Links for March 2019

This is the first monthly-ish collection of interesting links I have read online, with some thoughts about each one. There aren’t as many as there might usually be in this one because I only started collecting them this week.

David R. MacIver writes about ‘the Core Problem with Democracy’. Under some (unrealistic?) independence assumptions, a vote on ‘A and B’ may fail, even if most of the population individually believe A and B. I wonder how related this is to Simpson’s paradox. The conclusion includes the interesting observation that democracy often conflates values (‘how should the world look?’) and judgement (‘how do we make the world look that way?’). Robin Hanson’s ‘futarchy’ responds to this distinction, and so does Scott Alexander’s fictional Shining Garden.

Today’s ‘don’t believe anything you read on the internet’ article: Gizmodo exposes ‘Dr.’ David Sendler, whose studies have led to articles in places from Forbes to Savage Lovecast, as a ‘serial fabulist’. I’m not sure whether the widespread media coverage he has attracted or the possibility that he is fraudulently seeing (potentially very vulnerable) patients is more concerning. The way he talks about his upcoming study on suicide, on subjects he found by searching social media(!), are particularly alarming.

Commento is a Disqus-like commenting platform which emphasises privacy and speed. A paid hosted version is available, but it’s open-source and so self-hosting is an option (and now operational on this site, after much faffing with probably pointless Content-Security-Policy options). I hadn’t enabled comments here before because I don’t particularly trust a service like Disqus, and other solutions are a pain with a statically generated site. The one hesitation I had before installing Commento is being slightly distrustful of requiring Javascript, which was previously only ‘necessary’ to view rendered MathJax, which somewhat gracefully degrades to the raw TeX code. Also, in 2019, it doesn’t seem too onerous to require JS for something non-essential like comments.