Sunday, December 31, 2006

Science breakthru of the year

Science magazine declares the breakthru of the year (it was evolution in 2005):
To mathematicians, Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture qualifies at least as the Breakthrough of the Decade. ...

While bringing new results to topology, Perelman's work brought new techniques to geometry. It cemented the central role of geometric evolution equations, powerful machinery for transforming hard-to-work-with spaces into more-manageable ones. Earlier studies of such equations always ran into "singularities" at which the equations break down. Perelman dynamited that roadblock.
At the end of the article, it mentions how the New Yorker magazine generated some artificial controversey by publishing a misleading article with distorted quotes.

I've wondered how the New Yorker magazine can brag about their meticulous fact-checking and still get this story so completely wrong. I think I just got the answer.

I just listened to a lecture from science journalist K.C. Cole (given to Annenberg school on Sept 30, 2005). She said that when she wrote for the New Yorker, she had to sign a 35-page contract forbidding her to consult with any experts about the correctness of what she was writing. She said that science writers sometimes do it secretly out of necessity, but that they can get fired if they get caught.
Q. To what extent do you use scientific consultants in your writing, to look over your articles and make sure they are scientifically valid.

A. [Cole] Well, the law is that you are not allowed to do that. You are not allowed to show the article. When I worked for the New Yorker, you had to sign a 35-page contract that assures you are not going to do that.
That explains a lot. I've noticed journalists with a reluctance to show their work in progress, but I had always assumed that it was a matter of personal pride or objectivity. I had no idea that they might be contractually obligated to turn in unchecked work.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Testing customer honesty

I just watched ABC Primetime, which used hidden cameras to test bystanders. It found that when a man is abusing a women in public, a female bystander is twice as likely to intervene as a man. But when a woman is abusing a man, the female bystander usually says that the man deserves it!

Then it gave people extra change in a fast food restaurant. Many returned the extra bill immediately, and others seemed not to notice. For the latter, the TV crew confronted each one and told him that he got an extra bill as part of a TV stunt, and tried to shame him into returning it.

If I got extra change by mistake, I would feel some obligation to return it. But if a TV crew told me that it was all a stunt, then it was not a mistake. Those people were being paid to participate in a commercial experiment, and they have no obligation at all to return it.

The only reason to return the money would be that some nasty TV producer might try to make you look bad on TV if you don't. Okay, that is a good reason. But there is no legal or moral obligation to return money that was deliberately paid to you.

Not a mind reader

I was sent this cartoon.

I sometimes post my theories about mindreading here. Briefly, I believe that the vast majority of humans suffer from a delusion that causes them to engage in mindreading. It is so widespread that most mindreaders don't even realize that they are doing it. If you point it out to them, they will insist that they are applying ordinary cognitive processes.

There are plenty of non-mindreaders, but for the most part they are oblivious to the mindreading that is taking place.

I don't do mindreading. I sometimes point out fallacious mindreading by others.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our Founding Illegals

William Hogeland writes in this NY Times op-ed:
Every nation is a nation of immigrants. Go back far enough and you'll find us all, millions of potential lives, tucked in the DNA of our African mother, Lucy. ...

You wouldn't know it from the immigration debate going on all year (the bipartisan immigration bill-in-progress, announced this week, is unlikely to mention it), but America's pioneer values developed in a distinctly illegal context. In 1763, George III drew a line on a map ...

George Washington, a young colonel in the Virginia militia, instructed his land-buying agents in the many ways of getting around the law. ...

Parallels to today's illegal immigration are striking.
Washington didn't just circumvent King George III's orders, he organized an armed rebellion against the King.

I am not sure about these parallels. If we have illegal aliens who are bent on armed revolt, then I certainly favor keeping them out of the USA.

Foreign language not important

This Nat. Geographic study shows that a lot of Americans cannot find common places on a map, but I just heard it cited for its finding that 47 percent think it is "important but not absolutely necessary" to speak a foreign language, and 38 percent say it is "not too important".

I am with the 38%. In fact, I would say that learning a non-English language is not necessary or important at all, unless you want to be a UN interpreter or something like that. English is the World's language, and there is hardly any value in learning any other language.

In other news, the FCC has decided that Morse Code is no longer necessary for ham radio operators.

Parasite turns women into sex kittens

Australia news:
A common parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.

About 40 per cent of the world's population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians. ...

"In short, it can make men behave like alley cats and women behave like sex kittens''.

Dr Boulter said the recent Czech Republic research was not conclusive, but was backed up by animal studies that found infection also changes the behaviour of mice.
Hmmm. I've noticed the correlation, but I thought that the female attractiveness caused the male stupidity.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rich blacks have nanny troubles

The NY Times frequently has articles about the supposed suffering of certain groups. Today it has an article about rich black folks who have a hard time hiring nannies because a lot of nannies are black and they refuse to work for other blacks:
But interviews with dozens of nannies and agencies that employ them in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Houston turned up many nannies -- often of African-American or Caribbean descent themselves -- who avoid working for families of those backgrounds. Their reasons included accusations of low pay and extra work, fears that employers would look down at them, and suspicion that any neighborhood inhabited by blacks had to be unsafe.

The result is that many black parents do not have the same child care options as their colleagues and neighbors. They must settle for illegal immigrants or non-English speakers instead of more experienced or credentialed nannies, rely on day care or scale back their professional aspirations to spend more time at home.

"Very rarely will an African-American woman work for an African-American boss", said Pat Cascio, the owner of Morningside Nannies in Houston and the president of the International Nanny Association.

Many of the African-American nannies who make up 40 percent of her work force fear that people of their own color will be "uppity and demanding", said Ms. Cascio, who is white. After interviews, she said, those nannies "will call us and say, 'Why didn't you tell me'" the family is black? ...

Some black sitters, both Caribbean and African-American, said they flat out refused to work for families of those backgrounds, accusing them of demanding more and paying less.
Conventional liberal wisdom is that only those belonging to dominant groups can be racist (or sexist, homophobic, etc). I wonder what they think of poor black powerless nannies expressing a racial preference.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Rats have visual dreams

NY Science Times reports:
Dr. Wilson also said that the new findings, by showing activity in the visual neocortex, confirmed that rats had humanlike dreams with visual imagery, a possibility some researchers had doubted.
I am always glad to see these grand mysteries resolved.

Commenting on injustices

A former prosecutor calling himself Ragerz argues that we shouldn't come to any conclusions about the Duke lacrosse case, and that criticizing the prosecutor is like a lynching:
I do think people should try to avoid making ultimate judgments about the case. ... I think we owe it to our system of justice to let these questions be decided by appropriate tribunals in formal legal proceedings. ... However, the alternative, which is equivalent to lynching, is worse than accepting the sometimes flawed outcomes of formal legal proceedings. I don't have any problem with anyone saying anything they want about these ultimate questions when the proceedings have been completed. ... But once an indictment has been approved by a grand jury, we should give the justice system a chance to work (or fail, as the case may be).
No, this is not how our justice system works. The NC DA Nifong did everything to try this case in the press, and the American system
is that the defendants can defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

I have come to the conclusion that the Duke lacrosse players are innocent of the charges, and that Nifong set out to frame the players for his own personal political gain. Our justice system is a public process for good reasons, including letting the public form opinions about the process while it is ongoing. Apparently there are prosecutors who think that we must be silent while good men are framed.

The NC paper says:
In the New York Times story, Nifong acknowledged that he should have turned that favorable evidence over to the defense. And he said withholding that information was an oversight -- he thought he had already turned it over.

That was Nifong's third explanation why he did not turn over the evidence. ...

But Nifong has bigger problems than his conflicting statements to reporters.

Since May, Nifong has repeatedly misrepresented his actions in filings and in face-to-face dealings with judges. Nifong has repeatedly said that he disclosed everything about the DNA evidence.
Here is a summary of the exculpatory evidence.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Duke lacrosse players still falsely accused

NY Times reports:
DURHAM, N.C., Dec. 22 -- The Durham district attorney dropped rape charges against three former Duke lacrosse players on Friday, but he said he would continue to pursue kidnapping and sexual offense charges that carry equally stiff sentences.

The district attorney, Michael B. Nifong, who has faced relentless and rising criticism for his handling of the case, said he dismissed the rape charges because the accuser [Crystal Gail Mangum] had begun to waver on crucial details.
Begun? Mangum has been wavering all along. The story continues:
The police showed her three sets of photographs during the first three weeks of the case, one with 24 lacrosse players, one with 12, and, after she failed to identify any suspects, one with all 46 white players.

She identified only one person with 100 percent certainty in two photo arrays as having been present at the team party. But that person, Dan Ross, was not there. He was 24 miles away in a dorm room in Raleigh.

The woman also identified the wrong player as having held up a broomstick while making a sexually crude remark to the two dancers.

As previously reported, she did not identify two of the defendants -- Mr. Seligmann and David F. Evans -- as attackers when she saw their pictures in the first photo arrays.
I think that Nifong and Mangum are the real criminals here.
It is outrageous that criminal charges persist against the Duke lacrosse players when the players have airtight alibis, the DNA tests were negative, and the only prosecution witnesses have recanted.

I also think that it is wrong that the major media have protected Mangum's identity. You have to find it on blogs like this. She is not a rape victim; she is just someone who has made some wild and implausible accusations.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Sometimes parents can be blamed

NY Times reports:
In recent decades, psychiatry has come to understand mental disorders as a matter of biology, of brain abnormalities rooted in genetic variation. This consensus helped discredit theories from the 1960s that blamed the parents -- usually the mother -- for problems like neurosis, schizophrenia and autism.

By defining mental disorders as primarily problems of brain chemicals, the emphasis on biology also led to an increasing dependence on psychiatric drugs, especially those that entered the market in the 1980s and 1990s.

But the science behind nondrug treatments is getting stronger. And now, some researchers and doctors are looking again at how inconsistent, overly permissive or uncertain child-rearing styles might worsen children's problems, and how certain therapies might help resolve those problems, in combination with drug therapy or without drugs.
So science now shows that bad parenting can contribute to bad behavior.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Carter defends his apartheid book

Former President Jimmy Carter defends his book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid" in an interview:
Why do you think you're under attack for the book and the title?
You and I both know the powerful influence of AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], which is not designed to promote peace.
I am always suspicious about anyone who prefaces his argument with "You and I both know". It is presumptuous and it is mindreading. It is a feeble attempt to shift the blame for saying something without support. Here, Carter attempts to blame the listener for his own paranoid prejudices. His idiotic book would be under attack whether we had an Israeli lobby or not.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No one cares about Si Valley scandals

The business pages have been relentlessly trashing Si Valley companies because of the stock option and HP spying scandals. And yet no one really case. The Si Valley paper reports:
So far this year more than 40 of Silicon Valley's biggest companies have been entangled in the [stock option backdating] scandal -- yet their stock prices are up an average of 19 percent, with a median gain of 8 percent. This exceeds the 13 percent gain for the Mercury News 150 and the 11 percent gain in the tech-heavy Nasdaq index. Though one-third of the implicated companies have seen their stocks sink this year, they're outnumbered by the companies enjoying double-digit gains.

The options scandal ranks as one of the most far-reaching in U.S. corporate history. It has toppled more than 60 executives and directors, forced scores of companies to make restatements topping $5.7 billion and triggered more than 325 lawsuits. Yet investors apparently are betting that factors like rising sales and profits outweigh the unquantifiable risk of the scandal's collateral damage.
The next day, it also reported:
Applicants flood HP: Hewlett-Packard's spying scandal may have battered the legendary computer company's reputation, but plenty of folks still want to work there.

The Palo Alto giant, whose 150,000 employees are spread across every time zone on Earth, said hiring is still on track. Even though news surfaced during the first week of September and dominated front-page headlines throughout the month that HP had used deceit to obtain the private phone records of board members and journalists to trace leaks to the media, the company received 102,000 applications from external job candidates that month -- more than twice the 44,800 applications it received in November 2005.

According to the company, the number of external job seekers knocking on HP's door over the past year "has been steadily rising".
These scandals might sell newspapers or give govt bureaucrats something to do, but the investors, employees, and customers just don't care. They may even be mystified as to why anyone would even consider these scandals. It is not obvious that anything was illegal or unethical, and it is doubtful whether anyone was really harmed.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Iraq is not flat

Thomas L. Friedman, the columnist who is mainly known for writing the book The World Is Flat said this today on NBC Meet The Press:
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, Tim, if I can share with you another rule I had about the Middle East, it was that any general going to the Middle East -- or reporter -- should have to take a test, and it would consist of one question:

Do you believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? If you answer yes to that question, you can't go to Iraq. You can go to Korea, you can go to Germany, you can go to Japan. You can't go to Iraq.

And the problem is, when you hear the first lady, when I think of the way Bush is running this war, he thinks that in the Middle East the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
That's the problem? If only President G.W. Bush took some geometry lessons from Tom Friedman, everything would be fine!

Friedman's book says:
I just wanted to understand why the Indians I met were taking our work,... When I set sail, so to speak, I too assumed that the world was round, but what I encountered in the real India profoundly shook my faith in that notion. ...

Columbus reported to his king and queen that the world was round, and he went down in history as the man who first made this discovery. I returned home and shared my discovery only with my wife, and only in a whisper.

"Honey," I confided, "I think the world is flat."
The book was a huge seller. The Economist magazine ridicules him here. See also Matt Taibbi.

I am filing this under mangled metaphors.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mel Gibson is the worst

Julia Guernsey trashes Apocalypto:
I hate it. I despise it. I think it's despicable. It's offensive to Maya people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity ... I think Mel Gibson is the worst thing that's happened to indigenous populations since the arrival of the Spanish.
When asked about inaccuracies in the movies, her main complaints were that it mixed early and late Mayan culture, and that the women didn't really flap their breasts when dancing at a human sacrifice ceremony.

Birth after Duke rape accusation

WorldNetDaily reports:
Just hours after defense attorneys for three Duke University lacrosse players filed a motion claiming their clients had been misidentified in a photo lineup by the victim of an alleged rape that occured during a team party, Fox News and WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., are reporting that the woman gave birth last night at the University of North Carolina Hospital.

The reported birth comes nine months after she alleges she was raped by three players while working as a stripper at the March 13 party.

Following the party, the 27-year-old woman was examined at a local hospital and, according to a defense attorney, was found to be not pregnant at the time. She was given emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.

This week, defense attorneys filed a motion that said male DNA from several sources had been found inside the accuser, but none from the defendants.
The Duke accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, sure kept this a secret. Maybe the Durham NC DA knew about the baby, and hoped that it would look like a preppie lacrosse player. I guess I'll avoid mentioning the baby's name, as the baby is an innocent party.

Update: It turns out that Mangum is not scheduled to give birth for another 6 weeks. Meanwhile, here is another new story about prosecutor misconduct in the case:
RALEIGH - The head of a private DNA laboratory said under oath that he and District Attorney Mike Nifong agreed not to report DNA results favorable to Duke lacrosse players charged with rape.

Brian Meehan, director of DNA Security, said Friday his lab found DNA from unidentified men in the underwear, pubic hair and rectum of the woman who said she was gang-raped at a lacrosse party in March. Nurses at Duke Hospital collected the samples a few hours after the alleged assault. Meehan said the DNA did not come from Reade Seligmann, David Evans or Collin Finnerty, who have been charged with rape and sexual assault in the case.
They boys are still being charged, even tho they have airtight alibis and the DNA test was negative.

Thomas Sowell writes:
You think that is incredible? How about a statement made afterwards by District Attorney Nifong that he didn't say anything about this publicly because he was "trying to avoid dragging any names through the mud"?
Huhh? I thought that Nifong's main purpose was to drag innocent names thru the mud.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Girls indirectly aggressive

Scientific Magazine reports:
Girls and women are not necessarily less aggressive, as was assumed until the 1990s. But women engage in more indirect, covert aggression, whereas men tend toward immediate, outward physical aggression.
I'm not sure if some 1990s research proved this, or everyone just decided to make a different assumption.

Sunni v Shi-ite

Democrat House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes was embarrassed recently for not knowing the difference between the Sunni and Shiite (aka Shia) Mohammedans, so I looked it up.

Before Mohammed died in 632 AD, he tried to pass control of his kingdom to Ali, his cousin who had also married his daughter and had a couple of sons with her. He also had many other wives. The Shiites believed that Ali had the right genes for talking to God, and the Sunnis believed that power should be shared with other high priests (aka imams). So they fought a war over it, and both sides have been mad about it ever since.

There isn't much practical difference between the Sunnis and Shiites, except that the Sunnis put their foreheads on a prayer mat while praying, and the Shiites put the foreheads on a hard block of clay. Also, they regard each other as heretics who should be persecuted or killed like other infidels.

Most Mohammedans are Sunnis, including Saudis, Al-Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein. Shiite influence is on the increase, because of Iranian influence, the introduction of democracy in Iraq, and the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I tried to figure out which faction is better, but I gave up. Trying was a bit like distinguishing Nazis and Commies. They are all dedicated to the destruction of much of what the civilized world consider great.

Update: Here is the NY Times version. It also describes additional splits. Most of the Shiites are "twelvers", meaning that they are still upset that the boy who was supposed to become the 12th imam disappeared in 874 AD.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tofu is feminizing

Jim Rutz claims that soy is feminizing.
I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally. ... In sad contrast, 60 percent of the refined foods in U.S. supermarkets now contain soy.
News to me, if true. It apparently is true that soy contains estrogen-like compounds. This could explain a lot about veggan health-food freaks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In Tuition Game, Popularity Rises With Price

Ever wonder why college tuition is so high? The NY Times reports that colleges have discovered that people want to pay more. After Ursinus sharply raised its tuition:
Ursinus received nearly 200 more applications than the year before. Within four years the size of the freshman class had risen 35 percent, to 454 students. Applicants had apparently concluded that if the college cost more, it must be better.
Of course the colleges argue that the students are still getting a bargain:
Take Swarthmore, the elite college half an hour's drive from Ursinus. With an annual budget of $106 million to educate just under 1,500 undergraduates, Swarthmore spends about $73,690 a student. But its tuition, room, board and fees in the last academic year were little more than $41,000.

"The half of our student body whose families are paying the full sticker price are paying $41,000 for something that costs $73,000," said Suzanne P. Welsh, the treasurer. "So they're getting a great discount."
No, it doesn't cost $73k. That just happens to be how much the college spends.

N.Y. Planning Sex Offender Polygraphs

AP reports:
Officials in two states proposed unusual plans Monday to tighten oversight of convicted sex offenders: Virginia's attorney general wants them to register their e-mail addresses and online IDs, and New York officials want them to take lie-detector tests.

In New York, the parolees' answers to a computer-based polygraph test about their whereabouts could be used to justify electronic monitoring, prohibit Internet use or restrict travel, said Division of Parole spokesman Scott Steinhardt.
I doubt that any good will come of this.

Women are more religious

Bryan Caplan writes:
Women are more religious than men by virtually every measure in virtually every culture.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Once people admit that this gender gap exists, the most popular explanation is that women are "socialized" to be more religious. Stark and Miller put this theory to the test. If the socialization hypothesis is true, they reason, then the gender gap should be larger in more traditional societies where socialization pressure is more intense. Make sense to me.

Survey says: Dead wrong. In fact, the gender gap is smallest in the most traditional societies, and largest in the least traditional societies! In societies that approve of single motherhood, with a high abortion rate, low fertility, and high female labor force participation, the religiosity gap between women and men is especially large.
This is only surprising to those who insist on only looking for environmental causes for human behavior. The obvious explanation is that men and women have cognitive differences, and women need religion more.

Fatherless babies in fertility revolution

The UK Telegraph paper reports:
A child's need for a father will no longer be a consideration when a woman seeks fertility treatment, ministers will say this week.

The move -- which comes despite widespread public opposition and which will give single women and lesbians the right to treatment -- forms part of a shake-up of Britain's embryology laws. One of the key proposals would allow research on test-tube embryos that were part-human, part-animal -- referred to as "chimeras". ...

Homosexual couples will have the same parental rights as heterosexuals and, for the first time, all parents will be banned from choosing the sex of their baby for non-medical reasons. ...

The creation of combined human-animal embryos under licence will be popular among stem-cell researchers, including a team from the North East England Stem Cell Institute, which has submitted plans to create a human-cow chimera embryo. ...

The aim of the shake-up is to bring the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act into line with scientific advances and to make sure the law is "fit for purpose in the early 21st century". Caroline Flint, the health minister, claims in her foreword: "The over-arching aim is to pursue the common good through a system broadly acceptable to society."
I am all in favor of modernizing reproductive ethics, but medieval monks could do better than this. Britain now approves of cloning, creation of fatherless kids, homosexual parents, and human-animal chimeras, but if two ordinary healthy heterosexual parents want to have a real boy or girl, then the Brits have a law against it. Weird.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Inappropriate conduct

Texas news:
A four-year-old hugged his teachers aide and was put into in-school suspension, according to the father. ... Damarcus Blackwell's four-year-old son was lining-up to get on the bus after school last month, when he was accused of rubbing his face in the chest of a female employee.

The prinicipal of La Vega Primary School sent a letter to the Blackwells that said the pre-kindergartener demonstrated "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment."
This is crazy. Here is another story about a 13-year-old girl who had sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old boy, and now both must register as sex offending pedophiles for the rest of their lives.

This blog has a list of amusing comparisons between how the schools handled problems a generation ago and today:
Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1973 Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends. Nobody goes to jail, nobody arrested, nobody expelled.

2006 Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won?t be still in class, disrupts other students.

1973 Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by Principal. Sits still in class.

2006 Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.
Click the link for more.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Brizendine on brain size

Deborah Solomon interviews Dr. Louann Brizendine:
How big is the average male brain?
It's about the size of a cantaloupe. It's 9 to 10 percent larger than the female brain.

But the size of one's brain is unrelated to one's level of intelligence, right?
Yes. Remember, the female brain has more connections between the two hemispheres, and we have 11 percent more brain cells in the area of the brain called the planum temporale, which has to do with perceiving and processing language.

If women have superior verbal skills, why have they been subservient to men in almost all societies?
Because of pregnancy.
So let me get this straight. If your brain is smaller then the difference has nothing to do with intelligence. But if a brain part is bigger, then that proves superior mental skills.

For those who hate stereotypes, read this:
Are you concerned that you are rehabilitating outdated gender stereotypes that portray women as chatterboxes ruled by female hormones?
A stereotype always has an aspect of truth to it, or it wouldn?t be a stereotype. I am talking about the biological basis behind behaviors that we all know about.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Stop mindreading Pres. Bush

Dutch Radio reports:
On Tuesday, Mr Gates said that the United States is not winning in Iraq. But is President Bush psychologically prepared to make the necessary adjustments to his own way of thinking on the subject? That's a question which Iraq Study Group chairman James Baker carefully skirted round on Wednesday:
I worked for former presidents and I used to get questions all the time: Tell me about this president versus that president or the other president. I never put presidents I worked for on the couch, so I am not going to answer that because that would mean I have to psychologically analyze the inner workings of his mind and I don't do that.
I agree with Baker. There is nothing to be gained by mindreadying Pres. Bush. Much of the Leftist criticism of Bush is based on some peculiar mindreading theory that is almost certainly fallacious.

A reader comments:
How about comparing his behavior patterns to those observed in other ex-alcholics? It is possible for an individual to to address and avoid such... but like alcoholism, you first have to recognize the existence of the problem.
This is just another example of faulty mindreading and fallacious reasoning by a Bush-hater. Pres. Bush is not an ex-alcholic, and has no difficulty recognizing the existence of a problem.

Bush was once cited for DUI, and later became an alcohol abstainer in conjunction with some deepened religious beliefs. Many people have similar experiences without being alcoholics.

The phoney programmer shortage

Norman Matloff writes in the SF CA paper:
Once again, the tech industry is putting heavy pressure on Congress to expand the H-1B visa program. Though the industry says the foreign workers are needed to remedy a tech labor shortage, for most employers the attraction of H-1Bs visa holders is simply cheap labor. The H-1B visa program allows skilled immigrants to work in the United States on a temporary basis. ...

The visas granted in computer-related fields are 10 times more numerous than in the next most common tech field, electrical engineering. The industry claims that it needs to import workers to remedy a severe labor shortage. Yet this flies in the face of the economic data.
He's right. The H-1B program is a scam. There is no programmer labor shortage.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why the Neanderthals died out

Nicholas Wade reports in the NY Science Times:
At sites occupied by modern humans from 45,000 to 10,000 years ago, a period known as the Upper Paleolithic, there is good evidence of different occupations, from small animal and bird remains, as well as the bone awls and needles used to make clothes. It seems reasonable to assume that these activities were divided between men and women, as is the case with modern foraging peoples.

But Neanderthal sites include no bone needles, no small animal remains and no grinding stones for preparing plant foods. So what did Neanderthal women do all day?

Their skeletons are so robustly built that it seems improbable that they just sat at home looking after the children, the anthropologists write. More likely, they did the same as the men, with the whole population engaged in bringing down large game.

The meat of large animals yields a rich payoff, but even the best hunters have unlucky days. The modern humans of the Upper Paleolithic, with their division of labor and diversified food sources, would have been better able to secure a continuous food supply. Nor were they putting their reproductive core -- women and children -- at great risk.

David Pilbeam, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard, said the Arizona researchers' article was "very stimulating and thoughtful" and seemed to be the first to propose a mechanism for why Neanderthal populations declined.
So paleolithic cavemen kept their wives barefoot and pregnant back at the cave, while the men did men's work.

Neanderthal women were liberated and insisted on participated in hunts with men. And that is why Neanderthals went extinct.

Previous conventional wisdom was that humans excelled because they were smarter than Neanderthals, but Neanderthal brains were actually slightly bigger than those of most modern humans.

Update: Neander News has more. I had no idea that the Neanderthals had their own blog!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Michigan tries to ban undue influence

Glenn Sacks writes:
HB 5882, which passed the Michigan House 67-38, amends the Michigan Penal Code to create the Coercive Abortion Prevention Act. Its purpose is to prohibit the putative father of a pregnant woman's child from coercing or intimidating the woman into terminating her pregnancy. ...

HB 5882 actually makes it a crime for a man to "change or attempt to change an existing housing or cohabitation arrangement" with a pregnant significant other, to "file or attempt to file for a divorce" from his pregnant wife, or to "withdraw or attempt to withdraw financial support" from a woman who he has been supporting, if it is determined that the man is doing these things to try to pressure the woman to terminate her pregnancy.
This is weird. We already have laws that say that women can make their own abortion decisions without consulting or even informing their wives or boyfriends. In California, 14-year-old girls are not even required to tell their parents. And now Michigan wants to criminalize any man who even tries to influence a pregnant woman!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on Einstein

A couple of people commented on my Einstein criticism. Let me clarify.

I am not denying that Einstein deserved a Nobel Prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. I am also not particularly interested in blaming Einstein for plagiarism. Einstein's work would be considered ethical if he had properly credited his sources. There is overwhelming evidence that he relied crucially on papers by Lorentz, Poincare, and Hilbert, and that he dishonestly failed to cite those sources. There are also accusations that he failed to credit his first wife, who was also a physicist.

But that is not what interests me. A lot of great work has been done by egomaniacs who don't give proper credit. What is striking to me is that we have a consensus that Einstein is the greatest genius who has ever lived, and that reputation is based almost entirely on his creation of the Theory of Relativity.

Now if it turns out that Einstein did not create Relativity, then that raises the question about why people idolize him so much.

Copyrights have expired, so you can read Poincare's popular 1905 book and You can find Einstein's Annus Mirabilis Writings for yourself.

My tentative conclusion is that Lorentz and Poincare had already worked out and published the essence of what we know now as the special theory of relativity. Einstein's contribution was to give a description of the Lorentz-Poincare theory without dependence on the luminiferous aether, and to clarify some of the physical consequences of the theory. For that he deserves credit for writing a brilliant paper, but not for being a genius. Surely Poincare was a much greater genius.

George writes:
You understate Einstein's achievement. He was the first one to declare that the ether does not exist. Until Einstein, scientists clung to their superstitious belief in the ether. They were as unscientific as those before Galileo who believed in the Ptolemaic (geocentric) solar system. It took a true genius to think outside the box and overthrow the shackles that confined lesser men into thinking that Man was at the center of the universe. Galileo proved that the Sun was really at the center, and Einstein showed that we are not grounded in a motionless ether either. People just couldn't grasp that empty space was really empty and that there are no preferred inertial frame. It turned out that Einstein and that there is no ether.
This is nonsense on so many levels that I don't know where to start.

First of all, Einstein didn't completely deny the aether. He merely said that it was "superfluous" to his derivation. He certainly wasn't the only one to question the necessity of the aether. Others had attempted to experimentally observe it and failed. People openly doubted whether it could ever be seen.

According to our best scientific theories, empty space is not empty. Quantum electrodynamics (since 1950) requires that even a vacuum has a structure where virtual electron-positron pairs are being created and destroyed. Modern cosmology (since 2000) requires that a vacuum also includes a mysterious dark energy everywhere. In general relativity, there are no inertial frames anyway, but some model have some preferred frames. So all this emphasis on the aether is misguided.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Opus anagrams

Tomorrows Opus comic strip has more anagrams. It gives the anagram of GOD as DOG and The Prophet Mohammed as "Hmmm Heap red-hot poet". Except that the author, Berkeley Breathed scratches out the latter as too offensive for newspapers to print. Weird. I am putting it here just in case you are trying to figure out the joke.

A reader comment says:
Breathed wimped out big time, and not just by scratching it out. Consider the alternative anagram of "Hemp, harem do tempt, oh!"
Another comment says:
My daughter came up with "Pope -- the hammered moth"
She is using as extra E. Maybe she meant "Pope -- the hammer'd moth" or "Pop the hammered moth".

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Einstein's influence

Albert Einstein always scores high on lists of great scientists or influential people. He is high on the list of Americans below, even though he was not even an American when he did his famous work on Relativity. He was also Time magazine's Man of the 20th Century.

Einstein is overrated for various reasons. It is not so well known that nearly all of the special theory of relativity had been published first by Henri Poincaré Hendrik Lorentz. It is known that Einstein had read some of it. We don't know how much because Einstein failed to cite his sources. Einstein got his final general relativity field equations from correspondence with David Hilbert. You can find details here, here, and here.

I am not trying to put Einstein down, but I think that there were a lot of others who contributed more.

I have seen Einstein quoted as saying, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." It appears that Einstein was one of the most notorious abusers of that secret in history.

Someone sent me this excerpt from the Feynman Lectures on Physics Vol. 1:
15.3 Equations (15.3) are known as a Lorentz transformation. Einstein, following a suggesin origionally made by Poincaré, then proposed that all physical laws should be of such a kind that they remain unchanged under a Lorwntz transformation.

16.1 Poincaré made the following statement of the principle of relativity: "According to the principle of relativity, the laws of physical phenomena must be the same for a fixed observer as for an observer who has a uniform motion of translation relative to him, so that we have not, nor can we possible have, any means of discerning whether or not we are carried along in such a motion."
This book is one of the most respected Physics textbooks that has ever been written. So what I am saying here is certainly no secret. Lorentz and Poincare were two of the most distinguished scholars of the day, and they published openly in widely-read books and journals.

I conclude that it is wrong to call Special Relativity Einstein's theory. His contributions appear to be much less than those of Lorentz and Poincare. At best, it should be called the Lorentz-Poincare-Einstein theory of relativity. General Relativity should probably be called the Einstein-Hilbert theory.

I have heard various explanation for why Einstein did not get a Nobel Prize for relativity, but never the most straightforward one -- that Einstein did not create the theory and everyone at the time knew it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Top Living Influentials

The Atlantic Monthly magazine polled some panelists for the 100 most influential people in American history, Phyllis Schlafly ranked 18th among living Americans who received votes.

Pres. Ronald Reagan ranked 17th on the all-time list, for a conservative realignment and the Cold War's end. John F. Kennedy is not on the list. I agree with that. Reagan's influence was vastly greater than Kennedy's.

Sean Connery justifies slapping women

Sean Connery explained in 1987 (YouTube video) how a man should slap a woman, and why it is sometimes right. Barbara Walters comments that he has been married for 31 years. Not politically correct.

Male contraceptive pill

UK research news:
British scientists have developed a revolutionary pill that men could take as a one-off contraceptive just before a date.

The tablet would prevent a man from being able to impregnate a woman, but within a few hours his fertility would return to normal. ...

Experts believe it could transform family planning by allowing couples to share the responsibility for contraception - a role that traditionally falls to women. ...

However the new pill being researched by scientists at King's College London, contains chemicals that prevent ejaculation and could be in tablet-form. ...

Sexual satisfaction is not affected ...
Hmmm. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this pill does not catch on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Import cheap skilled labor

John writes:
The WSJ is supporting a new push to expand the number of H-1B visas. They argue that more visas are needed because many of our most successful U.S. tech companies were founded by immigrants.

A closer look at these claims:

Intel cofounder Andy Grove escaped from Hungary during the 1956 revolution, arriving at the age of 20. He completed his college education in the United States, graduating from C.C.N.Y. in 1960. He earned a Ph.D. at Berkeley before joining Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel in 1968.

Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang came from Taiwan in 1979 at the age of 10 with his widowed mother, an English teacher. He was educated entirely in the United States, graduating from Stanford in 1990. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford when he and David Filo created in 1994.

Google cofounder Sergey Brin came from Russia in 1979 at the age of 6 with his parents, both of whom are mathematicians. He was educated entirely in the United States, graduating from the University of Maryland in 1993. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford when he and Larry Page created in 1997.

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar came from France in 1973-74 at the age of 6 with his Iranian-born parents. He was educated entirely in the United States, attending a private prep school in Maryland and graduating from Tufts in 1988 with a degree in computer science. He wrote the original code for eBay and launched the site in 1995 under its original name of AuctionWeb.

Two of the four men who cofounded Sun Microsystems in 1982 were foreign born: Vinod Khosla graduated from engineering school in his native India; Andy Bechtolsheim graduated from engineering school in his native Germany. They both earned master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon in the 1970s, then did further graduate work at Stanford, where they met fellow Sun cofounders Bill Joy and Scott MacNealy.

The WSJ omits Philippe Kahn, who founded Borland in 1983. Kahn was entirely educated in Europe, came to the U.S. in 1982 on a tourist visa, which he overstayed, becoming an illegal alien. Apparently he obtained legal residency in the 1986 amnesty.

None of these people came on H-1B visas. Which raises the question, has any company ever been started by someone who came on H-1B? And a further question: Is the WSJ being intentionally deceptive or just inadvertently so?
The WSJ article relies on this study (pdf). The study was funded by a consortium of firms that want to import cheap labor for startup companies.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Kids on psycho drugs

NY Times reports:
Last year in the United States, about 1.6 million children and teenagers -- 280,000 of them under age 10 -- were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions at the request of The New York Times. More than 500,000 were prescribed at least three psychiatric drugs. More than 160,000 got at least four medications together, the analysis found.
That is a lot more than I would have expected. As the article explains, the benefits of all these drugs are unproved.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chickens prefer beautiful human faces

This paper says that chickens prefer beautiful humans:
We trained chickens to react to an average human female face but not to an average male face (or vice versa). In a subsequent test, the animals showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences (obtained from university students). This suggests that human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems, rather than from face-specific adaptations.
Another study claims to explain why beautiful people are paid more.
Interestingly, employers thought beautiful people were more productive even when their only interaction was via a telephone interview. It appears that the confidence that beautiful people have in themselves comes across over the phone as well as in person.
I don't think that the study tested confidence, so that is just one possible explanation. Maybe beauty is correlated with articulateness or something else.

I am not sure which seems more unlikely -- chickens detecting human beauty or employers detecting over the phone. Either way, it appears that beauty is not just some cultural prejudice.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Naughty female teachers

WorldNetDaily has a catalog of female teachers who have recently gotten caught seducing high school boys.

Internet libel immunity

Libel law news:
The California Supreme Court just held, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, that Internet users who post (to Web sites or discussion groups) material created by others are immune from liability.
I was surprised that this case was still pending. I posted about it in 2001. This libel complaint
against defendant Ilena Rosenthal and others is about being called a quackpot, a pimple doctor, and a dimwit.

The core of the matter, as I understand it, is that Stephen Barrett and his Quackwatch site go around debunking alternative medicine. Occasionally some snake oil peddler fights back, and makes accusations against Barrett. Then Barrett sues, figuring that he has mainstream medicine on his side.

I am all in favor of exposing quacks, but Barrett doesn't always have science on his side. His own professional career has been that of a psychiatrist, and he subscribes some goofy psychiatric ideas. He is also an advocate of mandatory vaccination, and I've disagreed with him about some of those vaccines.

Anyway, calling Barrett a "quackpot" seems fair game to me.

Malkin thinks that the court went too far in favor of free speech, because a blogger could republish some anonymously-posted libel without any liability.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Global orgasm on the Solstice

This site wants a synchronized global orgasm on the Winter Solstice on Dec. 22 in order to affect the global consciousness:
The mission of the Global Orgasm is to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy. Now that there are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti- submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, the time to change Earth's energy is NOW!
This is being pushed by some goofy pacifist named Donna Sheehan, no relation to that other goofy peace activist Cindy Sheehan.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gay penguins invade schools

School news:
SHILOH, Ill. - A picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin is getting a chilly reception among some parents who worry about the book's availability to children -- and the reluctance of school administrators to restrict access to it.

The concerns are the latest involving "And Tango Makes Three," the illustrated children's book based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo that adopted a fertilized egg and raised the chick as their own.

Complaining about the book's homosexual undertones, some parents of Shiloh Elementary School students believe the book -- available to be checked out of the school's library in this 11,000-resident town 20 miles east of St. Louis -- tackles topics their children aren't ready to handle.

Their request: Move the book to the library's regular shelves and restrict it to a section for mature issues, perhaps even requiring parental permission before a child can check it out.

For now, "And Tango Makes Three" will stay put, said school district Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw, though a panel she appointed suggested the book be moved and require parental permission to be checked out. The district's attorney said moving it might be construed as censorship.

Filyaw considers the book "adorable" and age appropriate, written for children ages 4 to 8. ...

[A Missouri librarian] said the book was then moved to the nonfiction section because it was based on actual events. In that section, she said, there was less of a chance that the book would "blindside" someone.
If reclassifying this silly gay propaganda book is censorship, then so is their refusal to tell the kids the true story. There are no gay penguins with sex habits resembling male homosexuals. Roy and Silo, the New York Central Park Zoo penguins that inspired the book, were only together because of a lack of available females at the zoo. Silo left Roy when he found a female.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vicious people have vicious dogs

Dog research:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People who own vicious dogs such as pit bulls have significantly more criminal convictions -- including crimes against children -- than owners of licensed, gentler dogs such as beagles, researchers reported on Thursday.

A study of 355 dog owners in Ohio showed that every owner of a high-risk breed known for aggression had at least one brush with the law, from traffic citations to serious criminal convictions.

And 30 percent of people who owned an aggressive breed of dog and who also had been cited at least once for failure to register it had at least five criminal convictions or traffic citations.

This compared to 1 percent of owners of low-risk, licensed dogs such as poodles, beagles or collies, the researchers reported in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

"Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog (or) failing to keep a dog confined on the premises ... are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence ... and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug (crimes) than owners of low-risk licensed dogs," said Jaclyn Barnes of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
No big surprise here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Implants vindicated

FDA news:
The Food and Drug Administration yesterday lifted a 14-year ban on the use of silicone gel breast implants in the United States after decades of contentious debate and litigation over their safety.

The federal agency approved implants manufactured by two California companies, Mentor and Allergan, for breast reconstruction and cosmetic breast augmentation, but limited cosmetic use of the implants to women ages 22 and older.

The decision appeared to end a controversy over the safety of silicone implants that lasted more than two decades and resulted in thousands of lawsuits by women who claimed the implants leaked and caused a number of diseases, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. The dispute led to the bankruptcy of the manufacturer Dow Corning, a federal moratorium on the use of the implants, and, finally, findings by both the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration that the devices do not cause major illnesses.
This shows how broken our legal system is. A big company was bankrupted and billions of dollars was paid to lawyers, and all the evidence says that the silicone is harmless.

Down a slippery slope with absurd results

Crime news:
The defence lawyer of a Wisconsin man charged with having sex with a dead deer is claiming he's innocent of any wrongdoing - because a "crimes against sexual morality" statute prohibits sex with animals, but fails to mention carcasses, The Duluth News Tribune reports.

Bryan James Hathaway, 20, of Superior, was arrested on "a misdemeanour charge of sexual gratification with an animal" after indulging in intercourse with said deceased deer on 11 October.

His attorney, public defender Fredric Anderson, last week filed a motion with a Douglas County court which argued "because the deer was dead, it was not considered an animal and the charge should be dismissed". He wrote: "The statute does not prohibit one from having sex with a carcass."

He further argued that, according to Webster's dictionary, an animal is "any of a kingdom of living beings". If you include carcasses in that definition, Anderson reasoned, "you really go down a slippery slope with absurd results".
I am convinced -- that is one very slippery slope we don't want to go down!

Child shrinks often wrong

NY Times reports:
Children can develop so fast that what looks like attention deficit disorder in the fall may look like anxiety or nothing at all in the summer. ...

"Psychiatry has made great strides in helping kids manage mental illness, particularly moderate conditions, but the system of diagnosis is still 200 to 300 years behind other branches of medicine," said Dr. E. Jane Costello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. "On an individual level, for many parents and families, the experience can be a disaster; we must say that." ...

All these labels are based primarily on symptom checklists. According to the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual, for instance, childhood problems qualify as oppositional defiant disorder if the child exhibits at least four of eight behavior patterns, including "often loses temper," "often argues with adults," "is often touchy or easily annoyed by others", and "is often spiteful or vindictive."
Remember this if you get a diagnosis for your kid.

Forcing nursery rhymes on parents

UK Daily Mail:
Did you want to laugh or cry when you read that mothers and fathers who fail to sing nursery rhymes to their children may be obliged to attend classes?
Weird. It sounds like a parody of what a nanny state might do.

Another story:
Beverley Hughes, Minister for Children, plans a national academy for parenting practitioners to train a "parenting workforce" of teachers, psychologists and social workers. Among other priorities, she wants them to educate "disadvantaged parents" about how to sing nursery rhymes and read stories. You surely could not make it up. At least, not without the support of your professional "co-educators".

This new academy is meant to develop an evidence-based view of "what works". If Ms Hughes had done her homework, she might have learnt that years of research shows no clear evidence that an interventionist approach to parenting works at all. Yet the parenting industry pursues its agenda regardless, always insisting that "more research is needed", presumably until they get the "right" results.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Global warming skepticism

This NY Times story says that carbon dioxide may not have been correlated with global warming back in the dinosaur era and before. The RealClimate blog says that it is Broadly Misleading. See also the comments, which note that RealClimate misquotes the NY Times story.

I am not sure who is right here, and maybe no one else does either.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is men's health getting short shrift?

NY Times reports:
In recent years, women's health has been a national priority. Pink ribbons warn of breast cancer. Pins shaped like red dresses raise awareness about heart disease. Offices of women's health have sprung up at every level of government to offer information and free screenings, and one of the largest government studies on hormones and diet in aging focused entirely on older women.

Yet statistics show that men are more likely than women to suffer an early death.

Now some advocates and medical scientists are beginning to ask a question that in some circles might be considered politically incorrect: Is men's health getting short shrift? ...

"We've got men dying at higher rates of just about every disease, and we don't know why," said Dr. Demetrius J. Porche, an associate dean at Louisiana State University.
The article goes on to say that women get much more health care than men, and much more money is spent on research for women's medical problems.

Single-sex public schools in the USA

I didn't know this:
In 1995, only three public schools in the United States offered single-sex educational opportunities. As of November 2006, at least 253 public schools in the United States are offering gender-separate educational opportunities. Most of those are COED schools which offer single-sex CLASSROOMS, retaining at least some coed activities (in some cases, only lunch and certain electives are coed). However, 51 of those 253 schools are COMPLETELY single-sex in format.
My kids' school just has single-sex sex-ed classes.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Shrinks reverse themselves on gays

August news:
American Psychological Association (APA), President Gerald P. Koocher voiced support for the treatment of those distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions. ...

Highlighting the importance of client autonomy and self-determination, Dr. Koocher stated, "APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction." ... He emphasized that -- 1. The choice to enter therapy to diminish homosexual attractions and to strengthen heterosexual potential must be respected. ...
This was a little different from this 2000 APA statement, and afterwards, Koocher apparently had to backtrack:
Mr. Koocher said discussion of interventions in the "extremely complex issue" of sexual orientation "must balance patient choice with the therapist's ethical obligation to obtain informed consent for any therapy process."

"When dealing with sexual orientation," he said, a therapist "must" be sure that a person wishing to change is not "motivated purely from the social pressures of a homophobic environment" because therapy "will not modify societal prejudices."

Mr. Koocher further stressed that "patients must understand" that treatments intended to modify sexual orientation "lack a validated scientific foundation and may prove psychologically harmful."
This is bizarre. The APA recognizes all sorts of odd disorders, such as Encopresis, which is defecation into inappropriate places. Similar thinking would say that the therapist must make the patient understand that therapy will not modify society preferences for using toliets.

Ever wonder how the psychiatrists and psychologists decided in 1973 that they would no longer classify homosexuality as a disorder? According to this March 1993 Atlantic Monthly article:
Hooker administered psychological tests to her sixty subjects, including the Rorschach ink-blot test, producing sixty psychological profiles. She removed all identifying marks, including those indicating sexual orientation, and, to eliminate her own biases, gave them for interpretation to three eminent psychologists. One of these was Bruno Klopfer, who believed that he would be able to distinguish homosexuals from heterosexuals by means of the Rorschach test. As it turned out, none of the three could tell the homosexuals and heterosexuals apart.
(Also pdf here.) This says:
In 1973, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer was one of the major forces in removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) list of mental disorders. On May 9, 2001, Spitzer presented a study to the APA which proves that those struggling with homosexuality can, in fact, leave the lifestyle behind.
You can find a summary of Spitzer's paper and other research
here. I have no idea how scientific it is. A lot of bogus stuff passes for science in this field, including Rorschach ink-blot tests.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Egregious scientific male misbehavior

Vanderbilt astronomer Rob Knop tells a tale of egregious scientific male misbehavior in order to prove that academic science is hostile to women. He says that professor made some "inappropriate" remarks in a cafeteria conversation, including: "if you're male and straight, you can tell what a woman is thinking about you by looking in her eyes."

Maybe the prof has mindreading delusions; maybe he was making good conversation and his remarks were taken out of context; maybe he was flirting; maybe he was rude; maybe he was actually trying to annoy others; maybe he was oblivious to how someone might take offense. I do not have enough info to tell.

What is striking is that Knop is unable or unwilling to explain his objections. Those in the conversation were free to speak up and disagree, or to move to another table. It is not obvious whether anyone took offense. Knop apparently has his own rules for polite behavior that define when and where and how a prof is allowed to express his opinions or tell his personal stories, but he is unwilling to describe them. It appears that he believes that certain opinions should only be expressed to a male audience, but that is sexism of another sort, and he won't admit to that.

Knop is apparently still fuming over a previous blog post in which his department asked him to remove some inappropriate remarks from his blog. Well, that is the path you go down when you join the political correctness police and tell everyone what is and is not appropriate to say.

Big companies beat California initiatives

Corporate money succeeded in Califonia. The tobacco industry beat Prop. 86, the oil industry beat Prop. 87, and the abortion industry beat Prop. 85. An attempt to limit such corporate spending all failed with Prop. 89. George writes:
What abortion industry? There is no abortion industry. If you are referring to Planned Parenthood, it accepts donations, so it is not really a business. Yes, it does charge money for abortions, but it charges less money than the big hospitals, so it is really conducting a public service.
Planned Parenthood is primarily in the abortion business. They make millions of dollars a year doing abortion. It charges whatever the market will bear, just like any other business, as far as I know. I think that it also sells condoms and other products and services.

Planned Parenthood spent millions of dollars on TV ads promoting laws that allow abortion clinics to sell abortions to 14-year-old girls without telling their parents. Planned Parenthood is obviously just trying to increase its business.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why We Read Fiction

Lisa Zunshine writes in the Nov/Dec Skeptical Inquirer:
Why We Read Fiction

Two areas of research in cognitive evolutionary psychology and anthropology offer tentative but nevertheless exciting insights into cravings that are satisfied -- and intensified -- by reading fiction.

In spite of the way it sounds, mind reading has nothing to do with plain old telepathy. Instead, it is a term used by cognitive psychologists, interchangeably with Theory of Mind (ToM) to describe our ability to explain people's behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires. Thus we engage in mind reading when we attribute to a person a certain mental state on the basis of her observable action: e.g., when we see her reaching for a glass of water and assume that she is thirsty; when we compose an essay, a lec-ture, a movie, a song, a novel, or instructions for an electrical appliance and try to imagine how this or that segment of our target audience will respond to it; when we negotiate a multi-layered social situation; and so forth. Incorrect though our attributions frequently are, making them is the default way by which we construct and navigate our social environment.

One reason that Theory of Mind has received the sustained attention of cognitive psychologists over the last twenty years is that they have come across people whose ability to interpret behavior in terms of underlying mental states is drastically impaired-people with autism. A severe neurological deficit, autism is characterized by the profound impairment of social and communicative development, by the "lack of the usual flexibility, imagination, and pretence," and, crucially for the present discussion, by a lack of interest in fiction and story-telling (Baron-Cohen 1995). On the whole, studies in autism suggest that we do not just "learn" how to communicate with people and read their emotions, including the emotions of fictional characters. People with autism, after all, generally have as many opportunities to "learn" these things as you and I. Instead it seems that we also have evolved cognitive architecture that makes this particular kind of learning possible, and if this architecture is damaged, a wealth of experience would never fully make up for the damage.
Lisa Zunshine is an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky and she has just written a book on this subject.

Zunshine goes on to give her own theories as to why she thinks that reading fiction would be good exercise for the brain, but she really doesn't have any brain evidence or any explanation as to why reading fiction would be any better exercise than anything else.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat and brain research

The hottest comedian today is
Sacha Baron Cohen who appears in the new movie Borat. He is no relation to the American female figure skater
Sasha Cohen, but is a second cousin to a British brain researcher Simon Baron-Cohen:
In Baron-Cohen's book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About the
Male and Female Brain (2004), he argues that there are innate
differences between male and female brains. Female brains are
predominantly wired for empathy, he reasons, whereas male brains are
predominantly wired for "understanding and building systems". He
describes autism as an extreme version of the male brain, which he
postulates as an explanation for why autism is more common among
He is also cited in the current Scientific American:
Perhaps the most ingenious of the psychological theories is that of Uta Frith of University College London and Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge, who posit that the main abnormality in autism is a deficit in the ability to construct a "theory of other minds." Frith and Baron-Cohen argue that specialized neural circuitry in the brain allows us to create sophisticated hypotheses about the inner workings of other people's minds. These hypotheses, in turn, enable us to make useful predictions about others' behavior.

Think outside your bubble

From a California TV ad:
Some girls do not enjoy the relationship with their parents that you may have. Prop. 85 would force girls to notify an abusive or violent parent that they are pregnant and this puts them in real danger. Please --

Think outside your bubble.
Vote NO on Prop. 85
Paid for by [various abortion businesses]
The grammar and terminology is a little weird. Prop. 85 only requires an abortion-seeking underage girl to notify one parent, and it doesn't have to the abusive one. Actually, it doesn't even require that, as there is a simple and nearly automatic judicial override if the girl claims that she can make the abortion decision on her own.

Second, the ad is aimed at voters who are over age 18 and probably much older than that. So why the comparison to an adult voter's relationship to his or her parents?

Third, if a girl has an abusive or violent parent, then she is already in danger. If she is underage and pregnant, then she is already in danger. I think that it should have said that if an underage girl has to tell a violent father about a pregnancy, then this puts the boyfriend in danger.

Finally, I like the slogan, "Think outside your bubble." I don't know what it means, but it sounds great.

George writes:
The slogan "Think outside your bubble" means to look at the issue from another point of view. Not everyone has your old-fashioned morality. Think about a teenaged runaway prostitute who gets pregnant and doesn't want her parents to find out. Think about the boy who gets a girl pregnant, and just wants to get her to the abortion clinic without anyone finding out. Think about Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics, who will have to ask young pregnant girls whether they are under 18 and whether they have told a parent. Think about a 14-year-old girl who is being sexually abused by a step-father or a neighbor, and gets pregnant. If the parents found out, it could ruin a marriage or make someone move out of the neighborhood or even cause criminal charges. If Prop. 83 also passes, the guy could have to wear a GPS monitoring device for the rest of his life. Getting an abortion has become a rite of passage for girls in our society. Ms. Magazine celebrates women who have had a abortions. Yes, you should call them women, not girls. If they can get pregnant, then they are women and they have a constitutional right to their sexual autonomy.
If an underage girl really wants autonomy, then she should go get legally emancipated. Otherwise, she is under the care of her parents.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Corporate convicts use rehab to cut time

The Houston paper reports:
WASHINGTON -- When former Enron executive Andrew Fastow was sentenced to six years in federal prison this fall, he asked for drug treatment, citing dependency on anti-anxiety medication that helped him cope with the implosion of his company, the imprisonment of his wife and his prosecution.

If the Bureau of Prisons grants his request, Fastow could reduce his time behind bars by up to one year.

Add in the "good-time" credits he could earn by behaving and Fastow -- who once agreed to serve at least 10 years for cheating investors out of millions of dollars -- could be on his way home in about four.

Fastow and other Enron executives are joining a growing trend of white-collar criminals trying to reduce their sentences by entering prison-based drug or alcohol rehabilitation -- an option not open to violent offenders who go through the same treatment.
Going into rehab has become a trendy and phony way for celebrities to cope with scandals. But I don't see anything wrong if someone serving a 6-year federal sentence gets out after 4 years if he has good behavior. Most state prisoners get paroled faster than that.

Maybe Marconi was wrong

A Canadian paper reports
On Dec. 12, 1901, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi made history by claiming he had used a kite and some copper wire atop Signal Hill in St. John's to receive a wireless signal from across the Atlantic Ocean.

More than a century later, a group of radio scientists in Newfoundland are conducting a series of tests that could debunk Mr. Marconi's claim to fame.

"We're essentially setting out to prove it wrong," said Joe Craig, a physicist and director of the Marconi Radio Club.

Mr. Craig and several other researchers are using a combination of modern computer technology and vintage equipment to determine whether the inventor actually heard three faint, electromagnetic clicks -- the letter S in Morse code -- that were transmitted from 3,470 kilometres away in Poldhu, England.

Mr. Marconi garnered global acclaim for the incredible feat. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 and became known as the "father of radio."

"I had been absolutely right in my calculation," Marconi wrote at the time. "The electric waves . . . had traversed the Atlantic, serenely ignoring the curvature of the Earth, which so many doubters considered would be a fatal obstacle."

But in recent years, a growing number of skeptics have come forward to question Marconi's claim, saying it's more likely that he heard static or distant lightning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brain stem explanation for SIDS

Michael Conlon reports for Reuters:
An abnormality in part of the brain that controls breathing, arousal and other reflexes may be what causes sudden infant death syndrome, a finding that could lead to a preventive treatment, a study says.

The discovery could explain why babies lying face down are more likely to die of SIDS.

In that position an infant's reflexes, including head turning and arousal, are harder to trigger when breathing is challenged, says the report from Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on autopsy data from 31 infants who had died from SIDS and 10 who had died from other causes between 1997 and 2005 in California.

In the SIDS infants, a look at the lowest part of the brainstem, the medulla oblongata, found abnormalities in nerve cells that make and use serotonin, one of the chemicals in the brain that transmit messages between nerve cells.

Serotonin and how it is processed in the brainstem may help coordinate breathing, blood pressure, sensitivity to carbon dioxide and temperature, the report says.

When babies sleep face down or have their faces covered by bedding, they are thought to breathe exhaled carbon dioxide back in, depriving them of oxygen.

When that happens the carbon dioxide increase would normally trigger nerve cells in the brainstem, which in turn stimulate respiratory and arousal centres in the brain.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been promoting a policy of using forensic pathologists to investigate infanticide whenever SIDS is reported. I don't think that they should be accusing parents of crimes in SIDS cases, unless they can at least figure out what causes AIDS.

Seducer faces rape trial

The Philadelphia Daily News reports:
A total of seven women yesterday accused Marsalis -- described as a drifter with no permanent address here -- of drugging them, then sexually assaulting them. Five said they had met Marsalis through the online dating site

Marsalis has already beaten a similar rap. In January, he was acquitted by a Philadelphia jury on almost identical charges -- that he had raped three women he'd met through the Internet.

Despite that initial setback for prosecutors, Philly police stepped up their investigation of Marsalis.

Police said that over the past 21 months, they have come across 13 victims in 15 incidents in which Marsalis has been suspected of committing rape.

"There was a plan," Lt. Thomas McDevitt of the Special Victims Unit said. "There is no doubt about it."

Marsalis would lure women to meet him in public, telling his victims he was a successful career man on the right track, police said.

He posed as a doctor, an astronaut-in-training, even a ""confident to the president," McDevitt said, adding that Marsalis showed women various cards and photos to back up his stories. ...

The women did not report the alleged attacks to police. One said police contacted her to ask about her encounter with Marsalis.

Two of the women met Marsalis in their apartment buildings, not online. One of those women was not raped but said Marsalis had assaulted her.

The women tried to explain a confounding experience: rapes that involved more confusion than force, more regret than resistance, more acquiescence than threat.

One woman said she became pregnant during the attack and asked Marsalis to accompany her -- and help pay for -- an abortion. He did.

Another woman met Marsalis for lunch in Chinatown just days after her alleged rape. She said she had been drugged and raped again after lunch.

Yet another had lunch with Marsalis the day after the alleged assault. One said that she had spent most of the weekend with him and that he had attacked her again.

One said that, after some time had elapsed since the first attack, she continued to "hang out" with Marsalis in the apartment building where they both resided. She accused him of raping her again right after she was discharged from the hospital following an illness that left her weak. ...

In the January trial in which Marsalis was acquitted, none of those women immediately reported the rapes, and two continued to date and have consensual sex with him.
This is weird. I realize that a lot of people have unusual ideas about what constitutes rape, but unless the police find physical evidence of the illegal use of some drug, they don't have a case.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gripes from the poor

NY Times reports:, the Web site that provides free home valuations, has been accused by a coalition of community activist groups of undervaluing the homes in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Those groups are unhappy that poor neighborhoods are now so easily identified as being. Before they try to get poor people to move, they might want to read this:
For poor people, living in an affluent area can be a health hazard. That is the provocative conclusion of a study of the death records of more than 8000 people living in four US cities.

The ill effects of being poor or living in economically disadvantaged areas have been demonstrated before, but it is unusual to consider both factors in the same study. When Marilyn Winkleby and colleagues at Stanford University in California did so, they were surprised to find that death rates in four Californian cities were highest for poor people living in the richest neighbourhoods (American Journal of Public Health, DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.060970).
Maybe they are better off living in those poor neighborhoods, and using Zillow to find those neighborhoods.

Who owns most of the wealth?

Michael disputes my claim that "In the USA, women own a majority of the wealth."

This attributes "Women hold 65% of the country's wealth", to Fortune Magazine, but we cannot confirm the cite.

A UK study says, "women currently own 48% of the nation's personal wealth" and increasing, but Michael says the UK may be different from the USA.

He also found this: "Women own more than 47% of the stocks (Source: Peter Hart and NASD and the Investment Institute)", and notes that 47% is less than 50%.

Finally, he sends this study:
According to estate tax returns data, in 1925 one quarter of the wealthiest 0.01 percent were women, Figures 1a; and 1b.2 This fraction rose rapidly through WWII and then more slowly to peak in 1969, when women neared parity with men. Since then, there has been a marked decline. By 2000, women's share had fallen to one-third -- this despite the increased economic emancipation of women commonly observed for the labor market.
and concedes that "this talks about percent of women among the wealthiest and not total wealth".

I will have to research this further.

Update: Now Michael sends this:
The wealth of living individuals can be estimated from Federal estate tax return data using the estate multiplier technique. The fundamental assumption underlying this methodology is that estate tax returns filed for decedents who died in a particular year represent a random sample, designated by death, of the living population in that year. ...

In 2001, there were an estimated 7.4 million adults, age 18 and older, with gross assets of $675,000 or more ...
There were nearly 4.0 million male top wealth holders in 2001, representing 53.7 percent of the top wealth holder population. These men had a combined net worth of $8.0 trillion, for an average net worth of nearly $2.0 million ...
There were over 3.4 million female top wealth holders, comprising 46.3 percent of the total. The combined net worth of these women was $5.8 trillion, while their average net worth was $1.71 million ...

While the average net worth of female wealth holders was more than 15 percent lower than that of males, averages can be very sensitive to outliers. When significant outliers exist, the median is often a better measure of the center of a distribution. The median net worth for male wealth holders was approximately $978,000, while the median value for females was nearly the same at almost $955,000. In fact, Figure B shows that the distribution of wealth for male and female wealth holders is very similar for most points, except for those above the 95th percentile, where male net worth values dominate. It is these larger values that account for the much larger difference in the average net worth between the sexes. While not included in Figure B, it is interesting to note that the left tail of the net worth distribution for males dips much lower (larger negative values) for points below the 1st percentile than for females.
I could not find Figure B.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Homosexual life expectancy

Andy cites this article and writes:
Life expectancy for a 20 year old gay or bisexual man is 8 to 20 years less than all men. The authors estimate that "nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently age 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday." Source: Hogg. RS., Strathdee, SA., Craib, KJP., O'Shaughnessy, MV., Montainer, JSG., Schechter, MT., " Modeling the impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men," International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1997, pp. 657-61.

In 1998, another study using four contemporary databases suggested that homosexual activity may be associated with a lifespan shortened by 20 to 30 years. Source: Cameron, P., Cameron, K., Playfair, WL., " Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life? ", Psychological Reports, 1998, 83, pp. 847-66.

From 1969 through 1970, the Kinsey Institute surveyed homosexuals in San Francisco. Although they recruited respondents in eight different ways, only 23% of male homosexuals and only 18% of lesbians were over the age of 45, despite the fact that the investigators tried for 25% from this age group.

In 1977, the largest survey of homosexuals reported 0.2% of its lesbians and 0.8% of its homosexual males were age 65 or older.

An openly lesbian M. Mendola, in 1979, polled 405 homosexuals by mail. The median age of those polled was 34, and only 10% were 50 or over. Source: The Mendola Report: A New Look at Gay Couples.

From 1977 through 1979, 102 homosexuals case histories were collected in Seattle and the oldest was 58.

In 1994, an obituary study revealed that the median age of death for homosexual males was 42 and for lesbians was 49. Source: Cameron, Playfair, Wellum, "The Longevity of Homosexuals: Before and After the AIDS Epidemic, " Omega Journal of Death and Dying," 1994.

Though this final fact is anecdotal, note that the age of the recent death of former Congressman Gerry Studds, a well-to-do individual with excellent health care available, was less than 70.
I think that it is plausible that there is a correlation
between homosexuality and lower life expectancy, just as married folks tend to live longer. AIDS and other diseases might be a partial explanation. But there could be a lot of others as well. Maybe gays smoke more, get less health care, or adopt riskier lifestyles. It is hard to say what causes what. For those who distinguish between homosexual orientiation and behavior, which correlates better with shorter lives? I doubt that these studies provide any good answers.

John sends this new study:
During the years immediately after divorce -- from 1991 to 1994 -- the divorced women reported 7 percent higher levels of psychological distress than married women. They did not report any differences in physical illness at that time.

A decade later, however, the divorced women reported 37 percent more physical illness, but no difference in psychological stress that could be directly linked to the divorce, said Lorenz, who co-authored the study with K.A.S. Wickrama, Rand Conger and Glen Elder. The research was conducted out of the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research based at Iowa State.

The women in the study marked off illnesses from a list of 46 choices -- ranging from the common cold and sore throat to heart conditions and cancer.
The authors offer their own untested explanations, but there are many others as well. Tests indicate that married folks are happier and healthier on average.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dropping testosterone

Yahoo reports:
FRIDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The testosterone-fueled American male may be losing his punch.

Over the past two decades, levels of the sex hormone in U.S. men have been falling steadily, a new study finds.

For example, average total testosterone levels in men aged 65 to 69 fell from 503 nanograms/decileter (ng/dL) in 1988 to 423 ng/dL in 2003.

The reasons for this trend are unclear, said researchers at the New England Research Institutes in Waterdown, Mass. They noted that neither aging nor certain other health factors, such as smoking or obesity, can fully explain the decline. ...

"In 1988, men who were 50 years and older had higher serum testosterone concentrations than did comparable 50-year-old men in 1996. This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time," Travison said.

He and his colleagues analyzed blood samples -- along with health and other information -- from about 1,500 men in the greater Boston area who took part in the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. That study collected data in 1987-89, 1995-97, and 2002-04. ...

The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
They controlled for smoking and obesity, but should should have controlled for having feminist wives and voting for John Kerry.

Barbara blames pesticides:
(Beyond Pesticides, January 19, 2006) A study published in the January issue of Epidemiology has found inverse associations between pesticides and male testosterone levels. The study, conducted by researchers at University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, has found that high levels of the urinary metabolites of chlorpyrifos (TCPY) and carbaryl and naphthalene (1N) correlate directly with low levels of testosterone in male subjects.