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Comment author: Lumifer 15 July 2014 04:23:12PM 0 points [-]

As for why I'm "assuming" they will diminish, this the conclusion, not the presumption, of most of the research in that area.

What you call "conclusion" is probably a forecast, since we're talking about the future, right?

In broad terms, we should expect this kind of thing to happen because so many species are adapted very strongly to very specific niches. When circumstances change rapidly, those species are unable to cope, and die out, but there are no species which are strongly adapted to the new circumstances to adequately replace them.

Recent ice ages have advanced and retreated very quickly on the evolutionary time scale. Earth's various ecologies survived, for example, the last ice age just fine and the glaciation looks to me to have been MUCH more disruptive for temperate zones than a couple of degrees of warming are likely to be.

Yes. By itself, anthropogenic climate change is unlikely to result in a mass extinction on the level of one of the Big Five, but it would still almost certainly be visible in the fossil record as a mass extinction event

I agree that we're in the middle of an anthropogenic mass extinction, the only thing is that it has nothing to do with climate change. It's just man taking over the planet. This mass extinction started thousands of years ago, goes on now, and will likely continue in the future.

I think that whatever extinctions global warming may cause, they will be insignificant and indistinguishable from noise given the ongoing (non-climate) human impact.

Comment author: Desrtopa 16 July 2014 02:49:57AM *  0 points [-]

What you call "conclusion" is probably a forecast, since we're talking about the future, right?

In some cases, yes, in other cases, it's already observable as an ongoing process (I brought up reef ecosystems before because they're a particularly visible example of this.)

Recent ice ages have advanced and retreated very quickly on the evolutionary time scale. Earth's various ecologies survived, for example, the last ice age just fine and the glaciation looks to me to have been MUCH more disruptive for temperate zones than a couple of degrees of warming are likely to be.

The original onset of the first ice ages was indeed quite ecologically destructive and qualified as a substantial mass extinction event (although it was still much slower than anthropogenic climate change.) But virtually all species alive today are ones that have persisted through multiple glaciation periods. The flora and fauna of today's world are denizens of the ice ages.

I should note that all of the points that you're raising have plenty of representation in the existing literature on climate change. It's definitely not the case that scientists don't think of these things. But these points are followed up with more research to determine what kind of expectations are warranted, and in some cases they're ones that merit concern.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 July 2014 08:03:56PM 0 points [-]

total biological and ecosystem diversity is likely not to rebound for millions of years

Why are you assuming that the "total biological and ecosystem diversity" will diminish and what metric are you using for it?

Some ecosystems are liable to collapse and be replaced by dramatically impoverished systems, not just in terms of diversity, but in terms of total biological productivity.

Wouldn't the reverse also happen -- some "impoverished" systems will get replaced by highly productive ones?

Besides, is having a low-biological-productivity ecosystem bad in itself?

When mass extinction events occur

Are you claiming that the climate change (as envisaged, say, by the latest IPCC projections) is going to be a mass extinction event?

Comment author: Desrtopa 14 July 2014 08:42:20PM 0 points [-]

Why are you assuming that the "total biological and ecosystem diversity" will diminish and what metric are you using for it?

My metrics for "total biological and ecosystem diversity" are the total numbers of ecosystems and species, and the degrees to which they're represented. As for why I'm "assuming" they will diminish, this the conclusion, not the presumption, of most of the research in that area.

In broad terms, we should expect this kind of thing to happen because so many species are adapted very strongly to very specific niches. When circumstances change rapidly, those species are unable to cope, and die out, but there are no species which are strongly adapted to the new circumstances to adequately replace them. Because ecology is much more complex than a simple intersection of weather conditions, the result is that rather than ecosystems and species being shuffled around, a lot just ends up being lost entirely. But of course, there's a whole lot of research indicating specific ways in which this is already happening and is likely to happen in the future, outside the general principles that predict it.

Wouldn't the reverse also happen -- some "impoverished" systems will get replaced by highly productive ones?

Yes, and over timescales of millions of years, with temperature increases, these effects would likely dominate. But over timescales humans are more practically concerned with, the dominance will tend to be in the other direction.

As for whether a low biological productivity ecosystem being bad in itself, I'll simply say this. Some such impacts are likely to have significant direct influence on our economy. Some are not, and there are those who care deeply about them regardless, who are willing to go to great expense to prevent them, and those who are not, and regard such expense as worthless. But in my experience, I have not known anyone to regard those impacts which are unlikely to directly influence human economy as positive and worth paying for.

Are you claiming that the climate change (as envisaged, say, by the latest IPCC projections) is going to be a mass extinction event?

Yes. By itself, anthropogenic climate change is unlikely to result in a mass extinction on the level of one of the Big Five, but it would still almost certainly be visible in the fossil record as a mass extinction event (I emphasize again that the degree of impact here is due to the rapidity, not the degree, of climate change.) Along with other forms of human influence though, a mass extinction event on the level of the Big Five is distinctly within the realm of possibility. Our current estimated rate of species extinction is around ten thousand times the usual background rate-and accelerating.

Comment author: Lumifer 09 July 2014 03:07:20PM *  2 points [-]

Let's focus on technical arguments, not on "they can make money", because that's true for everyone.

Unfortunately it's a bit more complicated than how much an individual can earn.

Science, especially hard science, needs funding. Grants are what makes contemporary science happen.

If you throw a couple of hundred millions at people who are actively working to prove X and only a couple of hundred thousands at people who are trying to disprove X, a couple of things will happen. First there will be lots of "statistically significant" results in favor of X and very few not in its favor. Second, people will quickly learn what kind of proposals do get grants and what kind do not. Stir and let stew for a few years and hey! you got yourself a consensus :-/

Comment author: Desrtopa 13 July 2014 08:52:15PM *  1 point [-]

However, industry funds research as well as academia (indeed, sometimes in far greater degree.) Industry backed think tanks are quite well funded; although one could certainly posit political factors, it's not for a lack of money that they've failed to produce research that has swayed much of the scientific community.

Comment author: Lumifer 09 July 2014 03:13:13PM 0 points [-]

It's really the primary problem of climate change.

Let me repeat myself: it is not obvious to me that this is such a huge problem.

There is little need for metaphors here, the situation is easy to visualize directly. Some ecosystems will adjust, some will not and will be replaced by other ecosystems. Unless you are very attached to the particulars of the status quo why is this horrible?

Some forest will be replaced by grasslands, some grasslands will be replaced by forests. In some places the rainforest or the taiga will shrink and in others it will expand. The areals of plants and animals will shift. What's the big deal?

If you are concerned about farming, the same reasoning applies. Some farms will get better harvests, some -- worse. Some farms might have to switch crops. Some might go out of business as land becomes not arable, but others will spring up on newly arable land.

Comment author: Desrtopa 13 July 2014 07:10:37PM 0 points [-]

There is little need for metaphors here, the situation is easy to visualize directly. Some ecosystems will adjust, some will not and will be replaced by other ecosystems. Unless you are very attached to the particulars of the status quo why is this horrible?

Some ecosystems will be replaced by other ecosystems, but total biological and ecosystem diversity is likely not to rebound for millions of years (judging by comparable past climactic changes and mass extinction events.)

Some ecosystems are liable to collapse and be replaced by dramatically impoverished systems, not just in terms of diversity, but in terms of total biological productivity. Reef ecosystems, for instance, are extremely biologically productive, but this productivity relies on highly sophisticated recycling of limited resources between species. If certain species die out, not only does that particular ecosystem die out, it takes millions of years for the level of species mutualism necessary to sustain such a productive ecosystem to evolve again. The same is true of a number of other ecosystems (although reef systems are particularly close to the edge right now.)

When mass extinction events occur, it doesn't just result in other species immediately stepping in and adequately filling the niches that are now vacated. There's a time lag in which niches are left unfilled, or are filled by species which perform the roles in a substantially inferior way until they can adequately adapt to their niches.

Comment author: Lumifer 09 July 2014 03:08:18AM 1 point [-]

but as far as I'm aware it's not "usually held" to be true

My memories of this claim come from the Stern Review, I think.

and I wouldn't put much stock in the specifics

Yes, I agree, the uncertainty is high.

the issue is not so much the temperate change, but the rate

It's not obvious to me that this is such a huge problem. Especially if you want to arrive at some "optimal" (according to certain criteria) state and not just maintain the status quo at any cost.

I find the "money" motive rather confusing

I am not sure why. The "green energy" industry is rather massive by now. The government subsidies to the solar, wind, etc. businesses are huge. Trading carbon offsets is a profitable occupation. The Inconvenient Truth made Al Gore (even more) rich. Etc., etc.

Comment author: Desrtopa 09 July 2014 12:49:48PM 2 points [-]

It's not obvious to me that this is such a huge problem. Especially if you want to arrive at some "optimal" (according to certain criteria) state and not just maintain the status quo at any cost.

It's really the primary problem of climate change. It's not that our current temperature is so great and the world would be worse if it were any other temperature, it's that ecosystems around the world, some of which we rely on, are adapted to a specific set of conditions, and it takes time for them to adjust to change.

It's kind of like if you're driving on a big highway. You might want to speed up in order to get to your destination faster, and you can do so, by transferring to a faster lane, without any serious repercussions. But if you accelerate that much immediately while you're still in the same lane, the consequences are liable to be disastrous.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 July 2014 04:10:30PM *  7 points [-]

I would probably get a "sceptic" label stuck onto me.

Global warming is not a single yes/no issue (even though a lot of mindkilled people like to pretend it is). Roughly I think it breaks down into five major questions:

  • Has Earth been warming up during the last several decades?
  • To what extent the warming is caused by anthropogenic factors?
  • How will the climate change proceed in the future and how certain we are of the forecasts?
  • What will be the consequences of the change in climate?
  • What should be done about it?

The answer to the first question is clearly "yes". There is a lot of data and it is pretty unambiguous.

The answer to the second question, I think, is "some". It is not 100% and it is not 0%.

The third question is probably the one where my sceptic attitude is the most pronounced. I believe that the climate models looking several decades ahead greatly overstate their confidence in the results and a lot of them are junk. My belief is based on the impression that we don't understand long-term climate mechanisms well (and so can't model them well), on the results of the out-of-sample testing that we have so far, and on peeking inside the sausage factory via the Climategate documents (hint: it's not pretty).

The fourth question is complicated -- there obviously are both positive and negative consequences. As far as I remember it is usually held that the positive consequences (e.g. better harvests, etc.) overwhelm the negative until the about +2 degrees C rise in the temperature, but it's all very uncertain.

The fifth question, the most interesting of them all, is not in the domain of the climate scientists at all. It is essentially a social and a political question the answers to which are driven by values and trade-offs.

Overall, I feel the climate science has been hijacked by fearmongers who use the hysteria to push their agenda and/or just to get money. There is a huge publication bias and my prior for media publications on climate change is that they have zero useful information.

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 July 2014 10:52:31PM 3 points [-]

The fourth question is complicated -- there obviously are both positive and negative consequences. As far as I remember it is usually held that the positive consequences (e.g. better harvests, etc.) overwhelm the negative until the about +2 degrees C rise in the temperature, but it's all very uncertain.

Robin Hanson did an article which estimated this, but as far as I'm aware it's not "usually held" to be true. I've often found Hanson to be particularly incautious in his reasoning, and this is no exception. There are a lot of factors that this fails to account for (such as increasing ocean acidification and its various knockoff effects,) and I wouldn't put much stock in the specifics.

There are certainly prospective benefits to climate change, but one thing I've often encountered as a rather substantial framing problem in the discussion is that people often ask "how warm do we want the planet to be?" when the important question is "what rate of climate adjustment most benefits us?" Since at our current rate we're adjusting global climate on a timescale of decades which ecosystems more commonly adjust to over timescales of tens to hundreds of millennia, the issue is not so much the temperate change, but the rate.

Overall, I feel the climate science has been hijacked by fearmongers who use the hysteria to push their agenda and/or just to get money.

I hear this viewpoint expressed frequently, but I find the "money" motive rather confusing. Getting university tenure is very difficult, and not that lucrative, whereas at least as of the time of my graduation, there were both more lucrative and more numerous openings available working in industry in sectors with a vested interest in continuing "business as usual" operations. Most academic climate scientists believe that anthropogenic climate change is taking place, and that it's liable to cause significant problems, yes, but that doesn't mean that if you want to enter the field and make money, you want to match the mainstream position in order to improve your chances of getting a tenured position, because most of the slots for professional academic scientists are already taken, and it's not a great way to earn money to begin with.

In any case, academic scientists generally work less for money than for prestige. As a result, there's always reputational incentive not to adopt something too far from the mainstream position, to avoid being seen as a crackpot, but there's also some countervailing pressure to differentiate yourself to some extent, because the ones who depart from the herd and are proven to be correct reap the most status.

In my experience dealing with climate scientists, I've generally found that rather than being eager to receive new studies suggesting major negative consequences of climate change, their attitude tends much more towards "oh god, not another." Skepticism that anthropogenic climate change is actually happening is practically buried among climatologists at this point, but research suggesting that its effects will not be seriously problematic tends to be quite welcome.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 08 July 2014 12:20:25PM *  3 points [-]

/shrugs. I know I'm biased and all but I didn't think it was that terrible. I spent like two hours editing it before posting. People sure are being mean about it though, so idk. I guess maybe I'll give up on trying to improve my fiction writing skill for now... Maybe it's a 'you have it or you don't' thing.

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 July 2014 12:58:28PM 1 point [-]

Well, there are definitely a lot of people who're bad enough that I'd write off the idea of trying to give them advice as hopeless. But I'd suggest that posting bits of fiction directly to Less Wrong's discussion board isn't a very good place to look for that sort of advice in the first place.

Comment author: James_Miller 06 July 2014 05:37:35PM 17 points [-]

Show me a republic, ancient or modern, in which there have been no decorations. Some people call them baubles. Well, it is by such baubles that one leads men.

Napoleon who would have approved of gamification.

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 July 2014 02:26:20AM 3 points [-]

I don't understand why he specifies "republic" when as far as I can see this properly applies to every society ever. Possibly given the political climate of the time he was using it in a more general way?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 July 2014 03:03:35PM 13 points [-]

Fair enough. The period when I was suspecting that I was being mass down-voted was relatively short-- possibly less than a year. I could have been wrong, or your methods might have been suited for detecting longer term patterns.

Thanks for dealing with Eugene.

His comments showed a strong tendency to oppose empathy-- offhand, I can't think of anyone else at LW who went as far that direction. I'm proposing that anti-empathy attitudes might correlate with willingness to hurt people.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 July 2014 03:00:26PM *  7 points [-]

I have mixed feelings about Eugine's banning, since he was a member with whom I experienced friction more than most, possibly any others outside a short time frame, and I often considered him to be aggressive or uncharitable in his general demeanor to other members, but on the other hand, I considered him to be an occasional source of valuable input.

Although it's probably an ignoble motivation, I think I'm also influenced by the fact that I still occasionally frequent other sites online where Eugine is likely to still frequent, and the prospect of hearing him, or more likely other reactionaries, complaining about how his banning is a symptom of Less Wrong shutting out reactionary voices, is liable to be obnoxious.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2014 08:10:08PM 8 points [-]

Maybe I'm mistaken and most of the membership here views Less Wrong as a "super high G" community, but I don't.

How much time do you spend with normal people? What's your score on Murray's high-IQ bubble checklist?

but still, for Ivy Leaguers, who have a high level of clout in our society, to have an average IQ around that level, does not address the question of whether additional IQ above that level has diminishing impact.

No, but the original claim was clearly wrong. Society is dominated by high-IQ people. Diminishing returns seems to be weirdly interpreted as 'no returns' in a lot of people's minds.

It may help if I quote a bit of what I've written on a similar issue before about diminishing returns to research:

The Long Stagnation thesis can be summarized as: "Western civilization is experiencing a general decline in marginal returns to investment". That is, every $1 or other resource (such as 'trained scientist') buys less in human well-being or technology than before, aggregated over the entire economy.

This does not imply any of the following:

  1. No exponential curves exist (rather, they are exponential curves which are part of sigmoids which have yet to level off; Moore's law and stagnation can co-exist)

    Sudden dramatic curves can exist even amid an economy of diminishing marginal returns; to overturn the overall curve, such a spike would have to be a massive society-wide revolution that can make up for huge shortfalls in output.

  2. Any metrics in absolute numbers have ceased to increase or have begun to fall (patents can continue growing each year if the amount invested in R&D or number of researchers increases)
  3. We cannot achieve meaningful increases in standards of living or capabilities (the Internet is a major accomplishment)
  4. Specific scientific or technological will not be achieved (eg. AI or nanotech) or be achieved by certain dates
  5. The stagnation will be visible in a dramatic way (eg. barbarians looting New York City)

Similarly, arguing over diminishing returns to IQ is building in a rather strange premise to the argument: that the entities in discussion will be within a few standard deviations of current people. It may be true that people with IQs of 150 are only somewhat more likely to be billionaires ruling the world than 140, but how much does that help when you're considering the actions of people with IQs much much higher? The returns can really add up.

To take an example I saw today: Hsu posted slides from an April talk, which on pg10 points out that the estimates of the additive genetic influence on intelligence (the kind we can most easily identify and do stuff like embryo selection with) & estimates of number of minor alleles imply a potential upper bound of +25 SD if you can select all beneficial variants, or in more familiar notation, IQs of 475 (100 + 15 * 25). Suppose I completely totally grant all assumptions about diminishing marginal returns to IQ based on the small samples we have available of 130+; what happens when someone with an IQ of 475 gets turned loose? Who the heck knows; they'll probably rule the world, if they want.


One of the problems with discussing this is that IQ scores and all research based on it is purely an ordinal scale based on comparing existing humans, while what we really want is to measures of intelligence on a cardinal scale which lets us compare not just humans but potential future humans and AIs too.

For all we know, diminishing returns in IQ is purely an artifact of human biology: maybe each standard deviation represents less and less 'objective intelligence', and the true gains to objective intelligence don't diminish at all or in some cases increase (chimps vs humans)!

(Hsu likes to cite a maize experiment where "over 100 generations of selection have produced a difference in oil content between the high and low selected strains of 32 times the original standard deviation!"; so when we're dealing with something that's clearly on a cardinal scale - oil content - the promised increases can be quite literal. Intelligence is not a fluid, so we're not going to get 25x more 'brain fluid', but that doesn't help us calculate the consequences: an intelligent agent is competing against humans and other software, and small absolute edges may have large consequences. A hedge fund trader who can be right 1% more of the time than his competition may be able to make a huge freaking fortune. Or, a researcher 1% better at all aspects of research may, under the log-normal model of research productivity proposed by Shockley, be much more than 1% more productive than his peers.)

We know 'human' is not a inherent limit on possible cognition or a good measurement of all activities/problems: eg chess programs didn't stagnate in strength after Deep Blue beat Kasparov, having hit the ceiling on possible performance but they kept getting better. Human performance turned out to not run the gamut from worst to best-possible but rather marked out a fairly narrow window that the chess programs were in for a few decades but passed out of, on their trajectory upwards on whatever 'objective chess intelligence' metric there may be.

(I think this may help explain why some events surprise a lot of observers: when we look at entities below the human performance window, we just see it as a uniform 'bad' level of performance, we can't see any meaningful differences and can't see any trends, so our predictions tend to be hilariously optimistic or pessimistic based on our prior views; then, when they finally enter the human performance window, we can finally apply our existing expertise and become surprised and optimistic, and then the entities can with small objective increases in performance move out of the human window entirely and it becomes an activity humans are now uncompetitive at like chess but may still contribute a bit on the margin in things like advanced chess, and eventually becomes truly superhuman as computer chess will likely soon be.

Comment author: Desrtopa 21 June 2014 06:57:21PM 1 point [-]

I never argued that intelligence beyond the range accessible by human deviation is impossible, or that differences beyond that range would not be highly determinative, but this is still not the same as increasing marginal returns on intelligence. If an individual had hundreds of trillions of dollars at their disposal, there would be numerous problems that they could resolve that people with fortunes in the mere tens of billions could not, but that doesn't mean that personal fortunes have increasing marginal returns. It seems to me that you are looking for reasons to object to my comments that are not provided in their content.

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