How To Make Your Scientific Paper Better In Five Minutes

I’ve been published!

This was mostly good luck. John Bullock had an interesting research idea, and he needed someone to help out. I was available, and sufficiently interested in recording information for posterity. (Hence this blog — shout-out to those of you reading this in the 22nd century!)


The Paper

Modern science has a big problem. Well, a lot of big problems, but this one has the distinction of being easy to fix.

The problem is reference rot, which is what happens when you cite in your political science paper and then Trump gets inaugurated.

That is to say: The link breaks, and no one will ever know what the heck you were citing. Which makes them less likely to cite you, and also just makes it really annoying to do science.

This happens to a startling number of links in scientific papers and other official documentation. And it happens fast. Our paper found that, in the most prestigious journal in political science, more than a quarter of links cited in 2013 were broken by the end of 2014!

If you publish research papers, or anything else with hyperlinks, you’re at risk.


Fix Your Work in Five Minutes

How to avoid reference rot:

  1. Before you submit your final manuscript for publication, ask yourself: “Self, have I cited any online materials in this paper?”
  2. If so, replace every link with a permanent, archived version of that link. You can make these with The Internet Archive or Perma.
  3. There is no step three.

If you’re a blogger, you can also do this, but it’s tedious. Instead, I use the WordPress extension “Broken Link Checker”, which alerts me to any links that go dead and lets me replace them with the Internet Archive version in one click.

When you start to use archived links, you’ll officially be storing information more securely than the Supreme Court.


John Bullock Bonus

Before this paper, Bullock published a more substantial paper with a more important researcher who shares my initials (Alan Gerber).

The authors find that, while Democrats and Republicans claim to believe very different things about history, those differences shrink when partisans are offered money for correct answers to historical questions. They’re cheering for their beliefs, not professing them seriously.

If only there were a way to combine money and politics in a way that would convince partisans to disclose their true beliefs…


Immortality Is Exciting

TL;DR: Immortality may seem like it would be boring. But an awful lot of people have hobbies and projects that would probably work out better if those people had more time to get things done. What’s more, these activities might be more exciting the longer they went on, rather than less.

To illustrate this, I use the example of a Go master, who is in love with a fiendishly hard game and might continue improving for centuries, given the chance — and that’s just one popular board game in a universe of activities.


I’d like to clear up a common misconception about living forever.

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Dubstep in Vienna: Or, Craving Things That Don’t Exist

Reading time: 8-10 minutes, plus one short song.

A collection of musings around the topics of art, yearning, and synthesizers. 


How I learned to love music

Most people worry about the future. Some people worry about the past. I worry about alternate histories: things that never happened, but what if they had?

One of those what-ifs has been on my mind lately:

What if I’d been born early enough in history that I never got to hear electronic music?

* * * * *

I still remember the first time I knowingly heard a synthesizer. (Whatever electronic sound effects Britney Spears and Nelly were using had escaped my notice.)

I was 12, and riding in the car of my good friend Peter Andrews. His mother was driving, and we were listening to songs from the 1970s. Most of them were background noise, and held no interest for me.


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Sky Lanterns and the World of Tomorrow

I just started writing for Applied Sentience, a blog curated by the humanist chaplaincies of various American colleges. This post first appeared over there.

Whether or not you like me, the other folks at Applied Sentience write really great stuff about physics, ethics, religious policy, and many other notable topics. Check them out!

* * * * *

Humanist communities need more wonder.

This isn’t the fault of the humanist communities. Most religious communities also need more wonder. Most people need more wonder.

(The words “awe” and “transcendence” could stand in for “wonder” – I’m referring to that whole category of emotions.)

Whether it comes from the high note of a gospel hymn or the highest rocket in a fireworks display, wonder might just be the single best emotion. Mix wonder with affection, and you get love. Seek out wonder in your daily life, and you might avoid the hedonic treadmill that so often exhausts the pursuers of happiness. As far as I know, wonder never gets boring.

I don’t come by the feeling of wonder easily. And when I do, it’s hard to tell whether the things that give me that feeling will also work for other people.

(For example, most people don’t see dubstep as a quasi-religious experience.)

But last November, I stumbled onto something I think could become a wonder-inducing ritual for humanists around the world. The ritual is cheap, safe, beautiful, and equally accessible to one person or a gathering of thousands.

I could reveal it now, but this essay will make more sense if I tell you a story first.

Read the rest here!


Ten Big Questions

At a recent symposium, social scientists gathered to create a list of “big questions” that might serve as a driving focus for academics in the years to come—inspired in part by David Hilbert’s (largely successful) use of this technique to guide mathematicians.

More on the symposium here. The final list of questions is highly informal, but gives us a good idea of what problems are on the minds of very smart people:

1. How can we induce people to look after their health?

2. How do societies create effective and resilient institutions, such as governments?

3. How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?

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20 Things I Wish I Knew At 20

I may be only 20 years old, but there are many things I wish I knew.

So, in honor of these endless lists:

1. Who wins Super Bowl XLIX?

Vegas is already accepting bets. I could use the money.

2. Which of the 715 books on my Amazon wish list are worth reading? 

I just know I’m going to waste weeks threshing my way through all the chaff.

3. When will the next big earthquake hit Los Angeles? 

Frankly, I’m shocked that this wasn’t on the other lists. If I knew this, I could save thousands of lives. Think big, people!

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The Words of Our Lives

Summary: We write a lot of words, and our words may serve as the truest expression of our personalities after we’re dead, if we keep them in a safe place. It might also be nice to have our present-day words around when we’re older.


After we are dead, information about ourselves will continue to exist.

Some of this information won’t last very long; our bodies disappear quickly, rotting or burning to ash. But we’ve gotten rather good at keeping the rest of it stored in various places and formats.

How we look and sound, for example. YouTube features footage of tens of millions of people moving/speaking/singing, and many families keep home videos of some kind. Then there’s an entire universe of still photographs—both photos taken of us and photos we’ve taken of other things. And we’ll have electronic medical records, possibly even entire sequenced genomes, to testify to the physical facts of our existence.

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