Sunday, July 31, 2011

Intelligence has remained constant

This is today's Brewster Rockit.

The current AAAS Science magazine has an issue on population, saying:
Interviewer - Stewart Wills
Well, let’s explore some of those themes in a bit more detail starting with growing population. Population obviously is expanding given the numbers that you said, but one of the things you noted in your review – and I like the way you put this – is that the demographic center of gravity is shifting from the developed to the developing world. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Interviewee - David Bloom
Sure. The U.N. classifies certain regions as less developed. And, in 1950, those regions encompassed 68% of the world’s population. Today, those regions represent 82% of the world population, and that share is going to continue to rise, because virtually all of the population growth that is projected for the next four decades is going to take place in the less developed regions of the world. And I would add here, Stewart, that that is a huge concern because developing countries tend to be the politically, the socially, the economically, and the ecologically most fragile countries in the world. ... And, as a side note here, India will overtake China as the most populous country on the planet. That crossover is projected for the year 2027, so in other words, less than two decades away.
The interviewer likes the way he puts this because he avoids saying what the comic strip says, and does not explain what a disaster this Third World population growth is. He says that the USA is unusual because it is gaining population in the developed world, but he does not explain that the gains are largely from legal and illegal Third World immigration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Four is called irresponsible

The UK Guardian paper reports:
David and Victoria Beckham may have been overjoyed to welcome their new daughter, Harper Seven, last week but, according to a growing group of campaigners, the birth of their fourth child make the couple bad role models and environmentally irresponsible.

As the world's population is due to hit seven billion at some point in the next few days, there is an increasing call for the UK to open a public debate about how many children people have. ...

"The Beckhams, and others like London mayor Boris Johnson, are very bad role models with their large families. There's no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100% by having another child," he said. "England is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and the fastest-growing in population terms in Europe. In 15 years we'll have an extra 10 million people here."
The parents are both married, rich, talented, beautiful, healthy, and quite able to rear their kids. Why the gripes?

Steve Sailer comments:
Now, I realize that one part of the underlying motivation for this kind of article is driven by concern over the high population growth rates in black Africa and in the more backward parts of the Muslim, Hindu, and Latin worlds. The reasoning at The Guardian might be something like: "We need to do something to persuade people in villages in the hinterland of the Congo to have fewer children, but we can't actually mention the real problem, because we'd be roasted alive as racists, so what we'll do is pick out some rich white family and denounce them, and eventually the message will seep through to villages in the hinterland of the Congo. It's a simple, can't-fail plan!"
Public opinion is dominated by those who believe in reverse eugenics.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Science of Evil

A new book on The Science of Evil by the respected neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen starts with this:
Explaining "Evil" and Human Cruelty

When I was seven years old, my father told me the Nazis had turned Jews into lampshades. just one of those comments that you hear once, and the thought never goes away. To a child's mind (even to an adult's) these two types of things just don't belong together. He also told me the Nazis turned Jews into bars of soap. It sounds so unbelievable, yet it is actually true. I knew our family was Jewish, so this image of turning people into objects felt a bit close to home.
It is true that the Nazis were evil and killed many Jews, but they did not make lampshades out of human skin, and not soap either.

The book is a short and scholarly book, and it attempts to advance the state of the art in explaining evil. It cites research, and gives references. His main thesis is that evil people have psychological disorders that cause them to objectify people. He starts with an "unbelievable" anecdote that he says is "actually true". He has fallen for a well-known hoax. It is a wonder that anyone reads past page 1.

On page 138, he says, "We waited with baited breath while the genotyping took place". Did he have worms in his mouth? Shakespeare said bated breath. For more info on the term, see What is the origin of "bated breath"?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway Manifesto

The shocking Norway murders by Anders Behring Breivik are accompanied by his Andrew Berwick manifesto. It is a little like the Unabomber manifesto. It is brilliant and mad at the same time. His ideas should be taken seriously.

I am going to have to read it myself, as the descriptions in the press appear inaccurate.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Right to record cops

You would think that we would have a constitutional right to video-record cops doing their official duties. Some states disapprove of it. Two guys were tried and acquitted:
It took a Greenfield District Court jury about two hours on Tuesday to acquit a pair of New Hampshire men accused of illegally filming at the Franklin County Jail last summer.

"We can put this behind us and move on with our other projects," said defendant Pete Eyre, who along with Adam Mueller had been charged with unlawfully filming law enforcement officials at the Greenfield jail last July.

Eyre, 31, and Mueller, 28, both of Keene, are subscribers of voluntaryism, an anti-government movement that favors the concept of natural law or voluntary adherence to rules and regulations over a state-sanctioned system of laws.

The pair were arrested on July 1, 2010, after attempting to film the process of bailing out their friends, who were being held on charges at the jail.

Eyre and Mueller initially were granted permission to film the bail process, but later were forbidden by jail officials from recording the procedure. When they continued to digitally recording their encounter with jail officials, they were arrested by Greenfield police.
This is why we have a jury system.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moslems have no choice

The UK BBC reoprts:
Malaysian 'teapot cult' woman loses Islam legal bid
Kamariah Ali waits outside a courtroom before her trial at Federal Courthouse in Kuala Lumpur, 29 November 2005. Kamariah Ali has already been tried for apostasy in the Islamic courts

Malaysia's civil court has refused a woman permission to leave Islam to avoid being jailed for apostasy.

Kamariah Ali, 60, says she should not be tried under Islamic law because she is no longer a Muslim.

She follows the Sky Kingdom sect, known as the teapot cult because it built a giant teapot to symbolise its belief in the healing purity of water.

But judges ruled that only Malaysia's Islamic courts could decide on the case because Ms Kamariah was born a Muslim.

Malaysia's Islamic courts have authority over only Muslims - the rest of the population are not bound by their rules.
Christians think of religion as something that is voluntarily chosen. Not everyone thinks of it that way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why economists are confusing

Andrew Gelman explains how economists give contradictory arguments:
Pop economists (or, at least, pop micro-economists) are often making one of two arguments:

1. People are rational and respond to incentives. Behavior that looks irrational is actually completely rational once you think like an economist.

2. People are irrational and they need economists, with their open minds, to show them how to be rational and efficient.
He gives this example, from a economist Emily Oster:
anthropologists, sociologists, and public-health officials . . . believe that cultural differences--differences in how entire groups of people think and act--account for broader social and regional trends. AIDS became a disaster in Africa, the thinking goes, because Africans didn't know how to deal with it.

Economists like me [Oster] don't trust that argument. We assume everyone is fundamentally alike; we believe circumstances, not culture, drive people's decisions, including decisions about sex and disease.
He nails it. Economists know all about incentives, but when they start talking about who is or is not rational, they are confusing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Failure of shrinks

I criticized a psychologist report below, but the professions of psychiatry and psychology are really much worse than that.

According to US govt study using the generally accepted (DSM-IV) criteria, 46% of the public has a psychological disorder.

Most mental patients have concluded that talk therapy does not work, and antidepressants are now the biggest selling prescription drugs.

While people often say that psychiatric drugs like Prozac correct a chemical imbalance in the brain, there is no scientific support for that idea. Prozac does not work that way.

The drug company controlled studies, used to support FDA approval, show that antidepressants are only slightly better than placebos.

When antidepressants are compared to placebos having comparable side effects, they show no advantage at all. It is possible that the side effects trick people into thinking that the drugs work.

John Horgan has details, with links to books and articles explaining these points in greater detail.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feds use Sarbanes-Oxley against child porn

Brian C. Hicks admitted that he visited some porn web sites, saw some child porn, and did not download any. After a federal agent contacted him, he told his story, and destroyed his disc to play it safe.

The feds prosecuted him for violating Sarbanes-Oxley. Apparently the post-Enron law against obstructing an accounting investigation is very broadly written. He was convicted by a jury, sentenced as if he really were a child pornographer, and lost on appeal.

The child porn law requires that you destroy any child porn that you accidentally download. It seems to me that the feds should have assumed that he was trying to comply with the law.

Cops take child porn seriously:
Two policemen are recovering after they were shot by fellow officers as they tried to arrest a man on child pornography charges outside a crowded move theatre.

The incident happened as undercover officers tried to apprehend the unarmed man in the parking lot as he left a screening of Harry Potter in Plainville, Connecticut.
We have draconian child porn laws. If you suspect that some child porn may have gotten on your computer, then I suggest that you destroy it immediately. After this decision, I suggest that you do not cooperate with the feds and do not tell them why you destroyed the data. If the feds don't like your answers, they can charge you with obstruction.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Attacking Bachmann

Michele Bachmann has gotten enough support that her enemies are trying to destroy her. Here are some quotes that make her look foolish.The LA Times reports:
Wall Street Journal on Monday took a look at Bachmann's oft-repeated assertion on the stump that she has worked as a tax attorney. Bachmann, the Journal reported, in fact worked as counsel for the Internal Revenue Service
But the biggest attack is on the gay issue. The NY Times reports:
All week, Mrs. Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, a therapist, had been caught in a swirl of media attention over whether the clinic practices “reparative therapy,” or so-called gay-to-straight counseling. On Friday, in an interview published in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Dr. Bachmann finally defended himself.

“We don’t have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone,” he said, adding that the clinic would offer reparative therapy only “at the client’s discretion.”

That stance puts Dr. Bachmann at odds with most mainstream medical associations; a 2007 task force put together by the American Psychological Association concluded that “efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.”
The 2009 American Psychological Association report is here. The APA says that its statement is guided by this political belief:
Since 1974, the American Psychological Association (APA) has opposed stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and has taken a leadership role in supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals (APA, 2005).
I looked at the report just to see what the scientific evidence is. First of all, it is about changing sexual orientation. It is not clear that Mr. Bachmann even believes in sexual orientation, so it is not clear that any of it applies to him.

The report said that reparative therapy could have both benefit and harm, according to those who have tried it. The same could be said about any other psychotherapy. The report did not say that reparative therapy was any more risky or harmful than any other therapy.

It is, of course, very difficult to get anyone to change behavior. Fat people stay fat. Smokers keep smoking. Alcoholics may stop drinking, but they rarely solve their alcohol problems. Most people getting psychotherapy get no significant benefit from it, and many are harmed by it.

Maybe the APA policy is successfully de-stigmatizing homosexuality, I don't know. It seems to me that the APA is mostly in the business of stigmatizing people, so that they will see psychologists for therapy.

Separately, Tim Pawlenty is being blamed for deferring to scientists on whether being gay is a choice. Many atheist scientists today deny that anything is a choice. They believe in a scientific determinism that says that we have no free will. Even those who do believe in free will sometimes argue that we have almost no choice in our religion, temperament, personality, and politics. So any talk about what is a choice is meaningless unless it is compared to beliefs about whether these other things are choices.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Amusing anti-Apple rant

TechEye say Apple is losing in Europe:
iOS was down pretty much across the board: its share fell from 30.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent in the UK. Apple apologists say that Jobs' Mob is not selling less, it is just not flogging as many as Android. However for a product which claims to be superior in every way, this means that there is something wrong.

For a start it says that the number of people who buy Apple gear are finite, while the numbers who buy Android are infinite. It implies that rather than being the king of technology, Apple is pandering to a fixed market who buy what ever they are told. That market of technologically illiterate, wealthy, Coldplay listening fans is large, but not statistically that important.

This might be one of the reasons why other outfits have not been able to duplicate Apple's success with keyboardless netbooks. No one really wants tablets and their use is just as limited as they were when Microsoft was trying to push them. However, Apple's large, limited, and stupid market will buy them because Steve and his tame Apple press say they are important.

Smartphones, however are different. True, Jobs did lead the way in making smartphones more accessible, but his software is now eclipsed by much cheaper and freer Android numbers.

What this means is that Apple's core base is amongst the puritan, fundamentalist Americans who tend to like their religion dictated to them by loud spitting preachers. In Europe, people are a bit more culturally sophisticated, they will look at things a little more pragmatically. Apple style Fundamentalism does not sit very well in Europe.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CIA fake vaccination

AAAS Science magazine reports:
the Guardian reported that as part of the Osama Bin Laden capture effort, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) set up a fake vaccination clinic in Abbottabad, Pakistan, to collect DNA from Bin Laden's children. ...

Vaccine program workers, who sometimes struggle to gain public trust and governmental cooperation in the first place, are furious about the deception.

"To take children who are in need of vaccines to prevent some disease that could kill them and use that as a front for something else is unconscionable," says Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The end doesn't always justify the means." Although it appears that children were in fact being vaccinated, Offit says that's irrelevant. "Hiding behind a wonderful and needed program like vaccines is heinous."
Offit is the one who has abused the public trust. He sat on the govt committee setting the mandatory vaccine schedule, while he was a paid lobbyist for the vaccine companies.

Catching Bin Laden was a wonderful program. If anything is heinous, it is taking good and worthwhile vaccines and hiding them in a dubious govt mandate, as Offit has promoted in the USA. He is probably the single most visible proponent of mandatory vaccines.

Monday, July 11, 2011

No accepted medical use

The Obama administration has disappointed its core followers with:
The federal government officially declared that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a dangerous and addictive drug. It will remain in the same class of drugs as heroin.

The Department of Justice declared Friday: "DHHS concluded that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision." (Read the rest of the ruling here.)
There are some marijuana legalization arguments, but here is an amusing rebuttal of 5 Pro-Marijuana Arguments That Aren't Helping.

Where I live in California, marijuana is mostly legal already. If you walk down a busy downtown street smoking dope right in front of a cop, he will tell you to put it away. That is about the extent of the marijuana enforcement. A ballot proposition to make it completely legal was turned down by California voters.

New pro-dope arguments show up all the time. Video gamers smoke it:
Simultaneously, you see, the gaming and marijuana communities have been debating whether pot makes video game players more at one with their controllers.

Culture magazine, for example, insists that using marijuana while gaming is not entirely unlike using steroids while smacking a baseball.
And parents give it to their autistic kids, based on internet rumors, according to this NBC TV story:
Out of desperation, she Googled cannabis and autism, and realized she wasn't the only one who made the connection.

Other parents and autism experts found success with medical marijuana as a treatment for autistic children.
There is no science behind this, of course.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Atheist complaints about demonic men

Greg Laden says that demonic men are responsible for violence and other evils, and offers a list of links on Rebeccapocalypse, where an atheist woman complained about a casual remark
in a hotel elevator. He suggests signing a "Dear Dick" letter to Richard Dawkins, because he belittled the complaint.

There are thousands of messages about what should be proper elevator etiquette at atheist conventions. Those conventions must be seriously dysfunctional. You have to read the messages to see how screwed up a bunch of supposedly-rational skeptic-atheists can be.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Scientific feuds

The 1998 book, Great Feuds in Science: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever, has nice explanations of feuds like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, age of the Earth, continental drift, and Margaret Mead. It ends with:

The feuds included in this book showed a variety of ways in which resolution can take place. One method not included that I'd like to mention is resolution by a commission, or study group. This approach can be useful in helping resolve social issues, including such questions as the desirability of nuclear power or whether the greenhouse effect is really upon us.

Resolution of such issues is particularly important, for without it, society is hard put to make reasonable and widely acceptable decisions concerning what, if anything, to do about the problems inherent in such controversies.

One such vexing problem was solved in this way. The question was whether homosexuality is a disease. For years there appeared study after study, paper after paper, angry response after angry accusation, with no resolution. Should it, for example, be included as a disease in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders?

Finally, it was put to a vote among members of the association. Result: Members, by a vote of about two to one, decided it isn't a disease.
No. A vote might tell us what view is popular, but it will not tell us what is correct. Votes would have given wrong answers for several disputes in the book, such as continental drift.

The story of that association vote has been recently edited out of the Wikipedia DSM-IV article:
A forced hand

Dr. Ronald Bayer, a pro-homosexual psychiatrist has described the events of 1971-3 in his book, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. (1981)

Bayer explains that the first attack by homosexual activists against the APA began in 1970 when this organization held its convention in San Francisco. Homosexual activists decided to disrupt the conference by interrupting speakers and shouting down and ridiculing psychiatrists who viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In 1971, homosexual activist Frank Kameny worked with the Gay Liberation Front collective to demonstrate against the APA's convention. At the 1971 conference, Kameny grabbed the microphone and yelled, "Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate. Psychiatry has waged a relentless war of extermination against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you."

Homosexuals forged APA credentials and gained access to exhibit areas in the conference. They threatened anyone who claimed that homosexuals needed to be cured.

Both under threat and presented with questionable new data from researchers such as the bisexual Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker, the seventh printing of the DSM-II, in 1974, no longer listed homosexuality as a category of disorder. But through the efforts of psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, who had led the DSM-II development committee, a vote by the APA trustees in 1973, and confirmed by the wider APA membership in 1974, the diagnosis was replaced with the category of "sexual orientation disturbance".[10]
Science standards are very low in psychiatry and psychology. A lot of the other so-called disorder are more political than science.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Turning in the unabomber

The Unabomber's brother keeps defending his decision to collect $1 million for turning in his brother to the FBI:
In 1996, federal agents descended on a tiny Montana cabin, arresting a brilliant but deeply disturbed recluse, Theodore J. Kaczynski, for a two-decade mail bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others. ...

Yet, in what he acknowledges as a self-inflicted paradox, David Kaczynski keeps the story out there, recounting it in classrooms and churches, to lawmakers and the families of murder victims.

"What would you have done?" he asks.
There was another reasonable course of action. The brother omits some crucial parts of the story.

The Unabomber had promised that he would end his terrorism campaign if his manifesto were published. The NY Times, Wash. Post, and others published it in full. There were no more bombings after that. Turning in the Unabomber gave him the prison sentence he deserved, but it did not save any lives.

The brother could have simply told the Unabomber that he would call the FBI if there was another attack. He brags about his ethics, but he does not explain how what he did was ethically superior to the alternatives.

Strangely, Wikipedia has censored the manifesto, with some nonsensical explanation about copyright. Weird. The manifesto is a brilliant essay, and an important historical document.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Unethical nature-nurture experiments

A SciAm blog says:
The idea: One of the oldest controversies in psychology is the nature versus nurture debate. Are innate qualities more or less important than the effects of experience on how a person thinks and behaves?

There is one morally repugnant line of thought Pinker strenuously objects to that could resolve this question. "Basically, every nature-nurture debate could be settled for good if we could raise a group of children in a closed environment of our own design, they way we do with animals," he says. ...

The problem: "There's no end to the ethical horrors that could be raised by this exercise," Pinker says.
Fortunately for science, misguided folks are unofficially doing these unethical experiments anyway. Recent examples are No "boys" and "girls" at gender-neutral preschool in Sweden, and Toronto couple defend move to keep baby's sex secret. I hope someone is recording the outcomes.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Full Dawkins argument

I posted before about a pseudo-scientific atheist Dawkins argument, so now I quote it in full so you can decide for yourself:
This chapter [4. Why there almost certainly is no God] has contained the central argument of my book, and so, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall summarize it as a series of six numbered points.

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. in the case of a man made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.

3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a 'crane', not a 'skyhook', for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that an illusion.

5. We don't yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.

6. We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self evidently better than the self defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.

If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion -- the God Hypothesis -- is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist. This is the main conclusion of the book so far. Various questions now follow. Even if we accept that God doesn't exist, doesn't religion still have a lot going for it? Isn't it consoling? Doesn't it motivate people to do good? If it weren't for religion, how would we know what is good? Why, in any case, be so hostile? Why, if it is false, does every culture in the world have religion? True or false, religion is ubiquitous, so where does it come from? It is to this last question that we turn next.
I would not bother with such a silly argument, except that Dawkins is the most famous scientist in the world on this subject.

Chicago evolutionist Jerry Coyne has a similar post today claiming that the multiverse eliminates need for God. He also says that, "Morality itself is not a problem for evolution" because of genetic determinism and how reasoning supports gay rights. He is writing an essay on the subject.

Friday, July 01, 2011

DSK released

I speculated before that DSK was framed, and now this news:
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released without bail today after a dramatic court hearing where the sexual assault case against him appeared to shift in his favour.

Strauss-Kahn, who smiled as he walked out of court, still faces felony charges of attempted rape and sexual assault over the alleged attack on a hotel maid in New York. His lawyers said they will seek to have the charges dismissed but the judge said prosecutors were continuing to investigate.

The turnabout could upend French politics. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was a strong candidate for the 2012 French presidential election until his May 14 arrest.
It appears that the accuser was paid $100k to set DSK up. The NY Post says that she was a prostitute, and a "pathological liar and scam artist". She has made false accusations of rape in the past, and made them under oarh recently. I don't necessarily believe the self-serving story of a French Jewish Socialist banker politician, but it is outrageous to treat him as a common criminal just on the word of a lying immigrant maid with an implausible story.

While prosecutors have admitted that they have no case against DSK, they have not dropped the charges. And no one is talking about deporting the con-artist accuser, and the press is not even printing her name. The Irish Times now says her name is Nafissatou Diallo, but other papers are not saying.

Update: The Manhattan DA responsible for botching this case is Cyrus Vance, Jr.. He overruled his staff and insisted on the aggressive charges, in spite of the contrary evidence. His father was famous for resigning as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State because he disagreed with using military force to rescue American hostages in Iran.