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Practically-A-Book Review: Luna Whitepaper

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They say money can’t buy love. But that was the bad old days of fiat money. Now there are dozens of love-based cryptocurrencies – LoveCoin, CupidCoin, Erosium, Nubilo – with market caps in the mid nine-figures. The 17-year-old genius behind CupidCoin just bought the state of Tennessee. You think I’m joking, but can you be sure? How weird is “too weird to be true” these days, and how confident are you in your answer?

Case in point: Luna, which bills itself as blockchain-optimized dating. They caught my attention by hiring Aella, previously featured on this blog for her adventures taking LSD megadoses weekly for a year. They kept it with their cutesy story about how the name “Luna” comes from founder Andre Ornish’s first word – adorable, until you consider that any baby whose first word is in Latin is definitely possessed. And they maintained it because – well, goodness knows we need new dating sites now that OKCupid has devolved into an off-brand Tinder clone. So let’s look through the white paper and see what they’ve got.

Most dating sites suffer from attention imbalance: men scrounge around for anyone willing to acknowledge their existence; women get inundated with countless desperate messages they don’t want. Luna solves this by making attention a commodity tradeable on the free market. Users who want to catch someone else’s attention can bid the local cryptocurrency, Stars, to get their message to the top of another user’s queue; all Stars spent in this way go to the user receiving the message. Stars can be bought with dollars and vice versa, so popular users can actually earn money reading all the messages sent to them.

This system has some pretty powerful advantages. Market forces are the known solution to the problem of connecting resources to their highest-value use. So if you treat user attention as a resource you can trust the market to allocate it optimally – in this case, to the guy who’s just realized he’s your soulmate, rather than the guy who’s spamming everyone with five dick pics.

But everywhere this solution is tried, it runs up against its one great weakness – rich people with mild preferences can outbid poor people with strong ones. I can’t predict how this particular market will clear, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be a big problem here. If the market rate for a certain user’s messages were $1, then even the poorest person could afford to send a message to a potential soulmate. And even a well-off person might hesitate to send out a hundred messages a day, every day. And if he didn’t? Well, getting paid $100/day to read messages on a dating site doesn’t sound like the worst outcome. Also, really good information about preferences in exchange for a biased system that favors the wealthy has been the deal Capitalism has been offering since Adam Smith first put quill to paper; it seems kind of weird to back out now.

A more practical issue: how long before someone finds a photo of a supermodel, limits their profile to “I AM A NYMPHOMANIAC”, and watches everyone trip over themselves to send paid messages? Luna alludes to vague plans to “verify” profiles, which could mean anything from “you have to Photoshop a picture halfway convincingly” to “you have to get an actual pretty girl to help with your scam”. Neither of these seem like too high a bar. Better is their offer to provide data, including how often users respond to messages and how often users meet with other users:

When choosing to attach Stars to his message, Bob should receive information such as the number of unread messages in Alice’s queue, an internally calculated reply quality indicator, and confirmation on whether Alice’s account is verified.

I’m still skeptical. I have bots pretending to be pretty women try to friend me on Facebook something like once a week, even though I have no idea what their endgame is or how this results in them making money. If Luna gives a real incentive for the scam, they’re going to have to beat Facebook pretty handily if they want to succeed here.

More promising than any individual claim they make about how they’re going to fix things, is their claim that they’re incentivized to fix them. OKCupid famously wrote about Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating, the answer being that it incentivizes dating sites to keep you single – after all, the longer you’re single, the longer you’ll keeping spending money on dating sites. Even if that sounds a little cartoon-villainish, at the very least it doesn’t incentivize sites to do a good job matching you up. Luna claims that their model gives them a profit only when it succeeds:

At Luna, we intend to structure the token economy in such a way that our system is rewarded when users achieve their goals, thus aligning our own incentives with those of our users and ensuring that all data, AI, and machine learning technology will be used to actually connect people…the approach consists of two parts:

1. Fees which comprise Luna’s revenue only occur in the case of successful communication. As described in Ÿ 3.1, when a user receives and reads a message boosted with Stars, they also receive the Stars used to boost that message. Luna intends to take a small fee for this transaction, but only if the recipient responds to the message within a window of a number of days yet to be determined. If the recipient does not respond, or only responds after more than this number of days, this fee will be re-paid to the sender. The number of Stars transferred to the recipient, however, will remain the same, whether they respond to the message or not. In this way Luna’s nancial incentives will be aligned with users’ goals at Stage IV in the exchanging of messages.

2. Possibility of tipping in case of successful offline dates. Another way to provide incentive for Luna to help achieve its users’ goals is to allow users to tip the platform after the achievement of Stage V in the completion of a successful date. As described in 3.2.4, we intend to make feedback polls available after dates. Once users have rated their experience, Luna will then allow them to choose whether to leave a tip of their choice in the form of Stars. As this is a voluntary option, it should have no effect on user feedback. Tipping a platform is an infeasible idea in the context of currently existing dating apps; however, the free and direct-to-user benefits of Luna may register to users as something more resembling the mechanisms of Wikipedia: a free, friendly, and user-contributed service, rather than a platform like Match.com, which can feel exploitative. A tipping option may thus encourage a feeling of alliance with Luna in the user.

In this way, rather than recreating disparities which exist between the goals of current dating platforms and their users, Luna’s financial incentives and user goals will coincide.

I can imagine all sorts of horrible misalignments between maximizing-number-of-responded-to-messages and maximizing user satisfaction, but for now I’ll just admit this seems nice and I appreciate the effort.

Luna’s last major promise is to use cutting-edge machine-learning techniques to come up with a good match algorithm:

Despite significant technological advances in information processing, storage, and retrieval, online dating has yet to optimally integrate machine learning for the user’s benefit. A typical ML task for online dating might be to predict the level of compatibility between two users from a given set of input data, thus predicting for example whether one user is likely to respond to another user’s message […]

Luna may adopt a collaborative filtering algorithm developed by Dr. Kang Zhao. In addition, Luna may use advanced NLP techniques in conjunction with IBM Watson to integrate additional information from the contents of messages sent in-app, as well as from social media sources such as Twitter, if users choose to provide that information.

They’re right that this seems like a perfect use case for machine learning techniques, and that this possibility has been woefully underexplored. With all due respect to OKCupid’s excellent match algorithm (my girlfriend played with it one day and found that her two highest matches in the entire world were me and her ex), there’s a lot of room for improvement here. I find the idea of letting users link their social media accounts to provide more data really fascinating, and this reassures me that the attempts at incentive-alignment above really do have them thinking about how they can do better.

One part of the white paper I still don’t understand: why is it on a blockchain? They write:

For us to ever find out [how to design a match algorithm that really increases human happiness], we are going to require an open data ecosystem around computer dating. Blockchain is an integral part of that – it’s what pays the bills to do the science and, in the case of Luna, it nicely and accurately solves one of the key problems in the computer dating arena: cut-and-paste messages spammed over huge numbers of people, resulting in an ever-lower number of good quality genuinely interested messages, hidden in an ever larger sea of dating spam. Just getting rid of that dynamic once and for all would be a great result, but I think that Luna offers far, far more.

By establishing the decentralized paradigm in dating, Luna helps to remake dating culture. Luna is not a service or a place, like Tinder or a bar. Luna is a method, and a method which can be continually improved using techniques like A/B testing, until it is genuinely producing better lives for people. Because blockchain techniques allow for sophisticated tools to be developed to align economic interests between (say) search algorithm designers and individual users, or between users and other users who don’t like spam (i.e. everybody), the possibility exists to not only solve the questionable agency of the current generation of dating app providers, but to create positive agency to do something really, really new. We could pay the best people in the world to design algorithms to match other people, and make them happy.

I don’t know what they mean by “open data ecosystem”. I assume they’re not going to let everybody see all the data – I don’t necessarily want my parents to be able to know who I just sent a message to. But if not, how does “open data” help other people design match engines? Why is their crypto token more efficient than paying for Second Life in Linden Dollars, or any of the other silly token currencies that have existed forever on the Internet?

So what is blockchain doing for them? The null hypothesis might be: the same thing it does for Long Island Blockchain Tea and half a million other scams. I have hopes that Luna isn’t a scam. It employs some people I know and trust. The incentives and economics of their product seem very well-thought-through – so much so that if it’s a scam somebody else ought to be doing the same thing for real. And they’re partnered with GiveWell and other effective charities in a way that suggests they want a lot of the money to go to altruism anyway. These are…signs. But I’ve been told you can’t be too paranoid in this area these days.

But I really do hope Luna isn’t a scam. Because if it’s real, it represents everything good about Silicon Valley. Some people use Intellect to wrest a secret from Nature: an elegant reduction of the chaos of human interaction into comprehensible and exploitable principles. To test their prize they build a Sampo, a machine churning out a hundred varieties of human happiness – from loving marriages to ecstatic sex to just sitting on the couch cuddling on rainy days. They give it to the public gratis. In the process they all get super rich and donate the money to curing malaria, good compounding upon good. Also, the whole thing is done in a weird and pointlessly-complicated format that adds nothing except a giant middle finger aimed at government regulators. What could be more beautiful than this?

One last thought on the blockchain issue: whenever I study intentional communities, I’m struck by how little the community’s principles matter, compared to the brute fact of it being an intentional community. An anarchist commune may have some spectacularly brilliant collaborative dispute-solving mechanism, but none of that matters, because the people involved will be the sorts of people who would join an anarchist commune, ie ridiculous and completely ungovernable.

So the most interesting and distinguishing feature of Luna, at least to start with, might not be the tokens, or the incentives, or the machine learning. It might be that it’s a place you can go to meet the sort of people who want to date on the blockchain. I could make a lot of cheap jokes here, but whatever weird hyperplanes through categoryspace further the difficult and desperate project of human-seeking-human are good and worthwhile in my book. I hope that lots of libertarian women find lots of security-conscious men and make lots of beautiful, high-price-volatility babies.

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4 hours ago
Love the final paragraph.

Benjamin Zycher on solar power

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From my email, if you would like to read a more negative than usual take:

“A couple of observations on your Bloomberg column on solar power:

  • There is nothing “clean” about solar (or wind) electricity, primarily because of its intermittent nature.  Because it is unreliable, it cannot be scheduled (it is not dispatchable), and so must be backed up with conventional (usually gas, sometimes coal) plants.  The latter units must be cycled up and down depending on whether the sun is shining or not, which means that they must be operated inefficiently (they experience rising heat rates), increasing their emissions of conventional effluents and greenhouse gases.  Engineering studies for Colorado and Texas, for example, estimate that this adverse effect becomes important when the market share in terms of capacity reaches around 10 percent (combined with the guaranteed market shares and must-take regulations enforced by many states).  I have been beating on this drum for years, but the press and many others continue to describe solar and wind power as “clean.”  No, it is not.
  • That emissions pattern is separate from the problem of solar panel disposal, vastly underpublicized in my view, in a world in which solid-waste disposal is priced inefficiently.
  • The Independent System Operators generally are forced to take renewable power when it is available, and the PUCs are forced to roll their high costs into the rate bases, spreading the costs across all consumers.  (The same is true for the high transmission costs attendant upon renewables.)  There has been some reform around the margins in a few states, as the PUCs have trimmed the net metering subsidies for rooftop solar systems, but this is a minor adjustment in a system characterized by vast inefficiency, cronyism and interest-group rent-seeking, upward transfers of income, feathering of bureaucratic nests, and increased pollution.  Such are the fruits of government wisdom.”

The post Benjamin Zycher on solar power appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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13 days ago
The costs of solar.

RT @nickgillespie: .@reason is officially "your worst nephew’s favorite website" according to the fine socialist folks @jacobinmag, whom @k…

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.@reason is officially "your worst nephew’s favorite website" according to the fine socialist folks @jacobinmag, whom @kmanguward & I debated in Nov. As @KatMurti noted at time, tickets were being scalped, meaning capitalism won jacobinmag.com/2017/12/the-20…

Posted by nickgillespie on Monday, January 1st, 2018 3:36pm
Retweeted by mungowitz on Monday, January 1st, 2018 11:12pm

137 likes, 37 retweets
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JC’s (un)motivated reasoning

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by Judith Curry

“I think open explorations of the ideological assumptions scientists bring into policy debates are not only welcome but often necessary for having productive conversations.” – Aaron Huertas

Over the Xmas holiday, I got involved in a wide ranging discussion on twitter, following  my previous blog post and a response by Sarah Myhre.

You can check out my twitter feed (@curryja) (under ‘replies’), but this is a rather mindnumbing thread of thousands of tweets and replies.

At issue is my politics, my ideology, my advocacy, my activism, my civility.

So here goes.

My politics

Politically, I’m an independent. In Presidential elections since 1972, I have voted for Democrats, Republicans and occasionally third party candidates. Unfortunately, I typically find myself voting against the most ‘objectionable’ candidate. One exception was Obama #1; I was a strong supporter and am on public record as having made campaign contributions (I was much less enthusiastic about Obama #2).

I’m a liberal in the classical sense; I would probably not be categorized as a ‘liberal’ in context of the modern connotation of the word in U.S. politics.

On the Democrat (liberal) –Republican (conservative) spectrum, I am a social liberal but fiscal conservative.

On the populist-libertarian spectrum, I lean towards libertarian.

No ideologues

I don’t subscribe to any political ideology or anything with an ‘-ism’; not feminism, not environmentalism, not Marxism, not nationalism, not neoliberalism, not social Darwinism, etc.

Every human has ways that they filter information based on some general principles – one can call this an ‘ideology’, but it is mostly a function of the society/culture that you live in, what you have read, etc. Individuals are more or less influenced by the ambiguities of a general ‘ideology’.

The problem for science is with ideologues (not with someone’s vague background ‘ideology’). I discussed the problem with science ideologues in one of my earliest blog posts No ideologues, quoting Nick Darby:

I have for many years been a student of the corrosive effects of ideology on science. This was prompted originally by works of Jacob Bronowski, Primo Levi, Charles Mackay, and an abiding interest in the history of I G Farben. As a guide, primarily for myself, I developed a set of characteristics of ideologues, to better recognize and interpret their behavior. (These are based in part on some ideas of John Ralston Saul in his “Unconscious Civilization”). 

There are five attributes of ideologues:
1. Absence of doubt
2. Intolerance of debate
3. Appeal to authority
4. A desire to convince others of the ideological “truth”
5. A willingness to punish those that don’t concur

In the climate communication world, it has become very trendy to wear your political ideology on your sleeve. How many ‘climate science communicators’ can you name that have at least 4 of the above attributes of ideologues with regards to climate change?


When asked about my values on twitter, here was my response:

Health and prosperity for all; abundant, secure and clean energy for all; healthy ecosystems and . . . world peace.

With regards to energy (since so much of the climate debate is actually about energy), here are my values:

Reliable, secure and abundant energy; affordable. All other things being equal, I prefer clean over dirty energy.

Personally I don’t worry about the cost of energy, but I understand this is a huge issue for people less affluent than I.

I have no objections to any power source – wind, solar, hydro, nuclear power, natural gas — provided that consideration is given to their safety for humans and ecosystems.   I don’t see any way to make coal ‘clean.’

I value the process of science and its integrity, and intellectual honesty. With regards to intellectual honesty, see this previous blog post, discussing 10 signs of intellectual honesty:

  1. Do not overstate the power of your argument. 
  2. Show a willingness to publicly acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints exist. .
  3. Be willing to publicly acknowledge and question one’s own assumptions and biases. 
  4. Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak.
  5. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong.
  6. Demonstrate consistency
  7. Address the argument instead of attacking the person making the argument.
  8. When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it. 
  9. Show a commitment to critical thinking. 
  10. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when a point or criticism is good. 

These are things that I think about in how I communicate with the public about climate change.

I value being exposed to a range of perspectives – this broadens and sharpens my own thinking.

Mainstream Media

I don’t watch cable or network TV. The only exception is for election returns; we watch CNN because we like John King’s analysis using the ‘magic wall’

I don’t read any newspapers. I do subscribe to both the New York Times and the Washington Post, since I repeatedly exceeded my monthly limit of climate- and science-related articles that I clicked on mostly from twitter links.

I am assumed by some to be an acolyte of Fox News, since I have been interviewed twice by Tucker Carlson. When I lived in Atlanta, I was very frequently interviewed by CNN. I really detest being interviewed live for TV. After not doing that for a number of years, I accepted the Tucker Carlson invites since he generally seems to be a fair interviewer and the time slot was long enough that it wouldn’t be a sound bite interview (which I am not good at).

I receive frequent requests from journalists for input. I respond to most if I have sufficient time.

I have been invited to write several op-eds, mostly based on something I’ve written at Climate Etc., and I have several op-eds published in Wall Street Journal, Financial Post, FoxNews. I have declined numerous invites to write op-eds, largely because I was short of time or didn’t have anything worthwhile to say on the specified topic.

Sources of political information 

I get my information on current events in politics from realclearpolitics.com, and from twitter.

I find RealClearPolitics to be nonpartisan, providing links to articles from a range of different perspectives

You can see who I follow on twitter (@curryja). ~ 75% of the people that I follow are people that followed me first. The others range from my niece to former presidential candidates.

Engagement with the policy process

I engage with the policy process relating to extreme weather events and global climate change.

I engage directly with businesses by providing weather and climate information that helps them manage their risks.

With regards to global climate change, I engage with the public through my blog and through media interviews. I have engaged with public policy makers through my congressional testimony and through responding to their requests for information.

I analyze some specific policies, but mostly I write about the policy process in context of the decision analytic framework, with a central role for how uncertainty is managed and incorporated into the decision making process.

I have been characterized by a subset of the climate twitterati as an advocate and an activist. Engagement with the policy process does not necessary imply that the individual is an advocate or an activist.

The only things that I have advocated for are issues related to the integrity of the process of scientific research and its assessment. I have not advocated for specific policy outcomes related to climate change.

I often discuss extreme weather events and the need to reduce vulnerability — independent of any human caused climate change; these are issues for the here and now. This is regarded by some as advocacy for climate change adaptation and opposition to mitigation.

I do not advocate for policy outcomes related to climate change. Why not? Because I regard this problem as a wicked mess and I don’t have any specific policies to recommend in context of my expertise as a climate scientist. I suspect that any problems associated with climate change (human caused or otherwise) will be best addressed at the local level, in context of local vulnerabilities and values.

I am not an ‘activist’ — I am not vigorously campaigning for anything. My involvement in the policy process is rather passive — I write on the blog about things that interest me or I find important, and I respond to invites for interviews, op-eds, congressional testimony.  I have never signed any sort of petition or group statement about climate change.

My lack of activism and advocacy for mitigation is regarded by some as advocacy against mitigation. I find this to be rather bizarre and irrational. It seems my lack of activism is getting in the way of their activism.


What is my agenda in communicating with the public about climate change? I wrote the following paragraph in 2010 when I launched Climate Etc.:

Climate Etc. provides a forum for climate researchers, academics and technical experts from other fields, citizen scientists, and the interested public to engage in a discussion on topics related to climate science and the science-policy interface.

I’m all about opening up the dialogue on climate science and the policy options. I think that the discussion on both has been too narrow, to the detriment of both science and policy.

The issue has arisen regarding my personal civility and civility on the blog. I NEVER initiate attacks on anyone, but I do call other scientists out who refer to myself or other scientists as ‘deniers.’

Turns out the ‘incivility’ accusation is mostly associated with words used in comments on my blog – ‘libtard’ and ‘Nazis’ were specifically called out. I moderate primarily to avoid personal attacks on commenters or other climate scientists. I don’t moderate out ‘politically incorrect’ words provided that the overall comment has some content and is relevant to the topic of the post.

My company 

My company Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN) provides weather and climate forecast information and also consulting. Most of our clients are other businesses, but we do have several government and NGO clients. Our business clients are mostly in the energy and financial sectors, and also other companies that provide weather and risk management services.

In the energy sector, we have one client that uses our forecasts for offshore activities. Others in this sector are energy trading companies or electric power providers. The forecast parameters that are used by these clients are temperatures, wind power, solar radiation, streamflow/hydropower, and hurricane tracks and intensity.

Eli Rabett has been busy insinuating that my involvement with petroleum companies biases my climate science research and my public communications. Well the income from petroleum companies is less than 10% of our total income. And the overall income from my company (for past 10 years) is smaller than the total salaries that Peter Webster and I have received from Georgia Tech over the same period plus the amounts of our federal grants. So if I am somehow being ‘bought’, its tough to weigh the income from business with funds we have received and continue to receive from governments.

Not to mention the diversity of CFAN’s non-governmental clients. While I don’t publicly name our private sector clients as a matter of principle, it is a matter of public record that CFAN’s clients include the World Bank and have included the NRDC.

The significance of my company’s activities on my perspective in the public debate on climate change is that I am actively involved in risk management activities – real problems, real decision makers – with organizations actually paying us for our support in dealing with their risk management problems. Characterization of uncertainties and assessment of forecast confidence is paramount.

So unlike many climate scientists that have become communicators/advocates/activists, I have real experience in risk management and decision making.


So at the end of the day does this little essay make any difference or enlighten anyone? I suspect that the activists will continue to try to tear me down because I am getting in the way of what they are advocating for.

Maybe this will help at least some people see me for what I am – a research scientist that thinks about the philosophy and sociology of science, who is trying to open up the dialogue on climate science and the policy responses, and is working to help organizations manage risks from extreme weather.

Filed under: Sociology of science

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Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character?

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Michael R. Ransom and Tyler Ransom have a new paper on this question:

We examine the extent to which participation in high school athletics has beneficial effects on future education, labor market, and health outcomes. Due to the absence of plausible instruments in observational data, we use recently developed methods that relate selection on observables with selection on unobservables to estimate bounds on the causal effect of athletics participation. We analyze these effects in the US separately for men and women using three different nationally representative longitudinal data sets that each link high school athletics participation with later-life outcomes. We do not find consistent evidence of individual benefits reported in many previous studies – once we have accounted for selection, high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force. However, we do find that men (but not women) who participated in high school athletics are more likely to exercise regularly as adults. Nevertheless, athletes are no less likely to be obese.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also refers us to this paper: “…the large portion of the variance in a four-item economic egalitarianism scale can be attributed to genetic factor[s].”

The post Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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32 days ago
It's all genetics.

Well, this is an eye-opener. I've got to make some changes in my life. I did the numbers: I purchased more than $5k in groceries from Kroger last year. And I don't think they bought ANY groceries from me. Time for regulation!! twitter.com/scottlincicome…

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Well, this is an eye-opener. I've got to make some changes in my life. I did the numbers: I purchased more than $5k in groceries from Kroger last year. And I don't think they bought ANY groceries from me. Time for regulation!! twitter.com/scottlincicome…

He can. He did. And I'm not. twitter.com/mungowitz/stat…

Posted by scottlincicome on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 11:24pm

13 likes, 3 retweets

Posted by mungowitz on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017 12:49pm

35 likes, 6 retweets
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35 days ago
Good laugh.
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