Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong dies

I used to wonder what would ever qualify someone to be the first man on the moon. Sure, Neil Armstrong was a superb engineer, war hero, test pilot, and astronaut. But so were many others. His obituary says:
Neil Armstrong was a quiet self-described nerdy engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made “one giant leap for mankind” with a small step on to the moon. The modest man who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter million miles away has died. He was 82.
Armstrong had two qualities that made him uniquely qualified. First, he was painfully shy. Becoming the most famous man in the world would not goto his head. He would never do anything to embarrass NASA.

Second, he had nerves of steel. Several times he was nearly killed, and he never lost his composure or needed psychotherapy. Here is video of him narrowly avoiding a crash. This was a man who would never panic under pressure, and never get PTSD.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Girls pursue hookup culture

Hanna Rosin writes in Atlantic monthly magazine about how young women today pursue sexual promiscuity:
America has unseated the Scandinavian countries for the title of Easiest Lay. We are, in the world’s estimation, a nation of prostitutes. And not even prostitutes with hearts of gold. ...

What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom — the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women — not men — who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future. ...

Women in the dorm complained to the researchers about the double standard, about being called sluts, about not being treated with respect. But what emerged from four years of research was the sense that hooking up was part of a larger romantic strategy, part of what Armstrong came to think of as a “sexual career.” For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic,” Armstrong writes, because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman told Armstrong, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.” Or from another woman: “I want to get secure in a city and in a job … I’m not in any hurry at all. As long as I’m married by 30, I’m good.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Effects of sperm

Here is new research on how sperm controls the female brain:
A newly-discovered protein in the semen of all mammals - including humans - prompts females to ovulate through a direct effect on the brain.

Surprisingly, it's the same molecule that regulates the growth, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells - nerve growth factor (NGF) which is found primarily in nerve cells throughout the body.

The scientists, though, say that large amounts of the protein are produced by the accessory sex glands that contribute seminal fluid to semen.

"To our surprise, it turns out they are the same molecule," says Gregg Adams of the University of Saskatchewan. "Even more surprising is that the effects of NGF in the female were not recognized earlier, since it's so abundant in seminal plasma."

NGF in the semen acts as a hormonal signal, working through the hypothalamus of the female brain and the pituitary gland. This triggers the release of other hormones that signal the ovaries to release an egg or eggs.
It was previously shown that women can be selective about sperm:
A woman's body may be unconsciously selective about sperm, allowing some men's to progress to pregnancy but killing off the chances of less suitable matches, an Australian researcher said Wednesday.

University of Adelaide professor Sarah Robertson said her research suggested that sperm contains "signaling molecules" that activate immunity changes in a woman so her body accepts it.

But some apparently healthy sperm failed to activate these changes, leading to the suggestion that the female system can be "choosy" about its biological mate, she said.
A physician site says that Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.

Todd Akin got into some trouble for making some related comments, but there are commonly much more ridiculous views. There are feminists who refuse to distinguish different kinds of rape, for ideological reasons. So they hate phrases like “legitimate rape”. They say that stranger rape, violent rape, date rape, and marital rape are all the same. They are the ones with the extreme views. And they say that a women claiming rape should always be believed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Focus on empathy gap

ScienceDaily reports:
Studies of how rats and ants rescue other members of their species do not prove that animals other than humans have empathy, according to a team led by Oxford University scientists.

Empathy -- recognizing and sharing feelings experienced by another individual -- is a key human trait and to understand its evolution numerous studies have looked for evidence of it in non-human animals. ...

In order to prove empathy any experiment would need to show that individuals changed their response if the circumstances changed; for instance moving away from a trapped individual if that reduced the trapped animal's distress. It would also need to disentangle empathy from acting simply to stop the trapped animal's stress signals -- something that can be psychologically selfish and does not need to involve empathy.

Solving the riddle of empathy would have important implications not just for the sciences but for philosophy and ethics. However, the team concludes scientists will have to come up with new, more rigorous studies to show that empathy exists outside of humans.
I wonder how many humans show true empathy. Bill Clinton used to say, "I feel your pain." But he may have been just saying that to get votes. A study shows that women on botox cannot empathize.

The NY Times reports on an empathy gap:
A bruising summertime campaign by Democrats to tarnish and define Mr. Romney before he could fully introduce himself has contributed to a significant empathy gap with Mr. Obama. It is a rising concern among Romney campaign advisers, who are feverishly working to find ways to persuade voters that even though Mr. Romney is not like them, he can still relate to their lives.
Obama himself is famous for lacking empathy. See here and here.

My theory is that people like to anthropomorphize animals and concoct rich explanations when lean ones suffice. They are convinced that animals have empathy, even tho no one can prove it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Freudianism as Pseudoscience

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has a podcast on Freudianism as Pseudoscience. They cite Frank Cioffi and others who showed that Freud was not scientific:
Mr. Cioffi’s essay, “Freud and the Idea of a Pseudo-Science,” published in 1970, was rediscovered a decade later by a cadre of thinkers challenging Freud’s theories of the mind. Delighted to have a respected logician on their side, the anti-Freudians cited the essay as one of the historic opening salvos in their war against Freudian orthodoxy. Mr. Cioffi became a sort of cult hero.

He died on Jan. 1 at his home in Canterbury, England, his nephew, Frank Cioffi, said. He was 83.

An Oxford-trained philosopher who taught at the University of Essex, Mr. Cioffi (pronounced ch-AW-fi), claimed no stake in the internecine warfare that divided Freudian analysts after the death of Sigmund Freud in 1939. He said he had simply read Freud’s famous case studies with a logician’s eye and had reached the conclusion that Freud had manipulated his patients and fudged the evidence to suit his ideas.

Mr. Cioffi’s essay on Freud was little noticed mainly because it appeared in a philosophy journal. It was further obscured by the publication that year of Kate Millett’s best seller, “Sexual Politics,” which made the feminist case against Freud (and others) for what she called his “male supremacist bias.”

But historians of science and Freud revisionists consider Mr. Cioffi’s early work to be seminal.
Frank Cioffi said:
Advances in neurology will vindicate the amorphous and figurative speculations of Freud in the same sense in which the major events of the last few centuries vindicate the prophetic powers of Nostradamus.
They point out that Freudians only abandoned their ideas about homosexuality and penis envy because they because politically incorrect, not because of any data or scientific analysis. Furthermore, exposing Freud is not new, as he was exposed as a phony in his lifetime.

At about 32:00, they start to distinguish the origin and testability of ideas. As an example, Pigliucci talks about the origin of relativity being Einstein's thought experiments about riding light waves, and deducing that the speed of light is constant.

This is nonsense. All of the main ideas of relativity were published by Lorentz and Poincare before Einstein, as explained in my book. But no need to take my word for it. Einstein said that he borrowed the constant speed of light from Lorentz.

Einstein is always the example of someone who dreamed up a revolutionary new scientific theory out of pure thought, while ignoring previous theory and experiment. For example, here is a philosopher making the argument:
But Polanyi devotes only a few pages to these matters, for his main proof depends on what he calls “the story of Relativity.” That theory was indeed taken by the positivists to show that through instrumentalist thinking Einstein had freed l9th-century physics from its metaphysical underpinnings, and thereby made the breakthrough to modern science. Polanyi correctly points out that every textbook of physics tried to present the rise of relativity as the necessary response to an experimental situation, namely the supposed null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment searching for an ether drift in l887 -- fully in accord with the sensationist or positivist view of how theories must proceed. (As well, we should add, the easiest pedagogic method of convincing students that they must take seriously what otherwise would be so counter-intuitive.) But, Polanyi declares, “the historical facts are different.”54 He noted that Einstein, in his publication, had not mentioned the Michelson-Morley experiment at all, and concludes from it that this theory was proposed “on the basis of pure speculation, rationally intuited by Einstein before he had ever heard about it.”55
No, the facts are not different. The rise of relativity was indeed the necessary response to an experimental situation. See my book for details. Or see this 1972 Herbert Dingle rebuttal. Einstein did not pay much attention to Michelson-Morley because Lorentz already invented the theory to explain it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Preferring bad science to science lite

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
“science-lite” books that offer superficial analyses of and solutions to social problems or—most disturbing to me—superficial descriptions of scientific work.  To me, these include books like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (a page-turner, but one that left me cold), Jon Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (with its unfortunate concentration on group selection) and The Happiness Hypothesis, David Brooks’s execrable The Social Animal, Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct (funded and vetted by the Templeton Foundation), and all of the books and writing of the now-disgraced Wunderkind Jonah Lehrer.

What these books have in common is a) enormous appeal to the popular mind, especially the part that wants easy answers and doesn’t want to think too hard about science, b) good writing (usually), c) a “self-help” aspect, which promises that you can improve either your life or your business by applying or recognizing a few easily-digestible bits of modern science, and d) annoyingly superficial analyses of difficult problems.
I have similarly criticized some of these books, and also more scholarly books by Pinker and Kahneman.

Coyne loses me with:
It’s not that the public can’t understand these things: popular books by Steve Gould and Richard Dawkins aren’t dumbed down, but simply present the complexities of science in wonderful prose.  Have a look at Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man if you think readers can’t grasp sophisticated statistical analyses or complex arguments. (Granted, that book has its flaws, but my point remains.)
"Flaws" is a gross understatement. Just read the Wikipedia article on The Mismeasure of Man. The book is wrong-headed at every level. It is mainly a polemic against IQ, saying that it suffers the fallacies of "reification" and "ranking", with the proof being some alleged mistakes in skull measurements by 19th century scientists. Gould was wrong about the skulls.

More importantly, his attacks on reification and ranking could be applied to the entire scientific method. His argument is that it is wrong to apply quantitative analysis to data. It is an anti-science book. It is also a dishonest book, as Gould refused to address his errors.

Coyne and his allies belongs to an ideology that seeks to destroy Christian culture and promote their own group. Notice how upset he is when NY Times writers do not toe the line. To conceal their hypocrisy, they must deny group selection and IQ. That is why they praise such a horrible book as Gould's, and praise anti-Christian writers like Pinker and Dawkins.

Update: JayMan's blog has more comments on Pinker and IQ.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Monkeys like grapes

Jerry Coyne writes:
This video is about as powerful a refutation I’ve seen of the notion that our morality is given by God rather than either evolved or a product of our culture. ... In the one I show below, two naive capuchin monkeys display what looks for all the world like a reaction to “unfairness” ... As de Waal notes, cucumbers are okay food for the monkeys, but they really like grapes (de Waal claims that monkeys like food in proportion to its price at the supermarket).
These evolutionists love to anthropomorphize animals, and to falsify religion. I watched the video, and all I see is a monkey that likes grapes better than cucumbers. Maybe he is jealous of the other monkey getting grapes, or maybe he thinks that he is morally deserving of grapes. Or maybe he just likes grapes.

I previously wrote:
I believe that there are two kinds of people on the world -- those who look for rich explanations of the behavior of others, and those who look for lean explanations. These differences become apparent whenever you talk about intentions or motivations of others.
So the lean explanation is that the monkey likes grapes. The rich explanation is that the monkey watched his fellow monkey establish a fair price for grapes, and then applied a morality requiring giving the each monkey grapes at the rate price. Most people have brains that are wired to leap to the rich explanation. They cannot accept the lean explanation, even when it is presented.

For example, I posted this test question about a talking pineapple. The test makers requred students to adopt a rich explanation of the minds of animals. The question was probably reviewed by dozens of experts, and none of them could understand that lean explanations are just as plausible. They only dropped the test problem after a public protest. I believe that this describes a mental defect that most people have.

Monday, August 06, 2012

New Yorker fires writer

This story was surprising:
A publishing industry that is notoriously ill-equipped to root out fraud. A magazine whose famed fact-checking department is geared toward print, not the Web. And a lucrative lecture circuit that rewards snappy, semi-scientific pronouncements, smoothly delivered to a corporate audience.

All contributed to the rise of Jonah Lehrer, the 31-year-old author, speaker and staff writer for The New Yorker, who then executed one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds, one that on Monday cost him his prestigious post at the magazine and his status as one of the most promising, visible and well-paid writers in the business.

An article in Tablet magazine revealed that in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most closely studied musicians alive.
Lehrer's book was a No. 1 NY Times bestseller, and the biggest selling science-related book of the last year. I cited him here and here, and pointed out that he was using a bogus Einstein quote. Apparently he can get away with misquoting Einstein, but not Dylan. And no one cares that his theories about the mind don't make any sense, as it has employed Malcolm Gladwell for years to write similar nonsense.

Mark Liberman points out here and here that the New Yorker has a long history of employing writers who misquote people. Besides his examples, the magazine had a long mathematics article called Manifold Destiny in 2006 that seriously misrepresented several famous mathematicians, and the whole point of the article was wrong. There was a controversy about it, and the magazine refused to make a correction, saying that it had already been fact-checked. It seems clear that the New Yorker empleys people for writing style, not factual accuracy.

The New Yorker had previouly posted notices of regret (on science belief and choking articles) because Lehrer repeated some anecdotes. That was the crime of self-plagiarism, I guess. But no attention was paid to whether the content was correct. I can only assume that the magazine has some very strange journalism standards, it had some dislike for Lehrer. Maybe it is a Jewish, as it was a Jewish magazine that exposed him.

Update: I did not realize how many complaints there were about Lehrer getting the science wrong. See Psychology Today, Gene Expression, Last Psychiatrist, and The NY Times. It seems ridiculous to withdraw the book from the market because of a few undocumented Dylan quotes, when the substance of the book has so many more serious errors.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Female sport overrated

With all the talk about how Title IX has feminized college sports, and all the silly Olympic girl sports, I had not noticed this:
Not a single female athlete appeared on the 2011 Sports Illustrated list of the 50 highest-earning U.S. athletes
So far, the top American female Olympic stars are 4'11" gymnast Gabby Douglas and 6'1" swimmer Missy Franklin. Both are 16-year-old Christians with no apparent interest in turning pro.