Modern and Historical Superstitions about Teething

While reading research on teething pain, I came across several shocking historic superstitious beliefs about the topic. Ready for this?

Have you ever heard of gum lancing?
"The procedure was conducted in the absence of any anaesthesia, generally requiring two incisions crossing at 90° overlying the 'difficult' tooth...Few doctors challenged (or would even contemplate challenging) the rationale for gum-lancing, such was their unquestioning belief in its potentially life-saving effect. Only in the late 19th century did a few sceptics publicly doubt both the rationale and supposed effect of gum-lancing"
Teething as the main cause of infant mortality: 
"Around one half of all infant deaths in 18th century France were attributed to teething, and teething accounted for 12% of the total deaths in children younger than 4 years old in the Registrar General's Report of 1842."
The hare brain solution to teething was pretty... hair brained:
"In 117ad, the physician Soranus of Ephesus was the first to suggest using hare's brain to ease teething. This remained a favoured remedy until the seventeenth century."
If you run short of hare brain in your pantry worry not, lamb's brain will work just as well.

Not sure why your 6 month old is vomiting? Probably just teething:
"Eighteenth and nineteenth century therapies were varied and depended on local superstition and the beliefs of the attending physician. Doses of mercury salts, opiates, purgatives and emetics were recommended, even if the child was experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting beforehand. With modern understanding of diseases it is likely that dehydration was largely responsible for many of the signs, symptoms and deaths associated with teething."
Modern myths about teething aren't any less superstitious, although they seem far less dangerous.

After reading research I came away thinking that there isn't much reason to believe teething is painful.
"Teething pain, sometimes referred to as “dentitio difficilis”, is the commonest symptom associated with the eruption of the primary dentition. Despite a reported prevalence of around 85%, evidence for this condition is weak. Adults assume an infant is experiencing pain because they appear distressed, or because they believe the incisal edges of teeth “cut through” the alveolar bone and gingiva during eruption."
Some Weak evidence:
"there is only weak evidence for pain and no evidence to support the wide array of systemic signs and symptoms often attributed to teething by parents, child carers and health care professionals...
If some pain is experienced during teething, this will be impossible to assess reliably because infants cannot communicate their pain specifically or describe their pain experience explicitly. Instead, adults interpret various cues (vocalization, facial expression, body movements and changes in breathing rates) and attribute these to pain in the infant. Such cues are not specific and are caused by other forms of stress or distress."

Teething considered a wastebasket diagnosis for when you can't find anything else.
"Although many of the conditions historically thought to result from teething are now accurately diagnosed as specific clinical entities, the enigma of teething continues to endure as a somewhat wastebasket diagnosis, when no cause can be found for a particular sign or symptom."
Teething produces nothing but teeth, 
'Teething' is an ill-defined non evidence-based entity proffered by both health care professionals and lay people as an inappropriate diagnosis for a wide variety of signs and symptoms... 
RS Illingsworth statement, 'Teething produces nothing but teeth.' is a straightforward summation of the actual process of teething... 
Studies could not identify systemic manifestations such as decreased appetite for liquids, congestion, sleep disturbances, daytime restlessness, loose stools, vomiting, cough, body rash, fever greater than 38.90C, an increase in finger-sucking, and gum rubbing to be associated with teething in children."
A Finland study found few symptoms of teething,

"Tasanen studied teething infants in North Finland, with daily recording of temperature, appearance of gums, presence of infections and disturbances of behaviour.2 He showed that tooth eruption bore no relation at all to infection, diarrhoea, fever, rash, convulsions, sleep disturbance, cough or ear rubbing."
If teething is so painful, why doesn't it cause pain other times?
"The eruption of permanent teeth is free from the symptoms frequently ascribed to the eruption of the deciduous teeth."
Teeth don't cut through anything,
"Teeth, whether primary or permanent, do not “cut” through bone, connective tissue and oral epithelium during eruption as an eruption pathway is formed by via bone remodelling. The lack of any significant “teething pain” associated with eruption of permanent teeth is remarkable. Although it can be argued that in older children there is greater pain tolerance and lower pain sensitivity compared to infants."
Also read The Teething Virus.

Bigots and Bullshitters

In my travels through idea land, I often cross paths with people I consider bigots and people I consider bullshitters. They're on different ends of the intellectual domain, but they have something in common, their membership seems to be an overresponse to the other. Bigots slip into bigotry because they hate the bullshit, and bullshitters embrace the bullshit because they fear becoming bigots. They both think they're protecting society from the other, but in fact, they unknowingly maintain a symbiotic relationship.

Spanking and Vaccines

Earlier, I wrote a post called Short Term Pain Long Term Trauma. It said that when parents make their children suffer, the potential for long-term trauma should be the same regardless of whether the suffering was justified. Two examples of this might be spanking and vaccinations. I want to zoom in on these examples now.

No Pain No Trauma

Story 1: Mr. bad parent pushes his 4-year-old son to the ground for no reason. The son scrapes his elbow and bangs his head. After a trip to the emergency room finds that the son will be fine, the child wonders, "why would daddy do this?" Although the incident resulted in no physical trauma to the child's head, the psychological trauma takes a toll. The child goes on to get fewer years of education, receives a lower income and is more likely to end up in prison.

Story 2: Mr. good parent pushes his 4-year-old son to the ground and out of the way of a moving vehicle. The son scrapes his elbow and bangs his head. After a trip to the emergency room finds that the son will be fine, the child, too young to understand what happened, wonders, "why would daddy do this?" Although the incident resulted in no physical trauma to the child's head, the psychological trauma takes a toll. The child goes on to get fewer years of education, receives a lower income and is more likely to end up in prison.

2019 December Links

1. Is Economic Growth a Moral Imperative? A structurally odd talk by Tyler Cowen.

2. Blank-slate feminists and socially conservative gender essentialists make up a small proportion of the population, but social media keeps feeding moderate, sane people the excesses of either side.
"Despite the best research we have indicating that issues of gender seem to be partially innate and partially the result of social learning, with serious and informed debates negotiating how much role each plays, the culture war over gender consumes all of this reasonable middle ground and hopelessly polarizes the discussion."
The Pendulum Need Not Swing

3. Race, Genetics, and Pseudo-science: an Explainer
If an alien, arriving on Earth with no knowledge of our social history, wished to categorise human ancestry purely on the basis of genetic data, they would find that any consistent scheme must include many distinct groups within Africa that are just as different from each other as Africans are to non-Africans
I know a lot of this stuff already, but it's nice that someone packaged it all up together and wrote a scientifically credible, "here's why race realism is wrong" paper.

4. Is "nother" a word? As in, "a whole nother level?"

Of course, it is. If we say it then it's a word. Even if it weren't in the dictionary (which it is) it would be the dictionary's mistake for not including a word we say all the time.

As I type this, nother gets spelled check underlined depending on whether the words "a whole" is behind it.

By all accounts, nother is a word, it's just a structurally odd verbal abomination that doesn't get written very often.

I don't immediately interpret this as a bad thing. Even if younger people hold a smaller percentage of the wealth, they will eventually get older and hold more of it.

6. Open Boarders are a Trillion Dollar Idea. Bryan Caplan published at

7. This old debate video between Elizabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker on why there aren't more women in science is one of my favorites.

8. In a previous post, I observed that Google promoted a perfectly secular "true meaning" of Christmas. I thought this ignores millions of evangelicals who celebrate it as a religious holiday, and that, just like other symbols, Christmas means different things to different people.

I've noticed this sort of thing before, but now I feel like I should start documenting them.'s list of synonyms for "Politically Correct" is really weird. Political Correctness is very unpopular, the word is used in a derogatory way all the time, yet none of its synonyms have any negative connotations. On the contrary, some of the synonyms they list are, "non-racist" "non-sexist" "inclusive" and my personal favorite, "political views bias-free"

9. I normally wouldn't give conspiracy theories the time of day, but John Mcwhorter and Glenn Loury are no fools.

10. Matt Taibbi entered my radar after an interview with Joe RoganHere is a very good talk by him on Donald Trump's exploitation of the news media. The questions at the end are good. Drink every time he says, "in the old days..."

11. A reporter for Newsweek wrote that Donald Trump would spend Thanksgiving, "tweeting golfing and more." In actuality, Donald Trump visited troops in Afghanistan. The reporter has now been fired.

I wonder, what would have happened if Donald Trump hadn't surprised the troops? Why do journalists feel like they can just make things up?

12. This is the Global Slavery Index which claims tens of millions of people are slaves.

Of course, I'm skeptical so I look into their methodology. They use the term "modern" slavery frequently, which initially made me suspect they were toying with definitions to get their shocking results.

The first category they call slavery is forced marriage, which a lot of countries still practice. Being treated like a slave in regard to one very important decision in your life is kinda like slavery. But it's different from being forced through violence into a full-time workweek (dare I trivialize forced marriage?)

The other category of slavery I'm skeptical of is wage slavery. It's the idea that if you're paid subsistence wages then you are basically a slave. Of course, there is an important difference between coercion and very low wages, that is when you take away the coercion the person is naturally placed into better alternatives, whereas if you take away the very low wages the person is naturally placed into worse alternatives. It's unclear whether the Global Slavery Index includes so-called wage slavery, but based on the questions they ask I suspect maybe they don't.

13. Earlier I wrote about the fantastic humor of Christian conservative site Babylon Bee. Here is a Reason interview with Babylon Bee

14. Moral acceptability according to public opinion:

15. Steven Pinker writes,
"Still, the prissy banning of words by academics should be resisted. It dumbs down understanding of language: word meanings are conventions, not spells with magical powers, and all words have multiple senses, which are distinguished in context...."
Which reminds me of what I wrote in the post, Swearing Children 

16. Ideological (A)symmetries in prejudice and intergroup bias: more evidence that conservatives aren't especially prejudiced, but rather liberal researchers are worse at researching liberal prejudices.

17. From Bloomberg,
"The world would have held carbon emissions steady since 2007 if it wasn't for the huge increase from China and India."
18. This paper shows, "no evidence was found to suggest that this medium was positively related to real-world violence in the United States. Unexpectedly, many of the results were suggestive of a decrease in violent crime in response to violent video games"

This sociology textbook cites the same paper to claim, "there is a relationship between violent video games and aggression in the player."

Why do research if people are going to make stuff up?

19. CNN reports that high-level radiation spots will be present at the 2020 Olypics in Japan. It cites a study done by GreenpeaceSome people disagree claiming Greenpeace did the analysis at the wrong elevation.

20. A guide to drinking: what is true and what is not. By my brother.

21. Donald Trump has been impeached, which anyone should have predicted. Here is some information about impeachment:

I don't have strong opinions on impeachment, but I check election betting odds frequently. Donald Trump has never been above 50% until news of his impeachment broke.

22. Ever hear that suicide rates go up around this time of the year? No it doesn't. It actually goes down.

23. Eric Weinstein talks to Tyler Cowen. They talk about music, economics, and the end of mankind. Bret Weinstein talks to Sam Harris. They talk a lot about free will. All six hours of conversation is great.

24. It's never a bad time to review the profiles of the hidden tribes.

25. The sad story of the man who spent 38 years in prison for stealing $9.

26. PaperSci-hub
"despite clear evidence of implicit bias against Black suspects, officers were slower to shoot armed Black suspects than armed White suspects, and they were less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than unarmed White suspects."
27.  "The world would have held carbon emissions steady since 2007 if it wasn't for the huge increase from China and India"

28. Allsides rates Vox's political leanings with their furthest left rating. They used to give Vox a "leans left" rating. I read someone recently who said Vox's left turn was the result of Ezra Klein stepping down as editor-and-chief in 2017.

The media bias graphic from Allsides, which one is most objectionable?

29. A sociology textbook cites research to prove the opposite of what the research says.

30. Using combinations of personality traits one can predict whether one is male or female 85% of the time. Must be because we give girls dolls.
"There now exists four large-scale studies that use this multivariate methodology (see here, here, here, and here). All four studies are conducted cross-culturally and report on an analysis of narrow personality traits (which, as you may recall, is where most of the action is when it comes to sex differences). Critically, all four studies converge on the same basic finding: when looking at the overall gestalt of human personality, there is a truly striking difference between the typical male and female personality profiles."
One of the studies was conducted on a million people in 50 countries. Bigger sex differences in personality showed up in scandinavian countries. Smaller sex differences in personality showed up in Southeast Asian countries. Depending on the country personality was able to predict sex with 77%-93% accuracy.

31. Related:  New York Times: The tendency for males to be more violent in girls isn't innate.

Here's why that's wrong:
1. Culture spends more time discouraging male aggression than female aggression. Males are more aggressive despite culture, not because of it.
2. Sex differences in aggression appear early and stays the same until puberty. Why doesn't socialization before puberty pry sexes apart?
3. After puberty, sex differences suddenly skyrockets. Coincidence?
4. Male aggression steadily nosedives throughout the remainder of life. Socialization doesn't explain this.
5. Sex differences in aggression is found in every country in the world. Male homicide rate is higher everywhere and usually much higher.
6. Sex differences in adolescent physical aggression are larger, not smaller, in more gender equal nations.
7. Comparable sex differences in aggression is found in other animals. Male chimps commit 92% of chimpicides.

32. How do you earn more in Canada? Use your brain and work hard.

33. We know that campaigns that earn more money win more elections. But why? Is it because money can buy elections? Or is it because campaigns that are good at raising money have the same qualities as campaigns that are good at getting votes?

How to tell the difference? Look at self-financed campaigns to see if they're correlated with election success. (Spoiler: they aren't)

34. Thousands of people are bitten by venomous snakes every year, only a handful die.

35. Robin Hanson sees no signs of an automation revolution. Sorry Yang.

36. Who's attracted to who?

Intelligence is Truth's Double Edged Sword

It might seem obvious that smarter people attain more truth. I don't think that's true. I see intellectual honesty as the prime driver of truth attainment, and intelligence is a stimulant to however much intellectual honesty one does or does not bring to the table.

If you have both intelligence and intellectual honesty then you will find the most truth. (1st best)
If you have intelligence but not intellectual honesty then you will find the least truth. (4th best)
If you don't have intelligence but have intellectual honesty, you will find more truth (2nd best)
If you don't have both intelligence and intellectual honesty, then you will find less truth. (3rd best)

What do I mean by intellectual honesty? I mean care that one is reasoning for the purpose of true conclusions rather than preferred conclusions. Intellectual honesty is rooted in integrity, which I define as a concern for consistency. If one has integrity then they will be intellectually honest so they can live with consistency between thoughts, between thoughts and actions, and between thoughts, actions, and what one says.

In this view, intellectual honesty will always give you more truth than intellectual dishonesty. Intelligence, on the other hand, will pair with either intellectual honesty or intellectual dishonesty to give you even more truth or even less. Intellectual honest people use intelligence to find truth. Intellectually dishonest people use intelligence to argue for their desired conclusions.

It's rarely explicit. Nobody thinks to themselves, "I'm going to lie to myself about this." Integrity is a value that, under our cognitive hood, competes with other values. If you value consistency less than, say, community, then you'll naturally use your intelligence to find conclusions that get along with other people rather than attain truth. If you value consistency less than, say, being right, then you'll naturally use your intelligence to find the conclusions you started with. If you value consistency less than say, status, then you'll naturally use your intelligence to find conclusions that associate you with high status. Perhaps these are conclusions that agree with your boss, or are the conclusions other smart people have come to.

All these competing values are spectrums that we tradeoff on the margin. The more you care about community compared to consistency, the lower your non-conformity budget will be. You might spend some of that budget on some unusual beliefs that separate you from your groups, but you can only tolerate so much of society's disdain before you won't take on any more controversial ideas.

I'm a radical non-conformist. I take on many unpopular beliefs because they seem right to me. That's because of some combination of not valuing other things like community very much, and valuing consistency a lot. I would like to believe that it's because I value consistency so much, but I worry that it's more about not sufficiently appreciating other values like community or status. While I used to have a strong desire to have friends, it seems like I don't anymore. I spend very little time considering my general friendlessness and few resources trying to resolve it. And I've written a post that illustrates a disgust with status seeking.

On the other hand, my willingness to consider that my true motive is not integrity is a deeply integral thing to do. I don't spend many resources on social utility, but maybe it's already satisfied by the highly sociable kind of work that I do. Maybe my written criticism of status was mostly concerned with the way status-seeking crowds out integrity. It wasn't about not valuing status itself, but how much we have to give up in order to have it.

Anyway, I don't even know what valuing something more or less even means if it's not in regard to other values. Is it possible to value something more without valuing anything else less? Can one have more or less total values?

I place a high probability that I'm smart but not really smart (80% confidence my IQ between 115-135). Sometimes people in my life think I'm really smart, but I think they're actually perceiving one or several personality quirks. Rationality is not intelligence but a strange set of values. I think it yields me more truth than intelligence would, but I pay for it in other ways.

What's with Babylon Bee?

Good comedy transcends politics. It doesn't participate in it.

The Babylon Bee is a good example of this. It doesn't take much to figure out they're a Christian conservative organization - not a group I'd expect to make me laugh out loud. But man, their headlines are incredible. I think that's because someone in their organization has figured out how to transcend the culture war and write genuinely funny stuff.

Is My Penis Big Enough? And other important questions you search on the internet

Dozens of studies have been done on average penis size and they all come out to the same approximately the same thing. 99% of the people around you have a penis size anywhere from 13cm (5 inches) to 30cm (1 foot). They average at about 20cm, which is about as long as the typical remote control.

Does it matter? Researchers have looked at this too. Studies show penis size is the single most important determinant of male attractiveness. When shown figures of naked males, only 2% of women ranked any man with less than average penis size more than a 4 out of 10 in attractiveness. Basically, if you're not above average, it's impossible for the vast majority of women to find you attractive.

In Defense of Trivialization

I notice that, especially in the social media environment, if you do not exaggerate every problem to a 10 you can get called out for "trivializing" it. If by trivializing, they mean "make less important than the exaggerated claim" then good job. Trivialize away. If they mean, "make less important than appropriate", then that would be a serious mistake.

But the accusation of "trivializing" is a method of marking and swiping away anyone who does believe the problem is less than maximum. This dismissal ignores that one can trivialize from an exaggeration or from reality. If a claim is an exaggeration then trivializing it is good. If a claim is accurate then trivializing it is bad. Overrating or underrating problems is inferior to rating problems accurately. However, the accusation that one is trivializing expels all arguments without regard for the quality of the trivialization.

Parents: Make Norms not Rules

It is strange that parents will shut off the television running in the background because they don't want their child to pick up any bad language, but the same parents will also force their children to say please and thank you. For some reason, they seem to believe children will pick up bad language but need to be trained to use good language. I think this point of view especially prevalent among conservatives who think people start out evil and have to be fixed. But objectively, child language acquisition works the same way for bad words as for good.