Sunday, September 30, 2007

Criminal bias

Jonathan Ekman writes in a alumni magazine:
Only a social scientist “Shooter’s Choice,” July–Aug/07 could seriously argue that any possible bias against black suspects derives from “ambient social stereotypes” and not from rational discrimination based on statistical probability. The racial disparity in criminal activity in this country is widely known, yet for many in the groves of academe it must be ignored, explained away, or simply discounted.

Social psychologist Joshua Correll replies: Mr. Ekman’s question is one we often hear. It’s true that African Americans in the United States are disproportionately likely to be arrested for violent crime, and my colleagues and I recognize that this disparity may contribute to a pattern of bias that leads participants in our video-game studies to shoot black targets more quickly and more frequently than whites. It is not our intent to “explain away” the possibility that racial bias in decisions to shoot stems from more-or-less rational decision-making. Our intent is to understand the mechanisms that inspire this behavioral bias. In truth, no one would argue that participants in our studies shoot blacks more quickly or more frequently than whites simply because blacks are more likely to be arrested. We need to recognize that there is a crucial intervening process. People shoot African Americans more quickly because they subjectively, psychologically associate them with crime and danger. It is this psychological association, or stereotype—not arrest rates—that drives behavior.

Of course, the association may derive from racial disparities in criminal activity just as it may derive from movies, news reports, or gangsta rap music. The point is that the psychological representation is a critical, proximal variable. In our efforts to understand the behavioral phenomenon, we believe it is valuable to understand the processes that generate it. In this case, those processes seem to involve stereotypes.
Correll used a video game to study whether cops are quicker to shoot a black suspect than a white suspect. It is a good idea, and he gets some interesting results. But then he claims to distinguish between active prejudice, racial stereotypes, and rational assessment of statistical facts. He discounts active prejudice because blacks show the same biases as the whites. But then he jumps to the conclusion that it could not be rational decision-making so the explanation must be racial stereotypes.

Ekman is right. Only an academic social scientist would give such nutty arguments. Correll refuses to even admit that there is racial disparity in criminal activity, and merely alludes to a disparity is arrest rates. Cops are going to shoot the most threatening suspects, based on all available info. It is only common sense that age, sex, race, clothing, and any other aspect of appearance will be rational factors.

The proper way to test for bias is to compare the simulation with some actual threat measure. For example, if urban 25-year-old men are 100 times more likely to shoot at a cop than little old ladies, then cops doing a video game simulation should be 100 times more likely to shoot the young men. Any more or less would be bias.

Explaining the divorce rate

Justin Wolfers writes:
I had an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times noting a very simple fact: those married in the 1990s have proved less likely to divorce than those wed in the 1980s, which were less likely to divorce than those wed in the 1970s. The Divorce Facts are that divorce is falling, and marriages are more stable.
Here is an academic paper that tries to look at data to test a couple of theories about the effect of unilateral (aka no-fault) divorce law on the divorce rate. Different states adopted unilateral divorce at different times, so it is possible to look at how the divorce rates changed relative to the changes in law. There were of course other changes in our society that are difficult to measure. I'll try to explain some of this in plain English.

1. Coase theory. The Coase theorem says that shifts in property rights can be counterbalanced by private contracts. This theory predicts that changes in divorce law would have no effect on the divorce rate.

Suppose a husband wants a divorce and the wife does not. Under unilateral divorce, he may not get the divorce because the wife may somehow sweeten the marriage contract in order to induce him to stay. Likewise, under the old (mutual-consent-required) divorce law, he might somehow pay off the wife to induce her to agree to the divorce. Assuming that these inducements are readily available, easily negotiated, and legally enforceable, then the theory says that husbands and wives will find socially optimal arrangements, regardless of divorce law.

2. Naive probability model. Suppose that there is a probability of 40% that a married person will want a divorce after 10 years of marriage, independent of all other factors, including whether the spouse also wants a divorce. Then the divorce rate should have jumped from 16% to 64% after changing to unilateral divorce.

Out of every 100 couples, 40 men want divorce and 60 men do not. Of those 40 marriages, 40*40%=16 of the women want divorce and 24 do not. Of the other 60 marriages, 60*40%=24 of the women want divorce, and 36 do not. So if mutual consent is required, then only 16 will get divorced. But there are another 24+24=48 marriages in which exactly one party wants a divorce, so you expect 16+24+24=64 divorces under unilateral divorce.

The article finds that the unilateral divorce caused an immediate jump in the divorce rate, but may not have had any long term effect. It may have also caused a small drop in the marriage rate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The country is Burma, not Myanmar

Why does the American news media use the name Myanmar instead of Burma? The UK BBC reports:
The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon. ...

The change was recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the UK.

A statement by the Foreign Office says: "Burma's democracy movement prefers the form 'Burma' because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised."

It's general practice at the BBC to refer to the country as Burma, and the BBC News website says this is because most of its audience is familiar with that name rather than Myanmar. The same goes for Rangoon, people in general are more familiar with this name than Yangon.
So the country is popularly known as Burma, and the USA says that Burma is the official name. Isn't that enough? Why would anyone call it Myanmar?

Nevertheless, the NY Times, WSJ, TV networks, etc call it Myanmar. They appear to be making some sort of political statement by doing so, but what? That the UN is more important than the USA? That the military junta ought to crush the pro-freedom rebels? I don't get it. I just see it as anti-Americanism on the part of the major news media.

I should note that not all call it Myanmar. USA Today still calls it Burma.

Research on best teaching methods

From a 1998 Wash Times article:
What if the federal government spent $1 billion over nearly three decades to study thoroughly the question of which teaching method best instills knowledge, cognitive skills and positive self-concept in students?

What if that study were able to conclude exactly which method best does all three?

Wouldn't the American people like to know about it?

Both the study and its conclusion do exist.
The method is called Direct Instruction, and I learned about it here.

Don't expect your local schoolteachers to have even heard of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Scientist and the Stairmaster

Gary Taubes writes:
Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we're wrong.

Just last month, the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine published joint guidelines for physical activity and health. They suggested that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is necessary to “promote and maintain health.” What they didn’t say, though, was that more physical activity will lead us to lose weight. Indeed, the best they could say about the relationship between fat and exercise was this: “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.” In other words, despite half a century of efforts to prove otherwise, scientists still can’t say that exercise will help keep off the pounds.
This article shows how hard it is to prove anything about free will and human behavior. It seems obvious that you could exercise to lose weight, but the medical studies don't prove it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Islam v Islamist

I just watched Islam vs. Islamist, a documentary produced for PBS. It was controversial, and PBS tried to kill it.

It describes how some Moslems want to reform Islam so that it could be coexist with Western democracy, and how they are ostracized and attacked for their efforts. You can buy it here. My local broadcast had a panel discussion afterwards with Muslims, including a couple who didn't like the documentary.

I just found this, from a gaming site:
Admit it - back in the 20th Century, none of you imagined that World War III would be Robots vs. Muslims. Seems obvious now.

Abolish the SAT test

Charles Murray, coauthor of the controversial book The Bell Curve, now suggests abolishing the SAT test. It is no longer useful in helping to predict college grades, if grades, other test scores, and other measures are available. He also says:
Hence the final reason for getting rid of the SAT: knowing those scores is too dispiriting for those who do poorly and too inspiriting for those who do well.
The high IQ society, MENSA, has already stopped using the SAT test. It accepts scores from pre-1994 SAT tests, but says that the SAT, PSAT, and ACT "no longer correlate with an IQ test."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lesbians sue because they have unwanted twins

What's wrong with this picture? News from down under:
AUSTRALIA, September 20, 2007 ( - A lesbian couple in Australia have taken the first 'wrongful birth' lawsuit in Australian legislative history to court. The two women, who have three year old twin daughters, are suing Canberra obstetrician, Robert Armellin, for 'wrongful birth' after he supervised the implantation of two embryos instead of one into the birth mother during the in-vitro fertilization procedure.

The women, who cannot be named because of a court order, are suing the doctor for almost $400,000 (USD) which they contest will be the cost of raising the mistakenly implanted second child. The sum includes funds for private school, medical expenses and lost wages for the women.

According to the Australian newspaper, the PerthNow, the mother claimed that certain aspects of pregnancy were extremely stressful to her - for instance, buying a stroller - due to the fact that she was carrying twins. "It was like the last frontier of acceptance to spend hundreds of dollars on a pram." The mother also lamented that she suffered nausea during the pregnancy.

The mother's partner claimed in court that the couple became so overwhelmed with every day childcare issues that they lost their ability to function as a couple.
Of course they can't function as a couple; they're lesbians!

I don't know how this nonsense gets to Australia. Maybe the twins will someday also sue because they were raised by wacky lesbians.

Thelma and Louise

Judith Warner writes:
I watched "Thelma and Louise" again this week.

Boy, how times have changed.

Remember, in 1991, how topical the movie seemed? How revolutionary, how thrilling, how cathartic?

It didn’t seem any of those things to me the other night, when I attended a screening of the film guest-hosted by Senator Susan Collins and Representative Jane Harman.

It simply seemed depressing, oppressive and hopeless. It seemed like a relic from the past, a buried memory. It was dark. It was disturbing. It was -- it dawned on me, driving home and still sniveling over the sight of that blue Thunderbird plummeting into the void — a movie that could not be made today.

Thank goodness. ...

That year [1991], the William Kennedy Smith rape case went to trial, belittling and publicly humiliating the victim; Anita Hill confronted Clarence Thomas and emerged besmirched while he reigned victorious; and Roe v. Wade seemed destined for extinction.

Date rape is no longer a contentious concept; it's a known reality. Rape victims are no longer so thoughtlessly named and shamed by the media as was William Kennedy Smith’s accuser. Rape itself is down – its incidence having dropped 75 percent since the early 1990s, according to the Department of Justice.
Thelma and Louise is about two women who go on a road trip, murder a man after a bar dispute, flee the police, and commit suicide.

I am appalled that Warner refers to Smith's accuser as a "rape victim", and the NY Times editors allow this. Smith was acquitted of all charges in a jury trial; he is not a rapist and she is not a rape victim. I didn't think that the accuser's story was very plausible. The column looks libelous to me.

Black on white crime

If a population were 90% white and 10% black, and if crime were race-blind, then would you expect more white-on-black crime or black-on-white crime?

The simple answer is that it should be exactly the same. You would expect more white criminals, and more white victims. But the interracial crime should be symmetrical.

Take a simple numerical example. Suppose you have 100 people, including 90 whites and 10 blacks. Suppose that 10% are criminals, and each criminal mugs 10% of the population. Then you would have 9 white criminals, and each would mug 1 black and 9 whites, for a total of 9 white-on-black crimes. You would have 1 black criminal mugging 1 black and 9 whites, for a total of 9 black-on-white crimes. That is 9 cross-racial crimes, either way.

The actual crime data for the USA is not symmetrical. There is far more black-on-white crime than white-on-black crime, no matter how you measure it.

Those who complain about the prosecution of the Jena 6 act as if whites are committing crimes on blacks. But every account of the Jena 6 incidents shows that the serious crimes were committed by blacks on whites.

It appears to me that the only reason that anyone has any sympathy for the Jena 6 is some confusion over the name "Justin". One white boy named Justin was involved in putting a couple of nooses on a tree in a school yard as a prank. Another white boy named Justin got beaten up and left unconscious several months later. There is no connection between the nooses and the beating, and some out-of-town racial agitators assumed that it was the same Justin. It was not. The beating was an ordinary and brutal crime by some thugs who belong in jail. Let Jena deal with it.

If it turns out that the Jena 6 were motivated in part by racial tensions in the town, then they are guilty of a hate crime, and should receive extra stiff sentences under hate crime laws.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Duke president persecutes the innocent

I didn't know that Duke University President Richard Brodhead has a previous history of accusing an innocent man of an awful crime, for essentially political reasons. Brodhead is famous for punishing the lacrosse team when he knew that they were innocent, and apparently he help persecute an innocent teacher in a previous job at Yale. Amazing. The man is a disgrace.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach

From the WashPost, 2 weeks ago:
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "The side effects are worse than the flu" and "Only older people need flu vaccine."

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.
I can understand why someone might think that the CDC says that only older people need flu vaccine. The official CDC website recommends:
People who should get vaccinated each year are:

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:
* Children aged 6 months until their 5th birthday,
* Pregnant women,
* People 50 years of age and older, and
* People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
* People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu ...
While this includes kids under 5, and flu is on the separate CDC schedule for childhood vaccinations, it is not required for school and the CDC has not pushed for that. Saying that only older people need flu vaccine is a reasonable first approximation to the CDC recommendations.

The Iraq example is even more strained. Those who frequently deny any connection between 9/11 and Iraq are usually promoting their own myths. They want us to believe that the 9/11 attack was just an isolated criminal act, and the only appropriate response is to arrest and prosecute those who were directly responsible. If the guilty parties are all dead, then they'll want us to just forget about it and hope that it doesn't happen again.

The WashPost seems to just want to promote the myth that Pres. Bush lied about Iraq and 9/11. If it really wanted to do some honest debunking, then it would have addresses what Bush really said.

There are lots of myths that seem to persist in the face of others trying to debunk the myths. I am not sure yet whether this is a psychological defect of the human mind. In some cases, the myths have a germ of truth, and the debunkers refuse to address the true aspect of the myth for some ideological reason.

You can find Schwarz's paper here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Differences between Christianity and Islam

I keep hearing people who want to lump together Chistian and Islamic fundamentalists, or who argue that Koran quotes endorsing violence are no different from Bible quotes.

In the Bible, the violent stuff is in the Old Testament, and was repudiated in the New Testament. Where there are differences, Christians subscribe to the New Testament.

In the Koran, it is the other way around. The peaceful stuff is in the older (Mecca) parts, and the endorsements of violence and warfare are in the later (Medina) parts. Islam teaches that the later parts are more valid.

Islam teaches coercion, the subjugation of non-Moslems, and warfare against unbelievers. These teachings are in the Koran, they have been widely practiced for over 1300 years, and they continue to be taught by all major branches of Islam today. They are not just out-of-context Koran quotes; they are central to the core beliefs of Islam.

No one today commits terrorist acts in the name of Christianity. Terrorist acts in the name of Islam are praised throughout the Islamic world.

Mohammedans are allowed to worship peacefully in all Christian countries. Christian, Jews, and other non-Mohammedans have been driven out of Islamic countries.

The Christians are nothing like the Mohammedans.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hillary Clinton's war vote

People still claim that Pres. Bush lied to get us into the Iraq War, or that we entered the war under false pretenses. And yet no one can identify the lie.

Another way to look at the matter is to look at what Congressional leaders said when they voted to authorize the war. Sen. Hillary Clinton said:
If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. ...

This is a difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction. ...

And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein: This is your last chance; disarm or be disarmed.
So she was not relying on claims that Iraq had WMD stockpiles or was an imminent threat; she was concerned about its potential for WMD warfare in the future. She realized that her vote would lead to war if Iraq did not comply with UN resolutions.

That was Oct. 2002. H. Clinton is now the leading Democrat candidate for President. The Democrats supported the Iraq War based on accurate info. Only the lying Bush-haters say otherwise.

Tales of the crash of 2007

Ben Stein writes:
"I'm leaving him," she said. "He's grouchy all the time. I want a guy who's rich and cheerful all day and all night. Why should I have to suffer because his business is bad?"

"He's your husband," I said. "You have to stick by him."

"Why? I want to laugh and have fun, and he's in a bad mood for months on end. I didn't make this mortgage mess, and I don't see why I should have to suffer for it."
There's more.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Killing donors for their organs

It is sometimes claimed that organ donors are never killed for their organs, but now there is this example:
With time slipping away, one of the transplant surgeons ordered repeated doses of the narcotic morphine and the sedative Ativan, jokingly calling the drugs "candy," according to police reports. Navarro eventually died, but too late for his organs to be useful.

Horrified nurses complained, prompting multiple investigations. In July, prosecutors charged Hootan Roozrokh with trying to hasten Navarro's death, marking the first time a surgeon has faced criminal charges in a transplant case.
Consider that when you sign that organ donor card.

Science suffers from an excess of significance

The WSJ reports (also here):
Take the discovery that the risk of disease may vary between men and women, depending on their genes. Studies have prominently reported such sex differences for hypertension, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, as well as lung cancer and heart attacks. In research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ioannidis and his colleagues analyzed 432 published research claims concerning gender and genes.

Upon closer scrutiny, almost none of them held up. Only one was replicated.

Statistically speaking, science suffers from an excess of significance.
You can find links to the Ioannidis papers here. His arguments are much more applicable to the soft sciences than to the hard sciences.

The Waning of IQ

It looks like IQ bashing is popular again. There is a new book on IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea, and David Brooks writes in the NY Times (mirrored here, here, and here):
A nice phenomenon of the past few years is the diminishing influence of I.Q.

For a time, I.Q. was the most reliable method we had to capture mental aptitude. People had the impression that we are born with these information-processing engines in our heads and that smart people have more horsepower than dumb people. ...

Today, the research that dominates public conversation is not about raw brain power but about the strengths and consequences of specific processes. ... While psychometrics offered the false allure of objective fact, the new science brings us back into contact with literature, history and the humanities, and, ultimately, to the uniqueness of the individual.
New science? We have political correctness requiring that IQ not be mentioned.

This article claims that research shows that it is better not to tell a kid that he is smart.

IQ research has its problems, but it is a whole lot better than most other psychology research. If you reject it, then you should probably reject all psychological diagnoses.

Here is a good rebuttal to Brooks, and here is another.

One of the silliest anti-IQ arguments is that there are multiple intelligences. The argument is like those who say that you cannot compare apples and oranges, even tho they've surely bought apples and oranges at the supermarket where they sat next to each other with different price labels. Stephen Jay Gould is someone who made a lot of money by arguing that IQ is disproved by the possibility of multiple intelligences.

Yes, of course there are multiple measures of intelligence. That is obvious to everyone who does IQ testing. They merely argue that some measures are more useful than others.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ex-Guantanamo prisoners sue

Court news:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four former Guantanamo prisoners should be allowed to proceed with their lawsuit claiming torture and violations of their religious rights, their lawyer argued on Friday. ...

The lawsuit claimed the four were subjected to various forms of torture, were harassed as they practiced their religion and were forced to shave their religious beards. In one instance, a guard threw a Koran in a toilet bucket, according to the lawsuit.

"You don't need the Supreme Court to tell you that putting Korans in the toilet bucket is something the United States shouldn't be doing," Lewis said during the arguments. "Everything is saying you can't do this."
I think that we would need the Supreme Court for that. There is no law against a prison guard putting a Koran in toilet bucket. If enemy combatants were citing the Koran to justify their jihad against the West, then the guard ought to throw it into the toilet bucket.

Jeffs is not a rapist

CourtTV news:
ST. GEORGE, Utah (Cou rt TV) - A woman who was married at 14 to her older cousin told a jury Thursday that she married at the instruction of Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous sect, and out of fear of eternal damnation.

As the first witness to take the stand in the case against Jeffs, the woman, now 21, said that Jeffs, her schoolteacher and spiritual adviser, taught that her purpose in life was to be obedient and submissive to her husband.
Jeffs may be a kook and a menace, but he is on trial for being an accomplice to rape, and I don't see how he could be guilty of that. Who is the rapist, her husband? If so, why isn't her husband on trial for rape?

The alleged victim testified that her decision to marry was influenced by a fear of eternal damnation, and that Jeffs urged her to stop refusing sexual relations with her husband. If Jeffs committed a crime by giving advice, then a lot of marriage counselors are also criminals.

I also think that it is a little strange that the press is not publishing the accuser's name. She is a 21-year-old adult. Her marriage is a public record. I can see where a rape victim might not want it know that she had sex with a stranger, but the accuser her only had sexual relations with the man who is her husband and the father of her children.

Opposing the war from the beginning

I tried to listen to the Democrat rebuttal to Bush, but I was lost at he start:
The following is the Democratic response to Bush's Address:

I'm Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island, and I was privileged to serve in the United States Army for 12 years.

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. It was a flawed strategy that diverted attention and resources away from hunting down Usama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
From the beginning? I guess he was okay with Iraq invading Kuwait, threatening to take over Persian Gulf oil supplies, using oil money to acquire and develop WMD, refusing to comply with UN resolutions, and supporting terrorist Mohammedans who hate America.

Every war strategy has flaws, and diverts resources. It is our military power that keeps shipping lanes opens, protects our prosperity, and keeps our enemies away. The Democrats never make any constructive suggestions on how Iraq or Afghanistan could be handled any better. They just gripe about how they are against whatever Pres. Bush does, and tout their Bush-hating credentials.

These politicians like Reed are despicable. He should just spell out his views more clearly, and say:
I belong to the opposition party. We get elected by badmouthing Pres. Bush at every opportunity. We are spineless cowards who are afraid to stand up to America's enemies, and we have no substantive ideas for doing anything. We are real good at whining about whatever Bush does, and saying that his plan has flaws. The MidEast will probably still be a mess in 1000 years, and if we can blame it all on Bush, we can get re-elected.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Polls on the Iraq al Qaeda connection

33% of American adults, including 27% of Democrats, answered Yes to this CBS News/New York Times Poll question:
Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
I am wondering if pollsters went around to people during World War II asking the question, "Do you think Adolf Hiter was personally involved in the December 7th, 1941, attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii?

I don't think that Hussein was personally involved, but there is an obvious connection. After 9/11/2001, we declared war on al-Qaeda, and Hussein had the choice of being with us or against us. He chose to be against us, and refused to obey UN resolutions and cooperate with UN weapons inspections.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The case against Craig is weak

I wonder if any US Senator has been booted from office on such flimsy evidence as Larry Craig. All we know is that:

Craig peered into the stalls at an airport men's room, and waited for a vacant one.
A policeman in a sting operation said that Craig tapped his foot, and claimed that it was a signal.
The cop said that he saw Craig's hand near the floor, but was unsure whether it was his right hand or his left.
Craig disputed the cop's account, but agreed not to contest a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge when the cop promised to keep the story out of the press and to not charge him with a sex crime.
Craig reacted with a mixture of defiance and embarrassment.
An Idaho paper did a year-long investigation into whether Craig was gay, interviewing 500 witnesses, and ended up with some tenuous evidence that it was reluctant to publish.

Craig has also opposed same-sex marriage, as have all of the major Democrat presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, former NJ governor Jim McGreevey is now teaching is teaching ethics, law, and leadership at Kean University, and studying to become an Episcopal priest. McGreevey was someone whose scandalous personal life really did lead to him abusing his official responsibility.

A reader asks, "Why would it matter if he used his right or left had to solicit sex from an undercover officer?"

Craig was not charged with a sex crime. He apparently reached towards the floor with one hand. Craig and the cop had differing accounts, and whether it was his right or his left hand has a direct bearing on the plausibility of those accounts. The fact that the cop cannot say which hand it was undermines his credibility. The cop only had to observe about four things, and be able to testify about them. The hand was one of those things. Either the cop was confused, or he embellished his story, or he wasn't paying careful to Craig.

I don't know whether or not Craig is a degenerate. The Idaho paper interviewed 500 people for a story, and the result was inconclusive. I don't believe that he committed a crime at the Minneapolis airport incident.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Feds try to undermine Second Amendment

The feds filed a court brief defending the DC handgun ban:
The Council also found that the handgun is a criminal's weapon of choice. It cited national statistics showing that "handguns are used in roughly 54% of all murders, ..." ... These dangers were even more pronounced in the District. Within its "totally urban" environment, ..., handguns were responsible for 155 of the record 285 murders in the District. ... Faced with the evidence that handguns pose a particularly
serious threat to public safety, the Council chose to ban handguns because it concluded that less restrictive regulation would be ineffective. Since handguns present a singular danger, the solution was to stop the introduction of more handguns into the District.
I guess it is trying to argue that DC crime is much worse than the national average, but 155/285 is 54.4%.

Monday, September 03, 2007

School arts classes matter

Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland tell the benefits of teaching art:
One justification for keeping the arts has now become almost a mantra for parents, arts teachers, and even politicians: arts make you smarter. The notion that arts classes improve children's scores on the SAT, the MCAS, and other tests is practically gospel among arts-advocacy groups. A Gallup poll last year found that 80 percent of Americans believed that learning a musical instrument would improve math and science skills.

But that claim turns out to be unfounded. It's true that students involved in the arts do better in school and on their SATs than those who are not involved. However, correlation isn't causation, and an analysis we did several years ago showed no evidence that arts training actually causes scores to rise. ...

While students in art classes learn techniques specific to art, such as how to draw, how to mix paint, or how to center a pot, they're also taught a remarkable array of mental habits not emphasized elsewhere in school.

Such skills include visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes. All are important to numerous careers, but are widely ignored by today's standardized tests.
I think that it is unlikely that art and music classes will increase anyone's math test scores.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Poincare was correct about the aether

Steve Sailor and John Hawks comment on the top scientists in history. It is good to see credit to 20th century geniuses like R. A. Fisher (invented much of modern statistics),  Leo Szilárd (invented the A-bomb by first conceiving the idea of a nuclear chain reaction), John von Neumann (helped create quantum mechanics and electronic computers), and Claude Shannon (invented information theory).

Poincare surely belongs on the list also, for creating the theory of special relativity, but a commenter repeats this canard:
Poincare formulated what is called the principle of relativity, but I don't think he devised special relativity before Einstein. (But maybe you know something I haven't heard about.) Lorentz came damn close and predicted many of the effects of special relativity. Unfortunately his theory did not discard the idea of ether and didn't quite pan out experimentally.
This is a common error. A special relativity textbook (pdf) says:
It has become popular to credit Henri Poincaré with the discovery of the theory of Special Relativity, but sadly Poincaré got many of the right answers for all the wrong reasons. He even came up with a version of E = mc2! In 1904 Poincaré had gone as far as to enunciate the "principle of relativity" in which "The laws of physical phenomena must be the same, whether for a fixed observer, as also for one dragged in a motion of uniform translation, so that we do not and cannot have any means to discern whether or not we are dragged in a such motion." In 1905 Poincaré coined the term "Lorentz Transformation" for the equation that explained the null result of the Michelson Morley experiment. Although Poincaré derived equations to explain the null result of the Michelson Morley experiment, his assumptions were still based upon an aether. It remained for Einstein to show that an aether was unnecessary, a conceptual leap that thwarts many students even today.
These last two sentences are completely wrong. Let's look at what Poincare actually said about the aether. In 1900, he said:
Our ether, does it really exist? I do not believe that more precise observations could ever reveal anything more than relative displacements. [quote from Whittaker]]
In 1902 Poincare wrote:
Whether the ether exists or not matters little -- let us leave that to the metaphysicians; what is essential for us is, that everything happens as if it existed, and that this hypothesis is found to be suitable for the explanation of phenomena. After all, have we any other reason for believing in the existence of material objects? That, too, is only a convenient hypothesis; only, it will never cease to be so, while some day, no doubt, the ether will be thrown aside as useless.
In other words, the aether is just a philosophical construct with no observable consequences. In 1904, he wrote:
The principle of relativity, according to which the laws of physical phenomena must be the same for a stationary observer as for one carried along in a uniform motion of translation, so that we have no means, and can have none, of determining whether or not we are being carried along in such a motion.

... from all these results there must arise an entirely new kind of dynamics, which will be characterized above all by the rule that no velocity can exceed the velocity of light.
It follows from this principle that it must be impossible to observe the aether, if it exists. Einstein's famous 1905 paper on relativity only says this about the aether:
Examples of this sort, together with the unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relatively to the ``light medium,'' suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest. They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the ``Principle of Relativity'') to the status of a postulate, ... The introduction of a ``luminiferous ether'' will prove to be superfluous inasmuch as the view here to be developed will not require an ``absolutely stationary space'' provided with special properties, nor assign a velocity-vector to a point of the empty space in which electromagnetic processes take place.
Einstein always claimed that he never read Poincare and his paper did not cite any references. We know that this is a lie because Einstein copied Poincare's ideas and terminology, and because:
The great French mathematician Henri Poincaré enunciated the principle of relativity at least as early as 1902 in his popular book Science and Hypothesis. We know from Einstein's friend Maurice Solovine that the two pounced on Poincaré's book, indeed that it kept them "breathless for weeks on end." It should have. In Science and Hypothesis, Poincaré declares: "1) There is no absolute space, and we can only conceive of relative motion; 2) There is no absolute time. When we say that two periods are equal, the statement has no meaning; 3) Not only have we no direct intuition of the equality of two periods, but we have not even direct intuition of the simultaneity of two events occurring in two different places." These ideas lie at the heart of relativity, and it is hard to imagine that they did not have a profound effect on Einstein's thinking.
Einstein's description of the aether as "superfluous" is almost identical to Poincare's view. Moreover it was Einstein, not Poincare, who reversed himself and later accepted the aether in a 1920 paper:
Therefore I thought in 1905 that in physics one should not speak of the ether at all. This judgment was too radical though as we shall see with the next considerations about the general theory of relativity. It moreover remains, as before, allowed to assume a space-filling medium if one can refer to electromagnetic fields (and thus also for sure matter) as the condition thereof.
Other commenters on Sailor's blog list various other character flaws that are known about Einstein. I am just addressing the origin of special relativity. Credit belongs to Poincare (and Lorentz), not Einstein. Pretty much everything Einstein said on the subject was published earlier by Poincare. You can find more details on Poincare's theory here.