Assorted links XV

  1. Tacit Knowledge, Trust and the Q of Sapphire

Much more interesting IMO than these short excerpts will suggest:

For about 20 years, the team led by Vladimir Braginsky at Moscow State University, as part of a larger programmeon low dissipation systems, has been claiming to have measured quality factors (Qs) in sapphire up to 4x10^8 at room temperature. The ‘quality factor’ of a material indicates the rate of decay of its resonances — how long it will ‘ring’ if struck. […] But until the summerof 1999, no one outside Moscow State had succeeded in measuring a Q in sapphire higher than about 5x10’.

In the summer of 1998, after a series of failed efforts to measure Qs comparable to the Russian claims, members of a Glasgow University group visited Moscow State University for a week to learn the Russian technique. […] In neither case was a high-Q measurement achieved. Nevertheless, after only a few days in Russia, the Glasgow team had become convinced that the Russian results were correct.

  1. First, do harm

Studies that deliberately infect people with diseases are on the rise. They promise speedier vaccine development, but there’s a need to shore up informed consent.

  1. Moral Bias and Corrective Practices: A Pragmatist Perspective

Thus, the moral biases of slavery advocates proved largely immune to correction by the dominant methods of moral philosophy, which were deployed by white abolitionists. Ascent to the a priori led to abstract moral principles—the Golden Rule, the equality of humans before God—that settled nothing because their application to this world was contested. Table-turning exercises were ineffective for similar reasons. Reflective equilibrium did not clearly favor the abolitionists, given authoritarian, Biblical, and racist premises shared by white abolitionists and slavery advocates. No wonder only a handful of Southern whites turned against slavery on the basis of pure moral argument.

  1. A Panel Data Analysis of the Fungibility of Foreign Aid

The donor community has been increasingly concerned that development assistance intended for crucial social and economic sectors might be used directly or indirectly to fund unproductive military and other expenditures. The link between foreign aid and public spending is not straightforward because some aid may be “fungible.” This article empirically examines the impact of foreign aid on the recipient’s public expenditures, using cross-country samples of annual observations for 1971-90

  1. In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You

The most plausible candidate [to making linear programming solutions feasible for economic planning problems] is to look for problems which are “separable”, where the constraints create very few connections among the variables. If we could divide the variables into two sets which had nothing at all to do with each other, then we could solve each sub-problem separately, at tremendous savings in time. The supra-linear, \(n^{3.5}\) scaling would apply only within each sub-problem. We could get the optimal prices (or optimal plans) just by concatenating the solutions to sub-problems, with no extra work on our part.

Unfortunately, as Lenin is supposed to have said, “everything is connected to everything else”. […] A national economy simply does not break up into so many separate, non-communicating spheres which could be optimized independently.

So long as we are thinking like computer programmers, however, we might try a desperately crude hack, and just ignore all kinds of interdependencies between variables. If we did that, if we pretended that the over-all high-dimensional economic planning problem could be split into many separate low-dimensional problems, then we could speed things up immensely, by exploiting parallelism or distributed processing. […]

At this point, each processor is something very much like a firm, with a scope dictated by information-processing power, and the mis-matches introduced by their ignoring each other in their own optimization is something very much like “the anarchy of the market”.