Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Demographic Winter

The 2008 movie Demographic Winter is available on YouTube, in Part I and Part II. The 2013 video with a similar message.



One review says:
Doomsayers from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich have warned of “overpopulation” leading to depleted resources and mass starvation. In reality, more people have generated to more prosperity and higher standards of living.

What the world faces in the 21st century is another type of demographic crisis, but one that is painfully real: falling fertility rates and aging populations which could ultimately endanger civilization.

The average woman has to have 2.1 children during her lifetime – just to replace current population.

In less than 40 years, fertility rates have fallen by over 50% worldwide. In 1970, the average woman had 6 children during her lifetime. Today, the global average is 2.9. The United Nations Population Division predicts a further decline to 2.05 by 2050.
In much of the industrialized world, the crisis can be discerned even now:

• Europe might as well hang a “Going Out of Business” sign on its door. The average birth rate for the European Union is 1.5, well below replacement (2.1). In Italy, it’s 1.2.
Another review complains about the supposed subtext:
The argument put forth in Demographic Winter is a familiar one to those who have been watching conservative strategy develop over the past several years: that with birthrates falling globally over the last half-century, and in most developed nations falling below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per woman, the ratio of young to old will shift dramatically and wreak havoc upon existing social security and healthcare systems. The economy at large may also suffer, as the elderly cease spending and a smaller generation of workers is crippled by the taxes needed to support their parents. And the reasons why it’s occurring is a litany of culture-war complaints: women working, the “divorce revolution,” the sexual revolution (including cohabitation and the pill), worries, or what the filmmakers call “inaccurate presumptions,” about overpopulation and limited resources, and an affluence that leads to fewer children. It’s a massive failure to be fruitful and multiply, writ large, but again, such religious cues are kept off-screen. ...

But there’s a more insidious undercurrent to the “demographic winter” argument as well, one its proponents fiercely deny, but which nonetheless permeates nearly all of the current debate on demographic worries: that the concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others. This has become a standard right-wing argument in Europe and the U.S., launching a series of books since 2001 that predict a coming Muslim onslaught that will displace traditional Western populations, ... Demographic Winter is an entry in the growing canon of profamily scholarship that seeks to make an “air-tight case” for the theological ideas of the “natural family” based on social science alone, de-sublimating Biblical claims into research-driven theories.
I am not sure that is the subtext, as the movie clearly says that United Nations projections show the entire world population peaking, and starting to decline in about the year 2050.

However, those UN projections are out of date. The Dec. 2014 UN projections show the world population increasing for the foreseeable future, and still increasing in 2100. The biggest gains will be in Africa, India, and China.

Nearly all the examples of birth rate decline were from Europe and Japan. Japan's has been decline for two generations. Other Western developed countries countries have been declining since about 1960, altho some of them have replaced the loss with immigrants.

The news media reminds us daily about how global warming might have an effect over the next century. But the demographics changes may be far more significant. There are technological fixes for the climate, but not for demographics.

These movies do not say what to do about these trends. One shows a couple of white lesbians adopting a couple of black babies. (Last one, at 1:09:30.) I am not sure the point of that. Is that the logical consequence of an excess of older infertile white women and an excess of poor African kids?

One conclusion might be that some populations are overbreeding, while others are underbreeding. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has argued (in 2009) that a major purpose of legalizing abortion was to reduce the population growth in the people we don't want:
Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.
She later clarified that she was quoted accurately and concerned about overpopulation in the welfare class.

Abortion is just one of many government and social policies with long-term effects on demographics. The movies mention various anti-family policies in Western countries, and these lead to low fertility in wealthy communities.

The net effect of all these policies is to de-populate the societies who created the modern world, and replace them with runaway overbreeding and migration in Third World countries.

Demographic changes seems to be a lot more important than climate change over the next century. Global warming is only expected to raise sea level a couple of feet, and most of the CO2 emission growth is coming from those high-population Third World countries. Most of the other environmental threats of the future are also attributable to Third World population growth, and to immigration to America and Europe. I don't have any answers, but it is very strange for this issue to be ignored by anyone claiming to be concerned about global warming or pollution.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

National Grilled Cheese Day

According to this, grilled cheese lovers enjoy life better is all sorts of ways.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Leftist distrust of science experts



I occasionally hear people claim that Republicans are anti-science, but the Democrats seem much more anti-science to me. Here is an editorial cartoon from Monday's Santa Cruz Sentinel, the daily paper for a leftist Democrat California beach town.

Thalidomide was never FDA approved (until it was later approved for leprosy). No one was injured a Three Mile Island. I don't think that anyone ever said that the space shuttle was perfectly safe, altho the risk did turn out to be higher than estimated. (Note also the spelling error of Challenger.) Dow Corning was bankrupted over breast implant lawsuits in 1995, but that is just proof that our legal system is broken. There is a consensus now that the lawsuits were bogus, and millions of women get implants today without major problems. Asbestos is not really that dangerous unless you are a smoker who inhales the fibers.

Leftists also hate GMO foods, pesticides, DDT, antibiotics, and preservatives.

Journalist Chris Mooney has made a career out of blaming Republicans for not trusting scientific experts, and has a Wash. Post column on The science of why you really should listen to science and experts. SciAm's John Horgan refutes it:
I recently knocked science journalist Chris Mooney for asserting that “You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts.” Non-experts have the right and even the duty, I retorted, to question scientific experts, who often get things wrong. ...

He cites a study that found that judges and other lawyers show less ideological bias—or “identity-protective cognition”–in their application of the law than law students and lay people. ... To my mind, the study merely shows that lawyers and judges know the law better than law students and non-lawyers.

Mooney’s citation of Tetlock is bizarre, because Expert Political Judgment—far from a defense of experts—is a devastating critique of them....

“people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. ... People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Useless airline safety measures

Commercial flying is safer than ever, and the most prominent safety measures appear to be worthless. I have assumed that most of what the TSA does is worthless, but I thought that securing the cockpit doors was valuable. Now it appears to have caused the Germanwings crash, as well as a 2005 crash. I haven't heard that it has saved anyone.

Every time you fly, they tell you about emergency oxygen masks and flotation seats, even tho these never save anyone. The oxygen even caused a 1996 Florida crash.

The airline industry would probably justify this stuff by saying that the public needs a big show of safety and security in order to be convinced to fly. That seems crazy to me. The safety record is already so good that your drive to the airport is more dangerous than the flight. We should abolish the TSA and let the airlines just do what really contributes to safety.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Worst-case housing scenario

Ever wonder about the competence of the Federal Reserve Bank? I just found this:
7/1/05 – Interview on CNBC
INTERVIEWER: Tell me, what is the worst-case scenario? We have so many economists coming on our air saying ‘Oh, this is a bubble, and it’s going to burst, and this is going to be a real issue for the economy.’ Some say it could even cause a recession at some point. What is the worst-case scenario if in fact we were to see prices come down substantially across the country?

BERNANKE: Well, I guess I don’t buy your premise. It’s a pretty unlikely possibility. We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fired for opinions

The NY Times hired a part-time opinion columnist, and then fired him because he has some opinions!

Politico reports:

The New York Times has terminated its contract with one of its new online opinion writers after a Gawker article highlighted the writer's previous association with racist publications, according to that writer's Twitter account.

Razib Khan, a science blogger and a doctoral candidate in genomics and genetics at the University of California, Davis, was one of 20 writers who signed contracts with the Times to write for the paper's online opinion section.

The Times announced its new stable of contributors on Wednesday. Hours later, Gawker's J.K. Trotter reported that Khan had a "history with racist, far-right online publications." Khan wrote 68 posts for Taki's Magazine, a publication founded by a "flamboyantly racist Greek journalist," Trotter wrote. Khan also wrote a letter to VDARE, "a white nationalist website named after the first white child born in America, in which he discussed [an essay] concerning the threat of the United States becoming “more genetically and culturally Mexican.”

Khan is a geneticist, with a broad range of knowledge and opinions. None are particular extreme, from what I have seen. The NY Times is more racist than those publications, as it was publishing several race-baiting article a day on Ferguson Missouri. I once wrote a letter to the NY Times editor that was published, but that does not mean that I endorse everything the newspaper says.

It is funny to see a dark-skinned Bengali punished for writing a letter to a supposed white nationalist editor.

The subject of genetics is sensitive. The NY Times reports
Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome

A group of leading biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.

The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.
AAAS Science magazine adds:
In 1975, the notion of using recombinant DNA to design human babies was too remote to seriously consider, but the explosion of powerful new genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9, zinc fingers, and TALENs has changed that. They have made it easy for anyone with basic molecular biology training to insert, remove, and edit genes in cells, including sperm, eggs, and embryos, potentially curing genetic diseases or adding desirable traits. Rumors are rife that scientists in China have already used CRISPR on human embryos. Researchers fear that publicity surrounding such experiments could trigger a public backlash that would block legitimate uses of the technology.
The idea of human improvement is very scary to a lot of people. Maybe a million people get born every day, with the big majority being sub-optimal circumstances. Why would anyone care if a couple get born as part of an experimental genetic treatment program? It would be insignificant to the population.

In more news about things you cannot say, a kid was kicked out of a college class for expressing some opinions. Buzzfeed reports:
True said he sparred with classmates over discussion topics related to ancient Greece and Rome, such as the “patriarchal” belief that logic is more important than emotion and his analysis of Lucretia’s rape. But it was his questioning of the widely shared and often debated statistic that 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted — it doesn’t serve “actual rape victims” to “overinflate” numbers, he said — and his rejection of the term “rape culture” that led to him being banned, he said.

“I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist,” he wrote in a lengthy email to Savery explaining his perspectives that he has also posted online. “We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn’t optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope. If sexual assault becomes qualified as rape, what happens next? What else can we legally redefine to become rape? Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society?”

More than 90 colleges are currently under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual violence cases. Sexual assault on campus has become a hot-button issue both in Washington, where the White House launched a task force and senators have introduced bipartisan legislation, and on campuses like Reed, which roughly 1,500 students attend.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Study on merits of breastfeeding

Another new study on the benefits of breastfeeding is in the news, and I am just commenting on how it is reported. NPR radio reported on the study, and failed to explain how it controlled for obvious confounding variable. A comment has to explain:
I agree that correlation is often confused with causation, and has been particularly in discussions of breastfeeding. However I read the actual study, which is linked and they included maternal education, income level, smoking, maternal age, maternal pre pregnancy body mass index, gestational age, type of delivery, and birth weight in their study and took them into account. They also did the study in Brazil because breastfeeding was not positively associated with family income. The difference in IQ is seen even within income, as seen in figure 1 of the study. The authors of the study admit the study does not answer the question of whether this difference in IQ is attributable to the biological component of breastmilk, mother infant bonding, or intellectual stimulation, but this study goes much further than any previous study.
Okay, fine, maybe it is more convincing than other studies.

But what seemed curious to me was how NPR was eager to convince people that breastfeeding is good for the baby, but a lack of breastfeeding is not necessarily bad:
STEIN: Horta and Lawrence agree that babies raised on formula can turn out to be just fine, but they say everything should be done to help women breast-feed if they can. Rob Stein, NPR News.
Saying that breastfed babies are better off, on average, is the same as saying that formula-fed babies are worse off.

I guess they want to shame the moms who could breastfeed and choose not to, and not shame the moms who are unable to breastfeed. Are NPR listeners really eager to shame someone after hearing a story like this?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Subjects were right to doubt a CIA report

In 2003 Pres. G.W. Bush asked the US Congress and the UN to authorize war against Iraq. The main reasons given were that Iraq had WND programs in the past, and had not complied with UN resolutions and inspections. The concern was that Iraq would develop either chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

A widely reported 2006 social science study found:
When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions
by Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler

An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.
Their best example was giving subjects quotes about Bush, Iraq, and WMD to convince them that Iraq had WMD, and then later giving them a CIA report saying that no WMD were found in Iraq:
In other words, the correction backfired – conservatives who received a correction telling them that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD than those in the control condition.
The study did not actually ask the subjects to explain their reasoning. The researchers say that is a waste of time, because psychology research shows that people are too dumb to know why they believe what they do.

This appeared to be convincing evidence that some conservatives just irrationally believe what they want to believe in spite of the facts, because only the craziest conspiracy theorist would claim that the Bush administration covered up the WMD evidence that would vindicate its war theory.

But a NY Times story last month says exactly that. The CIA found WND in Iraq and covered it up:
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

The effort was run out of the C.I.A. station in Baghdad in collaboration with the Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion and teams of chemical-defense and explosive ordnance disposal troops, officials and veterans of the units said. Many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a nonlethal liquid, the officials said. But others contained the nerve agent sarin, which analysis showed to be purer than the intelligence community had expected given the age of the stock.

A New York Times investigation published in October found that the military had recovered thousands of old chemical warheads and shells in Iraq and that Americans and Iraqis had been wounded by them, but the government kept much of this information secret, from the public and troops alike. ...

Most of the officials and veterans who spoke about the program did so anonymously because, they said, the details remain classified. The C.I.A. declined to comment. The Pentagon, citing continuing secrecy about the effort, did not answer written questions and acknowledged its role only obliquely. ...

Not long after Operation Avarice had secured its 400th rocket, in 2006, American troops were exposed several times to other chemical weapons. ...

In some cases, victims of exposure said, officers forbade them to discuss what had occurred. ...
As an American citizen, I do not want to believe that our President lied to us to get us into war. But there is overwhelming evidence that Wilson (WWI), FDR (WWII), and LBJ (Vietnam) did exactly that. Now it has somehow become accepted wisdom that Bush also lied to get us into the Iraq War.

Those political scientists should go back and study those liberals who believe that Bush lied to justify the Iraq War. Present them the evidence, and then see whether they re-align their opinions to the facts.

Some people will still say that Bush exaggerated the threat, or that the WMD did not justify the war, or that Bush deserves contempt for various other reasons. Maybe so. It also appears that many people are not rational about issues like this.

But people are wrong when they say that Bush took us to war under false pretenses of WMD. The war was as openly and honestly debated as any war. Congress and the UN had the facts, and voted for it. Some of the intelligence info turned out to be wrong, but the war had the support of the Democrat leadership for reasons that were essentially correct.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Four Laws of Behavior Genetics

SciAm writer John Horgan notes that the evidence for behavior genes has a history of being over-hyped:
In 1990 The New York Times published a front-page article by Lawrence Altman, a reporter with a medical degree, announcing that scientists had discovered “a link between alcoholism and a specific gene.”

That was merely one in a string of reports in which the Times and other major media hyped what turned out to be erroneous claims linking complex traits and disorders—from homosexuality and high intelligence to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—to specific genes.

I thought those days were over, and that scientists and the media have learned to doubt extremely reductionist genetic accounts of complex traits and behaviors. I was wrong. Last Sunday, the “Opinion” section of the Times published an essay, “The Feel-Good Gene,” which states:
“For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences. This lucky genetic mutation produces higher levels of anandamide–the so-called bliss molecule and our natural marijuana–in our brains. In short, some people are prone to be less anxious simply because they won the genetic sweepstakes and randomly got a genetic mutation that has nothing at all to do with strength of character.”
The evidence for the "feel-good gene," which supposedly reduces anxiety, is flimsy, just like the evidence linking specific genes to high intelligence, violent aggression, homosexuality, bipolar disorder and countless other complex human traits and ailments. ...

Last fall, I quoted from a 2012 editorial in Behavior Genetics: “The literature on candidate gene associations is full of reports that have not stood up to rigorous replication. This is the case both for straightforward main effects and for candidate gene-by-environment interactions… As a result, the psychiatric and behavior genetics literature has become confusing and it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge.”
That is correct, but only part of the story as there have been real advances in the field. Razib Khan reports:
* First Law. All human behavioral traits are heritable.

* Second Law. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes.

* Third Law. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

* Fourth Law. A typical human behavioral trait is associated with very many genetic variants, each of which accounts for a very small percentage of the behavioral variability.
Researchers model behavior by assuming that it is determined by genes, family upbringing, and random factors. Twin studies have proved that the genetic influence is huge, and the family upbringing appears to be negligible. DNA studies have failed to find any individual genes with a large effect. Larger scale studies are starting to show that a combination of many small genetic effects can be significant. For more on what randomness means here, see my 2015 essay.

Parents are usually convinced that their child-rearing is the biggest influence on their kids, but this is an illusion, according to the research.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A lot of Moslems support terrorism

Every time some terrorist incident is in the news, we are reminded that most Moslems are not terrorists. That is certainly true, and it is easy to find Moslems to denounce a particular terrorist attack.

This page summarizes various surveys of Moslem opinions, such as:
PCPO (2014): 89% of Palestinians support Hamas and other terrorists firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

Pew Research (2013): Only 57% of Muslims worldwide disapprove of al-Qaeda. Only 51% disapprove of the Taliban. 13% support both groups and 1 in 4 refuse to say.

Turkish Ministry of Education: 1 in 4 Turks Support Honor Killings
Update: Here is a new one:
The majority of British Muslims oppose violence against people who publish images depicting the Prophet Muhammad, a poll for the BBC suggests.

The survey also indicates most have no sympathy with those who want to fight against Western interests.

But 27% of the 1,000 Muslims polled by ComRes said they had some sympathy for the motives behind the Paris attacks.
So 27% of British Muslims agree with terrorist murdering of newspaper cartoonists.

Yes, a majority are against such violence. That should be said, I guess. But that leaves a lot who favor the violence.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Psychometrics is mainstream psychology

Wikipedia has an article on List of topics characterized as pseudoscience. Most of it has obsolete or crackpot ideas.

These two items are somewhat out of place:
Psychometrics – is the field where practitioners have claimed to be able to measure various abstract mental attributes such as intelligence or creativity in individuals and groups using various contrived tests. Additionally, environmental and pre-exposure factors are often disregarded. ...

Scientific racism – ... the claim of "classifying" individuals of different phenotypes into discrete races or ethnicities.
Both are justified by Stephen Jay Gould's book, The Mismeasure of Man. The book has been one of the biggest selling American science books ever, and is probably still required reading at many colleges.

The book is garbage. As you can see from the Wikipedia page, the main claims were proven wrong. It is a Marxist-influenced political attack. Only the part on skull measurement was published as peer-reviewed science, and even the ideologically-sympathetic NY Times said in 2011 that almost every detail of his analysis is wrong.

Psychometrics has been central to the study of psychology for a century. Besides the IQ tests, there are dozens of widely respected tests to diagnose mental disorders, detect personality types, or measure other features.

Classifying people into races and ethnicities is also common and well-accepted. I noted that it is essential to recent research on Neanderthals.

The Wikipedia editors say, paraphrasing:
Of course psychologists believe in psychometrics, just as astrologers believe in astrology. That means nothing as long as we have reliable sources who say that it is pseudoscience.
It ought to be possible to find reputable scholars to say that frequentism is pseudoscience, such as from the journal that banned it.

I once proposed that the list include Continental Drift, as it meets their criteria for inclusion. Others suggested evolution. Reputable sources have said that it was pseudoscience. In the world of Wikipedia, having a reliable source is more important than truth.

I used to think that pseudoscience was a useful concept. But the term seems to be almost entirely used by people with some sort of political agenda. While I think that I have an idea of what is or is not scientific, I do not think that we have a good definition of pseudoscience.

Update: I tried to add t his:
However modern geneticists and anthropologists routinely divide people into those of African, European, and East Asian ancestry. ref: NY Times, Feb. 19, 2015.
It was reverted, as was my attempt to fix the psychometrics paragraph.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Man is the most social animal

The new book, This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress (Edge Question Series), has a curious collection of opinions. It was promoted on the recent Science Friday.

The essays are all free online. One attacked this Aristotle quote:
Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.
Adam Waytz wrote:
For reinforcing a perilous social psychological imperialism toward other behavioral sciences and for suggesting that humans are naturally oriented toward others, the strong interpretation of Aristotle's famous aphorism needs to be retired. ...

Despite possessing capacities far beyond other animals to consider others' minds, to empathize with others' needs, and to transform empathy into care and generosity, we fail to employ these abilities readily, easily, or equally. ...

Even arguably our most important social capacity, theory of mind — the ability to adopt the perspectives of others — can increase competition as much as it increases cooperation, highlighting the emotions and desires of those we like, but also highlighting the selfish and unethical motives of people we dislike. ...

Because our social capacities are largely non-automatic, ingroup-focused, and finite, we can retire the strong version of Aristotle's statement.
No, man is very social by nature.

I used to think that chimps were more social, but they are not. They never cooperate in the ways that humans commonly do, such as building something together.

Only a few animals are truly social in the sense of cooperating. Mainly humans, ants, bees, and termites. And only human are social in the sense of a theory of mind.

I used to think that women were more social than men. That might be true when the group is the size of a small dinner party, but men are much more social in larger groups. See for example this Dutch reality TV experiment.

Aristotle's statement makes a lot more sense than Waytz's. Humans being social does not mean that we never compete or that we treat all others equally. Ants and bees are essentially slaves to the group. Some humans are also, but as Aristotle explained, our society permits some to become individualists, either because they are less than human or more than human. That is, the nonconformist may be the criminal who fails to adapt to society, or the free man who chooses to go his own way.

Sometimes a preference to the in-group over the out-group bugs people. But that is an essential part of being a social animal. Bees prefer their hive over a foreign hive, and ants prefer their own colony. If a social relationship means anything, it means a preference over those without a social relationship.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Against hypothesis testing

Statistic professor Andrew Gelman attacks frequentism:
The conventional view:

Hyp testing is all about rejection. The idea is that if you reject the null hyp at the 5% level, you have a win, you have learned that a certain null model is false and science has progressed, either in the glamorous “scientific revolution” sense that you’ve rejected a central pillar of science-as-we-know-it and are forcing a radical re-evaluation of how we think about the world (those are the accomplishments of Kepler, Curie, Einstein, and . . . Daryl Bem), or in the more usual “normal science” sense in which a statistically significant finding is a small brick in the grand cathedral of science (or a stall in the scientific bazaar, ...

My view is (nearly) the opposite of the conventional view. The conventional view is that you can learn from a rejection but not from a non-rejection. I say the opposite: you can’t learn much from a rejection, but a non-rejection tells you something.
He is a Bayesian, and he regularly attacks high-profile social science studies.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Nominating frequentism as the biggest fail

I posted a rant against nutrition science, and got this comment:
This is all true, but it should be noted nutrition science failed because of the Frequentist statistical methods that were used in the studies.

Frequentist statistical methods have screwed up a lot of other subjects. pretty much everyone it's touched in fact, from economics to the psychology, neither of which can be said to have increased their predictive capabilities within living memory.

I nominate Frequentist statistics as the biggest fail. ...

Already by the 50's and 60's statisticians had discovered a mass of (theoretical) problems with p-values and Confidence Intervals (the primary tools used in all those 'scientific' papers which turn out to be wrong far more than they're right). They only really work in very simple cases where they happen give answers operationally identical to the Bayesian answer.

These problems aren't merely faulty application. They are problems of principle and are inherent in Frequentist Statistics even if performed correctly. ...

The only difference between now and 50 years ago is that back then people could only point out theoretical problems with Frequentist methods. Since then, it's become clear to everyone that Frequentist statics is a massive practical failure as well.

Most heavy statistics laden researcher papers are wrong.

Every branch of science that relies on classical statistics as their main tool has stagnated. Just like Economics and Psychology, their predictive ability hasn't improved in half a century despite hundreds of thousands of peer reviewed research papers, and massive research spending that dwarfs everything that came before.
He refers to this 1976 E.T. Jaynes article demonstrating how the frequentist gets wrong answers.

This seemed a little extreme to me, but now I see that a reputable journal is banning frequentism:
The Basic and Applied Social Psychology (BASP) 2014 Editorial emphasized that the null hypothesis significance testing procedure (NHSTP) is invalid, and thus authors would be not required to perform it (Trafimow, 2014). However, to allow authors a grace period, the Editorial stopped short of actually banning the NHSTP. The purpose of the present Editorial is to announce that the grace period is over. From now on, BASP is banning the NHSTP.

With the banning of the NHSTP from BASP, what are the implications for authors? The following are anticipated questions and their corresponding answers.

Question 1. Will manuscripts with p-values be desk rejected automatically?

Answer to Question 1. No. If manuscripts pass the preliminary inspection, they will be sent out for review. But prior to publication, authors will have to remove all vestiges of the NHSTP (p-values, t-values, F-values, statements about “significant” differences or lack thereof, and so on).

Question 2. What about other types of inferential statistics such as confidence intervals or Bayesian methods?

Answer to Question 2. Confidence intervals suffer from an inverse inference problem that is not very different from that suffered by the NHSTP. In the NHSTP, the problem is in traversing the distance from the probability of the finding, given the null hypothesis, to the probability of the null hypothesis, given the finding. Regarding confidence intervals, the problem is that, for example, a 95% confidence interval does not indicate that the parameter of interest has a 95% probability of being within the interval. Rather, it means merely that if an infinite number of samples were taken and confidence intervals computed, 95% of the confidence intervals would capture the population parameter. Analogous to how the NHSTP fails to provide the probability of the null hypothesis, which is needed to provide a strong case for rejecting it, confidence intervals do not provide a strong case for concluding that the population parameter of interest is likely to be within the stated interval. Therefore, confidence intervals also are banned from BASP. ...

The NHSTP has dominated psychology for decades; we hope that by instituting the first NHSTP ban, we demonstrate that psychology does not need the crutch of the NHSTP, and that other journals follow suit.
The beauty of the NHSTP is that it reduces an experiment to a single number to decide whether it is publishable or not. As far as I know, there is no other single statistic that is a suitable substitute.

The original post was attacked by professional skeptics, and defended by Dilbert. The skeptics have the attitude that if you say that scientists were wrong, then you do not understand science. Science works by correcting previous errors, they say.

I think that the skeptic-atheists hate Dilbert because he has posted some criticism of how evolution is taught and explained. That makes him an enemy of the atheist-evolutionists, but then call him a creationist. I do not think that he is religious at all, but that is the way leftist ideologues are.

The Skeptic radio podcast that attacked Dilbert is best known for co-host Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate. She told some crazy and probably made-up story about a fellow atheist flirting with her in an elevator at an atheist convention. The details are unimportant, except that these folks get very upset about this sort of thing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Christianity invented individualism

A new book on Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism credits Christianity.

From one review of a related book:
The discovery of the individual was one of the most important cultural developments in the years between 1050 and 1200. It was not confined to any one group of thinkers. Its central features may be found in different circles: a concern with self-discovery; an interest in the relations between people, and in the role of the individual within society; an assessment of people by their inner intentions rather than by their external acts. These concerns were, moreover, conscious and deliberate. ‘Know yourself’ was one of the most frequently quoted injunctions. The phenomenon which we have been studying was found in some measure in every part of urbane and intelligent society.
That review ties it into outbreeding v. nepotism, guilt v. shame, and rule of law v. feuding.

Boston Review is unpersuaded:
during the same Middle Ages when Christianity was supposedly becoming modern liberalism below the surface, its adherents dedicated themselves to crusading violence abroad and principled intolerance at home. When Siedentop alludes to the Crusades it is to remark on how they unified Europe and encouraged knights to put their petty feudalism aside in order to agree that Christians should never kill fellow Christians — as if the main problem were not how medieval Christians learned to tolerate other sorts of people or understand the rest of humanity to be on par with themselves. “Strikingly, in its first centuries Christianity spread by persuasion, not by force of arms — a contrast to the early spread of Islam,”
I guess the reviewer wants to blame Christianity for fighting Islam. I don't know why -- Islam certainly was not going to invent individualism or modern liberalism, and Christianity was not going to either unless it was willing to repel Islamic invaders.

I have not read the book, and there are other theories for modernity. Civilization more than two millennia ago was concentrated in the middle east, from Egypt to Babylonia to Persia to India, and in China. Then came the Greeks, Christianity, and the Romans. And Europe advanced very rapidly in the last 500 years or so.

There were also a bunch of changes in Europe 1000 years ago or so, such as banning cousin marriages and an economy based on individual families. These books probably explain it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wikipedia censors physics videos

I posted MIT fires its best professor. It cut all contact with him and his famous physics videos, but it turns out that the video lectures are essentially in the public domain and still hosted on YouTube.

Wikipedia claims to have a neutral point of view and to be not censored. So it has movie spoilers and Hilter's Mein Kampf. But it has now censored Lewin's videos. The links are currently on Conservapedia but not Wikipedia. I posted the matter on the BLP noticeboard to get the attention of senior editors, but no one helped.

The videos are straight physics lectures, and no one objects to the content. MIT has not fully explained why it took action against Lewin, but we do know the following.

The Obama administration has used Title IX to force colleges to change the way they handle complaints, and has punished Harvard and Princeton for not favoring the complainer enuf.

The Harvard law professors say that the new policies lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process for the accused.

Lewin is nearly 80 years old, and a retired MIT professor. He was MIT's most popular professor.

A 32-year-old French woman watched some of Lewin's videos online, and sent him naked selfies. She was also on medication for mental disorders.

A year later, MIT investigators persuaded her that "Lewin’s interest in her was not motivated by empathy, and that their first conversations included inappropriate language."

MIT alleges that Lewin violated college policy.

In case you think MIT would always be fair, read about how it destroyed Aaron Swartz.

I deduce from this that Lewin never got a fair hearing, that he is a victim of a modern witch-hunt, and that MIT scapegoated him in order to avoid action from the Obama administration. I realize that it sounds inappropriate for an 80yo physics professor to be getting a naked selfie from a woman on another continent, but we live in an age where it is common for millions of women to send naked selfies. Even big-shot Hollywood actresses do it.

Update: Now the IPCC is accused of sexually inappropriate emails. [6][7][8] As with Lewin, the allegations are serious enough that he is no longer on the job. To be consistent with Lewin, Wikipedia should remove all the links to the IPCC reports.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Neanderthals were ancestors to most people

The NY Times reports:
In 2010, scientists made a startling discovery about our past: About 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of living Europeans and Asians.

Now two teams of researchers have come to another intriguing conclusion: Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of Asians at a second point in history, giving them an extra infusion of Neanderthal DNA.
Neanderthals did not just interbreed with our ancestors, they are our ancestors.

The story is phrased in a way to suggest that the offspring of that interbreeding died out, or that African ancestors are somehow more worthy than European ones. It is like octaroons denying black ancestry.
Based on these differences, scientists estimate that the Neanderthals’ ancestors diverged from ours 600,000 years ago.
This only makes sense if "ours" refers to Africans. The author, Carl Zimmer, is white as in the photo, so those Neanderthal ancestors are also his ancestors.
Our own ancestors remained in Africa until about 60,000 years ago, then expanded across the rest of the Old World. Along the way, they encountered Neanderthals. And our DNA reveals that those encounters led to children.
Now he is talking like a white boy. Being white, his DNA reveals that his African ancestors mated with his Neanderthal ancestors.
Today, people who are not of African descent have stretches of genetic material almost identical to Neanderthal DNA, comprising about 2 percent of their entire genomes.
Wait a minute -- didn't he just say that we are all descended from Africans? So who are these people "not of African descent"?

This article is all about trying to explain the fact that Caucasians have 2% Neanderthal DNA, Orientals have 2.4%, and Negroes have 0%. These terms have fallen out of favor, and the article says "People in China, Japan and other East Asian countries" instead of Orientals. Maybe that is clear enuf, but "African descent" is a confusing word for Negro.

As far as I know, these racial terms are not considered offensive. People don't like the terms because they don't like the idea of dividing humans into racial groups. However, the reported research is all about genetic differences in the three major racial groups, so if you do not believe in the distinctions then none of this makes any sense.

Stranger is how stories about Neanderthal ancestry refuse to admit that Neanderthal were ancestors. Zimmer talks about them as if they are sub-human animals who were just not good enuf to be called ancestors. He writes:
People who inherited a Neanderthal version of any given gene would have had fewer children on average than people with the human version.
The human version? So he is saying that the Neanderthal genes are not human.

Neanderthals interbred with Africans, and all 6 billion non-Negroes today are the direct descendants. It seems crazy to call those Neanderthal genes non-human.

Zimmer has been writing on this topic for years, but even he gets confused by his own racial political correctness. An earlier article had this correction:
Correction: January 29, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the living groups in which Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair are very common. They are very common in non-Africans, not non-Asians.
He should have just said that the Neanderthal genes are common in Caucasians and Orientals. The article also said:
That suggests that male human-Neanderthal hybrids might have had lower fertility or were even sterile.

Overall, said Dr. Reich, “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good.”
That research is refuted by the current research. No one in the NY Times would ever say such a thing about a living racial group. People often slander Neanderthals.

Anthropologist John Hawks defends Neanderthals against various negative stereotypes. He notes a new book on The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. A lot of this is speculative, of course, as dogs were only domesticated 15kyrs ago, and Neanderthals went extinct 40kyrs ago.

Update: Another NY Times article discusses hostility to racial categories:
“Whiteness” as a concept is not new. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about it in the 1920s; James Baldwin addressed it in the 1960s. But it did not gain traction on college campuses until the 1980s, as an outgrowth of an interdisciplinary study of racial identity and racial superiority. It presumes that in the United States, race is a social construct that had its origins in colonial America when white plantation owners were seeking dominance and order.

Today “white privilege” studies center on the systemic nature of racism as well as the way it exposes minorities to daily moments of stress and unpleasantness — sometimes referred to as “micro-aggressions.” Freedom from such worries is a privilege in and of itself, the theory goes, one that many white people are not even aware they have.
No, racial is not just a social construct that was invented to grow cotton.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Walker was right to punt on evolution

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist professor Jerry Coyne responds to a news story:
But it was in London that a Brit, somehow overlooking the significance of cheese, asked the governor whether he believes in evolution. This is precisely no different than asking whether one believes in the theory of gravity or general relativity, but Walker would not answer. He said he had come to London to deal not with philosophical matters but, as cannot be emphasized enough, cheese. Good day, gentlemen!
It is in fact different from asking whether one believes (“accepts” is a better word because “believe” implies a religious-like faith) in theory of gravity or generality relativity, and the reason is obvious. The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation. It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology. It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration. It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.” It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence.
So Coyne was looking for this politician to affirm evolution because that would imply an endorsement of his materialistic view of humans, and in particular that they have no free will or moral instincts.

Humans do behave as if they have free will and moral instincts. Well, some behave that way more than others. Evolution teaches that all such traits developed from lower animals, and your ancestry determines how much you have inherited. So some people have the genes for good moral behavior, and some have the genes to be natural slaves. Maybe all politicians should be asked whether they believe this stuff, and branded anti-science if they do not. Walker was sensible not to take the bait.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Republicans refuse questions on evolution

The leftist site Salon posts on evolution politics:
From climate change to vaccines to the theory of evolution, much of the Republican Party has made clear that it’s not exactly enamored of modern science. ...

But Walker’s refusal to indicate whether he accepts a fundamental tenet of biology underscores the GOP’s tortured relationship with science, not least on evolution. With Walker and other GOP hopefuls gearing up to launch their 2016 campaigns, Salon now provides you with a comprehensive guide to where the Republican candidates stand on the origin of life.
No, it does not tell us where any of the candidates stand on the origin of life.

Evolution is not a theory about the origin of life.

Leftists like HBO TV's Bill Maher are always attacking Republicans for being anti-science, but look at his anti-science views.

TheHumanist.com published an article:
How to Teach Evolution to Christians and Muslims
by Susan Corbett • 2 February 2015 ...

First, an interesting fact that I came across in Islamic teachings which was also generally acceptable to the Christian community was that Muslims are (for lack of better terms) “allowed” to believe in an evolutionary explanation for life on Earth, with the exception of humans. As long as the focus was on non-human species, there would be little-to-no objection from the Christian or Muslim communities within the school. ...

Second, the term “theory” can be defined as “an idea or set of ideas that is suggested or presented as possibly true, but that is not known or proven to be true to explain certain facts or events.” After giving the students this explanation of a theory, I was then able to present Darwin’s theories to them and allow them to postulate whether they believed Darwin’s thoughts followed this definition.
Strangely, this article has been retracted without any comment or notice. You can temporarily read it in Google's web cache.

I can only assume that either some leftist-atheist-evolutionists or Muslims were offended. (Maybe some Christians were offended, but they would not retract an article for that reason.)

So human evolution seems to be the sensitive issue. This has two parts: (1) humans evolved from lower animals and retain many similarities with them; and (2) human bio diversity is driven by the inheritance of many significant physical, cognitive, and behavioral traits.

Many leftist-atheist-evolutionists are eager to force everyone to accept (1) as true science, because that undermines religion and promotes their egalitarian politics. They rarely mention (2), even tho it is the flip side of the same reasoning.

If Salon or the press want to quiz politicians on evolution, then I wish they would ask Republicans and Democrats, and ask about both (1) and (2).

If the question is presented as just a disguised version of "Do you believe humans have souls, or do you believe in science?", then I would not blame a politician for refusing to answer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How the machines will enslave us

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
My too-clever point is that someday humans will be enslaved by their machines without realizing it. The machines will evolve to become more useful, more reliable, more credible, and far more fair than humans. You will do what machines tell you to do until there are no real decisions left for you to make. And we won’t see that day coming because it will creep up on us one line of code at a time. And the machines will not look like evil robots; they will look like the technology sprinkled throughout your day. Totally benign.
I agree with this. Movie artificial intelligence doomsday scenarios like Terminator usual portray the AI as an evil top-down secret military project out of control.

No, our new robot overlords will come from Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. These companies have a missionary zeal to connect everyone to their servers:
Zuckerberg delivered a zinger:

"Well, it matters to the kind of investors that we want to have," he said.

Facebook, Zuckerberg says, is a mission-focused company whose goals extend beyond making money. The goal of Internet.org is to bring affordable internet access to parts of the world that don't have it.

"We wake up every day and make decisions because we want to help connect the world, and that's what we're doing here," Zuckerberg said on the call
Someday you will be afraid to trash popular products, or else Amazon might not offer you the best deals. You will be afraid to express unpopular views, or else Facebook might not connect you to a better class of people.

Taking orders from a stoplight might seem trivial, but someday that stoplight will be connected to your phone maps, and turn green based on which cars are going to the more worthwhile destinations. And if you are taking your self-driving car to the beach, it might go a long slow way in order to get out of the way of people going to work. Or it may decide to take you to the gym if it decides that you need more exercise.

While this seems invasive today, it is easy to imagine policies like this been justified for kids. As it is, they are locked into car-seats and supervised 24 hours a day. Millions of teenagers carry cellphones that track them at all times. Using the technology to control them is just another step.

For some reason, most people obediently tell the truth to their physicians. This is so widespread that such hearsay is admissible in court. Now Google is giving health advice as part of its regular Google search. Google has cell phone apps that use sensors to track fitness. Soon people will feel an obligation to tell Google the truth, and will accept the idea that Google knows what is good for you better than you know yourself.

Already, I get robotic commands on a daily basis, where I see no reason to comply. I just logged into Google, and a message from Google Wallet said "Your card has expired. Please update this card." After a few minutes, it said "Please re-enter your password". Why would I do those things? I do not even know what Google Wallet is good for.

My phone service is unreliable, and occasionally I get a recorded message saying "Your call did not go thru. Please try again." Maybe I don't want to try again. Maybe a second try will be a similar waste of time. Why is someone asking me to attempt a phone call?

Microsoft MS-DOS and most versions of Windows had a feature where if you issued a command to see what was in your A or D drive, it would then command you to put a disc in the drive. Again, why? I do not want a disc in my drive. I merely gave the computer the most innocuous possible query, and now it is ordering me to do something.

The remarkable thing is that apparently nobody complains about being ordered around by robots like this. It would be just as easy for the messages to say "Your call did not go thru. You may try again." or "Disc not found".

This may sound trivial, but my car recently ordered me to "Service engine". For what? Why? I had to borrow a special diagnostic device to tell a 3-digit code that I could look up on the web to find out whether it was serious or not. Why does anyone put up with that?

Aristotle believed that some people were natural slaves. Slavery is illegal, but many people are perfectly happy taking orders from robots.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent

The WSJ reports:
A new paper in the journal Science suggests an interesting answer. Sarah-Jane Leslie, a philosopher at Princeton University, Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, and colleagues studied more than 1,800 professors and students in 30 academic fields. The researchers asked the academics how much they thought success in their field was the result of innate, raw talent. They also asked how hard people in each field worked, and they recorded the GRE scores of graduate students.

Professors of philosophy, music, economics and math thought that “innate talent” was more important than did their peers in molecular biology, neuroscience and psychology. And they found this relationship: The more that people in a field believed success was due to intrinsic ability, the fewer women and African-Americans made it in that field. ...

But although scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent, it’s still a tremendously seductive idea in everyday life, and it influences what people do. ...

Why are there so few women in philosophy? It isn’t really because men are determined to keep them out or because women freely choose to go elsewhere. Instead, as science teaches us again and again, our actions are shaped by much more complicated and largely unconscious beliefs. I’m a woman who moved from philosophy to psychology, though I still do both. The new study may explain why—better than all the ingenious reasons I’ve invented over the years.
News to me that scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent. So says a woman who switched from philosophy to psychology because of an unconscious belief that philosophy requires talent.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Attack on NSA dwells on 40yo DES

I responded to complaints about the NSA from mathematicians and scientists, and now there are more.

A letter to the AMS attacks the NSA:
This track record includes reducing the key length of the block cipher DES in the 1970s to make it breakable, blacklisting an inventor of DES from other cryptography jobs, advocating for control of cryptographic research in the 1980s, and, according to NSA's 2013 budget request, covertly influencing "commercial products' designs" and "policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies" for the purposes of exploitation. Indeed, the track record speaks for itself.
Most of this is dubious. An AMS history of DES only says that
There have been persistent rumors that NSA had pressed for the shorter key length.
While IBM originally proposed a 128-bit key cipher, NSA pointed out weaknesses, and the 56-bit DES was stronger than IBM's 128-bit cipher. At the time of its release, DES was stronger than any other civilian cipher, so I don't see how NSA could have weakened it.

The blacklisted inventor was supposedly Horst Feistel, but he seems to have had a successful cryptology career.

The NSA is a military spy agency, so I do not doubt that it budgets money for spy work.

Here is another response:
In a recent letter to the American Mathematical Society titled 'Encryption and the NSA Role in International Standards', Dr. Wertheimer, a former NSA Mathematician and Research Directer, works very hard to leave the impression that the NSA did not place a backdoor in the DUAL_EC_DRBG algorithm. He never directly says that though because the evidence is so overwhelming to the contrary. Instead he chooses to engage in what can only be called aggressive and willfully misleading
If the evidence is so overwhelming, then how is anyone misled?

I do think that it is silly to complain about NSA's influence over DES 40 years ago. Here is what I originally said in my letter to the NSA:
Back in the 1970s, attacks on the NSA were based on how it influenced the Data Encryption Standard (DES). The accusation was that NSA crippled it in order to spy on everyone.

In fact DES was a big advance over anything else in the public domain, and more secure than what IBM developed on its own. Years of analysis have not turned up any backdoors, and the most practical attack is a brute-force key space search. There is no known example of anyone ever losing a dime from a DES weakness.

The chief complaint about DES was that the key size was limited to 56 bits. However this was not even a material limitation as everyone quickly realized that DES could easily be augmented to Triple-DES or DES-X for larger keys.
It is likely that NSA had some ciphers that were better than DES at the time. However it would have surely been against policy to release a military cipher into the public domain. What it apparently did was to make sure that DES was exactly as good as it appears to be, so it could be used appropriately for unclassified purposes. As computers got faster, it later helped facilitate AES as an improved cipher.

These mathematicians are embarrassing themselves with their criticisms of NSA. If they are against spying, they could just say so, instead of all the silly complaints about how NSA has not always fully explained itself.

I am all in favor of public concern about computer security. We hear regular stories about naked selfies posted online, identity theft, stolen movies, email tampering, hacking credit card databases, etc. How many of these were caused by NSA choosing too few key bits or poorly seeding a pseudorandom number generator? Zero. These complaining mathematicians keep acting as if something bad has happened, but they cannot point to any ill effect anywhere.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Conservatives think more analytically

This study got a lot of attention:
Political conservatives in the United States are somewhat like East Asians in the way they think, categorize and perceive. Liberals in the U.S. could be categorized as extreme Americans in thought, categorization and perception. That is the gist of a new University of Virginia cultural psychology study, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. ...

"We found in our study that liberals and conservatives think as if they were from completely different cultures -- almost as different as East and West," ...

"On psychological tests, Westerners tend to view scenes, explain behavior and categorize objects analytically," Talhelm said. "But the vast majority of people around the world -- about 85 percent -- more often think intuitively -- what psychologists call holistic thought, and we found that's how conservative Americans tend to think."
The study paper is behind a paywall, but it appears that it uses very strange definitions. I see conservatives as supporting individualism, and liberals supporting collectivism. But this paper says the opposite, with "liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities."

The lead author says:
If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”
No, this is not analytic thinking. Saying that all people have the same worth is the most simplistic childish view possible. And individualism is not saying that all individuals are the same as a justification for welfare spending. It is closer to the opposite.

Merriam-Webster defines individualism:
a (1) : a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount; also : conduct guided by such a doctrine (2) : the conception that all values, rights, and duties originate in individuals
b : a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests; also : conduct or practice guided by such a theory
American Heritage defines:
1. a. Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.
b. Acts or an act based on this belief.
2. a. A doctrine advocating freedom from government regulation in the pursuit of a person's economic goals.
b. A doctrine holding that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of the state or social group.
3. a. The quality of being an individual; individuality.
b. An individual characteristic; a quirk.
These academic papers are nearly always written and published by liberals who do not understand conservativism. (In this case, one of the coauthors is a liberal professors who has published studies about how liberals do not understand conservativism.)

To show how conservatives like individualism, see this recent essay:
Self-Reliance Is the Bedrock of Parental Rights

We ought to ask ourselves how future generations can learn to be self-reliant if children are so protected from risks that they never learn self-regulation. At some point we have to understand that nanny states are in the business of killing the spirit of self-reliance. And since family autonomy is the primary source of learning self-reliance, parents are a companion target. ...

You will recall “The Life of Julia” infographic used in the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Julia was a poster child promoting life-long dependence on the government. Big Brother virtually led her through an entire life coasting down a path of least resistance. That’s the fate of us all if we don’t start teaching real self-reliance in our young.

Julia is ignorant and disinterested in the idea of self-reliance. She’s a rote conformist who has exactly the sort of docile temperament central planners have always hoped to instill in child and adult alike. They have a vested interest in a society filled with people unaware and unable to take care of themselves. In this context, CPS overreach in the case of the Meitiv family fits right in with the script.
The push for a nanny state that uses CPS to threaten parents with free-range kids is almost entirely from liberals.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Millionaires pushing for cheap labor

Sailer notes:
Venture capitalist and fine essayist Paul Graham writes in favor of Silicon Valley billionaires’ efforts to pass the Senate immigration bill, which increases H-1B visas from 85,000 new ones per year to 180,000.
We have the potential to ensure that the US remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year.
Okay, so let’s say “a few thousand” means 5,000. Then what do we need 85,000 H-1B grunts for, much less 180,000?
Yes, we could let in the great programmers, but that would only be about 5k a year.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The biggest fail of science

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
What’s is science’s biggest fail of all time?

I nominate everything about diet and fitness.

Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.

I could go on for an hour.
I agree with this. No other area of science has failed so badly. For decades, reputable authorities have been telling us what is supposedly scientifically correct about diet and fitness, and they have been wrong with most of what they say.

It is hard to explain how so much money could get such poor results. I think that the problem is that most of the bad advice has come from physicians. They are not the best source for 3 reasons.

1. Diet and fitness are out of their expertise. They take medical school classes in diagnosing disease and cutting up cadavers, but not in diet and fitness.

2. Physicians do not have a scientific mindset. Science is all about doing experiments, and physicians do not believe in experimenting on their patients.

3. Physicians are not independent thinkers. The medical world is extremely hierarchial, and physicians very much believe in following official policy and in having everyone follow orders as well.

Dilbert relates this to a more general public distrust in science on other issues like climate change.

Monday, February 02, 2015

More NSA complaints

I mentioned mathematicians attacking the NSA, and now AAAS Science magazine is getting into the act:
Science magazine this week has an article and a podcast about the NSA and the AMS. AMS president David Vogan is portrayed as outraged at the NSA’s misuse of mathematics, but without much support for doing anything about it
Supposedly the smoking gun here is a Snowden leak about a random number generator, but the same info has been public since 2007, as well as instructions how to re-seed the generator so that the NSA cannot spy on you. People are trying to stir up a controversy over nothing.

In spite of all this supposed spying, The NSA Is Viewed Favorably By Most Young People according to a poll. After all, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the ones spying on their naked selfies, not the NSA.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Vaccine propaganda about measles outbreak

The NY Times reports:
Measles anxiety rippled thousands of miles beyond its center on Friday as officials scrambled to try to contain a wider spread of the highly contagious disease — which America declared vanquished 15 years ago, before a statistically significant number of parents started refusing to vaccinate their children. ...

The anti-vaccine movement can largely be traced to a 1998 report in a medical journal that suggested a link between vaccines and autism but was later proved fraudulent and retracted.
No, that is false. I followed the anti-vaccine movement in 1998, and that report was just a minor conjecture based on a handful of cases.

Much bigger factors were:

* a rapid increase in vaccinations in the 1990s.
* giving a hepatitis B vaccine to all newborns at birth, when the population at risk was IV drug abusers, promiscuous women, and Chinese immigrants.
* vaccines that exceeded EPA guidelines for mercury consumption.
* a diarrhea vaccine that had to be pulled from the market for dangerous intestinal side-effects.
* pertussis vaccine with many worse side-effects than what other countries used.
* a lack of any public risk-benefit or cost-benefit analysis to vaccines.
* most of the experts on the FDA and CDC vaccine advisory panels had to get conflict-of-interest waivers because they worked for the drug companies making the vaccines.
* unexplained child health problems, such as autism and peanut allergy, seemed correlated with the increase in vaccines, and suitable study had been done.

I looked into the official CDC vaccine recommendation process myself, and found it very unscientific. Their meetings were closed to the public, and they openly stated that their main purposes were to promote vaccine use, and they would vote to require vaccines just because that made federal money available for poor kids to get them free.

The recent measles outbreak was caused by foreign tourists visiting Disneyland, and most of the cases have been unvaccinated adults. All the articles, such as the above NY Times article, try to blame the outbreak on parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids. Those parents have almost nothing to do with the outbreak. As long as measles is common in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and we allow thousands of unvaccinated foreigners in the USA every week, and adults are not required to be vaccinated, we will have measles outbreaks.

Update: The NY Times Retro Report has another article and video blaming the Disneyland measles outbreak on that 1998 report:
In the churning over the refusal of some parents to immunize their children against certain diseases, a venerable Latin phrase may prove useful: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. It means, “After this, therefore because of this.” In plainer language: Event B follows Event A, so B must be the direct result of A. It is a classic fallacy in logic. ...

An outbreak of measles several weeks ago at Disneyland in Southern California focused minds and deepened concerns. It was as if the amusement park had become the tragic kingdom. ...

While no one is known to have died in the new outbreaks, the lethal possibilities cannot be shrugged off. ...

This doctor, Andrew Wakefield, wrote that his study of 12 children showed that the three vaccines taken together could alter immune systems, causing intestinal woes that then reach, and damage, the brain. ... The British medical authorities stripped him of his license. ...

What motivates vaccine-averse parents? One factor may be the very success of the vaccines. Several generations of Americans lack their parents’ and grandparents’ visceral fear of polio, for example. For those people, “you might as well be protecting against aliens — these are things they’ve never seen,” ...
These are just irresponsible scare stories, because they do not address the actual risk. That is, foreign tourists at Disneyland could be infecting unvaccinated adults.

In the video, Wakefield expresses the opinion that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine should be split into 3 vaccines. If he were really so influential, then they could supply the separate vaccines for those concerned about it. If you are going to ask people to voluntarily vaccinate for the benefit of others, it seems reasonable to accommodate concerns that may not be well-justified.

Stripping dissenters of their medical licenses is not a great way to persuade conspiracy theorists.

The video also blames reporters for being too stupid to understand the scientific fact that "you cannot prove a negative." No, that is not a scientific fact.

Another NY Times column has similar pro-vaccine propaganda.

Update: I had forgotten that Barack Obama said in 2008:
We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.
Hillary Clinton said something similar. Surely they are to blame for the vaccine-autism association as much as Wakefield, but the NY Times does not mention them.

Update: I listened to this Science Friday broadcast mocking a mom who studied vaccine issues and came to her own conclusions that were contrary to the official schedule. She was portrayed and stupid and unreachable for being so anti-science.

Maybe some of her arguments showed an ignorance of some of the studies, but she did make some worthwhile points and was actually willing to give her child the vaccines on a slightly delayed schedule. I think that she should be allowed to do that without the nasty putdowns. That is her choice, and is no more harmful than a lot of other choices people make every day.

A reader says vaccines beneficial with very low risk. Okay, the great majority of the public accepts that, and there is no need to force 100% compliance with a rigid schedule.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Leftists disagree with scientists

This report from Pew and AAAS got a lot of publicity:
According to the report, the public is much less likely to view GM foods as safe to eat than the AAAS scientists (37 percent to 88 percent), even though 67 percent of the nonscientists surveyed acknowledged that they lacked a "clear understanding" of the health effects of GM crops.

Other topics with the widest gaps between the views of scientists and nonscientists include a 40-point gap between the two groups on whether eating food grown with pesticides is safe or not. Only 28 percent of the public believes it is "generally safe" to eat such foods (68 percent say it is "generally unsafe"), as opposed to 68 percent of the scientists who say it is safe (31 percent responding "generally unsafe").

Should animals be used in scientific research? Half of U.S. adults surveyed said no, a view expressed by only 9 percent of the scientists.
Note that this is primarily leftist disagreement with scientists. Opposition to GM foods, animal experiments, vaccines, and nuclear power come primarily from the left.

Some other items have mixed politics. "Humans have evolved over time" was the main point of a recent book by NY Times reporter Nicholas Wade, and opposition came from the left. Scientists say that "growing world population will be a major problem" and it is only right-wingers who want to do something about it by limiting migration from developing to developed countries.

I was surprised that so many scientists agreed with "Climate change is mostly due to human activity". The IPCC does say things like:
There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.[6] {2.2}

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.[7] It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica) (Figure SPM.4). {2.4}
Okay fine, but there could be lots of climate change that has nothing to do with human activity.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Recording of Obama opinion on radio show

I called a local radio station talk show on why I am glad Obama did not join Paris march. Here is the audio uploaded to YouTube. The still picture is unrelated to the call.

I make the video by downloading the mp3 audio from the radio station archives, and using Windows Live Movie Maker to turn it into a video. That program is free and easy to use. From a picture (jpeg) and audio (mp3), you can combine to create a video suitable for YouTube. The default format is huge, so you will want to choose a small format to upload.

The only tricky thing is that the program will not let you import the audio until you have imported the picture. So you have to import the picture first. But then the program assigns a default duration for the picture of 7 minutes. If you then upload the audio, and the duration is something other than 7 minutes, then the program will get all confused. So you have to diddle with some obscure settings to try to convince the program that the audio and video should have the same duration.

I wonder how many people give up on a program like this because the simplest thing is so unnecessarily difficult.

The call was amusing because I appeared to actually convince someone of something. That is rare on a radio talk show.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Languages do not make a kid smarter

Many parents get their kids into some sort of bilingual education on the theory that it make them smarter. I commonly see Chinese-Americans teaching their kids Chinese, and Mexican-Americans teaching their kids Spanish, but they may be doing it for cultural or practical reasons. There are also Chinese-Americans teaching a kid Spanish, or parents sending a kid to Chinese lesson, even tho the parents do not speak a word.

Many of the widely-reported benefits to learning a second language appear to be the result of publication bias:
To test the accuracy of claims made about the cognitive powers of bilingual people, Angela de Bruin, Psychology Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, performed a meta-analysis of academic papers presented at one-hundred and sixty-nine conferences between 1999 and 2012.

Previously, a careful review of the evidence by psychologist Ellen Bialystok in 2012 firmly supported claims that bilingual individuals were more creative and better at switching between tasks (because their brains were used to switching between languages).

But because papers presented at academic conferences address in-progress research, they cover a wider spectrum of work than studies which are published. Of the conference papers de Bruin analyzed, about half provided evidence in favor of special bilingual cognition while the other half refuted such claims.

When it came time to publish, however, the numbers changed. Sixty-eight percent of studies suggesting a bilingual advantage were published in a scientific journal, compared to twenty-nine percent of those that refuted the claim.
See also the stories in the New Yorker and NPR Radio.

It seems possible that there is some benefit to learning some non-English language, but what if all that time and energy were spent learning something worthwhile?

Schools are dropping cursive writing as irrelevant to the modern world, but cursive seems more useful than Chinese.