Thursday, November 27, 2014

Celebrating abstract nonsense

Berkeley mathematician Edward Frenkel writes in the NY Times:
Alexander Grothendieck, who died on Nov. 13 at the age of 86, was a visionary who captivated the collective psyche of his peers like no one else. ...

Grothendieck’s genius was to recognize that there is a “being” hiding behind a given algebraic equation (or a system of equations) called a scheme. The spaces of solutions are mere projections, or shadows of this scheme. Moreover, he realized that these schemes inhabit a rich world. They “interact” with one another, can be “glued” together and so on. ...

Though one might ask if there are any real-world applications of his work, the more important question is whether having found applications, we also find the wisdom to protect the world from the monsters we create using these applications. Alas, the recent misuse of mathematics does not give us much comfort.

For example, according to published reports, the National Security Agency inserted a back door in a widely used encryption algorithm based on “elliptic curves” — mathematical objects illuminated by Grothendieck’s research. Though that specific algorithm was developed much later, Grothendieck recognized the potential dangers of such misuse of math and sounded the alarm. He was incensed when he learned that IHES, the mathematics institute near Paris where he worked, received funding from the French Ministry of Defense. In protest, he resigned from the institute in 1970 at the height of his power. He had hoped that his colleagues would follow him, but none did.
They did not follow him because he was going crazy. He spent the last 20 years writing unintelligible rants.

Grothendieck’s life story is a wild one. He was the illegitimate son of anarchist parents, and grew up without nationality or parents. He is mainly famous for what mathematicians affectionately call abstract nonsense, and recast the foundations of algebraic geometry in that style. He had a cult-like following of some of the world's smartest men. There are no practical applications, as far as I know, even tho his Wash. Post obituary said:
His contributions to mathematics were often likened to those of Albert Einstein in physics. ... Other scholars came to apply Mr. Grothendieck’s theoretical frameworks to such fields as computer programming, software development, satellite communications, classification systems and the study of biological data.
The analogy to Einstein is strange. Einstein is mainly famous for popularizing relativity theory, and relativity was pivotal for XX century physics. Maybe a better comparison would be to Kurt Goedel, whose work was of pre-eminent foundational importance, but of little consequence to the rest of mathematics or the real world.

Frenkel suggests that Grothendieck might have objected to an NSA-designed random number generator. Maybe so, but that would be more proof of his paranoia. While the news regularly has news of security breeches affecting millions of people, there is no evidence of anyone being adversely affected by that random number generator.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New movie distorts Turing's life and work

Computer scientist Alan Turing has become a gay martyr, and his story is told in the new movie, The Imitation Game. Expect everyone to praise this movie, but it is horrible. A London newspaper reviews:
The Imitation Game jumps around three time periods – Turing’s schooldays in 1928, his cryptographic work at Bletchley Park from 1939-45, and his arrest for gross indecency in Manchester in 1952. It isn’t accurate about any of them, ...

The Imitation Game puts John Cairncross, a Soviet spy and possible “Fifth Man” of the Cambridge spy ring, on Turing’s cryptography team. ... In the film, Turing works out that Cairncross is a spy; but Cairncross threatens to expose his sexuality. “If you tell him my secret, I’ll tell him yours,” he says.

The blackmail works. Turing covers up for the spy, for a while at least. This is wholly imaginary and deeply offensive – for concealing a spy would have been an extremely serious matter. Were the makers of The Imitation Game intending to accuse Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest war heroes, of cowardice and treason? Creative licence is one thing, but slandering a great man’s reputation – while buying into the nasty 1950s prejudice that gay men automatically constituted a security risk – is quite another.
Turing was a mathematical genius who figured out how to apply Goedel's work to computability. Since 1966, a Turing Award has been the top prize in computer science.

His arrest occurred when he tried to frame a teenaged boy for theft, and the police discovered that Turing had been committing statutory rape of the boy. Two years later he died of cyanide poisoning that was presumed to be suicide from eating half a poison apple, altho there is considerable doubt about that.

But Turing was never a traitor. Homosexuals were long denied security clearances, because some famous spies were, such as at least a couple of those Cambridge Five.

This movie is being celebrated by the gay press.
it is elegantly made, beautifully filmed, and loyal to its source material (in this case, Andrew Hodges’s excellent 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma). But what brings the film to life is Cumberbatch’s immensely engaging performance as Turing, a misfit at ease with his homosexuality (he named his computer Christopher after an unrequited schoolboy crush), but utterly at odds with the world around him. To use David Leavitt’s apt comparison, Turing was a kind of real-life Mr. Spock, insensible to human discourse, and wholly unable to “read between the lines.”

Turing was 41 years old when he was found dead by his housekeeper, a half-eaten apple by his bedside. The apple — which urban legend suggests was the inspiration for the logo for Apple computers — is commonly believed to have been laced with cyanide, though this theory has been challenged by some biographers who claim his death was an accident. ...

Cumberbatch, who has clearly done his research, thinks the persecution of homosexuals in the U.K. has its roots in the Cambridge Five, a group of men, some of them gay, at the highest echelons of society, who had been recruited to spy for Moscow. “It was our form of McCarthyism,” he says. “If you were intellectual, if you were gay, if you had any kind of liberal ideas, you were immediately a threat to national security.” ...

For all that The Imitation Game is a period drama, Cumberbatch is anxious that Turing’s story be kept alive as a parable on the price of intolerance. “It’s not a history lesson — it’s a warning that this could very easily happen again,” he says. ... You have to have a point where you go, ‘Well, religious fundamentalism is wrong.’ ”
Apple (Computer) Inc. is one of the gayest companies in the USA, outside the fashion industry. Its CEO is gay, and its marketing is based largely on a gay style to its products. I did not know that gays see the company icon as a symbolic suicidal gay poison apple.

Hollywood always portrays mathematicians, as mentally ill misfits. Examples are Good Will Hunting, Pi, Proof, and A Beautiful Mind. This is another gross distortion.

The actor complains that gay were considered a national security threat, but he has falsely added to that stereotype by portraying Turing as someone whose homosexuality led to him betraying his country.

This movie is offensive on several levels. Someone who used to be praised for his ideas, theorems, and national service is now mocked for an assortment of alleged personality and character faults.

This movie is not going to convince people of the evils of intolerance. The more likely conclusion is that he would have led a happy productive life if he had married his fiancee and avoided homosexuals.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Strongest evidence for being born gay

Conventional wisdom is now that homosexuals are born that way, and NewScientist says this is the strongest evidence:
A genetic analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers, including sets of twins, has provided the strongest evidence yet that gay people are born gay. The study clearly links sexual orientation in men with two regions of the human genome that have been implicated before, one on the X chromosome and one on chromosome 8.

The finding is an important contribution to mounting evidence that being gay is biologically determined rather than a lifestyle choice. ...

Whatever the results, Sanders stresses that complex traits such as sexual orientation depend on multiple factors, both environmental and genetic. Even if he has hit on individual genes, they will likely only have at most a small effect on their own
So this is the strongest evidence? It is extremely weak, as there were no straights in the study and the genes had only a very tiny effect.

Most human behaviors are attributed to some complicated combination of nature and nurture. There is an extreme view that claims that it is 100% genetic, so far they have only shown it is about 0.01% genetic.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Buzzfeed corruption exposed

Buzzfeed has gotten enormous publicity for its allegations against Uber, including two NY Times articles, claiming that Uber going to expose a SJW (social justice warrior) journalist. Now it turns out that Buzzfeed's own coverage is corrupt, as it is publishing these articles in order to profit in its investment in an Uber competitor.

The Buzzfeed articles do not includes quotes of the controversial Uber executive remarks, or an explanation of the SJW journalist issue, or a disclosure of its conflict of interest. And yet it got its story out to the mainstream news sites.

I do not have any opinion about Uber. I am just noting how some slimy hired guns like Buzzfeed can manipulate the mainstream press to advantage their financial interests. You cannot trust stories like this.

The Dilbert cartoonist points out:
Michael didn't "suggest" doing anything. Nor did he - then or now - even want to dig up dirt on journalists. Assuming Buzzfeed's reporting of the details is accurate, all he did was make a dinner party intellectual comparison between the evil of the media that was unfairly attacking them (which I assume is true) and their own civilized response to the attacks.

Michael's point, as Buzzfeed reports it, was that horrible people in the media mislead readers and there is nothing a victim can do about it within the realm of reasonable business practices. The Buzzfeed business model is totally legal. But, as Michael explained, probably over a cocktail, the only legal solution to this problem would be to use freedom of the press to push back on the bad actors by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

But it was just private cocktail talk. It wasn't a plan. It definitely wasn't a "suggestion." It was just an interesting way to make a point. The point, as I understand it from Buzzfeed's own reporting, is that Uber DOES play fair in a fight in which the opponents (bad actors in the press) do not. I find that interesting. It is also literally the opposite of what the headline of the story "suggests" happened.

And Michael made his point in a room full of writers/media people. Obviously it wasn't a plan.

It's not as if Michael was talking about manipulating the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Those publications might get some facts wrong now and then, but they don't have a business model that involves intentionally taking things out of context to manufacture news.
Buzzfeed does have a business model of manipulating the mainstream papers, I guess, and the papers fall for it.

Another obnoxious thing is that Buzzfeed implies that Sarah Lacy (editor of PandoDaily) is some sort of criminal or guilty of something seriously embarrassing. Buzzfeed does not say, and I do not know. I can only assume that Buzzfeed is blackmailing her, and is threatening to expose her if she does not play their game.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No good AI in new Terminator movie

From 4 Signs the New 'Terminator' Movie Is Doomed:
This means we're getting a new Terminator trilogy that kicks off with a future John Connor sending the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator farther back in time to raise Sarah Connor (she calls him "Pops") and fight a younger T-800, which in turn creates an alternate universe. Also, Arnold will look like a 67-year-old robot,
Sounds like a disaster.

I would have like to see a Terminator sequel that gave a technologically plausible rise of SkyNet. The movie could have skipped the time travel, and shown the progression to the great war between humans and machines in the future, as the Terminator movies allude.

We are seeing many AI advances coming, such as the internet of things, self-driving cars, voice-controlled agents, etc. If you believe the technological singularity seers, these and other AI advances will bring some radical changes in a couple of decades. I am not sure that they are right, but they certainly have visualized a future that is plausible enuf for a movie.

So I would show a near future where ordinary lives increasingly come under the control of machines, and people accept it. I would show some occasional machine mistakes that are also accepted. Then I would show a machine making some logical but shocking decision, such as killing an innocent baby to prevent some greater tragedy.

John Connor would see the dangers in this, and maybe commit some criminal sabotage against the machines. The machines then conspire against him. There are a lot of possibilities here.

Arnold would be an engineering genius robot designer. He would be a good guy, because he is too big a star to play bad guys anymore, but his products are programmable and some of his customer turn them into ruthless security guards, drug deals, hit men, and worse. Because he is the designer, some of the cyborgs look like younger versions of himself. This is how he can be an old guy in the movie.

It appears that the Terminator movies will do none of this. Other AI movies have been disappointments. Someone will surely make a good AI movie.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Microsoft's browser is hated

A geek site explains:
It’s common knowledge that almost every single geek hates Internet Explorer with a passion, but have you ever wondered why? Let’s take a fair look at the history and where it all began… for posterity, if nothing else. ...

And here’s where we come to the real issue — the whole reason that geeks can’t stand Internet Explorer:

Geeks everywhere were forced to use Internet Explorer at work even when there are better browsers, forced to support it for corporate applications, forced to make sure web sites still work in IE, and we couldn’t convince everybody to switch to a better browser.

Geeks don’t hate something that’s inferior — but they do hate it when it’s forced on them.
Yes, I think that is much of the reason, but there is more.

Microsoft designed IE to use a loophole in an anti-trust judgment -- it argued that it was allowed to bundle IE anti-competitively as long as it was integrated into the operating system.

IE and other browsers are used for things like viewing internet porn. For Microsoft to say that IE was integrated into the OS was the same as saying that porn had to be integrated. Who wants that?

The legal argument was dubious. The judgment allowed MS to improve the OS with innovation, but not to force bundling.
Thankfully, it seems like Microsoft has finally learned from their many, many mistakes in the browser world.
I don't think MS has learned. Has it repudiated the idea that it is trying to integrate porn into the OS? I don't think so. If I use IE to view porn, then the images are still cached in my system files.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ten Items or Less

Psychology professor Steve Pinker has a new grammar book:
Now, you might think that if "more" can be used with both count and mass nouns, so can "less". But it doesn't work that way: you may have "less gravel", but most writers agree that you can only have "fewer pebbles", not "less pebbles". This is a reasonable distinction, but purists have extended it with a vengeance. The sign over supermarket express checkout lanes, "Ten Items or Less", is a grammatical error, they say, and as a result of their carping upscale supermarkets have replaced the signs with "Ten Items or Fewer". By this logic, off licences should refuse to sell beer to customers who are "fewer than 21 years old" and law-abiding motorists should drive at "fewer than 70 miles an hour". And once you master this distinction, well, that's one fewer thing for you to worry about.

Clearly, the purists have botched the "less-fewer" distinction.
No, I think Pinker botches it.

"X less than Y" means X < Y, as real numbers. "X fewer than Y" means X ≤ Y-1, as integers. You do not say "fewer than 70 miles an hour" because that would mean 69 mph or less, whereas a speed limit of 70 mph means that 69.9 mph is allowed.

"Ten Items or Less" makes sense because 9.5 items would be allowed, if the supermarket sold half items.

The term "less pebbles" seems to be used about the same as "fewer pebbles". The word "fewer" might be preferred if you are counting the pebbles, but in most situations, "less" is just as good.

I am saying that the less/fewer distinction is about real numbers and integers, and not about mass and counting nouns.

Pinker also gives his blessing to "very unique", and presumably "more unique". Again, I don't think that he gets to the heart of what is really a math problem, not a linguistic problem.

The word "unique" means unequal to all others. It is not clear how something can be very unequal or more unequal. If you want to emphasize how different something is, you could say that it is very different. X is very different from Y if |X-Y| is large. But something being more different does not make it more unique. 10 is more different from 2 than 3, but it is not more unique.
Great writers have been modifying absolute adjectives for centuries, including the framers of the American Constitution, who sought "a more perfect union". Many of the examples pass unnoticed by careful writers, including "nothing could be more certain" and "there could be no more perfect spot". Though the phrase "very unique" is universally despised, other modifications of "unique" are unobjectionable, as when Martin Luther King wrote, "I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers."
King was "rather unique", but not claiming to be more unique than others. The trouble with "very unique" is that it claims to be more unequal than others, and that makes no sense.

The term "more perfect" has the obvious math interpretation of being closer to 100% of what it is supposed to be. My dictionary gives these examples:
"a perfect circle"; "a perfect reproduction"; "perfect happiness"; "perfect manners"; "a perfect specimen"; "a perfect day"; "a perfect idiot"; "perfect timing"
Most of these uses are such that a perfect example could be replaced by a more perfect example. The one exception might be the perfect circle, if it is an abstract mathematical circle. But then you would not call it "perfect", because all such circles are perfect anyway. In all other cases, the perfect can be more perfect.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Evidence favors Ferguson cop

Pres. Barack Obama and his supporters have used Ferguson Mo to try to whip up racial animosity for the current election.

The Wash Post reports:
Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer’s gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown’s body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson’s account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life.
This was their best example of racist cops attacking black people.

Update: I heard someone argue that even if the cop is not guilty of murder, he is probably guilty of profiling, and blacks get stopped more than whites.

I don't know why Wilson stopped Brown, but Brown had just robbed a convenience store 10 minutes earlier, and Wilson was not told yet about the store calling 911. My guess is that Brown was behaving very suspiciously, and still had the stolen goods in his possession. Wilson probably asked an innocuous question and Brown reacted violently. If so, then Wilson did profile Brown in the sense that Wilson did not see Brown do anything illegal, but was alerted to suspicious behavior. That seems like excellent police work to me. Cops should be confronting people who behave suspiciously.

Update: The liberal NY Mag posts data on how Democrat political gains are entirely dependent on non-white voters. The trend has been continuing for decades.

Update: The NY Times admits that coverage of Ferguson is all part of a campaign to get blacks to vote Democrat in this election.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Professor cannot really detect lies

Many people claim to be able to read faces, expressions, and body language in order to determine what others are thinking. This is so common that it is arguably an essential human trait to have such beliefs. But is such mindreading reliable?

Here is some criticism of a leading mindreading proponent:
Paul Ekman has spent much of his long career studying emotions as expressed on the face. ...

Ekman is renowned for his ability to read faces for signs of what people are thinking and feeling. In his best seller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes that "much of our understanding of mind-reading" is owed to Ekman and his collaborators. He relates how Ekman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, could tell by their faces alone when figures as varied as Bill Clinton and Kim Philby, the infamous British spy, were lying — Clinton in real time, Philby on historical video. Lie to Me, a television show featuring a human lie detector modeled on Ekman, ran from 2009 to 2011 on Fox. His work on lying is one reason the American Psychological Association deemed Ekman one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century. ...

But some scholars say the idea that anyone could reach 90-percent lie-detection accuracy by observing behavioral cues visible to the naked eye is pure fantasy. Testifying before Congress in 2011, Maria Hartwig, an associate professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of the City University of New York, took on Ekman directly. (He also testified.) "No such finding has ever been reported in the peer-reviewed literature," she said.
Billions of dollars have been spent on this. The results are pretty weak.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Claiming that political views literally stink

Arthur C. Brooks writes in the NY Times:
I JUST learned that I suffer from cognitive-olfactory dissonance. I don’t smell the way I think.

Social scientists from Brown, Harvard and Penn State recently conducted an unusual study. Seeking to examine the biological cues that influence attraction, the researchers taped gauze pads to the skin of 20 subjects, retrieved them 24 hours later, and kept them in their lab. They asked 125 volunteers to smell each sample, rate how attractive they found each odor, and to guess at the political orientation of the person with whom it originated.

The researchers found evidence that people are instinctively attracted to the smell emitted by those with similar ideologies. In one memorable instance, a female participant asked the scholars if she could take one of the samples home, describing it as “the best perfume I ever smelled.” The scent came from a man who shared her political views. Just before, a different woman with the opposite views had smelled the exact same sample, declared it “rancid,” and urged the researchers to throw it out. Ideological like-mindedness exerts a biological pull on our attraction, it seems — and deep disagreements can really stink.

These results suggest that our beliefs have a strong biological component. But what if our beliefs conflict with our aromatic state of nature?
If true, this might alter my view of human nature. But statistician Gelman writes:
Without a really clear pattern (which I’d not expect to see in this sort of study, given the obscure — at best — relation between scent and political attitude), I think it’s really iffy to take some data on this small sample and make claims about the general population.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moslem professor attacks Christianity again

Reza Aslan writes in the NY Times:
BILL MAHER’s recent rant against Islam has set off a fierce debate about the problem of religious violence, particularly when it comes to Islam.

Mr. Maher, who has argued that Islam is unlike other religions (he thinks it’s more “like the Mafia”), recently took umbrage with President Obama’s assertion that the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, does not represent Islam. In Mr. Maher’s view, Islam has “too much in common with ISIS.” ...

No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. ...

The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires. The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5). ...

Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, is the author, most recently, of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”
So how did an Iranian Moslem creative writing professor become an expert on comparing Christianity to Islam?

There are several interpretations to Sell your cloak and buy a sword. It could be metaphorical, or it could be self-defense. None of them involve murdering idolaters or anything like what the Koran says.

Here is how Aslan got famous, as reported by a far left magazine:
The “most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done,” in which anchor Lauren Green challenged the legitimacy of author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, seemed to be popping up everywhere on social media last week. The absurdity of the spectacle was multifold: Why — why?! — would a Muslim want to write about Jesus, Green kept asking, as though a nefarious plot to undermine Christianity were somehow afoot. Meanwhile, Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials and but also the professional duty to do so (“My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions”).
Fox News was right to question his credentials, as he lies about them. He does not have a job as a scholar of religions or history, and he does not have a PhD in the subject. His PhD is in sociology.

Now that he has made millions on a book trashing Christianity, I guess he could say that he has vested interest in the subject.

Interviewers very commonly ask an author why he wrote the book. Usually this is considered a softball question.

Aslan cherry-picks quotes above to try to show that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are similar on the subjects of violence and peace. They are not. The Koran is a book about forced conquest and subjugation. The Bible is a book about voluntary acceptance of peaceful ideals.

Forget the holy books. Just look at the last millennium of history, and how kids are taught today. Many millions of Moslems support suicide bombings of civilians. It is hard to find one Christian anywhere who does.

Aslan makes blanket judgments about Christianity. But if you say that Islam is more violent than Christianity, then Aslan accuses you of "simply bigotry". No, Aslan is a phony, a liar, a Christianity hater, and an apologist for Moslem murderers.

Update: Here are some more Islamic views:
(CNN) -- In a new publication, ISIS justifies its kidnapping of women as sex slaves citing Islamic theology, an interpretation that is rejected by the Muslim world at large as a perversion of Islam.

"One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar -- the infidels -- and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law," the group says in an online magazine published Sunday.

The title of the article sums up the ISIS point of view: "The revival (of) slavery before the Hour," referring to Judgment Day.

The fourth edition of the group's English-language digital magazine called "Dabiq" said that female members of the Yazidi sect, an ethnically Kurdish minority living mostly in Iraq, may legitimately be captured and forcibly made concubines or sexual slaves. ...

The issue, titled "The Failed Crusade," includes an alleged copy of slain American journalist Steven Sotloff's last letter to his mother and says the victim's Jewish identity warranted his beheading by ISIS.
Yes, I know that a majority of Moslems do not agree with going this far.

Update: See this 2013 survey of Moslem views. Note the widespread support for a death penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Resistance is futile against alien Asian invaders

Carl Zimmer reports in the NY Times:
Many alien species in the northeastern United States, including the emerald ash borer and Japanese barberry, invaded from East Asia. But the opposite is not true. Few species from the northeastern United States have become problems in East Asia. ...

But as far back as the 19th century, some scientists saw a role for evolution. In “The Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin wrote that we shouldn’t be surprised by native species “being beaten and supplanted by the naturalised productions from another land.”

Darwin reasoned that these victories were inevitable. Different species might adapt to a particular ecological niche in different parts of the world. Put them in the same place, in the same niche, and one might well outcompete the other because it has evolved superior attributes. ...

Dr. Fridley speculated that a similar imbalance could explain why the Northeast gets so many invasive species from East Asia. Today both regions have a similar climate. But the United States was buried by glaciers during the Ice Ages, while East Asia was spared. Its species continued to grow more diverse, to evolve and eventually to become superior competitors — ready to invade, once humans started acting as their chauffeurs. ...

The evolutionary imbalance hypothesis, as Dr. Sax and Dr. Fridley call their hypothesis, could have a grim implication for conservation biologists trying to preserve native species: They may be fighting millions of years of evolution.

“If that’s true, the phrase, ‘Resistance is futile’ comes to mind,” said Dr. Stachowicz.
I wonder if anyone is applying this analysis to human beings. The Jains of India have been declining in numbers, but they are quite prosperous outside of India.

Asian people and customs are welcomed in the USA, but China tries to limit American infludence there. NPR reports:
"There are many Christians and Catholics among the pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, the older generation," says Joseph Cheng, who teaches political science at City University of Hong Kong.

Cheng, 65, is also a pro-democracy activist and a Christian himself. He says many of the movement's leaders were educated in Hong Kong's Christian missionary schools, which helped shape their beliefs.

"There is this Christian spirit," says Cheng, who wears a yellow ribbon pinned to his shirt pocket — a symbol of the movement. "You are more willing to suffer. Social justice means more to you."

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Embarrassed about mathematician son

Most movies about mathematicians portray them as crazy or disturbed or freaky somehow.

I just saw the 1965 movie Dear Brigitte, and it has this scene:
I want to tell you something. I don't want you to do it any more. Because if they find out about this, do you know what they're going to say?

No, sir.

They'll say, "There goes that Erasmus Leaf. He's a mathematician."


And we don't want that, do we?

No sir!

Of course not. 'Course we don't. So ... We'll just keep this our own little closely-guarded family secret, huh?

Monday, September 29, 2014

NYT bot misstates football chances

From the NYT 4th Down Bot:
Simply put, going for it on fourth down is often the best way to maximize points, whether the play succeeds or not. Your odds of success are too good, and the field position you gain by punting is too modest.
No, it is not the best way if the play fails. Punting is better than a failed 4th down.

I guess he is trying to say that the 4th down gamble is a worthwhile one, but erred in saying "whether the play succeeds or not."

The column says it is written by a bot, but I doubt it. A human made this error.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Drunk women a threat to fraternities

The NY Daily News reports:
Forbes magazine has sacked a contributor over an online column arguing that drunk party girls were the "gravest threats" to the livelihood of fraternities, the Daily News has learned.

The column by contributor and MIT-grad Bill Frezza titled "Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat To Fraternities,"
The deleted article is here, with feminist criticism here and here.

The article asks why drunk female students are not held accountable:
Yes, boozed up males also show up at parties, sometimes mobs of them disturbing the peace on the front steps. But few are allowed in, especially if they are strangers. Plus, it remains socially acceptable for bouncers to eject drunk and rowdy males because our society rarely casts them as sympathetic victims, as opposed to the irresponsible jerks that they are. In our age of sexual equality, why drunk female students are almost never characterized as irresponsible jerks is a question I leave to the feminists. But it is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down.
I guess he got his answer -- feminists are opposed to holding them responsible for anything.

I post this as info about things you cannot say. You can certainly say that drunk men should be kept out of parties, or that drunk men should be responsible for their sexual behavior. But feminism resists any controls on female sexual freedom, so you have to say that drunk girls have the right to sexual encounters as they please, and the right to cry rape if they have regrets the next morning.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Offit uses Hollywood story to promote vaccines

Paul A. Offit is the USA's most famous vaccine advocate. He holds patents on vaccines, and has served on the CDC advisory committee on vaccine mandates. He had to sign waivers, because he has collected 6-figure sums for vaccine industry lobbying. He has written books and articles promoting vaccines. He has also promoted quackery like homeopathy.

Now he writes The Anti-Vaccination Epidemic in the WSJ:
Almost 8,000 cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, have been reported to California's Public Health Department so far this year. More than 250 patients have been hospitalized, nearly all of them infants and young children, and 58 have required intensive care. Why is this preventable respiratory infection making a comeback? In no small part thanks to low vaccination rates, as a story earlier this month in the Hollywood Reporter pointed out.
He is supposed to be a leading scientist in the field, and he relies the Hollywood Reporter? Was the outbreak caused by low vaccination rates or not? Offit is apparently unwilling to give his own opinion.
The conversation about vaccination has changed. In the 1990s, when new vaccines were introduced, the news media were obsessed with the notion that vaccines might be doing more harm than good. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism, we were told. Thimerosal, an ethyl-mercury containing preservative in some vaccines, might cause developmental delays. Too many vaccines given too soon, the stories went, might overwhelm a child's immune system.

Then those stories disappeared. One reason was that study after study showed that these concerns were ill-founded.
He should admit that those were legitimate concerns, that he voted to approved inadequately-tested vaccines, and that several of those vaccines have been taken off the market for safety concerns.
Another was that the famous 1998 report claiming to show a link between vaccinations and autism was retracted by The Lancet, the medical journal that had published it. The study was not only spectacularly wrong, as more than a dozen studies have shown, but also fraudulent. The author, British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, has since been stripped of his medical license.
The lesson is that you can lose your license for opposing vaccines. Now no physicians publicly oppose vaccines. Does that convince you?
But the damage was done. Countless parents became afraid of vaccines. As a consequence, many parents now choose to delay, withhold, separate or space out vaccines. Some don't vaccinate their children at all. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that between 1991 and 2004, the percentage of children whose parents had chosen to opt out of vaccines increased by 6% a year, resulting in a more than twofold increase.
Deceptive use of statistics. So 1% opted out one year, and 1.06% opted out the next, not 7%.
Who is choosing not to vaccinate? The answer is surprising. The area with the most cases of whooping cough in California is Los Angeles County, and no group within that county has lower immunization rates than residents living between Malibu and Marina Del Rey, home to some of the wealthiest and most exclusive suburbs in the country. At the Kabbalah Children's Academy in Beverly Hills, 57% of children are unvaccinated. At the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica, it's 68%, according to the Hollywood Reporter's analysis of public-health data.
Apparently he cannot link the outbreak to the low-vaccine areas. Or the Hollywood Reporter cannot.
Parents might consider what has happened in other countries when large numbers of parents chose not to vaccinate their children. Japan, for example, which had virtually eliminated whooping cough by 1974, suffered an anti-vaccine activist movement that caused vaccine rates to fall to 10% in 1976 from 80% in 1974. In 1979, more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths occurred as a result.
That Japanese movement was against an inferior vaccine being used. The vaccination rate went back up when the authorities agreed to use the safer acellular vaccine.

A commenter says:
How many cases of whooping cough were started by illegal aliens who are unvaccinated bringing the disease with them?
I don't know about that, but I believe that most of the cases are from teenagers whose vaccinations have worn off, and all of the measles cases are from foreigners. Since these diseases and vaccines are so closely tracked, officials should be able to tell us directly the empirical benefits and harms

Sunday, September 21, 2014

For and against citizenism

Radical libertarian economist Bryan Caplan writes:
In the past, I’ve argued that Steve Sailer’s citizenism is a moral travesty. Advancing the interests of your in-group should always play second fiddle to respecting the rights of out-groups. But recently, he presented what sounds like a universal argument for citizenism:
“We live in a world of about 200 countries, a world that for all its flaws, is relatively peaceful and prosperous. And the basis of that order has been a set of assumptions about what the purpose of government is that both Caplan and myself call citizenism… The difference between Caplan and me is merely that he wants to take this order based on citizenism and blow it up, while I don’t.”
Charitably interpreted, Sailer’s saying something like: “Citizenism isn’t just great for us; it’s great for mankind. Vigorous pursuit of national self-interest leads to great global outcomes.” An interesting claim, but is there any reason to believe it? Steve’s only argument seems to be that (a) most countries on earth rest on citizenist principles, and (b) the modern world is, by historical standards, awesome.

This argument is painfully weak. ... What’s novel about the modern world is precisely that aggressive pursuit of national self-interest is finally widely recognized as a vice, not virtue.
It ia amazing how libertarians can cite these goofy ideals with so little argument about either the justification or the consequences.

Human civilization has been historically based on citizenism, and it is not clear that any other way is possible. Caplan advocates open borders on the theory that foreigners should be treated the same as citizens. Has any nation ever succeeded with such thinking?

Libertarian economics and philosophy is based on individuals, families, businesses, and corporations acting in their self-interests. We all benefit from the invisible hand, and the associated freedoms and prosperity. The same benefits accrue when nations act in their self-interest.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

More harassment claims

Sexual harassment claims are all over the news, including football, firemen, judges, and scientists. But sexual harassment (in the case of scientists) is defined to include inappropriate nonsexual remarks, comments about beauty, and jokes at any time in a career. I am surprised that the rates are not 100%.

This is just the stupid liberal fad of the day, with the news media piling on.

Update: Add women's soccer:
Solo, one of the biggest and most marketable stars in women’s sports, is facing domestic violence charges from an episode over the summer in which she is accused of punching her sister and her 17-year-old nephew at a late-night party. ...

Celebrating Solo’s achievement right now is like allowing running back Adrian Peterson, who has been accused of child abuse, to continue to play for the Minnesota Vikings — and then awarding him the game ball for his next 100-yard game.

If that wouldn’t happen in the N.F.L., it shouldn’t happen in women’s sports, either.
The news media is taking their personal lives way too seriously.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Very weak evidence for fairness in animals

I expressed skepticism about studies claiming to find fairness in monkeys and other animals. Now a study also says that those animals do not show fairness, but that chimps do:
On the flip side, when two unrelated chimps put side by side were presented with a tasty grape and a less tasty carrot, the chimp with the grape sometimes threw it away. "I would say that the most likely cause was either fear of retribution or just general discomfort about being around an individual getting less than you," says Brosnan. Differences in the social hierarchy also played a role, she says. Dominant chimps were angrier when they were on the receiving end of a lesser reward than those lower in the pecking order.

The results among the chimps are indicative of highly cooperative societies, where relying on someone else is especially crucial. This may be why chimpanzees and humans will avoid inequity, Brosnan suggests, to have long-term cooperation from friends.

However, she cautions against calling it fairness exactly: "Fairness is a social ideal" she says. ... [The animals] don't have social ideals in the same sense [that people do]." Her research reveals behaviors that may look like a push for fairness; but that doesn't mean strategic, higher-order thinking is driving it. The explanation may be much simpler, based more on emotion, Brosnan says: "When my social partner gets upset, I give them something that makes them happy."
As you can see, fairness is the rich anthropomorphic explanation, but there are also leaner explanations.

People often talk about chimps and other primates as being social like humans, but they are not at all. It is true that they often live in groups, but they do not cooperate on tasks as humans do, so they are not really social.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Barry Bonds may still be cleared

I had to admit being wrong about the Barry Bonds conviction being upheld, and now I find that the case is still pending:
Reviving Bonds' legal arguments, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed earlier this year to reconsider a ruling upholding the conviction. A majority of the 9th Circuit's 29 full-time judges had to vote to rehear the case, a signal of some doubt within the court about the outcome.

"It's got legs," said Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and Hastings College of the Law professor. "But I wouldn't predict this one." ...

Bonds was indicted on a charge of lying to the grand jury in December 2003 about whether he used steroids while chasing baseball's all-time home-run records.

A jury more than three years ago deadlocked on perjury charges against Bonds but convicted him on an obstruction charge for his rambling answer to a question about whether his former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, had ever supplied or injected him with steroids.

The answer included musings about being "a celebrity child with a famous father" and other remarks jurors later said were meant to evade questions about his steroid use.

In last year's ruling, a unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel rejected Bonds' legal arguments that he was convicted of simply providing a rambling answer that did not amount to a crime. The judges found the testimony "evasive" and "misleading."
I am going to predict again that the Bonds conviction is reversed.

Bonds was acquitted on the perjury charge (lying about using steroids), and only convicted on the sole charge of obstruction of justice, on a theory that he gave one evasive answer to one question.

It appeared to me that Bonds misunderstood the question, and that the prosecutor was satisfied with the answer. The defense says that the question was answered elsewhere in testimony, and that even a false answer can be cured by correcting the answer. The state still maintains that Bonds committed perjury, and that should be held against him on appeal, even tho the jury did not agree.

Appeals courts are usually pro-prosecution and sometimes concoct weird rationales to uphold a conviction, but the case against Bonds is just too weak. I think that he will be cleared.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New Apple products are expensive

In case you are following Apple, the new iPhone with the big screen costs $950, and the one with the smaller screen is $850. Or you can sign up for a 2-year contract costing thousands of dollars. (I am quoting the larger memory model, since the phones are not expandable with memory cards.)

The wrist watch will not be out until next year, and start at $350, possibly without the wristband or any decent battery life. It requires an Apple iphone, and may not even be able to tell time without one. But of course the Apple fanbois like the style and the Apple lock-in.

The Reality distortion field lives.

Update: I missed this recent Apple statement:
Our customers’ privacy and security are of utmost importance to us. After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone.
This is dishonest. Apparently attackers were able to get Apple passwords by pretending (pretexting) to be an actress who lost her password, and bluffing Apple into account access to the nude pictures by answering some security questions. If so, then iCloud security certainly was breached. Those users had no idea that Apple was so sloppy about allowing access.

Update: This museum statue is funny. Looks like someone anticipated modern fangirls. Or maybe one religious icon has replaced another.

Update: The NY Times reports that the cost of an Iphone 6 (small model) is about $650, if you commit to a 2-year contract.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Feminism v civilization

Sophie Kleeman writes:
Women shouldn't have to curb their sexual behavior. Women should engage in safe and consensual sex with whomever they want, whenever they want, and they should be able to do so without worrying that they'll be raped. 
This is a reasonable definition of feminism. Constraints on female sexually have stemmed from religion, law, morality, marriage, pregnancy, childrearing, etc, and feminists seek to reduce them all and unleash hypergamy.
Hypergamy: a woman’s natural preference for a male that is of higher status than other men and also higher status than herself.
Feminism is sometimes defined in terms of equality, but most feminist demands have little to do with equality and many say that mammalian female instinctual preferences are for hypergamy.

Vox Day says that such feminism is a disaster (referring to the opinion of someone else):
Civilization depends entirely upon the restriction of female sexuality and the limitation of female power. It’s not the only factor, but it is a necessary one. The restrictions can be cruel and enforced primarily by men, as in the case of Islamic semi-civilization, or they can be soft and enforced primarily by women, as in the case of traditional Western civilization. Or something in between, such as she describes. But the restrictions must exist, be they self-imposed or externally imposed.

There is no equality. There never will be as long as young men are willing to build, steal, or kill for sex. Unless sex is primarily made available to young men by forcing them to jump through various hoops that help build and maintain civilization, it’s back to barbarism and grass huts for everyone. And that decivilizing process is exactly what she is describing.

The decline of civilization is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution combined with the Divorce Revolution. There were no winners and civilization lost.
Warnings about the decline of civilization are not new. For another view, Nikola Tesla, the inventor of AC power distribution, wrote in 1924:
The world has experienced many tragedies, but to my mind the greatest tragedy of all is the present economic condition wherein women strive against men, and in many cases actually succeed in usurping their places in the professions and in industry. This growing tendency of women to overshadow the masculine is a sign of a deteriorating civilization.

Woman’s determined competition with man in the business world is breaking down some of the best traditions–things which have proved the moving factors in the world’s slow but substantial progress.

Practically all the great achievements of man until now have been inspired by his love and devotion to woman. Man has aspired to great things because some woman believed in him, because he wished to command her admiration and respect. For these reasons he has fought for her and risked his life and his all for her time and time again.

Perhaps the male in human society is useless. I am frank to admit that I don’t know. If women are beginning to feel this way about it – and there is striking evidence at hand that they do – then we are entering upon the cruelest period of the world’s history.

Our civilization will sink to a state like that which is found among the bees, ants and other insects – a state wherein the male is ruthlessly killed off. In this matriarchal empire which will be established the female rules. As the female predominates, the males are at her mercy. The male is considered important only as a factor in the general scheme of the continuity of life.

The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me.

Woman’s independence and her cleverness in obtaining what she wants in the business world is breaking down man’s spirit of independence. The old fire he once experienced at being able to achieve something that would compel and hold a woman’s devotion is turning to ashes.

Women don’t seem to want that sort of thing to-day. They appear to want to control and govern. They want man to look up to them, instead of their looking up to him.
Update: Here is a NY Times letter, advocating maximal sexual freedom for women:
Ideally, women should be able to have the IUD placed the same day they make the decision to use it, but the high upfront cost and limited access prove to be continuing impediments for many women. Even women with insurance coverage often have to pay for it first, or wait for their doctor to order it.

IUDs and the implant are not right for every woman, but many women want them and cannot get them. Increasing access to all methods by eliminating barriers of cost and access will ultimately empower women to make the best decision for themselves and their families.
In other words, the woman should not have to pay or wait, and her family should accept whatever decision she makes.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Nutritionists wrong about fat again

The NY Times reports:
People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study shows.

The findings are unlikely to be the final salvo in what has been a long and often contentious debate about what foods are best to eat for weight loss and overall health. The notion that dietary fat is harmful, particularly saturated fat, arose decades ago from comparisons of disease rates among large national populations. ...

Many nutritionists and health authorities have “actively advised against” low-carbohydrate diets, said the lead author of the new study, Dr. Lydia A. Bazzano of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “It’s been thought that your saturated fat is, of course, going to increase, and then your cholesterol is going to go up,” she said. “And then bad things will happen in general.”

The new study showed that was not the case.
Do not believe those experts until they admit their mistakes.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cat parasite reprograms human brains

Ever notice how cat owners seem to be under the spell of some sort of mind control that makes them completely irrational about some things? Some new research has shown how this works:
An unassuming single-celled organism called Toxoplasma gondii is one of the most successful parasites on Earth, infecting an estimated 11 percent of Americans and perhaps half of all people worldwide. It’s just as prevalent in many other species of mammals and birds. In a recent study in Ohio, scientists found the parasite in three-quarters of the white-tailed deer they studied.

One reason for Toxoplasma’s success is its ability to manipulate its hosts. The parasite can influence their behavior, so much so that hosts can put themselves at risk of death. Scientists first discovered this strange mind control in the 1990s, but it’s been hard to figure out how they manage it. Now a new study suggests that Toxoplasma can turn its host’s genes on and off — and it’s possible other parasites use this strategy, too.

Toxoplasma manipulates its hosts to complete its life cycle. Although it can infect any mammal or bird, it can reproduce only inside of a cat. The parasites produce cysts that get passed out of the cat with its feces; once in the soil, the cysts infect new hosts.

Toxoplasma returns to cats via their prey. But a host like a rat has evolved to avoid cats as much as possible, taking evasive action from the very moment it smells feline odor.

Experiments on rats and mice have shown that Toxoplasma alters their response to cat smells. Many infected rodents lose their natural fear of the scent. Some even seem to be attracted to it.
And if your behavior is not driven by cat parasites, then it is probably your genes:
“First Law: All human behavioural traits are heritable.
Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.”

- Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean.

“There is now a large body of evidence that supports the conclusion that individual differences in most, if not all, reliably measured psychological traits, normal and abnormal, are substantively influenced by genetic factors. This fact has important implications for research and theory building in psychology, as evidence of genetic influence unleashes a cascade of questions regarding the sources of variance in such traits. A brief list of those questions is provided, and representative findings regarding genetic and environmental influences are presented for the domains of personality, intelligence, psychological interests, psychiatric illnesses, and social attitudes. These findings are consistent with those reported for the traits of other species and for many human physical traits, suggesting that they may represent a general biological phenomenon.”

- Bouchard, T. J. (2004). Genetic Influence on Human Psychological Traits: A Survey

Friday, August 22, 2014

Obama denounces Islamic group

Pres. Barack Obama has been busy stirring up racial animosity in Missouri, and has moved on to religious animosity:
Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.

They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. ...

From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century. ...

And may God bless the United States of America.
The Christians are religious minorities. ISIL is certainly not nihilistic, as nihilism means:
Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
ISIL has an Islamic religious belief, and promotes a traditional Mohammedan ideology. The kill people of other religions. Yes they sometimes murder Muslims, if those Muslims disagree with killing Christians.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Equal access is not possible

The NY Times has a debate on organ selling, and the medical ethics professor says:
If all patients have equal value as humans, then they should have equal access to health care. This stipulation crumbles, however, when organs can be bought and sold.

Values and ethics underpin society and medical practice so health care structures that operate purely on economics are inappropriate.

Payments for organs equates to price tags for them, and who gets to put a price on life?
It is baffling how an expert in the subject could make such a silly argument.

It is simply not possible for everyone to get equal health care. Even if that were desirable, some physicians and medical providers are better than others. People have vastly different needs.

Equal medical care is no more desirable than equal food, housing, transportation, or anything else.

While paying donors for kidneys is illegal outside Iran, patients (or their employers, insurers, welfare benefits, etc) certainly have to pay maybe $100k for a transplant. So they are paying for life. The issue under debate is whether the person making the transplant possible can get some small percentage of the expense.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Future of humanity is African

NPR Radio reports:
"The future of humanity is increasingly African."

That's the prediction in a new UNICEF report, which estimates that by the end of this century, 40 percent of the world's people will be African — up from 15 percent now. The continent's population currently sits at roughly 1.2 billion but will soar to more than 4 billion by 2100. Nearly 1 billion will live in Nigeria alone.

In a released Wednesday, UNICEF projected the growth of Africa's child population within the next century. And the numbers are staggering.

An estimated 1.8 billion births will take place in Africa in the next 35 years, the authors predict. By 2050, Africa will have almost children under 18, making up nearly 40 percent of kids worldwide.
For comparison, this chart says that 500M people lived in Europe or N. America in 1900, and the world population was 1600M. Today, the world population is 60% Asian.

Whites are rapidly becoming a minority in the USA:
For the first time, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.
If space aliens have been observing us for the last few centuries, they would report that Europe and N. America invented modern civilization, with the science, technology, agriculture, political organizations, law, etc. to support a multi-billion population. Then they chose to use that know-how to re-populate the planet with other races.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Responsible use of mathematical tools

Forbes reports on mathematicians criticizing the NSA:
Keith Devlin of Stanford University, worked on Defense Department projects after September 11th and takes a far more critical view of the NSA after the Snowden revelations. ...

“I think mathematicians should refuse to work for the NSA until they both follow the US Constitution and demonstrate responsible use of mathematical tools,” says Devlin in an email to me. “The latter is something they clearly failed to do by engineering weaknesses into mathematical crypto systems, which mathematicians know to be a very dangerous thing to do. I think it is very regrettable that the current NSA leadership has broken the immense goodwill that most of us in the mathematical community once had toward them.” ...

When Google, for example, released an “end-to-end” encryption tool for Gmail this week, it placed a smiley face message in its code, an inside joke that was a subtle dig at the NSA, and a celebration of the fact that it will be harder for spying types to get access to messages sent this way by Gmail users.
For articles on the subject in a mathematician publication, see Apr 2000, Jan 2014, Feb 2014, Jun 2014, and Jul 2014 (pdf).

The NSA is a military intelligence agency. It is a little strange for Devlin to lecture us on "responsible use of mathematical tools". It is even stranger to criticize spying and praise Google at the same time. Google makes billions of dollars from spying on users and selling their privacy to advertisers. C-Net reports:
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.
By contrast, the NSA is accused of recommending a pseudo-random number generator that might have it easier to catch foreign terrorists.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Professors against human evolution book

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist professor Jerry Coyne writes:
Sunday’s New York Times Book Review (already up) features a letter signed by 139 population geneticists, including myself. It is, in essence, a group of scientists objecting en masse to Nicholas Wade’s shoddy treatment of race and evolution in his new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. 
I have mentioned controversy about this book, and I have posted both sides. This is a significant development in opposition to the book.

Coyne previously joined a gang against group selection:
The list of authors and their institutions, which occupies two pages of the three-page letter, reads like a Who’s Who of social evolution. It’s telling that nearly every major figure in the field lined up against Nowak et al.
One of his readers commented:
I’m confident that you’re on the right side of this dispute, but still, that argument is uncomfortably reminiscent of an infamous book titled “Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein” (Hundred authors against Einstein) [1931.]
Wade replies:
These attacks have included repeated assertions that the book is scientifically inaccurate, a charge for which I have seen no basis. In the same vein, this letter issues general charges without supporting evidence.

That is no coincidence. The two principal signatories of the letter, Graham Coop and Michael Eisen, have written previously that the book is full of scientific errors. I wrote to both of them asking for a list of errors that I could correct in the next edition. Coop never replied; Eisen said he would get back to me but never did. Neither had the grace to withdraw his original accusations. This is how politicians are expected to behave, not people professionally committed to the truth. Their baseless attacks on my book are a classic smear technique which they have now extended by organizing this letter. I hope that readers will see through the lack of specifics in their charges and judge my book for themselves.

Perhaps I could point out an error in one of the few specific statements in their letter. They charge me with saying that “recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results.” I say no such thing.
It is a little strange for 139 professors to agree to an attack letter, but to not be able to cite any specific errors, or even to state accurately what they are attacking. I would have thought that at least one of them would insist that the letter be accurate.

Wade's book does have some speculative comments, so I can understand if some scientists were complaining about exaggeration. But Coyne and his colleagues like to politicize evolution at every opportunity, and they appear to just upset that they are not controlling the message.

Coyne writes:
As far as the science is concerned, all of the signatories, I think, would agree that evolution has indeed played a significant role in human morphology and biochemistry, producing population differences that have adaptive significance. Differences among groups in skin color and lactose tolerance, for instance, are certainly due to natural selection, ...

But what is even more speculative is Wade’s thesis that behavioral differences between groups, and thus the societies they construct, are based on genetic differences produced by natural selection. Perhaps that is true, but we don’t have a scintilla of evidence for it right now. And we know that those societal and cultural differences can change quite rapidly — much faster than can be explained by natural selection. Perhaps we’ve experienced genetic evolution producing inter-group differences in behavior, but we’ve surely had tons of nongenetic cultural evolution. (Take a look at the penchant for “Hello Kitty” in Japan. That is not based on genes.) For Wade to write a whole book resting on this speculative house of cards — the idea that genes and natural selection are everything in explaining culture — is simply bad popular science.
So he is not saying that Wade is wrong. He says that Wade might be right, but we do not yet have the evidence.

There is some evidence. We know that all known measurable human behavioral traits are heritable, and that many (non-behavioral) human traits have been shown to have been evolving in the last few thousand years. What we don't have is linkage between behavioral traits and specific genes.

I wonder how Coyne knows that there is no genetic influence on the Hello Kitty penchant. Has it been shown not to be heritable? Do Japanese girls dislike Hello Kitty if they have been reared outside of Japan? These may seem like dumb questions, but there does not seem to be any science to back up what he says.

Update: Other comments:
Nicholas Wade is hardly an insignificant figure, being a longtime science editor and reporter at The New York Times and perhaps America’s foremost journalist on evolutionary matters, whose previous bestsellers have gathered almost universal praise. Therefore, I find it very odd that his most strident critics apparently have not bothered to carefully read the book they were attacking.
And this:
The 144 letter signatories apparently couldn’t agree on _anything_ beyond ‘speculative Wade is speculative’, and that there’s a lack of good evidence on topics that have been intellectually taboo, career-destroying, and grant-unfundable for decades (surprise!).

Friday, August 08, 2014

Driving a car with earphones

A lot of people seem to think that it is illegal to drive a car while listening to earphones.

Here is the California Vehicle Code:
Wearing of Headsets or Earplugs

27400. A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs in, both ears. This prohibition does not apply to any of the following:

(a) A person operating authorized emergency vehicles, as defined in Section 165.

(b) A person engaged in the operation of either special construction equipment or equipment for use in the maintenance of any highway.

(c) A person engaged in the operation of refuse collection equipment who is wearing a safety headset or safety earplugs.

(d) A person wearing personal hearing protectors in the form of earplugs or molds that are specifically designed to attenuate injurious noise levels. The plugs or molds shall be designed in a manner so as to not inhibit the wearer's ability to hear a siren or horn from an emergency vehicle or a horn from another motor vehicle.

(e) A person using a prosthetic device that aids the hard of hearing.
So the way I read this, when driving a car:
Earphone in one ear - legal.
Headphones covering both ears - illegal.
In-ear earbuds or earphones - legal if they reduce external noise.

Deaf people are allowed to drive, so you don't have to be able to hear horns. I don't know why a "headset covering" is banned, but cops will give tickets for that. You need to wear the earbuds instead.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Dietary gospel on fat is wrong

NewScientist reports:
After decades of health warnings, the idea that steak, cheese and lard are bad for your heart is melting away. The truth is more complex – and delicious

THERE'S a famous scene in Woody Allen's film Sleeper in which two scientists in the year 2173 are discussing the dietary advice of the late 20th century.

"You mean there was no deep fat, no steak or cream pies or hot fudge?" asks one, incredulous. "Those were thought to be unhealthy," replies the other. "Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true."

We're not quite in Woody Allen territory yet, but steak and cream pies are starting to look a lot less unhealthy than they once did. After 35 years as dietary gospel, the idea that saturated fat is bad for your heart appears to be melting away like a lump of butter in ...
It explains:
Yet the voices of doubt have been growing for some time. In 2010, scientists pooled the results of 21 studies that had followed 348,000 people for many years. This meta-analysis found "no significant evidence" in support of the idea that saturated fat raises the risk of heart disease (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol 91, p 535).

The doubters were given a further boost by another meta-analysis published in March (Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 160, p 398). It revisited the results of 72 studies involving 640,000 people in 18 countries.

To the surprise of many, it did not find backing for the existing dietary advice. "Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats," it concluded. "Nutritional guidelines... may require reappraisal."

In essence, the study found that people at the extreme ends of the spectrum – that is, those who ate the most or least saturated fat – had the same chance of developing heart disease. High consumption of unsaturated fat seemed to offer no protection. ...

Yet the voices of doubt have been growing for some time. In 2010, scientists pooled the results of 21 studies that had followed 348,000 people for many years. This meta-analysis found "no significant evidence" in support of the idea that saturated fat raises the risk of heart disease (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol 91, p 535).

The doubters were given a further boost by another meta-analysis published in March (Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 160, p 398). It revisited the results of 72 studies involving 640,000 people in 18 countries.

To the surprise of many, it did not find backing for the existing dietary advice. "Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats," it concluded. "Nutritional guidelines... may require reappraisal."

In essence, the study found that people at the extreme ends of the spectrum – that is, those who ate the most or least saturated fat – had the same chance of developing heart disease. High consumption of unsaturated fat seemed to offer no protection.
Slate argues:

It’s been more than 40 years since Allen’s movie premiered, but his satire of public health research sadly still resonates. A widely circulated New York Times blog post reported this week on a study purporting to show that people who run at least five minutes a day live around three years longer than those who don’t. This finding was determined to be true after “adjusting for” various characteristics of study subjects—their gender, whether they smoked, any family history of heart disease, and so forth.

The problem with this study—and the many related observational studies on what does or doesn’t make us live longer—is that healthy people are different in all sorts of ways from unhealthy ones. Some of the differences between runners and nonrunners can be accounted for, albeit somewhat imperfectly, by considering observable attributes like height, weight, age, etc. But inevitably there are differences that get left out of the analyses: runners might sleep longer; they might eat more almonds or blueberries; maybe they have less stressful work lives, which in turn facilitate a few minutes of exercise each day; maybe they are less depressed because they have shorter commutes; maybe their commutes involve more walking than driving. The list of other attributes and habits, any of which might contribute to a longer observed life span, extends to infinity. Is it running that accounts for the difference in longevity between runners and nonrunners? Or one of these other, unobserved differences? Who knows?
That's right, it is hard to prove that one diet or lifestyle is healthier than another.

Update: NewScientist adds:
ACCORDING to the Oxford English Dictionary, the expression "heart attack on a plate" was first recorded in 1984 in a newspaper interview with actor Michael Caine. He was living in health-conscious Los Angeles at the time and missing his full English breakfast. That rings true, as it was around then that the US public was being urged to reduce its intake of saturated fat to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Thirty years on, the idea that pigging out on bacon, egg and sausages can lead to a heart attack is second nature to most of us; it is probably the single most influential piece of nutritional advice ever dished out.

But in recent weeks and months a steady drumbeat of media coverage has suggested that saturated fat has been unfairly maligned. "Eat Butter", declared the cover of Time magazine. "Everything we thought we knew about dietary fat is wrong," said the blurb on The Big Fat Surprise: Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet, an influential book by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz.

Really? Everything? As usual, the truth is less earth-shattering. Yes, two large reviews of the evidence have cast doubt on the supposedly rock-solid link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. Scientific understanding of how the human body handles fat has indeed moved on. And the original research that proved the link has been questioned (see "Heart attack on a plate? The truth about saturated fat"). But it is too soon to declare saturated fat innocent of all charges. Much more research is needed before the nutrition rule book can be rewritten. In any case, meat, butter and cheese already belong in a healthy diet, as long as you don't eat too much of them.

If there is an immediate take-away message, it is that singling out one nutrient at the expense of the wider dietary context is a mistake. In our rush to cut down on saturated fat, we may have inadvertently upped our intake of other unhealthy nutrients, especially sugar. In fact, one of the interesting by-products of the saturated fat debate is that it is helping to reinforce the emerging idea that refined sugar is the real demon in our diets.

The case against sugar is getting stronger, as our story earlier this year spelled out (New Scientist, 1 February, p 34). But it would be a mistake to fixate on sugar at the expense of everything else.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Looking for jealousy in animals

SciAm reports:
Man's best friend does not like anything muscling in on that friendship. The first experimental test of jealousy in dogs shows that canines nip even at stuffed pooches when these fakes take away the attention of the dogs' owners.

This new findings support the view that jealousy is a primordial emotion seen not only in humans, but in other animals as well, researchers said. The results also show that jealousy does not require especially complex minds, the scientists said. ...

The owners were instructed to treat the fake dog and the jack-o'-lantern like they were real dogs, by petting the objects and talking to them sweetly. When it came to the book, the owners were asked to read the text out loud.

The scientists found dogs acted far more jealous when their owners displayed affection to the stuffed dog compared with the other items. The canines were nearly twice as likely to push or touch the owner when the owner was playing with the fake dog compared with the jack-o'-lantern, and more than three times as likely to do so when compared with the book. Furthermore, about one-third of the dogs tried to get between their owners and the stuffed toy. And while one-quarter of the dogs snapped at the fake dog, only one did so at the jack-o'-lantern and book.
This is anthropomorphism. Maybe it would be jealousy if the dog destroyed the fake dog, but I am not sure this has anything to do with jealous. Maybe the dog just wanted to be petted by the owner.

Yes, the dog liked being petted, and asked for it when he say that the owner was petting a fake dog. But maybe the dog was just deducing that the owner was available for petting. I might decide that I want an ice cream cone after seeing someone else with an ice cream cone, but that does not mean that I am jealous.

A professor says:
The sociologist, Davis (1948) defined jealousy as a fear and rage reaction fitted to protect, maintain, and prolong the intimate association of love. In a pair-bonding species like our own that lives in social groups, jealousy is a logical prediction from evolutionary theory. In fact, if jealousy did not exist as a universal human characteristic, it would represent an oddity that demanded scientific explanation.

The function of jealousy is somewhat different between the two sexes. In males, jealousy revolves around the issue of uncertainty of paternity. Whereas women have always known if an infant is hers or not, until the advent of modern DNA testing techniques men could never be certain that a child was the product of their loins.

Although paternal uncertainty is a problem in all primate species, true jealousy may be unique to the evolution of the human line. ...

Based on evolutionary logic, it was predicted that male jealousy would be more concerned with sexual infidelity and female jealousy would be more concerned with emotional infidelity. Buss, Larson, Westen, & Semmelroth (1992) used a series of forced choice experiments to demonstrate that men indicated greater distress to a partner’s sexual, rather than emotional infidelity, whereas women showed the reverse response displaying greater distress to a partner’s emotional infidelity rather than their sexual infidelity.
This video claims to demonstrate jealousy in capuchins (New World monkeys). Others say that it shows fairness or entitlement. But there is a leaner explanation -- maybe the monkey just prefers grapes to cucumbers and is trying to get grapes. Further research has attempted to address the objections, but it is still limited. It always finds a monkey that prefers grapes to cucumber, showing the monkey that it could be getting a grape instead of cucumber, and watch the monkey reject the cucumber in an effort to get a grape.

I have posted similar criticism of mindreading crows, cats, and rats, and suggested that many people have a cognitive bias for rich explanations.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whites not supposed to agree with NSA

To be politically correct now, you have to post pictures of your black nanny on your FB page, and Check Your Privilege before commenting on NSA surveillance.

Could have fooled me. I thought that it was mainly white males who complain about the NSA. And I am surprised a white feminist professor would admit that she did not know how to take care of her baby, and had to rely on a black nanny.

Mathematician Peter Woit writes:
Among the many disturbing aspects of the behavior of the NSA revealed by the Snowden documents, the most controversial one directly relevant to mathematicians was the story of the NSA’s involvement in a flawed NIST cryptography standard (for more see here and here). The New York Times reported:
Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”
The standard was based on the mathematics of elliptic curves, so this is a clearly identifiable case where mathematicians seem to have been involved in using their expertise to subvert the group tasked with producing high quality cryptography. ...

Read carefully (and I think it was written very carefully…), note that George never directly denies that the NSA back-doored Dual-EC-DRBG, just claims there is no “proven weakness”. In other words, since how they chose the elliptic curves is a classified secret, no one can prove anything about how this was done. All the public has is the Snowden documents which aren’t “proof”.
We don't need the Snowden documents. The public also has the 2007 Microsoft paper explaining the possible backdoor. If you are an al qaeda terrorist, then you might not want to use the NSA function to generate your private keys. If you are not an international terrorist, then there is no proven or fatal weakness.

I would comment on Woit's blog, but he is deleting comments that disagree with him.

The Clinton administration did propose a Clipper Chip with an NSA backdoor in 1993. Or more precisely, a system for key escrow, not a backdoor. It is plausible that the NSA designed in a backdoor to Dual-EC-DRBG that it could use and no one else. But so what? It is just a stupid pseudo-random number generator. If you don't like it, then don't use it.

Update: Woit deleted this comment from me:
It is true that you can choose your own (P,Q) if you do not trust what NSA did. It is just a pseudo-random number generator. You can also toss coins if you wish, or use dozens of other pseudo-random number generators. Your main complaint is that the NSA did not fully explain itself. Guess what -- the NSA never fully explains itself.
He does quote hysterical anti-NSA comments, such as from Ron Rivest. But there is no mention of how Rivest's company sold out to create data insecurities for millions.