Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Math crazing in the movies

Hollywood usually portrays mathematicians as crazy, such as in Good Will Hunting, Pi, A Beautiful Mind, Proof, and others. I just saw another. The 2008 movie Revolutionary Road featured a mathematician who had electric shock treatments to eliminate his interest in math! The actor was nominated for an Oscar.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Apple lock-in strategy

A major part of Apple's success has been its ability to lock-in customers. The NY Times explains:

Apple generally offers proprietary software and services that run only on Apple hardware. For example, iMessage is Apple’s free text messaging service offered only for iPhones and iPads. Analysts have called this approach Apple’s “lock-in” strategy to keep customers loyal, a term that has been described as cynical because it has a connotation of imprisonment. But in his e-mail, even Mr. Jobs recognizes that Apple’s goal with its cloud services is to “tie all of our products together, so we further lock customers into our ecosystem.”
There is a lot of confusion about Apple's success. Some people think that Apple invented the iPod, or that it was easier to use or better than the competition. There were several portable mp3 players before Apple. The Apple iPod did not sell very well at first.

Apple managed to take over the market for two reasons. First, Apple pumped 100s of millions of dollars into advertising its iPod as the cool trendy product. The market at the time could not really justify that kind of advertising, but Apple did it anyway because it was promoting its company image, and driving people into its stores to buy Macintosh computers. None of the other companies could compete on ads.

Second, Apple managed to find a digital rights management (DRM) scheme that satisfied the record labels and that its customers accepted. The customers were locked into Apple products in a way that customers of other companies would not accept. Somehow Apple customers like being locked in to Apple.

I found competing players easier to use. I could buy non-DRM music from Amazon, and just copy it to the player just like files. I like the players made by Sandisk. They have a history of offering many useful features not available from Apple, and sell at about a quarter the price. The are other good brands also. Most people call these players ipods, whether made by Apple or not.

A startup company is offering a player for higher quality music, but the Apple fanbois are very upset that a product would be so technically superior to Apple. Here is a typical Si Valley columnist badmouthing it:
Yet, despite the enthusiasm surrounding it, Pono is an anachronistic and ill-considered solution to an all-but-nonexistent problem.

The service is modeled on how people used to listen to music five or 10 years ago, not how they listen today.

By and large, consumers are replacing stand-alone digital music players like the iPod with smartphones. And instead of plugging those players into their computers to sync their music, they're getting music on their smartphones wirelessly -- either by syncing their songs over Wi-Fi or, increasingly, streaming them from services such as Spotify, Pandora or iTunes Match.

Pono would have consumers step back in time. They would have to carry around separate phones and music players again. And they would pay $400 for that music device -- which, in an increasingly connected world, is resolutely disconnected. The only way to get music on it is by transferring it from a computer over a USB cable.

You can't buy a song when you're away from your computer and you can't stream it to the device. The company's not even working on a smartphone app that might be able to offer Pono customers some connectivity or instant gratification.
Yes, most people might be happy with low-quality audio on their smart phones. That streaming music is usually significantly worse than FM radio, while the Pono promises something much better.

This review is like telling people not to buy a Tesla car because you won't be able to buy cheap used parts at you local junkyard. The whole point to buying a Tesla is to get something much better than what is in that junkyard.

Apple's biggest success was with the iPhone, which partially stemmed from iPod success. But the iPhone is not as dominant as some people think, as Android phones outsell it about 5 to 1 worldwide. The competition is described in Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution. What is not so well known is that Google announced its amart phone before Apple did, and Apple copied Google as much as Google copied Apple. Steve Jobs went into a vindictive rage against Google, and Google removed the only features that supposed copied Apple. Apple has sued several Android phone makers, but has not sued Google.

The Apple iPhone strategy is also all about lock-in. You get locked into carriers, contracts, app store, etc.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mathematician wants sex gossip

The mainstream news media seems to be going all-gay all the time, but I thought that I could get away from that by reading technical mathematics journals.
But the reviewer, in describing the relationship of Alexandrov and Kolmogorov as “friends and collaborators” does a disservice to Graham and Kantor, and to the unsuspecting reader of the review. Graham and Kantor make a very clear case that Alexandrov and Kolmogorov (and, also, Alexandrov and Urysohn) were lovers, and that the tenuous position of homosexuals in Russian society (which, sadly, continues to this day) shaped at least some of their political behavior, in particular Alexandrov’s and Kolmogorov’s denunciations of Luzin and Solzhenitsyn. If Glutsyuk has evidence to challenge Graham’s and Kantor’s claims, he should mention it. But simply avoiding the issue avoids one of the major themes in the book, and continues to hide an aspect of history which is too often hidden.

—Judith Roitman
University of Kansas
I can only assume that she has some sort of feminist belief that exposing homosexuality will help undermine the patriarchy.

The review was of
Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity. The author of the review did not reply, presumably because he did not think that such gossip and speculation was appropriate for a math journal. None of the Amazon reviews mention the homosexual theorizing, except for this one:
After a somewhat superficial description of the Soviet-era politics which consumed two of the principal Russian figures it deteriorates into such things as an extended description of the homosexual amours of famous Russian mathematicians including (but not limited to) Alexandrov and Kolmogorov (a couple, actually). Yuck. What's up with that?
Andrey Kolmogorov was a brilliant Soviet mathematician who is particularly known for work in probability theory.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Gene testing will allow insurance fraud

The NY Times is pushing for law restricting insurance info:
Fearing Punishment for Bad Genes ...

But many people are avoiding the tests because of a major omission in the 2008 federal law that bars employers and health insurers from seeking the results of genetic testing.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, known as GINA, does not apply to three types of insurance — life, disability and long-term care — that are especially important to people who may have serious inherited diseases. Sponsors of the act say that they were well aware of the omission, but that after a 14-year effort to write and pass the law, they had to settle for what they could get.
It then goes on to explain the story of a guy to wants to commit insurance fraud by buying cheap life insurance after being diagnosed with a fatal disease.
Dr. Robert C. Green, a genetics researcher at Harvard Medical School, studied the behavior of those who had recently learned they carried a genetic marker that predisposes them to early Alzheimer’s disease. They were five times as likely to buy long-term-care insurance as those in a control group. ...

Just three states — California, Oregon and Vermont — have broad regulations prohibiting the use of genetic information in life, long-term-care and disability insurance.
So the guy can just move to California, and cash in for millions of dollars for his heirs.

The article says that medical ethicists want to expand the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, so that it will be easier to experiment on humans:
Fear of discrimination affects research participants as well as patients. Dr. Green said that 23 out of 94 volunteers who walked away from a sequencing study did so because of concerns about insurance.
The whole concept of insurance is to reduce risk by selling to a company that can spread risk over a group. If people can insure against a disaster they know is going to happen, it defeats the point. Or to use industry jargon:
Insurance industry representatives, by contrast, argue that they may need genetic information to make underwriting decisions.

Barring long-term-care and life insurers from obtaining applicants’ test results “could lead to adverse selection and impact the stability of rates,” the American Academy of Actuaries said in a statement.
Obamacare is also anti-insurance, because much of it pays for routing and predictable care, like check-ups.
As for Brian S., he and his wife want to have a baby. But because he has decided not to be tested for the fatal neurological disorder, they are considering in vitro fertilization with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

That would allow any embryos carrying the dreaded mutation to be silently screened out, keeping him ignorant of his own status — and able to apply for life and long-term-care insurance without fear of being turned down.
The IVF tests do not work that way. Whoever does the test will have to known whether he carries the bad gene. He can ask now to be told, but there will be a record of the result.

I guess they did not ask the ethicists about having a baby with a 50% chance of growing up without a father. I guess they figure millions of kids do anyway. It seems crazy to me that someone would forgo a $100 test, not learn whether he has a fatal disease, spend $20k on IVF, put his family thru misery -- all so it will be easier for him to buy a life insurance policy in the future?

DNA tests scare a lot of people. It is as simple as that. The law sill not change that. Maybe someday everyone's DNA will be sequenced at birth and attached to the birth certificate. Then maybe people will accept it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Who cares about high-frequency traders?

I listened to several interviews of Michael Lewis plug his sensalized new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, and I don't get it. Exactly why is it such a bad thing that some big firms are making rapid trades?

Stock markets have always had market makers who profit from order imbalances, with some risk to themselves. Advancing technology has allowed the high-frequency traders to become part of the system. But Lewis does not explain how anyone is being cheated. Maybe the traders are making the market more efficient.

Lewis sounds as if he is on to something when he talks about how millions of dollars can change hands in less time than the blink of an eye. But usually liquidity is a good thing, not a bad thing, so I do not see the point. Of course someone could be illegally wiretapping, stealing information, defrauding clients, etc, and that would be a criminal matter. But I did not hear that being alleged.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Double standard for Si Valley CEOs

Perhaps the most narrow-minded and vindictive political group is the LGBT lobby.
Do you agree with everything your boss believes? Is this a requirement for working under them? The challenge issued this week to Mozilla – creators of the Firefox web browser and advocates of the "open web" – is whether their new CEO's alleged support for anti-gay marriage campaigns is at odds with their inclusive, community-driven stance.

The boss in question is programming guru Brendan Eich, creator of the hugely popular JavaScript language and general web evangelist. Mozilla have been operating under an acting CEO,
See also complaints here and on okCupid.

All Eich did was donate $1k for a 2008 initiative that merely confirmed existing federal and state marriage law as between a man and woman. 7 million people voted to pass it, and it has not been overturned or repealed. It did not affect same-sex couples getting all the state law benefits of marriage, but California did not call it marriage.

Meanwhile other Silicon Valley CEOs have leftist politics that are directly harmful to Americans and its employees. Apple, Google, and others are currently on trial for antitrust violations against employees. The Facebook CEO actively campaigns for illegal alien amnesty and cheap immigrant labor. And they all have anti-privacy policies that go far beyond what the NSA is accused of doing.

To me, inclusiveness and tolerance means not trying to get someone fired for a mainstream political opinion expressed 6 years ago.

Update: Eich has now been fired:
In Silicon Valley, where personal quirks and even antisocial personalities are tolerated as long as you are building new products and making money, a socially conservative viewpoint may be one trait you have to keep to yourself.

On Thursday, Brendan Eich, who has helped develop some of the web’s most important technologies, resigned under pressure as chief executive of Mozilla, the maker of the popular Firefox web browser, just two weeks after taking the job. The reason? In 2008, he donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, a California measure that banned same-sex marriage. ...

The letter, which has since been removed, concluded that “those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” ...

Andrew Sullivan, a prominent gay writer and an early, influential proponent of making same-sex marriage legal, expressed outrage over Mr. Eich’s departure on his popular blog, saying the Mozilla chief had been “scalped by some gay activists.”

“If this is the gay rights movement today — hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else — then count me out,” Mr. Sullivan wrote.
Of course Eich did not seek to deny love or enforce misery on anyone. His position only became public from an illegal IRS leak.

Update: NY Times adds:
And Brendan Eich, who resigned as Mozilla’s chief executive on Thursday after just two weeks in the job, may not have been the person to run a company with such expanding interests. ... Instead of addressing the criticism head-on, he insisted that his personal views should not matter to Mozilla.
The spineless and intolerant Mozilla board members were Mitchell Baker and Reid Hoffman. Eich should not have to cooperate with this witch-hunt and explain his views. It should be known that Mozilla (Firefox), LinkedIn, and OkCupid are enemies of free speech. Apple, Google, and Tahoo are probably no better.

Bill Maher says:
"I think there is a gay mafia," Maher said. "I think if you cross them, you do get whacked."
The comments to Mozilla are overwhelmingly negative.

Update: The leftist Mother Jones reports:
OkCupid's co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan once donated to an anti-gay candidate. (Yagan is also CEO of
Yagan has apologized.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Helping Bangladesh a bad idea

Nate Silver has quit the NY Times, published an article on the cost of extreme weather caussed by global warming, and apologized to the global warming alarmists.

Mearnwhile, in a desperate attempt to find someone harmed by global warming, the NY Times blames us for problems on the other side of the world:
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.

Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced.

“There are a lot of places in the world at risk from rising sea levels, but Bangladesh is at the top of everybody’s list,” said Rafael Reuveny, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. “And the world is not ready to cope with the problems.” ...

At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants.

“It’s a matter of global justice,” said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist.
This is backwards thinking. Bangladesh is a dysfunctional country. Even the name sounds like some sort of wasteland, instead of a real nation. They have too many people, and they cannot even take care of themselves.
Though Bangladesh has contributed little to industrial air pollution, other kinds of environmental degradation have left it especially vulnerable.

Bangladesh relies almost entirely on groundwater for drinking supplies because the rivers are so polluted. The resultant pumping causes the land to settle. So as sea levels are rising, Bangladesh’s cities are sinking, increasing the risks of flooding. Poorly constructed sea walls compound the problem. ...

In an analysis of decades of tidal records published in October, Dr. Pethick found that high tides in Bangladesh were rising 10 times faster than the global average. He predicted that seas in Bangladesh could rise as much as 13 feet by 2100, four times the global average. In an area where land is often a thin brown line between sky and river — nearly a quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level — such an increase would have dire consequences, Dr. Pethick said.
The West has helped them overpopulate too much already. The world is a changing place, and so is human population. Maybe it would be a good thing if more of Bangladesh were under water. I certainly do not think that we should stop using carbon so those people can make a bigger mess of their country.

It is silly to think that some people should be compensated because they might have to move over the next century. A lot of people move every 5 years, and it is no big deal. These Third World countries are very much better off for Western industrialization. They certainly did not object, or propose to do it any differently. They benefit from better food and other goods. They should appreciate it. Industrialization was not a mistake, and there is no need to apologize for it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturated fat is good for you

For 50 years, physicians have been giving us bad dietary advice, and they never admit that they have been wrong, in spite of all the studies that prove them wrong. Here is the latest.

NPR Radio reports:
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines urge us to limit consumption because of concerns that saturated fat raises the risk of heart disease. But after decades of research, a growing number of experts are questioning this link.

In fact, the authors of a new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine conclude that there's insufficient evidence to support the long-standing recommendation to consume saturated fat in very low amounts.

So, let's walk through this shift in thinking: The concern over fat gathered steam in the 1960s when studies showed that saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol — the bad cholesterol — the artery-clogging stuff. The assumption was that this increased the risk of heart disease.

But after all this time, it just hasn't panned out, at least not convincingly. When researchers have tracked people's saturated fat intake over time and then followed up to see whether higher intake increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, they haven't found a clear, consistent link.

In fact, the new study finds "null associations" (to quote the authors) between total saturated fat intake and coronary risk. And a prior analysis that included more than 300,000 participants came to a similar conclusion.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Man sentenced despite acquittal

Antwuan Ball was charged with a long list of serious drug dealing crimes, acquitted by a jury of everything except one $600 sale, and sentenced to 18 years in prison based on the unproven allegations. I did not know that was possible. It seems contrary to the American right to a jury trial.

Remember that if you are ever serving on a jury. If you believe that the defendant is innocent of the most serious counts, you might have to acquit him of the minor counts as well, in order to get that outcome. Prosecutors often overcharge defendants in order to get a compromise verdict and then to persuade the judge of an extra-long sentence. Do not fall for it.

There is more legal analysis.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Democrats against individualism

Ross Douthat writes in a NY Times op-ed:
In the future, it seems, there will be only one "ism" -- Individualism -- and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide -- and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook.

That's the implication, at least, of what the polling industry keeps telling us about the rising American generation, the so-called millennials.
I don't see it. Here in California, the state is ruled by Democrats, and they are dominated by SWPLs, Jews, blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Each of those just votes the interests of his own ethnic group. Except the SWPLs, pronounced swipples, who have somehow been convinced that rainbow politics requires being anti-white. The San Fran newspaper reports:
Three Asian American state senators - including San Francisco's own Leland Yee - are asking fellow lawmakers to shelve a measure aimed at allowing California's public universities to once again consider race in admissions.

The idea behind the proposed constitutional amendment is to make more room for Latinos and African Americans, who have been falling behind in admissions in recent years.

But it appears that rainbow politics goes only so far.

Yee said he had heard - loud and clear - from Asian Americans who fear that undoing the ban on affirmative action in college admissions would hurt their children's chances of getting into the highly competitive University of California system.
Bill Clinton is a SWPL, and he has advocated affirmative action as a way of preventing California universities from having too many Asians.

California used to be largely Republican, and much more individualist. But it has been transformed by immigrants, and they have brought cultures that are anti-individualist.

Update: Yee was arrested and charged with several corrupt practices.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Religion of the Cathedral-PC-Progressive Left

I’ve composed a list of dogmas that define the religion of the Cathedral-PC-Progressive Left.

Any suggestions?

1) Poverty causes crime.
2) Progress is inevitable.
3) Greed and hate are the roots of all evil.
4) People can be born gay but they can’t be born violent or stupid.
5) Race and gender are social constructs but racism and misogyny are ever-present social realities.
6) There is no such thing as human nature, natural law, the natural order, or normal human behavior.
7) The only human action that can be judged is judging others.
8) Diversity is strength.
9) No culture is superior to any other culture.
10) All religions are equally valid.
11) There are no significant behavioral or biological differences between different groups of people. Stereotypes result from irrational biases and prejudices. Inequality results from oppression or luck.
12) There is no such thing as a harsh truth. Any statement that offends someone is false.
13) Happiness is the natural human condition. Misery always results from injustice or mental illness.
14) MLK and Nelson Mandela are the greatest human beings to ever walk the Earth.
15) Universal acceptance of these dogmas is the key to the perfectibility of the human race. People who question them should be smeared as enemies of progress, censored as hatemongers, fired from their jobs, burned as heretics, or sent to re-education facilities.
I am not sure about the usage of "Cathedral" here. It suggests some sort of rigid doctrine that is mandated by our elites and must not be questioned.

The above is not any ordinary religion, as no genuine religious believer would ever argue that all religions are equally valid. And yet if a politician were to say that his religion is superior, then he would be branded a bigot.

A. J. West defends the Cathedral:
Here's a big problem for HBD-ers to resolve.  For thousands of years, western European societies were full of superstition, religion, religious bigotry, and religious (and other) violence.  To be a heretic, or to agree with heresies or heretics, was sufficient cause for arrest and brutal murder, meaning that religious belief and religious orthodoxy were actively selected for.  To disagree with the imposition of the death sentence for a heretic, to seem unorthodox, to not rejoice at the discovery and burning of witches - all of these could lead to execution.  This went on for hundreds of years, was extremely widespread, and was strongly selected for.  This is the kind of selection that, if such things were possible, would certainly lead to higher levels of superstition or religious hatred encoded at some genetic level.

Western Europe nowadays, of course, is one of the least religious, least violent, and least superstitious places on the planet.  Murder rates in most of western Europe hover around 1 in 100,000 and a tiny proportion of the European population is killed deliberately by another person.  The death penalty is entirely absent from Europe (aside from Belarus) and torture and witch burnings are no longer practiced.

This all changed incredibly quickly, within a couple of hundred years, and it happened in clear and obvious defiance of strong selective pressures to conform to the prior pattern of violence.  Natural selection in favour of such things meant nothing in the face of expanding trade, strong states, reason, improving hygiene, and the expansion of knowledge about the universe.
This is nonsense. Europeans were not executed for those things. Yes, some witches were executed, but they could have been mentally ill, and killing them might have improved European genes.

More to the point, Christianity is the least superstitious religion on Earth. Christianizing Europe had everything to do with it becoming less violent and less superstitious. There was no strong selection pressure for greater violence, unless it can be shown that violent criminals had more offspring. I doubt it. Criminals were punished. It sure seems to me that the Europe was selecting for a more civilized people, while other continents were less effective at it.

Religion is not the same as superstition. Japan has been called the least religion nation on Earth, but it is very superstitious, as Tsunami's Ghosts Haunt Japanese Earthquake Survivors. And most of the leading anti-religion avowed atheists contend that true atheism requires various leftist political dogmas.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mindreading is a stage in child development

What is the essence of humanity? What makes us unique among animals? Some have argued that it is natural language, like English. Spoken, heard, written, etc. I might agree with that. Others argue, bizarrely, that it is mindreading.

Mindreading is the communication by means other than natural language. It typically means deducing someone's intentions or feelings from facial expression, tone of voice, posture, and other clues, and not from the information content of the actual words.

NewScientist reports:
You had me at "Hello"! It turns out our opening words speak volumes – people take less than a second to form an impression of someone's personality based on their voice alone.

We know that our voices can transmit subtle signals about our gender, age, even body strength and certain personality traits, but Phil McAleer at the University of Glasgow and his colleagues wondered whether we make an instant impression. To find out, they recorded 64 people as they read a passage. They then extracted the word "hello" and asked 320 people to rate the voices on a scale of 1 to 9 for one of 10 perceived personality traits – including trustworthiness, dominance and attractiveness.

Although it's not clear how accurate such snap judgements are, what is apparent is that we all make them, and very quickly. "We were surprised by just how similar people's ratings were," says McAleer. Using a scale in which 0 represents no agreement on a perceived trait and 1 reflects complete agreement, all 10 traits scored on average 0.92 – meaning most people agreed very closely to what extent each voice represented each trait.

It makes sense that decisions about personality should happen really fast, says McAleer. "There's this evolutionary 'approach/avoidance' idea – you want to quickly know if you can trust a person so you can approach them or run away and that would be redundant if it took too long to figure it out."
You might regard this as a nasty and annoying prejudice, These perceptions are notoriously unreliable. People think, for example, that they that tell whether someone is telling the truth by looking into his eyes, but experiments show that they cannot.

A Freakonomics broadcast:
A psychology professor argues that the brain's greatest attribute is knowing what other people are thinking. And that a Queen song, played backwards, can improve your mind-reading skills.
Nicholas Epley elaborates:
DUBNER: So you argue in the book, and I’ll quote you to yourself, “Your brain’s greatest skill is its ability to think about the minds of others in order to understand them better.” ... What makes you say that?

EPLEY: Well if you look at what makes human beings unique from our closest primate relatives, for instance, we have big brains, we’re really smart, but where we’re really smart is in our social senses, in our social smarts. So there was an enormous experiment conducted a handful of years ago by some researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and what they did was they compared 105 human toddlers against 106 adult chimpanzees and their ability to solve certain kinds of problems. One group of these problems were physical kinds of problems like your ability to use a tool for instance to achieve a goal, or your ability to track where a reward was placed under some cups. And our toddlers were doing just about as well as the chimpanzees. That is they were neck and neck in reasoning about physical objects. But then there was another class of questions. These were questions that really required some mind-reading, required some social sense. So these were the social tests where for instance you had to trick the gaze of another person to know what they wanted, to know what their goal was, or your ability to understand someone else’s intention just by watching their behavior. And on these social tasks, on these social kinds of questions, our two-year-old toddlers were crushing the competition. Our kids were solving far more of these question correctly than our adult primate relatives were. And that’s, I think, just one piece of evidence that suggests that this is what our brains were really meant to do. We are one of the most social species on the planet. We live in some of the biggest social networks of any organism on the planet. And what separates us from others, what allows us cooperate, and to compete, and to build things collaboratively is our ability to connect with the minds of others, to know what their intentions are, what their motives are, to anticipate what they’re going to do next, to know who knows what, for instance.
It is true that humans are much more social and cooperative than apes, but maybe this mind-reading is just a stage in child development. It is certainly useful for a toddler who has not learned to talk yet.

But once a child learns to verbal intentions, and to understand the verbally expressed intentions of others, what is the value in the mind-reading guesswork? The kid can learn to say he wants food if he wants food.

It is commonly argued that mindreading is essential for adults also. Wikipedia says "nonverbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication." But this is just a silly myth, as this article explains:
93% of communication is non-verbal. Everyone knows that, don' they?

I've lost track of the number of times I've heard this in sales training sessions or read it in books, articles and blogs. Sometimes the stats are qualified further, for example:

"One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication".

Sounds impressive.

The trouble is - it's not true.

Let's think about it for a minute - how can you possibly get 93% of the communication without the words? If you watch a foreign-language film, and watch the body language and listen to the vocal tones - can you really understand 93% of it? I certainly can't.
This blog post is 100% verbal communication. I am not trying to convey any hidden messages that require reading in between the lines. Those who apply mindreading are likely to misunderstand me.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fatwa against all-you-can-eat

A Saudi Arabian site reports:
The cleric, Saleh al-Fawzan, recently issued a fatwa through a kingdom-based Quranic TV station prohibiting open buffets, saying that the value and quantity of what is sold should be pre-determined before it is purchased.

“Whoever enters the buffet and eats for 10 or 50 riyals without deciding the quantity they will eat is violating Sharia (Islamic) law,” said Fawzan on al-Atheer channel.
I am adding this to my list of reasons to avoid Islamic law.

I am happy to say that you can still eat burgers like this in America.

While we don't have fatwas, you might get cheated on a large beer at a hockey game:
When the couple attended an Idaho Steelheads minor league hockey game in Boise’s CenturyLink Arena, they found that the ‘regular’ size beer they bought actually held the same volume of brew as the ‘large’ size. They decided to shoot and post a video demonstrating that the $4 regular beer (listed as 16 oz.) nearly filled the entire $7 large beer cup (listed as 20 oz.). In the video Gibbs can be heard off camera saying, “It’s the same beer. Seven dollars, you just get a taller cup.”
Update: A lawyer is now seeking a class-action lawsuit over the beer cups having the same beer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Parents not bluffed by scare stories

A published Pediatrics study attempted to figure out what persuades parents to vaccinate kids:
METHODS: ... Parents were randomly assigned to receive 1 of 4 interventions: (1) information explaining the lack of evidence that MMR causes autism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (2) textual information about the dangers of the diseases prevented by MMR from the Vaccine Information Statement; (3) images of children who have diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine; (4) a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died of measles from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet; or to a control group.

RESULTS: None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate a future child.
We should be encouraged by consumers not being fooled by unscientific and anecdotal pressure tactics.

A better experiment might have been to present parents with actual evidence that the benefits of vaccination exceeds the risks, or with recommendations by an open and neutral panel of experts. But the pediatricians are unable or unwilling to do that. (A CDC panel does recommend the vaccines, but it is neither open nor neutral. It has secret meetings and it is controlled by vaccine industry lobbyists.)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Many overrated movies in 2013

The hot movies of 2013 seemed to be docudramas like The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Lone Survivor, and 12 Years a Slave. All of these were based loosely on historical facts, but ruined by fictionalizing crucial parts of the stories. The slave movie got the best picture oscar even tho the voters did not necessarily watch it. Apparently they felt obligated to endorse the anti-racism message.

It appears that the public is attracted to a movie "based on a true story", but then the movie makers just rewrite the story to suit their artistic preferences. I think that all of these movies would have been better if they stuck to the facts. I would rather see a purely fictional story, than a gross misrepresentation of the truth.

Other big winners were Gravity and Her. The chief appeal of Grevity was supposed to be its visual realism. It gave the appearance of scientific accuracy, but it had numerous misrepresentations. The main purpose of the movie seemed to be to mock the idea of using female astronauts, as the one in the movie was a bumbling incompetent from beginning to end.

I previously argued that Her is boring. The only thing of interest was the artificial intelligence, but much better AI is in movies made decades ago.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Atheists say they are born that way

MSNBC TV news host Touré Neblett just said, on a TV discussion of C-PAC:
I think you'd agree that atheism and being gay are totally different because you choose to be an atheist and being gay is who you are and how you were born. You can't change that and you shouldn't be asked to change that to remain ...
He says that as if it is an obvious truism, but leading atheists argue otherwise. For exxample, a popular atheism web site explains:
Do People Choose to be Atheists? ...

Personally, I tend very strongly towards involuntarism. I try to explain to evangelists that I do not in fact “choose” atheism. Instead, atheism is the only possible position I can have given my present state of knowledge. I can no more “choose” to just believe in the existence of a god than I can “choose” to just believe that the computer on my desk doesn’t exist.
Leading New Atheist Sam Harris wrote a book on how it is not a choice. Richard Dawkins refuses to say, and gives conflicting views here and here.

Other prominent atheists also deny that it is a choice.

On the other hand, there is no proof that being gay is inborn or unchangeable. Here is the latest attempt:
The Bailey paper claims to have found large segments of chromosomes containing hundreds of genes that are common in gay men. The researchers admitted they couldn’t find any specific “gay genes.”

Last year, a paper in a relatively obscure journal also caused a public stir for saying just the opposite.
For a survey of the evidence, see Biology and sexual orientation.

If you don't believe that something like religion or atheism could be heritable, see this recent book review:
Perhaps the main reason that scientists don’t think these psychological and attentional differences simply reflect learned behaviors — or the influence of cultural assumptions — is the genetic research. As Hibbing et al. explain, the evidence suggests that around 40 percent of the variation in political beliefs is ultimately rooted in DNA. The studies that form the basis for this conclusion use a simple but powerful paradigm: they examine the differences between pairs of monozygotic (“identical”) twins and pairs of dizygotic (“fraternal”) twins when it comes to political views. Again and again, the identical twins, who share 100 percent of their DNA, also share much more of their politics.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Race is real

Here is an early review of a new book:
“Human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.” With these heroic words, New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade opens fire on two of the obligatory myths of our time: that there is no such thing as race, and that human evolution stopped in the Stone Age. ...

Mr. Wade notes that the early peddlers of race-is-a-myth, such as Ashley Montagu (the stylish name British-born Israel Ehrenberg chose for himself), were clearly trying to distort science for political purposes, and that more recent peddlers, such as Jared Diamond and Steven Jay Gould have done the same thing.

The physical differences we see in human groups reflect separate evolutionary paths that led to unmistakably biological differences. Hunter-gatherers left Africa about 50,000 years ago, and once they wandered into all of earth’s habitable spaces, they stayed put and bred with their neighbors. DNA testing shows there was essentially no crossing until the modern era. For tens of thousands of years, independently breeding populations developed distinct genetic patterns.

Mr. Wade explains that the physical traits of populations are dramatically and consistently different even though there are very few alleles, or gene variants, that occur exclusively in only one group. This is because most traits are influenced by many genes. Norwegians, for example, need have only a preponderance of Norwegian-style alleles in their genes in order to give birth exclusively to Norwegians—and never to Malays or Pakistanis. As Mr. Wade puts it, “The fact that genes work in combination explains how there can be so much variation in the human population and yet so few fixed differences between populations.”
The obsolete idea that genetic diversity disproves race as a scientific concept is known as Lewontin's Fallacy.

I did not know that Montagu changed his name, but I see that he was Jewish, just like Diamond, Gould, and Lewontin. Judaism is the most racially-obsessed religion in the world. Just look at how Israel deports Africans.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Stenger defends New Atheism

Atheist-physicist Victor J. Stenger writes a defense of New Atheism:
Indeed, one of the common themes of New Atheism is to persuade scientists, the majority of whom are atheists, to play a larger role in many contested issues that affect the future of humanity on this planet. ...

We would be a thousand years further along in the scientific quest had it not been interrupted when, in the fourth century of the Common Era, the Catholic Church assumed control of the Roman Empire and plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. Only with the Renaissance, when free thought once again became possible, did a new science develop that led to the modern world. ...

The principles of New Atheism, as I see them to have been elucidated in the new atheist literature, are:

1. We should seek the “end of faith” because it is at best worthless and at worst harmful to believe without evidence, and downright dangerous to believe despite the evidence.

2. Religious claims – whether about the world or about human morality and ethics — should be studied scientifically and not be given a free pass from criticism.

3. Religion should be studied scientifically and not be given a free pass from criticism.

4. Religion “poisons everything.”

5. There not only is no evidence for God, there is ample evidence against the existence of a God, such as the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God, who plays and important role in the universe and in human life.

6. Yet, the situation is not hopeless. Surveys indicate that the tide is turning against theism, especially among the young who are the future.
When the new atheists take sides on those contested issues, it is usually on the left-wing side. For example, Jerry Coynes latest post is outlaw private possession of handguns. There is no science to back up the opinion.

The history lesson is a little distorted. If Christianity was so "dark" and contrary to scientific progress, then why did Christian Europe so rapidly pass up non-Christian civilizations in China, India, Persia, Egypt, Central America, etc.?

Catholics have never claimed that teachings be given a free pass from criticism.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Gay Germ Hypothesis

JayMan summarizes Greg Cochran’s “Gay Germ” Hypothesis
The case for the gay germ is somewhat indirect, but very strong. Critics often level the charge that there is “no evidence” for Cochran’s hypothesis – i.e., that the offending pathogen has yet to be identified. But the claim that there is “no evidence” isn’t really true; there is in fact plenty of evidence. The facts are certainly consistent with a pathogenic explanation, even if we don’t have the pathogen itself nailed down. But, the most compelling evidence comes in the form of ruling out potential alternative explanations. This itself is a form of evidence. The Sherlock Holmes quote, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” is an excellent guiding principle, and is certainly valid here.
This hypothesis seems extremely implausible to me, but I post it anyway to demonstrate the failure of other hypotheses.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Google uses IQ to hire

Google is famous for hiring people based on IQ tests, but they sure don't like to admit it. NY Times columnist Tom Friedman writes:
LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” ...

“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock.

“If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information."
In other words, they hire based on IQ, as Sailer explains at the above link.

It is not only fashionable to deny IQ, people also human rationality. Paul Bloom writes The War on Reason
Scientists and philosophers argue that human beings are little more than puppets of their biochemistry. Here's why they're wrong.

Aristotle’s definition of man as a rational animal has recently taken quite a beating.

Part of the attack comes from neuroscience. Pretty, multicolored fMRI maps ...

Another attack on rationality comes from social psychology. Hundreds of studies now show that factors we’re unaware of influence how we think and act. ...
Some of those factors are genetic, and all human behavioral traits are heritable.

The New Atheists have have own attack on rationality. For the most part, they deny free will, claim that religious people are brainwashed, and assert all sorts of leftist political positions without any reasoned argument.

Update: A new book, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, by Gregory Clark, argues:
How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. ... The bad news is that much of our fate is predictable from lineage.
This has already generated controversy, with the Economist magazine saying it "may not be a racist book, but it certainly traffics in genetic determinism."

Update: Other employers are interested in IQ also. The WSJ now reports:
Stephen Robert Morse was a candidate for a communications job when the recruiter told him to be ready to discuss his SAT score in a coming interview.

Mr. Morse, 28 years old, said he was "shocked" that a potential boss would be interested in the results of a test he took more than a decade earlier. He passed on the opportunity.

Proving the adage that all of life is like high school, plenty of employers still care about a job candidate's SAT score. Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.
The SAT test used to be more of an IQ test, but it was changed out of fear that it was being used as an IQ test.

Update: An LA Times op-ed explains:
First, decades of quantitative research in the field of personnel psychology have shown that across fields of employment, measurements of "general cognitive ability" — which is another way of referring to the old-fashioned concept of intelligence or IQ — are consistently the best tools employers have to predict which new employees will wind up with the highest performance evaluations or the best career paths. We shouldn't rush to assume that Google, with its private data, has suddenly refuted all that work.

How could Google be seeing no correlation between IQ and performance in their company? For the same reason that, say, there is no correlation between height and scoring in pro basketball. The average NBA player is almost 6 feet 7 inches tall, which is taller than 99% of the U.S. adult male population. The NBA selects its players based on height already, and it selects people who are outliers. Those NBA players facing one another are almost all extremely tall, which means factors other than height explain scoring. But put a team of NBA players up against a random bunch of guys, and height will make all the difference.

In the social sciences, this is known as the problem of "range restriction."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Islam is a political system seeking world domination

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh writes:
I have argued that many (though not all) of the things that are condemned as intrusions of Islamic law into American law are actually the applications of traditional American legal principles. Those who believe in equal treatment without regard to religion, I have argued, should extend to Muslims the benefits of those principles just as Christians, Jews and others can take advantage of those principles.

Some, however, have argued that Islam should not be treated the same as those other religions. One line of argument goes so far as to say (in the words of noted televangelist and political figure Pat Robertson) that “Islam is not a religion. It is a political system bent on world domination.”[111]

It’s hard to figure out exactly what the first part of this means. What constitutes a religion for legal purposes can be fuzzy around the edges,[112] but surely Islam — a prominent system of beliefs about God and God’s supposed commands to mankind — must qualify.[113] The argument, I assume, must be that Islam, though it is a religion, is not simply a religion but is also a political ideology and therefore loses its status as a religion for, say, religious accommodation purposes.

But that can’t be right. Many religions, especially many strands of Christianity, are “political system[s]” in the sense that they create an agenda for political action. The conservative Christian political program of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others is one example.[114] The “liberation theology” followed by some liberal Catholics is another.[115]
Yes, it can be right. While some Christians like Robertson are politically active, Christianity is not a political ideology and the mainstream Christian churches avoid politics, except when it directly interferes with their beliefs.
But whatever the difference between the religions, it can’t be that one is a “political system” and the other is not, or that one seeks “world domination” and the other does not. ...

People who want to set up Christianity as an official state religion are protected by the First Amendment.[121] So are people who overtly call for constructing a “theocracy” that “denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”[122]
Volokh appears to know nothing about Islam. The Wikipedia page says:
Mainstream Islamic law does not distinguish between "matters of church" and "matters of state"; the scholars function as both jurists and theologians.
That's right. In Islam, church and state are the same, while Christianity has a 2000 year old history of carefully distinguishing them.

Just look around the world. There are many countries that are officially Christian, like the UK, but they do not seek a Christian world domination. The UK takes in many Moslem immigrants, and makes no effort to convert them to Christianity. On the other hand, there are dozens of Islamic countries around the world, and they all persecute Christians and other non-Moslems. Their leaders, holy books, and centuries of history all teach that Islam in not just a religion, but also a political system and way of life that is to be imposed on the whole society.

Yes, if you look hard enough, you have find an obscure Christian somewhere who advocates a Christian theocracy, and he has the free speech to say so. But theocracy is not a part of the Christian religion, and it never has been. Theocracy is an essential part of Islam as it is practiced by about a billion people in the world.

The First Amendment was adopted by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and others with a concept of religion based on Christianity. They would probably say that Islam is part religion, and part legal and political system, and that only the religion part deserves religious freedoms.

For another example of a silly attempt to equate Christianity and Islam, see this UK newspaper editorial against female circumcision, aka genital mutilation. It attempts to blame Christianity and Islam equally, and blame men instead of women. As explained here, this was not practiced in any Western Christian countries, until they started taking millions of Moslem immigrants.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Medical prices not available

Health care must be the only business where people are not allowed to know what they are paying for. NPR Radio reports:
Kershner works for a nonprofit called , which is starting to make health care prices publicly available in Colorado. His boss, , says knowing prices can change the whole health care ball game. ...

Colorado is one of eleven states that are starting to make public a lot of health care prices. It's taken years. An "" is the first step in Colorado. It's basically a giant shoebox that aims to collect a copy of every receipt for a health care service in a given state. Since doctors and hospitals generally don't tell people how much services cost beforehand, the best way to figure out the price is to get receipts from the parties that pay the bills: insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare, mostly.

The more such information is made public, Sonn says, the more people will "vote with their feet" and migrate away from high-cost providers.
But there are laws that get in the way:
But there's a glitch. In order to get the kinds of reports Ehrenberger and other health care providers want, they have to include price information from all payers, and one of the biggest is Medicare — it pays about a fifth of all health care bills in Colorado. At the moment, Edie Sonn explains, they cannot use that Medicare data in any of the custom reports they want to sell.
A snippet of the data ProPublica obtained from the federal government about Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit for seniors.

"Current federal law restricts what we can do with that Medicare data," she says. "The only thing you can use their data for is public reporting."
I don't get this. California car mechanics are required to give a written estimate in advance, or they are no right to get paid. Medical providers could do the same.

Only a dishonest business refuses to put its prices on its web site. I am surprised that anyone pays medical bills, when the amounts were never authorized in advance.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

IQ gene discovered

The UK Telegraph reports:
A gene which may make people more intelligent has been discovered by scientists.

Researchers have found that teenagers who had a highly functioning NPTN gene performed better in intelligence tests.

It is thought the NPTN gene indirectly affects how the brain cells communicate and may control the formation of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the human brain, also known as ‘grey matter.’
It is surprising that there are hardly any results like this. It is known that IQ is heritable, along with several personality and behavior traits. But as far as I know, there is no explanation based on specific genes. This could be a first, but I would wait for confirmation as other claims like this have had to be retracted.

My guess is that those traits are complex combinations of many genes, together with later environmental influences. But the whole idea of IQ genes gets people spooked.

You may have heard of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, and got the impression that it was some sort of evil Nazi eugenic failed experiment that was shut down after it was exposed. In fact the real name of it was the Repository for Germinal Choice, and its chief innovation was to give the human sperm buyers some choice about what they were getting. They produced over 200 babies, but none from Nobelist sperm.

According to a book review:
But in the end, the themes mesh. Plotz's meetings with employees, consumers and offspring of the repository, sympathetic people on the whole, may have led him to his understated conclusion that the enterprise wasn't so terrible. For one thing, Graham's inspired strategy of providing consumers a choice of the most desirable men possible freed women from the tyranny of early fertility doctors. And it has become standard industry practice; as Plotz says, ''All sperm banks have become eugenic sperm banks.''
That's right, the experiment was a huge success in the sense that it transformed the industry into allowing consumer choice. Apparently the eugenics of personal choice has become acceptable.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Success traits may be heritable

Tiger Mom Amy Chua has a new book getting a lot of publicity, titled The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

She and her Jewish husband gave this NPR interview:
This is not saying that these groups are better in any way. [at 14:10]
Nonsense. All of her evidence consists of saying that some groups are doing better than other groups, according to various metrics. So she certainly is saying that some groups are better, at least in the ways measured by those metrics.

They kept saying that their book has been misunderstood as being about groups, as it is really about individuals so it is anti-racist. The book absolves itself by saying:
Group generalizations turn into invidious stereotypes when they're false, hateful, or assumed to be true of every group member.
The book just came out, and you can read the NY Times synopsis or review and get the message.

Her Jewish husband says that third-generation Asian-American kids do no better than average American kids, and:
What this does is totally explode the model-minority myth, it shows it's not innate, it shows it's not biological ... [at 7:00]
No, it does not show that. Their third "Triple Package" key to success is impoulse control, and research on The Heritability of Impulse Control shows that it is about 50% heritable.

The other two keys are having a superiority/inferiority complex, like the Jews and Chinese.

Maybe it is unreasonable to expect good social science from this book. The authors are just law professors, so their main training is in making legal arguments for clients, not social science.

The interviewer admits that he and his NPR radio associates were reluctant to allow the book's ideas on the air because it is un-American to look at facts that could have racially divisive implications.

For another view, see this video criticizing a popular museum exhibit on race in America, saying that it has political bias and factual errors.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

USA is neutral on legality of settlements

I was surprised to hear NPR radio say this:
HARRIS: Some activist group in this case means Oxfam International. Oxfam is against doing business of any kind with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which many countries including the U.S. view as illegal under international law.
I knew that various people are always accusing Israel of illegalities, but had not heard this was the US view. Wikipedia says:
An opinion by a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State found the settlements contrary to international law in 1978, though no Administration has officially stated so since the Carter Administration. ...

The United States has never voted in favor of any UN Resolution calling the settlements illegal except for Resolution 465 in 1980, and in that case the Carter administration subsequently announced that the vote had been cast in error[50] due to miscommunication ...

In February 1981, Ronald Reagan announced that he didn't believe that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were illegal.
This is out of my expertise. There are solid arguments for legality of the settlements. The USA does not take the position that they are illegal.

Friday, January 31, 2014

We non-Africans are part Neanderthal

For decades we have been told that anatomically modern humans emerged from Africa about 50k to 100k years ago, and that there has been no human evolution since. But there has been overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the latest being this:
Neanderthals died out long ago, but their genes live on in us. Scientists studying human chromosomes say they've discovered a surprising amount of Neanderthal DNA in our genes. And these aren't just random fragments; they help shape what we look like today, including our hair and skin.

These genes crept into our DNA tens of thousands of years ago, during occasional sexual encounters between Neanderthals and human ancestors who lived in Europe at the time. They show up today in their descendants, people of European and Asian descent.

The snippets that come from Neanderthals can be identified because a few years ago, scientists were able to extract DNA from Neanderthal remains and read out their genetic blueprint.

A startling 20 percent of Neanderthal genes live on in us today, according to a published Wednesday in Science magazine. Researchers found that out by combing through the genes of more than 600 living people.
By "our genes", NPR radio means the genes of non-Africans. The NY Times made a similar mistake.

The out-of-Africa folks are always telling us that all humans are the same, while the scientific evidence is always pointing to variation among humans. Many have trouble accepting the variation:
continuing on from the other day, jamie bartlett and timothy stanley are flat-out wrong that human biodiversity (hbd) is “neo-fascist” “bad science.” human biodiversity is simply the diversity found among and between human populations that has a biological basis.
Steven Pinker is one of those academic leftists who reluctantly accepts biological differences, but announces:
Behavior = Genes + Environment
He merely points to technical difficulties in giving precise definitions to Genes and Environment. But he cannot dispute that behavior is some complex combination of nature and nuture. While no one has figured out how individual genes affect behavior, there is strong evidence that psychometrics are heritable. The heritability of behavior traits is typically about 50%, with the rest usually assumed to be environmental but maybe just random.

Update: John Hawks explains Multiregional vs. Out of Africa in 2005, and comments in 2010 that recent DNA evidence shows Multiregional evolution lives! Wikipedia says that Out Of Africa is the most widely accepted theory, with the main rival being Multiregional origin of modern humans. I have a feeling that the Out Of Africa folks will never admit to being wrong.

Update: The LA Times reported:
Mating between Neanderthals and the ancestors of Europeans and East Asians gave our forebears important evolutionary advantages but may have created a lot of sterile males, wiping out much of that primitive DNA, new genetic studies suggest.

The comparison of Neanderthal and modern human genomes, published online Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science, identified specific sequences of altered DNA that both Neanderthals and several hundred modern Europeans and Asians had in common.
This is misleading. The DNA comparison proves that Neanderthals are among the ancestors of Europeans. The first sentence is written as if the Neanderthals and European ancestors were two different groups. Then it goes on to mention "primitive DNA", whatever that is.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Silicon Valley CEOs against competition

I am surprised that this case has not gotten more publicity:
Between approximately 2005 and 2009, Defendants Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar allegedly engaged in an “overarching conspiracy” to eliminate competition among Defendants for skilled labor. The conspiracy consisted of an interconnected web of express bilateral agreements among Defendants to abstain from actively soliciting each other’s employees. Plaintiffs allege that each agreement involved a company under the control of Steve Jobs (Co-Founder, Former Chairman, and Former CEO of Apple) and/or a company that shared at least one director with Apple’s Board of Directors. Defendants memorialized these nearly identical agreements in CEO-to-CEO emails and other documents, including “Do Not Call” lists, thereby putting each Defendant’s employees off-limits to other Defendants. Each bilateral agreement applied to all employees of a given pair of Defendants. These agreements were not limited by geography, job function, product group, or time period. Nor were they related to any specific business or other collaboration between Defendants. ...

What is stunning is all the exchanges among top executives. The filing quotes numerous e-mails among Jobs, Sergey Brin, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen, and other Silicon Valley heavy-hitters that talk openly about the agreement and various threats when a member to an agreement falls out of line.
I was a student at Princeton when the university officials openly bragged about various policies designed to reduce competition with other Ivy League colleges.

The above companies located in the Silicon Valley area largely because it is so easy to poach employees from other companies.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Billions of years of climate change

President Barack Obama said in the 2014 SOTU:
Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.
The fact is that the Earth's climate has been changing for billions of years. Obama sounds scientifically illiterate when he says "Climate change is a fact.", as if that were the meaningful outcome of a scientific debate.

He is like those who define evolution as change in the history of the universe, or generational variation in DNA, then proudly assert that evolution is a fact.

The speech had nothing about nuclear power, the only practical carbon-free large-scale power technology.

If our children's children complain about atmospheric carbon, they will ask why we encouraged China and India to develop fossil fuel based economies. Those are the countries that are increasing their carbon emissions.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Obama has not advanced stem cell medicine

Four years ago I posted The stem cell hoax, showing that Pres. Obama had not significantly expanded stem cell research over what Pres. G.W. Bush allowed. Now, the Obama administration has only approved one clinical trial for an embryonic stem cell therapy, and that has been abandoned.

Wikipedia says:
President Bush announced, on August 9, 2001 that federal funds, for the first time, would be made available for hESC [human embryonic stem cell] research.
Because of the development of non-embryonic pluripotent stem cells, it is nor clear that the controversial embryonic stem cells will ever be useful.

Supposedly we were losing embryonic stem cell research to overseas scientists, but much of that foreign research has been tainted with fraud, and is of dubious value.

For years, all the so-called experts told us that Bush was anti-science, and Obama pro-science, and that the proof was going to be in miracle stem cell cures. All those people are quiet now, as they were proven wrong.

Update: Another stem cell fraud.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

900 year old stereotypes

From Ethnic Stereotyping in Twelfth-Century Paris:
the English were drunks and tail-bearers, the French arrogant, weak and effeminate, the Germans furious, with disgusting manners, the Normans vain and boastful, the Poitevins traitors and adventurers. The Burgundians were reputed to be vulgar and stupid. They reproached the Bretons for being frivolous and fickle, often teasing them about Arthur’s death. They called the Lombards greedy, malicious and cowardly; the Romans seditious, violent and avaricious; the Sicilians tyrannical and cruel; the Brabanters bloodthirsty, arsonists, brigands and rapists; the Flemish self-indulgent, rich, gluttonous, and weak and soft as butter.
Wow. Funny. No word on how accurate these stereotypes were.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The movie Her is boring

I am surprised by all the praise for the new movie Her, considering that it is a dull two-hour movie about a man talking to his pocket computer. It is yet another story about an AI bot that is likable at first, but ends up misbehaving. That idea has probably been done in the movies 100 times.

The hero writes letters for a living, so I was expecting him to use the 1000s of letters to train the bot to understand what he likes and does not like. That would explain how the bot could be uniquely customized to his personality, and know how to make him happy. Loss of the bot could be genuinely upsetting to him if he had personally invested many weeks teaching the bot what he likes and does not like in his letters.

But in the movie, the bot is not customized to him at all. Hardly at all, as he just initializes it with his name and a couple of other facts. The bot chooses a name, but the name is not based on his likes or interests at all. Nothing about her is, and for all we know, the bot is essentially the same program that is shipped to all the other customers.

When the bot goes bad, the hero takes it as a personal betrayal, but for all we know, it is just a system bug that will be corrected with the next update. I guess the movie is trying to tell us that the man should not have taken the bot so seriously, and human connections are better. Or maybe the opposite, as all the human relationships in the movie are cold, sterile, boring, and broken.

I am not saying the movie is bad, but if you are looking for something thought-provoking about artificial intelligence, there are many better AI movies.

I was likewise surprised as so much praise for the Brad Pitt zombie movie, when so many other movies have much better zombies.

Update: For comparison, see this video promotion for the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet with Robby the Robot.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why some people do not donate organs

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
Only about 45 percent of adults in the U.S. — nearly 109 million people — are organ donors, a figure that donation and transplant experts say seems tragically low when the public’s attention is riveted on the lack of organs for a child such as Sarah. ...

My theory, which is mine, is that this reluctance is based largely on a religious fear that if they take out an organ when you die, you’ll show up in heaven without a kidney or a liver!
I doubt it, as Christians seem to donate more than other religions.

My theory is not even mentioned by him or his commenters. The donors cannot be lawfully paid in the USA. Dick Cheney probably paid $200k for his heart transplant surgery, but not a penny went to the man who supplied the heart.

I don't think that there are any good medical or economic reasons against paying donors. Apparently some people have some sort of ethical or religious objection. Since Coyne likes to attack irrational superstitions, it is funny that he does not attack this one.

Update: Gary S. Becker and Julio J. Elias write in the WSJ:
Finding a way to increase the supply of organs would reduce wait times and deaths, and it would greatly ease the suffering that many sick individuals now endure while they hope for a transplant. The most effective change, we believe, would be to provide compensation to people who give their organs—that is, we recommend establishing a market for organs.
Maybe the organ donors ought to go on strike.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Three Feet for Safety Act

I occasionally hear automobile drivers complain that bicyclists do not obey traffic law. I think that they are hallucinating, as bicyclist overwhelmingly obey laws better than car, in my experience. In particular, most cars violated these laws every day, and endanger bicyclists in the process.

  • Exceeding speed limits.
  • Weaving in and out of the lane.
  • Turning right accross a bicycle lane without looking.
  • Passing too close to a bicycle (3 feet minimum now required in California).

    Yes, a bicyclist will sometimes blow thru a 4-way stop with no one is around. but cars have the much more significant violations.
  • Sunday, January 05, 2014

    Democrats say they believe in evolution

    Dana Milbank writes in the Wash. Post:
    For several years, the two major parties have been moving gradually toward opposite poles: Democrats growing more liberal and secular, Republicans becoming more conservative and religious. But a survey out this week shows just how far and how fast the GOP has gone toward becoming a collection of older, white, evangelical Christians defined as much by religion as by politics. ...

    Forget climate-change skepticism: Republicans have turned, suddenly and sharply, against Darwin.
    This poll is not so much about science, as in using "evolution" as a code word for secularism. More and more, Republican is the Christian party, and Democrat is the anti-Christian party.

    Peterike comments on the same Pew poll:
    But the truth is that Progressive Liberals don’t believe in Evolution. They are Creationists.

    If they believed in evolution they would necessarily have to concede that humans “evolved” differently over time and in different places, adapting to their environments the same way animals did. It would then follow that different groups of humans — which we conveniently label as “races” — would not be identical, and that includes above the neck as well as below the neck.

    Yet Progressive Liberals DO believe that humans are “created” equal — there’s that word. They believe there is no substantial differences between races that cannot be explained entirely by the local environment and nurturing the humans receive. This is as stupid and unscientific as any Evangelist saying the earth is only a few thousand years old.

    Liberals believe all kinds of other pseudo-science, but to say they believe in evolution is not consistent with what they say about human development. Just because they say they believe in it doesn’t mean they actually do, or that they understand the implications of what they claim to believe. The main reason Liberals “believe” in evolution is because they’ve been told that’s what smart people believe in. If the media went into full-blown campaign mode for creationism — a campaign similar to their pro-gay campaign, for instance — then ten years from now the majority of Liberals would say they are Creationists.
    Milbank concludes:
    But give Republicans credit for this: They don’t just doubt the theory of evolution; they’re out to prove it wrong. If they believed in the survival of the fittest, they’d be expanding their racial and ideological diversity. Instead, they’re trying to demonstrate that devotion to God can trump the Darwinian rules of politics.
    No, Milbank is the one who misunderstands evolution. If human differences stem from inherited characteristics, as is the basis for human evolution, then Republicans might be better off concentrating on its main constituency of white married Christian taxpayers, as opposed to the non-white unmarried non-Christian freeloading Democrats. Republicans would shut down immigration, both legal and illegal.

    Update: According to this, the belief in evolution may not have changed. The Pew claim about a trend is probably wrong.

    Friday, January 03, 2014

    Attacking nationalism

    Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan writes:
    White nationalism is one of the most reviled ideologies on earth.  But what exactly is so awful about it?  Menachem Rosensaft's piece in Slate quotes some leading white nationalists, but never really explains why this nationalism is worse than all other nationalisms. 

    As you'd expect, white nationalists dominate Rosensaft's comments.  Several point out that he's is a staunch Zionist, and quip, "Nationalism for me but not for thee."  I'm a staunch anti-nationalist, ...
    Apparently a lot of Jews prefer to identify as non-whites, and to promote their own ethnic interests over those of non-Jewish white groups. As Caplan explains, they are just showing in-group loyalty. Rosensaft quotes an explanation for why he favors in-group loyalty for his fellow Jews but not other groups:
    Jewish activity collectively, throughout history, is best understood as an elaborate and highly successful group competitive strategy directed against neighboring peoples and host societies. The objective has been control of economic resources and political power. One example: overwhelming Jewish support for non-traditional immigration, which has the effect of weakening America's historic white majority.
    Caplan may not be Jewish, but he does advocate a libertarian open immigration in order to destroy nationalism. He continues:
    After all, white-majority countries still have greater military power than all other countries combined. ...

    So how bad is white nationalism? Back when white nationalism was popular, its sins were massive, but hardly unique. The doctrine currently does little harm because it's so rare. If however white nationalism regained popularity, it would be a cataclysmic disaster because white-majority countries have the firepower to wreck the havoc other nationalist movements can only fantasize about.
    I am not sure about the terminology here. Every country in the world is nationalistic. It is not clear how the world could function without nationalism.

    I don't know why anyone would call the Nazis white nationalists. They were German nationalists. If you are going to lump together majority-white countries, it seems to me that they are some of the least nationalist countries, as many of them allow large immigration from other ethnic groups. Furthermore, the European and American countries have long histories of making the world a better place.

    Caplan's main argument is that in-group bias is a human failing. This is about like saying that love is a human failing. Most, if not all, humans have in-group biases. He complains that a Chinese leader sides with the Chinese, but what else does he expect?

    Even if Caplan could somehow persuade everyone in the world to treat the interests of others equally, how would that work? How could we have representative democracy, unless the representatives can favor their constituents? How could we have capitalism, unless the board of directors can favor the stockholders?

    These arguments against nationalism just boil down to Rosensaft and Caplan not liking the nationalism of other groups.

    Wednesday, January 01, 2014

    What I learned in 2013

    The medical industry is more hopelessly screwed up than I thought. The providers do not treat the patient as the customer, and do not give a price schedule or any reasonable expectation of costs. I wonder why anyone pays medical bills, considering that Pres. Obama says that health care is a right, and the patient has not agreed to the fees.

    I learned more things that we cannot say, as Paula Deen and others got ostracized for trivial comments. But apparently the Duck Dynasty guys can still say that they prefer to be heterosexual.

    Moral philosophy is in a sorry state. I have listened to the leading experts, and I think that 10yo kids have more common sense. Wittgenstein was right about much of philosophy being worthless.

    There are some limits to the trend towards pathologizing male behavior -- Asperger syndrome was dropped from the DSM-5.

    Modern civilization was made possible by technology, and also advances in science, politics, religion, etc. A book on the invention of Europe tells how family structures and ideologies have played a big part.

    The invention of bitcoin, explained here, has proved that non-governmental cryptographic currency is possible.

    Southern California has become the world center for sperm donors, egg donors, gestational carriers, test-tube babies, and doctored birth certificates. The brave new world birthing technologies are illegal in most of the world and most American states, but legal in California. In particular, gays can marry and contract to be the legal parents of test-tube babies.

    There is a growing atheist movement, but it is hopelessly intertwined with leftist politics and unscientific views like saying humans have no free will. They hate religion but seem mostly concerned with harmless symbolic expressions. There are atheist conferences, but if you google what is discussed, you may find that you would not want anything to do with those on either side of the argument.

    Ed Snowden has revealed much more about NSA spying that anyone thought possible, and people do not seem to care much because the spying by others is much more threatening.

    A lot of smart people seem to misunderstand concepts like infinity, counterfactuals, randomness, time, and probability. I thought that these were concepts that children understand.