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
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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Econometrics and Causation

I listened to this interview on Econometrics and Causation
Roberts points to three controversial areas in microeconomic research- the effect of class size on student achievement, the employment effects of minimum wage, and the relationship between health insurance and health outcomes. What has econometrics been able to show about each of these, according to Angrist? Are these areas where knowledge has become more reliable and precise because of empirical study?
The guest made the point that there are a lot of studies in the social sciences that are effectively as good as the random clinical trials used for FDA drug approvals, because there is some dataset with randomness built in.

He says that Harvard grads do better than U.Mass. grads, but if you look at students who were admitted to Harvard and possibly went elsewhere, there is not much difference. He says that urban charter schools are effective, but small class sizes are not. He says that American health is worse than other developed countries, but that it cannot be improved by giving people health insurance.

If these studies are really as rock solid as he describes, then they should be central to public policy debates. They are not. I never heard of them. Is there really some body of econometric knowledge that is accurate but widely ignored? I guess I should read his book, but that may not tell me how political groups get away with ignoring the facts.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leftist-atheist attack on free will

Philosopher Gregg Caruso has a video on the dark side of free will, and gives further details on a philosopher blog.

I posted these comments:
Your argument is that it is better to be a slave than a free man. I agree with that for many people. Some people are happy with arranged marriages. Some people appear to lack the agency to take responsibility for the personal decisions. A good test might be to give people some bogus smoke-and-mirrors argument against free will. If they are persuaded, then they are obviously not competent to be making any important decisions. ...

Most of the comments on these two article are not addressing the point of this essay, which is the effect of free will beliefs, not whether true or false.

Hard determinism (and free will skepticism) has become a leftist-atheist dogma like the Catholic transubstantiation. It is not usually taken literally. Yet it gets recited in order to show allegiances of beliefs.

Jesus said "Go and sin no more". Christianity teaches that you have to free will to accept or reject God. Other religions are more fatalistic and superstitious. To oppose free will is a way of opposing Christianity without mentioning religion.

Opposing free will is also a sneaky way of promoting leftist political goals. Conservatives (in America at least) celebrate individualism, personal and family autonomy, free markets, and libertarian ideals. Leftists strive for a society where everyone is dependent on everyone else, has involuntary empathy, and lets the government make all the decisions.

The philosophical and scientific arguments against free will are wrong, as Pigliucci explains here and here.

The right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale was created by a left-wing Obama supporter who was infuriated by the libertarian anti-government views of the Tea Party. Here is his anti-Tea-Party rant (pdf). The Tea Party is the least authoritarian political movement in the USA today. And yet he claims that the Tea Party is dangerously authoritarian because they believe that President Obama is dictator and that mounting debt and interference with the free market is destroying the country. This junk only gets uncritically published because the social science journals are overwhelmingly leftist.

Maybe if the Tea Party can somehow be convinced that they have no free will, they will go away and let the left-wing authoritarians take over the country. This is a leftist fantasy.

You argue that we should deny free will so that women can make rape allegations without being questioned about their choices and decisions. That was apparently the attitude of Rolling Stone magazine and most of the mainstream media that uncritically reported Jackie's story about a UVa frat party gang rape. Now it turns out that she invented the character of Haven Monahan, the date, the party, the rape, and everything else in order to arouse the feelings of another boy.

I guess the leftist anti-free-will view is that Jackie and Rolling Stone should have no moral responsibility for perpetrating this hoax, because the article has raised consciousness and empathy about a trendy leftist subject. It is not even clear that they wanted to hold the alleged rapists legally culpable, as they showed little interest in making a police complaint. No, they want Jackie's feelings validated, even if they are just symptoms of a mental illness, and to make a cultural statement against privileged blond fraternity members.

If your point is that belief in free will is contrary to certain leftist atheist goals, I agree.
Curiously, Caruso did not dispute any of this at all, and only noted that "There are plenty of free Will skeptics that are theists." Yes, of course, such as followers of Calvinism and Islam. But his "dark side" to free will is essentially a bunch of traditional American and Christian beliefs in personal freedom.

Caruso posts:
I’m surprised that no one has yet directly defended the claim that disbelief in free will would be harmful to society, our interpersonal relationships, meaning, etc.
I replied:
Yes, Gregg, a disbelief in free will would be harmful. If your goal is to promote leftist goals and undermine personal freedom and Christianity, then I agree that a disbelief in free will might help, as I argued in previous posts. You did not disagree, except to point out that beliefs among philosophers are not perfectly correlated. Of course some theists are free will deniers, as some believe in predestination.

Unless you are some sort of hard-core Marxist atheist, creating a nation of sheep is not a good thing. The Soviet Union tried it. It still exists in Cuba and North Korea. It partially exists in the Islamic world, where the mosques teach fatalism and the suicide bombers think that they are carrying out Allah’s will.

People want to be free. Modern civilization was created in Europe when Christian, Roman, and Greek influences created a system where people are free to do as they please, subject to a personal moral accountability for their behavior. I like it that way. So does most of the Western world, as far as I know.

You want to convince people of something contrary to common sense and modern science, in order to promote your personal left-wing atheist authoritarian ideology. Thank God it is not possible. My choice is for a free society.
Caruso replies:
Schlafly, you make some big leaps! I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity. First off, political freedom is not the same as metaphysical freedom. Secondly, we might end up with more freedom and better opportunities under the model I propose. I think what you are really opposed to is the idea that we should focus on addressing the social conditions and systematic causes that lead to criminality, wealth inequality, education inequity, etc, instead of blaming people on the tail end. I understand that we probably have different political philosophies, but to equate my ideas with the Soviets and North Korea is simply outrageous!
Really? He wants to convince everyone that they do not have free will or moral responsibility for their behavior, in order to promote an assortment of leftist ideological goals, and he wonders why I think he’s trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity? Perhaps I did not make myself clear enuf. One commenter said that I connected the dots, so he understood me.

Another exchange, about his theory that studies showing benefits of free will can be better explained by "ego depletion":
[Caruso] My daughter, who is five, exercises self-control all day long at school. When she gets home at 3:30 her ego is depleted and she is more aggressive. I think it’s a common occurrence that all parents are familiar with.

[Schlafly] I have an alternate explanation. Her teachers believe in free will, and so they praise her when she does well and discipline her when she misbehaves. When she gets home, her father is indifferent to her choices and treats her like a pre-programmed automaton.

[Caruso] I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity.

[Schlafly] I explained that in my comment. Christianity teaches free will. Those with the individual ability to make their own choices have more personal freedom than those who don’t. You want to convince people that they do not have that ability, and you say that it will promote certain leftist ideological goals.

[Caruso] Schlafly, with regard to how I interact with my daughter, I by no means treat her as an automaton (another misreading of free Will skepticism). And yes, I have found that the reactive attitudes associated with basic desert MR are counterproductive and that other attitudes work much better. Read Pereboom for the replacement attitudes. Maybe losing some of your moral anger would be helpful.
He is saying that he does not believe in treating his daughter to the consequences of moral responsibility.

The current SciAm has an article and poll on free will:
Why We Have Free Will
Neurons fire in your head before you become aware that you have made a decision. But this discovery does not mean you are a “biochemical puppet” ...

Indeed, that neural activity explains why I imagined these options, and it explains why I am writing these very words. It also explains why I have free will.

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and pundits say that I am wrong. Invoking a number of widely cited neuroscientific studies, they claim that unconscious processes drove me to select the words I ultimately wrote. Their arguments suggest our conscious deliberation and decisions happen only after neural gears below the level of our conscious awareness have already determined what we will choose. And they conclude that because “our brains make us do it” — choosing for us one option over another — free will is nothing more than an illusion.
He is correct that the neurological experiments do not give any evidence against free will.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not what America is about

Pres. Barack Obama showed his allegiance to Hollywood:
Sony “made a mistake” in caving to North Korean hackers, President Obama said bluntly this morning during his year-end news conference. ...

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” he said in an extremely strong answer to a question about the hack of the studio. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or a news report that they don’t like — or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.

“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage, threats against some employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said that, yes I think they made a mistake,” Obama said this morning when asked just that.

“That’s not what America is about…I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks’.”
So America is all about the free speech to make a movie about killing a foreign leader?

It was just two years ago that Pres. Obama and Secy. Clinton sharply denounced a movie critical of Islam, and said that the movie was against American policy. Obama asked YouTube to remove the movie, and the maker was arrested and convicted on federal charges related to the movie. By catering to the demands of Moslem jihadists, Obama and Clinton only encouraged more violence to suppress criticism. They also tried to use the movie to cover-up a fiasco in Benghazi Libya.

It was cowardly for Sony to make a movie that is so nasty to N. Korea, because that is a country that no one defends and that has no movie-going market. Usually movies only threaten to kill fictional characters. Making an anti-Islam movie would be a better test of free speech.

Update: A reader sends No, North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony. It appears that the Obama administration is falsely blaming N. Korea.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Too much math for a science journal

Hollywood dumbs down the mathemetics of Alan Turing, but I expect better from a leading science journal. Nature magazine asked a couple of Harvard mathematicians to write an obituary of Alexander_Grothendieck, but they lament:
The sad thing is that this was rejected as much too technical for their readership. Their editor wrote me that 'higher degree polynomials', 'infinitesimal vectors' and 'complex space' (even complex numbers) were things at least half their readership had never come across. The gap between the world I have lived in and that even of scientists has never seemed larger. I am prepared for lawyers and business people to say they hated math and not to remember any math beyond arithmetic, but this!? Nature is read only by people belonging to the acronym 'STEM' (= Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and in the Common Core Standards, all such people are expected to learn a hell of a lot of math. Very depressing.
The review does get a little technical, but don't the reader want to know what the man really did, instead of over-hyped irrelevant stories?

Update: A math and biology professor describes the differences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Here is the soul is Islam

Time magazine reports:
No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. ...

There is still much that we do not know about the Lindt café siege in Sydney. We know that two innocent people are dead: the café manager, Tori Johnson; and barrister and mother of three Katrina Dawson. And we know that the armed man who was holding them and 15 other people hostage, Man Haron Monis, was a self-styled Muslim cleric.
The author is identified:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.
That soul of Islam is written in Arabic on that black flag. The reformers are hoping to change its meaning to something other than killing infidels in the name of Mohammad.

Ali describes him herself as a "former Muslim", so I can understand why he he wants reform. Islam teaches that she can be executed for apostasy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pope was misquoted again

A front page NY Times story started:
Pope Francis has given hope to gays, unmarried couples and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared himself to dog lovers, animal rights activists and vegans.
But see also the correction:
He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” ... The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
He hasn't really changed those other doctrines either. The Big Bang was discovered by a Catholic priest astronomer, and accepted by the Vatican before Einstein other physicists.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MIT fires its best professor

MIT professor Scott Aaronson announces:
Yesterday I heard the sad news that Prof. Walter Lewin, age 78 — perhaps the most celebrated physics teacher in MIT’s history — has been stripped of his emeritus status and barred from campus, and all of his physics lectures removed from OpenCourseWare, because an internal investigation found that he had been sexually harassing students online.
It is hard to see how one complaint from a long-distance internet student about an inappropriate remark could justify such a response.

It appears that Lewin accumulated some enemies over his 40 years of teaching, and MIT wanted to avoid getting a letter like Princeton got. My guess is that it has some other pending sexual harassment investigations, and throwing Lewin under the bus was the easiest way to impress the feds breathing down their neck.

The comments are amazing, ranging from Nazi analogies, people who were truly inspired by Lewin, and social justice warriors with zero tolerance for anyone who crosses some imaginary behavior line. But see especially the debate between feminist Amy #144 and Jewish liberal Scott #171. The discussion gets personal, with Amy complaining of being harassed and raped, and Scott wanting to buy into the feminist political agenda, but cannot go along with the current level of demonizing men, because he has also suffered in ways that never get any sympathy from anyone. He eventually married a researcher in a related field, but for a long time he was too intimidated to ever show any sexual interest in anyone.

College campuses have become centers of heated and unresolved complaints. The biggest recent one was the Rolling Stone UVa frat party rape story, and that turned out to be some sort of weird catfishing hoax.

I just watched this Bill Maher rant against Feminism (from several years ago):
The feminine values are now the values of America. Sensitivity is more important that truth. Feelings are more important than facts. Commitment is more important than individuality. Children are more important than people. Safety is more important than fun.
He is right. The feminists do not seem to care about the facts of Lewin or UVa fraternities. They want attention to their feelings and sensitivity. Even when the facts show that the story is wrong, they say goofy things like “But it doesn’t change my opinion that it may or may not have happened”.

Update: The Aaronson comments degenerate into a bunch of personal comments about rape and other unsatisfactory sexual experiences that most people would not call rape, but Lewin was never within a thousand miles of the woman, as far as anyone knows.

Aaronson really wants to agree with Amy's Jewish feminist politics, but stop short of taking the blame for her confusion about who she wants to have sexual relations with.

Update: One comment says:
If the accuser were an MIT student enrolled in Prof. Lewin’s 8.02 course, or a graduate student working in his lab, or a junior faculty member on whose tenure he was going to vote, then obviously Prof. Lewin would hold a position of power over the woman that must not be abused. But — and please correct me if I’m wrong — a student in an MITx course gets nothing beyond education, apart from some meaningless certificate of completion. That’s probably all that a student should receive, since there’s no practicable way to be sure that the student himself or herself is doing the work.

So, it seems to me, Prof. Lewin had no real power over the accuser and no physical contact with her. Conversely, she had a great deal of power over him, seeing as she was able to end his career and destroy his reputation (while ensconced in anonymity, no less).

Wouldn’t the situation have been satisfactorily resolved if MIT had simply removed Prof. Lewin as the instructor of record for this MOOC, so that the accuser’s meaningless grade was assigned by someone else?
Feminist Amy ignores this, and rambles on about rape is common and how male behavior needs to be changed, but that the rape should not necessarily be punished unless the women demand it.

Update: Another unrebutted comment:
Over the last several days I’ve spoken to a dozen STEM professionals, with one or more university degrees each, including a retired dean of science and two department chairs thereof (one retired) and a couple of Fortune 100 executives, in age from 50 to 70, regarding this matter. The overwhelming consensus is that, based on available information, MIT has totally mishandled this situation.

If Professor Lewin has been misbehaving for a long time, then folks want to know how MIT let that happen. If he’s been misbehaving, why did MIT keep him in contact with students?

And if this development is recent, folks want to know why MIT isn’t graciously showing this legendary eighty-year old man the door with respect ~ for if this is a recent development, then given Walter’s clear faltering on occasion in the later of his available on-line YouTube &c lectures (I’ve watched all of them including all of 8.01, 8.02, 8.03, and all the related videos) and given his long traditional history of placing his students first, recent changes in his behaviour would indicate that he’s simply losing it due to old age.
I conclude that MIT is doing this mainly for reasons that have little to do with what Lewin actually did.

Update: Dorothy explains:
In broad brush strokes, we would like the attractive men to find us attractive and potentially to hit on us and the unattractive men not to notice we are women.

In fact we want a very small percentage of men to find us unbelievably attractive and to hit on us, but in, you know, a nice way. We would like a slightly larger number of men, but still small, to find us very attractive but to do nothing about it (they can talk to each other about how hot and unattainable we are though) and the rest just to completely leave us alone and preferably have no thoughts about us at all. ...

It is of course disgusting when an unattractive man hits on you in any situation.
That is clear enuf. The alphas can do whatever they want, while the betas have to be put in their place.

Update: The feminist attack on Aaronson is sickening.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The dark side of free will

I have noted leftist-atheist opposition to free will, but ideology behind it is not always explicit. It is in this TEDx talk on The dark side of free will.

Philosopher Gregg Caruso describes himself as a "free will skeptic", but that is not his point. His argument is that various leftist political goals would be more easily achievable if the public were convinced that they had no free will.

There is some truth to this. Right-wingers emphasize individual freedom, personal autonomy, and moral responsibility, while left-wingers are happier tying their fates to government social programs. Caruso is a leftist, and he does not phrase it that way, but he clearly advocates persuading people to lose a belief in free will.

I doubt that he is right achieving his goals, but I do want to point out that this is a leftist intellectual belief.

Leftists adamantly deny various racial and sexual determination theories, except that they have been asserting for years that homosexuals have no free will over their preferences. But now the NY Times reports that beliefs about such things can spread like a disease:
The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, suggests that a 20-minute conversation about a controversial and personal issue — in this case a gay person talking to voters about same-sex marriage — can induce a change in attitude that not only lasts, but may also help shift the views of others living in the same household. In other words, the change may be contagious. Researchers have published similar findings previously, but nothing quite as rigorous has highlighted the importance of the messenger, as well as the message. ...

The result: Voters canvassed on marriage shifted by about 20 percent in favor of same-sex equality, as measured on a five-point scale of support. Both straight and gay canvassers shifted opinions, but only the opinions of voters canvassed by gays remained as favorable on surveys nine months after initial contact. Voters canvassed on recycling did not budge.

“I truly did not expect to see this,” Dr. Green said. “I thought attitudes on issues like this were fundamentally stable over time, but my view has now changed.”
Did Green think that political views on marriage were inborn?

One lesson here is that you better tell pollsters you favor same-sex marriage, or gay canvassers will come knocking on your door, hoping to infect you with a contagious idea.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 10 science of 2014

The Scientific American's Top 10 Science Stories of 2014 included:
Symbolic Thought Shown to Exist in Other Human Species
They mean a human ancestor scratched a clam shell, and I was skeptical about it. Now I am even more skeptical, as this was a shell that had been sitting around a museum for a century, and it was not found near any human ancestor skeletons. Other stories are disasters (Ebola, California drought, rocket crashes) and failures (BICEP2 retraction, credit card hacks, China refusing CO2 limits until 2030, lab germ mishandling). The only actual accomplishments were landing on a comet and synthesizing a yeast chromosome.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Math students get ahead

In New York City, an ambitious, $25 million study is collecting evidence on the best way to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their hunch is that it may begin with math. ...

There's plenty of evidence on the long-term importance of preschool. But why math? Morris says a 2013 study by Greg Duncan, at the University of California, Irvine's School of Education, showed that math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college. "We think math might be sort of a lever to improve outcomes for kids longer term," Morris says.
That is at the low end. There is also evidence at the high end:
A gift for numbers can take a person far in life, according to a report getting plenty of online attention. A survey1 of 1,004 men and 601 women who were identified as 13-year-old mathematics prodigies in the 1970s found above-average levels of accomplishment in fields that included business and academia. ...

Vrangalova says it is intriguing that despite these differences, both genders reported unusually high levels of satisfaction with their lives and careers. “It seems that both sexes got what they wanted from life, even if those things were somewhat different,” she says.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Okay to hit bicyclists, say LA drivers

The LA Times reports:
Hit-and-run collisions involving bicyclists surged 42% from 2002 to 2012 in Los Angeles County, according to a Times analysis of California Highway Patrol crash data.

The increase came as the overall number of hit-and-runs involving cars, cyclists and pedestrians dropped by 30%. Between 2002 and 2012, the most recent data available, more than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes in which drivers fled the scene. ...

For cyclists who are hit, a major frustration is how infrequently drivers are caught. The Los Angeles Police Department closed one in five hit-and-runs from 2008 to 2012, meaning about 80% were unresolved, according to data the department reported last year to the Board of Police Commissioners. Less than half of those cases were closed through an arrest.

The chance of being convicted is so slim that "if you wanted to murder someone, it would almost be better to just hit them with your car," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has pushed for stiffer hit-and-run penalties.
I know that there are a lot of bicycle haters, but I was disappointed to see that the LA Times was swamped with letters siding with the hit-and-run drivers!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Leftist profs on Right v Left politics

Studies have shown that when you disentangle the science (from the politics) of controversial topics like evolution and climate, people have no trouble accepting the science. But the outspoken activist professors in those fields do not want to do that.

What is the politics of evolution? The most obvious is to attack religion. Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Chicago professor Jerry Coyne just announced Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. It will be a rehash of the anti-religion rants he has been posting on his blog for years.

To Coyne and his fellow evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, evolution is a fact that not only proves atheism, but also implies a fatalistic leftist world view. They regularly deny concepts like individualism and free will.

These connections are not so obvious, and do not follow from the science. The Catholic Church has always accepted scientific advances, including evolution. One could interpret evolutionary science in favor of right-wing ideas, as much as against. But academics are overwhelmingly leftist.

Chicago anthropologist John Terrell writes in the NY Times about Right-Left differences:
We will certainly hear it said many times between now and the 2016 elections that the country’s two main political parties have “fundamental philosophical differences.” But what exactly does that mean?

At least part of the schism between Republicans and Democrats is based in differing conceptions of the role of the individual. We find these differences expressed in the frequent heated arguments about crucial issues like health care and immigration. In a broad sense, Democrats, particularly the more liberal among them, are more likely to embrace the communal nature of individual lives and to strive for policies that emphasize that understanding. Republicans, especially libertarians and Tea Party members on the ideological fringe, however, often trace their ideas about freedom and liberty back to Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, who argued that the individual is the true measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others. Self-described libertarians generally also pride themselves on their high valuation of logic and reasoning over emotion.
He is squarely on the Left, as you can see by the way he describes his side as embracing goodness and the other side as being on the ideological fringe.

He then goes on to argue that evolutionary science validates his Leftism:
As the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski argued almost a century ago: “Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief, ...” ...

While as an anthropologist I largely agree with Malinowski, I would add that not all myths make good charters for faith and wisdom. The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals. There was never a time in history before civil society when we were each totally free to do whatever we elected to do. We have always been social and caring creatures. The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. This is not how we got to be the kind of species we are today. Nor is this what the world’s religions would ask us to believe. Or at any rate, so I was told as a child, and so I still believe.
So he is against individual freedom and autonomy, and even suggests at the end that his views were indoctrinated by the culture. Coyne and Harris explicitly deny that they have any ability to make any reasoned choices for themselves.

Leftist Berkeley Lingistics professor George Lakoff has his own theory of Right-Left differences. To him, the conservatism is based on the nuclear family:
At the heart of conservatism is strict father morality, ...

A focus on unimpeded pursuit of self-interest — and with it, extreme limits on state power over the individual—defines the libertarian strain of right-wing thought.
Progressivism is based on empathy:
Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others -- not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one's countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially those who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. ...

President Obama has argued that empathy is the basis of our democracy. ...

Empathy in this sense is a threat to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of "justice." ... The argument goes like this: Empathy is a matter personal feelings. Personal feelings should not be the basis of a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, "justice is not about empathy." ... We cannot let conservatives get away with redefining empathy as irrational and idiosyncratic personal feeling. Empathy is the basis of our democracy and its true meaning must be defended.
In the leftist ideal, empathy is not just the capacity to understand others. They see that empathy has three components
1. pro-social behavior - willingness to help people out, hospitality to strangers, acts of compassion.

2. cognitive empathy - capacity to see things from another person's perspective and to understand how he or she feels.

3. affective or emotional empathy - capacity not only to understand how another person feels but also to experience those feelings involuntarily and to respond appropriately. Failure to help a person in distress can trigger a self-destructive sequence: anguish, depression, suicidal ideation.
That last component is what they really want, but it is not universal:
In general, empathy is perceived in China as a moral duty and not as an involuntary emotional response.
I do not know much empathy has evolved to be part of human nature, but leftists would say that the culture can and should be changed to put everyone in a state of involuntary empathic connectedness with everyone else, and to destroy individualism, personal freedom, and family autonomy in the process.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Geometric design on ancient mussel shell

SciAm reports:
Now comes news that an even older, more primitive human ancestor — Homo erectus from Asia — showed signs of symbolic thought, too. Researchers have discovered a shell engraved with a geometric pattern at a H. erectus site known as Trinil, on the Indonesian island of Java, that dates to between 540,000 and 430,000 years ago. The find is at least 300,000 years older than the oldest previously known engravings, which come from South Africa.

Analysis of the engraving, made on a freshwater mussel shell, suggests that its maker used a shark tooth or other hard, pointed object to create the zigzag design.
John Hawks has more details.

Does that look like symbolic thought to you? Or primitive art? About ten scratches on a sea shell?

Maybe some dumb hominid was just trying to break open the shell. Maybe he was just trying to break the point off a shark's tooth. Maybe the scratches were formed naturally as some rock on top of the shell shifted with waves.

If this is symbolic, what does it symbolize? Why didn't they find any more shells with art?

This is a field where researchers can just dig up old stuff and make up stories. It sounds very dubious to me.

Update: Others dispute whether the shell are so old, and Homo erectus had anything to do with them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

African population exploding

SciAm reports:
United Nations leaders have worried for decades about the pace of population growth. A few years ago leading calculations had global population peaking at nine billion by 2070 and then easing to 8.4 billion by 2100. Currently it stands at 7.2 billion. Recently the U.N. revised these numbers steeply upward: the population is now expected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050 and continue to 10.9 billion by 2100 (black line, below). What caused this drastic revision? Almost all the increase comes from Africa (pink line). Earlier models “had anticipated that fertility rates in Africa would drop quickly, but they haven’t,” says Adrian Raftery, a statistician at the University of Washington, who assessed the revised estimates. How the world will feed a few billion more people is the question of the day.
I mentioned this before, but the chart makes it clearer.

For years, all the environmental experts have said that most of the world's problems are attributable to too many people, but the population experts have assured us that Third World populations will drop if raise their standard of living. Educated women do not want kids, they say, and with birth control options they will not.

This thinking is wrong, if the UN projections are accurate. It appears that aid to Africa may be catastrophic for the world.

You have to be careful what you say about Africa. The London Telegraph reports:
James Watson, the world-famous biologist who was shunned by the scientific community after linking intelligence to race, said he is selling his Nobel Prize because he is short of money after being made a pariah.

Mr Watson said he is auctioning the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, because "no-one really wants to admit I exist".

Auctioneer Christie’s said the gold medal, the first Nobel Prize to be sold by a living recipient, could fetch as much as $3.5m (£2.23m) when it is auctioned in New York on Thursday. The reserve price is $2.5m.

Mr Watson told the Financial Times he had become an “unperson” after he “was outed as believing in IQ” in 2007 ...

Mr Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for uncovering the double helix structure of DNA, sparked an outcry in 2007 when he suggested that people of African descent were inherently less intelligent than white people. ...

Mr Watson said his income had plummeted following his controversial remarks in 2007, which forced him to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York. He still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.

Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said. ...

Mr Watson – who insisted he was “not a racist in a conventional way” – said it had been “stupid” of him to not realise that his comments on the intelligence of African people would end up in an article.

“I apologise . . . [the journalist] somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ – and you’re not supposed to say that.”

In 2007, the Sunday Times ran an interview with Dr Watson in which he said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

He told the newspaper people wanted to believe that everyone was born with equal intelligence but that those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Mr Watson said he hoped the publicity surrounding the sale of the medal would provide an opportunity for him to “re-enter public life”. Since the furore in 2007 he has not delivered any public lectures.
He is unlikely to be forgiven. Nor will people try to prove him wrong. It is a strange situation for one of the most famous scientists in the world.

I have criticized Watson before, but he should not have to sell his medal to get attention. If he can be shunned like this, then most other scientists will be intimidated into not expressing themselves on certain subjects, and truth will be hard to find.

Adam Rutherford, a Nature magazine editor and BBC science host, writes:
He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned ...

This sounds awful: an 86-year-old hero ostracised for his views, shooed from public life by the people who walk in his scientific shadow.

But it’s not awful. Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.
Rutherford's statement is much more offensive than Watson's. Watson was giving an opinion, based on his knowledge and experience. Rutherford offers no rebuttal, and treats it as an unmentionable scientific fact.

George R.R. Martin wrote (in A Clash of Kings or Game of Thrones):
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dubious religious defenses

I listened to this C-SPAN BookTV podcast (mp3):
Karen Armstrong talks about her book, [Fields of Blood], in which she examines the intertwined relationship of faith and violence by walking through the history of every major religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Daoism.
She defends Islam:
Islam has been for centuries, until the modern period, a far more tolerant religion than Christianity. ...

The word "jihad" (and its derivatives) only occurs 41 times in the Koran, and in only 10 of those instances does it refer unambiguously to warfare. [39:40] ...

Muslim law speaks about defensive warfare, not aggressive warfare ... the empire had reached its limits, but they had to defend their frontier; so it is very much a defensive warfare, not aggressive warfare. [41:50]
She mocks Moslem terrorists as people who ordered "Islam for Dummies" and "The Koran for Dummies" from Amazon. [51:40]

So how has Islam been more tolerant? It gained its empire by conquering and subjugating. The Koran is a book about warfare against infidels. But somehow it is more tolerant because once it gained subjects, it was largely concerned with maintaining its gains?

Christianity does not teach war against infidels and has a long history of tolerance of other faiths. I guess it did resist Moslem invasions, but does not have a history of forced conversions and subjugated infidels, like Islam.

Another Islam apologist, Reza Aslan, has made millions of dollars trashing Christianity while lying about his supposedly scholarly credentials. A lot of people bought his book thinking that he was unfairly maligned, but he deserves worse criticism.

An anonymous Jewism comment:
American Jews generally poll in favor of less immigration.

The main documentation in support of the “Jewish open borders” stereotype comes from Kevin MacDonald. ...

So not only are Jews among the least authoritarian of religious groups, according to Altemeyer highly religious Jews are among the least authoritarian of the highly religious.
His support is this immigration poll (and of course he calls anyone who disagrees with him "antisemitic"). But in fact that poll shows Jews as more pro-immigration than any other sampled religious group. Jews overwhelmingly support limiting Israel immigration to Jews, but opening up American immigration to more and more Third World people.

His source on authoritarianism is this pdf rant that claims that Jews score low on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). That is no surprise, as they mostly belong to the Jewish left. Jews are mostly left-wing authoritarians, not right-wingers.

A couple of years ago I would have guessed that Catholics were more authoritarian than Jews, because Catholics have a Pope and Jews do not. Catholic priests are authorized to perform the sacraments, but otherwise Jewish rabbis are much more authoritarian. Jews often go to rabbis and even a Jewish court to make decisions that a Catholic priest would not make. And Jews tend towards authoritarian views, whether religious or not.

Update: Sam Harris responds to Aslan over whether some people must be destroyed for their beliefs.

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.

Update: The NY Times A.O. Scott review warns:
“The Imitation Game” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Illicit sex, cataclysmic violence and advanced math, most of it mentioned rather than shown.
So I guess the three most offensive things in the movies are sex, violence, and math. The reviews also says that the film places Turing "somewhere on the autism spectrum". That is another offensive stereotype. There is no mention of the gross inaccuracies.

Update: The screenwriter replies:
When you use the language of 'fact checking' to talk about a film, I think you're sort of fundamentally misunderstanding how art works. You don't fact check Monet's 'Water Lilies'. That's not what water lilies look like, that's what the sensation of experiencing water lilies feel like. That's the goal of the piece.
By all account, the movie does not describe the character of Turing well at all.