Sunday Links #23

A profile of Zell Kravinsky. Any biography that opens casually with “Last summer, not long after [he] had given almost his entire forty-five-million-dollar real-estate fortune to charity” has to be good.

And speaking of effective altruism, ever wonder what characteristics effective altruists share? Joey Savoie and Xio Kikauka interviewed 42 EAs and found an average age of 25 (17-46), 75% male, left-wing politics, an average of 20 hours a week on EA volunteering, donating a median of 10% of their income, and generally transitioned from altruism to EA (as opposed to from effectiveness to EA). Though, admittedly, this survey used a non-random convenience sample.

Also, we should put a value on a human life: “That dollar value is $5.8 million. Denying this leads to terrible consequences. Let me explain.”

Some failures of people doing science:

How statistics can go wrong and basically say anything the author wants them to say.

“On Intellectual Triage and Not Writing People Off”: “Terry Eagleton’s bludgeoning review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion famously begins, ‘Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.’ I share Eagleton’s frustration. But what doesn’t bother me — or Eagleton either, I’m pretty sure — is Dawkins’s rejection of religious belief in general or Christianity in particular. Suppose Dawkins were to say something like this: ‘I don’t really know that much about Christianity, but from what I do know I haven’t seen anything that would cause me to take it seriously or to investigate it further.’ I would have absolute respect for that position — because, after all, that’s the position I’m in in relation to all sorts of beliefs: in Zoroastrianism, say, or telekinesis, or alien spacecraft in Roswell, New Mexico.”

“The Crackpot Offer: “The thought went through my mind: ‘I’ll get that theorem eventually! Someday I’ll disprove Cantor’s Diagonal Argument, even though my first try failed!’ I resented the theorem for being obstinately true, for depriving me of my fame and fortune, and I began to look for other disproofs. And then I realized something. I realized that I had made a mistake, and that, now that I’d spotted my mistake, there was absolutely no reason to suspect the strength of Cantor’s Diagonal Argument any more than other major theorems of mathematics. I saw then very clearly that I was being offered the opportunity to become a math crank, and to spend the rest of my life writing angry letters in green ink to math professors.”

However, a way to make things a bit better – advance science. From “Three Ways to Advance Science”: “There are three ways to contribute to scientific progress. The direct way is to conduct a good scientific study and publish the results. The indirect way is to help others make a direct contribution. Journal editors, university administrators and philanthropists who fund research contribute to scientific progress in this second way. A third approach is to marry the first two and make a scientific advance that itself expedites scientific advances. The full significance of this third way is commonly overlooked.”

“Social Justice for the Highly Demanding of Rigor”: Some people claim “that social justice advocates irresponsibly take some undesirable outcome in minority groups, like poverty, and then assume it is the result of racism or sexism without considering other possible explanations. […] My counterargument is that although the first argument is true a depressingly large amount of the time, some people do more rigorous work and get the same result – that poor outcomes for minority groups are caused in large part by racism and sexism.”

Exactly as the title says: “Anatomy of a Hack: How Crackers Ransack Passwords Like ‘qeadzcwrsfxv1331’”. Ars Technica gave three experts a 16,000-entry encrypted password file, and asked them to break them. The winner got 90% of them in a few hours. And this includes passwords like “momof3gr8kds” and “correcthorsebatterystaple”. If you want to make a secure password, use the Schneier Scheme.

Paul Graham on “How to Not Die” (as a business). This is why .impact has weekly meetings – weekly meetings encourage a powerful norm of weekly progress, which moves things forward: “You’ve probably noticed that having dinners every Tuesday with us and the other founders causes you to get more done than you would otherwise[. …] Every dinner is […] a deadline. […T]he mere constraint of staying in regular contact with us will push you to make things happen, because otherwise you’ll be embarrassed to tell us that you haven’t done anything new since the last time we talked.”

How to learn difficult things.