Diamond’s Innovation Unbound Lecture Posted to YouTube

Dr. Derek Yonai of the Koch Center for Leadership and Ethics posted on Tues., March 9, 2021 my half-hour lecture on how regulations bind innovators. The lecture is related to my book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

“Solar Geoengineering” Is “a Test of Our Technological Ingenuity”

(p. C6) . . . humans have been so successful at changing the environment that we have become the dominant influence on the natural world. According to Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, “Under a White Sky,” how we proceed is, in one sense, full of possibility, a test of our technological ingenuity and derring-do, . . .

. . .

Kolbert is a writer for The New Yorker, where parts of this book originally appeared. Her narrative voice is steady and restrained — the better, it sometimes seems, to allow an unadorned reality to show through, its contours unimpeded by frantic alarmism or baroque turns of phrase. The people she meets are trying to reverse the course of man-made environmental disaster, whether that might involve electrifying a river, shooting diamond dust into the stratosphere or genetically modifying a species to extinction. She says that the “strongest argument” in favor of some of the most fantastical sounding measures tends to be a sober realism: “What’s the alternative?”

The biggest and most urgent of the impending cataclysms involves climate change. Mitigation efforts — reducing emissions — won’t do anything to alleviate the greenhouse gases that are already trapping heat on our planet. The title of Kolbert’s book comes from one possible side-effect of “solar geoengineering” (or “solar radiation management,” in what’s supposed to be the less scary parlance). Spraying light-reflective particles into the atmosphere will make blue skies look white.

For the full review, see:

Szalai, Jennifer. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Exploring All Measures to Save the Environment.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 11, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 10, 2021, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Electrified Rivers and Other Attempts to Save the Environment.”)

The book under review is:

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. New York: Crown, 2021.

When Leftist James R. Flynn Disagreed, He Would Argue, Not Cancel

(p. B10) Dr. Jensen was best known for an article he published in 1969 claiming that the differences between Black and white Americans on I.Q. tests resulted from genetic differences between the races — and that programs that tried to improve Black educational outcomes, like Head Start, were bound to fail.

Dr. Flynn, a committed leftist who had once been a civil rights organizer in Kentucky, felt instinctively that Dr. Jensen was wrong, and he set out to prove it.  . . .

Like most researchers in his field, Dr. Jensen had assumed that intelligence was constant across generations, pointing to the relative stability of I.Q. tests over time as evidence. But Dr. Flynn noticed something that no one else had: Those tests were recalibrated every decade or so. When he looked at the raw, uncalibrated data over nearly 100 years, he found that I.Q. scores had gone up, dramatically.

“If you scored people 100 years ago against our norms, they would score a 70,” or borderline mentally disabled, he said later. “If you scored us against their norms, we would score 130” — borderline gifted.

. . .

“He surprised everyone, despite the fact that the field of intelligence research is intensely data-centric,” the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said in an interview. “This philosopher discovered a major phenomenon that everyone had missed.”

Though Dr. Flynn published his research in 1984, it was not until a decade later that it drew attention outside the narrow world of intelligence researchers.

The turning point came with the publication in 1994 of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, which argued that genes play a dominant role in shaping intelligence — a position that its fiercest critics called racist. In reviewing arguments for and against their position, the authors outlined Dr. Flynn’s research and even gave it a name: the Flynn effect.

. . .

“Jim was a paragon of intellectual curiosity and willingness to look at all the evidence,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. “He had almost a childlike curiosity, and I mean that in a good way.”

. . .

Unlike many academics, Dr. Flynn increased his output as he aged: Eleven of his 18 books appeared in his last decade, many of them going back to his earlier interests in political theory and free speech. He became increasingly focused on academic freedom and a critic of so-called cancel culture, especially on campus.

His last book, “In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor,” was rejected by its first publisher as incendiary — though, as Dr. Flynn pointed out, he was merely summarizing the positions of people he disagreed with, in order to make a larger point. Frustrated, he found a new publisher for the book, which he retitled “A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities” (2019).

“Dad was always very respectful of people he disagreed with, and hated the trend of boycotting academics because of their views,” Professor Flynn, his son, said. “He very much thought that people should be able to express their views, and if you don’t agree, argue with them.”

For the full obituary, see:

Clay Risen. “James R. Flynn, Who Found We’re Getting Smarter, and Why, Dies at 86.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 27, 2021): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 25, 2021, and has the title “James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86.”)

James R. Flynn’s last book was:

Flynn, James R. A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities. Washington, DC: Academica Press, 2019.

Walter Williams Wrote That a Minimum Wage “Encourages Racial Discrimination”

(p. 26) Walter E. Williams, a prominent conservative economist, author and political commentator who expressed profoundly skeptical views of government efforts to aid his fellow African-Americans and other minority groups, died on Tuesday [Dec. 1, 2020] on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, where he had taught for 40 years. He was 84.

His daughter, Devon Williams, said he died suddenly in his car after he had finished teaching a class.

. . .

In the 1970s, during a yearlong stint at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, Mr. Williams was commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress to study the ramifications of a minimum wage and of the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandated that laborers in federal construction projects be paid no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

He outlined his findings in a 1977 report: A minimum wage causes high rates of teenage unemployment, especially among minority workers, and actually “encourages racial discrimination.”

He concluded, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2017, that the Davis-Bacon Act had “explicit racist motivations.”

Suppose, he said, that there are 10 secretaries, five of them white and five of them Black — all equally qualified — who are applying for a job. “If by law you must pay them all the same wage,” he said, “it doesn’t cost anything to discriminate against the Black secretaries.” Without such a mandate, he suggested, the Black secretaries would have a better chance at being gainfully employed, even if at lower pay.

In his book “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Mr. Williams was similarly critical of a host of government measures involving labor — from taxicab regulations to occupational licensing — that in his view wound up disproportionately harming Black people in the name of preventing discrimination.

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. “Walter E. Williams, Conservative Economist on Black Issues, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 26.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 7, 2020, and has the title “Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues.”)

Williams’s book, mentioned above, is:

Williams, Walter E. The State Against Blacks. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Naps Aid Immunity, Energy, Alertness, Memory, and Mood

(p. D4) Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., has been a public advocate for naps, particularly in the workplace, except in cases of insomnia. Along the way, she has had to fight anti-nap prejudice.

“Naps in general have a stigma attached to them as something you only do when you’re lazy or when you’re sick,” Dr. Alger said.

Wrapped inside nap phobia in the United States is often a message reminding us to be productive during what we now think of as normal working hours, although that concept is relatively new.

Modern attitudes about napping go back to the Industrial Revolution, according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and the author of “The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life.”

“For a long time, people had flexible sleep schedules,” Dr. Wolf-Meyer said. Farmers and tradespeople had some autonomy over their time. They could choose to rest in the hottest part of the day, and might take up simple tasks during a wakeful period in the middle of the night, between two distinct bouts of sleep.

As the 1800s went on, more and more Americans worked in factories on set shifts that were supervised by a foreman. “They work for a total stranger, and a nap becomes totally nonnegotiable,” he said.

Staying awake all day and getting one’s sleep in a single long stretch at night came to be seen as normal. With that came a strong societal expectation that we ought to use our daylight hours productively.

. . .

Although there are no hard data so far on whether naps have been on the rise during 2020, sleep scientists like Dr. Alger think it’s likely. The many people who now work remotely no longer need to worry about the disapproving eyes of their colleagues if they want a brief, discreet period of horizontality in the afternoons.

If most offices reopen next year, as now seems possible, perhaps greater tolerance toward the adult nap will be one of the things salvaged from the smoking wreckage of the working-from-home era. (In a tweet last week, Dr. Wolf-Meyer called the pandemic “the largest (accidental) experiment with human #sleep ever conducted.”) . . .

Experts say that people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a day are less prone to catching infectious diseases, and better at fighting off any they do catch. Afternoon sleep counts toward your daily total, according to Dr. Alger.

This immunity boost, she said, is in addition to other well-known dividends of a good nap, like added energy, increased alertness, improved mood and better emotional regulation.

Included under the last rubric is a skill that seems especially useful for dealing with families, even if you never get closer to your relatives this year than a “Hollywood Squares”-style video grid: “Napping helps you be more sensitive to receiving other people’s moods,” Dr. Alger said. “So you’re not perceiving other people as being more negative than they are.”

Napping also helps you remember facts you learned right before nodding off. Given the way things have been going lately, of course, you may not see this as a plus. You could look at it from the reverse angle, though: Every hour before Jan. 1 that you spend napping is another hour of 2020 you won’t remember.

For the full commentary, see:

Pete Wells. “This Thanksgiving, Nap Without Guilt.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 25, 2020): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 24, 2020, and has the title “This Thanksgiving, It’s Time to Stop Nap-Shaming.”)

The book by Wolf-Meyer, mentioned above, is:

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew J. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Free Speech First Amendment Blocks Government from Punishing False Statements

The commentary quoted below defines “deepfakes” as “apparently real images or videos that show people doing or saying things they never did or said.” For the government to punish false statements, the government would first have to establish which statements are true and which are false. The Supreme Court has ruled that if it did so, the government would be violating free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Cass Sunstein, who wrote the commentary below, is a well-respected legal scholar who served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

(p. C3) Can deepfakes, as such, be prohibited under American law? Almost certainly not. In U.S. v. Alvarez, decided in 2012, a badly divided Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from regulating speech simply because it is a lie.   . . .   The plurality opinion declared that “permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense…would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle…. Were this law to be sustained, there could be an endless list of subjects the National Government or the States could single out.”

For the full commentary, see:

Cass R. Sunstein. “Can the Government Regulate Deepfakes?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Cass Sunstein’s commentary is adapted from his book:

Sunstein, Cass R. Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

An Octopus “Is a Being With Multiple Selves”

(p. 11) What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works — and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape.

. . .

Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance and the ability of some animals, like rats and cuttlefish, to “meander, drift off and dream.” But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves. A breathtaking explanation follows, and it’s one that makes even a cephalopod fan like me swoon over the myriad possibilities for rethinking the mind as a sort of hidden realm for sentience.

Godfrey-Smith declares, “The world is fuller, more replete with experience than many people have countenanced,” . . .

For the full review, see:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 27, 2020 ): 11.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”)

The book under review is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Wheaton Economist Seth Norton Reviews Openness to Creative Destruction

Seth Norton wrote a thorough, gracious, and enthusiastic review of my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining…

Posted by Arthur Diamond on Sunday, February 7, 2021

My book is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

“Hillbilly Elegy” Book (but Not the Movie) Suggests a “Culture of Poverty”

(p. C3) “Hillbilly Elegy,” published in June of 2016, attracted an extra measure of attention (and controversy) after Donald Trump’s election. It seemed to offer a firsthand report, both personal and analytical, on the condition of the white American working class.

And while the book didn’t really explain the election — Vance is reticent about his family’s voting habits and ideological tendencies — it did venture a hypothesis about how that family and others like it encountered such persistent household dysfunction and economic distress. His answer wasn’t political or economic, but cultural.

He suggests that the same traits that make his people distinctive — suspicion of outsiders, resistance to authority, devotion to kin, eagerness to fight — make it hard for them to thrive in modern American society. Essentially, “Hillbilly Elegy” updates the old “culture of poverty” thesis associated with the anthropologist Oscar Lewis’s research on Mexican peasants (and later with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s ideas about Black Americans) and applies it to disadvantaged white communities.

Howard and Taylor mostly sidestep this argument, which has been widely criticized. They focus on the characters and their predicaments, and on themes that are likely to be familiar and accessible to a broad range of viewers. The film is a chronicle of addiction entwined with a bootstrapper’s tale — Bev’s story and J.D.’s, with Mamaw as the link between them.

But it sacrifices the intimacy, and the specificity, of those stories by pretending to link them to something bigger without providing a coherent sense of what that something might be. The Vances are presented as a representative family, but what exactly do they represent? A class? A culture? A place? A history? The louder they yell, the less you understand — about them or the world they inhabit.

For the full movie review, see:

A.O. Scott. “I Remember Bev and Mamaw.” The New York Times (Friday, November 27, 2020): C3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 23, 2020, and has the title “‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review: I Remember Mamaw.”)

J.D. Vance’s book is:

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.

After 19 Rejections in Britain, Walsh Self-Published “Knowledge of Angels”

(p. B11) Jill Paton Walsh was greeted with acclaim in the 1960s when she began writing young-adult books that challenged her readers in both plotting and messaging.

. . .

But in 1994 Ms. Paton Walsh achieved a whole different level of acclaim, by an unlikely route, with a book for adults, “Knowledge of Angels,” a genre-defying medieval fable about an atheist and a girl raised by wolves. Here she delved into themes of faith and reason and more.

Yet despite her success with books for young readers, “Knowledge of Angels” struggled to assert itself: No one in her native England would publish it.

. . .

And so, in a move that was rare for the time, she published it herself — and had the last laugh. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, one of the top literary awards in the world, and is said to be the first self-published book to make that elite list.

Peter Lewis of The Daily Mail had a crisp rebuke for all those publishers — 19 was the final count — who had said no to the book. “To open it and start reading,” he wrote, “is to be appalled by their lack of judgment.”

. . .

. . . when she shopped the ambitious “Knowledge of Angels,” there were no takers in her home country — though Houghton Mifflin had already published the book in the United States. The Guardian would describe it as “a compelling medieval fable centered on the conflict between belief and tolerance, and veined with a complex philosophical argument about the existence of God.”

. . ., Ms. Paton Walsh self-published the book in England, and though it did not win the Booker Prize, its nomination drew considerable attention.

After the nomination, Ms. Paton Walsh chided the British publishers, telling The Times, “They’re all afraid of their jobs, and they make their decisions by committee.”

For the full obituary, see:

Neil Genzlinger. “Jill Paton Walsh, 83, Author Who Scoffed at 19 Rejections.” The New York Times (Monday, November 23, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Nov. 19, 2020, and has the title “Jill Paton Walsh, Multigenerational Writer, Dies at 83.”)

A later edition of Walsh’s successful self-published book is:

Walsh, Jill Paton. Knowledge of Angels. reprint pb ed. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1998.