1998-iannaccone.pdf: “Introduction to the Economics of Religion”, Laurence R. Iannaccone
Since the establishment of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education in 2002, IES has commissioned a sizable number of well-conducted randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating the effectiveness of diverse educational programs, practices, and strategies (“interventions”). These interventions have included, for example, various educational curricula, teacher professional development programs, school choice programs, educational software, and data-driven school reform initiatives. Largely as a result of these IES studies, there now exists—for the first time in U.S. education—a sizable body of credible knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work to improve key educational outcomes of American students. A clear pattern of findings in these IES studies is that the large majority of interventions evaluated produced weak or no positive effects compared to usual school practices. This pattern is consistent with findings in other fields where are frequently carried out, such as medicine and business,1 and underscores the need to test many different interventions so as to build the number shown to work.
“The Control Group Is Out Of Control”, (2014-04-28):
Allan Crossman calls parapsychology the control group for science. That is, in let’s say a drug testing experiment, you give some people the drug and they recover. That doesn’t tell you much until you give some other people a placebo drug you know doesn’t work—but which they themselves believe in—and see how many of them recover. That number tells you how many people will recover whether the drug works or not. Unless people on your real drug do substantially better than people on the placebo drug, you haven’t found anything. On the meta-level, you’re studying some phenomenon and you get some positive findings. That doesn’t tell you much until you take some other researchers who are studying a phenomenon you know doesn’t exist—but which they themselves believe in—and see how many of them get positive findings. That number tells you how many studies will discover positive results whether the phenomenon is real or not. Unless studies of the real phenomenon do substantially better than studies of the placebo phenomenon, you haven’t found anything.
Trying to set up placebo science would be a logistical nightmare. You’d have to find a phenomenon that definitely doesn’t exist, somehow convince a whole community of scientists across the world that it does, and fund them to study it for a couple of decades without them figuring it out.
Luckily we have a natural experiment in terms of parapsychology—the study of psychic phenomena—which most reasonable people believe don’t exist, but which a community of practicing scientists believes in and publishes papers on all the time. The results are pretty dismal. Parapsychologists are able to produce experimental evidence for psychic phenomena about as easily as normal scientists are able to produce such evidence for normal, non-psychic phenomena. This suggests the existence of a very large “placebo effect” in science—ie with enough energy focused on a subject, you can always produce “experimental evidence” for it that meets the usual scientific standards. As Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it:
Parapsychologists are constantly protesting that they are playing by all the standard scientific rules, and yet their results are being ignored—that they are unfairly being held to higher standards than everyone else. I’m willing to believe that. It just means that the standard statistical methods of science are so weak and flawed as to permit a field of study to sustain itself in the complete absence of any subject matter.
Background: The genetic basis of variation in human cognitive abilities is poorly understood. RIMS1 encodes a synapse active-zone protein with important roles in the maintenance of normal synaptic function: mice lacking this protein have greatly reduced learning ability and memory function.
Objective: An established paradigm examining the structural and functional effects of mutations in genes expressed in the eye and the brain was used to study a kindred with an inherited retinal dystrophy due to RIMS1 mutation.
Materials and Methods: Neuropsychological tests and high-resolution MRI brain scanning were undertaken in the kindred. In a population cohort, neuropsychological scores were associated with common variation in RIMS1. Additionally, RIMS1 was sequenced in top-scoring individuals. Evolution of RIMS1 was assessed, and its expression in developing human brain was studied.
Results: Affected individuals showed significantly enhanced cognitive abilities across a range of domains. Analysis suggests that factors other than RIMS1 mutation were unlikely to explain enhanced cognition. No association with common variation and verbal IQ was found in the population cohort, and no other mutations in RIMS1 were detected in the highest scoring individuals from this cohort. RIMS1 protein is expressed in developing human brain, but RIMS1 does not seem to have been subjected to accelerated evolution in man.
Conclusions: A possible role for RIMS1 in the enhancement of cognitive function at least in this kindred is suggested. Although further work is clearly required to explore these findings before a role for RIMS1 in human cognition can be formally accepted, the findings suggest that genetic mutation may enhance human cognition in some cases.
2013-rojas.pdf: “Neurological and psychological applications of transcranial lasers and LEDs”, (2013; ):
Transcranial brain stimulation with low-level light/laser therapy (LLLT) is the use of directional low-power and high-fluency monochromatic or quasimonochromatic light from lasers or LEDs in the red-to-near-infrared wavelengths to modulate a neurobiological function or induce a neurotherapeutic effect in a nondestructive and non-thermal manner. The mechanism of action of is based on photon energy absorption by cytochrome oxidase, the terminal enzyme in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Cytochrome oxidase has a key role in neuronal physiology, as it serves as an interface between oxidative energy metabolism and cell survival signaling pathways. Cytochrome oxidase is an ideal target for cognitive enhancement, as its expression reflects the changes in metabolic capacity underlying higher-order brain functions. This review provides an update on new findings on the neurotherapeutic applications of . The photochemical mechanisms supporting its cognitive-enhancing and brain-stimulatory effects in animal models and humans are discussed. is a potential non-invasive treatment for cognitive impairment and other deficits associated with chronic neurological conditions, such as large vessel and lacunar hypoperfusion or neurodegeneration. Brain photobiomodulation with is paralleled by pharmacological effects of low-dose USP methylene blue, a non-photic electron donor with the ability to stimulate cytochrome oxidase activity, redox and free radical processes. Both interventions provide neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement by facilitating mitochondrial respiration, with hormetic dose-response effects and brain region activational specificity. This evidence supports enhancement of mitochondrial respiratory function as a generalizable therapeutic principle relevant to highly adaptable systems that are exquisitely sensitive to energy availability such as the nervous system.
“Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study”, (2013-04-11):
The classical serotonergic psychedelics LSD, psilocybin, mescaline are not known to cause brain damage and are regarded as non-addictive. Clinical studies do not suggest that psychedelics cause long-term mental health problems. Psychedelics have been used in the Americas for thousands of years. Over 30 million people currently living in the US have used LSD, , or mescaline.
To evaluate the association between the lifetime use of psychedelics and current mental health in the adult population.
Data drawn from years 2001 to 2004 of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health consisted of 130,152 respondents, randomly selected to be representative of the adult population in the United States. Standardized screening measures for past year mental health included serious psychological distress (K6 scale), mental health treatment (inpatient, outpatient, medication, needed but did not receive), symptoms of eight psychiatric disorders (panic disorder, major depressive episode, mania, social phobia, general anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and non-affective psychosis), and seven specific symptoms of non-affective psychosis. We calculated weighted odds ratios by multivariate logistic regression controlling for a range of sociodemographic variables, use of illicit drugs, risk taking behavior, and exposure to traumatic events.
21,967 respondents (13.4% weighted) reported lifetime psychedelic use. There were no statistically-significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics, lifetime use of specific psychedelics (LSD, , mescaline, peyote), or past year use of LSD and increased rate of any of the mental health outcomes. Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems.
We did not find use of psychedelics to be an independent risk factor for mental health problems.
In some situations a number of agents each have the ability to undertake an initiative that would have substantial effects on the others. Suppose that each of these agents is purely motivated by an altruistic concern for the common good. We show that if each agent acts on her own personal judgment as to whether the initiative should be undertaken, then the initiative will be undertaken more often than is optimal. We suggest that this phenomenon, which we call the unilateralist’s curse, arises in many contexts, including some that are important for public policy.
To lift the curse, we propose a principle of conformity, which would discourage unilateralist action. We consider three different models for how this principle could be implemented, and respond to an objection that could be raised against it.
[Keywords: The Winner’s Curse, Disagreement, Rationality, Aumann, informative prior, shrinkage, bid shading]
“How Japan Copied American Culture and Made it Better: If you’re looking for some of America’s best bourbon, denim and burgers, go to Japan, where designers are re-engineering our culture in loving detail”, (2014-04):
[Account of specialty retailers and craftsmen in Japan, who love Americana, focusing on: old bourbon, jazz, workwear (“railroad jackets, canvas dusters, flannel shirts, double-kneed pants”; especially denim), hamburgers, and preppy “Ivy Style” fashion.]
In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate—and even improve upon—the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn’t limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There’s something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. “What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery”, says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. “It’s true in traditional arts, it’s true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it’s true of restaurateurs all over Japan.”