Friday, November 30, 2012

Wolfram on Mandelbot

Steven Wolfram writes in the WSJ:
One might have thought that such a simple and fundamental form of regularity would have been studied for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But it was not. In fact, it rose to prominence only over the past 30 or so years — almost entirely through the efforts of one man, the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who died in 2010 just before completing this autobiography.

Armed with computer graphics, however, Mandelbrot was able to move forward, discovering in 1979 the intricate shape known as the Mandelbrot set. ... a striking example of how visual complexity can arise from simple rules.

He campaigned for the Nobel Prize in physics; later it was economics. I used to ask him why he cared so much. I pointed out that really great science — like fractals — tends to be too original for there to be prizes defined for it. But he would slough off my comments and recite some other evidence for the greatness of his achievements. ...

Mandelbrot ... once declaring that "Wolfram's 'science' is not new except when it is clearly wrong; it deserves to be completely disregarded."
Funny, I would have said that Mandelbrot's science is not new except when it is clearly wrong. A picture of the Mandelbrot set was published in 1978 before Mandelbrot discovered it. The self-similar regularity of the Koch snowflake was studied as early as 1904.

There are widely varying opinions about Mandelbrot.

Update: An American Scientist review also explains how Mandelbrot has a long history of trying to take credit for the work of others.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

College admissions bias

A new article on The Myth of American Meritocracy is generating a lot of attention.

The article presents evidence that elite American colleges do not have meritocratic admissions, and they unfairly discriminate against Orientals and non-Jewish whites. Apparently there has been a huge decline in Jewish academic achievement. Unz writes:
My casual mental image of today’s top American students is based upon my memories of a generation or so ago, when Jewish students, sometimes including myself, regularly took home a quarter or more of the highest national honors on standardized tests or in prestigious academic competitions; thus, it seemed perfectly reasonable that Harvard and most of the other Ivy League schools might be 25 percent Jewish, based on meritocracy. But the objective evidence indicates that in present day America, only about 6 percent of our top students are Jewish, which now renders such very high Jewish enrollments at elite universities totally absurd and ridiculous. I strongly suspect that a similar time lag effect is responsible for the apparent confusion in many others who have considered the topic.
My favorite theory is that elite colleges admit students to maximize future alumni donations. Legacy admissions are very useful in two ways. First, those are the only students who know the school songs and traditions, and so they spread the school spirit to the class. Second, they give alumni hope that someday their kids may get favorable treatment.

The colleges are sitting on the data that could potentially refute the Ron Unz article. It will be interesting to see if anyone tries.

Update: Statistician A. Gelman is skeptical about the Jewish data. Unz may have backed off. See also Kevin MacDonald.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wade says evolution is a theory

NY Times science writer Nicholas Wade is piling on criticism of a supposedly anti-science Republican:
Senator Rubio, a possible contender in the 2016 Republican presidential race, gave the following answer: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians.”

It may have been a mystery back in the 17th century, ... Today’s best estimate for the age of Earth, based on the radiometric dating of meteorites, is 4.54 billion years. The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.
Rubio did not say that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world. He said that theologians disagree, and that "I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says."

It is true that radiometric dating (of Earth rocks, not meteorites) shows an age of 4.5B years. But I still think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, and what science says. I can believe in science and religious freedom at the same time.
Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.”
When someone says that electrons can be waves or particles, he means that electrons are not really either, but some experiments make them look like waves, and some make them look like particles. But this is a poor analogy. But Rubio did not say anything about evolution.

Wade is one of the better science reporters, but this essay is stupid and pointless. Babbling about evolution being a theory or a fact has little to do with what Rubio said. Wade says that evolution is really a theory, and if evolutionists would only admit that, then Rubio would be better able to answer questions about the age of the Earth. I don't think that the evolutionists will be happy with anything other than a statement that evolution proves religion wrong.

Wade's plan is not going to satisfy the religion-haters:
How, exactly, is Dawkins “militant”? ...

Wade is completely clueless when it comes to prescribing how to get rid of creationism. The best way, I maintain, is not to “profess respect for all religions and make a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.” The best way is to weaken the grasp of religion on the American mind, for religion is the only source of creationism.

And why, exactly, are scientists supposed to accord “respect” to a bunch of ancient fables that are not only ludicrous on their face, but motivate so much opposition to science?
Update: Of course Dawkins is militant. He describes himself as militant. I had not noticed that Barack Obama answered a question about the age of the Earth, and said the same thing as Rubio.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Neuro doubters

Alissa Quart writes in the NY Times:
THIS fall, science writers have made sport of yet another instance of bad neuroscience. The culprit this time is Naomi Wolf; her new book, “Vagina,” has been roundly drubbed for misrepresenting the brain and neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin.

Earlier in the year, Chris Mooney raised similar ire with the book “The Republican Brain,” which claims that Republicans are genetically different from — and, many readers deduced, lesser to — Democrats. ...

Meet the “neuro doubters.” The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.

A gaggle of energetic and amusing, mostly anonymous, neuroscience bloggers — including Neurocritic, Neuroskeptic, Neurobonkers and Mind Hacks — now regularly point out the lapses and folly contained in mainstream neuroscientific discourse. This group, for example, slammed a recent Newsweek article in which a neurosurgeon claimed to have discovered that “heaven is real” after his cortex “shut down.” Such journalism, these critics contend, is “shoddy,” nothing more than “simplified pop.” Additionally, publications from The Guardian to the New Statesman have published pieces blasting popular neuroscience-dependent writers like Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell. The Oxford neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop’s scolding lecture on the science of bad neuroscience was an online sensation last summer.
I guess I am a neuro doubter also, as I have also complained on this blog about how the press and the public is remarkably gullible about neuroscience claims.

Besides the above, I have also criticized neuroscientists like Sam Harris (and I agree with this criticism of him).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Contradictory business advice

The key to being a big-selling writer of business decision advice is to contradict yourself. That formula is used to great success by Gladwell, Lehrer, Kahneman, Levitt, and others.

The physicist Niels Bohr was famous for explaining the atom in terms of parts that are particles and waves at the same time, depending on how you look at them. He said:
Two sorts of truth: profound truths 
recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth,
 in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Party of rich people

Statistician Andrew Gelman writes:
Arguably, both the Democrats and the Republicans are “the party of the rich.” But Republicans more so than Democrats (see above graph, also consider the debates over the estate tax and upper-income tax rates). ...

The paradigmatic Democratic rent-seekers are public employee unions. But they’re not generally rich, they’re middle class. Maybe teachers and bus drivers don’t deserve $80K salaries, maybe their pensions are bankrupting America, whatever. But they’re not rich people. Yes, Obama has supporters on Wall Street, as does Romney. Obama won the rich suburbs of New York. Meanwhile, Romney won the rich suburbs of Dallas. Put it all together, and upper-income Americans mostly vote Republican. Not uniformly so, and it varies a lot by region of the country (as we discuss here and in endless detail in our Red State Blue State book), but on average, yes.
He wrote a book on this subject, but if you look at the above graph, Americans over $75k are only slightly more Republican. And rich people in the major media markets like New York and California are overwhelmingly Democrat. So most of the influential rich people we hear about are Democrats.

There is not too much difference in tax policy on the rich either. Barack Obama and the Democrat Congress extended the Bush tax cuts in 2010. Mitt Romney campaigned on tax cuts for the middle class, but promised not to cut the taxes that rich people pay.

I also think that teachers and bus drivers who retire on $80K pensions are rich. Gelman teaches in Manhattan, where $80k is not a lot of money, but it is in the most of the rest of the country.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Measuring election closeness

Breitbart reports:
Despite losing the popular vote 51% to 48% -- not a landslide for Obama by any means, but on the other hand not the “neck and neck” outcome many predicted -- Mitt Romney would be President today if he had secured 333,908 more votes in four key swing states.
Comparing to other close elections, I wrote this in Oct. 2004:
Winning the popular vote means winning a majority. Gore did not win the popular vote, as a majority of the voters voted against Gore in 2000. Presidents won the popular votes only in 1952, 56, 64, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88. Clinton never won the popular vote.

Gore did win a plurality of the popular vote in 2000 and lost, but Nixon did the same in 1960.

To measure how close an election was, I believe the best way is to look at how many votes a loser needed to have won in order to change the outcome. The closest elections in my lifetime were 2000, 1976, 1960, and 1968. (Data from this article.)

Gore could have won in 2000 with about 500 more votes in Florida.

Ford would have won in 1976 with about 18k more votes in Ohio and Hawaii.

Nixon would have won in 1960 with about 60k more votes in Illinois and Texas.

Humphrey would have won in 1968 with about 106k more votes in New Jersey, Missouri, and New Hampshire, assuming Democratic control of the House.
So this election would be the fifth-closest in my lifetime.

In the overall popular vote, Obama's margin was 2.7%, making it the 12th-smallest in USA history. It was the 2nd smallest re-election margin.

Update: Judge Richard A. Posner lists Five reasons to keep our despised method of choosing the president. There are more arguments on Wikipedia. Everyone acts as if it is an anachronism, but it is much better than the alternatives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Essays on favorite explanations

Psychiatrist Joel Gold writes in the new 2012 book on favorite explanations:
There are people who want a stable marriage, yet continue to cheat on their wives.

There are people who want a successful career, yet continue to undermine themselves at work.

Aristotle defined Man as a rational animal. Contradictions like these show that we are not.

All people live with the conflicts between what they want and how they live.

For most of human history we had no way to explain this paradox until Freud's discovery of the unconscious resolved it.
This is crazy. Freud never discovered any facts about the unconscious that were not already known to Aristotle, and he did not explain any of those paradoxes.

A lot of the answers don't really explain anything. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in the same book:
I hope I will not be drummed out of the corps of Social Science if I confess to the fact that I can't think of an explanation in our field that is both elegant and beautiful.
In recent social science, I would suggest the remarkable extent that the recent American election vote was predictable by demographics. The marriage gap was 20 points.

Another explanation is why Liberals do not understand conservatism .

Also, a remarkably large amount of feminism and female behavior is explained by hypergamy. Just look at the General Petraeus scandal. Other such explanations may be found on Roissy's blog.

Other explanations that you can only find on politically incorrect blogs have to do with HBD = human biodiversity. For more info, see this hbd bibliography.

A good question for next year would be to ask for a fallacious explanation.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vaccine info censored

NPR radio reports:
Last week, we wrote about an outbreak of mumps within several Orthodox Jewish communities in and around New York City.

We told you how the outbreak spread so rapidly in 2009 that public health officials tried something that hadn't been done before. Doctors gave uninfected children who'd already been immunized a third booster shot of the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. Two doses is the usual regimen.

After reading our post about the outbreak, you might have wondered if it worked. And maybe you even asked if you or your kids should get the extra shot.

We would have loved to answer those questions for you when we wrote our first story. (See the sidebar for the answers now.) But we couldn't tell you what we knew because the information was under wraps.
That's right, the US CDC is actively covering up vaccination info in order to control the message that the public hears. And the press cooperates.

While running for President in 2008, Barack Obama said:
We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.
So has the CDC researched it? Did anyone find a link? I doubt it, but it is disturbing that some vaccine research is censored.