependent parasites. Character;  some people do as they say and say as they do. According to the five factor model, character has something to do with cleaning your room, or how likely you are to execute on a plan. Well, I’m here to tell you these are completely unrelated traits. There are deceptive, evil assholes who clean their rooms and can execute plans well, and people of the absolute highest character who live like slobs and are disorganized and lazy. Courage: some people don’t mind having grenades thrown at them all day; others wet the bed at the idea of walking around in the woods by themselves without a covid diaper on their face. Thrill seeking: some people may or may not be courageous, but seek sensory stimulation; others prefer a boring life and purchase lots of insurance. Beyond that: impulsivity is a trait many display, and others do not. You may be impulsive, a physical coward and thrill seeking: people like this exist -you meet them all the time. Five-factor will simply lump them all in with other unrelated populations of people such as one encounters on college campuses and in the clerical jobs they mostly matriculate to later. All of these are absolutely critical to people’s self conception and how they behave in the actual observable world. Modern psychology pretty much ignores them.

I think Cattell’s 16 factor test might measure more important things. However whenever I take the thing I always get a bullseye. Does this mean I have no personality, or does it mean it doesn’t measure my personality well? I think it might be a good start from a behavioral point of view, but it seems to be fairly unpopular among psychologist types. Cattell of course started out with training in the physical sciences, which is why he presumably thinks like me; wanting to make maps to observable behaviors.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory MMPI is an old spook developed thing more or less designed to ascertain how fucked up you are. I think it’s reasonably useful for filtering out WEIRD types who might be mentally ill, or, like, evil, and things like it should probably be more widely used. This despite the fact that, in America anyway, the prevalence of personality disorders is approaching 10%. Seems useful to me even if you can only catch half of them. Tolerance of crazy and evil people is one of the worst things about modernity.

Myers Briggs I do not consider a better model; it’s astrology tier. Nobody else seems to take it seriously either, except for the people who sell the tests, and the credulous people who pass them around because they’re fun. There are other crummy ones out there; one is called DISC, and it seems to be universally reviled by academic psychology researchers, despite it being invented by the creator of Wonder Woman. I don’t know why they hate it so much; doesn’t seem much worse than five factor -maybe oriented towards winnowing out people who might be good at sales, which, unlike five-factor, is at least an ambition to be useful to somebody. Also inventing Wonder Woman is pretty cool.

Psychology is mostly a profoundly silly basket of shaggy dog stories masquerading as a serious subject; it gets sillier by the decade. The five factor test is one of the tools the psychologists seem most proud of, but it’s really just a demonstration of how intellectually bankrupt they are. Anyone who has actually understood the linear regression tool knows you can have five “good” factors and understand absolutely nothing about how the universe works. After all, butter production in Bangladesh, US cheese production and sheep population in the US and Bangladesh is an absolutely superb three factor model for the S&P500 [Leinweber’s famous PDF]. Since these mere three factors explain 99% of the variance in the S&P500, isn’t this a better model than five-factor?

We laugh at the idea that sheep, cheese and butter predict the S&P500, then credulously accept the idea that psychologists have some how nailed it with the five factor model because “muh variance” on some arbitrary data set of a ridiculously censored population sample. It’s not that I don’t think studying human behavior is interesting; it is one of the most interesting subjects there is. It’s just that psychological researchers are a bunch of doofuses.

Advice to a young social scientist

Posted in five minute university by Scott Locklin on August 28, 2015

A comment which woke me from my long nap:

” What areas of mathematics or technical knowledge would you consider necessary for a hedgie analyst or academic researcher in economics /pol science /anthropology / history? I’m not interested in bits, bolts, DNA or mechanical things, but would like to apply more rigor to social, business and economic problems. “

Simple answer: statistics (and ideas in probability). Not the baby stats rubbish where they give you a recipe and hope for the best. Not even the stuff they teach you in an experimental physics course: real statistics, like they use on Wall Street to make money.

If you want to be bleeding edge, or do some exploration on your own, there are interesting results in information theory and machine learning which can help you, but what will help you more than this is a deep understanding of plain old statistics. Frequentist, Bayesian, Topological; whatever: just learn some stats to the point where you understand how they work, what they’re good for and where they break down.

My formal training was in physics, where, generally speaking, statistical sophistication is fairly low. Physicists have the luxury of being able to construct experiments where the observation of one or two photons or some preposterously small amount of torque on a magnetometer is meaningful. Pretty much nobody but physicists have this luxury.

Physicists no longer have this luxury for the most interesting problems these days. Unfortunately nobody told them, which is why physics has been languishing in the swamplands, with “physicists” working on non falsifiable noodle theory, cosmology and writing software for computer architectures which will probably never exist. I think it was Kelvin who said, “in science there is only physics, all the rest is stamp collecting.” When Kelvin said it, this was true: because nobody had bothered to invent statistics yet. Physics was the only real Baconian science.

Now, we have statistics. A flawed quasi-mathematical technique which is effectively how we know anything about everything that isn’t pre-1950s physics. Yes, yes, Disraeli and Mark Twain said there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.” He should have said, “bad statistics” -but that’s all there was in those days. Before we had the adding machine, statistics was the purview of Gauss and people who mostly were not doing it right.

Guys like Fisher, Pearson (both of them), Kolmogorov, Neymande Finetti, Jeffreys, Savage,  Cramer and the lot are as important to our understanding of the world as Heisenberg and Darwin. Indeed, at this point I would go so far as to say that statistics invented in the 1930s is arguably more important than physics done in the 1930s. Most of the useful new knowledge of the last 60 years is directly attributable to such men. They don’t get enough respect.

Kolmogorov getting respect

Doing statistics well is the essence of all useful social science. As you probably have noticed, most social science is not done well. Much of social “science” isn’t very scientific; it’s often merely ideological gorp. The statistics used in the social sciences (and biological sciences and drug discovery and …) is abused preposterously to the point where they appear to be mathematical and methodological jokes rather than results which must be taken seriously. If social sciences took themselves seriously, they would be sciences rather than shaggy dog stories.

Consider psychology: according to a recent Science article, the majority of results of a sample of psychology papers can’t be reproduced. Let that sink in for a moment: more than half the results of these psychology papers are anecdotes. Part of this is because the researchers in that field are quacks and morons. Part of it is because they are evil quacks and morons.  I sit in a cafe which is near the UC Berkeley psychology building, and often overhear conversations by professors, grad students and post-docs from this place. Once in a while I overhear something intelligent and salubrious. For example, I  was grateful to overhear a conversation about this paper a few months ago.

However, I have often heard learned psychology department dunderheads stating what the result of their paper will be, and instructing their underlings to mine the data for p-values. I suppose they may have thought themselves speaking over the heads of the rabble, since nobody else from their department was visible. Mind you, they did this in a public place, in a town which is filled to the nostrils with people with training in rigorous subjects, like, you know, me, the buxom Russian girl reading Dirac in the corner, the options trader eating a sandwich, and the girl pouring the coffee, who is studying mathematics. This indicates to me that such people are so abysmally stupid and unaware of their own deficiencies, they couldn’t achieve a scientific result if they actually tried to do so.  Have a click on this link for the UCB psychology department: at least two people on this list are cretinous scientific frauds. If the Science paper mentioned above is a representative sample, most of them are.

Should I ever strike it rich enough to endow a foundation, I would pay legions of trained statisticians to go through the literature and eviscerate the mountains of bad “research” and arrive at the truth. If Universities were interested in advancing human knowledge, rather than advancing a tenured circle jerk which fields a football team, they’d fund entire departments of people who do nothing but act as Inquisitors about their research findings. Meanwhile I will have to content myself with instigating ambitious young people to arm themselves with the best statistical weapons they can muster, and go forth to slay dragons.

It can be done, and at this point, it can be good for your career.  Examples here, here and here. There is plenty of bullshit out there, and as Thucydides (also worth a look for young social scientists) said, “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools” so get to work!