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BHTV: Eliezer Yudkowsky & Razib Khan

12 Post author: MichaelGR 06 February 2010 02:27PM


"Razib Khan has an academic background in the biological sciences, and has worked for many years in software. He is an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow. He lives in the western United States." 

Razib's writings can be found on his blog, Gene Expression.

Comments (66)

Comment author: cousin_it 07 February 2010 10:53:59AM *  6 points [-]

Best BHTV I've seen yet, Razib really knows his stuff. On a sidenote, two of Eliezer's sentences towards the end reminded me of Paul Graham's essays:

"I certainly think that there are more and less skilled books and there are more and less skilled authors" - How Art Can Be Good

"It is precisely where you do not find prestige that there's still any actual test of how good you are as an artist" - The Power of the Marginal

Comment author: Christian_Szegedy 17 February 2010 09:45:49PM *  2 points [-]

I was not impressed by any means: It was so painful to watch that I had to stop after 15 minutes.

It is well possible that RK is competent, but his lack of confidence (or communication skill) made his numbers look like as if they would have been just pulled out of his behind. Additionally, his slowness of adequately reacting to EY's questions left me very much underwhelmed.

Comment author: cousin_it 18 February 2010 03:47:48PM 4 points [-]

Yep, Paul Graham has an essay about that too: Why Nerds are Unpopular.

Comment author: Christian_Szegedy 18 February 2010 07:59:58PM *  3 points [-]

Almost everyone I know is nerd, so this is my baseline for comparison.

A lot of nerds have excellent communication skills (although it does not necessarily make them popular) For example Eliezer always makes a very good impression. A lot of academic people are also excellent presenters and discussion partners.

One of my concrete problems with Razib was that he somehow felt the urge to immediately start to talk (even if what he said was loosely related to the question) and it looked like that he was grasping the question while he was talking. For example, Eliezer is very good at taking time before answering a question, compressing the answer and being completely relevant and focused.

The other issue was that every time he mentioned concrete data, he did it in a way that made it seem as if he would have made it up on the spot. Rationally, I may not have had the reason to doubt the numbers, but the nonverbal clues made me subconsciously telling to myself: "These figures are not reliable!"

Both of these problems were unrelated to nerdiness, as a lot of nerds simply don't exhibit them, for example I thoroughly enjoyed diavlog between Eliezer and Scott Aaronson.

Comment author: timtyler 06 February 2010 05:41:07PM *  3 points [-]

The conjunction fallacy is a subset of Occam's razor? Hmm. Yes - I had never thought of it like that before.

Comment author: Toby_Ord 07 February 2010 11:20:07AM 2 points [-]

I didn't watch the video, but I don't see how that could be true. Occam's razor is about complexity, while the conjunction fallacy is about logical strength.

Sure 'P & Q' is more complex than 'P', but 'P' is simpler than '(P or ~Q)' despite it being stronger in the same way (P is equivalent to (P or ~Q) & (P or Q)).

(Another way to see this is that violating Occam's razor does not make things fallacies).

Comment author: timtyler 07 February 2010 12:16:36PM *  5 points [-]

The actual quote is:

"...which of course violates the conjunction rule of probability theory - also known as Occam's razor - which says that a more complicated event cannot be more probable than an a strictly simpler event that includes the more complicated one."

41 minutes in.

Comment author: sark 07 February 2010 07:38:25PM *  0 points [-]

The conjunction fallacy applies only when you already have a probability law. (a specification of a probability space). It applies to events in a probability space. The conjunction rule proscribes assigning a subset event higher probability than the event containing it.

Occam's razor is prescription for what probability laws should look like (e.g each program having a prior probability of (1/2) to the power of its code length in bits). i.e. what constitutes an outcome in the probability space, all outcomes having equal probability.

The conjunction fallacy really says nothing about prior probabilities. The conjunction rule is a theorem in probability. Occam's razor is a working rule for assigning prior probabilities to hypotheses.

Comment author: komponisto 07 February 2010 08:39:12PM 2 points [-]

The conjunction fallacy really says nothing about prior probabilities. The conjunction rule is a theorem in probability. Occam's razor is a working rule for assigning prior probabilities to hypotheses.

These are two distinct, legitimate uses of the term "Occam's Razor". The conjunction rule is the everyday sense; what you're talking about is a deeper, philosophical sense.

Comment author: sark 07 February 2010 09:01:19PM 0 points [-]

Well I agree. In our everyday lives, Occam tells us to chose the simplest hypotheses. Conjunction rule tells us to keep any particular hypothesis we have as simple as possible.

Also, maybe we should apply conjunction rule first to our candidate hypotheses and then only Occam to chose the simplest among them. (of course, Occam by itself already picks out the simplest hypotheses, but i'm talking about a working procedure here)

Comment author: Jonii 08 February 2010 07:40:50AM *  0 points [-]

The conjunction fallacy really says nothing about prior probabilities. The conjunction rule is a theorem in probability. Occam's razor is a working rule for assigning prior probabilities to hypotheses.

Prior and posterior probabilities are not made of fundamentally different stuff, and posterior of one calculation can turn out the be prior in the next. Assuming fundamentally distinct sets of probabilities and new ways of popping probabilities into existence seems uncalled for.

You were also suggesting to first use conjunction rule to weed out hypotheses that are less likely, and then summoning Occam's razor to do the exact same thing again. This too seems redundant.

Comment author: sark 08 February 2010 10:33:34AM 0 points [-]

Agreed, there is no fundamental distinction. You can certainly update existing probabilities which did not take into account Occam's Razor, to take it into account. What makes Occam pertinent to priors in particular is that you can apply it to anything, which means it can always also be the first thing you apply to hypotheses. So think of Occam as 'evidence' that applies to all hypotheses. (note that the conjunction rule is not similarly 'evidence')

Yes it is ideally redundant, but i did emphasize I was suggesting it as a working rule. It seems to me less computationally expensive to remove extraneous elements from hypotheses than to calculate or at least rank their complexity.

Comment author: brazil84 07 February 2010 02:16:01PM *  3 points [-]

I'm a little surprised that Eliezer was not able (or willing?) to correctly guess who would be extremely interested in genetic differences between Ashkenazi jews and American gentile whites.

Surely somebody as smart as Eliezer (and who spends a lot of time online) is aware that there is lots of racism/anti-semitism online.

ETA: By the way, I really enjoyed listening to the discussion.

Comment author: blogospheroid 07 February 2010 03:29:01PM 5 points [-]

Due to the Ashkenazi "superiority" in terms of IQ when compared to gentile whites, white supremacists would not have struck me too as an obvious first guess.

Comment author: razibk 07 February 2010 08:33:21PM 4 points [-]

This was a survey of ancestry/genetic structure. Not trait values. Here is the post, just page down to the image and you can see why they were interested:


Comment author: blogospheroid 08 February 2010 05:50:05AM 0 points [-]

Got it. Makes more sense with the data. I guess in the flow of conversation, we do tend to miss a couple of things :)

Comment author: razibk 08 February 2010 11:31:00AM 3 points [-]

This was the most difficult diavlog of the seven I've done so far. 60 minutes just wasn't enough for this conversation and I had to do a lot of on-the-fly judgment of what I should elaborate on, and what I should simplify or elide for the sake of concision. The others were more "interview" formats where there was a more formal structure, as opposed to riffs. Also, Eliezer and a subset of the audience knows a fair amount of biology, but the majority of the audience did not, so I kept having to navigate between these two tensions.

I assume Eliezer had similar issues when we got the section where Kahneman & Tversky's ouvre were implicit background assumptions, but we'd burned through 2/3 of the time by then so the choice on whether to elucidate or not was made for him :-)

Comment author: timtyler 07 February 2010 12:29:03PM 2 points [-]

"For the love of cute kittens" - EY, 21:30 :-)

Comment author: timtyler 07 February 2010 12:38:19PM 1 point [-]

Down syndrome is not really "on the smallest chromosome". It results from an extra copy of chromosome 21. (22:48).

Comment author: razibk 07 February 2010 08:32:23PM 5 points [-]

Right. I'm gonna have to find a balance between using bio-words and stuff I translate into normal speak on-the-fly. My first thought was to blurt out trisomy 21, and then I would have had to use the word non-disjunction. So I simply noted it was a problem with chrom 21 , and that is the smallest chrom so as to minimize dosage dependent effects.

Comment author: timtyler 06 February 2010 05:15:35PM 0 points [-]

Not finding genes for IQ? What about DTNBP1, CHRM2, ASPM, NR2B, HAR1, PYDN?

Comment author: razibk 06 February 2010 06:50:39PM 16 points [-]

"What about DTNBP1, CHRM2, ASPM, NR2B, HAR1, PYDN?"

Not replicated, or nothing found. ASPM for example isn't associated with normal variation in IQ (or the effect size too small to detect, they've looked). Please see my coblogger "ben g"'s post on the topic:


(and no, I'm not one of the people who is excited that we haven't been able find these genes yet)

Comment author: timtyler 06 February 2010 08:09:19PM -1 points [-]

It really isn't hard to find genes for intelligence - assuming that you mean the conventional thing by "a gene for x":

"Maynard Smith reached for a hypothetical example and came up with a 'gene for skill in tying shoelaces'. Pandemonium broke loose at this rampant genetic determinism! The air was thick with the unmistakable sound of worst suspicions being gleefully confirmed. Delightfully sceptical cries drowned the quiet and patient explanation of just what a modest claim is being made whenever one postulates a gene for, say, skill in tying shoelaces.'"

One example:

"Gene found for mental retardation"

Comment author: razibk 06 February 2010 08:25:03PM 9 points [-]

Yes, it is very hard. I know, because I know people attempting to find those genes. They report that it's very hard. I specifically said normal variation in IQ to make it clear that I'm not talking about mutations and variants which cause retardation. Those QTLs of large effect are easy to find, but they aren't implicated in normal human variation. How do we know this? Because they don't show up in linkage or association studies consistently.

I didn't say it's impossible. There were many things impossible 10 years ago that are possible now. But I didn't make that assertion in ignorance.

Comment author: timtyler 06 February 2010 11:23:19PM *  -1 points [-]

Here's an example of the kind of thing I mean:

"There is "a highly significant association" between the CHRM2 gene and intelligence according to a 2006 Dutch family study. The study concluded that there was an association between the CHRM2 gene on chromosome 7 and Performance IQ, as measured by the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised. The Dutch family study used a sample of 667 individuals from 304 families.[59] A similar association was found independently in the Minnesota Twin and Family Study (Comings et al. 2003) and by the Department of Psychiatry at the Washington University.[60]"

So: "We are not finding any IQ genes" seems to be rather inaccurate.

Comment author: timtyler 07 February 2010 10:32:57AM *  0 points [-]

I note that there has been at least one negative finding for the same gene:

"No Association Between Cholinergic Muscarinic Receptor 2 (CHRM2) Genetic Variation and Cognitive Abilities in Three Independent Samples."


The study appears to be looking at SNPs - though it tracks quite a number of them. Possibly the relevant variation has a geographic component.

Comment author: CarlShulman 06 February 2010 09:21:57PM 4 points [-]

Razib knows his stuff. These are noise studies thrown up by publication and attention biases. Take a look at this article by Plomin.

Comment author: timtyler 06 February 2010 09:42:10PM 0 points [-]

Note that that article is about SNPs. Sometimes tiny changes have small effects.

Comment deleted 06 February 2010 11:39:00PM *  [-]
Comment author: timtyler 07 February 2010 12:04:44AM 0 points [-]

Variation in a trait often means that it is not uniformly strongly selectively favoured.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 February 2016 05:45:30AM 1 point [-]

Allegedly, he is a LW reader (unlike EY nowadays!)

Here are some tantalising excerpts from Razib Khan’s blog:

Mass literacy and mass society, as well as the decentralization of authority and power, likely made fundamentalism inevitable as the basal level of individuals with susceptible psychological profiles could now have direct access to the axioms in question (texts) Just as some scientists tend to take ideas to their "logical extremes" (e.g., the "paradoxes" of physics) no matter the dictates of common sense, so some fundamentalists take the logical conclusion of their religious texts to extremes


Humans may ascribe omniscience to gods, but their behaviors and narratives when pushed off any script suggest that they don’t take this at face value in any deep manner. Or, more accurately, they can’t really construct a plausible model of the universe where gods are omniscient. Similarly, though there is a wide range of high-level religious ideas across denominations, from the spare monotheism of Islam, the de facto* polytheism of Hinduism, to the marginalization of gods in Theravada Buddhism, the author’s field work in Sri Lanka suggests that in fact the average peasants’ conception of supernatural agents was surprisingly uniform across religious groups.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation of this body of research for me is that ofttimes believers in a particular creed are not quite clear on the details of their own religious profession. As I am an atheist who has never really had any belief in gods in any deep manner this took me by total surprise, but then, I had no intuition to go on. But, after realizing this fact I became much more skeptical of the idea that “Christians are x because the Bible says….” or “Islam is xbecause the Koran says….” As per Kahneman’s scheme in Thinking, Fast and Slow, much of religious phenomena probably bubbles up from system 1, but the preoccupation of elite institutional religion is geared toward system 2 (not to go off on a current events tangent, but this might explain why so many notionally conservative Christians are willing to put their orthodoxy to the side and support Donald Trump, he appeals to their system 1 instincts).

Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion (answer: it doesn’t).

In short those who held beliefs about moralistic gods were more altruistic, more ethical, toward co-religionists. This confirms a deep human intuition. Recall that historically atheists were held in suspicion because they were perceived to be unethical, and even today in the United States most Americans view atheists unfavorably. Though these results don’t say anything about atheism (it seems unlikely any of the respondents were atheists!), it does suggest that moralistic gods do nudge many people toward particular behaviors, so they logically infer that removing the god from the equation would result in the converse.

Consider that the reference daily intake you see on nutritional labels are “level of a nutrient that is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States.”

Comment author: whpearson 06 February 2010 07:50:11PM *  1 point [-]

For those interested it seems like $5000 is the lower bound of the cost of sequencing a human genome if you believe this press release. Otherwise people say it is in the $50K region.

So a few years away (a few more halvings, then time for the genome + IQ database to be built up) before the large retrovirus genetic brain modification possibility. Does anyone know of work being done towards making viruses delete specific alleles, so we don't double up when we insert different ones?

Comment author: Kevin 06 February 2010 10:23:20PM *  3 points [-]

If they really had the $5000 genome in any meaningful way they would have won the X Prize already. Complete Genomics said in a bullshit press release that they could have won the X Prize if they really wanted but they are too focused on other things now. I am willing to bet $50 (or less, if someone else prefers) at 1:1 that someone will win the X Prize for genomics within two years. http://genomics.xprize.org/

Comment author: ingenium 06 February 2010 10:14:34PM *  3 points [-]

I've seen some work on this, but it's a long way off before it gets into humans. I think it's only been done in bacteria or simple multicellular organisms, but more complex organisms like humans have a lot of barriers before this works... It's very easy for this to screw up, and it's very difficult to do. You'd have to be certain that it will cut just that DNA region and ligate it back together correctly. Also, there may be issues with chromatin packaging and correctly recognizing the site. It is at the very least 15 years away, and even then you'd have to deal with the FDA being super cautious.

It would probably be easier and safer to insert the genes necessary to tag the protein product of a specific allele for destruction right away, or to use something like RNAi to destroy it right after transcription.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 February 2010 04:42:13AM 1 point [-]

It would seem that finding genes that not only affect IQ but do so in a way that gives benefits even when done on fully developed brain will be an ethical minefield.

Comment author: whpearson 07 February 2010 12:42:26PM 0 points [-]

You could do tests on chimps and see if the genes associated with chimp IQ are correlated with human IQ. If so, then you could see what introducing them on fully developed chimp brains does.

The other route, is biohackers that hack their own brains. I'm really curious whether the number of people who get their own bioreactors etc will be anything like the number of people who hack electronics today.

Comment author: MrHen 08 February 2010 08:39:59PM *  0 points [-]

What is this about? The best I could find was the BHTV bit:

Science Saturday: Gulping Down the Potion of Health
Recreational genetics and self-identity (09:11)
Do racial categories have a biological basis? (09:52)
Will gene sequencing undermine racism? (05:37)
Ways to make awesome babies (12:39)
Are most of us crazy or are we both crazy and stupid? (10:34)
Politicians, scientists, and other nutcases (09:23)

Is that as detailed of a summary as is useful?

Comment author: MatthewB 08 February 2010 08:48:29AM -1 points [-]

Why is Razib Green?

Comment author: sketerpot 08 February 2010 09:33:01PM 1 point [-]

Because he's in the Matrix.

Seriously, though? Because his camera isn't great, and the lighting may not be the best. Sometimes fluorescent lighting gives a greenish tinge to digital photographs, because of differences in the way cameras and eyes work.


Comment author: MatthewB 09 February 2010 02:00:30AM 2 points [-]

I figured that might be why... My comment was not really very useful, and I realized that, but his Green-ness did make me think "He's in the Matrix" all through the video (as you too have noticed).

He could offset this in the future by hanging a reddish-orange cloth behind him... Or, maybe Yellowish would be best to prevent him from over-correcting the color. I used to do a lot of video work and probably should have mentioned this to begin with above (that I really knew why he was green), and have had to do some really strange make-up or lighting to correct for a camera or ambient light color that was causing bizarre skin-tones (the very worst was having to make a guy nearly blue to offset an orange cast)

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 07:38:03PM *  0 points [-]

I couldn't help but wonder if the smile that peaked at 56:10 was due to Eliezer Yudkwosky thinking in the background of his success with the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fan-fiction.

For there is very little prestige when if comes to fanfiction. And he does mention Harry Potter less than a minute later.

Comment author: pedanterrific 05 February 2012 09:23:11PM 1 point [-]

Given that the first chapter of MoR was published on ffnet three weeks after this was posted, uh... probably not.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 09:38:06PM *  1 point [-]

So much the better clearly we have captured on camera the moment when EY got his inspiration!

(Lol I guess I should have checked when this was posted)

Comment author: Kevin 07 February 2010 11:23:04AM 0 points [-]

Why is this only at five karma points? I suspect it has more to do with the desire to not give MichaelGR free karma for posting a straight-up link than a desire to keep this post off of the front page.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 08 February 2010 06:58:34AM 5 points [-]

Why is this only at five karma points?

I consider this bloggingheads stuff mostly a waste of time. Everyone is faced with the problem of selecting what media to consume (books, movies, TV, blog posts, etc). A rational person should develop a way of scoring information sources, construct a list of sources ordered by score, and then go down the list one by one. Eliezer's blog posts may very well be near the top of the list for the right audience, but it's hard to believe random webcam dialogues he has with other bloggers could be ranked above the great works of literature, philosophy, and history.

Comment author: Morendil 08 February 2010 08:30:39AM 5 points [-]

One other thing to mention is that for some people, video has very limited value, unless the delivery is particularly inspirational. Reading is a lot more efficient, portable, linkable, etc.

There are reasons to want to hear someone on video: to see how the behave in real-time provides different information about their personality and their mode of thinking. In some cases it may be the next best thing to meeting them in person.

Comment author: sketerpot 08 February 2010 09:18:37PM 1 point [-]

I must say, speeding it up by 40% makes most of these Bloggingheads discussions a lot better -- more interesting and no harder to understand. (Does anybody know why they chose sqrt(2) as the speed-up factor?)

Comment author: whpearson 07 February 2010 12:37:25PM 2 points [-]

I have not voted it up, despite being interested in it, due to it dealing with issues only tangentially related to lesswrong.

Comment author: Kevin 06 February 2010 11:57:22PM *  0 points [-]

This is the video of Snoop Dogg vs. Charles Barkley mentioned in the diavlog:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exz0yNdvksg&feature=related (the three minutes of Snoop Dogg being on the George Lopez show)

http://allhiphopsports.blogspot.com/2010/01/george-lopez-show-charles-barkley-is.html (a differently edited version that puts together the reveals for both Barkley and Snoop Dogg to air on Barkley's sports TV show... where one of the astute commentators notes that Barkley is both blacker and whiter than Snoop)