May 8, 2023Liked by Stuart Ritchie

"you know how the evolution-vs-creationism wars were pretty decisively won by the “evolution” side in the West, to the point that basically nobody ever talks about it any more?"

The Creationism that says evolution had no impact above the human neck - far more practically damaging than the 7 day variety - is as strong as ever in the West.

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May 7, 2023Liked by Stuart Ritchie

Feel like I've gone through the same thing re: AI.

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I don't know, I think calming down was pretty great advice. The COVID years were dominated by mass hysteria on an ahistoric scale. If people had listened to them, we'd be in a much better place.

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Nice to meet you.

I always enjoy reading your interesting articles.

I am a member of an organization that provides translations of various social science articles into Japanese. We am also translating your friend Jason Collins' article with his permission. We would like to translate your Substack article.


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Not surprised to hear psychologist experts made poor predictions. The backlash to 'behavioural fatigue' tempted fate and lacked humility. Two members of SPI-B said it had had 'no basis in behavioural science': https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2982.long. Some critiques of behavioural fatigue were fair (what do you mean by fatigue exactly? can it be counteracted? would it appear so quickly as to undermine lockdown efforts?), but not appearing in behavioural science textbooks isn't one of them. (In fact, as you've written in Unherd there was 'basis in behavioural science', after all! https://unherd.com/2021/02/behavioural-science-wont-save-us/).

I'd venture (not helped by how politically motivated them and others seemed at that time) that they didn't ask whether the supposed lack of evidence was a failure of behavioural science or behavioural fatigue. The wider issue contributing to this, I think, is of social science focusing on statistical significance and researchers assuming that 'highly statistically significant' implies 'strongly predictive', which it doesn't (https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/159/9/882/167475). (If only people would look at their R-squareds.) The pandemic was a prediction problem, largely.

What do you think the solution to this is? I'm an academic researcher. I wonder if superforecasting or prediction market-type exercises could improve things by forcing people to be transparent and specific about their expectations and be compared against them later. Not sure how they could be made widespread.

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You got some things wrong in your Biden piece. First, it's just not the case that his supporters "barely ever" discuss his age. They've no choice but to discuss it -- all the time. They're asked about it constantly, and polls show Democrats are pretty concerned about it. They're constantly having to acknowledge and minimize his age, mostly due to the extreme difficulty of replacing incumbent party leaders here.

Second, Biden has been notoriously gaffe-prone his entire political career, going back for decades. He has a speech impediment that he copes with in part by switching what he's going to say when he starts to stutter. You can't just point to all his gaffes now that he's old and suggest it's suddenly evidence of his cognitive decline. (I wonder if you've inadvertently bought into Fox's framing here; they've been suddenly presenting every gaffe as evidence of dementia since he became a candidate -- with no context about his long history of this.)

The last bit I'll dispute is what kinds of intelligence matters for a president's skill set. Presidents don't need fast reflexes or great memory to deal with emergencies. Authority to respond to most emergencies has already been delegated by law, and presidents are given options to deal with the ones that require a sign-off. What matters for those kinds of situations is having the wisdom to realize you're not smarter than your expert advisors (which thankfully most presidents know).

Where a president's intelligence DOES matter is in knowing how the nation's complex legislative and administrative processes work, and that's a form of crystalized intelligence he's clearly managed to demonstrate. He's gotten a shocking amount of key legislation through Congress at a time when partisan divides have completely paralyzed the legislative process here. There are very few American leaders who have the temperament and knowledge to pull that off right now. So the experience argument does have some merit in his case.

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"the 'experts on human behaviour' are no better than the average participant at predicting this stuff."

This is true of experts in just about every field outside the physical sciences, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in study after study, so I'm not sure why psychologists are your focus other than their general popularity as a punching bag.

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