Suggested readings, #138

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The hidden ‘replication crisis’ of finance. It may sound like a low-budget Blade Runner rip-off, but over the past decade the scientific world has been gripped by a “replication crisis” — the findings of many seminal studies cannot be repeated, with huge implications. Is investing suffering from something similar? That is the incendiary argument of Campbell Harvey, professor of finance at Duke university. He reckons that at least half of the 400 supposedly market-beating strategies identified in top financial journals over the years are bogus. Worse, he worries that many fellow academics are in denial about this. … (Financial Times)

Surveillance, companionship, and entertainment: the ancient history of intelligent machines. Robots have histories that extend far back into the past. Artificial servants, autonomous killing machines, surveillance systems, and sex robots all find expression from the human imagination in works and contexts beyond Ovid (43 BCE to 17 CE) and the story of Pygmalion in cultures across Eurasia and North Africa. This long history of our human-machine relationships also reminds us that our aspirations, fears, and fantasies about emergent technologies are not new, even as the circumstances in which they appear differ widely. Situating these objects, and the desires that create them, within deeper and broader contexts of time and space reveals continuities and divergences that, in turn, provide opportunities to critique and question contemporary ideas and desires about robots and artificial intelligence. … (MIT Press Reader)

Being in a building. The 16th-century Tempietto designed by Donato Bramante in Rome stands at the heart of Western architectural history. Its iconic bull’s eye plan, with concentric circles radiating outward from a single point, coincides perfectly with the central status assumed within the architectural canon by this ‘little temple’. Architectural historians often argue that the Tempietto functions as a compelling geometrical metaphor for Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ (1490) – his study of the body’s proportions – where both of these designs exalt the human form by placing it firmly at the centre of a perfectly ordered universe. … (Aeon) [Please ignore the last three paragraphs, which are suddenly affected by an unnecessary hyper-wokeness.]

Diets, detox, and other delusions. We’re in the midst of a pandemic! No, not that pandemic. I’m referring to the rapidly increasing worldwide prevalence of obesity, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a condition of abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. Obesity is a serious problem. At the last assessment in 2016, obesity afflicted 650 million adults and 14 million children, worldwide. The condition increases the risk of numerous comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several cancers. In 2014, the global economic impact of obesity was estimated at $2.0 trillion, which is 2.8 percent of the global gross domestic product. What’s more, obesity is increasing at a devastating pace; it is predicted to affect more than half the U.S. population by 2030. More than half! … (Skeptical Inquirer)

Does democracy exist? We tend to think of democracy as a set of governmental institutions. We see it as a political order characterized by open elections, constitutional constraints, the rule of law, freedom of speech, a free press, an independent judiciary, and so on. This makes good sense. These institutions indeed loom large in our political lives. However, political institutions differ considerably from one purportedly democratic society to the next. Voting procedures, representation schemes, conceptions of free speech, and judicial arrangements are not uniform across societies that are widely regarded as democratic. In some of these countries, voting is required by law and military service is mandatory. In others, these acts are voluntary. Some democratic countries have distinct speech restrictions, others have different and blurrier boundaries. And the ancient Athenians appointed their representatives to the Boule by lot, instead of by vote. Given these variations, how can these societies all be democracies? … (3QuarksDaily)


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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

One thought on “Suggested readings, #138”

  1. Per discussion elsewhere, given a replication failure in behavioral economics ( which was supposed to address such things, was it not?) the replication failure in finance doesn’t really surprise me. It DOES have implications, though, especially for governments.


    That leads to the last piece. Rather than the idea of “aspirational” or not, I think a better conception of democracies is to borrow from places like Freedom House, with its rankings, and see this as a continuum from 0 percent to 100 percent. (That said, this person, using a standard layperson’s idea of science that includes not only formulation of hypotheses, but investigation of data, gathering information, etc, does NOT consider Aristotle a scientist.)


    The architecture piece? One might, at least in the Western tradition, go back 1500 years to the Pantheon, for at least a partial precursor to the idea of a building designed to engage the visitor that way.

    Liked by 1 person

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