Wednesday, December 25, 2013

RSA paid for crypto backdoor

RSA Security was famous for leaking a backdoor to its biggest crypto product to Chinese hackers, and now it has been exposed to have been paid to have an NSA backdoor:
RSA has issued a statement denying allegations stemming from Friday's bombshell report that the encryption software provider received $10 million from the National Security Agency (NSA) in exchange for making a weak algorithm the preferred one in its BSAFE toolkit. ...

Nothing in the release contradicts the findings of the Reuters article — that RSA accepted $10 million from the NSA in exchange for making the Dual EC_DRBG BSAFE's default pseudo random number generator (PRNG).
This hasn't hit the press yet, but there was a similar story with a Canadian crypto company. Here is the 2003 press release:
Certicom Corp. (TSX: CIC), a leading provider of wireless security solutions, today announced that the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland has purchased extensive licensing rights to Certicom’s MQV-based Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) intellectual property. ... This contract, valued at US$25 million, ...
Certicom promoted MQV as an IEEE standard, and the NSA also made it a standard.

One of the stated purposes of MQV was to resist the "unknown key share attack". However the NSA weakened MQV to make it susceptible to that attack, and the weakness was published in 2001. It was the NSA-weakened protocol that Certicom promoted as an IEEE standard.

I was on the IEEE committee, and voted against MQV because it had been broken. I was outvoted. I could never get a clear explanation as to why we were adopting a broken version of a protocol, except that NSA was supporting the broken version. My guess is that Certicom was influenced by that $25M.

I cannot say that any spying resulted from use of MQV. NSA ended up dropping MQV, and I doubt that many others use it. That is too bad, as an improved version, HMQV is quite efficient and secure.

Disclosure: I was involved in a couple of lawsuits against RSA in the 1990s. I alleged antitrust violations and an assortment of patent issues. I ended up getting a judgment with a license to the public key cryptography patents. The RSA claims against me were all dismissed. The patentability issues were never really resolved, as Forbes calls it the most difficult question in patent law and it is currently back before the US Supreme Court.

Update: Certicom also had a hand in the RSA backdoor. None of these weaknesses were particularly secret, as they were always documented on the relevant Wikipedia pages.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Brooks tries to speak for conservatives

Somehow NY Times columnist David Brooks gets away with being a spokesman for conservative Christians. On Meet The Press he said:
GREGORY: ... Duck Dynasty. Phil Robertson in GQ Magazine got this started. For those who-- who love the show saying, “Start with homos”-- What in your mind is sinful, was the question. He says, “start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…” ...

MR. BROOKS: Yeah. They-- they’re trying to frame it as a defense of faith. And I know a lot of orthodox Christians who take a biblical and more hostile view of homosexuality than I do, and a lot of people do. But I’ve never heard those orthodox Christians express with the disrespect that he did. And frankly, in the un-Christian manner he did. So to say that this is a defense of faith, that what he said is-- is-- is strictly Christian faith? That’s not what it is. It was a disrespectful way to say a lot of ugly things.
Brooks is Jewish, and writes many columns praising Barack Obama. He does not speak for conservative Christians, and he does not define what is or is not Christian faith.

Robertson did not disrespect anyone, or act in an un-Christian manner. He just stated his personal preferences and quoted the Bible, while saying that he was not judging others. If anyone is committing hate speech, it is Brooks, NBC, and the NY Times. They dishonestly attack Christians.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Goofy analogies for spying

Here is how Pres. Obama tried to justify NSA spying:
“If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes–now, granted, in the White House I don’t do the dishes that much, but back in the day–and she’s a little skeptical. well,I’d like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have to take my word for it.”
And here is his NSA director's explanation:
It’s like when you were younger—well, this is for boys—you know, when you’re younger you say, “I don’t want to take a bath.” You say, “No, I’ll never to take a bath.” Why would you want to take a bath, well, you have to take a bath, clean, da da, da. You say, “But isn’t there a better way?” So we had to take baths, right. Or showers.
Actually, my impression is that most people do not care much about the NSA spying. The spying from Facebook, Google, Apple, banks, phone companies, credit bureaus, etc. seems worse.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nutty diet advice

Here is more bad diet advice from health officials. AP reports:
There's more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills didn't protect aging men's brains or help heart attack survivors. ...

"Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation," said a sharply worded editorial that accompanied Monday's findings in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

After all, most people who buy multivitamins and other supplements are generally healthy, said journal deputy editor Dr. Cynthia Mulrow. Even junk foods often are fortified with vitamins, while the main nutrition problem in the U.S. is too much fat and calories, she added.
These studies are useless, unless you were popping those vitamins to prevent heart attacks or brain aging. People take vitamin to insure against a deficiency, and to feel healthier.

Calories are high nutrition, by definition. Fat people eat to much calories, but not necessarily too much fat. A lot of people get fat on low-fat, high-carbo diets.

Here is better advice from a 99yo scientist with a track record of being correct:
The problem, he says, is not LDL, the “bad cholesterol” widely considered to be the major cause of heart disease. What matters is whether the cholesterol and fat residing in those LDL particles have been oxidized. (Technically, LDL is not cholesterol, but particles containing cholesterol, along with fatty acids and protein.)

“Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, except if it’s oxidized,” Dr. Kummerow said. ...

This leads him to a controversial conclusion: that the saturated fat in butter, cheese and meats does not contribute to the clogging of arteries — and in fact is beneficial in moderate amounts in the context of a healthy diet (lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other fresh, unprocessed foods).

His own diet attests to that. Along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, he eats red meat several times a week and drinks whole milk daily.

He cannot remember the last time he ate anything deep-fried. He has never used margarine, and instead scrambles eggs in butter every morning. He calls eggs one of nature’s most perfect foods, something he has been preaching since the 1970s, when the consumption of cholesterol-laden eggs was thought to be a one-way ticket to heart disease.
Research also favors eating high-fat nuts:
The reports about their many benefits have come thick and fast: studies finding that people who eat nuts (tree nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios, along with their legume pal, the peanut) live longer and healthier lives, with less risk of chronic ailments like heart disease, respiratory problems and Type 2 diabetes.

But perhaps the most startling news is that nuts may help in maintaining a healthy weight. Research has found that people can snack on modest amounts of them without gaining pounds, and that nuts can even help in slimming down.
So maybe the ideal meal is steak and eggs, with cheese and nuts.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Obama pajama boy

What is the most offensive story of the day? My choice is the Obama pajama boy (see also comments here or here).

Here are some others.

The NY Times reports on one of its admired professors:
When Samuel See was found dead in a New Haven jail cell last month, nine hours after being put there after a domestic dispute with his husband, the question was how did he die, a disquieting mystery that remains unsolved.

Faculty members and students at Yale University, where he was an admired assistant professor of English, were shaken and openly mourned the abrupt, inexplicable conclusion to his life. Investigations are now examining the circumstances of his death, to see if he had been ill or injured and determine whether the authorities bore any blame. He was 34.

In the weeks that have passed, equally puzzling questions have arisen about just who Mr. See was and how many lives he led.

Was he a hip, beloved college professor enmeshed in discord with the man he had recently married? Was he someone battling crippling health and emotional problems? Or was he a gay hustler, brazenly posting explicit pictures of himself on male escort websites in pursuit of sexual encounters?

From the incomplete pieces that have thus far emerged, it seems he was all of those things.

Over at least the last year, according to people who knew him, the once outgoing Mr. See had become withdrawn. He told one professor that he was H.I.V. positive; a friend said Mr. See believed he had bipolar disorder; and several people said he seemed depressed. In the last year and a half, according to Frank Anastasio, a neighbor, ambulances took Mr. See from his apartment at least half a dozen times. Another neighbor said an ambulance came for him the day before his arrest. At the time, Mr. See was on an unpaid leave.
The star of the leading reality TV show has expressed a personal hetersexual preference:
A&E has placed Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following anti-gay remarks he made in a recent profile in GQ.

"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty," A&E said in a statement. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."

The news comes after Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality in an interview with the magazine. He'll likely appear in season four, which bows Jan. 15, since production is largely wrapped.

"It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus," Robertson says in the January issue of the men's magazine. "That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."

During a discussion about repentance and God, Robertson is asked what he finds sinful.

"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," he says. "Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

He goes on to paraphrase Corinthians: "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers -- they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
Here is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (New King James Version):
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals [catamites], nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
It is not true that Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality. He merely stated his preference, and recited a list of biblical sins, in response to questions.

Pope Francis is LGBT person of the year, for his comments on gay priests. He also reiterated previous Catholic doctrines on the subject.

Update: Newt Gingrich said:
Ironically, if you read the whole interview, not just take one section, he [Robertson] talks very specifically about loving everybody. He talks very specifically about not being judgmental toward anybody, that’s God’s decision, not his. I mean, it is remarkable. There’s sections there where he sounds like Pope Francis.
Update: People assume that A+E had the right to suspend Robertson, but I question that. His contract probably requires him to do interviews to promote the show, and that is what he did. There is probably also a clause against disparaging others, but he did not do that, except maybe to say that he does not understand gays.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bonus for attractive people

A new study shows:
Looks have long-term consequences:

Women gain an eight percent wage bonus for above-average looks and pay a four percent wage penalty for below-average looks.

For men, the bonus is only four percent. But the penalty for below-average looks is even higher than for women – a full 13 percent.

From high school on, people rate better-looking people higher in intelligence, personality, and potential for success—and this often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The knee-jerk liberal reaction:
No one should be judged by their sex, their color, or whether they are attractive.
I wonder what is the justification for this statement is. Millions of people judge the attractiveness of others every day, if not billions. How else would society work? What is the harm?

Attractiveness is partially inborn and heritable, but so is intelligence, personality, health, religiosity, and many other factors.

The bias towards better-looking people may be entirely logical:
Empirical studies demonstrate that individuals perceive physically attractive others to be more intelligent than physically unattractive others. While most researchers dismiss this perception as a “bias” or “stereotype,” we contend that individuals have this perception because beautiful people indeed are more intelligent.
Meanwhile, scientists are correcting the bias against Neanderthals:
Archaeologists have long debated the question of whether Neandertals buried their dead. The practice is considered a key feature of modern human behavior. In recent years researchers have found compelling evidence that Neandertals had other modern practices, such as decorating their bodies and making sophisticated tools. Furthermore, they did these things before anatomically modern humans invaded their turf, which suggests that Neandertals developed these cultural traditions independently, rather than learning them from savvy newcomers.

Over the years researchers have argued that a number of Neandertal sites preserve evidence of burials.
And some scientists are trying to censor the word "God". A public radio station reports:
The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum on Monday removed a controversial quote from its Nature Lab exhibit.

The quote, which was put up at the request of an anonymous donor, read:

"The Nature Lab is a gift to Los Angeles to celebrate all of God's creatures and enable NHM to broaden our understanding of the natural world through the process of scientific discovery.' Anonymous Donor - 2013 "

The use of the phrase "God's creatures" angered some scientists, including University of Chicago Department of Ecology and Evolution professor Jerry Coyne.
Coyne is a hard-core atheist-determinist, but it is really hard to see how anyone could be angered by such an innocuous statement.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bullying is now name-calling

Wikipedia defines:
Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively to impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.
I always thought of bullying as physical violence, or the use of threats for coercion. But more and more, the term seems to used to describe simple name-calling, such as one of the biggest sports stories of the year being this NFL football scandal:
Incognito was suspended earlier this month after Martin went public with allegations he has long been harassed and bullied by teammates, including receiving voice mail and text messages from Incognito where be berated him as a "half-nigger" and threatened to "kill him."
Our current school anti-bullying fad seems to be directed at name-calling. When I was in school, bullying referred to getting beaten up, and no one got so upset by a little silly name-calling. We must be raising an extremely emotionally fragile generation.

Now using the word "retard" can get a comic banned from Facebook.

The most outrageous recent example of bullying was how the Mandela memorial interpreter mocked all of the speakers on international TV:
The South African sign language interpreter accused of using fake signs at Nelson Mandela's memorial service this week said he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the event, but another interpreter says it was not the first time Thamsanqa Jantjie has done bogus interpretations.

Jantjie, who has been called an imposter by sign experts, told Johannesburg's Star newspaper Thursday that he hallucinated and heard voices during the memorial service.
Why do some people find name-calling so offensive? Apparently it is a cultural thing among non-Europeans:
Shame is the primary means of behavioral control in most societies. If you are seen breaking a social rule, you will feel shame, and this feeling will be reinforced by what people say and do (gossiping, malicious looks, spitting, ostracism, etc.). Shame is much less effective if you break a rule without being seen or if you merely think about breaking a rule.

Guilt is more important in European societies, particularly those of Northwest European origin. It operates even when you act alone or merely think about breaking a rule. Behavior can thus be regulated in all possible situations with a minimum of surveillance.
The rise of individualism in northwest Europe is closely related to the shift from shame to guilt.

As the USA is being flooded with non-European immigrants, we are accommodating a shame culture.

Update: More info on the fake interpreter:
JOHANNESBURG - eNCA can reveal the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial on Tuesday faced a murder charge in 2003.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, who is being treated for schizophrenia, has also faced rape (1994), theft (1995), house-breaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003) charges.

It’s unknown if the case was ever concluded as the court file is mysteriously empty.

The man now known by many as the ‘fake interpreter’, stood just a foot away from world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, who is one of the most heavily protected men on the planet.

President Jacob Zuma and leaders from China, Cuba, Brazil and India were also on the stage.

eNCA's investigations have found that Thamsanqa Jantjie, who is being treated for schizophrenia, has also faced rape (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003) charges.

Many of the charges brought against him were dropped, allegedly because he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The sorry state of moral philosophy

I listened to two recent podcasts on moral philosophy, book on Partiality by Simon Keller andPeter Singer on Being a Utilitarian in the Real World. These tried to explain the theories of our great geniuses of the subject.

A 5yo child could make more sense. A central dilemma is why someone would prefer to save the life of a spouse or relative, over some complete stranger. The philosophers adamantly argue that there can be no rational basis for such a preference.

These philosophers are all atheists (or Jewish atheists), and they ridicule any religious view.

Singer argues that it is an objective truth that no person is any better than any other. He is entitled to his bizarre animal rights opinions, but when he denies that contrary views exist, he is an idiot. When he gives public speeches, protesters compare him to the German Nazis.

The reasons for preferring to save your friends are: Your friends have greater value to you. You have implicit mutual support agreements with your friends. You would rather not watch horrible things happen to your friends. You are loyal to your friends. It is not clear that civilization could even exist without some sort of in-group loyalty.

Our leading medical ethicists seem to have been corrupted by these idiot moral philosophers. This is front page news in my California beach town:
Elizabeth Bonilla was given the gift of time, so she is sending something back to mark the hours.

The 14-year-old Watsonville girl is still recovering from a cancer diagnosis that came a day after 12th birthday. But she recently spoke for the first time with the stranger that probably saved her life, a 50-year-old San Antonio woman named Hope, and is painting a clock to send as an expression of gratitude. ...

The donor program does not allow donors and patients to connect for at least a year after the procedure, partly to make sure it goes well.
No, this is crazy. Donors should be paid, and allowed the satisfaction of seeing the benefit of the donation. Then a lot more people would be willing to donate. The program seems designed to appeal to someone with the stunted morals of Singer.

Update: When Congress funded billions for the Human Genome Project, it required that 5% be spent on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program. As far as I know, no good case from any of that 5%.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Male chromosome is essential and evolves faster

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes:
Dr. David Page, the zippy evolutionary biologist teaching a class Wednesday called “Are Males Really Necessary?,” had helpfully laid out some props to illustrate gene swapping — bananas, apples and heads of lettuce arranged on a table covered with a flowery white tablecloth.

“Since only females can give birth, why is it of any advantage to the species to have a second sex?” he asked. “Why should nature bother with males?” ...

“The Y chromosome did essentially fall asleep at the wheel about 200 to 300 million years ago, not long after we parted evolutionary company with birds, while we were still pretty close to our reptilian ancestors,” Dr. Page tells me now. “And then, at the last minute before the car veered off the cliff, the Y chromosome woke up and got with the program and said, ‘I don’t have a lot left, but what I have left I’m going to keep.’”

Dr. Page and Dr. Jennifer Hughes led a team that decoded the Y chromosome of rhesus monkeys, which share a common ancestor with humans, and discovered that the Y’s gene shedding leveled off about 20 to 30 million years ago. In the Y’s cliffhanger, the chromosome used its toolbox to repair some of its genes and became fastidious about not allowing the other genes to be damaged.

As The Times’s Nicholas Wade sanguinely noted, “There are grounds for hope that the Y chromosome has reached a plateau of miniaturized perfection and will shrivel no more.”
Dowd previously wrote a book titled Are Men Necessary? So I guess she thinks that she is an expert on the subject.

So the Y chromosome got smaller between 250M and 25M years ago, and for that she thinks men are unnecessary?

If she read her own newspaper, she would have learned in 2010:
A new look at the human Y chromosome has overturned longstanding ideas about its evolutionary history. Far from being in a state of decay, the Y chromosome is the fastest-changing part of the human genome and is constantly renewing itself. ...

The chimpanzee and human lineages shared a common ancestor just six million years ago, a short slice of evolutionary time. Over all, the genomes of the two species are very similar and differ in less than 1 percent of their DNA. But the Y chromosomes differ in 30 percent of their DNA, meaning that these chromosomes are changing far faster in both species than the rest of the genome. ...

In the Y, which originally had the same set of genes as the X, most of the X-related genes have disappeared over the last 200 million years. Until now, many biologists have assumed either that the Y chromosome was headed for eventual extinction, or that its evolutionary downslide was largely over and it has sunk into stagnation.

Dr. Page’s new finding is surprising because it shows that the Y chromosome has achieved an unexpected salvation. The hallmark of the Y chromosome now turns out to be renewal and reinvigoration, once the unnecessary burden of X-related genes has been shed.

“Natural selection is shaping the Y and keeping it vital to a degree that is really at odds with the idea of the last 50 years of a rotting Y chromosome,” Dr. Page said. “It is now clear that the Y chromosome is by far the most rapidly evolving part of the human and chimp genomes.”
I was surprised that evolutionists could be so wrong for 50 years. Males are under much greater selection pressure than females, so it stands to reason that the Y chromosome would be evolving faster.

A current New Scientist article says:
The defining genetic feature of maleness, the Y chromosome, contains only two genes that are absolutely essential for male function – at least in mice. ...

Until recently, many geneticists thought of the Y chromosome as a vestigial ruin full of decaying genes and doomed to evolutionary oblivion because, unlike all the other chromosomes, it lacks a second copy to serve as a backup when mutation strikes. However, the Y turns out to have other ways of repairing mutations, and recent evidence suggests that the chromosome has been relatively stable over the last 100 million years of evolution. However, most of its genes are involved in a single function, male reproduction.
Update: Dowd announced that she decided early in life that boys liked her better when she was nice, so she quit being nice.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

China and India emitting carbon

NPR radio reports:
In the coming decades, carbon dioxide emissions from China, India and other rapidly developing countries are expected to grow rapidly. China and India have said they won't commit to controlling their carbon dioxide emissions.
For every reduction of a ton of CO2 in the USA, there is probably an increase of ten tons in China and India. Carbon reduction in the USA is counter-productive. If we were serious about carbon reduction, then we would be discouraging development in China and India.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Denmark faces immigration disaster

Here are some more things you cannot say. A Denmark scientific journal is censoring a paper with these conclusions:
- Contrary to official statistics, immigrant birth rates are not falling. In fact, they have been rising since 1980 and were over twice the ethnic Danish birth rate in 2009. Meanwhile, the ethnic Danish birth rate has been falling since 1995 and reached a new low of 9.31 in 2009.

- After rising for half a century, average national IQ began to fall in 1997. This decline has also been observed in Norway, even though average IQ has continued to rise elsewhere (in line with the Flynn effect).

- By 2050, less than one fifth of the population will have IQs in the 90 to 104 range, whereas over half will have IQs in the 70 to 85 range. Primary schools will mainly have low IQ children of sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, North African, Latin American, and Caribbean backgrounds.

- By 2072, ethnic Danes will have fallen to 60% of the population and 33% of all births. They will become a minority around 2085.
Any immigration discussion needs to be informed by the facts. These should be alarming to Danes, if true.

Here in California, non-hispanic whites have dropped to only 40% of the population, and only about 30% of births.

Update: Anthropologist Peter Frost has some sensible comments.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hello, okay, huh

The USA got its language from England, but there are three words universally recognized all over the world, and they are all American.

Okay was invented in 1839 as a misspelled abbreviation of "all correct".

Hello was invented to have something to say when answering the newly-invented telephone.

Huh is impossible to trace and seems to date back centuries, and is now used all over the world. I cannot put my finger on an American inventor in this case, but it is hard to see how such a brilliantly expressive word could spread so widely without American influence.

So please do not say that Americans have no linguistic original. Maybe our 50k other words are stolen, but we are responsible for the three most universal words.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Brain signals seem random

I have mentioned the Libet experiments, and the dubious argument against free will. Supposedly a brain signal shows that a decision can be unconsciously made.

Now new research claims to refute the experiment:
Jo et al say that these shifts are more or less random, spontaneous background changes in the brain – nothing to do with ‘readiness’ or decisions.
I am surprised that such a famous experiment could be so wrong. This is the main experiment cited by those who say that free will has been disproved.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Get vaccinated if you want

Julia Ioffe writes in the New Republic:
I've Got Whooping Cough. Thanks a Lot, Jenny McCarthy.

It’s funny having the whooping cough [aka pertussis] at 31 in 2013. ...

The problem is that it is not an individual choice; it is a choice that acutely affects the rest of us. Vaccinations work by creating something called herd immunity: When most of a population is immunized against a disease, it protects even those in it who are not vaccinated, either because they are pregnant or babies or old or sick. For herd immunity to work, 95 percent of the population needs to be immunized. But the anti-vaccinators have done a good job undermining it. In 2010, for example, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots.
Maybe only 91% are up-to-date, but about 98% eventually get all of the recommended shots. But why is she blaming McCarthy and kids?

Ioffe admits that she had not gotten the pertussis vaccine booster herself, even tho the CDC has been recommending it for adults since 2005:
Okay, a lot of people have been asking me since I posted a little ditty about having whooping cough, the common name for pertussis: Was I vaccinated? Others have accused me of being part of the problem: If I knew the vaccine wore off, why didn't I get a booster? ... there is no reason for me to get a pertussis booster.
She explains that she did not get the vaccine because she was freeloading off the herd immunity of kids. Now she has immunity from having the disease.

But we have never had herd immunity for pertussis. Teenagers and adults commonly get it, but it is usually undiagnosed because it appears to be just a nasty cough. Fortunately very few adults get the disease as bad as what Ioffe describes.

It is a little crazy to blame McCarthy for pertussis. Ioffe probably got the disease from another adult who failed to get the recommended vaccine. McCarthy is not a medical expert, and does not even have any opinion about adult booster shots, as far as I know. Ioffe is the one who is spreading medical misinformation in The New Republic magazine.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sears Tower still tallest

I keep seeing silly claims that other skyscrapers are taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago, such as in Malaysia and elsewhere. Time reports:
The new World Trade Center tower was designed to be the tallest in the country, a symbolic 1776-foot marker of American resilience.

But the developer decided to nix the decorative mast that would have accounted for more than 400 feet, saying it would have been impossible to maintain. Instead, the nearly-completed building has a mostly-bare broadcast antenna that reaches the 1,776-foot goal—but may or may not be counted in the building’s official height.

A committee of architects met behind closed doors Friday to decide whether the design change will impact the official measure of the building’s height. Without the mast, the tower reaches 1,368 feet, the same height as the original World Trade Center towers but below Chicago’s 1,450-foot Willis Tower (not including its antenna), formerly known as the Sears Tower.
Since the Sears Towers, as it is still commonly called, skyscrapers have added radio antennas spires in order to be classified as being taller, but it is much more reasonable to measure to the roof or the top occupied floor.

My guess is that they will say that the new WTC tower is the tallest, because that is the patriotic thing to do.

There is a much taller building in Dubai, but I am not sure that it has indoor plumbing. Maybe we should measure to the highest floor with a toilet connected to a sewer system.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Searching for the math gene

Here is an example of people opposed to knowledge.

Nature mag reports:
Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed ‘Project Einstein’. They plan to sequence the participants’ genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed.

The team will be wading into a field fraught with controversy. ...

The critics say that the sizes of these studies are too small to yield meaningful results for such complex traits. And some are concerned about ethical issues. If the projects find genetic markers for maths ability, these could be used as a basis for the selective abortion of fetuses or in choosing between embryos created through in vitro fertilization, says Curtis McMullen. A mathematician at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a 1998 winner of the prestigious Fields Medal, McMullen was asked to participate in Project Einstein and declined. ...

There is precedent to the concept of sequencing extreme outliers in a population in the hunt for influential genes. Scientists have used the technique to sift for genes that influence medical conditions such as high blood pressure and bone loss. Some behavioural geneticists, such as Robert Plomin at King’s College London, who is involved with the BGI project, say that there is no reason that this same approach won’t work for maths ability. As much as two-thirds of a child’s mathematical aptitude seems to be influenced by genes (Y. Kovas et al. Psychol. Sci. 24, 2048–2056; 2013).
This project may be a failure, as most attempts to relate genes to behavior have been.

Some people are irrationally scared of genes and IQ. This is just a research project looking for medical knowledge.

The name "Einstein" is an odd choice, if they are looking for mathematical talent. Einstein made very little contribution to mathematics. He is famous for relativity and that is a mathematical theory, but nearly all of the mathematics was worked out by others, and not Einstein.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Saving kids and animals

Here is an example of misguided efforts to save animals, and value them more than people.
Santa Cruz' famous downtown mountain lion was struck and killed while crossing Highway 17 early Thursday morning near Vine Hill Road.

The lion's body was given to UC Santa Cruz researchers, who helped capture the wayward puma in June and fitted it with a tracking collar. The juvenile male crossed Highway 17 several times in the months since its downtown excursion. ...

The nonlethal approach earned statewide praise, and came after law enforcement in Half Moon Bay were roundly criticized for killing two cubs who wandered into the city. The state Legislature later passed a bill encouraging nonlethal responses by public safety officials when mountain lions don't pose an imminent threat to public safety.

Those aren't the only threats to lion, and UCSC researchers are looking at the intersection of wildlife habitat and urban boundaries. Pumas can be shot for harassing domestic animals, and freeways pose a big threat.

Just days ago, a female mountain lion was killed on Interstate 280 in San Jose. Mountain lions frequently cross Highway 17 between Lexington Reservior and Los Gatos, and between Vine Hill Road and Laurel Curve in Santa Cruz County.

A state Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said the incident happened overnight, and that it appears 39M was struck by several vehicles. Not only was Atlas struck on the same road, but a pregnant female puma also was killed there.
Statewise praise? For endangering the highway drivers for a year and getting the cat killed anyway? If the state allowed shooting the cats who wander into populated areas, everybody would be better off.

Here is the annual scare story about Halloween razor blades in treats:
The Nashua Police Department is currently investigating an incident involving a single loose razor blade found in a child’s bag, while the child was trick or treating in the area of Broad Street. ...

Update: Nashua police say this was a misunderstanding.
Joel Best debunks the myth:
Eventually, I decided to test this. I figured that a child killed by a poisoned treat would be a big news story, so I looked at 25 years of Halloween coverage in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune—the most prominent papers in the nation’s three biggest urban areas. I could not find a single report of a child who had been killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up on the course of trick-or-treating.
There are paranoid people who take their Halloween candy to hospitals for xraying. Maybe the parents should be going to a psychiatric hospital instead.

In my experience, these are two subjects where you cannot reason with people. They think that they are saving kids and animals, and it does not seem to matter to them if the facts show that no kids or animals are really being saved.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boys are treated like defective girls

Christina Hoff Sommers writes in Time magazine:
Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.” ...

In a major report released last year by the British Parliament’s Boys’ Reading Commission, the authors openly acknowledge sex differences and use a color-coded chart to illustrate boys’ and girls’ different reading preferences: girls prefer fiction, magazines, blogs and poetry; boys like comics, nonfiction and newspapers.
Most school reading assignments consist of worthless fiction. Nonfiction would be much better.

A NY Times writer defends fiction:
At a time when confirmation bias has never been more insidious, fiction may more effectively transmit hidden, difficult truths.

Nonfiction generally has the lead over fiction in being true: ...

But of course fiction also claims to be true. In Mary Shelley’s preface to “Frankenstein” (a preface that turns out to have been ghostwritten for her by Percy Bysshe Shelley), she (or he) says of her tale of the monster jolted to life by electricity, “However impossible as a physical fact,” it “affords a point of view . . . for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.” She (or he) adds, “I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature, while I have not scrupled to innovate upon their combinations.”
I don't know how serious she is. If you want to learn truths, reading Frankenstein is not the way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gene and IQ tests are scary

A gene-testing company blog writes:
They’re interested in exploring their own genetic information because knowing gives them the power to take action. ...

But not everyone sees things in that way. Some people don’t want to know. ...

It is interesting to look a little deeper at this notion of why some people want to know and some others don’t. If you talk to someone who has tested, they’re often baffled as to why someone wouldn’t want to know. Conversely, if you talk to someone who doesn’t want to get tested, he or she seem incredulous that anyone would want to find out they had a genetic risk for any disease.
This is strange. You do not find people who are similarly reluctant to learn their blood pressure or cholesterol count.

The print article says:
But I appreciate the advice from Duke's Don Taylor most. "It's possible the best thing you can do is burn that damn report and never think of it again.
There is something about gene tests and IQ tests that is very scary to people. The above hostility to DNA tests seems quite irrational, as the info in question is that not that much different from learning the health of your relatives. Eg, if your parents have heart disease, then you are at higher risk for heart disease.

The whole business plan of is based on convincing people to share genetic info, and yet the company was apparently unable to find one person to make his gene data public. The site has some health info about a fictionalized Mendel family, but not the actual genome data. I would think that the principals of the company would post their genomes, to show that the data is nothing to be scared about.

What is the downside to posting your genome on a public web site? If you have an unknown illegitimate child somewhere, he might find you. Or the police might match you to a cold case murder. Or you could be Angelina Jolie and people could find out that you have an inherited susceptibility for breast cancer.

The College Board SAT test is no longer called an aptitude test, because people were scared that it was too much like an IQ test.

Another article says it is bad to let kids think that some are more intelligent than others:
The idea that math ability is mostly genetic is one dark facet of a larger fallacy that intelligence is mostly genetic. ...

A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort. ...

Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic.
The authors teach math and claim that A students think that they are acing math because they are smarter, but it is actually because they work harder:
The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.
This is supposed to convince us that it is better to tell kids that success is a function of hard work, not talent. But the argument seems to imply that some kids are indeed doing better because they believe that they are developing their natural talents.

Of course school performance, as well as almost all other behaviors, is a complex combination of nature and nurture. That has been known since ancient times. The highest achievers in sports, math, or anything else have superior talent and training. The idea that success is merely a matter of 10,000 hours of work is a foolish myth. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which getting a DNA or aptitude test is harmful.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

You can prove a negative

It is widely claimed that you cannot prove a negative, but Steven D. Hales rebuts this:
But there is one big, fat problem with all this. Among professional logicians, guess how many think that you can’t prove a negative? That’s right: zero. Yes, Virginia, you can prove a negative, and it’s easy, too.
Excerpts here, also.

Proving a negative is not necessarily any harder than proving a positive. I can prove that there is no elephant in my room, because it would have to be big enough for me to see, and there is no place to hide. Proof of impossibility dates back to 500 BC, when it was proved that no rational number could be the diagonal of a unit square.

Sometimes the phrase "proving a negative" is invoked in connection with some untestable hypothesis, such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But the problem there is the lack of an empirical hypothesis, not any negativity.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Most big computer projects fail

ComputerWorld reports:
Of 3,555 projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful. The Standish data showed that 52% of the large projects were "challenged," meaning they were over budget, behind schedule or didn't meet user expectations. The remaining 41.4% were failures -- they were either abandoned or started anew from scratch.

"They didn't have a chance in hell," said Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of Standish, of "There was no way they were going to get this right - they only had a 6% chance," he said.
The web site is the simplest part of ObamaCare. There are many other aspects to the system that are untested and will have to be fixed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Christianity promoted the rise of science

For the question Did Christianity (and other religions) promote the rise of science?, here are some quotes:
“. . . the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.”—Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith“, New York Times.

“Moral laws are promulgated by God for free creatures, who have it in their power to obey or disobey. The laws of nature, on the other hand, are promulgated for the inanimate world of matter; physical objects don’t get to decide to obey, say, Newton’s law of gravity. In each case, however, we have the setting forth or promulgation of divine rule for a certain domain of application. It is important to see that our notion of the laws of nature, crucial for contemporary science, has this origin in Christian theism.”  —Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p. 276

“Indeed, a distinctive feature of the Scientific Revolution is that, unlike other scientific programmes and cultures, it is driven, often explicitly, by religious considerations: Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy in many respects and projected it forward in a way quite different from that of any scientific culture. Moreover, when the standing of religion as a source of knowledge about the world, and cognitive values generally, came to be threatened, it was not science that posed the threat but history.” —S. Graukoger, The Emergence of a Modern Scientific Culture, p. 3

“faith in the possibility of science, generated antecdently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.” —Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 19.

“Recent scholarship, most of it conducted by secular academics, has established that religious belief was entirely compatible with scientific progress, even encouraging it in many cases.”—K. Giberson and F. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith
One approach is to compare scientific accomplishments over the last few centuries under cultures dominated by the major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese. Christian societies have done far more than all the others put together.

A lot of scientists today are atheists, but atheism is not a belief system, so it is not really comparable. Einstein did not believe in a personal God, but he did very much identify with Jewishness all of his life. It is fair to say that he subscribed to the Jewish religion. A lot of these atheist scientists are cultural Christians or Jews.

I am not sure what Christian beliefs helped, but I suggest: Seeking truth (Jesus said "the truth shall make you free" John 8:32), individualism, free will, an orderly universe. Also Christianity absorbed ancient Greek philosophy and science, as well as more modern advances. Christianity coexists with government and other institutions, and does not pretend to answer all questions. Other religions tend to be much more superstitious, and less adaptable to scientific progress.

The vocal atheist scientists attack Christianity all the time, but most of the attacks are not against mainstream Christian teachings.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Bad science from AAAS Science

AAAS Science magazine is supposed to be the USA's leading science journal, and it just did a
study claiming to show that its rival had lower standards. But it turned out that
Science mag itself was the one to publish the crappy study.

The journal also got a lot of publicity for a study claiming that reading certain literature improves empathy. That study is savagely criticized here and here.

It even claims in its masthead to be "The World's Leading Journal of Original Scientific Research, Global News, and Commentary." It was started by Thomas Edison.

Another story claims that Ashkenazi Jews are maternally descended from Italians and other Europeans, not Israelites. There is more explanation at NY Times and West Hunter.

Monday, October 07, 2013

An ape sits where Abe sat

I do not have a NY Times subscription, so I found this in today's edition:
The nation’s capital in the future is not a pretty sight after having been destroyed in The Political Fight of 2013.
Published: October 5, 2013


AN ape sits where Abe sat.

To see the full article, subscribe here.
Really? I am assuming that "Abe" refers to President Lincoln, and "The Political Fight of 2013" refers to President Obama's shutdown of 17% of the federal government.

A subscriber tells me that Dowd was not intending to call Obama an ape, but instead trying to use some sort of confused metaphor about Mad Max landing on the Planet of the Apes. I don't know about that, as Dowd is so incoherent that she rarely makes her intended point clear. I am just commenting on her article, as published in the NY Times. And it says that an ape sits where Abe sat in Washington.

Meanwhile, this anagram is making the rounds:
President Barack Obama = An Arab backed Imposter

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Lack of women in hard sciences

The NY Times has a long article complaining that women are not encouraged enough in science:
Even at the very highest levels, test scores might be irrelevant; apparently, Richard Feynman’s I.Q. was a less-than-remarkable 125.

The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on. ...

As so many studies have demonstrated, success in math and the hard sciences, far from being a matter of gender, is almost entirely dependent on culture — a culture that teaches girls math isn’t cool and no one will date them if they excel in physics; a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees; a culture in which success in graduate school is a matter of isolation, competition and ridiculously long hours in the lab; a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.
Maybe Feynman tested a 125 on one test, but he tested a whole lot higher on some other tests.

Maybe women only go into science if they are encouraged to do so, but I very much doubt that about men. Our culture also teaches boys that math isn't cool and that no one will date them if they major in physics. Boys go into science because they love the subject.

The complaint about a TV sitcom is especially bizarre. The men are ridiculed much more than the women.

For another view:
Why the differing results? First, because different samples differ. Second, because there were some selection effects in the previous paper which may have accounted for the reduction in the gap. Third, because the male/female ratio always becomes higher the higher you set the level for mathematical achievement, so some of these fluctuating results may depend on how high the bar is set. That last result may tell you all you need to know. Being very, very good at mathematics is a man thing.
As Nature magazine explains, this is one of several related taboo subjects, where scientists avoid the subject or say nonsense.
Here are the four questions in Nature's poll.

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of intelligence?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of race?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of violence?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of sexuality?
If these subjects are so taboo, you will have a hard time getting straight answers.

A black law professor Osagie K. Obasogie shows his hostility to these taboos in a SciAm article:
As we consider Edwards’s legacy in light of his recent passing, it is important to think critically about the relationship between Edwards’s development of IVF and his participation in an organization that was dedicated to promoting one of the most dangerous ideas in human history: that science should be used to control human reproduction in order to breed preferred types of people.

Coined by Galton in the late 1800s to mean "well-born," eugenics became a dominant aspect of Western intellectual life and social policy during the first half of the 20th century. It started with the seemingly simple proposition that one's social position is rooted in heritable qualities of character and intellect.
Of course IVF (test-tube baby) technology uses science to improve human reproduction. Would Obasogie prefer that science make people worse?

A recent Freakonomic podcast was about how windfalls from an 1850 Georgia lottery failed to show any noticeable benefit on succeeding generations:
DUBNER: It’s funny, Hoyt, because we actually had a listener write to us recently and say, you know, I really like your show, but god it’s depressing. It’s like you take all this good news out there, and all these good ideas, and good plans, and nice intentions and show how, you know, people game the system, or they don’t work. Now, I disputed this a little bit. I actually think that we’re extremely optimistic and kind of hunting always for ideas that do work well. But I’ll be honest with you, you’ve depressed the crap out of me, Hoyt. Because you’ve taken a very basic idea and belief, which is that poverty is addressable by a very simple intervention, which is giving money to poor people, and you’re saying based on this evidence that’s just not a solid argument, at least when made that narrowly, right?

BLEAKLEY: No, that’s right. There may be something that you can give to them, but money is not that something, at least in this episode.

DUBNER: Alright, let me ask you this, not that this is going to be any less depressing, but it might be a little more entertaining. Have you looked at all on literature on modern lotteries and what happens to people who win them, and whether they do a better job of encouraging human capital acquisition among their offspring?

BLEAKLEY: Oh, no if you want to be depressed you should read either the academic literature or the journalistic accounts of lottery winners because they basically waste it, right, blow through the money very quickly and often times end up worse than how they started, many of them.
So why is this depressing? I would find it depressing if my station in life would somehow be determined by whether my great-grandfather won some stupid lottery.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Terrorism in the name of Islam

Here is a politician in denial:
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, says:
‘These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of a religion – they don’t.  They do it in the name of terror, violence and extremism and their warped view of the world. They don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world.’ 
Read the Koran. Look at how Mohammad lived. Look at how Islam has been practiced for 1300 years. Look at how the Koran and Islam are taught today. Look at who is doing the terrorism. What more evidence do you need?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New Gladwell book is more junk

Psychology professor Christopher Chabris trashed a new book in a paywalled review:
Malcolm Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior. ...

Mr. Gladwell enjoys a reputation for translating social science into actionable insights. But the data behind the surprising dyslexia claim is awfully slim. ...

The overarching thesis of "David and Goliath" is that for the strong, "the same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness," whereas for the weak, "the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty." According to Mr. Gladwell, the secret of Mr. Boies's greatness is neither luck nor training. Rather, he got where he did because he was dyslexic.
I question whether David Boies is such a great lawyer, as he has famously lost some big cases. He lost Bush v Gore by arguing for a non-uniform recount, when a uniform recount might have won the election for his client. He lost Napster. He bungled the antitrust case against Microsoft by emphasizing embarrassing emails and failing to make arguments that would result in a meaningful remedy. Most recently he failed to convince the US Supreme Court that there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, even tho that seemed to be the belief of Kennedy and the four liberals.

Gladwell is famous for spreading a number of bad ideas, such as his 10,000 rule, debunked by a recent book on the sports gene (but Gladwell still defending it), and the value of reshirting. I posted below how a lot of people believe in academic redshirting, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Another review of Gladwell's new book points out evidence against athletic redshirting as well:
In his 2008 bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell famously identifies an “iron law of Canadian hockey: In any elite group of hockey players — the very best of the best — 40% of the players will have been born between January and March.” Gladwell explains this phenomenon through the relative age effect — the theory that Jan. 1 cut-off dates mean that kids born early in the year are bigger and stronger than those born later; the stronger kids make the team, practice more and the gap inexorably widens. So, if you want to produce the next Crosby, aim for January. Seems straightforward, right?

According to the sociologists Benjamin Gibbs, Jonathan Jarvis and Mikaela Dufur, it’s anything but. In a study published last year in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, the trio argues that if you redefine “elite,” Gladwell’s theory crumbles. Gibbs and his team looked at Canadian-born players on NHL All-Star teams and Canadian Olympic hockey rosters from recent years. They found that, on average, just 17% of those players were born in January, February or March. On Canada’s 2010 gold medal-winning team, a mere 13% adhere to the “iron law.” An early birth date may be advantageous if your goal is simply reaching the NHL. However, at “the most elite levels of play, the relative age effect reverses.” In other words, to achieve true hockey greatness, an early birthday is a disadvantage.
Steve Pinker describes Gladwell as having an Igon Value Problem. That is, he is a good story-teller who interviews experts and regurgitates anecdotes without really understanding them.

Gladwell has made millions of dollars on his books. Readers are somehow suckered into believing that he has profound insights into human behavior. He is one of the most highly paid speakers in the world. And yet his lessons are self-contradictory and contrary to common sense. The New Yorker is famous for publishing this sort of writer. Jonah Lehrer is another example.

In his defense:
I feel pretty badly for Malcolm Gladwell. Everyone from Steven Pinker to Steve Sailer criticizes his writings. He seems like a soft-spoken, genuinely kind man who is trying to encourage everyone to try their best in life, even if they don’t have the natural talent. (Not saying his detractors are saying otherwise. I understand why they do it, as the truth should matter more than good intentions.)
So I guess his books sell because people like what he has to say, whether it is right or not.

Pinker also has a new book of previous essays, Language, Cognition, and Human Nature. It includes his Why nature & nurture won’t go away where he explains how academics falsely promote the blank slate. While most liberal prefer nuture over nature, JayMan cites the evidence for genetic determinism, and denies free will. In particular, many political beliefs are highly heritable.

Update: Slate has a new article on academic redshirting:
The practice has become even more controversial in recent years over claims that some parents do it for the wrong reasons: They redshirt their kids not because their kids aren’t ready for school, but because, in the age of parenting as competitive sport, holding them out might give them an academic, social, and athletic edge over their peers. If little Delia is the star of kindergarten, they scheme, maybe she’ll ride the wave all the way to Harvard. Gaming the system this way, of course, puts other kids at a disadvantage.
I fail to see how it can be wrong to get your kid a better education. Other parents could do the same thing, if they wanted. Just because a decision is an advantage to one kid, does not mean that it is a disadvantage to others. And as the article explains, the redshirting studies indicate that it is not even an advantage:
In 2006, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California analyzed national data collected over many years from 15,000 26-year-olds. They compared what became of kids who had been redshirted to what became of kids who had been young for their class but not redshirted. They found that the redshirted kids performed worse on 10th-grade tests, were twice as likely to drop out of school, and were less likely to graduate from college; the only advantage to redshirting was that redshirted kids were marginally more likely to play varsity sports in high school. (Journalist Malcolm Gladwell made this “relative age effect” famous in his book Outliers when he pointed out that many professional hockey players were born between January and March and thus had been the oldest on their school hockey teams; however, this effect does not seem to exist for football, volleyball, and basketball or any women’s sports.)

Other research suggests that redshirted kids are less motivated and engaged than their younger peers in high school and that they are more likely to require special education services. And in a 2008 review, David Deming, an economist of education at Harvard University, and Susan Dynarski, an education and public policy expert at the University of Michigan, concluded that redshirted kids also tend to have lower IQs and earnings as adults. This latter finding is probably linked to the fact that redshirted teens are more likely to drop out of high school than non-redshirted teens. Redshirted kids tend to have lower lifetime earnings, too, because they enter the labor force a year later.
Update: Gladwell replies:
What is going on here? The kinds of people who read books in America seem to have no problem with my writing. But I am clearly a bee in the bonnet of some of the kinds of people who review books in America. I think this has to do with the way in which my books are written. I write in the genre of what might be called “intellectual adventure stories.” ...

habris should calm down. I was simply saying that all writing about social science need not be presented with the formality and precision of the academic world. There is a place for storytelling, in all of its messiness. My point was that the people who read my books appreciate this. They are perfectly aware of the strengths and weakness of the narrative form. They know what a story can and can’t do, and they understand that narratives sometimes begin in one place and end in another.
Okay, his readers like his storytelling. Just don't take him too seriously.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Strip joint wants $35k credit card bill

I am not sure why this is a story:
A San Francisco strip club is suing Oracle after the tech goliath refused to pay a $33,540 bill allegedly racked up on the company credit card.

Larkin Street's New Century Theater has filed a lawsuit claiming a man - named in the legal paperwork as Jose Manuel Gomez Sanchez - slid into the sexy flesh-pit last year and partied through the night.

It's alleged he used an Oracle-issued American Express card between 1am and 5am to pay for $16,490 of undisclosed services on 2 October - right in the middle of Oracle's OpenWorld 2012 conference in the city - and then returned two days later to splurge $17,050.

According to the San Fran Chronicle, Oracle was not willing to settle the subsequent bill.
Of course Oracle was unwilling to pay. Obvious this is an unauthorized charge, whether the card was stolen or not.

The strip club knew that this was not a legitimate business expense, and would not have accepted the card if it were honest. The club was committing some sort of fraud. Maybe the club should be criminally prosecuted.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Columnist obsessed with hating the Pope

Edgar Ross writes:
In 1992, 359 years after the fact, the Catholic Church recognized that Galileo was correct in suggesting that not all heavenly bodies circle the earth. (They didn't change his status from "heretic" to "hero of faith and science" until 2008, suggesting that the Vatican would remain anything but a fast-reacting organization.)
No, Galileo was not declared a heretic, and was never punished for making any scientific suggestions. The Pope even asked Galileo to publish arguments for and against heliocentrism. See Galileo Affair. According to relativity, the choice of a frame of reference determines wheter those bodies go around the Earth.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis has now declared that the church has been excessively obsessed about abortion, birth control and homosexuality. This is really astonishing.
No, he did not say that. See the interview. And the Pope Francis is still
denouncing abortion. The basic teachings have not changed.

Jeremy Brown writes in the Wash. Post:
That theory was proposed by a Polish church official and astronomer named Nicholas Copernicus in 1543 and it suggested that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but rather only one of several planets that orbited the sun.

The Copernican model was a threat to both Jewish and church teachings of the time, because they held that the Earth was the fixed and unmoving center of the universe. This theological position was based partly on a literal understanding of some biblical verses, but mostly on the fact that Greeks had taught the geocentric model and it had been accepted for well over fifteen centuries. ...

It was not until 1835 that the Catholic Church lifted the ban on Copernicus’s book and in that century at least eighteen pro-Copernican Hebrew books were published, but opposition from a minority still remained. In 1898 for example, one rabbi in Jerusalem wrote that the earth was most certainly stationary, and that those who thought otherwise were motivated by “a desire to destroy religion.” A tiny minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews share this belief even today, but such views are fringe indeed, and are not shared by their rabbinic leadership.
The Copernicus book was not banned. It was originally published with the official endorsement of the Catholic Church. Decades later, after the book had been obsoleted by other models, the church revoked its endorsement because of nine sentences sentences. With those sentences omitted, the church had no objection.

Brown blames the Church for accepting Greek teachings, but the more accurate statement is that it was following the accepted scientific teachings of the day. Galileo's main argument for heliocentrism was based on the tides, and the Church was correct in rejecting the fallacious argument. And anyone complaining about a Copernicus ban should really explain the merits of those nine sentences, and no one ever does.

A companion op-ed says:
Bishop Fulton Sheen, the earliest and perhaps best known Catholic televangelist, once famously said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”
Some of this criticism is strange. No other major religion has as good a record of accepting scientific advances. Meanwhile, there is news everyday of Mohammedans killing infidels all over the world.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Academic redshirting more popular

The New Yorker mag reports:
Redshirting is the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before the start of kindergarten, named for the red jersey worn in intra-team scrimmages by college athletes kept out of competition for a year. It is increasingly prevalent among parents of would-be kindergartners. In 1968, four per cent of kindergarten students were six years old; by 1995, the number of redshirted first- and second-graders had grown to nine per cent. In 2008, it had risen to seventeen per cent. ...

On the surface, redshirting seems to make sense in the academic realm, too. ...

The data, however, belies this assumption.
There is a free book, A Nation Deceived, that details the academic advantages to acceleration.

The sports analogy does not work. If you try to accelerate a kid athletically, he sits on the bench. But academically, he learns more. You can put a kid about 6 months ahead by sending him to an expensive private school, but it is a lot cheaper and more effective to get accelerated classes in the public school, if possible.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Killer used name Mohammed Salem

Buried in the reporting on the Washington Navy Yard shooting is this story:
Friends and relatives have also said he had a preoccupation with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, felt slighted as a veteran, had money problems and was so unhappy with his life that he considered leaving the U.S.

Law enforcement officials told NBC News that Alexis created a webpage with the name "Mohammed Salem," but they said he never did anything with it. They said they had found nothing else that might indicate any interest in violent jihad or even in Islam.
So he was just a black Buddhist who heard voices in his head? Are these the same officials who denied that the Fort Hood shooting was Islamic terrorism?

Alexis did prove that so-called assault weapons are not need for this sort of mass killing. He had a plain old low-tech pump-action shotgun and 24 shells. It was just the gun that VP Joe Biden encourages everyone to buy and use for warning shots. And he did it in the area with the tightest gun control laws in the USA.

Update: Alexis was also on the antidepressant trazodone, which is associated with violence in some patients.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Paul Offit plugs his own magic

I have criticized Paul Offit on vaccination, as have others on places like but I expected to agree with much of his new book, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. I listened to his podcast promoting the book, and it turns out that Offit favors physicians prescribing homeopathic pills in order to trick patients into getting the placebo effect!

He also defended vaccines by saying that Wakefield should never have been allowed to publish his suspicions about the MMR (measles) vaccine. He bragged about how Wakefield has been so thoroughly discredited that no one dares criticize the vaccine establishment anymore.

I am not sticking up for chiropractors, homeopathy, Dr. Oz, acupuncture, but I find that mainstream physicians like Offit have very little appreciation for scientific thinking. A real scientist would let Wafefield pushlish whatever he wants, and then do studies to disprove him. An honest physician would not lie to his patients about placebos.

He leaves me wondering whether he is pushing vaccines for their placebo effect, in part.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Promise to terrorists

I knew that Mohammedan terrorist martyrs are promised 72 Virgins in heaven, but I did not know that they are all the same age as the terrorist. No wonder we don't see 80yo terrorists!

I also didn't know that Tony Blair's sister-in-law (wife's sister) converted to Islam in 2010. He previously converted to Catholicism.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bonds convicted for telling the truth

I defended Barry Bonds in his conviction and sentencing, and criticized the unethical prosecutors.

To my surprise, his conviction was just upheld:
Upholding the conviction of Barry Bonds on Friday, a federal appeals court found that factually true testimony, if misleading enough, can obstruct justice.

The case before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco tested the limits of the federal criminal obstruction statute and came down to whether baseball’s home run king had made false, misleading or evasive statements to a grand jury a decade ago in connection to a steroid investigation.

Testifying before a grand jury in 2003, Mr. Bonds was asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, ever provided him with injectable substances.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Bonds’ response, which led to his conviction on one count in 2011, obscured his dealings with Mr. Anderson.

The key part of his response was this:
I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean? …. That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that – – you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.
The Ninth Circuit said that while factually true, the statement “served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation.” And the court said it was also misleading because it implied that Mr. Bonds did not know whether his trainer distributed steroids, conflicting with subsequent trial testimony. ...

“Although the obstruction statute has existed for nearly two centuries, the government cannot point to a single case where a defendant has been found guilty of obstruction based on truthful testimony under oath,” Mr. Bonds’ lawyers wrote in their appellate brief.
This shows that if you are unpopular enough, the feds can convict you of just about anything. When Bonds is interviewed, he can just say, "I was only ever convicted of telling the truth."

The ruling reasoned:
We can easily think of examples of responses that are true but nevertheless obstructive. Consider a situation where a prosecutor asks a grand jury witness if the witness drove the getaway car in a robbery. The witness truthfully responds, “I do not have a driver’s license.” This response would be factually true, but it could also imply that he did not drive the getaway car. If the witness did in fact drive the getaway car, his answer, although not in itself false, would nevertheless be misleading, because it would imply that he did not drive the getaway car. It could also be deemed evasive since it did not answer the question.
There is a difference between a grand jury hearing and a police interrogation. We don't convict people based on their unwillingness to incriminate themselves. In the above situation, the prosecutor would normally repeat the question and insist on an answer. In this case, it is plausible that Bonds simply misunderstood the question or thought that his answer was acceptable.

I haven't followed the case against A-Rod, but I am dubious about that also. He faces the longest finite suspension in MLB history, even tho he has not tested positive for drugs and his penalty does not seem to follow any baseball rules. It appears that the league wanted to cut his career short before he breaks too many records, and so the Yankees don't have to pay him so much.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Human evolution continues

It is funny to see evolutionists who do not seem to believe in the theory. A UK newspaper reports:
Sir David, whose new show concentrates on the ascent of man, said he believed humans had now stopped evolving in physical terms, after developing means to keep even the weakest of the species alive.

Saying we are now able to rear up to 99 per cent of our babies, he added people were no longer subject to Darwinian theories natural selection.

Instead, he proposed, humans would continue to develop in a cultural sense; inheriting knowledge from previous generations and building upon it.

In an interview with the Radio Times this week, Sir David said: “I think that we’ve stopped evolving.

“Because if natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, is the main mechanism of evolution – there may be other things, but it does look as though that’s the case – then we’ve stopped natural selection.
On the contrary, human evolution is accelerating, as documented by Gene Ex,
Hawks, and hbd chick.

This is a sensitive issue, as Darwin said:
At some future period not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes...will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest Allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla
In fact the opposite has occurred, as the white proportion of world population has fallen ever since, and could drop to 10% in a couple of decades.

I am also amazed when someone brags about how genomic data is going to change the world for the better, but refuses to get the info himself.For example, this TED Talk:
About Richard Resnick's TEDTalk

In this talk, Richard Resnick shows how cheap and fast genome sequencing is about to turn health care (even insurance, and politics) upside down.
But he is personally scared of DNA:
RESNICK: The world has completely changed and none of you know about it.

RAZ: So how is it going to change the world?

RESNICK: In a bunch of ways. ...

RAZ: Have you sequenced your own genome?


RAZ: Why not?

RESNICK: Because I don't want to know. I don't want to - you know. I mean, if I were sick, I would do it for a diagnostic reason, but not for a prognostic reason. And that's the advice that I would give to anybody 'cause you may find a variant that suggests that you're going to get really sick with something terrible and it may never happen.
This is like a bank president being afraid to use an ATM card, or an Apple president being afraid to use a cell phone.

Update: Note also that the genomics lobby overwhelmingly supported Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), making it illegal to use genetic info to get a discount in medical insurance fees. GINA seems entirely based on some sort of phobia about genomic info.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bad study of ideological bias

Mother Jones cites a new study:
But in another sense, it really doesn't matter at all. These days, even relatively simple public policy issues can only be properly analyzed using statistical techniques that are beyond the understanding of virtually all of us. So the fact that ideology destroys our personal ability to do math hardly matters. In practice, nearly all of us have to rely on the word of experts when it comes to this kind of stuff, and there's never any shortage of experts to crunch the numbers and produce whatever results our respective tribes demand.

We believe what we want to believe, and neither facts nor evidence ever changes that much. Welcome to planet Earth.
The study claims:
The public’s limited knowledge is aggravated by psychological dynamics. Popular risk perceptions, it is thought, tend to originate in a rapid, heuristic-driven form of information processing — what decision scientists refer to as “System 1” reasoning (Stanovich & West 2000; Kahneman 2003). Overreliance on System 1 heuristics are the root of myriad cognitive biases. By fixing attention on emotionally gripping instances of harm, or by inducing selective attention to evidence that confirms rather than disappoints moral predispositions, System 1 information processing induces members of the public variously to overestimate some risks and underestimate others relative to the best available evidence, the proper evaluation of which requires exercise of more deliberate and reflective “System 2” forms of information processing
No, these distinctions have never been established, and the authors are the innumerate ones here. The study devises a trick question, worded in a confusing way. 59% get it wrong, and probably most of those getting it right just made a lucky guess. Then the question is modified for some political purpose.

All the study shows is that if the question is so confusing that no one understands it, then people will sometimes use their prior knowledge to make an educated guess.

Here are some confusing things about the skin cream question. The question fails to say that the two groups were randomly selected, or were otherwise similarly situated. The question suggests that a large number of patients dropped out of the study, but gives no clue how to account for that. The question asks whether "the new cream is likely to make the skin condition better or worse." In that sentence, it is not clear that the cream is to be compared to not using the cream. As a result, the question cannot be answered correctly. It is an exercise in guessing what assumptions to make. Unless the study authors understand why 59% give the supposedly incorrect answer, the whole study is worthless.

There are many academics, particular on the Left, who are always trying to concoct arguments that the public would change their political views if they only understood the facts. Maybe so, but the people who write these papers do not understand the facts.