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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

LA Times calls for eugenics to thwart climate change

Steve Sailer comments on an LA Times editorial saying this:
If the world population hits 11 billion, what then for climate change?

Overpopulation could thwart attempt to address climate change

Unsustainable human population growth is a potential disaster for efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions ...

In other words, population is not just a Third World issue. More than a third of the births in the United States are the result of unintended pregnancies, and this month the United Nations raised its prediction of population growth by the year 2050 because of unforeseen, rising birth rates in industrialized nations.
The editorial explains that carbon emissions are driven largely by overbreeding in Third World countries, and in immigrant populations in First World countries. Any serious carbon reduction will require population policies that some will regard as eugenics.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Adult incest and the law

Libertarian-leaning UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh asks why adult incest should be illegal. He points out that the risk of birth defects is not compelling, that court decisions favor sexual autonomy based on mutual consent, that problems of undue pressure can be circumvented, and that severe penalties are not likely.

This demonstrates a flaw in libertarian thinking. For every argument against incest, you can concoct a scenario where it will not hurt anyone, and where it is impractical for the state to do anything about it.

And yet incest is considered immoral for good reason. It is nearly always harmful, and I think that most people find it so repellent that they would rather live in a society where incest is not an acceptable option.

The problem is not just the genetic one, and not just a conflict of interest. We don't want step-parents and adoptive parents having sexual relations with their kids.

We live in a democratic republic, not a libertarian paradise. If there is an overwhelming consensus that something is harmful, then we have laws and public policies that discourage it.

More and more, the public is being asked to accept things that used to be considered immoral. Adultery, sodomy, inter-racial marriage, transsexuals, etc. Putting a transgendered kid in the schools may seem like a liberty for that kid, but it imposes a burden on everyone else to explain it. Sometimes kids think and do foolish things as a result of being given bad ideas.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Details on MIT firing a professor

I mentioned that MIT fires its best professor, and now details of the accusation have emerged. It turns out that the complainer was a 32-year-old woman in France watching free online physics lectures, and she was the one sending naked pictures to him. She was taking medication for various emotional problems, and she made a complaint to MIT a year later.

Meanwhile, Harvard, Princeton, and other fine universities have been found guilty of Title IX violations, and forced by the Obama administration to adopt policies that promptly consider a man guilty-until-proven-innocent if a woman makes a sex harassment complaint.

I occasionally hear people argue that feminism means advocacy of sexual equality. But most feminist complaints involve things like this where women do not want to be treated like men at all. Men do not complain about sexual harassment.

Friday, January 23, 2015

President is race-baiting again

From President Barack Obama's SOTU speech:
We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. ...

That's a better politics. That's how we start rebuilding trust. That's how we move this country forward. That's what the American people want. That's what they deserve.
I am surprised that he had the nerve to mention Ferguson. That was not the story of an innocent boy being harassed. That was a boy who tried to murder a cop. The different take is that Obama encouraged black people to riot over the incident, saying that their concerns were justified.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Doomsday clock moves

The iconic Doomsday Clock, considered a metaphor for the dangers faced by the world, was pushed ahead by two minutes over concerns about worsening climate change and the world's failure to reduce nuclear weapons, a trans-Atlantic group of prominent scientists announced.
Climate change? The time scales are a little different.

Russian nuclear ICBMs can destroy American cities in only about 30 minutes. The widely-accepted IPCC estimates on sea level rise are only 7 to 23 inches this century. Miami Florida is considered the most vulnerable city in the world, and could eventually lose some tourist hotels.

We put trust in Sheriff Google

I am amused to see people have a religious-like loyalty to a corporation or politician.The San Jose Mercury News reports:
But in a series of recent episodes with Microsoft, one of its archrivals, Sheriff Google appears to have crossed an ethical line.

In the past three weeks, Google has exposed at least four unfixed Microsoft security flaws, including a serious one just days before the software giant was going to issue the patch as part of a regularly scheduled software update. That bug in Windows 8.1 allows an attacker to remotely gain administrator-level access to a system, giving the hacker the ability to inflict widespread damage. It could allow perpetrators to collect user names and passwords, impersonate users and steal trade secrets. ...

Google has done right by stating its 90-day policy and adhering to it, says Denise Kleinrichert, an associate professor in management and ethics at San Francisco State University. "We put trust in Google to protect our interests," she said. "They violate our trust if they give Microsoft an extra day."
I wonder if she even knows how Google makes its money.

Update: Google just released Apple vulnerabilities. So now the Apply fanbois are not gloating anymore.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Easter Island not destroyed by logging

Jared Diamond is probably the world's best known anthropologists, and certainly the best known geography professor, and gets high praise for his books. I have always been skeptical, as he does a lot of grand theorizing without much facts to back him up. In particular, he has detailed theories about the downfall of Easter Island, even tho there are no written records.

Now new research says that much of Diamond's theory is false:
Synopsis: Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is one prominent example where the decline of its indigenous population seems to have preceded contact from Europe. Stevenson and colleagues used archaeological survey methods to understand the use of land in different periods of Rapa Nui prehistory, finding that the reduction in land used for crops was gradual and seemed to reflect the land productivity under changing climatic conditions.

Important because: Jared Diamond prominently featured the Rapa Nui "collapse" as a case where a colonizing human population pushed its environment past the limit, resulting in a catastrophic loss of the ability to sustain a large population. Stevenson and colleagues find that land use reflects a more complex picture, and suggest that the idea of a collapse is too simple. They conclude that the data "better reflect a framework of environmental constraint than of environmental degradation—although constraint and degradation can intergrade, as in the case of infertile soils that are suitable for shifting cultivation being degraded through overuse."

Friday, January 09, 2015

Mathematicians attack the NSA

I wrote a letter suggesting that the American Mathematical Society not get too excited about the National Security Agency, and the AMS published this reply in the AMS Notices:
The AMS must justify its support of the NSA

Roger Schlafly (letters, November 2014) accuses mathematicians of an "overwrought" and "over-excited" response to the recently-revealed activities of the National Security Agency (NSA). So, let us look at some cold facts. In 2011, the NSA explicitly stated its goal of universal surveillance, describing its "posture" as "collect it all", "know it all", "exploit it all". The same year, the NSA's close British partner GCHQ said it was intercepting over 50 billion communication events per day. In 2012, a single NSA program celebrated its trillionth metadata record.
Those numbers sound big, but much more data is being harvested by Google, Facebook, and ATT. Why no criticism of them?
On encryption: the NSA's 2013 budget request sought funds to "Insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems". The NSA described its secret program Sentry Raven as "work[ing] with specific US commercial entities ... to modify US manufactured encryption systems to make them exploitable for SIGINT [signals intelligence]". The aim is clear: that no two human beings shall be able to communicate digitally without the NSA being able to listen.
The NSA's aim is to spy on military and terrorist enemies. It has no interest in others.
Schlafly is, at least, correct in noting that outrage at the intelligence agencies' abuse of surveillance powers is nothing new: from the FBI's bugging of Martin Luther King and subsequent attempt to blackmail him into suicide, to the 2011 extrajudicial killing of an American child by CIA drone strike (a program to which the NSA supplies surveillance data). He is justified in worrying about the data held by Google, Facebook, etc., but he writes as if concern over that and state surveillance were mutually exclusive, which of course they are not; and much of that data is harvested by the NSA's PRISM program anyway.
I said nothing about the FBI's invesigation of King, and I am not sure it matters, as it was very far removed from the business of a math society. Nor about the Obama administration killing a 16yo enemy combatant.

My understanding of USA law is that an American who takes up arms against the USA can be killed without judicial process. If this Britain mathematician disagrees, then he can state his political opinion, but I suspect that the laws in his country are similar.
Further, his comparison with 1970s technology distracts from the awesome invasive power of today's internet. As the NSA's former general counsel Stewart Baker said, "metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life". Former NSA director Michael Hayden agreed, adding "we kill people based on metadata".
Sure, the US military acts on whatever intelligence it can get.
By collaborating with the NSA, the AMS sends a strong political message: that it is proud to support the NSA's work and welcomes it into the mathematical community. It is just as surely a political position as withdrawing cooperation would be. Many members are vigorously opposed to much of what the NSA does; indeed, when the Notices set out to organize the series "Mathematicians discuss the Snowden revelations", its editors could not find anyone to write in the NSA's defense. (And when they finally did, it was a longtime NSA employee.)
Yes, the only reason I wrote my letter was that no one else was expressing the foolishness of the AMS trying to boycott the NSA. I was not defending the NSA; I expressed no opinion about the merits of NSA spy programs.
How does the AMS leadership justify its continued cooperation with the NSA? Is it certain it has the backing of the membership? And what exactly would the NSA have to do in order for the AMS to declare "Enough: this partnership brings mathematicians into disrepute"?

Tom Leinster
University of Edinburgh
What would it take? The essence of his complaint is that the NSA has a spy program against foreign enemy combatants. The program has the approval of the leaders of both our political parties. The purpose is to prevent terrorist attacks. War is an ugly business sometimes, and maybe it is a necessary evil. I do not personally agree with some of the military actions. But what does Leinster want? To shut down the military? To shut down NSA? To prohibit military spying?

The AMS is not a political organizations. It is just mathematicians wanting to do math. It is formally American, so if there is an American consensus to send drones into Yemen to kill terrorists, then it is not the place of the AMS to try to obstruct it. If some mathematicians disagree, they can join political organizations to vote our leaders out of office.

The AMS hardly does anything to support the NSA. Maybe it accepts some employment ads. If the AMS is helping mathematicians find job that assist the USA government in the war against terrorism, then the AMS ought to be proud to have that role. I fail to see how it would be any better to help mathematicians find jobs at Google or Facebook.

Leinster posted a similar complaint last year against mathematicians cooperating with a British intelligence agency.

The AMS published another letter attacking me:
Difference between the NSA and Google

In his June 28, 2014, letter to the Notices[November 2014 issue], Roger Schlafly claims that he does not see a distinction between the dangers posed by the massive collection of data by commercial companies like Google and the collection of data by the NSA. Perhaps that is because he is also unable to see a distinction between public and covert oversight. No doubt the practices of Google are a real danger, but commercial companies are subject to regulations and can be brought before open courts whose judges are appointed by an elected president and have to be approved by the Senate. The regulations governing the NSA are classified, and the NSA is answerable only to a closed court whose judges are appointed, without further review, by a man who himself was appointed by a president who believed that one can defeat terror by declaring a war on it. Maybe these distinctions seem trivial to Dr. Schlafly, but even he should be able to understand why somebody like Alexander Beilinson, who grew up in a country where all courts were secret, does not.

—Daniel W. Stroock
Professor emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
dws@math.mit.edu
I original letter mentioned that Alexander Beilinson was a Russian-American professor, as I thought that him growing up in Russia had some relevance. The editors removed that. My guess is that they thought that his ethnicity was a distraction, or that I was insinuating that he might be a commie or something.

The NSA is much more tightly regulated in its spying than Google. In its most controversial program, the NSA has collected metadata on Americans, but regulations prevent it from searching the data except in a few hundred cases where Americans were talking to known terrorism suspects in places like Afghanistan. Google is under no such restrictions. It collects whatever it can get, and keeps it forever. And not just metadata. It keeps email, search terms, sites visited, videos watched, and ads viewed.

Stroock reveals his politics by slyly referring to Pres. Obama as the "elected president" but Pres. G.W. Bush as "a president who believed that one can defeat terror by declaring a war on it." Bush has been out of office for 6 years. His war on terror has been continued by the Obama administration, as so has NSA surveillance. These policies have broad support in Congress and with the American people.

When I submitted my letter to the AMS, the editor said she got 7 or more opinions on it, and they all recommended against publishing it. One of the objections was that only the government puts people in jail, not Google. I replied:
The NSA does not put people in jail either. Google is, in fact, quite capable of instigating action to jail someone. See this recent story:

"Google sees alleged child porn in man's email, alerts police A Houston man is charged after police say Google tips them off to alleged child porn in his e-mail."
How many Americans have been harmed by NSA spying? Go ahead and count the enemy combatant in Yemen.

I am actually surprised at how little public concern there is about the NSA. Various people in the news media and academia are constantly telling about how some leak is outrageous, or about how the NSA has too much metadata, or about how some court lacks sufficient due process. But when pollsters ask people about reasons for their votes, the NSA is never even mentioned. Nobody cares.

The real threats to your privacy are coming from Google, Facebook, Apple, Obamacare, video cameras, credit agencies, consumer marketing databases, and various new technologies. Not NSA. The AMS would be very foolish to get into a political fight over the NSA.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The enemies of free speech

Two years ago, someone made an obscure YouTube video that was critical of Islam. Pres. Barack Obama apologized to the Mohammedan world for the video, asked YouTube to take it down, had the maker jailed, and gave a United Nations speech saying:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
I think that he encouraged the murder of the French cartoonists.

Update: A London newspaper reports that not all Moslems agree with murdering the cartoonists. Some are concerned that images of prophets like Mohammad and Moses could encourage idolatry. There are probably Moslems who believe in free speech to criticize Islam, but the article does not mention any.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Colleges want to extract the maximum money

I listed to this public radio broadcast from 2 years ago:
Most private schools give out aid packages based on merit, often trying to compete for students from wealthy families who could already afford to send them to college. But the president of Kenyon College in Ohio is calling for a nationwide return to a system of need-based aid.

Guest: S. Georgia Nugent, President of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
She wanted all the colleges to more consistently charge higher tuition, and cut back on financial aid. She complained:
Here is one example, Student A. Our need analysis showed that this family could afford probably $44,000 toward their college tuition. Yet other schools offered the student $20,000, $30,000, and $40,000 in aid. [at 3:00]
Presumably the student went to a competing college that charged less money.

Her position was that colleges should be able to examine the financial records of the parents, determine how much they can be forced to pay, and then not have to compete against another college offering a better deal. That way the colleges could extract the maximum amount possible in tuition.

I am amazed that anyone puts up with this attitude from colleges. When I go into a restaurant, the hostess does not say, "We have scanned your bank records and determined that you can afford to pay $100 for this meal. So that is what we are charging you. Furthermore all the other restaurants in town are on the same system, so they will also charge you $100."

When I was in college, the Ivy League schools traded info on applicants for the purpose of tuition and aid price-fixing. I understand that is now considered illegal, but the colleges are still trying to figure out a way to be sheltered from competition.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Almost gullible trust in strangers

CH writes:
If you read Peter Frost (and others like him), you’ll be familiar with the theory that white pathological humanitarianism — i.e., white ethnomasochism (as commonly practiced by today’s SJWs) — is a psychological disposition of Northwest Europeans that evolved in the not-too-distant past under the twin environmental pressures of manorialism and non-kin marriage. Radical outbreeding essentially selected for people who were very trusting of outsiders. This high level of trust allowed Western Civilization as we know it to find purchase and flourish.

But, as Frost et al have hypothesized, a powerful altruistic impulse combined with an almost gullible trust in strangers has, over time, become corrupted in the people who possess these normally positive traits. The congenial indulgence granted to non-kin locals that worked so well in a largely racially homogeneous geographic region has turned inward and reconfigured into a self-flagellating penance for imagined sins against the world’s steaming masses. The Columbus Knights of the European Empire have turned to the dark side.
This is a curious theory. The idea is based on a couple of developments about a millennium ago. The Catholic Church banned cousin marriages, and even marriages among distant cousins like 5th cousins. Private property had not been invented yet, but the manorial system in northwestern Europe allowed a single family to run a small farm, and the oldest son could inherit the farm. The other kids were on their own.

Most of the rest of the world was broken down into clans, where people had arranged marriages with cousins, and no one trusted anyone outside the clan.

This is why northwestern Europe became the place for individualism, nuclear families, and anti-racist views. These attitudes are now being tested by high immigration from areas that are racially, religiously, and culturally quite different.

An LA Times editorial argues that no one should identify as European-American:
Last year students at Georgia State University started a White Student Union, which they insisted was not a racist organization. Here’s the report from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:
“Freshman Patrick Sharp said he started the club so that students of European and Euro-American descent can celebrate their shared history and culture and discuss issues that affect white people, such as immigration and affirmative action. …

“ ‘If we are already minorities on campus and are soon to be minorities in this country why wouldn’t we have the right to advocate for ourselves and have a club just like every other minority?’ said Sharp, 18. Why is it when a white person says he is proud to be white he’s shunned as a racist?’ ”
In theory, it might be no more bizarre for white students to celebrate “white culture” than it is for black students to band together to celebrate “black culture.” White nationalists can argue that they’re simply lifting a page from the identity-politics playbook of other racial and ethnic groups.

Yet most people (I hope) would reject that symmetry. The problem is explaining why we accept some kinds of ethnic or racial self-consciousness and solidarity and reject others.
White non-hispanics are already a minority in California, and is dropping to about a third of the population. There is a web site on Today In White History that simply celebrates accomplishments much as any other ethnic group might, without denigrating anyone. It is strange that people like the LA Times columnist wants to elevate every other ethnic group but whites.

Frost writes:
A synthesis has been forming in the field of human biodiversity. It may be summarized as follows:

1. Human evolution did not end in the Pleistocene or even slow down. In fact, it speeded up with the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, when the pace of genetic change rose over a hundred-fold. ...

2. When life or death depends on your ability to follow a certain way of life, you are necessarily being selected for certain heritable characteristics. ...

3. This gene-culture co-evolution began when humans had already spread over the whole world, from the equator to the arctic. ...

4. Humans have thus altered their environment via culture, and this man-made environment has altered humans via natural selection. This is probably the farthest we can go in formulating a unified theory of human biodiversity. ...

5. Antiracist scholars have argued against the significance of human biodiversity, but their arguments typically reflect a lack of evolutionary thinking. ...

The end of the Cold War might have brought an end to the war on racism, or at least a winding down, had it not replaced socialism with an even more radical project: globalism. This is the hallmark of "late capitalism," a stage of historical development when the elites no longer feel restrained by national identity and are thus freer to enrich themselves at their host society's expense, mainly by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries and by insourcing low-wage labor for jobs that cannot be relocated, such as those in construction and services. That's globalism in a nutshell. ...

A lot of money is being spent to push a phony political consensus against any controls on immigration. This isn't being done in the dark by a few conspirators. It's being done in the full light of day by all kinds of people: agribusiness, Tyson Foods, Mark Zuckerberg, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and small-time operations ranging from landscapers to fast-food joints. They all want cheaper labor because they're competing against others who likewise want cheaper labor. It's that simple ... and stupid.

This phony consensus is also being pushed at a time when the demographic cauldron of the Third World is boiling over.
He has references for much of what he says.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Healthier to pig out

From the business news:
McDonald's has hit hard times. Its earnings report in 2014 was the lowest in over a decade.

But the company announced a big change that may help spur sales: It's rolling out custom burgers across the country.
Custom burgers? That is the most annoying thing about McDonald's. Every other burger chain has no problem selling you a burger the way you like it. Only McDonald's makes it difficult.

Meanwhile health research offers these tips.
Being Colder May Be Good For Your Health.

It is better to concentrate your food in big meals:
A new study by researchers at the Salk Institute cautions against an extended period of snacking, suggesting instead that confining caloric consumption to an 8- to 12-hour period-as people did just a century ago-might stave off high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

The results, published December 2, 2014 in the journal Cell Metabolism, add to mounting evidence suggesting that it's not just what we eat but when we eat it that matters to our health. Although the intervention has not yet been tested in humans, it has already gained visibility as a potential weight loss method-and, in mice, it may reveal what causes obesity and related conditions in the first place.
So turn off your heat, head out to some burger chain giving you a decent choice, and pig out. You will be healthier and happier.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Dysrationalia and Intelligence

A SciAm article claims that people can have high IQ but still have dysrationalia as evidenced by giving different answers to these questions:
Imagine that the U.S. Department of Transportation has found that a particular German car is eight times more likely than a typical family car to kill occupants of another car in a crash. The federal government is considering resticting [sic] sale and use of this German car. Please answer the following two questions: Do you think sales of the German car should be banned in the U.S.? Do you think the German car should be banned from being driven on American streets?

Imagine that the Department of Transportation has found that the Ford Explorer is eight times more likely than a typical family car to kill occupants of another car in a crash. The German government is considering restricting sale or use of the Ford Explorer. Please answer the following two questions: Do you think sales of the Ford Explorer should be banned in Germany? Do you think the Ford Explorer should be banned from being driven on German streets? ...

This study illustrates our tendency to evaluate a situation from our own perspective.
I think that someone could be sympathetic to the Ford for reasons unrelated to it being not German. If you Tell someone that a car is dangerous and nothing else, then banning the car is logical because the car is probably poorly made. But if you say that it is a Ford Explorer, which is well known to be a very large family car, then the hazard is likely to be the size, and not any engineering problem.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Phone patent wars decline

ExtremeTech reports:
After years of relentless litigation, it seems the mobile/smartphone patent war might be drawing to a close. Rockstar, a patent trolling company owned by Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Ericsson, and BlackBerry, has agreed to cancel the lawsuits it had filed against Google and most Android device makers. Rockstar will also sell off its remaining patents (some 4,000 of them) to a company called RPX, which has promised to license the patents to anyone who needs them for defensive purposes. This follows on from news this summer that Apple and Google had agreed to drop all lawsuits between the two companies, and Apple and Samsung agreed to drop all lawsuits outside the US.

The patent wars — or patent trolling, depending on your point of view — originally started to heat up in the 1980s, as the Information/Digital Age began to gather a lot of inertia. Patents weren’t originally designed with software in mind, and they’re also not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation. As you can imagine, this in turn meant that patents were rather ill-suited to protecting the innovations of tech companies that were quickly becoming very rich and powerful. At some point, these companies (or their lawyers) realized that patents were a great way of stymieing the opposition or extorting them out of a few million dollars. ...

“Peace is breaking out,” RPX’s CEO John Amster told the Wall Street Journal. “I think people have started to realize that licensing, not litigation, is the best way to make use of patents, and this deal is a significant acknowledgment of that reality.” ... It does indeed seem that the smartphone patent war, kickstarted by the iPhone in 2007, is finally drawing to a close.
Wikipedia defines patent troll as a pejorative term:
A patent troll, also called a patent assertion entity (PAE), is a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question, thus engaging in economic rent-seeking.
In this case, there is an oligopoly of a few firms controlling the smart phone market, and they have pooled their patents. They pay big license fees to each other based on those patents. Their patent pool is not a troll according to the above definition. They sell products and services using those patents, and they use the patents against outsiders.

I realize that a lot of people don't like patents, but it is foolish to say that licensing patents is better than litigation. Almost all patent lawsuits are driven by someone's refusal to pay licensing fees.

There is no real reason for consumers to care if a few billion dollars changes hands between Apple, Google, and Microsoft. For them, it is pocket change. While patent lawsuits threaten to take products off the market, so far that has not happened. A few phones have had to remove features, but in the examples I know, the features were either worthless or allowed simple work-arounds anyway.

Steve Jobs liked to claim that Apple invented the smart phone, and that Google had no right to push a similar product. So he had Apple file a bunch of lawsuits. The patents tell a different story, and helped resolve the matter in an orderly way. They have a record of who invented what, and when. License fees can then benefit whoever invented the most.

The argument that patents are "not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation" has not been proved. If patents were too strong, Apple would not have been able to enter the cell phone market. If patents were too weak, companies would not have bothered getting the critical patents, and court would be in much worse shape resolving unfair competition claims.