Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dawkins' central argument

Richard Dawkins is a famous scientist, so I thought that I might agree with the scientific arguments in his recent book, The God Delusion. I did not.

Chapter 4, "Why there is almost certainly no God" ends with a summary of what it says is "the central argument of my book". Paraphrasing, the argument is:
There is an appearance of design in nature, in both biology and physics. The biology design is just an illusion because it is best explained by Darwinian evolution. The physics design has not been explained, but there is hope that it will turn out to be a consequence of the Multiverse and the Anthropic principle.
Dawkins acknowledges the multiverse is controversial, but argues that "physicists are in need of Darwinian consciousness-raising", and that "The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability".

There is no science here. The multiverse is a fantasy.

I also thought that it was odd for Dawkins to complain about "religious bigotry" later in the book. Eg, see p.287. By that he seems to me favoring one religion over another in certain circumstances. But the whole book is an attack on various religions. So his leftist politics allow him to say that all religion is bad, but do not allow others to say that particular religions are bad. Weird.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Attacking free will

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne is on the warpath against religion and free will with There’s no free will:
I’ve done quite a bit of reading about free will in the past few months, ... If “free will” is to mean anything, it must mean what Sam insists it does: the notion that we could have done or thought something other than we did. There is not the slightest evidence for that proposition, and there is plenty of evidence against it, ... There is no free will.
I disagreed with Horgan below, but Coyne attacks Horgan for believing in free will here and here.

There are two arguments against free will. One is that psychologists have done experiments showing that we have some distinctive brain activity about a second in advance of making a simple decision. The idea is that some brain process is forcing the decision on us against our conscious wishes, I guess. The second argument is that evolution proved that we are all soul-less automatons who are no better than the worms we descended from. Neither argument is convincing to me. Coyne brags about how scientific his thinking is, but it does not seem scientific to me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whites now a minority

The Wash. Post reports:
For the first time, more than half of the children under age 2 in the U.S. are minorities, part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and fast-growing younger ethnic populations that could reshape government policies.

Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, reflecting the trend of declining U.S. marriages overall. ...

Minorities comprise a majority of renters in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia — Hawaii, Texas, California, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana and New York.
If whites are now under 50%, then whites are in a minority race. White births are down to about 30% in California, I think.

These changes were not accidental, or inevitable. They are the result of government policies, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Determinist blight on science

I attacked S.J. Gould below and John Horgan defends him:
I used to be tough on Stephen Jay Gould, the great evolutionary biologist, who died in 2002. I found him self-righteous and pompous, in person and on the page. ...

But I admired Gould's ferocious opposition to biological determinism, which he defined as the view that "the social and economic differences between different groups—primarily races, classes and sexes—arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society, in this sense, is an accurate reflection of biology." I loathe biological determinism, too, and so I must defend Gould against charges that he was a fact-fudging "charlatan," ...

Commenting on Gould's claim that bias often influences science, an unsigned editorial in The New York Times snidely remarked, "Right now it looks as though he proved his point, just not as he intended." The anthropologist and blogger John Hawks claims that the "straightforward" analysis of Holloway et al. shows that Gould clearly engaged in "utter fabulation." Hawks added, "Some of Gould's mistakes are outrageous, with others it is hard for me to believe that the misstatements were not deliberate misrepresentations." ...

Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology. Biological determinism is thriving today: I see it in the assertion of researchers such as the anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University that the roots of human warfare reach back all the way to our common ancestry with chimpanzees. In the claim of scientists such as Rose McDermott of Brown University that certain people are especially susceptible to violent aggression because they carry a "warrior gene." In the enthusiasm of some science journalists for the warrior gene and other flimsy linkages of genes to human traits. In the insistence of the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and neuroscientist Sam Harris that free will is an illusion because our "choices" are actually all predetermined by neural processes taking place below the level of our awareness. ...

Biological determinism is a blight on science. It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do. This position is wrong, both empirically and morally.
Horgan does not mention the most common such argument -- that homosexuality is biologically determined. Gould did not stand up to that either.

The nature-nurture debate is ancient, and both sides use bad science to promote their ideologies and ethnic/group identifications.

Gould's motivation appeared to be a Jewish-Marxist ideology. Kevin MacDonald accused him of fraud, as he explains here. His 1998 book said:
Gould himself would appear to be a prime example of this conflation of personal and ethnopolitical interests in the construction of science. Gould has been an ardent, highly publicized opponent of evolutionary approaches to human behavior. [p.30]
Gould had no defense against those criticisms, and depended on his network of ideological supporters to sustain his reputation. I think that it is ridiculous to suggest that Gould had good motivations. His motivations were the worst.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Things you cannot say

On the internet, comparing to Hitler is so common it is known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies.

Yahoo reports that is why Megan Fox was fired from "Transformers 2":
According to a new Michael Bay oral history in GQ, Bay says Fox was booted by the direct order of Sir Spielbergo (who helped produce the movie).

"She was in a different world, on her BlackBerry. You gotta stay focused. And you know, the Hitler thing. Steven [Spielberg] said, 'Fire her right now.'"

"The Hitler thing" was Fox saying Bay ran his movie sets "like Hitler," which probably didn't sit well with Spielberg. It's a shame: She should have just run with her Napoleon comparison, which is far more apt, save for the height issue.
What height issue? Adolf Hitler's height was 5 ft 8 in (173 cm), and Napolean was 5 ft 7 in tall. Both were about the same height as Justin Bieber and Tom Cruise.

Books on bad psychiatry

Marcia Angell on The Illusions of Psychiatry:
The books by Irving Kirsch, Robert Whitaker, and Daniel Carlat are powerful indictments of the way psychiatry is now practiced. They document the “frenzy” of diagnosis, the overuse of drugs with sometimes devastating side effects, and widespread conflicts of interest. Critics of these books might argue, as Nancy Andreasen implied in her paper on the loss of brain tissue with long-term antipsychotic treatment, that the side effects are the price that must be paid to relieve the suffering caused by mental illness. If we knew that the benefits of psychoactive drugs outweighed their harms, that would be a strong argument, since there is no doubt that many people suffer grievously from mental illness. But as Kirsch, Whitaker, and Carlat argue convincingly, that expectation may be wrong.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

DC tests Singapore math

An education blog reports:
Bill Turque at The Washington Post writes about one D.C. public school's decision to adopt the Singapore Math program—and the many challenges that have come with it.

Singapore Math, Turque explains, focuses on mastery of basic computation skills and essential ideas, such as place value. "And unlike 'Everyday Mathematics,' which 'spirals' through subjects — covering them and then returning later — Singapore goes slow and deep, requiring mastery before moving on," he writes.

But in a district with a highly transient student population, Turque writes, it's tough to use a program that relies heavily on skill-building from year to year. And Singapore Math requires extensive (and costly) professional development, and "a depth of understanding most U.S. elementary teachers don't acquire in their math training," according to Turque.
That is ridiculous. The Singapore textbooks are self-contained, and an 8th-grade knowledge of math is all the teachers need.

The bigger problem is that the elementary schools only hire female teachers with no interest in math.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Studying evil with empathy

Jonathon Rosen reviews a new book:
“The Science of Evil,” by Simon Baron-Cohen, seems likely to antagonize the victims of evil, the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, at least a few of the dozens of researchers whose work he cites — not to mention critics of his views on evolutionary psychology or of his claims about the neurobiology of the sexes. “The Science of Evil” proposes a simple but persuasive hypothesis for a new way to think about evil.

“My main goal is to understand human cruelty, replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy,’ ” he writes at the beginning of the book, ...

Finally, zero empathy is not necessarily negative. In what he acknowledges is a controversial idea, he maintains “there is at least one way in which zero degrees can be positive.” Preparing for the howl of dissent, he adds: “It seems unthinkable, but bear with me.” People with Asperger’s syndrome also fall on the zero end of the scale, but they are Zero Positive. Zero Positive is almost always accompanied by high scores on the systemizing scale (and can lead to genius). In addition, the way “their brain processes information paradoxically leads them to be supermoral rather than immoral.”
This sounds like a dubious oversimplification. I wonder if he has any data to back up his theory. Some academics refuse to admit that there is any such thing as evil.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sex, Lies, Arrogance

Time magazine recently had a woman-written cover story titled, Sex, Lies, Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Men Behave So Badly?. The Dilbert cartoonist calls this misandry, and writes:
A psychic is a person who can read minds. For example, a psychic can look deep into the private thoughts of a Tea Party member and know that the real reason he opposes the President's fiscal policy is racism. A psychic can look at men - millions of them at once - and know that deep down, in their private thoughts, they hate women. Psychics can also know the thoughts and intentions of the rich, using as clues the inaccurate reports of the media, and the out-of-context yammering of pundits who have financial incentives to distort. ...

Watch the news this week and see how many stories involve psychics (pundits) claiming they have the power to read the minds of others and find evil of various sorts. Then watch the media manipulate society into punishing the accused thought-criminals because doing so is good for the news business. It's the modern equivalent of witch hunts. In old Salem, you could identify a witch by a combination of coincidence and the ability to float. Today you can identify a racist and a misogynist and an immoral rich person using quotes taken out of context, guilt by association, and the accusations of psychics. We haven't come far.
Psychics aren't the only one to claim mindreading abilities. Most people do, according to conventional wisdom about the theory of mind. It is a common disease, and of course the mindreading is unreliable.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Understanding risk

It is often argued that humans have a hard time understanding probability, and the proof if is something like this:
Does all this mean that humans will perpetually remain stuck when it comes to risk and probability? Possibly not, but we have to be careful. That was the message of Gerd Gigerenzer, who helps train decision makers in how to evaluate probabilities. Gigerenzer consistently noted that language was important when it comes to dealing with probabilities.

The most compelling example he gave was one he used when working in medical education. He described the probabilities associated with a breast cancer test: one percent of women tested have the disease, and the test is 90 percent accurate, with a nine percent false positive rate. With all that information, what do you tell a woman who tests positive about the likelihood they have the disease? For a lot of people in medicine, the question leaves them stumped;
The failure here is with whoever formulated such a hopelessly ambiguous question.
The key clue here is the nine percent false positive rate is supposed to mean that 9% of all women taking the test give a positive result without having the disease. It does not mean that 9% of the positives are false.

The 90% accuracy is even more confusing. If the test were always negative, then it would be 99% accurate, the way this rate is computed. The figure is only there to confuse you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Mismeasure of Science

Steve Sailer writes:
Stephen Jay Gould’s vastly influential 1981 book on IQ, The Mismeasure of Man, is an odd beast since it is heavily devoted to debunking dead and often forgotten old scientists. For example, a sizable chunk denounces Samuel George Morton, who died in 1851. Gould claimed to have reanalyzed Morton’s data on skull sizes and shown that Morton distorted his results to fit his biases. A new study of Morton’s old skulls by Jason E. Lewis, Ralph L. Holloway, et al, shows that Gould was projecting.

The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias

Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, argued that “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm” because “scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth” [1], a view now popular in social studies of science [2]-[4]. … Our analysis of Gould’s claims reveals that most of Gould’s criticisms are poorly supported or falsified.
The Mismeasure of Man That book made Gould's reputation as the preeminent spokesman for science in America. The book was widely praised as one of the great scientific books of the 20th century.

The book is idiotic from beginning to end. As you can see from the above Wikipedia page, it got scathing reviews from the experts, and Gould never even made any serious attempt to refute the criticism. It only convinced me that a charlatan could pass as a Harvard professor, and that the standards for scholarsphip in evolutionary biology are pathetically low.

There is more info on the Gene Expression blog.

Update: Nicholas Wade of the NY Times reports:
But now physical anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania, which owns Morton’s collection, have remeasured the skulls, and in an article that does little to burnish Dr. Gould’s reputation as a scholar, they conclude that almost every detail of his analysis is wrong. ...

But when others suggested Dr. Gould had been refuted, Philip Kitcher, a philosopher of science at Columbia University, rode to his defense. ...

As for the new finding’s bearing on Dr. Gould’s reputation, Dr. Kitcher said: “Steve doesn’t come out as a rogue but as someone who makes mistakes. If Steve were around he would probably defend himself with great ingenuity.”
No, as the article explains, Gould was refuted in his lifetime, and he refused to address the refutation. Gould was ideologically aligned with the NY Times, and Wade probably had to look hard to find someone to partially defend Gould.

Update: Evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
I always thought that among Steve Gould’s “real” (non-essay-collection) books, The Mismeasure of Man was the best.  Yes, it was tendentious, written to show that scientists could be as biased and racist as anyone else, but it rang true. ...

There’s little doubt that Gould screwed up big-time here, and, since he’s dead we’ll never know his reasons. ...

I think his theory of punctuated equilibrium was pretty much bunk ...

And I found him an unpleasant and arrogant man, but of course a smart and engaging one, too. He could be quite rude to those he considered his intellectual inferiors, and that was pretty much everyone.
Gould was a Harvard Marxist evolutionist. What more needs to be known about his motives? They all use bad science to promote their ideological objectives.

It amazing how Coyne can still praise Gould's book. The book is bogus from beginning to end. This just shows that academic evolutionism is more ideology than science.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Nukes are safer than cucumbers

German cucumbers are now blamed for 26 deaths, and what does Germany do? It bans nuclear power! Switzerland does the same. German cucumbers are more dangerous than German nuclear power plants.

The obvious conclusion is that these countries are not serious about global warming. They are going to output zillions of tons of CO2 to make up for that nuclear energy. And they are doing it just to make a leftist political statement.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Feds force colleges to favor accusers

Wendy McElroy writes:
On April 4 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) instructed every college and university that accepts federal funds directly or through student loans – that is, virtually every institution of higher learning in the country – to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard when adjudicating on-campus accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal courts.
Some people still people that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The proof should be something more than a he-said-she-said dispute.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Flipping to Grilled Cheese

NY Times gadget critic Pogue writes:
Jonathan Kaplan, founder and chief executive of Pure Digital. That’s the company that made the wildly successful Flip camcorders, the company that Cisco bought two years ago for $590 million, the company that Cisco then shut down last month, without any reasonable explanation. ...

Instead, he told us, he intends to launch a new venture, one that embraces “all the same tenets as the Flip: Simple, nostalgic, memorable, affordable.” But he left us all hanging without telling us what it was.

Yesterday, he unveiled his new company. What do you supposed the creator of the Flip camcorder does for an encore?

He founds a chain of grilled-cheese-and-soup restaurants.

Friday, June 03, 2011

John Edwards indicted

When John Edwards ran for US President in 2004 and 2008, there were lots of reporters and liberals raving about his great sincerity and empathy for the poor. I thought that he was the most transparently phony of all of the candidates.

I have had people lecture me on how I am poor judge of human character. A couple of them even used Edwards as an example, and they told me that if I cannot see that Edwards is truly sincere, then I must be mentally deficient in some way. No, I was unable to see any sincerity in the guy.

Now he has been indicted, and the $400 haircut brought him down:
The just-released indictment of John Edwards reprints the text of a note allegedly sent from the elderly billionaire heiress and Edwards supporter Bunny Mellon to Edwards’ notorious aide, Andrew Young, in May 2007:

“The timing of your phone call on Friday was ‘witchy.’ I was sitting alone in a grim mood – furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut. But it inspired me – from now on, all haircuts, etc. that are necessary and important for his campaign – please send the bills to me…. It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
I am not clear on why it is illegal for him to use his rich friends to cover up the price of his haircuts.

Edwards grossed about $60M in bogus personal injury lawsuits, and raised another $30 in legal campaign contributions, largely from trial lawyers. So I guess that he can afford a $400 haircut if it helps maintain his image. I am sure he now wishes that he used his own money to clean up his personal messes.

At least everyone now understands that Edwards is unfit for public office.