Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

In our previous episode, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of freedom of speech or of concepts like The Marketplace of Ideas or The Wisdom of Crowds.  Two of their most dearly-held beliefs are:

1.   They are very, very smart.
2.   The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.

Consequently, The Anointed don’t view wide-open debate and discussion as opportunities for the best ideas to be discovered and bubble up to the top.  They view them as opportunities for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be fooled and led astray.

Let’s look at a perfect example of what I’m talking about:  a recent Huffington Post essay by Dr. David Katz, the guy who developed the NuVal system for ranking the healthiness of foods – a system recently dropped by some big grocery-store chains.  Here are some quotes from Katz:

Misinformation is very much in season. Disclosures since the presidential election about massively disseminated misinformation, some of it inadvertent, some of it willfully manipulative, have come fast and furious. In fact, in the aftermath of the recent revelations about fake news, we are being invited to add “post-truth” to our lexicon.

So Dr. Katz is very upset about fake news.  That’s pretty danged funny, considering he was caught writing reviews of his own novel under a fake name and comparing himself to John Milton and Charles Dickens.  Apparently his definition of fake news is limited to “post-truth” he doesn’t like.

For the record, I think we can all agree we’d prefer not to be exposed to fake news.  But of course, fake news isn’t new.  In the years that I’ve been paying attention, “news” stories that turned out to be largely or completely fabricated have been printed or aired by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CBS and NBC.  The Washington Post even ran a piece recently titled Fake News? That’s A Very Old Story, which recounts how fake news has been around since the founding of the country.

But since the Katz essay is about health advice, I wondered why he opened with a complaint about fake news in the recent election cycle.  Then it hit me: he’s trying to draw a parallel between health advice he doesn’t like and wacko stories claiming the Clintons were involved in child-sex rings.  If one is bad, the other must be equally bad, ya see.  Nice try, Doc.

I’ve written several posts and given a speech about how the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to turn the tide against the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains! nonsense coming from the Axis of Incompetence: the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, partly because I remember the bad old days.

In the 1980s, I was a staff writer and editor for a small magazine called Family Safety & Health.  Researching a health article was a process I called “round up the usual suspects.”  Something about heart health?  Get in touch with the American Heart Association.  Diabetes?  The American Diabetes Association is your go-to source.  Cancer?  Call the American Cancer Society.  Anything else, start with government health agencies and go from there.

Information flowed from The Anointed at the top, through a handful of gatekeepers, then down to the rest of us.  So I, like every other health writer in those days, wrote articles about the wonders of whole grains and the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol.  I didn’t know any better because I didn’t have access to contrary evidence and opinions.  For The Anointed, those were the good old days.

Now the gatekeepers have been swept aside.  I consider that a net positive.  Dr. Katz, as a member of The Anointed, of course disagrees:

The social media that served as the currents in which false and misleading election-related news were swept far and wide pose three particular threats to health related information.

The first is that very problem, the unfettered promulgation of information that is just plain wrong. The second is that misinformation is far more pernicious than ignorance. Ignorance is that proverbial empty vessel; a knowledgeable health professional can fill it. But it’s hard to fill a cup that already runneth over- and that’s the scenario that misinformation creates.

And lastly, the third is the very problem we’ve had since the radio was first invented: static. At some level of background noise, the worthiest signal is indiscernible as such. Our ability to deliver a message, any message, depends now, as ever, on the signal to noise ratio.

Let me interpret that:  @#$%!!  All those @#$%ing bloggers and podcasters are somehow drawing big audiences and convincing millions of people that saturated fat isn’t bad and grains aren’t good!  People no longer just accept what The Anointed tell them!  This is very, very bad!

Cyberspace is the ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber. Everyone can shout into it, and every shout has the same chance to echo from the megaphones of the sympathetic.

Well, that’s true to an extent.  Social media has created a vastly wider and more diverse Marketplace of Ideas.  Are some of those ideas garbage?  You bet.  For all I know, there may be more lousy dietary advice pinging around cyberspace than good advice.

That’s not the point.  The point is that good advice – advice that actually works — is now accessible to people who never would have seen it in the pre-internet days.  That’s where The Anointed and fans of the Marketplace of Ideas disagree.  The Anointed believe if everyone can shout into an echo chamber, everyone will have equal influence.  That’s nonsense.  It’s like believing everyone who produces a product will have an equal share of the market.  Despite what The Anointed think, people aren’t stupid.  They gravitate to the products and the advice that prove beneficial.

You may recall the story of my co-worker whose wife suffered from migraines for years.  Doctor after doctor failed to prescribe the magic-pill cure.  But then a friend-of-a-friend suggested she try giving up grains – because he’d read on the internet that grains can trigger migraines.  So she tried giving up grains and voila! – no more migraines.  She found relief because of knowledge shared on the internet.

Now, given what the internet is, I suppose someone else might have suggested she rub her eyeballs with orange caterpillars.  That would have been junk advice.  But here’s the thing: she would have recognized it as junk advice based on the results.  That is, after all, largely what the Wisdom of Crowds is about: knowledge gained from experience and then shared with that big ol’ crowd.

The Anointed, by contrast, put far more faith in little groups of experts – with expertise defined by them, of course, and largely consisting of earning degrees by attending classes taught by other members of The Anointed.  This is nothing new, by the way.  Eric Hoffer, author of the terrific book The True Believer, wrote this in the 1950s:

The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.

Back to Katz on people shouting into that darned echo chamber:

This is an enemy not only to medicine, but to everything in any way related to science, for science demands the filter of genuine understanding, actual expertise, and evidence.

Once again, that’s pretty danged funny, considering it’s coming from a guy whose NuVal system ranks sugar-laden chocolate soy milk as a far healthier option than a turkey breast.  I’d like to see the evidence supporting that ranking.  Unfortunately, NuVal refuses to explain its scoring system because the information is “proprietary.”  In other words, we just made this @#$% up because it’s what we believe.

Having defined the problem – too darned many voices yelling health advice into that social-media echo chamber – Katz then lays out his solution:

In my particular purview- lifestyle medicine- I have felt compelled to develop a new method to confront this New Age challenge. If the noise is irrevocably greater than ever before, so, too, must be the signal. The True Health Initiative pools the voices, currently, of well over 300 leading experts from over 30 countries to make the case that we are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens; that the fundamentals of a health-promoting diet and lifestyle are the stuff of decisive evidence, and global consensus.

Sorry, Doc, but I’m going to have to disagree.  When you tell people eggs will kill them and sugar-laden soy milk is a healthier option than a turkey breast, I’m pretty sure you are clueless about the basic care and feeding of Home sapiens – none of whom enjoyed a nice, sweet glass of chocolate-flavored Silk Soy Milk until modern industry made such garbage possible.

I looked up the members of those (ahem) “experts” Katz is putting together to combat the social-media echo chamber.  I didn’t recognize most of them, but here are some we all know:

Keith Thomas Ayoob … whom I’ve referred to as “Ayoob the Boob” because he thinks the saturated fat in coconut oil will kill people.

Dr. Neil Barnard … yup, the vegan nut-job whose group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine puts up billboards warning people that consuming animal products will kill them.

T. Colin Campbell … author of The China Study, which attempted to prove (through cherry-picked associations) that eating meat is the main driver of disease.

You get the idea.  Katz is assembling a team of the same old anti-fat, anti-cholesterol, anti-meat goofs who have been part of the problem for decades.  Talk about an echo chamber.

To his credit, Katz is at least trying to combat what he considers bad information with what he considers good information.  The members of The True Health Initiative will be shouting into the very echo chamber Katz dislikes.  Since I believe the Marketplace of Ideas works, I predict the market won’t be kind to them.  No amount of shouting from the usual suspects will convince people who’ve seen their health improve after going low-carb, gluten-free or paleo to take a giant step backwards.

Other members of The Anointed aren’t satisfied with shouting into the echo chamber.  They’d rather prevent people who disagree with them from shouting in the first place … or writing, or tweeting, or whatever.  We’ll pick up that subject in the next post.

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The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech.  Sure, they pay lip-service to the idea now and then, but when you watch them in action, it’s clear they don’t much like wide-open discussions and free-wheeling debates.  You may recall, for example, what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, was invited to be part of a nutrition panel at the National Food Policy Conference:  members of the Center For Science in the Public Interest and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee threatened to boycott unless she was disinvited … which she was.

I wrote at the time that the CSPI weenies were afraid Teicholz would kick their asses in a public debate.  I still believe that’s part of the explanation, but recent events (which I’ll cover in later posts) got me thinking there’s more to it.

To explain, let’s start by quickly summarizing the Wisdom of Crowds concept:  when ordinary people share their experiences, ideas and insights with each other, the right answers tend to eventually bubble up to the top.  Notice that the Wisdom of Crowds doesn’t mean the majority is always correct, and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s ideas are good ideas.  It simply means that when ideas and information are freely exchanged within that big ol’ crowd, the good ideas tend to take hold.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. are based on a similar concept.  The Founders believed in what’s often called the Marketplace of Ideas.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that it’s safe to tolerate error of opinion where reason is left free to combat it.  Fredrick Siebert put it quite nicely in Four Theories of The Press:

Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.

Notice what both the Wisdom of Crowds and the Marketplace of Ideas have in common?  That’s right … they’re based on faith in ordinary people.  Given access to lots of information and competing ideas, most people will come to the correct conclusion most of the time.  So people who believe in the Wisdom of Crowds view the prospect of debate and discussion with an attitude of Bring it on!  I’ll make my case, you make yours, and we’ll see who wins.

The Anointed, by contrast, view wide-open debate and discussion as a threat.  Why?  I used to think it’s because they know their Grand Plans are based on flimsy or non-existent evidence.  As Thomas Sowell points out in both The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, The Anointed tend to fall in love with bold, new, exciting ideas.  They don’t like waiting for solid evidence to support their bold, new, exciting ideas, and are quite adept at ignoring or dismissing evidence that their bold, new, exciting ideas are wrong.  So I figured they’re hostile to debate out of simple fear someone will prove them wrong.

But that doesn’t jibe with a fundamental trait of The Anointed: their extreme confidence in themselves and their ideas.  So after noodling on it for awhile, I decided their hostility towards debate and discussion is rooted in two of their most dearly-held beliefs, which are:

1.   They are very, very smart.
2.   The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.

Therefore, The Anointed aren’t afraid they’ll be proven wrong – heck, they don’t believe it’s possible for them to be wrong.  Rather, they’re afraid the rest of us are too stupid to discern how right they are.  When we hear lots of contrary opinions, we (unlike The Anointed) don’t have the intelligence to weigh the evidence and come to the correct conclusions.  So as far as The Anointed are concerned, an open debate is nothing more than an opportunity for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be led astray.

That’s why so many of them long for the good ol’ days when a relatively small number of information gatekeepers decided what most of us see and hear.  That’s why so many of them are angry about the emergence of talk radio, social media, blogs, and other forms of what they derisively call the “pajamas media.” (I’m not wearing pajamas at the moment, in case you’re wondering.)  The information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates, which means the Marketplace of Ideas is a vastly larger and more diverse marketplace than it once was.

That’s what allows the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish.  But The Anointed don’t believe in the Wisdom of Crowds, so they consider all that debate and discussion a problem.  We’ll look at how they (ahem) “solve” that problem in the next couple of posts.

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I don’t have much time to sit down and read an actual book.  When I do read the old-fashioned way, it’s usually a book someone sent me to review on the blog.  Hey, I like reading and reviewing those books, but I don’t want to be limited to them.  There are more fascinating books that have already been published than I could read in a thousand years … and while I plan on living to a ripe old age, a thousand years seems overly optimistic.

Since driving to and from work takes a big chunk of each week, I make the commute useful by listening to books I don’t have time to sit and read.  My Audible.com library online shows that I’ve downloaded 25 books so far this year.  Yup, that sounds about right, a book every other week or so.  I like a variety of genres: history, economics, psychology, and of course fiction.  I’m a big fan of mysteries by Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly.

I rarely listen to books on diet and health, but I often find myself connecting ideas from audiobooks to the topics I cover on the blog.  (I also find myself slapping the steering wheel and grumbling aloud when a fiction writer refers to foods like bacon and eggs as “artery-clogging.” Kellerman does that on a fairly regular basis.)

Last week, I posted Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay about what he calls the Intellectual Yet Idiot – a description very much like Thomas Sowell’s description of The Anointed, the term I adopted for the blog.  These are the people who think they know better than the rest of us and thus feel qualified to impose their Grand Plans on us.  Think U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Based on recommendations from readers in comments, I listened to three of Taleb’s books in the past year: The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile.  I don’t remember exactly which idea came which book, but I do remember that much of what he wrote applies to health and the health sciences.

One reason Taleb is so critical of the Intellectual Yet Idiot types is that (as he explained in all three books) human beings don’t know what they don’t know and are thus lousy at predicting future consequences.  They don’t consider the rare or black-swan event that can cause everything to blow up or go sideways.  So they make Grand Plans and 10-year forecasts that are nearly always wrong – way wrong.

As he explained in one of the books (I believe it was Antifragile), that’s why he considers centralization (especially a big, centralized government) dangerous.  Centralization amplifies mistakes.  Instead of small groups experimenting with their own ideas and producing results others can learn from, we get one plan and one set of results for everyone – often bad results.

Once again, think about those Dietary Guidelines. Back in the day, people decided which foods were good for them based on something like the Wisdom of Crowds.  They learned from their grandmothers, their coaches, their friends, and perhaps their doctors – most of whom were speaking from experience.

Then for some reason, The Anointed decided we needed a national nutrition policy.  Medical protocols, school lunch programs, nutrition labels on foods, you name it, they were all based on federal guidelines that told us saturated fat is bad, cholesterol causes heart disease, and grains are good for us.  Those guidelines were a mistake – and centralization amplified the mistake.  The national policy produced a national disaster for health.

Taleb also has rather a lot to say about education and experts.  Many of us believe (because we were taught to believe) that most scientific knowledge comes from academics toiling in universities.  They produce the pure science, then tinkerers and entrepreneurs put that pure science to practical use.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, according to Taleb.  More often, it’s the tinkerers who produce new knowledge.  They tinker and tinker and find something new that works.  Then the academics come along and figure out why it works. Then they run off and write their papers.  As Taleb explains, it’s not necessary to understand exactly why something works to know that it does, in fact, work.  For example, the guys who invented the jet engine couldn’t explain the physics.  They just knew they’d tinkered their way into something that worked.  Academics figured out the physics of the thing later.

I of course related that back to diet and health while listening.  Think of all the dietary wisdom our ancestors carried with them.  They knew they should feed their growing kids saturated fats and cholesterol.  They knew they should eat fermented foods.  They knew they should eat organ meats.  If you asked your great-grandmother which foods make people fat, she probably would have blamed sugar and flour, not butter and lard.

Could these people cite scientific papers to support their beliefs about diet?  Not likely.  But they knew what works.  I believe that’s an important lesson for all of us: it’s more important to find and adopt what works than to read all the science.

The “settled” science, is of course, often wrong.  Taleb points out several examples in his books.  I was reminded of further examples in two books by David McCullough, The Wright Brothers and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were master tinkerers.  They were also geniuses.  When they began designing their first airplane, they consulted the established books on physics and aeronautics.  They were dismayed to discover that much of the “settled” science was clearly wrong.  It didn’t hold up to their own tests and measurements.  So they had to toss the books and tinker their way into finding what worked.

The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by another genius named John Roebling.  The bridge was a mammoth undertaking, and when Roebling submitted his plans, some society of learned engineers in New York City published a long article explaining why his design would never work.  The bridge would fall down, you see.  The experts cited plenty of science to explain why.

The bridge not only didn’t fall down, it now easily withstands the weight of countless cars and trucks – despite being designed for pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages.  The society of learned experts was wrong, despite their scientific citations.

Does that remind you at all of current dietary science?

Another book that reminded me of diet and health topics despite not being about diet and health was Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini.  (I know, the title makes it sound like a book on marketing and sales.  Trust me, it’s more about psychology.)

One major point the authors make is that warning people about a problem without also providing a solution that works is pointless – unless your goal is to make people depressed.  In fact, if you regularly offer warnings without workable solutions, people will just avoid you.

That made me think of all the morons who believe we can fat-shame people into losing weight.  Doctors need to more aggressive in telling people they’re overweight, ya see (according to some health official the U.K., if memory serves.)  We need to make it socially unacceptable, blah-blah-blah.

Warning people that being overweight will kill them doesn’t provide a solution.  Telling them to just cut calories or go on low-fat diets also isn’t a solution for most of them.  So if health officials convince doctors to be more aggressive in telling people to lose weight (i.e., engage in white-coat fat-shaming), what do think will happen?  Well, studies have already shown what will happen: people who can’t lose weight will stop going to the doctor to avoid the lectures.  Someone please inform Meme Roth.

The book also explains that many people are persuaded by what the authors call social proof.  If everyone else seems to believe something, they’ll believe it … even if logic and experience should tell them otherwise.

I think it’s safe to say that social proof had a lot to do with the low-fat diet craze.  The government experts told us we should be on low-fat diets, major media began promoting the idea, and eventually everyone seemed to believe it.  Watch reruns of TV shows from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I guarantee you’ll hear references to arterycloggingsaturatedfat!  I’ve noticed at least a dozen of those references while watching Seinfeld reruns.

I like to think of myself as someone not persuaded by social proof, but apparently I am – or at least I was then.  I kept trying low-fat diets, despite feeling lousy and not losing any weight.   Everyone says this is a healthy diet, so it must be a healthy diet!  I hope I’ve become less easily persuaded as I’ve gotten older.  I’ve certainly become more skeptical of experts and authorities.

But I also believe social proof can work both ways.  Not everyone has the time or inclination to experiment with different diets or look into the research, so many just follow the herd.  If the herd is moving towards paleo, or low-carb, or gluten-free, that’s not a bad result.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to leave the office and drive home while listing to a Jonathan Kellerman novel.  I hope he doesn’t make any cracks about bacon and eggs clogging our arteries.

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I’ll be taking Thanksgiving week off from both work and blogging.  Jimmy and Christine Moore will be visiting, and when I’m not socializing or playing disc golf with Jimmy, Chareva and I will put in extra time on the book.  I’ve asked The Older Brother to take over the Fat Head chair if the mood strikes him.

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Geez, time flies.  Blink twice, and it’s another birthday.

In two years, I’ll be 60.  I remember when 60 sounded old.  Maybe it is, but I predict I won’t feel old.  I’m 58 today, and I feel better than I did at 35.  No arthritis in the shoulder, no psoriasis on the back of my head, no bouts of mild asthma, no gastric reflux, no belly aches, no restless legs or mysterious backaches at night.

I should probably send Morgan Spurlock a thank-you card.  Super Size Me annoyed me, which inspired the idea for Fat Head, which led to me learning a lot more about diet and health than I’d ever planned to know.   None of this — the film, the blog, the little farm in rural Tennessee, the upcoming book — was what I envisioned 20 years ago, which just proves the universe had better plans for my life than I did.

We had the family celebration on Saturday night.  Tonight I’m just going to kick back and watch Monday Night Football and enjoy feeling alive and healthy and optimistic about the next 50 years.

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In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t had much time for posts lately. The programming job, Sara’s birthday (for which she chose a family zip-lining expedition over a party), sessions with Chareva to go over her graphics for the book, trying to wrap up a script for the film version of the book … not much bandwidth left at the end each week.

This won’t be a full post either, even though it’s long. Twitter brought me an essay I believe is worth sharing. The author is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and the essay is apparently from a work in progress titled Skin in the Game.

I first became aware of Taleb in March, when I quoted one of his Facebook posts because it seemed like a perfect comment on The Anointed. Several of you chimed in to say I should read his books, so I did, and I heartily recommend all of them.

Turns out that Facebook post was from the essay below (although I think the essay has since been updated.)  Taleb asked that people who reproduce the essay do so in its entirety, so I will.  The Intellectual Yet Idiot is, once again, a perfect commentary on the people who are so impressed with their own intelligence, they feel qualified to tell the rest of us how to live.  Enjoy.


The Intellectual Yet Idiot

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science. (For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types — those who want to “nudge” us into some behavior — much of what they would classify as “rational” or “irrational” (or some such categories indicating deviation from a desired or prescribed protocol) comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.) They are also prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule.

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and is rarely seen outside specialized outlets, think tanks, the media, and universities — most people have proper jobs and there are not many openings for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver (again, no real skin in the game as the concept is foreign to the IYI). Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.

The IYI has a copy of the first hardback edition of The Black Swan on his shelves, but mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence. He believes that GMOs are “science”, that the “technology” is not different from conventional breeding as a result of his readiness to confuse science with scientism.

Typically, the IYI get the first order logic right, but not second-order (or higher) effects making him totally incompetent in complex domains. In the comfort of his suburban home with 2-car garage, he advocated the “removal” of Gadhafi because he was “a dictator”, not realizing that removals have consequences (recall that he has no skin in the game and doesn’t pay for results).

The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.

The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges; if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general); when in the UK, he goes to literary festivals; he drinks red wine with steak (never white); he used to believe that fat was harmful and has now completely reversed; he takes statins because his doctor told him to do so; he fails to understand ergodicity and when explained to him, he forgets about it soon later; he doesn’t use Yiddish words even when talking business; he studies grammar before speaking a language; he has a cousin who worked with someone who knows the Queen; he has never read Frederic Dard, Libanius Antiochus, Michael Oakeshot, John Gray, Amianus Marcellinus, Ibn Battuta, Saadiah Gaon, or Joseph De Maistre; he has never gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs); he doesn’t even know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba (which in Brooklynese is “can’t tell sh**t from shinola”); he doesn’t know that there is no difference between “pseudointellectual” and “intellectual” in the absence of skin in the game; has mentioned quantum mechanics at least twice in the past five years in conversations that had nothing to do with physics.

He knows at any point in time what his words or actions are doing to his reputation.

But a much easier marker: he doesn’t even deadlift.

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My daughter Sara is a big fan of the comedy troupe Studio C.  I’m a fan too, mostly because they do all clean comedy and I don’t have to worry about my kids picking up any interesting new words or ideas while watching.  Sara occasionally puts a dozen or so of their YouTube videos into a playlist, then we all enjoy a family Studio C night.

Anyway, I think some of you will relate to this skit.

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