Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Phone patent wars decline

ExtremeTech reports:
After years of relentless litigation, it seems the mobile/smartphone patent war might be drawing to a close. Rockstar, a patent trolling company owned by Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Ericsson, and BlackBerry, has agreed to cancel the lawsuits it had filed against Google and most Android device makers. Rockstar will also sell off its remaining patents (some 4,000 of them) to a company called RPX, which has promised to license the patents to anyone who needs them for defensive purposes. This follows on from news this summer that Apple and Google had agreed to drop all lawsuits between the two companies, and Apple and Samsung agreed to drop all lawsuits outside the US.

The patent wars — or patent trolling, depending on your point of view — originally started to heat up in the 1980s, as the Information/Digital Age began to gather a lot of inertia. Patents weren’t originally designed with software in mind, and they’re also not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation. As you can imagine, this in turn meant that patents were rather ill-suited to protecting the innovations of tech companies that were quickly becoming very rich and powerful. At some point, these companies (or their lawyers) realized that patents were a great way of stymieing the opposition or extorting them out of a few million dollars. ...

“Peace is breaking out,” RPX’s CEO John Amster told the Wall Street Journal. “I think people have started to realize that licensing, not litigation, is the best way to make use of patents, and this deal is a significant acknowledgment of that reality.” ... It does indeed seem that the smartphone patent war, kickstarted by the iPhone in 2007, is finally drawing to a close.
Wikipedia defines patent troll as a pejorative term:
A patent troll, also called a patent assertion entity (PAE), is a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question, thus engaging in economic rent-seeking.
In this case, there is an oligopoly of a few firms controlling the smart phone market, and they have pooled their patents. They pay big license fees to each other based on those patents. Their patent pool is not a troll according to the above definition. They sell products and services using those patents, and they use the patents against outsiders.

I realize that a lot of people don't like patents, but it is foolish to say that licensing patents is better than litigation. Almost all patent lawsuits are driven by someone's refusal to pay licensing fees.

There is no real reason for consumers to care if a few billion dollars changes hands between Apple, Google, and Microsoft. For them, it is pocket change. While patent lawsuits threaten to take products off the market, so far that has not happened. A few phones have had to remove features, but in the examples I know, the features were either worthless or allowed simple work-arounds anyway.

Steve Jobs liked to claim that Apple invented the smart phone, and that Google had no right to push a similar product. So he had Apple file a bunch of lawsuits. The patents tell a different story, and helped resolve the matter in an orderly way. They have a record of who invented what, and when. License fees can then benefit whoever invented the most.

The argument that patents are "not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation" has not been proved. If patents were too strong, Apple would not have been able to enter the cell phone market. If patents were too weak, companies would not have bothered getting the critical patents, and court would be in much worse shape resolving unfair competition claims.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Econometrics and Causation

I listened to this interview on Econometrics and Causation
Roberts points to three controversial areas in microeconomic research- the effect of class size on student achievement, the employment effects of minimum wage, and the relationship between health insurance and health outcomes. What has econometrics been able to show about each of these, according to Angrist? Are these areas where knowledge has become more reliable and precise because of empirical study?
The guest made the point that there are a lot of studies in the social sciences that are effectively as good as the random clinical trials used for FDA drug approvals, because there is some dataset with randomness built in.

He says that Harvard grads do better than U.Mass. grads, but if you look at students who were admitted to Harvard and possibly went elsewhere, there is not much difference. He says that urban charter schools are effective, but small class sizes are not. He says that American health is worse than other developed countries, but that it cannot be improved by giving people health insurance.

If these studies are really as rock solid as he describes, then they should be central to public policy debates. They are not. I never heard of them. Is there really some body of econometric knowledge that is accurate but widely ignored? I guess I should read his book, but that may not tell me how political groups get away with ignoring the facts.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leftist-atheist attack on free will

Philosopher Gregg Caruso has a video on the dark side of free will, and gives further details on a philosopher blog.

I posted these comments:
Your argument is that it is better to be a slave than a free man. I agree with that for many people. Some people are happy with arranged marriages. Some people appear to lack the agency to take responsibility for the personal decisions. A good test might be to give people some bogus smoke-and-mirrors argument against free will. If they are persuaded, then they are obviously not competent to be making any important decisions. ...

Most of the comments on these two article are not addressing the point of this essay, which is the effect of free will beliefs, not whether true or false.

Hard determinism (and free will skepticism) has become a leftist-atheist dogma like the Catholic transubstantiation. It is not usually taken literally. Yet it gets recited in order to show allegiances of beliefs.

Jesus said "Go and sin no more". Christianity teaches that you have to free will to accept or reject God. Other religions are more fatalistic and superstitious. To oppose free will is a way of opposing Christianity without mentioning religion.

Opposing free will is also a sneaky way of promoting leftist political goals. Conservatives (in America at least) celebrate individualism, personal and family autonomy, free markets, and libertarian ideals. Leftists strive for a society where everyone is dependent on everyone else, has involuntary empathy, and lets the government make all the decisions.

The philosophical and scientific arguments against free will are wrong, as Pigliucci explains here and here.

The right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale was created by a left-wing Obama supporter who was infuriated by the libertarian anti-government views of the Tea Party. Here is his anti-Tea-Party rant (pdf). The Tea Party is the least authoritarian political movement in the USA today. And yet he claims that the Tea Party is dangerously authoritarian because they believe that President Obama is dictator and that mounting debt and interference with the free market is destroying the country. This junk only gets uncritically published because the social science journals are overwhelmingly leftist.

Maybe if the Tea Party can somehow be convinced that they have no free will, they will go away and let the left-wing authoritarians take over the country. This is a leftist fantasy.

You argue that we should deny free will so that women can make rape allegations without being questioned about their choices and decisions. That was apparently the attitude of Rolling Stone magazine and most of the mainstream media that uncritically reported Jackie's story about a UVa frat party gang rape. Now it turns out that she invented the character of Haven Monahan, the date, the party, the rape, and everything else in order to arouse the feelings of another boy.

I guess the leftist anti-free-will view is that Jackie and Rolling Stone should have no moral responsibility for perpetrating this hoax, because the article has raised consciousness and empathy about a trendy leftist subject. It is not even clear that they wanted to hold the alleged rapists legally culpable, as they showed little interest in making a police complaint. No, they want Jackie's feelings validated, even if they are just symptoms of a mental illness, and to make a cultural statement against privileged blond fraternity members.

If your point is that belief in free will is contrary to certain leftist atheist goals, I agree.
Curiously, Caruso did not dispute any of this at all, and only noted that "There are plenty of free Will skeptics that are theists." Yes, of course, such as followers of Calvinism and Islam. But his "dark side" to free will is essentially a bunch of traditional American and Christian beliefs in personal freedom.

Caruso posts:
I’m surprised that no one has yet directly defended the claim that disbelief in free will would be harmful to society, our interpersonal relationships, meaning, etc.
I replied:
Yes, Gregg, a disbelief in free will would be harmful. If your goal is to promote leftist goals and undermine personal freedom and Christianity, then I agree that a disbelief in free will might help, as I argued in previous posts. You did not disagree, except to point out that beliefs among philosophers are not perfectly correlated. Of course some theists are free will deniers, as some believe in predestination.

Unless you are some sort of hard-core Marxist atheist, creating a nation of sheep is not a good thing. The Soviet Union tried it. It still exists in Cuba and North Korea. It partially exists in the Islamic world, where the mosques teach fatalism and the suicide bombers think that they are carrying out Allah’s will.

People want to be free. Modern civilization was created in Europe when Christian, Roman, and Greek influences created a system where people are free to do as they please, subject to a personal moral accountability for their behavior. I like it that way. So does most of the Western world, as far as I know.

You want to convince people of something contrary to common sense and modern science, in order to promote your personal left-wing atheist authoritarian ideology. Thank God it is not possible. My choice is for a free society.
Caruso replies:
Schlafly, you make some big leaps! I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity. First off, political freedom is not the same as metaphysical freedom. Secondly, we might end up with more freedom and better opportunities under the model I propose. I think what you are really opposed to is the idea that we should focus on addressing the social conditions and systematic causes that lead to criminality, wealth inequality, education inequity, etc, instead of blaming people on the tail end. I understand that we probably have different political philosophies, but to equate my ideas with the Soviets and North Korea is simply outrageous!
Really? He wants to convince everyone that they do not have free will or moral responsibility for their behavior, in order to promote an assortment of leftist ideological goals, and he wonders why I think he’s trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity? Perhaps I did not make myself clear enuf. One commenter said that I connected the dots, so he understood me.

Another exchange, about his theory that studies showing benefits of free will can be better explained by "ego depletion":
[Caruso] My daughter, who is five, exercises self-control all day long at school. When she gets home at 3:30 her ego is depleted and she is more aggressive. I think it’s a common occurrence that all parents are familiar with.

[Schlafly] I have an alternate explanation. Her teachers believe in free will, and so they praise her when she does well and discipline her when she misbehaves. When she gets home, her father is indifferent to her choices and treats her like a pre-programmed automaton.

[Caruso] I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity.

[Schlafly] I explained that in my comment. Christianity teaches free will. Those with the individual ability to make their own choices have more personal freedom than those who don’t. You want to convince people that they do not have that ability, and you say that it will promote certain leftist ideological goals.

[Caruso] Schlafly, with regard to how I interact with my daughter, I by no means treat her as an automaton (another misreading of free Will skepticism). And yes, I have found that the reactive attitudes associated with basic desert MR are counterproductive and that other attitudes work much better. Read Pereboom for the replacement attitudes. Maybe losing some of your moral anger would be helpful.
He is saying that he does not believe in treating his daughter to the consequences of moral responsibility.

The current SciAm has an article and poll on free will:
Why We Have Free Will
Neurons fire in your head before you become aware that you have made a decision. But this discovery does not mean you are a “biochemical puppet” ...

Indeed, that neural activity explains why I imagined these options, and it explains why I am writing these very words. It also explains why I have free will.

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and pundits say that I am wrong. Invoking a number of widely cited neuroscientific studies, they claim that unconscious processes drove me to select the words I ultimately wrote. Their arguments suggest our conscious deliberation and decisions happen only after neural gears below the level of our conscious awareness have already determined what we will choose. And they conclude that because “our brains make us do it” — choosing for us one option over another — free will is nothing more than an illusion.
He is correct that the neurological experiments do not give any evidence against free will.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not what America is about

Pres. Barack Obama showed his allegiance to Hollywood:
Sony “made a mistake” in caving to North Korean hackers, President Obama said bluntly this morning during his year-end news conference. ...

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” he said in an extremely strong answer to a question about the hack of the studio. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or a news report that they don’t like — or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.

“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage, threats against some employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said that, yes I think they made a mistake,” Obama said this morning when asked just that.

“That’s not what America is about…I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks’.”
So America is all about the free speech to make a movie about killing a foreign leader?

It was just two years ago that Pres. Obama and Secy. Clinton sharply denounced a movie critical of Islam, and said that the movie was against American policy. Obama asked YouTube to remove the movie, and the maker was arrested and convicted on federal charges related to the movie. By catering to the demands of Moslem jihadists, Obama and Clinton only encouraged more violence to suppress criticism. They also tried to use the movie to cover-up a fiasco in Benghazi Libya.

It was cowardly for Sony to make a movie that is so nasty to N. Korea, because that is a country that no one defends and that has no movie-going market. Usually movies only threaten to kill fictional characters. Making an anti-Islam movie would be a better test of free speech.

Update: A reader sends No, North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony. It appears that the Obama administration is falsely blaming N. Korea.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Too much math for a science journal

Hollywood dumbs down the mathemetics of Alan Turing, but I expect better from a leading science journal. Nature magazine asked a couple of Harvard mathematicians to write an obituary of Alexander_Grothendieck, but they lament:
The sad thing is that this was rejected as much too technical for their readership. Their editor wrote me that 'higher degree polynomials', 'infinitesimal vectors' and 'complex space' (even complex numbers) were things at least half their readership had never come across. The gap between the world I have lived in and that even of scientists has never seemed larger. I am prepared for lawyers and business people to say they hated math and not to remember any math beyond arithmetic, but this!? Nature is read only by people belonging to the acronym 'STEM' (= Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and in the Common Core Standards, all such people are expected to learn a hell of a lot of math. Very depressing.
The review does get a little technical, but don't the reader want to know what the man really did, instead of over-hyped irrelevant stories?

Update: A math and biology professor describes the differences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Here is the soul is Islam

Time magazine reports:
No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. ...

There is still much that we do not know about the Lindt café siege in Sydney. We know that two innocent people are dead: the café manager, Tori Johnson; and barrister and mother of three Katrina Dawson. And we know that the armed man who was holding them and 15 other people hostage, Man Haron Monis, was a self-styled Muslim cleric.
The author is identified:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.
That soul of Islam is written in Arabic on that black flag. The reformers are hoping to change its meaning to something other than killing infidels in the name of Mohammad.

Ali describes him herself as a "former Muslim", so I can understand why he he wants reform. Islam teaches that she can be executed for apostasy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pope was misquoted again

A front page NY Times story started:
Pope Francis has given hope to gays, unmarried couples and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared himself to dog lovers, animal rights activists and vegans.
But see also the correction:
He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” ... The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
He hasn't really changed those other doctrines either. The Big Bang was discovered by a Catholic priest astronomer, and accepted by the Vatican before Einstein other physicists.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MIT fires its best professor

MIT professor Scott Aaronson announces:
Yesterday I heard the sad news that Prof. Walter Lewin, age 78 — perhaps the most celebrated physics teacher in MIT’s history — has been stripped of his emeritus status and barred from campus, and all of his physics lectures removed from OpenCourseWare, because an internal investigation found that he had been sexually harassing students online.
It is hard to see how one complaint from a long-distance internet student about an inappropriate remark could justify such a response.

It appears that Lewin accumulated some enemies over his 40 years of teaching, and MIT wanted to avoid getting a letter like Princeton got. My guess is that it has some other pending sexual harassment investigations, and throwing Lewin under the bus was the easiest way to impress the feds breathing down their neck.

The comments are amazing, ranging from Nazi analogies, people who were truly inspired by Lewin, and social justice warriors with zero tolerance for anyone who crosses some imaginary behavior line. But see especially the debate between feminist Amy #144 and Jewish liberal Scott #171. The discussion gets personal, with Amy complaining of being harassed and raped, and Scott wanting to buy into the feminist political agenda, but cannot go along with the current level of demonizing men, because he has also suffered in ways that never get any sympathy from anyone. He eventually married a researcher in a related field, but for a long time he was too intimidated to ever show any sexual interest in anyone.

College campuses have become centers of heated and unresolved complaints. The biggest recent one was the Rolling Stone UVa frat party rape story, and that turned out to be some sort of weird catfishing hoax.

I just watched this Bill Maher rant against Feminism (from several years ago):
The feminine values are now the values of America. Sensitivity is more important that truth. Feelings are more important than facts. Commitment is more important than individuality. Children are more important than people. Safety is more important than fun.
He is right. The feminists do not seem to care about the facts of Lewin or UVa fraternities. They want attention to their feelings and sensitivity. Even when the facts show that the story is wrong, they say goofy things like “But it doesn’t change my opinion that it may or may not have happened”.

Update: The Aaronson comments degenerate into a bunch of personal comments about rape and other unsatisfactory sexual experiences that most people would not call rape, but Lewin was never within a thousand miles of the woman, as far as anyone knows.

Aaronson really wants to agree with Amy's Jewish feminist politics, but stop short of taking the blame for her confusion about who she wants to have sexual relations with.

Update: One comment says:
If the accuser were an MIT student enrolled in Prof. Lewin’s 8.02 course, or a graduate student working in his lab, or a junior faculty member on whose tenure he was going to vote, then obviously Prof. Lewin would hold a position of power over the woman that must not be abused. But — and please correct me if I’m wrong — a student in an MITx course gets nothing beyond education, apart from some meaningless certificate of completion. That’s probably all that a student should receive, since there’s no practicable way to be sure that the student himself or herself is doing the work.

So, it seems to me, Prof. Lewin had no real power over the accuser and no physical contact with her. Conversely, she had a great deal of power over him, seeing as she was able to end his career and destroy his reputation (while ensconced in anonymity, no less).

Wouldn’t the situation have been satisfactorily resolved if MIT had simply removed Prof. Lewin as the instructor of record for this MOOC, so that the accuser’s meaningless grade was assigned by someone else?
Feminist Amy ignores this, and rambles on about rape is common and how male behavior needs to be changed, but that the rape should not necessarily be punished unless the women demand it.

Update: Another unrebutted comment:
Over the last several days I’ve spoken to a dozen STEM professionals, with one or more university degrees each, including a retired dean of science and two department chairs thereof (one retired) and a couple of Fortune 100 executives, in age from 50 to 70, regarding this matter. The overwhelming consensus is that, based on available information, MIT has totally mishandled this situation.

If Professor Lewin has been misbehaving for a long time, then folks want to know how MIT let that happen. If he’s been misbehaving, why did MIT keep him in contact with students?

And if this development is recent, folks want to know why MIT isn’t graciously showing this legendary eighty-year old man the door with respect ~ for if this is a recent development, then given Walter’s clear faltering on occasion in the later of his available on-line YouTube &c lectures (I’ve watched all of them including all of 8.01, 8.02, 8.03, and all the related videos) and given his long traditional history of placing his students first, recent changes in his behaviour would indicate that he’s simply losing it due to old age.
I conclude that MIT is doing this mainly for reasons that have little to do with what Lewin actually did.

Update: Dorothy explains:
In broad brush strokes, we would like the attractive men to find us attractive and potentially to hit on us and the unattractive men not to notice we are women.

In fact we want a very small percentage of men to find us unbelievably attractive and to hit on us, but in, you know, a nice way. We would like a slightly larger number of men, but still small, to find us very attractive but to do nothing about it (they can talk to each other about how hot and unattainable we are though) and the rest just to completely leave us alone and preferably have no thoughts about us at all. ...

It is of course disgusting when an unattractive man hits on you in any situation.
That is clear enuf. The alphas can do whatever they want, while the betas have to be put in their place.

Update: The feminist attack on Aaronson is sickening.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The dark side of free will

I have noted leftist-atheist opposition to free will, but ideology behind it is not always explicit. It is in this TEDx talk on The dark side of free will.

Philosopher Gregg Caruso describes himself as a "free will skeptic", but that is not his point. His argument is that various leftist political goals would be more easily achievable if the public were convinced that they had no free will.

There is some truth to this. Right-wingers emphasize individual freedom, personal autonomy, and moral responsibility, while left-wingers are happier tying their fates to government social programs. Caruso is a leftist, and he does not phrase it that way, but he clearly advocates persuading people to lose a belief in free will.

I doubt that he is right achieving his goals, but I do want to point out that this is a leftist intellectual belief.

Leftists adamantly deny various racial and sexual determination theories, except that they have been asserting for years that homosexuals have no free will over their preferences. But now the NY Times reports that beliefs about such things can spread like a disease:
The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, suggests that a 20-minute conversation about a controversial and personal issue — in this case a gay person talking to voters about same-sex marriage — can induce a change in attitude that not only lasts, but may also help shift the views of others living in the same household. In other words, the change may be contagious. Researchers have published similar findings previously, but nothing quite as rigorous has highlighted the importance of the messenger, as well as the message. ...

The result: Voters canvassed on marriage shifted by about 20 percent in favor of same-sex equality, as measured on a five-point scale of support. Both straight and gay canvassers shifted opinions, but only the opinions of voters canvassed by gays remained as favorable on surveys nine months after initial contact. Voters canvassed on recycling did not budge.

“I truly did not expect to see this,” Dr. Green said. “I thought attitudes on issues like this were fundamentally stable over time, but my view has now changed.”
Did Green think that political views on marriage were inborn?

One lesson here is that you better tell pollsters you favor same-sex marriage, or gay canvassers will come knocking on your door, hoping to infect you with a contagious idea.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 10 science of 2014

The Scientific American's Top 10 Science Stories of 2014 included:
Symbolic Thought Shown to Exist in Other Human Species
They mean a human ancestor scratched a clam shell, and I was skeptical about it. Now I am even more skeptical, as this was a shell that had been sitting around a museum for a century, and it was not found near any human ancestor skeletons. Other stories are disasters (Ebola, California drought, rocket crashes) and failures (BICEP2 retraction, credit card hacks, China refusing CO2 limits until 2030, lab germ mishandling). The only actual accomplishments were landing on a comet and synthesizing a yeast chromosome.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Math students get ahead

In New York City, an ambitious, $25 million study is collecting evidence on the best way to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their hunch is that it may begin with math. ...

There's plenty of evidence on the long-term importance of preschool. But why math? Morris says a 2013 study by Greg Duncan, at the University of California, Irvine's School of Education, showed that math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college. "We think math might be sort of a lever to improve outcomes for kids longer term," Morris says.
That is at the low end. There is also evidence at the high end:
A gift for numbers can take a person far in life, according to a report getting plenty of online attention. A survey1 of 1,004 men and 601 women who were identified as 13-year-old mathematics prodigies in the 1970s found above-average levels of accomplishment in fields that included business and academia. ...

Vrangalova says it is intriguing that despite these differences, both genders reported unusually high levels of satisfaction with their lives and careers. “It seems that both sexes got what they wanted from life, even if those things were somewhat different,” she says.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Okay to hit bicyclists, say LA drivers

The LA Times reports:
Hit-and-run collisions involving bicyclists surged 42% from 2002 to 2012 in Los Angeles County, according to a Times analysis of California Highway Patrol crash data.

The increase came as the overall number of hit-and-runs involving cars, cyclists and pedestrians dropped by 30%. Between 2002 and 2012, the most recent data available, more than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes in which drivers fled the scene. ...

For cyclists who are hit, a major frustration is how infrequently drivers are caught. The Los Angeles Police Department closed one in five hit-and-runs from 2008 to 2012, meaning about 80% were unresolved, according to data the department reported last year to the Board of Police Commissioners. Less than half of those cases were closed through an arrest.

The chance of being convicted is so slim that "if you wanted to murder someone, it would almost be better to just hit them with your car," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has pushed for stiffer hit-and-run penalties.
I know that there are a lot of bicycle haters, but I was disappointed to see that the LA Times was swamped with letters siding with the hit-and-run drivers!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Leftist profs on Right v Left politics

Studies have shown that when you disentangle the science (from the politics) of controversial topics like evolution and climate, people have no trouble accepting the science. But the outspoken activist professors in those fields do not want to do that.

What is the politics of evolution? The most obvious is to attack religion. Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Chicago professor Jerry Coyne just announced Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. It will be a rehash of the anti-religion rants he has been posting on his blog for years.

To Coyne and his fellow evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, evolution is a fact that not only proves atheism, but also implies a fatalistic leftist world view. They regularly deny concepts like individualism and free will.

These connections are not so obvious, and do not follow from the science. The Catholic Church has always accepted scientific advances, including evolution. One could interpret evolutionary science in favor of right-wing ideas, as much as against. But academics are overwhelmingly leftist.

Chicago anthropologist John Terrell writes in the NY Times about Right-Left differences:
We will certainly hear it said many times between now and the 2016 elections that the country’s two main political parties have “fundamental philosophical differences.” But what exactly does that mean?

At least part of the schism between Republicans and Democrats is based in differing conceptions of the role of the individual. We find these differences expressed in the frequent heated arguments about crucial issues like health care and immigration. In a broad sense, Democrats, particularly the more liberal among them, are more likely to embrace the communal nature of individual lives and to strive for policies that emphasize that understanding. Republicans, especially libertarians and Tea Party members on the ideological fringe, however, often trace their ideas about freedom and liberty back to Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, who argued that the individual is the true measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others. Self-described libertarians generally also pride themselves on their high valuation of logic and reasoning over emotion.
He is squarely on the Left, as you can see by the way he describes his side as embracing goodness and the other side as being on the ideological fringe.

He then goes on to argue that evolutionary science validates his Leftism:
As the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski argued almost a century ago: “Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief, ...” ...

While as an anthropologist I largely agree with Malinowski, I would add that not all myths make good charters for faith and wisdom. The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals. There was never a time in history before civil society when we were each totally free to do whatever we elected to do. We have always been social and caring creatures. The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. This is not how we got to be the kind of species we are today. Nor is this what the world’s religions would ask us to believe. Or at any rate, so I was told as a child, and so I still believe.
So he is against individual freedom and autonomy, and even suggests at the end that his views were indoctrinated by the culture. Coyne and Harris explicitly deny that they have any ability to make any reasoned choices for themselves.

Leftist Berkeley Lingistics professor George Lakoff has his own theory of Right-Left differences. To him, the conservatism is based on the nuclear family:
At the heart of conservatism is strict father morality, ...

A focus on unimpeded pursuit of self-interest — and with it, extreme limits on state power over the individual—defines the libertarian strain of right-wing thought.
Progressivism is based on empathy:
Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others -- not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one's countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially those who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. ...

President Obama has argued that empathy is the basis of our democracy. ...

Empathy in this sense is a threat to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of "justice." ... The argument goes like this: Empathy is a matter personal feelings. Personal feelings should not be the basis of a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, "justice is not about empathy." ... We cannot let conservatives get away with redefining empathy as irrational and idiosyncratic personal feeling. Empathy is the basis of our democracy and its true meaning must be defended.
In the leftist ideal, empathy is not just the capacity to understand others. They see that empathy has three components
1. pro-social behavior - willingness to help people out, hospitality to strangers, acts of compassion.

2. cognitive empathy - capacity to see things from another person's perspective and to understand how he or she feels.

3. affective or emotional empathy - capacity not only to understand how another person feels but also to experience those feelings involuntarily and to respond appropriately. Failure to help a person in distress can trigger a self-destructive sequence: anguish, depression, suicidal ideation.
That last component is what they really want, but it is not universal:
In general, empathy is perceived in China as a moral duty and not as an involuntary emotional response.
I do not know much empathy has evolved to be part of human nature, but leftists would say that the culture can and should be changed to put everyone in a state of involuntary empathic connectedness with everyone else, and to destroy individualism, personal freedom, and family autonomy in the process.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Geometric design on ancient mussel shell

SciAm reports:
Now comes news that an even older, more primitive human ancestor — Homo erectus from Asia — showed signs of symbolic thought, too. Researchers have discovered a shell engraved with a geometric pattern at a H. erectus site known as Trinil, on the Indonesian island of Java, that dates to between 540,000 and 430,000 years ago. The find is at least 300,000 years older than the oldest previously known engravings, which come from South Africa.

Analysis of the engraving, made on a freshwater mussel shell, suggests that its maker used a shark tooth or other hard, pointed object to create the zigzag design.
John Hawks has more details.

Does that look like symbolic thought to you? Or primitive art? About ten scratches on a sea shell?

Maybe some dumb hominid was just trying to break open the shell. Maybe he was just trying to break the point off a shark's tooth. Maybe the scratches were formed naturally as some rock on top of the shell shifted with waves.

If this is symbolic, what does it symbolize? Why didn't they find any more shells with art?

This is a field where researchers can just dig up old stuff and make up stories. It sounds very dubious to me.

Update: Others dispute whether the shell are so old, and Homo erectus had anything to do with them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

African population exploding

SciAm reports:
United Nations leaders have worried for decades about the pace of population growth. A few years ago leading calculations had global population peaking at nine billion by 2070 and then easing to 8.4 billion by 2100. Currently it stands at 7.2 billion. Recently the U.N. revised these numbers steeply upward: the population is now expected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050 and continue to 10.9 billion by 2100 (black line, below). What caused this drastic revision? Almost all the increase comes from Africa (pink line). Earlier models “had anticipated that fertility rates in Africa would drop quickly, but they haven’t,” says Adrian Raftery, a statistician at the University of Washington, who assessed the revised estimates. How the world will feed a few billion more people is the question of the day.
I mentioned this before, but the chart makes it clearer.

For years, all the environmental experts have said that most of the world's problems are attributable to too many people, but the population experts have assured us that Third World populations will drop if raise their standard of living. Educated women do not want kids, they say, and with birth control options they will not.

This thinking is wrong, if the UN projections are accurate. It appears that aid to Africa may be catastrophic for the world.

You have to be careful what you say about Africa. The London Telegraph reports:
James Watson, the world-famous biologist who was shunned by the scientific community after linking intelligence to race, said he is selling his Nobel Prize because he is short of money after being made a pariah.

Mr Watson said he is auctioning the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, because "no-one really wants to admit I exist".

Auctioneer Christie’s said the gold medal, the first Nobel Prize to be sold by a living recipient, could fetch as much as $3.5m (£2.23m) when it is auctioned in New York on Thursday. The reserve price is $2.5m.

Mr Watson told the Financial Times he had become an “unperson” after he “was outed as believing in IQ” in 2007 ...

Mr Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for uncovering the double helix structure of DNA, sparked an outcry in 2007 when he suggested that people of African descent were inherently less intelligent than white people. ...

Mr Watson said his income had plummeted following his controversial remarks in 2007, which forced him to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York. He still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.

Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said. ...

Mr Watson – who insisted he was “not a racist in a conventional way” – said it had been “stupid” of him to not realise that his comments on the intelligence of African people would end up in an article.

“I apologise . . . [the journalist] somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ – and you’re not supposed to say that.”

In 2007, the Sunday Times ran an interview with Dr Watson in which he said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

He told the newspaper people wanted to believe that everyone was born with equal intelligence but that those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Mr Watson said he hoped the publicity surrounding the sale of the medal would provide an opportunity for him to “re-enter public life”. Since the furore in 2007 he has not delivered any public lectures.
He is unlikely to be forgiven. Nor will people try to prove him wrong. It is a strange situation for one of the most famous scientists in the world.

I have criticized Watson before, but he should not have to sell his medal to get attention. If he can be shunned like this, then most other scientists will be intimidated into not expressing themselves on certain subjects, and truth will be hard to find.

Adam Rutherford, a Nature magazine editor and BBC science host, writes:
He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned ...

This sounds awful: an 86-year-old hero ostracised for his views, shooed from public life by the people who walk in his scientific shadow.

But it’s not awful. Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.
Rutherford's statement is much more offensive than Watson's. Watson was giving an opinion, based on his knowledge and experience. Rutherford offers no rebuttal, and treats it as an unmentionable scientific fact.

George R.R. Martin wrote (in A Clash of Kings or Game of Thrones):
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”