Monday, April 30, 2012

Psychologists try to pathologize opinions

A NY Times op-ed says:
WHY are political and religious figures who campaign against gay rights so often implicated in sexual encounters with same-sex partners?

In recent years, Ted Haggard, ...; Larry Craig, a United States senator who opposed including sexual orientation in hate-crime legislation, was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom;...

Craig was not implicated in sexual encounters with same-sex partners. The news media had a huge manhunt for such partners, and never found any.
One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — ...

It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we and our fellow researchers provide empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire.

Only crackpots mention Freud and "scientific reason" together.
The theory here, known as semantic association, is that when “me” precedes words or images that reflect your sexual orientation (for example, heterosexual images for a straight person), you will sort these images into the correct category faster than when “me” precedes words or images that are incongruent with your sexual orientation (for example, homosexual images for a straight person).
That's the theory? That a man can recognize homosexual images more quickly if he is repressing his own homosexual urges out of shame or fear?

This is junk research. Where are the studies on the motivations of those who promote homosexuality?

The article is written by two people with the surname Ryan, with no explanation of how they are related.

This is a profession that voted to not say that homosexuality was a disorder, but now they seem to be saying that anyone who disagrees with them has a disorder. This is part of a trend where psychologist try to pathologize a lot of things that are not disorders. Meanwhile, studies of psychologists show that they have mental disorders much more than other professions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Memory, creativity, and bias

Here is some recent psychology research that seems obvious to me. Freakonomics reports:
New research finds that it’s alarmingly easy to create false memories for people, even when they know an event didn’t happen
Yes. People can be sincerely trying to tell the truth about their own experiences, and yet be completely wrong. Some personal stories should be treated with suspicion.

A SciAm article reports:

However, despite the widespread positive image of Jobs as a creative genius, he also has a dark reputation for encouraging censorship, “losing sight of honesty and integrity”, belittling employees, and engaging in other morally questionable actions. These harshly contrasting images of Jobs raise the question of why a CEO held in such near-universal positive regard could also be the same one accused of engaging in such contemptible behavior. The answer, it turns out, may have something to do with the aspect of Jobs which is so admired by so many.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Harvard and Duke Universities demonstrate that creativity can lead people to behave unethically. In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest. Importantly, they showed that this effect is not explained by any tendency for creative people to be more intelligent, but rather that creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions.

SciAm also reports:
The key part of the experiment was that the participants were fully aware of the setup; they knew that they were only hearing one side or the entire story. But this didn’t stop the subjects who heard one-sided evidence from being more confident and biased with their judgments than those who saw both sides. That is, even when people had all the underlying facts, they jumped to conclusions after hearing only one side of the story. ...

Tyler Cowen made a similar point in a TED lecture a few months ago. He explained it this way:

There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book… [they are] all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse. So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias.

The current top-selling science book (besides the Jobs autobiography) is Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer. The author is all over TV, giving a bogus Einstein quote to promote the book. Here is a devastating review:
But my main criticism is that the book relies almost exclusively on anecdote. He trots out case after case of well-known successes (masking tape, Bob Dylan, 3M, Pixar, google, and so on.), and some unknown ones (a surfer, a bartender who puts bacon grease and celery extract in drinks) --always in retrospect -- and draws out what he presents as yet another insight into creativity. But many of these are contradictory. For example, does creativity come out of isolation (p 19) or from teamwork (p120); from breaking convention (p 20) or submitting to its constraints (p 23)? Does it help to be in a positive mood (p32) or a depressed one (p76) or an angry state (161) or a relaxed one (50); does caffeine and other stimulants make the epiphanies less likely (33) or more likely (57)? Should stealing others' ideas be encouraged (247) or discouraged (244)? Does broadening one's set of skills and interests increase creativity (41) or should one concentrate on a single goal (95)? Does relaxation stimulate creativity (p 45) or does difficulty do it better (54)? Does creativity drive toward perfection (p 63) or is it a celebration of errors? (87). Does insight come in a flash (p 17) or is it revealed slowly, after great effort (56)? Must a good poem be "pulled out of us, like a splinter," (p 56) or is it best "vomited." (19)

All of these, apparently.

The book could be added to Cowan's list. There are some well-told stories, but forget about actually learning something about creativity.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cheeseburgers are good for the heart

SciAm reports on research that eating cheeseburgers can help prevent heart attacks:
Haar et al, from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine have found, ... When she induced an experimental heart attack in mice, mice that had been treated with a high fat diet for a short period of time showed reduced damage when compared to control mice. Haar also showed that 24 hours worth of high-fat diet produces protection for about 24 hours afterward, but not 48 hours (a double cheeseburger every other day, then?).
To make your own, be sure to consult the Boston Globe's grilled cheese melt-ability index.

Of course no one is advising you to eat cheeseburgers. When some studies indicated that alcohol was good for the heart, here is what the supposed experts said:

Also, it's not possible to predict in which people alcoholism will become a problem. Given these and other risks, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking ... if they do not already drink alcohol. Consult your doctor on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.
I believe that research will show that the cheeseburger is the healthiest food that you can eat.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Colson's Watergate crime

Stewart Baker suggests that Charles Colson of Watergate fame was convicted only of something that is not really a crime:
But did he deserve it? The theory of his plea was that he intended to gather (apparently true) information about Ellsberg and leak it at a time when Ellsberg faced criminal charges. How is that obstruction of justice, exactly?
Ellsberg was criminally leaking USA military secrets and seeing a psychiatrist. Presumably the Nixon DoJ could have gotten a court order to seize the psychiatrist's files and to release them to the public at Ellsberg's trial.

While Colson may not have followed procedure, I do think that the USA govt should have obtained the Ellsberg files and made them public. Hardly anyone can explain the Watergate crimes. Somehow the Wash. Post tricked the public into thinking that it was a much worse scandal than it was.

The Nixon articles of impeachment included a charge that Nixon deceived the public:
Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office ... has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that: ...

8. making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct:
If this is a crime, then every other President was a criminal.

Update: The comments below show how some people mistakenly believe that Nixon admitted to illegal acts. It is difficult to understand how Nixon could be guilty of obstruction of justice when he had executive authority over the justice dept.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pinker blames Inquisition

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature is an impressive work, but it is hard to get past his weak historical analysis, hostility to Christianity, squishy view of science, and leftist political bias.
The historian Bernard Lewis is not the only one who has asked, "What wrong?" In 2002 a committee of Arab intellectuals under the auspices of United Nations published the candid Arab Human Development Report, said be "written by Arabs for Arabs." The authors documented that Arab nations were plagued by political repression, economic backwardness, oppression of women, widespread illiteracy, and a self imposed isolation from the world of ideas. At the time of the report, the entire Arab world exported fewer manufactured goods than the Philippines, had poorer Internet connectivity than sub-Saharan Africa, registered 2 percent as many patents per year as South Korea and translated about a fifth as many books into Arabic as Greece translates into Greek.

It wasn't always that way. During the Middle Ages, Islamic civilization was unquestionably more refined than Christendom. While Europeans were applying their ingenuity to the design of instruments of torture, Muslims were preserving classical Greek culture, absorbing the knowledge of the civilizations of India and China, and advancing astronomy, architecture, cartography, medicine, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Among the symbolic legacies of this age are the "Arabic numbers" (adapted from India) and loan words such as alcohol, algebra, alchemy, alkali, azimuth, alembic, and algorithm. Just as the West had to come from behind to overtake Islam in science, so it was a laggard in human rights. [p.364]
No, Islamic civilization was not more refined than Christendom. That list of Islamic accomplishments is mostly borrowed from non-Islamic cultures. Yes, we got 7 words from the Arabs, but we got far more from medieval Europe, no matter how you measure it.

Pinker then quotes Bernard Lewis, a Jewish Princeton professor:
Lewis notes:
In most tests of tolerance, Islam, both in theory and in practice, compares unfavorably with the Western democracies as they have developed during the last two or three centuries, but very favorably with most other Christian and post Christian societies and regimes. There is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the emancipation, acceptance, and integration of other believers and non believers in the West; but equally, there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims, the Inquisition the Auto da fe's the wars of religion not to speak of more recent crimes of commission and acquiescence.
Why did Islam blow its lead and fail to have an Age of Reason, an Enlightenment, and a Humanitarian Revolution? Some historians point to bellicose passages in the Koran, but compared to our own genocidal scriptures, they are nothing that some clever exegesis and evolving norms couldn't spin-doctor away.

Lewis points instead to the historical lack of separation between mosque and state. Muhammad was not just a spiritual leader but a political and military one, and only recently have any Islamic states had the concept of a distinction between the secular and the sacred. With every potential intellectual contribution filtered through religious spectacles, opportunities for absorbing and combining new ideas were lost. ...

Whatever the historical reasons, a large chasm appears to separate Western and Islamic cultures today. [p.365]
The Auto-da-fé (literally "act of faith") was a public penance ritual associated to the Spanish Inquisition. I don't know how a mideast scholar could say something so silly as "there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims". This expulsion was no more exceptional than the Moors invading and subjugating Christian Spain in the first place. To this day, peaceful Christians and Jews are being driven out of Islamic countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Iran. And the Mohammedans would drive the Jews out of Israel, if they could. Islam has always compared unfavorably to Christianity.
Here is a news story from a couple of days ago:
A Sri Lankan woman has been arrested on suspicion of casting a spell on a 13-year-old girl on a shopping trip in Saudi Arabia. She may face the death penalty as the Middle Eastern country is known to behead convicted sorcerers.

Pinker describes himself as a "Jewish atheist" who identifies with Zionists [p.374], so of course he has much to say about later persecutions of the Jews, such as the Nazis expelling them from Germany. But Hitler was no Christian, and Pinker subscribes to the view that there never would have been a Holocaust without Hitler. [p.209]

Pinker and Lewis are anti-Christian bigots. The Moors invaded Spain and Spain eventually kicked them out. Pinker and Lewis act as if it was one of the great crimes of human civilization for Spain to kick the Moors out, while denying that the Moors ever did anything wrong. Pinker and Lewis are essentially saying that it is okey for anti-Christian forces to try to destroy a Christian culture, but wrong for the Christians to fight back.

Lewis is correct that Islam is not just a religion, and Muhammad mixed his religious, political, and military teachings. You cannot separate the religion from the military jihad against nonbelievers. Christianity is not like that. Europe has a history of wars, but those wars were driven by politics, not religion.

Europe would have been destroyed by Mohammedan invaders if the Christians had been unwilling to fight back. Europe was saved by the 732 Battle of Tours, 1492 Reconquista, 1571 Battle of Lepanto, and 1683 Battle of Vienna. Christian-haters like Pinker and Lewis continue to complain about Spain defending itself against the Moors, and even argue that it was worse than anything that Islamic countries have done. Spain was defending itself from oppressive invaders.

Pinker's book talks about "better angels" but his explanation for the decline of violence involves Jewish atheists and others becoming enlightened enough to reject Christianity and joining liberal causes that eventually embraced feminism, gay rights, and animal rights. Seems dubious to me. I think Christianity did much more to reduce violence. Sure, some Christian countries fought medieval wars, but repelling the Mohammedans had the long-term effect of reducing violence, as well as making modern civilization and prosperity possible.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Martins want money

I wondered below why the Trayvon Martin advocates wanted Zimmerman arrested when he had already been arrested:
“We are not asking that he be convicted; We are asking that he be arrested”
This demand is un-American because we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, and we only punish the guilty. The Last Refuge blog argues that there is a simple monetary incentive:
Note that in section 2 of the immunity statute 776.032 a person is “immune” from criminal or CIVIL action if they are not arrested.
It is likely that Martin's family has already hired a contingency-fee lawyer to file a civil lawsuit. As I write this, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) is giving a speech about how Martin was murdered and we need to have a national conversation about racial profiling. Pres. Barack Obama has also been pouring gasoline on the fire. I think that these Martin national conversations are going to backfire. When all the facts come out, it looks as if Martin will be proven to be the criminal, not Zimmerman. If so, and if the black community continues to defend Martin's behavior, then the public is apt to conclude that Martin was just the sort of kid who should have been profiled as someone you do not want in your neighborhood. In fairness, not all blacks are shouting racism. Bill Cosby says:
Cosby said calling George Zimmerman a racist doesn't solve anything.
The most common black-white crime stories involve blacks beating up whites, such as this:
Maywood, Ill. - Alton L. Hayes III, a west suburban man charged with a hate crime, told police he was so upset about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida that he beat up a white man early Tuesday. Hayes and a 15-year-old Chicago boy walked up behind the 19-year-old man victim and pinned his arms to his side, police said. Hayes, 18, then picked up a large tree branch, pointed it at the man and said, “Empty your pockets, white boy.” The two allegedly rifled through the victim’s pockets, then threw him to the ground and punched him “numerous times” in the head and back before running away, police said. Hayes and the boy are black; the victim is white. After being arrested, Hayes told police he was upset by the Trayvon Martin case and beat the man up because he was white, Cook County State’s Attorney’s office spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said, citing court records.
And it may turn out that Martin beat up Zimmerman because Martin was a violent delinquent and Zimmerman was white/hispanic. For the weakness of the DA affidavit against Zimmerman, see PopeHat or Dershowitz. It gives the impression that the prosecutors are incompetent, corrupt, and have no case.

Update: More comments at TalkLeft on the weakness of the prosecution.

Friday, April 20, 2012

One brand of scientific truth

The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne argues that “there is only one brand of scientific truth” in a peer-reviewed article in an evolution journal:
American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the U.S., which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and implications of evolution. The prevalence of religious belief in the U.S. suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Since creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America. This is easier said than done, for recent sociological surveys show that religion is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of a society, and various measures of societal health show that the U.S. is one of the most socially dysfunctional First World countries. Widespread acceptance of evolution in America, then, may have to await profound social change.
Coyne has followup comments here, but no link to the full article.

For Coyne, the implications of evolution are that there is no God, that religion poisons everything, and that we have no free will. He wants the American public to accept these, in order to facillitate his leftist socialist goals.

If the USA is less accepting of evolutionist college professors, I suspect that it is because those professors are so ideologically leftist, anti-American, anti-Christian, and unscientific in their opinions.

Americans do not have any trouble accepting scientific facts. You occasionally hear from someone who doesn't believe in the Moon landing, but those are a small minority. It is those leftist political opinions that sre supposedly implications that they have trouble with.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vaccine does not stop outbreaks

Reuters reports:
In early 2010, a spike in cases appeared at Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael, and it was soon determined to be an outbreak of whooping cough -- the largest seen in California in more than 50 years.

Witt had expected to see the illnesses center around unvaccinated kids, knowing they are more vulnerable to the disease.

"We started dissecting the data. What was very surprising was the majority of cases were in fully vaccinated children. That's what started catching our attention," said Witt.
This is old news, and has been known for 30 years. As I explained in 2009:
Before you say that it is obvious, it is not. Pertussis vaccination immunity wears off at about age 7, and pertussis is common in teenagers. It is not a disease that has been eradicated, even in communities that are 100% vaccinated according to the schedule. The baby in the story may have gotten pertussis from a teenager or adult.
The pro-vaccine and leftist-science advocate are always complaining about pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks, and falsely blaming them on the 2% or so of the population getting exemptions.

Update: The situation for measles is different:
(CBS/AP) Health officials say last year was the worst year for measles in the U.S. in 15 years.

There were 222 cases of measles reported. Most of the cases were imported -- either by visiting foreigners or by U.S. residents who picked up the virus overseas.
Measles has been eradicated from the USA, and vaccination levels are high enough that epidemics are impossible. Occasionally a case comes in from overseas, and spread to a couple of others, but that is all. We don't require foreign visitors to be vaccinated, and we get a lot of visitors. Even with 222 cases, that is a lot lower than most other countries. Update: The Bad Astronomer complains that he lives in a community of left-wing intellectuals, and they are the most skeptical about vaccination. He he gets a booster every ten years, even tho the CDC recommendation is only for "a single dose of Tdap (ADACEL) apply to adults aged 19–64 years who have not yet received Tdap."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Famous shrink regrets published study

The NY Daily News reports:
Psychiatrist retracts infamous study claiming gay people can turn straight through therapy
This is based on this article in the leftist magazine American Prospect:
In 1973, Columbia professor and prominent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer had led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. Four years after Stonewall, it was a landmark event for the gay-rights movement. But 28 years later, Spitzer released a study that asserted change in one’s sexual orientation was possible. Based on 200 interviews with ex-gay patients—the largest sample amassed—the study did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy. But Spitzer concluded that, at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, it worked. ...

Spitzer said that he was proud of having been instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Now 80 and retired, he was afraid that the 2001 study would tarnish his legacy and perhaps hurt others. He said that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions “can be quite harmful.” He has, though, no doubts about the 1973 fight over the classification of homosexuality.
Okay, but let's not pretend that any science is involved. Wikipedia says Robert Spitzer is called arguably the most influential psychiatrist of the 20th century. That 1973 decision was a political vote of the psychiatrists, with 58% voting for the change, after the changes were pushed by some closeted gay psychiatrists. I guess Spitzer now thinks people citing his 2001 study might tarnish his legacy, but that does not say anything about whether it correctly reported those interviews.

Steven Pinker is sold on homosexuality being innate, and writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature:
Homosexuality, by the way, is one of the few examples of a nature-nurture debate in which the politically correct position is "nature". If homosexuality is innate, according to the common understanding, then people don't choose to be gay and hence can't be criticized for their lifestyle; nor could they convert the children in their classrooms or Boy Scout troops if they wanted to. [p.448]
This is not science. It is politics. If it were really scientific then there would be some standards that apply whether the politically correct position is nature or nurture.

For example, if there is evidence that homosexuality is innate, tell us how that evidence compares to that for schizophrenia, alcoholism, religiousness, IQ, criminality, height, etc. If homosexuality is difficult to change in therapy, tell us how that difficulty compares to therapy to change other behaviors and beliefs. By removing homosexuality from the DSM-II, the shrinks have removed themselves from being in the business of saying who is or is not a homosexual, so they cannot possibly say whether it is innate or changeable. Some shrinks have claimed that gay therapies don't work very well, but of course none of their therapies work very well, so such statements are meaningless without some context.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Many reject determinism

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Sam Harris wrote a book arguing that science could determine universal moral truths:
Harris argues that questions about values and ethics can be reduced to questions about “well-being,” which includes physical, mental and even spiritual health. And well-being can, at least in principle, be measured with brain scans and other techniques. Just as science can steer us toward a healthy diet or exercise regime, so it can help us make decisions about how to reconcile, say, individual freedom with group welfare. This effort will ultimately yield a set of moral truths that transcend culture, just as quantum mechanics and relativity do. “Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra,” Harris declares, “we will see that there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality.”
Harris just wrote another book against free will:
“The illusoriness of free will,” Harris says, “is as certain a fact, to my mind, as the truth of evolution.”
Saying something is as certain as "the truth of evolution" is an odd phrase. Evolution has several common definitions, and can be as broad as "any change in the history of the universe". Depending on the definition, support for evolution among the American public varies from 10% to 100%.

Usually when people want to emphasize how strongly they believe something is true, they make a comparison to some well-defined and well-accepted truth, such as 2+2=4 or the world is not flat. To Harris, leftist politics and morals, atheist rejection of religion, and evolutionist beliefs all get lumped together in his view of science.

Fellow leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne responds:
People can and have taken strong issue with the view, favored by Sam Harris and me, that free will as traditionally conceived is a complete illusion. Many people have responded with diverse versions of “compatibilism” — the view that determinism is still compatible with some notion of free will. (I happily note, though, that almost nobody questions determinism itself, though some have urged us to keep it quiet lest it rile up the hoi polloi).
That is not true. Most physicists reject determinism. As Carl Hoefer explains:
Many physicists in the past 60 years or so have been convinced of determinism's falsity, because they were convinced that (a) whatever the Final Theory is, it will be some recognizable variant of the family of quantum mechanical theories; and (b) all quantum mechanical theories are non-deterministic. ...

As indicated above, QM is widely thought to be a strongly non-deterministic theory. Popular belief (even among most physicists) holds that phenomena such as radioactive decay, photon emission and absorption, and many others are such that only a probabilistic description of them can be given. The theory does not say what happens in a given case, but only says what the probabilities of various results are.
Einstein believed in determinism, but he was the exception and the consensus was that he was wrong.

The attacks by Harris and Coyne on free will are very strange. First, they pretend to be scientific, but the science behind their attacks in entirely wrong. Second, their arguments are driven by ideology. They can't stop talking about how religion poisons everything, how they hoped that evolution theory would destroy religion, and how they need stronger anti-religion arguments so they are going with the anti-free-will argument. Furthermore, opposing free will comports with their leftist politics because it absolves people of individual responsibility for their actions.

I believe that free will issue is not a scientific question, as explained by Massimo Pigliucci here and here.

Update: Reader Piero tells me to "STFU" and adds:
It is quite irrelevant whether the universe is in fact deterministic or not, If it is, our brains (which I'm sure you would rank as physical objects) are determined, so free will cannot exist. If the universe is stochastic, then so are our brains, hence free will cannot exist. In order to demonstrate the existence of free will, you would have to provide evidence for the existence of an as-yet-unknown agent that is both free from physical constraints AND able to influence physical outcomes. I'll be waiting in my grave.
He assumes that mental acts are either deterministic or random, and argues that leaves no room for free will. He is assuming what he wants to prove, with a false dichotomy.

There are other commenters who argue that quantum mechanics is irrelevant to biology. Piero says, "Have you ever seen a building collapse because of some unpredictable quantum phenomenon?" No, I haven't, but quantum mechanics is at the root of most biological processes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Copying is not theft

The copyright lobby has based its public relations campaigns on the slogan Copying is Theft, as if that demonstrates the immorality of the matter. Now a federal appeals court ruled:
Judges find former Goldman Sachs programmer was wrongly charged with theft and espionage after he downloaded code to a high-speed trading system.
This follows a prominent explanation:
However, in a rather brilliant OpEd piece in the NY Times, law professor Stuart Green not only demolishes the "infringement = theft" argument, he also gives some of the history about how it came about
They need a new metaphor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lawyers backstab the client

AP reports:
SANFORD, Fla. -- The Trayvon Martin case took a bizarre turn Tuesday when George Zimmerman's attorneys quit, complaining that they have lost all contact with him and that he called the prosecutor and talked to a TV host after they told him not to speak to anyone.

The lawyers portrayed the former neighborhood watch captain as erratic and his mental state as shaky, and they expressed fear for his health under the pressure that has been building in the month since he shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig should be disbarred. They have violated attorney-client privilege, and abandoned a client without good cause. They misunderstand the lawyer's duty to advise the client, not give him orders. Worst of all, they have damaged their client's case by portraying him as someone who disrespects authority. The prosecutor will say that Zimmerman not only disobeyed the 911 operator, he disobeyed his own lawyers.

I am not convinced that Zimmerman did disobey the 911 operator, or that he committed a crime even if he did. I also believe in innocense until proven guilty. He is about to be charged:
According to a source familiar with Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey's plans, George Zimmerman will in fact be charged in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. According to the Washington Post, Chase will hold a press conference as early as this afternoon to announce what charges she'll bring, though since she's not empaneling a grand jury, it can't be first-degree murder, per Florida law.
The fix is in. An honest prosecutor doing a non-political investigation would take the case to the grand jury. Even the Barack Obama administration is getting into the act, and attempting to racialize the issue:
Earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder said he would take appropriate action if evidence of a civil rights crime is found to have been committed in the shooting.

The Justice Department launched an investigation of the Martin killing three weeks ago.

"I know that many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages," Holder told the 14th annual convention of the National Action Network, three days of discussion on race issues.
Three days of racial discussion? I still don't see any evidence that race had anything to do with the shooting or the investigation, until Obama and other race-baiters turned it into a racial issue.

Some people say that Zimmerman was the agressor based on the 911 transcript:
911 dispatcher: Are you following him? [2:24]
Zimmerman: Yeah. [2:25]
911 dispatcher: OK. We don’t need you to do that. [2:26]
Zimmerman: OK. [2:28]
However, later in the call, Zimmerman says that he is waiting at a parked car for the cops, and that he does not know where Martin is. So it appears to me that he stopped following Martin while Martin ran away. How they got into a fight has not been explained.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Medical studies not reproduced

Reuters reports on the sorry state of medical research:
A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer -- a high proportion of them from university labs -- are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. ...

Scientists at Bayer did not have much more success. In a 2011 paper titled, "Believe it or not," they analyzed in-house projects that built on "exciting published data" from basic science studies. "Often, key data could not be reproduced," wrote Khusru Asadullah, vice president and head of target discovery at Bayer HealthCare in Berlin, and colleagues.

Of 47 cancer projects at Bayer during 2011, less than one-quarter could reproduce previously reported findings, despite the efforts of three or four scientists working full time for up to a year. Bayer dropped the projects.

Bayer and Amgen found that the prestige of a journal was no guarantee a paper would be solid. "The scientific community assumes that the claims in a preclinical study can be taken at face value," Begley and Lee Ellis of MD Anderson Cancer Center wrote in Nature. It assumes, too, that "the main message of the paper can be relied on ... Unfortunately, this is not always the case."
Similar results have been found before, as mentioned here, here, and here. See the work of John P. A. Ioannidis. These studies are better than astrology and acupuncture, but we need to be skeptical about new medical studies that have not been reproduced.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Jews who still hate Germans

The Jews of the world are attacking famous German writer Günter Grass for publishing a poem, What Must Be Said. An Israeli newspaper reports:
Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Sunday that German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass is a persona non grata in Israel, after Grass published a poem last week which was highly critical of Israel and its policies.
David Post writes:
Here is what, to me, is the most extraordinary thing about the recent flap over publication of Gunter Grass’ poem “What Must Be Said,” in which he excoriates the Israelis and depicting their undeclared nuclear program (and not Iran’s) as a threat to world peace. ... But really — wouldn’t you think that someone who was exposed, in 2006, as having been wartime member of the Waffen SS ... would have the good grace to spare us his views on this particlar matter? ... right before Easter -- a holiday sadly connected to some of the most brutal anti-Semitic activities over the past 2000 years ...
As the comments explain, Grass was drafted into the German army in 1943 at age 16. And that is supposed to disqualify him from having an opinion about Israel's nukes 70 years later?

Besides Easter, it is also Passover, when Jews celebrate the murder of Egyptian children in the Exodus story of the Bible. This attack on Easter is offensive.

The Jewish magazine Tablet also attacks Grass:
Günter Grass, the 84-year-old German novelist who won a Nobel Prize in part for ostensibly reckoning honestly with Germany’s Nazi past (and who many years later revealed that, rather than having been a young bystander, he was in the Waffen-SS), yesterday published a poem accusing Israel rather than Iran of being the prime threat to regional stability, since it already has nuclear weapons. “It is the claimed right to a first strike/that could wipe out an Iranian people,” he writes, “subjugated by a loudmouth and steered to organized jubilation/because the building of an atom bomb is suspected in their territory.”
The same issue has an article praising the Jewish writer Susan Sontag:
Most famously, she declared that “the white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”
If there is war between Israel and Iran, I will be rooting for Israel, but these attacks on Grass are way out of line. These Jews are bigots. They are trying to censor someone's political views purely because of his nationality 70 years ago (and because he is not supporting Zionism).

If I were Jewish, I sure would not go around making arguments about how others do not have the moral standing to make political arguments because of their race or nationality. Jewish intellectuals like Sontag have a long history of expressing hatred for white non-Jews, and Israel has race and national origin discrimination policies that many find offensive.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

How to be a racist

It is still socially acceptable to be a racist today, provided that you put your inflammatory and racist comments in quotes and then advocate censorship. The obvious inference is that racial truths are too dangerous for the general public.

Josh Barro writes in Forbes:
But Lowry is running into the problem I discussed last week: he’s probably getting called a bigot because of the company he keeps. Providing a great example, this week National Review writer John Derbyshire published a kind of unbelievably racist piece for Taki’s Magazine, describing “the talk” he gives to his children. ...

If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.
Elspeth Reeve writes in The Atlantic:
Race-baiting is getting harder and harder to do while holding onto your job. So, who knows, maybe this will be the piece that finally costs Derbyshire his.
While they advocate firing Derbyshire, they extensively quote his supposedly offensive views without rebutting them.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is another example. His main purpose in life seems to be to promote Jewish identity politics, and to encourage Jews and others to censor anyone who speaks up for any other ethnic identity. He does this by promoting ethnic animosity among non-Jews.

Another current example is MediaMatters, which exists to prmote liberal Democrats by inciting ethnic animosity:
A controversial senior analyst with the liberal activist group Media Matters is leaving the organization to start his own blog, saying he doesn't want his criticism of Israel to "harm" Media Matters.

MJ Rosenberg, who also got into hot water for mistakenly accusing the Drudge Report website of racism in coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, announced Friday on the Media Matters website that he was "striking out on my own with a brand new website and blog." ...

Rosenberg tweeted an apology to Matt Drudge last week after calling Drudge "racist" and accusing him of using a phony photo of Trayvon Martin "for incitement purposes. ...

Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz has branded Rosenberg an anti-Semite for branding pro-Israel Americans with the name “Israel-firsters.” Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat, has called on the Democratic Party to distance itself from Media Matters. Rosenberg responded to Dershowitz by telling him to “go to Hell” and urging Dershowitz’s students to boycott his class.
Barro, Reeve, Dershowitz, and Rosenberg are all race-baiters, in my opinion.

Update: Add Rich Lowry. He just fired Derbyshire.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tennessee to allow critical thinking

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes about the new Tennessee law being passed:
This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming.
Note the emphasis on “evolution and global warming.” If that’s not religious motivation — and a legitimate reason for contesting the constitutionality of the bill — I don’t know what is.
Skepticism about global warming models and policies is not rooted in religious motivation. None of the major religions have even expressed any opinion about it, as far as I know.

While some evolution skepticism has religious motivation, it is also fair to say much of the evolution promotion has religious motivation. The leading evolution spokesman, Richard Dawkins, spends most of his time attacking religion and arguing that we should teach evolution because it leads to atheism. So does Coyne. The LA Times reports:
Religious motives aside, the Tennessee bill reflects the view that there is a significant scientific controversy about the basic accuracy of Darwinian theory. There isn't. ...

But even in high school, and especially in science class, teachers have an obligation to the truth. The truth in this case, discomfiting as it may be to some Tennesseans, is that evolution is not "just a theory."
I just watched the distinguished Harvard professor E. O. Wilson interviewed on PBS Charlie Rose, plugging his new book on how eusocial species like ants, bees, termites, and humans, have taken over the world. He also explained that the evolution of eusociality is hotly controversial, with Dawkins, Coyne, and many other leaders subscribing to the selfish gene theory. Wilson is not religious, and religion is not at the core of this dispute. But both sides say that this says something about whether human nature is selfish or altruistic.

The problem here in not that the truth is discomfiting some Tennesseans. The problem is that open debate is discomfiting to certain ideologies.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What's wrong with Obamacare

The trouble with the American federal health care law is that it requires emergency rooms to treat anyone, regardless of ability to pay, and it requires health insurance to be sold without regard to the major risk factors.

So someone can avoid insurance, and still be assured of emergency treatment if he needs it, and non-emergency treatment by buying a policy after getting sick.

The Obama plan is to fund the health care system by inducing healthy people to overpay for health insurance, and subsidize the sick. So there are various regulations that make health insurance cost healthy folks much more than it is worth, and a federal mandate to make them buy it anyway.

Sometimes it is argued that a federal plan can save money by forcing insurance companies to pay for preventive diagnostics and case. But a recent SciAm article shows that such policies have already led to over-diagnosis. Such care is not insurance.

Now the US supreme court is deciding whether the mandate is constitutional. Obama argues that the mandate is necessary to prevent freeloaders.

The real problem here is that the federal law has destroyed the insurance market. I ought to be able to insure myself against the hazards of my choice, and pay according to market estimates of my risk. I cannot do that. Under Obama, there is no insurance at all, within the meaning of insurance. Instead we have companies managing health care based on collecting fees that are similar to taxes.

Obama has effectively outlawed health insurance with all the new regulations. That is what ought to be declared unconstitutional.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Court fails to resolve intensely divisive controversy

James Taranto writes on a WSJ blog:
Toward that end, in 1968 Brezhnev put forward an eponymous doctrine: "When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries." The Soviet Union would intervene militarily to keep any communist country communist, as it had done earlier that year in Czechoslovakia and in 1956 in Hungary. Communism was a Roach Motel. Countries check in, but they don't check out. ...

But part of the reason is that Roe was just a lousy piece of judicial craftsmanship--so lousy that in reaffirming its "core holding" in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a plurality of the justices pretty much rewrote the whole thing, mixing Rousseau (the infamous "sweet mystery of life" passage) with the Brezhnev Doctrine:
Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court's interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

The Court is not asked to do this very often, having thus addressed the Nation only twice in our lifetime, in the decisions of Brown [v. Board of Education] and Roe. But when the Court does act in this way, its decision requires an equally rare precedential force to counter the inevitable efforts to overturn it and to thwart its implementation.
He explains how Roe v Wade just caused more abortion controversy.

Brown v Board of Education also just caused more controversy. The opinion was based on dubious theorizing that black students could not learn unless white kids were in the classroom, and it started forced racial school busing. As an attempt to desegregate the public schools, it was a failure.

I did not realize that the US Supreme Court was under a delusion that it ended a national controversy with orders for forced racial school busing. The court used the issue to declare judicial supremacy over the other branches of government, and to expand its own powers. Nevertheless, the opinion is a big liberal sacred cow.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Obama not so great

Steve Levitt says in this Freakonomics podcast that he does not normally believe in voting because it is economically useless, but he voted for Barack Obama because he was fooled into thinking that "Obama will be the greatest president in the history of mankind" because of his "unbelievable intellect and eloquence".

He makes several errors here. First, in spite of what many economists say, it is not irrational to vote:
Despite what is sometimes said, voting is not particularly irrational as compared to other other social and political activities. Voting has low cost and a very small chance of making a difference, but in that unlikely event, the difference can have huge repercussions nationally and globally; hence, the expected return from voting is arguably on the same order of magnitude as its cost (see Parfit, 1984, and Edlin, Gelman, and Kaplan, 2007).
Second, Obama's intellect and eloquence are not particularly unusual even among Levitt's fellow professors. Levitt is a big-shot tenured professor at the U. of Chicago, while Obama was a lowly untenured lectured with no significant academic publications or accomplishments. His biggest such accomplishment is his autobiography, but I am persuaded by Jack Cashill that it was largely ghostwritten. (But see a contrasting view here and here.)

I don't know how anyone could think that Obama is an impressive speaker, unless he has not heard good public speakers. Just try attending a local public speaking competition, and you will see speakers that are so much better than Obama that it is not funny. They give smooth convincing entertaining speeches with no notes, and they Obama look like an amateur with his stilted reading of a Teleprompter script.

At least Levitt is willing to admit that he was wrong. I'll give him credit for that.