URLs du Jour

2021-11-14

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  • Spot the redundancy. Scott Shackford has a good idea: Let's Not Have a Bunch of Posturing Politicians Decide How Online Algorithms Should Work.

    A handful of lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make it harder for online search algorithms to give you what you want—yet another example of why it's bad to give politicians power over tech policy.

    A bipartisan pack of senators and congressmen led by Sen. John Thune (R–S.D.) have introduced what they're calling the Filter Bubble Transparency Act. The legislation essentially aims to stop major platforms and search engines from algorithmically determining what they show you based on information you did not purposefully give them. It refers to these as "opaque algorithms," because you as a user may not know exactly what factors are contributing to these search results or information displays. The theory is that platforms are secretly manipulating what you see in order to sell you things, conceal controversial content, and give priority to certain goods or services or sources of information.

    Scott links to the TechDirt article on the legislation we blogged previously.

    [Congratulations if you spotted the redundancy in "Posturing Politicians".]


  • An inflammatory, yet accurate, headline. David Bernstein wonders How Many People Did NIH Director Francis Collins Kill? He excerpts an NPR interview where Collins admits he "requested" Moderna "diversify" its trials of their Covid vaccine. Which put off eventual approval "by a week or two".

    How many people died because Collins delayed Moderna's vaccine "just by a week or two?" I don't know, but how ever many it is, Dr. Collins bears responsibility for their deaths--a "request" from the director of NIH in this context is really a command. And this "modest effect" is certainly nothing to laugh about.

    Let's be clear on several things: (1) There was (and is) no scientific reason to think that the Modern vaccine would act differently on people of different genetic backgrounds; (2) Even if there was reason to think it would, the categories the NIH requires researchers to use--African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, and White--are extremely internally genetically diverse.* Asian Americans, for example, can be Austronesians, Caucasians, or East Asians, and there is much internal diversity within those subcategories. Hispanics can be any mixture of European, Indigenous, African, and Asian. And so on. There is no *scientific* reason to use these categories as proxies for genetic diversity; and (3) If Americans wouldn't "trust" a vaccine that didn't have "enough diversity," that's largely because government authorities like the NIH insist that vaccines aren't trustworthy unless they have been tested on a "diverse" population. If the NIH and other authorities consistently said that socially and legally constructed racial and ethnic categories are not scientific in nature and have no bearing on vaccine efficacy, then the public would be much more likely to believe it.

    Not that it matters, but I'm going for my Moderna booster today. I'm in that unfortunate 65+ group.


  • "It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction." David Mamet takes to Unherd with his strategy to maintain peace during a family cross-country trip by car. Use the Designated Criminal trick.

    On setting out the family must establish a rotation. Each car member, then, on his appointed day, will be The Designated Criminal. On his lucky day, everything that goes wrong in the car is his fault. The affronted family are happily then leagued against the diabolical offender in their midst.

    It works like a charm.

    But The Designated Criminal may also be practised as oppression. For there are families and other organisms which employ the technique not as a means of maintaining esprit-de-corps, but of exercising control. Here the criminal is designated once and for all time, and will live and die in his chains.

    Mamet explores mostly those "other organisms" as the essay continues.

    [Classical quote in headline, from the movie State and Main, written and directed by Mr. Mamet.]