ARTICLE: [Nautilus] How to Make Sense of Contradictory Science Papers

This is a shorter and more accessible summary of Liam Bright’s article on “Why Do Scientists Lie?” that I shared a few weeks back. (Hat tip to Cedric Chin for sharing in his newsletter.)

If you start to dig into disagreements between scientists, you can find reams of studies and seemingly plausible arguments on just about any side of an issue. And, when those disagreements start to bubble up into the media — social or otherwise — the character of those disagreements can make it seem like no one knows anything and everything is just made up. This lack of firm footing seems like incompetence, lack of conviction, and like a bunch of goofs jockeying for status and power without actually accomplishing anything. For honest actors participating in the debate, though, this back and forth is fundamental to truth-seeking.

Just about everyone can make a plausible sounding argument, cite a few papers that seem to check out if you scan the abstract, and claim that science is on their side. However, most people and ideas are wrong. So, how do we make sense of contradictions? How do we decide what to believe? Is there insight in contradiction beyond “no one knows anything I’ll just trust my gut?”

Thankfully, Liam and Haixin Dang are here to guide us to the truth and light in this fantastic article.

ARTICLE: [The Guardian] Can this new voting system fix America’s ugliest elections?

In this piece, Spenser Mestel writes about New York’s foray into ranked choice voting for its upcoming mayoral election.

Every form of voting, including the “first past the post” format that most of us are familiar with, is going to have trade-offs and potentially create some perverse incentives for both individuals to vote against their true preferences, and for candidates to game the system through general “politicking.”

In ranked choice voting, voters vote not just for one candidate, but rather rank their preferences among multiple candidates. The final winner is decided through a series of run offs as lower performing candidates are removed each round.

Ideally, ranked choice voting should incentivize less polarizing rhetoric from politicians since leaning into tribal identities tends to make candidates both loved and hated. If, instead, candidates are incentivized to chase after some 2nd, 3rd and even 4th place rankings, they may tone down the inflammatory messaging.

In this article, Spenser notices that, empirically, New York’s mayoral candidates are still running on some pretty aggressive negative campaign messaging. Does this show that the theoretical case for ranked choice voting fails to play out in practice?

I think it’s important to distinguish between “reducing incentives for polarization” and “reducing incentives for negative campaigns.” While there’s a correlation between negative campaigning and polarization, they’re not exactly the same thing. Negative campaigning is intended to highlight differences between competitors — whether that’s mayoral candidates, soda products, or personal computers.

Look no further than the barbs thrown during presidential primary debates — only for all to be forgiven when it comes time to select cabinet positions. Negative messaging and attack ads are part of the political process, and ranked choice voting won’t do away with that.

What ranked choice voting does is incentivize candidates to promote positions that more people agree with since assembling a coalition of people who will rank you highly is often the best strategy for victory. In our current primary system with low turnout elections, the winning strategy is often to inflame a highly ideological base to get more turnout than your opponents rather than to support policies that most people find reasonable and appropriate. Ranked choice voting will not end negative campaigning, but it may improve our policy discussions.

I’m very curious to see how ranked choice voting plays out in America’s largest city since I’ve long been a proponent of it as a partial remedy to some of our political ills.

SONG: [Solo Piano Jazz Hit of the Week] Sun Ra “Prelude in C♯ Minor (Ra Rachmaninoff)

Throughout his career, Sun Ra’s piano playing drifted from the conventional to the bizarre and esoteric. Still, the piano’s role in many of his compositions was often understated relative to the larger orchestrations of the Arkestra.

However, anyone paying attention could not doubt Ra’s abilities.

This ostensibly later career piece (although the exact dates of these recordings do seem to be of uncertain origin) showcases a rare example of Sun Ra flying solo. This first track is one of the more jarring pieces, and, true to its title, hints at the chromatic dynamism that characterized Russian composers like Rachmaninoff.

If you enjoy Ra Rachmaninoff, then do listen to the whole album.


PS: Thanks for reading. Please let me know if you’ve seen any articles or podcasts this week that you think that I would enjoy.

PPS: Good business advice.