Shortness is now a treatable condition

post by taw · 2009-10-20T01:13:07.428Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 111 comments

There was some talk here about height taxes, but there's a better solution - redefine shortness as a treatable condition and use HGH to cure it. They even got FDA on board with that, at least for 1.2% shortest people.

Unsatisfactory sexual performance became a treatable condition with Viagra. Depression and hyperactivity became treatable conditions with SSRIs. Being ugly is already almost considered a treatable condition, at least one can get that impression from cosmetic surgery ads. Being overweight is universally considered an illness, even though we don't have too many effective treatment options (surgery is unpopular, and effective drugs like fen-phen and ECA are not officially prescribed any more). If we ever figure out how to increase IQ, you can be certain low IQ will be considered a treatable condition too. Almost everything undesirable gets redefined as an illness as soon as an effective way to fix it is developed.

I welcome these changes. Yes, redefining large parts of normal human variability as illness is a lie, but if that's what society needs to work around its taboos against human enhancement, so be it.

111 comments

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comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-10-20T04:52:09.138Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, redefining large parts of normal human variability as illness is a lie

Is there a fact of the matter for it to be a lie about?

comment by alyssavance · 2009-10-20T15:37:37.338Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think so. The traditional definition of an "illness", I think, is something that would cause you pain even if you were stuck on a desert island. Eg., even if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere, you still wouldn't want to get the flu. The point of the post is that the word "illness" is gradually being redefined more broadly, to "any physical/mental characteristic that society views as negative".

Eg., if I were 4'10", and stuck on a desert island, would it bother me to be 4'10" instead of 5'10"? I doubt it, unless it comes along with some sort of physical deformity; that's only a difference of 17%. Yet, if I were 4'10" now, it would probably have substantial negative effects, like earning less, and being considered generally less desirable in dating.

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-22T01:56:24.269Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The traditional definition of an "illness", I think, is something that would cause you pain even if you were stuck on a desert island

Good point. Not having any good video games is definitely an illness. As is not having food and not being immortal.

comment by alyssavance · 2009-10-22T04:47:56.704Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not being immortal (in the sense of dying from old age) is obviously an illness, but hasn't been recognized as such by most outside the transhumanist community, because it's universal. It would be in a sane society, but there you go.

Nutrient deficiency of various sorts has always been recognized as an illness (eg., scurvy for lack of vitamin C), and this has since been expanded to include general starvation (ICD-10 code T73.0).

Lack of video games is a fact about the video games, not a fact about your body.

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-10-22T14:09:14.877Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not being immortal (in the sense of dying from old age) is obviously an illness, but hasn't been recognized as such by most outside the transhumanist community, because it's universal. It would be in a sane society, but there you go.

Is the set of all possible fatal illnesses itself an illness? I don't think so; that just seems like a type error. Lack of immortality is a bad thing that society ought to take steps towards fixing, but calling it an illness is just mixing up terminology.

comment by alyssavance · 2009-10-22T15:33:00.594Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right that death isn't a disease, it's an effect of disease. But aging itself is clearly a disease. When you get old, it's not like you're perfectly fine until you're age 80, and then you get struck down by a random sickness. The body itself degrades over time and loses various functions, like Lou Gehrig's disease.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T14:54:09.467Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sort of agree with you, but a lot of illnesses are actually just vulnerabilities to certain other things. For instance, celiac is considered a disaease, but if a celiac patient never lets a grain of wheat pass their lips, they'll suffer no symptoms. As far as I know, AIDS won't kill you if you manage to avoid ever being exposed to any other infectious agent. A clinically significant phobia of spiders would not cause you any discomfort in a spider-free environment. Why couldn't we characterize "susceptibility to assorted causes of death" as an illness of its own?

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-22T15:19:19.715Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not being immortal (in the sense of dying from old age) is obviously an illness

Is the set of all possible fatal illnesses itself an illness? I don't think so; that just seems like a type error.

The explicit cast provided avoids that problem.

It seems reasonable to describe ageing as an illness, particularly the symptoms that can be traced to a specific (and currently universal) biological flaw in cell reproduction.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-22T02:30:20.253Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Boredom is a problem with several solutions. If you actually have trouble functioning without video games specifically, yes, I'd classify that as an illness, along with any other problematic addiction.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T02:04:37.969Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'd want to be immortal even if you were stuck on a desert island? I think we're assuming that "stuck" means "you are stuck and will stay that way".

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-22T19:21:09.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes - you'd need to include more particular desert-island circumstances before I'd give up being immortal. Though I was assuming the 'stuck' was temporary, with a limiting case of having to swim / walk across the ocean to get home.

Clearly being stuck on a desert island is also an illness.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-21T00:22:17.651Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The traditional definition of an "illness", I think, is something that would cause you pain even if you were stuck on a desert island. Eg., even if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere, you still wouldn't want to get the flu.

I hope you won't mind terribly if I steal this meme to use elsewhere.

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T08:58:38.078Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wikipedia says:

A "disease" or "medical condition" is an abnormal condition of an organism that impairs bodily functions, associated with specific symptoms and signs.

The key word is abnormal. If something is naturally common in humans, and doesn't impair any bodily functions, it shouldn't really count as a "disease". Like being short, as a matter of fact.

FDA has these views, as they only approve treatment of people with specific shortness-causing disorders, or within 1.2% of most extreme shortness (which is highly atypical). If people pursuing height expand this band to bottom 50% of current population, or bottom 80% of historical record, and redefine it as an illness, then it will be a lie, as a matter of fact.

Even better case is premature ejaculation, which is estimated to "affect" 30%-70% of American males. It doesn't impair any bodily functions. So it's factually incorrect to claim it's an illness.

comment by retiredurologist · 2009-10-22T16:32:12.216Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Re: premature ejaculation, see The sooner the better. There is excellent therapy for those who desire it, but ironically the SSRI's that work so effectively to delay ejaculation were developed to treat depression, for which their effectiveness is the same as placebo. Yet, they are FDA-approved for treatment of the latter, not the former.

comment by DanArmak · 2009-10-20T15:42:16.534Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

within 1.2% of most extreme shortness (which is highly atypical)

There always are the 1.2% shortest people. We'd end up making the whole population infinitely tall :-) They should define it as "at least X deviations below mean". I would support that.

comment by alyssavance · 2009-10-20T15:39:05.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes affect way more than 1.2% of the population, and no one has ever had any trouble defining them as illnesses.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-21T00:50:31.279Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One is never ill in general. One is always ill in relation to some activity. It is not cancer that makes me ill. It is because I cannot work, or run, or swallow that I am ill with cancer. The loss of function, the obstruction of activity, cannot in itself destroy my health.

I am too heavy to fly by flapping my wings, but I do not complain of being sick with weight. But if I desired to be a model, jockey, or dancer, I would consider excess weight a disease I would like to be cured of.

Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, 3.56

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-10-20T05:24:38.943Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incidentally, I'm a 5'4'' male. My brother took growth hormone, and he ended up several inches taller than me.

Shortness is a lot harder to cure in adults; leg lengthening surgery is risky and results in weaker legs, because the muscles don't grow to accommodate the longer bones. (Anecdotal reports indicate that it impairs basketball performance, a sport in which extra height is generally considered an advantage.)

comment by Pfft · 2009-10-20T22:23:12.890Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

defining large parts of normal human variability as illness is a lie, but if that's what society needs to work around its taboos against human enhancement, so be it.

I agree that it is better than not getting any human enhancement at all, but it still seems extremely distorted. If I am unsatisfied with my attention span I can get subsidized amphetamine to deal with it -- as long as I convince a doctor that my problems are sufficiently severe that I meet the criteria for ADHD. But the benefits from the drug are not at all bimodal: basically there seems to be some kind of sweetspot for dopamine levels, and moving anyone towards it will help them. Since the current discourse speaks of illness instead of suboptimality, we end up with the wrong vocabulary for doing any kind of sensible risk/benefit analysis.

Interestingly, plastic surgery has somehow avoided this trap. Why is it that plastic surgeons can carry out procedures simply because the patients want them too, while psychiatrists can't prescribe mediation unless the treatment guidelines indicate it?

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-20T22:38:33.446Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because there's not a fear of people going nuts and killing other people or themselves if their plastic surgery turns out badly, I suspect.

(Note that I'm not commenting on whether the fear is justified - I have a weak-to-moderate belief that it's not, but it's probably more of an issue of risk tolerance in most cases.)

comment by pwno · 2009-10-21T00:38:35.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or because consuming "plastic surgery" is under the surveillance of a professional - a surgeon. Maybe if you had a psychiatrist watching over you every time you consumed a pill, the rules would be different.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-21T02:03:33.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't most plastic surgery done on an outpatient basis? As far as I know (which isn't far), they send the patient home the same day, and expect them to monitor their own condition and seek help if they suspect an infection or other issue, which seems about equivalent to me.

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T22:44:26.370Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From amounts of psychological drugs sold it seems to me that it's not at all difficult to convince a doctor to write you a prescription, at least in States.

It seems like a useful lie, society is full of them.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-10-21T22:35:30.112Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose you are a smart person, and someone developed a drug that makes anyone who takes it 30 IQ points smarter. The FDA rules that this drug can be given only to people with an IQ at least 20 points below yours.

Would you be happy about this development?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-21T22:39:47.362Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not as happy as I would be if I could get this drug too, but yes! It would be well worth it in the reduced amount of dealing with stupid people, not to mention fewer casualties from stupid behavior and increased general ability to solve problems that could adversely affect my life - all of which makes it rather incommensurate with the shortness example. Another disanalogy: there is no obvious upper limit on how smart you'd want to be, whereas I suspect few people want to be eleven feet tall.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-21T23:53:05.102Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So a rising IQ lifts all boats? You're hoping the wealth will trickle down?

(Myself, I'm selfish. At my ~130 IQ, most of the world would be eligible to take this drug, utterly crushing my market value; and since at best they would reach 140, I can't appeal to any arguments like 'but the emsmartened masses will cure aging! Better to be an immortal janitor than a dying tycoon.' So I wouldn't be happy about it, even though abstractly I know it'd probably be a very good thing for humanity.)

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-22T00:25:59.621Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reasonably sure that high IQ (i.e. over 140) is not particularly well correlated with outstanding achievement. I am almost certain that extremely high IQ's are not a prerequisite for extraordinary achievement, though there may be some specific fields where this does not hold true (say, theoretical physics).

If someone with an IQ of 180 has a thousand times the chance of making some incredible breakthrough compared to someone with an IQ of 140, shifting from 1% of the people having IQ > 140 to having 25%+ of the people having an IQ over 140 would still probably generate a great deal of breakthroughs.

comment by Arenamontanus · 2009-10-22T00:56:55.955Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is one study that demonstrated that among top 1% SAT scorers investigated some years after testing, the upper quartile produces about twice the number of patents as the lower one (and about 6 times the average, if I remember right). That seems to imply that having more really top performers might produce more useful goods even if the vast majority of them never invent anything great.

Even a tiny shift upwards of everybody's IQ has a pretty impressive multiplicative effect at the high end.

Interpersonal skills are more important for job success than IQ, but I doubt great skills will produce goods useful across society in the same way as an invention does. A high EQ person probably just makes the local social network better, which has a relatively limited overall effect.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T04:31:38.996Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is one study that demonstrated that among top 1% SAT scorers investigated some years after testing, the upper quartile produces about twice the number of patents as the lower one (and about 6 times the average, if I remember right). That seems to imply that having more really top performers might produce more useful goods even if the vast majority of them never invent anything great.

This could just reflect winner-take-all dynamics. Only a few people can get into Harvard. Only a few people can become tenured professors, only a few mentored by major figures, only a few access to resources etc. Success builds on success; if you have a patent, it's easier to get another. A small difference at the beginning (your 'upper quartile') can snowball.

I would bet that being in the upper quartile is only weakly correlated with being smarter than the rest of that 1%. No organized tests like college admissions uses straight IQ, but they do use SAT scores. That says something, I think.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-10-22T16:21:05.154Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

IIRC, the SAT doesn't have enough questions to distinguish an upper 1/4 of 1%. At least, the reported scores don't go higher than "99th percentile".

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-22T00:42:35.226Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reasonably sure that high IQ (i.e. over 140) is not particularly well correlated with outstanding achievement. I am almost certain that extremely high IQ's are not a prerequisite for extraordinary achievement, though there may be some specific fields where this does not hold true (say, theoretical physics).

I remember reading that the optimal IQ for success in life is actually about 130, but can't find a source for that now. I did find this though, which seems to support your claim.

I think that having the general population's IQ raised would have such wide-ranging effects that looking at society as it is now isn't a very good indicator of what that would be like. Society as it is now isn't set up to support people with very high IQs (or even get the most out of the IQs that people have to begin with), so I'm pretty sure there would be changes to all kinds of things to fix that.

comment by Arenamontanus · 2009-10-22T01:02:06.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The linked article is problematic. There is a pretty agreed on correlation between IQ and income (the image obscures this). In the case of wealth the article claims that there is a non-linear relationship that makes really smart people have a low wealth level. But this is due to the author fitting a third degree polynomial to the data! I am pretty convinced it is a case of overfitting. See my critique post for more details.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T00:05:38.920Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't think someone with a new 140 IQ could do something useful to you with that intelligence level? I wasn't thinking so much "cures aging in one fell swoop". I'd settle for "works with a team on a cancer treatment that might save my life one day". Or even something fairly tiny, like "reduces my odds of dying in a traffic accident by becoming a traffic light timer, using the IQ boost to do some research, and extending yellow lights".

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T04:26:24.514Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure they could do something useful. I say that.

But I don't think they'll do so much for me that it'd make up for it. As I said, consider the job market. This pill would put me into the bottom 30% of the population IQ-wise (I'm guessing, does anyone have the actual numbers? The only people I would still be above would be the 110-130 range.). Have you looked at how well the current bottom 30% does? From what I remember of the job statistics in The Bell Curve, the prospects are absolutely dismal, and seem likely to get worse over time thanks to automation.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T11:56:09.834Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe smart people will build robots to do the crap jobs and move towards a leisure-oriented economy. Then you wouldn't need to do an awful job.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T13:45:10.009Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe smart people will build robots to do the crap jobs and move towards a leisure-oriented economy.

Well, you're certainly half-right...

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-22T16:16:24.962Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My understanding is that people lose jobs to automation because they can't do the jobs which can't be automated. If you can still do a job which can't be effectively automated, you might experience short-term troubles (or you might not, assuming you already have the job), but jobs can be created which it will be economical to pay you to do.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T20:43:24.263Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Economical to pay me to do is likely not the same thing as what I or other people in my situation are/would-otherwise earn. I remember reading an expatriate remarking that one of the best things about living in Africa was that human labor was so cheap that he could do any bizarre thing that came to mind; a job just existing doesn't say much.

(I'm interpreting your last line as saying that the market would create a job for me if I were rendered superfluous or no longer worth employing at my current job; if you mean by 'can' that something like the goverment could create make-work jobs using the wealth surplus, I'll refer you to my reply to Alicorn - we haven't done a great job in the past with helping people rendered redundant by progress or creating a 'leisure society', so I am pessimistic that this might change in the drug scenario.)

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-22T20:48:44.789Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All that is quite fair enough - I expect the rest of our disagreement amounts to conflicting intuitions.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T21:26:59.433Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I agree. As I said, my better instincts tell me that for the good of humanity, if maybe not my own long-term interests (as I said, it's plausible the drug would do me more harm than good), to be happy; but the rest of me dislikes being lowered in relative status & potential. Other people may incline more firmly one way or the other.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2009-10-22T05:00:36.933Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This pill would put me into the bottom 30% of the population IQ-wise (I'm guessing, does anyone have the actual numbers?

In the scenario as specified, I think you're in the 72nd percentile. The half of the population originally with <100 IQ jumps up to <130 IQ (still below you), and you're still above the people in the 110-130 group who were also denied the drug.

Have you looked at how well the current bottom 30% does?

On an absolute scale, they're doing fine.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-23T14:48:50.816Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the scenario as specified, I think you're in the 72nd percentile.

Hm... OK, I think you're right about that. Being in the 72nd percentile is not nearly as bad as dropping down into the 30s. Rereading the original formulation I see that I assumed that the <110 population would jump up past me, while as specified they would just have a 30 point boost which would put them much nearer me but not past.

On an absolute scale, they're doing fine.

Unfortunately, real humans (such as myself) do not live on absolute scales. This is why we are happier to see our neighbor's salary cut than the both of us receive a raise but his much larger, and this is why self-assessed happiness of nations is only weakly correlated with wealth & not perfectly correlated.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2009-10-22T00:35:20.761Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But aren't smart people just more fun to be around? Superiority is boring.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T04:35:07.608Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Smart people can be fun to be around - if you can follow them. If next to everyone was at least 10 points higher than you, then you're always going to be the slow one trying to catch up & figure out what's so funny. (The situation is even worse if the hypothetical situation shifts the whole bell curve out.)

If you think 10 points isn't a big enough difference to matter socially, then I have an experiment for you: take on a similar handicap and see how much fun your favorite social group interaction is; I suggest that you put in some loose ear-plugs to approximate being hard of hearing.

(My experience is that a ~10 points deficit in the other people makes up for my bum ears as far as understanding & participating in the flow of conversation, so I reason that it should work the other way around.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T12:06:35.454Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find that a lot of joking around with smart people relies on shared experiences more than on-the-fly applications of intelligence, just as it does with less smart people. For instance, my Plato's Republic class was chatting about how silly one of the translations we aren't using is, because it translated something that our version renders as "baking cakes" to "managing pancakes" instead. If I want to crack up that particular group of people, I can do it by mentioning that I managed pancakes for breakfast; I don't think that would have failed to occur to me if I were 10 IQ points dumber. (I might not have been in the class if I were 10 IQ points dumber, but that seems beside the point, which is more about how to interact with smart people than about how to get into situations where you can.)

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T14:19:07.187Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You may have thought of it, you may not. (Verbal ability is one of the commonest sub-tests, after all.) But would you have thought of it in time? Conversations are like FPS or other action games; if you're off by even a little, you're off by a mile.

Suppose it had taken you 30 seconds to come up with that joke - by then the context is gone, the conversation has moved on. People would just squint confusedly at you, even if the topic is still putatively bad translations. (I have done this many times, and am always shocked at how narrow the window between 'wit' and 'non sequitur' is; the very belated version is called _l'esprit d'escalier_.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-22T14:29:01.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It did take me more than 30 seconds to come up with that, and I think the people there will remember the conversation well enough that (if I'd had pancakes this morning) I could make it in class this afternoon to reasonably good effect.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-22T14:52:36.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It'd be a worthwhile experiment, although selecting the most memorable part of the conversation (as it seems to be) isn't really what I was thinking of with regard to latency being very important to conversational prowess.

comment by DanArmak · 2009-10-21T23:18:27.416Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

IQ is relative, so once they took the drug and everyone retested, my new IQ would make me eligible for the drug :-)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-21T23:20:32.875Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And we'd end up making the whole population infinitely smart :-)

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-22T14:04:03.635Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not be happy about it? If you're smart, a lot of your achievement was driven by comparing yourself to people smarter than you anyway.

And, as noted elsewhere in the thread, this drug probably won't make me below average: many people have low IQs and won't overtake me even with the boost. But I'd still be happy to pay the price of becoming below average if everyone became smart.

comment by Arenamontanus · 2009-10-22T00:50:28.785Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would be happy. The low end of the intelligence scale have on average pretty bad lives (higher risks of accidents, illness, crime, bad school outcomes, less income and lower life satisfaction), so on purely utilitarian grounds it would be good. But their inefficiency and costs also reduce the overall economy and cost a lot of tax money directly or indirectly. Hence I would be better off with them smarter - it might reduce my competitive advantage a bit, but I think the faster economic growth would balance that. A lot of our market value reside in our unique skills rather than general skills anyway.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-25T05:22:40.996Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've worked around the FDA before. Making myself score 20 points less than I could on an IQ test would be simple by comparison.

Assuming I have a greater than average tendency to work around FDA restrictions then this restriction gives me an advantage.

(Unfortunately, some drugs that boost intellectual performance in the average case actually worsen performance in some who are already high performers.)

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-22T18:19:36.710Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's interesting; the effects of the availability heuristic are insidious. Of course, I thought about local effects in the States. But seeing this a day later, it dawned on me that such a drug could prove a bigger boon for Africa than a cure for AIDS, and perhaps likewise in much of the second and third world.

I'm not saying any particular scope is "correct," but it's interesting that the discussion here deals almost entirely with the welfare effects on the immediate job market, and ignores the very likely substantial effects on distant peoples.

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-22T01:38:42.677Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would be happy with part 1 of your scenario and not part 2. Instead, let's develop the drug and light the FDA on fire.

"But how can you light a government institution on fire?"

"We're all 30 IQ points smarter - we'll figure it out!"

comment by Arenamontanus · 2009-10-21T13:06:51.012Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The definition of illness is one of the perennials in the philosophy of medicine. Robert Freitas has a nice list in the first chapter of Nanomedicine ( http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/1.2.2.htm ) which is by no means exhaustive.

In practice, the typical "down-on-the-surgery-floor" approach is to judge whether a condition impairs "normal functioning". This is relative to everyday life and the kind of life the patient tries to live - and of course contains a lot of subjective judgements. Another good rule of thumb is that illness impairs the flexibility of someone - they have fewer possibilities.

Personally I prefer Freitas volitional model, where we give strong weight to the desires and goals of the patient. If I want to fly and could somehow be cured of weight, then that should be allowed. However, seeing medical interventions as allowed is not the same as claiming they have to be supported by everybody else (positive and negative rights and all that). There is much truth in saying that illness is what a society thinks we should be altruistic and pay for others, while health improvements beyond that tend to be up to the individual.

The problem is that altruism pool is limited (and quite possibly due to murky evolutionary psychology - consider Robin's "Showing that you care" paper) and shared resources limited, while the space of possible medical interventions is growing and human wants of course nearly unbounded. Hence there is a constant struggle for stakeholders to bring their conditions into the realm of altruism and obligatory treatment.

The problem is that we currently also roughly identify the category of illness treatments with allowable treatments (with some exceptions like preventative medicine, cosmetic surgery etc.) and the non-illness treatments as not allowed (doping, enhancement). This might be a reaction to rein in the costs and illness category, but also concerns that non-altruist medicine would be socially bad. I have strong suspicions this is misguided and actually decreases human happiness.

In the end, the goal of medicine should always be human flourishing, not health. Health is instrumental for living a good life, but what kind of health is needed depends very much on individual life projects. I believe that in the future we are going to see much more of a health pluralism.

comment by pwno · 2009-10-20T01:57:22.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you determine when something becomes a defect i.e. treatable condition?

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T03:07:21.896Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If it lowers your social status, and can be treated, it's treatable condition.

I'm sure if blackness could be treated, it would be consider an illness.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-21T02:45:41.887Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't even need the social status argument. You can just say, "Being black lowers your life expectancy."

On a similar note, men are all also terribly, terribly ill...

comment by taw · 2009-10-21T11:00:38.511Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Usually when you sort people by social status, you will see effect on life expectancy. This seems to be true for height too.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-21T12:04:01.686Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's also been suggested to be a significant part of why overweight people have more health problems.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T03:17:14.486Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being offensively cynical is not identical to being wise. If traits which lowered social status were actually considered illnesses, changing them would be covered by insurance policies.

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T05:32:07.396Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Few traits that determine social status are easy to manipulate. Those that are tend to get universally manipulated away, and nobody even thinks about them much.

For example for some reasons in this culture strong natural body smell decreases social status significantly. And because it's so easy to manipulate, virtually everyone fixes this problem with regular showers, deodorants and such, to the point where it's rare to find a person who doesn't.

After all the easy ones get manipulated by everyone, the only determinants of social status that differentiate people are those that are difficult to manipulate - like being poor, or short, or ugly, or black. The situation only changes when technology makes manipulation easier, or signals change for any reason.

In case you don't believe being black lowers your social status in this culture, even four year old black children know it.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-20T17:54:55.232Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Few traits that determine social status are easy to manipulate.

You appear to have a single-scale, and thus completely inaccurate, concept of social status. I'd hesitate to label anything as "offensive," because I don't really believe in offense, but you appear to be seriously naive and misinformed if your comments here are intended even slightly seriously.

One of the strongest markers of social status is diction and pronunciation. It is not a perfect indicator, but one can often deduce someone's social status from two minutes of conversation, simply by what words they use, the quality of their grammar, if they use expletives in casual conversation, if they have an accent, and other related indicators.

Diction is fairly easy to manipulate, particularly in childhood. People are nonetheless extremely resistant to changing their diction. Try correcting the grammar of anyone over six and see how it goes. Changing diction is only beneficial within specific subgroups. If you speak like you went to Eton in the rural south, you are going have trouble fitting in with the local social order. If you speak like you're from the rural South at Eton, you're likely to have the same problem. Thus, there is clear evidence that there is a manipulable and powerful indicator of social status that does not get manipulated, principally because it is unlikely to improve social status within a selected peer group, and thus is seen as a part of a person's identity.

This objection applies to your statement about race generally generally. An individual's race does not affect their social status objectively or in a specific direction. Many non-whites derive higher status within their existing social circle due to their race. This is emphatically not confined to low-status individuals; I grudgingly use Clarence Thomas as a rather obvious demonstration of this fact - he would never have attained such an important and respectable position without being black.

The idea that an innate trait shared by millions of people that often forms a key part of their identities would be voluntarily altered were the opportunity provided suggests, first, that you do not know many black people, and, second, that you have an extremely oversimplified and naive view of race, culture, and social status.

comment by Cyan · 2009-10-20T18:09:54.095Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Changing diction is only beneficial within specific subgroups.

Tangent: This can be played for laughs. I recall a scene in the TV show Weeds in which a black marijuana grower is asking a black friend for a favor in the latter's business-y place of work. The friend's white boss sticks his head in the room to ask for a report, and the friend's accent subtly shifts when replying to the request. After the boss leaves, the grower snerks at his friend for talking white.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T13:17:31.048Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I appreciate the link, but this isn't a matter of whether being black lowers social status - what I disputed is the original assertion that illness is defined by the effect on social status.

You're right that most people will undergo procedures to eliminate undesirable traits and create or enhance desirable ones - your body odor example is apt - but that's a lifestyle choice.

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T14:34:58.089Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems there's a misunderstanding here. I was talking about sufficient, not necessary conditions. There are obviously proper types of "illness" like cancer, flu, and such.

And on top of that, treatable things that lower social status, are very often added to the list. Can you think of many counterexamples?

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T15:43:12.149Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be quite frank, my chief objection was that expressions like "such-and-such is a disease" have been cover for prejudices in the past - for example, regarding homosexuality. But more to the point, race is seen as an intrinsic property of the person which cannot be eliminated even if the actual markers of race are eliminated (witness the one-sixteenth rules) - which would make it a genetic disorder which can only be managed, not eliminated. A "blackness" which is treatable is so different from the modern, Western sociological phenomenon we call "race" that it doesn't make sense to talk about it.

So it's a poor example that makes people uncomfortable, in sum.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-20T06:33:27.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Few traits that determine social status are easy to manipulate.

You appear to have a single-scale, and thus completely inaccurate, concept of social status. I'd hesitate to label anything as "offensive," because I don't really believe in offense, but you appear to be seriously naive and misinformed if your comments here are intended even slightly seriously.

One of the strongest markers of social status is diction and pronunciation. It is not a perfect indicator, but one can often deduce someone's social status from two minutes of conversation, simply by what words they use, the quality of their grammar, if they use expletives in casual conversation, if they have an accent, and other related indicators.

Diction is fairly easy to manipulate, particularly in childhood. People are nonetheless extremely resistant to changing their diction. Try correcting the grammar of anyone over six and see how it goes. Changing diction is only beneficial within specific subgroups. If you speak like you went to Eton in the rural south, you are going have trouble fitting in with the local social order. If you speak like you're from the rural South at Eton, you're likely to have the same problem. Thus, there is clear evidence that there is a manipulable and powerful indicator of social status that does not get manipulated, principally because it is unlikely to improve social status within a selected peer group, and thus is seen as a part of a person's identity.

This objection applies to your statement about race generally generally. An individual's race does not affect their social status objectively or in a specific direction. Many non-whites derive higher status within their existing social circle due to their race. This is emphatically not confined to low-status individuals; I grudgingly use Clarence Thomas as a rather obvious demonstration of this fact - he would never have attained such an important and respectable position without being black.

The idea that an innate trait shared by millions of people that often forms a key part of their identities would be voluntarily altered were the opportunity provided suggests, first, that you do not know many black people, and, second, that you have an extremely oversimplified and naive view of race, culture, and social status.

comment by bogus · 2009-10-20T12:55:05.024Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In case you don't believe being black lowers your social status in this culture, even four year old black children know it.

I'd like to see that experiment replicated in South-Saharan Africa, where "albinos" (white people) are persecuted as witches and said to have magical powers.

comment by taw · 2009-10-20T14:37:22.265Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being albino is completely unrelated to being "White". "White" and "Black" are not skin albedo designations, it's purely coincidental that they sound like that.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-20T14:50:27.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if "purely coincidental" is the right way to characterize that, but yeah, you can have an albino of any racial extraction.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-20T21:33:09.861Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-21T00:52:14.877Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every time I look at those albino black people, I think how creepy! And realize again how race is wired into my mind.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-10-20T05:22:10.138Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you just expressed the key insight here. If it's an illness, someone else pays for the treatment.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-21T02:53:31.522Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure if blackness could be treated, it would be consider an illness.

Does anyone remember a scene from the short-lived tv show Gideon's Crossing? I never watched it, but they hyped one episode ad nauseum by showing this one very relevant clip, which remember as follows:

A black doctor is trying convince a deaf woman to let her daughter get cochlear implants to cure her deafness.

Mother: You're saying that hearing people are better than deaf people.

Doctor: No, I'm saying it's easier.

Mother: Would your life be easier if you were white?

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-20T05:13:49.254Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it's just social status. I'm thinking of Ashley X as an example of this - her size and reproductive status don't seem to have anything to do with her social standing.

comment by teageegeepea · 2009-10-22T01:18:54.689Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who? Is that a member here we're all supposed to be aware of?

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-22T01:31:34.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm assuming it's this Ashley X, who I hadn't heard of before a cursory Google search.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-22T02:16:10.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep, sorry, I'd assumed that'd made the news outside the disability activism arena. My bad.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2009-10-22T03:37:45.399Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It did, but outside the disability activism area is itself a very large space that different people will be familiar with different parts of. There is no common culture; it's almost surprising the extent to which we (think we) can even talk to each other.

comment by knb · 2009-10-21T01:56:09.495Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No it wouldn't. You're crazy if you really think this. Anyone who tried to classify blackness as an illness would immediately be called racist (accurately) and become a hated social pariah, like a neo-nazi.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-21T02:15:54.622Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone who espoused that view openly, sure. That doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, in ways that weren't considered socially unacceptable. Looking 'more' black is already fairly widely 'treated' on an individual level by cosmetics and hair treatments, from what I've read, and that doesn't get much outcry. I've also read that 'more black-looking' black people have trouble finding mates, even among the black community. If that's accurate (and I have no idea, honestly) it could also be counted as another form of 'treatment', in a long term sense, by way of natural(?) selection.

comment by taw · 2009-10-21T10:46:06.078Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Push to get rid of their low status traits usually comes from low status people, or parents who don't want their children to stay low status (or people who sell them the treatment).

People already use some highly harmful substances to make their skin paler. Paler skin requires doesn't give even a tiny fraction of benefits of being really "white", and side effects are far greater than what I proposed. By extrapolation if there was a magic pill you could take to make yourself permanently Caucasian without any significant side effects, plenty of black people would take it, what would increase status gap even further, until only tiny fraction of people stayed black.

Nobody says blackness is an illness now, because you cannot change it. If it ever became easily changeable, that would change very quickly. Of course we are unlikely to see this being tested, as such procedure seems unlikely to occur.

Here's data on how being "White" as opposed to "Black" drastically increases your mate selection opportunities. There's earnings gap, lifespan gap, larger chance of being a crime victim when you're "Black". It's naive to think that people would stay "Black" voluntarily if it was a matter of choice.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-21T14:21:43.572Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except the reasoning on the OkCupid blog is completely worthless because of this little note:

We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.

In other words, they fucking control for physical attractiveness. If men found e.g. Black women more physically attractive en masse, their charts wouldn't reflect that. What actual effect they were measuring, exactly, is a mystery to me at the moment.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-21T14:51:01.876Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What actual effect they were measuring, exactly, is a mystery to me at the moment.

Perhaps either falsification in beauty rankings ('that black chick isn't too hot, but for a black chick she's pretty good, so I will give her a high rating even though I'd likely ignore her'), or the exact opposite ("she's hot, but I'd rather an equally hot white chick"); oh the irony...

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-21T14:52:45.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

that black chick isn't too hot, but for a black chick she's pretty good

...Wow, that's another great catch. I really should've thought of that one myself. Kudos.

OkCupid, are you here? Are you listening? =)

comment by taw · 2009-10-21T16:25:30.234Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People don't just look at pictures when they decide if they're attracted to someone, and correction was only for picture attractiveness.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-21T14:29:54.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why in the world does this make it worthless? They've discovered an effect above and beyond any possible aesthetic trends in the assorted races; if they hadn't included that control, the data could be written off with "well, maybe white men are just all so ridiculously attractive, of course people write them back".

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-21T14:34:00.486Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is that if you're trying to detect racism, the variables you're controlling for had better be independent of racism, which in this case they obviously aren't. Actual racism could go either way and still be consistent with their findings. At the very least I'd like to see the data before and after applying the control; this would give us more information, but probably wouldn't let the OkCupid team make sweeping generalizations about me like "White guys are shitty" (actual quote).

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-21T14:59:27.581Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Attractiveness is wildly subjective. If people find the features of minority races to be less attractive than the features of white people, that just is a type of racism. Any possible objective standard of physical attractiveness (candidates include symmetry, youth, koinophilia relative to the world population, health) would have only the weakest possible correlation with race.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-21T15:06:21.172Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nearby in this thread, gwern gave an example of how an attractiveness rating can be influenced by factors other than actual subjective attractiveness to the rater... and how those factors can be related to, yes, race. If after reading his comment you'll still think you know an unambiguous way to interpret the post-control data that OkCupid published, I'd really like to hear it. To me the whole situation looks more like a trainwreck.

comment by Cyan · 2009-10-21T15:07:48.221Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to predict someone's actual response rate, the model is fine -- you can get an accurate prediction by plugging in that person's information into the model, provided they're in the attractiveness stratum of the data pool used to fit the model. But for OkCupid's claimed causal inference, we're interested in counterfactual inquiries like, "What sort of response rate would black woman X get if she were white?" But we can't twiddle just the race variable in the model to get the answer: if X were white, her attractiveness rating would be different too, and she might end up in a different stratum than the one addressed by the model. Since there are no results for that counterfactual stratum, the model cannot address the counterfactual, i.e., it can't be used to make causal claims.

ETA: Andrew Gelman calls this the fallacy of controlling for an intermediate outcome.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-21T18:42:59.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the link, that description applies to OkCupid's analysis perfectly.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-21T23:44:48.006Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They also ignore massive selection effects. Most significant, and obvious, is the fact that most OKCupid users are white. If I were a black or Asian person interested only in other people of my race, it would be much wiser for me to find a site dedicated to finding people of my race, which exist. If I'm white and I only want to date white people, there are so many that I'll be just fine.

comment by taw · 2009-10-21T16:23:42.944Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They were measuring person-attractiveness, not picture-attractiveness.

Reply rates depend on what person's profile says, how they act in messaging etc. A black person with similar picture-attractiveness and height will be much less overall attractive than a white person.

Feel free to ask them for uncorrected data, or picture-attractiveness by race, the effect might very well turn out to be even stronger.

comment by Cyan · 2009-10-21T14:42:19.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice catch!

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-21T18:18:20.226Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are certainly some blacks who value lighter skin and straighter hair, but saying that they really want to become white makes as much sense as saying that a white woman who gets a tan really wants to become black. Two other major problems:

plenty of black people would take it, what would increase status gap even further, until only tiny fraction of people stayed black.

This does not follow. It would depend on what subgroup took it and which did not. I also think you seriously need to go talk to some actual black people before you make this claim.

There's earnings gap, lifespan gap, larger chance of being a crime victim when you're "Black". It's naive to think that people would stay "Black" voluntarily if it was a matter of choice.

You assume that, holding all else constant, but changing people's skin color, all these things would go away. This actually sounds like cartoonish, 18th-century-style racism to me. I would love to see some theoretical description of the problems faced by blacks such that merely changing their skin color/facial features would solve most or all of these problems - I rather believe they're caused by complex social, cultural, and economic factors that are ultimately independent of race. You could carve out a subsection of whites with similar characteristics, if you picked the right selection criteria.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-21T20:28:20.994Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could carve out a subsection of whites with similar characteristics, if you picked the right selection criteria.

Allow me to suggest "rednecks" as a candidate.

comment by knb · 2009-10-21T17:33:50.741Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Using cosmetics to lighten skin is NOT the same as trying to "heal blackness". White people often darken their skin with chemicals (sunless tanning). This is NOT because they don't want to be white, or because they are trying to "heal whiteness". This is just a cosmetic change. In the United States at least, blackness is a boolean data type. You either are black or not. Being 25% black=Black all the way. Lightening skin is not about decreasing blackness.

Nobody says blackness is an illness now, because you cannot change it. If it ever became easily changeable, that would change very quickly.

Not a chance. Deaf people face all sorts of real world challenges and discrimination, but they often don't cure their deafness (say, with cochlear implants) because they feel a sense of comraderie. Black people would face overwhelming social scorn if they chose to become white. Black people who are considered even slightly

comment by taw · 2009-10-22T09:46:57.671Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not a chance. Deaf people face all sorts of real world challenges and discrimination, but they often don't cure their deafness (say, with cochlear implants) because they feel a sense of comraderie. Black people would face overwhelming social scorn if they chose to become white. Black people who are considered even slightly

I'm glad you're mentioning it, I didn't as I thought it was far too clear the opposite way.

So, in spite of very high cost (estimated $45k-$105k) of cochlear implants, very low quality of sound (described by some as human language sounding like "a croaking dalek with laryngitis"), requirement of surgery with possibility of complications, unpredictability of results, very short battery life (1-3 days), requirement of bulky external equipment (this problem is getting gradually solved) etc., popularity of cochlear implants exploded from 49k users worldwide in 2002 to 150k users in 2008.

I'd be willing to bet any money in prediction markets at imminent death of the "deaf culture" in a few generations (or for practical reasons some proxy like popularity of cochlear implants, percentage of deaf children in developing country learning sign languages etc.)

Some people from the "deaf culture" are protesting because they built their identity on this back when it was not treatable (so "not an illness"). Now as it's treatable it's considered an illness by the society, most importantly by parents of deaf children, and people who recently lost hearing. That's exactly the shift I predicted.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-10-21T22:43:22.971Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Black people would face overwhelming social scorn if they chose to become white.

Really?

Then again...

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-21T17:42:13.538Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not a chance. Deaf people face all sorts of real world challenges and discrimination, but they often don't cure their deafness (say, with cochlear implants) because they feel a sense of comraderie. Black people would face overwhelming social scorn if they chose to become white

Not to spam it everywhere, but here's an exchange that summarizes the parallels between the two cases.

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-21T14:15:36.671Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that this happened with, for instance, Italian immigrants to the US. There was a huge industry in teaching immigrants to look/act/talk more like Americans. This probably resulted from anti-Italian discrimination, especially during WWII.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-20T02:25:18.508Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Functionally? As far as I can tell, it's when the majority of people (or, people with power over the people in question) decide they prefer people without that trait.

comment by pwno · 2009-10-20T18:47:26.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But when it comes to traits that determine social status, people benefit from keeping lower status people - lower status. For instance, I wouldn't want anyone shorter than me - that I don't care about - becoming any taller; that puts me at a disadvantage.

I think a better way to determine a treatable defect: When the majority of people feel sorry for you because of the traits you have and therefore feel compelled to treat those traits. [I believe you're saying the same thing, but I added the sympathy part]. This raises the issue of what traits should reach this threshold of sympathy. As we know, a human emotion is not the best marker for doing the utilitarian thing to do. There must be a different, more objective metric that determines what a defect is.

comment by DanArmak · 2009-10-20T19:05:04.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But when it comes to traits that determine social status, people benefit from keeping lower status people - lower status. For instance, I wouldn't want anyone shorter than me - that I don't care about - becoming any taller; that puts me at a disadvantage.

That would be true if shorter people were a large subcommunity, or if short stature was correlated with other status-relevant traits. But when only the shortest 1-2% people are treated, and their new height isn't above average, most people's status shouldn't be negatively affected enough to notice.

The people whose status would be affected are those who are significantly short, but not short enough to qualify for treatment (funded by society). This might depend on the exact shape of the height distribution curve...

comment by pwno · 2009-10-20T19:12:18.377Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

his might depend on the exact shape of the height distribution curve...

Right. It could be that increasing the height of the bottom 1-2% by a notable difference will get them to be as tall as, say, 5% of men i.e. negatively affecting 5% of men, in exchange for helping 1-2%. It's not clear whether the trade-off will be worth it.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2009-10-21T12:15:59.963Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er... the lowest 1-2% is a subset of the lowest 5%. So they'd actually be helping 1-2% at the expense of 3-4%.

You're also assuming that height is judged on a percentile basis - that being one of the shortest 1% is bad regardless of how different that is from the average height - and I'm not at all sure that's accurate. It seems much more likely to me that height is judged relative to the judger's height, so a 6" difference is a 6" difference (with variations between how different people react to a 6" difference, of course) regardless of whether there are many, few, or no shorter people in the population. This is purely theoretical (I'm not sure it stands up to being thought of in terms of how people are socialized to react to each other), but my point is really that there are several ways the height difference issue could actually work.

comment by pwno · 2009-10-21T16:19:30.830Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I said "5% of men" not "the bottom 5% of men."

comment by teageegeepea · 2009-10-20T15:55:14.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reminded of Kip Werking's The Inevitability of a Medicalized Society.