Friday, July 25, 2014

Looking for jealousy in animals

SciAm reports:
Man's best friend does not like anything muscling in on that friendship. The first experimental test of jealousy in dogs shows that canines nip even at stuffed pooches when these fakes take away the attention of the dogs' owners.

This new findings support the view that jealousy is a primordial emotion seen not only in humans, but in other animals as well, researchers said. The results also show that jealousy does not require especially complex minds, the scientists said. ...

The owners were instructed to treat the fake dog and the jack-o'-lantern like they were real dogs, by petting the objects and talking to them sweetly. When it came to the book, the owners were asked to read the text out loud.

The scientists found dogs acted far more jealous when their owners displayed affection to the stuffed dog compared with the other items. The canines were nearly twice as likely to push or touch the owner when the owner was playing with the fake dog compared with the jack-o'-lantern, and more than three times as likely to do so when compared with the book. Furthermore, about one-third of the dogs tried to get between their owners and the stuffed toy. And while one-quarter of the dogs snapped at the fake dog, only one did so at the jack-o'-lantern and book.
This is anthropomorphism. Maybe it would be jealousy if the dog destroyed the fake dog, but I am not sure this has anything to do with jealous. Maybe the dog just wanted to be petted by the owner.

Yes, the dog liked being petted, and asked for it when he say that the owner was petting a fake dog. But maybe the dog was just deducing that the owner was available for petting. I might decide that I want an ice cream cone after seeing someone else with an ice cream cone, but that does not mean that I am jealous.

A professor says:
The sociologist, Davis (1948) defined jealousy as a fear and rage reaction fitted to protect, maintain, and prolong the intimate association of love. In a pair-bonding species like our own that lives in social groups, jealousy is a logical prediction from evolutionary theory. In fact, if jealousy did not exist as a universal human characteristic, it would represent an oddity that demanded scientific explanation.

The function of jealousy is somewhat different between the two sexes. In males, jealousy revolves around the issue of uncertainty of paternity. Whereas women have always known if an infant is hers or not, until the advent of modern DNA testing techniques men could never be certain that a child was the product of their loins.

Although paternal uncertainty is a problem in all primate species, true jealousy may be unique to the evolution of the human line. ...

Based on evolutionary logic, it was predicted that male jealousy would be more concerned with sexual infidelity and female jealousy would be more concerned with emotional infidelity. Buss, Larson, Westen, & Semmelroth (1992) used a series of forced choice experiments to demonstrate that men indicated greater distress to a partner’s sexual, rather than emotional infidelity, whereas women showed the reverse response displaying greater distress to a partner’s emotional infidelity rather than their sexual infidelity.
This video claims to demonstrate jealousy in capuchins (New World monkeys). Others say that it shows fairness or entitlement. But there is a leaner explanation -- maybe the monkey just prefers grapes to cucumbers and is trying to get grapes. Further research has attempted to address the objections, but it is still limited. It always finds a monkey that prefers grapes to cucumber, showing the monkey that it could be getting a grape instead of cucumber, and watch the monkey reject the cucumber in an effort to get a grape.

I have posted similar criticism of mindreading crows, cats, and rats, and suggested that many people have a cognitive bias for rich explanations.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whites not supposed to agree with NSA

To be politically correct now, you have to post pictures of your black nanny on your FB page, and Check Your Privilege before commenting on NSA surveillance.

Could have fooled me. I thought that it was mainly white males who complain about the NSA. And I am surprised a white feminist professor would admit that she did not know how to take care of her baby, and had to rely on a black nanny.

Mathematician Peter Woit writes:
Among the many disturbing aspects of the behavior of the NSA revealed by the Snowden documents, the most controversial one directly relevant to mathematicians was the story of the NSA’s involvement in a flawed NIST cryptography standard (for more see here and here). The New York Times reported:
Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”
The standard was based on the mathematics of elliptic curves, so this is a clearly identifiable case where mathematicians seem to have been involved in using their expertise to subvert the group tasked with producing high quality cryptography. ...

Read carefully (and I think it was written very carefully…), note that George never directly denies that the NSA back-doored Dual-EC-DRBG, just claims there is no “proven weakness”. In other words, since how they chose the elliptic curves is a classified secret, no one can prove anything about how this was done. All the public has is the Snowden documents which aren’t “proof”.
We don't need the Snowden documents. The public also has the 2007 Microsoft paper explaining the possible backdoor. If you are an al qaeda terrorist, then you might not want to use the NSA function to generate your private keys. If you are not an international terrorist, then there is no proven or fatal weakness.

I would comment on Woit's blog, but he is deleting comments that disagree with him.

The Clinton administration did propose a Clipper Chip with an NSA backdoor in 1993. Or more precisely, a system for key escrow, not a backdoor. It is plausible that the NSA designed in a backdoor to Dual-EC-DRBG that it could use and no one else. But so what? It is just a stupid pseudo-random number generator. If you don't like it, then don't use it.

Update: Woit deleted this comment from me:
It is true that you can choose your own (P,Q) if you do not trust what NSA did. It is just a pseudo-random number generator. You can also toss coins if you wish, or use dozens of other pseudo-random number generators. Your main complaint is that the NSA did not fully explain itself. Guess what -- the NSA never fully explains itself.
He does quote hysterical anti-NSA comments, such as from Ron Rivest. But there is no mention of how Rivest's company sold out to create data insecurities for millions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10,000-hour rule disproved

The NY Times reports on new research in the nature-nurture debate:
Scientists have long argued over the relative contributions of practice and native talent to the development of elite performance. This debate swings back and forth every century, it seems, but a paper in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science illustrates where the discussion now stands and hints — more tantalizingly, for people who just want to do their best — at where the research will go next.

The value-of-practice debate has reached a stalemate. In a landmark 1993 study of musicians, a research team led by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist now at Florida State University, found that practice time explained almost all the difference (about 80 percent) between elite performers and committed amateurs. The finding rippled quickly through the popular culture, perhaps most visibly as the apparent inspiration for the “10,000-hour rule” in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” — a rough average of the amount of practice time required for expert performance.

The new paper, the most comprehensive review of relevant research to date, comes to a different conclusion. Compiling results from 88 studies across a wide range of skills, it estimates that practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess. In academics, the number is much lower — 4 percent — in part because it’s hard to assess the effect of previous knowledge, the authors wrote.
The NY Times podcast described this as "dispiriting". Apparently a lot of people prefer a fantasy in which they could be LeBron James if only they practiced enough. That fantasy seems more dispiriting to me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Feminist attack on R.P. Feynman

A SciAm blog writes:
What about someone who is scrupulously honest about his scientific contributions but whose behavior towards women or members of underrepresented minorities demonstrates that he does not regard them as being as capable, as smart, or as worthy of respect? What if, moreover, most of these behaviors are displayed outside of scientific contexts (owing to the general lack of women or members of underrepresented minorities in the scientific contexts this scientist encounters)? ...

This last description of a hypothetical scientist is not too far from famous physicist Richard Feynman, something that we know not just from the testimony of his contemporaries but from Feynman’s own accounts. ...

The predation in question here included actively targeting female students as sex partners, a behavior that rather conveys that you don’t view them primarily in terms of their potential to contribute to science. ...

About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University.
So he is considered a sexual predator because he flirted with some non-scientist women, outside a scientific context, and he is a bad guy because he was more interested in them as sex partner than their potential to contribute to science?!

There is no such thing as "San José State University". She teaches in San Jose, an American city with no accent.

Galileo's Pendulum blog also attacks Feynman because he flirted with some undergraduates without revealing that he had graduated. Some comments ask the author to explain what Feynman did wrong, but he refuses.

Another SciAm blogger was apparently fired for writing:
Also importantly, while some of Feynman's utterances and actions appear sexist to modern sensibilities, it's worth noting that they were probably no different than the attitudes of a male-dominated American society in the giddy postwar years, a society in which women were supposed to take care of the house and children and men were seen as the bread winners. ... The encouraging development is that actions by Feynman - and male society in general - that were considered acceptable or amusing in 1950 would quite rightly cause instant outrage in 2014. ... We can condemn parts of his behavior while praising his science. And we should.
The problem is that he did not sufficiently condemn sexism.

SciAm is owned by Nature mag, which just apologized for saying that female scientists might publish less if they are taking care of small children.

Update: The Wash. Post reported on SciAm firing bloggers:
Throughout its 169-year history, Scientific American has been an august and sober chronicler of the advance of human knowledge, from chemistry to physics to anthropology.

Lately, however, things have become kind of a mess.

A series of blog posts on the magazine’s Web site over the past few months has unleashed waves of criticism and claims that the publication was promoting racism, sexism and “genetic determinism.”
It is hard to figure out what is supposedly offensive about the SciAm posts, except for facts that are upsetting to leftists.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NY Times really hates human evolution

The NY Times Book Review trashed a book on human evolution by one of its own science reporters. Appaarently that was not negative enough, and now it publishes an even worse review:
This racial divide started, Wade says, when humans began migrating out of Africa some 50,000 years ago. As groups entered diverse environments, they faced differing pressures that selected for gene variants creating different traits, including dissimilar social behaviors. Genetic selection for distinctive physical traits in different populations, such as lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established and widely accepted. Decidedly not well established, however, is Wade’s proposal that genetic selection gives different human populations distinct behaviors. ...

As a key event he cites Europe’s adoption, starting around A.D. 1000, of the principle that law is the ultimate ruler. This, Wade argues, allowed a transition from closed, insular tribal social organizations to more open, interactive nation-states, and Europe then entered a self-reinforcing cycle: Its rules-based, trade-oriented culture selected for gene variants generating trusting and productive social behavior, and these genes in turn made the culture more trusting and rewarding of hard work. ...

While warning us to avoid filtering science through politics, he draws heavily from conservative historians who minimize the roles played by political power, geographic advantage, momentum, disease and dumb luck. ...

He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case.

The result is a deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book. Its most pernicious conceit is that it’s finally safe to talk of racial genetics because “opposition to racism is now well entrenched.” The daily news — a black teenager’s killer walks free in Florida; ...

David Dobbs is writing a book about theories of human sensitivity to experience.
So Dobbs seems to be saying that we should not discuss human evolution and diversity because of George Zimmerman trial? The jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges because he acted in self-defense while an attacker was beating him to death. He was only put on trial because of political race-baiting by MSNBC and Pres. Barack Obama.

In the NY Times podcast, Dobbs goes more directly into a guilt-by-association attack, complaining about political conservatives, scientific racism, eugenics, sterilization, Nazis, Holocaust, etc. I previously noted other such leftist attacks.

Dobbs argues that Wade's thesis is circular, but it is not. It is true that there is no direct quantitative link from specific genes to human behaviors, but there is plenty of scientific evidence that behavioral traits are heritable, that human evolution is accelerating, and that there are huge population differences. How many of those differences are genetic in origin is debatable, but Wade's thesis is plausible and Dobbs has no contrary evidence.

Dobbs says "lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established", but I am not sure it is correct. A 2014 paper by Peter Frost on The Puzzle of European Hair, Eye, and Skin Color argues that sexual selection led to lighter skin color, not lower sunlight in Europe.

On the podcast, Dobbs seems to side with Stephen Jay Gould in his denunciation of the heritability of intelligence.

I am all in favor of some healthy skepticism about genetic determinism, but Wade's book is largely a summary of his NY Times stories and not politically conservative. And yet reviewers must trash it by bringing up Hitler and arguing against even discussing the ideas.

If anyone was a pseudo-scientific racist, it was Gould. He was a leftist Marxist Jewish ideologue whose most famous work was shown to have been faked in order to promote his offensive racial theories. When confronted with the evidence, he just accused his critics of being racists. A 2011 NY Times story said:
In his book, Dr. Gould contended that Morton’s results were “a patchwork of fudging and finagling in the clear interest of controlling a priori convictions.” ...

But the Penn team finds Morton’s results were neither fudged nor influenced by his convictions. ...

Ralph L. Holloway, an expert on human evolution at Columbia and a co-author of the new study, was less willing to give Dr. Gould benefit of the doubt.

“I just didn’t trust Gould,” he said. “I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme. When the 1996 version of ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ came and he never even bothered to mention Michael’s study, I just felt he was a charlatan.”
Gould was a charlatan, and a disgrace to science.

Update: NatGeo says Like in Humans, Genes Drive Half of Chimp Intelligence, and SciAm blogs posts a non-apology apology for its favorable review of Wade's book.

Earlier this year, Nature mag apologized for publishing a letter to the editor responding to an editorial. Here was the letter:
Publish on the basis of quality, not gender

The publication of research papers should be based on quality and merit, so the gender balance of authors is not relevant in the same way as it might be for commissioned writers (see Nature 504, 188; 2013). Neither is the disproportionate number of male reviewers evidence of gender bias.

Having young children may prevent a scientist from spending as much time publishing, applying for grants and advancing their career as some of their colleagues. Because it is usually women who stay at home with their children, journals end up with more male authors on research articles. The effect is exacerbated in fast-moving fields, in which taking even a year out threatens to leave a researcher far behind.

This means that there are likely to be more men in the pool of potential referees.

Lukas Koube Sherman, Texas, USA.
Apparently science magazines now consider it misogynist to point out that women have babies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Using gendered role models is sexist

Thew xkcd comic says:
For a long time, sexism, a lack of role models, and institutional hostility largely kept women from pursuing serious chess careers.
This seems unlikely to me. Chess is more sexist now, as there are separate chess tournaments for women. The above comment is sexist for suggesting women cannot be successful in chess unless they have same-gendered role models. I doubt that Bobby Fischer or Judit Polgar were following role models.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Te penguin is the new poster child

The climate has been changing for millions of years. Even billions. Evolution teaches that plant or animal species will find ecological niches, and adapt to them. So climate changes always seems bad for almost everyone, if you ignore adaptation.

NPR reports on a scientist who wants to use law and politics to manipulate us:
WERTHEIMER: You've been studying the Emperor penguin population in Antarctica. What's happening to them?

CASWELL: The Emperor penguin is affected by changes in the sea ice conditions. The projection is that all of the colonies - there are 45 of them known around the circumference of Antarctica. All 45 of them, by the end of the century, are going to be declining quite rapidly. ...

WERTHEIMER: The Emperor penguin is actually on the list to be considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Would protected status help them?

CASWELL: Listing them as an endangered species would have several really positive effects. The biggest one is that it would provide more impetus to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing or halting climate change.

WERTHEIMER: You mean the penguin might become a sort of poster child for correcting the direction in which the climate is going?

CASWELL: Yes. And identifying threats to charismatic species, like the Emperor penguin, like the polar bear, is not going to be enough. But documenting threats to species like this, along with the many other impacts of climate change, is an important contribution. And it's really something that the Endangered Species Act is quite appropriate for.
No, that is not an appropriate use of the law. The law was help prevent extinction, not to exploit cute animals for political gain.

Sure, some populations will being decline at the end of the XXI century, if they fail to adapt to change. But we will very likely have just as much wildlife as we have today, and plenty of penguins.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Europeans love American products

Europeans are always complaining about American stuff, but it sure seems to me that they love everything American. The NY Times reports:
American tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited websites in Europe, according to comScore statistics. ...

Nonetheless, from Spain to Sweden, many of Europe’s millions of Internet users regularly complain about the dominance of American tech companies, particularly about how their data is used and shared. It also leaves them wondering why so few homegrown tech companies are globally competitive.

For many Europeans, the likes of Twitter and Amazon hold too much information about what people do online. That wariness has only grown stronger after the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about American intelligence agencies’ spying activities and perceived easy access to the world’s tech infrastructure.
Yes, Europeans have their privacy laws, but in practice, they give up their privacy more readily than Americans.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Paternalistic medicos conceal the truth

Medical ethics experts exist primarily to justify physicians and other medicos doing what they want to do. When in doubt, they will cook up whatever explanations let them do business. Here is the latest example:
As more research is done on the human genome and more people seek genetic testing, researchers, physicians, genetic counselors and ethicists are struggling with the issues of how to present the new information to patients and whether certain findings should be presented at all.

A paper published Monday in the leading journal Pediatrics tackles a controversial discovery that can come out of genetic testing: when a child’s biological parent turns out to be someone else.

Whether that occurs through a switch at the hospital, a swap of embryos or sexual infidelity, genetic testing can bring such previously unknown facts to light. No matter the cause, it presents an ethical dilemma for medical professionals and one likely to become more common as genetic testing more more widespread. It has triggered a fierce and complex debate about whether parents — or those who might find out they are not true parents — have a right to know such information.

In the Pediatrics paper, ethicists at the University of Pennsylvania argue in favor of letting the parents of patients know that these facts can generally be found in the course of a test but will not be revealed to them.

“Because there isn’t a national consensus,” said co-author Autumn Fiester, director of education in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, “getting a proactive policy that could prevent the harms that are taking place seemed like an imperative to address.”
This seems primarily designed to protect adulterous wives.

It is funny how people adamantly deny genetic determinism, but they are scared to learn the truth about their genes. DNA tests are cheap and convenient now, but most people seem to be afraid to get them.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Google and Facebook experiment on users

It is funny how people can accept the most outrageous behavior from favored companies like Apple and Google, and show outrage against others. The NY Times reports:
Facebook is hardly the only Internet company that manipulates and analyzes consumer data. Google and Yahoo also watch how users interact with search results or news articles to adjust what is shown; they say this improves the user experience. But Facebook’s most recent test did not appear to have such a beneficial purpose. ...

In an academic paper published in conjunction with two university researchers, the company reported that, for one week in January 2012, it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users to see what effect the changes had on the tone of the posts the recipients then wrote.

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.
Google is famous for experimenting on users. Eric Schmidt said:
Google is run by three computer scientists. We’re going to make all the mistakes computer scientists running a company would make. But one of the mistakes we’re not going to make is the mistake non-scientists make. We’re going to make mistakes based on facts and data and analysis.
Those experiments are to maximize advertising revenue. They may say that it improves the user experience, but their idea of an improved user experience is one where you click on more ads.

Not everyone agrees that the randomized clinical trial is always best. See this for the views of statisticians, and some criticism of Freakonomics Levitt on this point.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tech companies blamed for having white employees

Sometimes I think that the news media hates white people.

USA Today reports:
SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook, the world's most popular social network, released statistics on the makeup of its workforce that do not reflect the demographics of its users around the globe.

The lopsided numbers are just the latest from a major Silicon Valley company to paint a stark picture of an industry sector dominated by white men and are sure to escalate an already heated debate over the lack of diversity in the tech industry.

Nearly 70% of Facebook employees are men and 57% are white. Asians make up 34% of employees.

But Hispanics represent just 4% and African Americans are just 2% of Facebook's workforce.

When it comes to technical employees, the numbers are even more grim. Eighty-five percent are male, 53% white and 41% Asian. Hispanics make up just 3% and African Americans just 1% of the workforce.
At 57% non-hispanic white, their employees are a lot less white than the general population.

And yet this is "grim" because too many of them are white?!

The more notable fact her is that Silicon Valley has imported thousands of Asian workers from overseas to replace higher-paid white workers.