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.

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."

Gosh!

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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10,000-hour rule disproved

The NY Times reports on new research in the nature-nurture debate:
Scientists have long argued over the relative contributions of practice and native talent to the development of elite performance. This debate swings back and forth every century, it seems, but a paper in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science illustrates where the discussion now stands and hints — more tantalizingly, for people who just want to do their best — at where the research will go next.

The value-of-practice debate has reached a stalemate. In a landmark 1993 study of musicians, a research team led by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist now at Florida State University, found that practice time explained almost all the difference (about 80 percent) between elite performers and committed amateurs. The finding rippled quickly through the popular culture, perhaps most visibly as the apparent inspiration for the “10,000-hour rule” in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” — a rough average of the amount of practice time required for expert performance.

The new paper, the most comprehensive review of relevant research to date, comes to a different conclusion. Compiling results from 88 studies across a wide range of skills, it estimates that practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess. In academics, the number is much lower — 4 percent — in part because it’s hard to assess the effect of previous knowledge, the authors wrote.
The NY Times podcast described this as "dispiriting". Apparently a lot of people prefer a fantasy in which they could be LeBron James if only they practiced enough. That fantasy seems more dispiriting to me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Feminist attack on R.P. Feynman

A SciAm blog writes:
What about someone who is scrupulously honest about his scientific contributions but whose behavior towards women or members of underrepresented minorities demonstrates that he does not regard them as being as capable, as smart, or as worthy of respect? What if, moreover, most of these behaviors are displayed outside of scientific contexts (owing to the general lack of women or members of underrepresented minorities in the scientific contexts this scientist encounters)? ...

This last description of a hypothetical scientist is not too far from famous physicist Richard Feynman, something that we know not just from the testimony of his contemporaries but from Feynman’s own accounts. ...

The predation in question here included actively targeting female students as sex partners, a behavior that rather conveys that you don’t view them primarily in terms of their potential to contribute to science. ...

About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University.
So he is considered a sexual predator because he flirted with some non-scientist women, outside a scientific context, and he is a bad guy because he was more interested in them as sex partner than their potential to contribute to science?!

There is no such thing as "San José State University". She teaches in San Jose, an American city with no accent.

Galileo's Pendulum blog also attacks Feynman because he flirted with some undergraduates without revealing that he had graduated. Some comments ask the author to explain what Feynman did wrong, but he refuses.

Another SciAm blogger was apparently fired for writing:
Also importantly, while some of Feynman's utterances and actions appear sexist to modern sensibilities, it's worth noting that they were probably no different than the attitudes of a male-dominated American society in the giddy postwar years, a society in which women were supposed to take care of the house and children and men were seen as the bread winners. ... The encouraging development is that actions by Feynman - and male society in general - that were considered acceptable or amusing in 1950 would quite rightly cause instant outrage in 2014. ... We can condemn parts of his behavior while praising his science. And we should.
The problem is that he did not sufficiently condemn sexism.

SciAm is owned by Nature mag, which just apologized for saying that female scientists might publish less if they are taking care of small children.

Update: The Wash. Post reported on SciAm firing bloggers:
Throughout its 169-year history, Scientific American has been an august and sober chronicler of the advance of human knowledge, from chemistry to physics to anthropology.

Lately, however, things have become kind of a mess.

A series of blog posts on the magazine’s Web site over the past few months has unleashed waves of criticism and claims that the publication was promoting racism, sexism and “genetic determinism.”
It is hard to figure out what is supposedly offensive about the SciAm posts, except for facts that are upsetting to leftists.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NY Times really hates human evolution

The NY Times Book Review trashed a book on human evolution by one of its own science reporters. Appaarently that was not negative enough, and now it publishes an even worse review:
This racial divide started, Wade says, when humans began migrating out of Africa some 50,000 years ago. As groups entered diverse environments, they faced differing pressures that selected for gene variants creating different traits, including dissimilar social behaviors. Genetic selection for distinctive physical traits in different populations, such as lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established and widely accepted. Decidedly not well established, however, is Wade’s proposal that genetic selection gives different human populations distinct behaviors. ...

As a key event he cites Europe’s adoption, starting around A.D. 1000, of the principle that law is the ultimate ruler. This, Wade argues, allowed a transition from closed, insular tribal social organizations to more open, interactive nation-states, and Europe then entered a self-reinforcing cycle: Its rules-based, trade-oriented culture selected for gene variants generating trusting and productive social behavior, and these genes in turn made the culture more trusting and rewarding of hard work. ...

While warning us to avoid filtering science through politics, he draws heavily from conservative historians who minimize the roles played by political power, geographic advantage, momentum, disease and dumb luck. ...

He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case.

The result is a deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book. Its most pernicious conceit is that it’s finally safe to talk of racial genetics because “opposition to racism is now well entrenched.” The daily news — a black teenager’s killer walks free in Florida; ...

David Dobbs is writing a book about theories of human sensitivity to experience.
So Dobbs seems to be saying that we should not discuss human evolution and diversity because of George Zimmerman trial? The jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges because he acted in self-defense while an attacker was beating him to death. He was only put on trial because of political race-baiting by MSNBC and Pres. Barack Obama.

In the NY Times podcast, Dobbs goes more directly into a guilt-by-association attack, complaining about political conservatives, scientific racism, eugenics, sterilization, Nazis, Holocaust, etc. I previously noted other such leftist attacks.

Dobbs argues that Wade's thesis is circular, but it is not. It is true that there is no direct quantitative link from specific genes to human behaviors, but there is plenty of scientific evidence that behavioral traits are heritable, that human evolution is accelerating, and that there are huge population differences. How many of those differences are genetic in origin is debatable, but Wade's thesis is plausible and Dobbs has no contrary evidence.

Dobbs says "lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established", but I am not sure it is correct. A 2014 paper by Peter Frost on The Puzzle of European Hair, Eye, and Skin Color argues that sexual selection led to lighter skin color, not lower sunlight in Europe.

On the podcast, Dobbs seems to side with Stephen Jay Gould in his denunciation of the heritability of intelligence.

I am all in favor of some healthy skepticism about genetic determinism, but Wade's book is largely a summary of his NY Times stories and not politically conservative. And yet reviewers must trash it by bringing up Hitler and arguing against even discussing the ideas.

If anyone was a pseudo-scientific racist, it was Gould. He was a leftist Marxist Jewish ideologue whose most famous work was shown to have been faked in order to promote his offensive racial theories. When confronted with the evidence, he just accused his critics of being racists. A 2011 NY Times story said:
In his book, Dr. Gould contended that Morton’s results were “a patchwork of fudging and finagling in the clear interest of controlling a priori convictions.” ...

But the Penn team finds Morton’s results were neither fudged nor influenced by his convictions. ...

Ralph L. Holloway, an expert on human evolution at Columbia and a co-author of the new study, was less willing to give Dr. Gould benefit of the doubt.

“I just didn’t trust Gould,” he said. “I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme. When the 1996 version of ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ came and he never even bothered to mention Michael’s study, I just felt he was a charlatan.”
Gould was a charlatan, and a disgrace to science.

Update: NatGeo says Like in Humans, Genes Drive Half of Chimp Intelligence, and SciAm blogs posts a non-apology apology for its favorable review of Wade's book.

Earlier this year, Nature mag apologized for publishing a letter to the editor responding to an editorial. Here was the letter:
Publish on the basis of quality, not gender

The publication of research papers should be based on quality and merit, so the gender balance of authors is not relevant in the same way as it might be for commissioned writers (see Nature 504, 188; 2013). Neither is the disproportionate number of male reviewers evidence of gender bias.

Having young children may prevent a scientist from spending as much time publishing, applying for grants and advancing their career as some of their colleagues. Because it is usually women who stay at home with their children, journals end up with more male authors on research articles. The effect is exacerbated in fast-moving fields, in which taking even a year out threatens to leave a researcher far behind.

This means that there are likely to be more men in the pool of potential referees.

Lukas Koube Sherman, Texas, USA.
Apparently science magazines now consider it misogynist to point out that women have babies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Using gendered role models is sexist

Thew xkcd comic says:
For a long time, sexism, a lack of role models, and institutional hostility largely kept women from pursuing serious chess careers.
This seems unlikely to me. Chess is more sexist now, as there are separate chess tournaments for women. The above comment is sexist for suggesting women cannot be successful in chess unless they have same-gendered role models. I doubt that Bobby Fischer or Judit Polgar were following role models.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Te penguin is the new poster child

The climate has been changing for millions of years. Even billions. Evolution teaches that plant or animal species will find ecological niches, and adapt to them. So climate changes always seems bad for almost everyone, if you ignore adaptation.

NPR reports on a scientist who wants to use law and politics to manipulate us:
WERTHEIMER: You've been studying the Emperor penguin population in Antarctica. What's happening to them?

CASWELL: The Emperor penguin is affected by changes in the sea ice conditions. The projection is that all of the colonies - there are 45 of them known around the circumference of Antarctica. All 45 of them, by the end of the century, are going to be declining quite rapidly. ...

WERTHEIMER: The Emperor penguin is actually on the list to be considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Would protected status help them?

CASWELL: Listing them as an endangered species would have several really positive effects. The biggest one is that it would provide more impetus to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing or halting climate change.

WERTHEIMER: You mean the penguin might become a sort of poster child for correcting the direction in which the climate is going?

CASWELL: Yes. And identifying threats to charismatic species, like the Emperor penguin, like the polar bear, is not going to be enough. But documenting threats to species like this, along with the many other impacts of climate change, is an important contribution. And it's really something that the Endangered Species Act is quite appropriate for.
No, that is not an appropriate use of the law. The law was help prevent extinction, not to exploit cute animals for political gain.

Sure, some populations will being decline at the end of the XXI century, if they fail to adapt to change. But we will very likely have just as much wildlife as we have today, and plenty of penguins.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Europeans love American products

Europeans are always complaining about American stuff, but it sure seems to me that they love everything American. The NY Times reports:
American tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited websites in Europe, according to comScore statistics. ...

Nonetheless, from Spain to Sweden, many of Europe’s millions of Internet users regularly complain about the dominance of American tech companies, particularly about how their data is used and shared. It also leaves them wondering why so few homegrown tech companies are globally competitive.

For many Europeans, the likes of Twitter and Amazon hold too much information about what people do online. That wariness has only grown stronger after the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about American intelligence agencies’ spying activities and perceived easy access to the world’s tech infrastructure.
Yes, Europeans have their privacy laws, but in practice, they give up their privacy more readily than Americans.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Paternalistic medicos conceal the truth

Medical ethics experts exist primarily to justify physicians and other medicos doing what they want to do. When in doubt, they will cook up whatever explanations let them do business. Here is the latest example:
As more research is done on the human genome and more people seek genetic testing, researchers, physicians, genetic counselors and ethicists are struggling with the issues of how to present the new information to patients and whether certain findings should be presented at all.

A paper published Monday in the leading journal Pediatrics tackles a controversial discovery that can come out of genetic testing: when a child’s biological parent turns out to be someone else.

Whether that occurs through a switch at the hospital, a swap of embryos or sexual infidelity, genetic testing can bring such previously unknown facts to light. No matter the cause, it presents an ethical dilemma for medical professionals and one likely to become more common as genetic testing more more widespread. It has triggered a fierce and complex debate about whether parents — or those who might find out they are not true parents — have a right to know such information.

In the Pediatrics paper, ethicists at the University of Pennsylvania argue in favor of letting the parents of patients know that these facts can generally be found in the course of a test but will not be revealed to them.

“Because there isn’t a national consensus,” said co-author Autumn Fiester, director of education in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, “getting a proactive policy that could prevent the harms that are taking place seemed like an imperative to address.”
This seems primarily designed to protect adulterous wives.

It is funny how people adamantly deny genetic determinism, but they are scared to learn the truth about their genes. DNA tests are cheap and convenient now, but most people seem to be afraid to get them.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Google and Facebook experiment on users

It is funny how people can accept the most outrageous behavior from favored companies like Apple and Google, and show outrage against others. The NY Times reports:
Facebook is hardly the only Internet company that manipulates and analyzes consumer data. Google and Yahoo also watch how users interact with search results or news articles to adjust what is shown; they say this improves the user experience. But Facebook’s most recent test did not appear to have such a beneficial purpose. ...

In an academic paper published in conjunction with two university researchers, the company reported that, for one week in January 2012, it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users to see what effect the changes had on the tone of the posts the recipients then wrote.

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.
Google is famous for experimenting on users. Eric Schmidt said:
Google is run by three computer scientists. We’re going to make all the mistakes computer scientists running a company would make. But one of the mistakes we’re not going to make is the mistake non-scientists make. We’re going to make mistakes based on facts and data and analysis.
Those experiments are to maximize advertising revenue. They may say that it improves the user experience, but their idea of an improved user experience is one where you click on more ads.

Not everyone agrees that the randomized clinical trial is always best. See this for the views of statisticians, and some criticism of Freakonomics Levitt on this point.