Saturday, January 19, 2013

Defining contra-causal free will

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
when I assert that one doesn’t have free will, I am arguing about classical dualistic free will. So when I ask whether we have free will, I am adhering to Anthony Cashmore’s definition (in bold):
I believe that free will is better defined as a belief that there is a component to biological behavior that is something more than the unavoidable consequences of the genetic and environmental history of the individual and the possible stochastic laws of nature. ...
And yes, I know you can define free will so that we have it by definition—it’s our ability to make apparent choices without having a gun to our head, or our evolved ability to consider many factors before “deciding” on a course of action, or the fact that a mammal named Jerry is seen to make decisions, and so on. Hell, I could define free will as simply “it looks to an outsider as if we’re making choices,” and then everyone has it!

To me, the important task of philosophers should not be finding some new definition of free will so that the masses can think that they have it and thus be reassured (after all, false reassurance is what theologians do), but letting people know that our decisions are behavioral outcomes of physical processes in our brain, determined by the laws of physics or indeterminate according to quantum mechanics. Either way, dualism is dead, and educating people about this is the most important thing philosophers can do vis-à-vis the free will question. ...

Sam Harris is right. We are puppets of our genes and environments, and it’s bloody well time we admitted that.
His argument is essentially to say that if you define free will to mean a conscious ability to violate scientific laws, then there is no free will because nothing can violate scientific laws. From this he wants to deny individual responsibility.

Fine. There is no contra-causal free will. There is only the kind of free will that allows us to make choices and decisions. For this to be a scientific matter, there needs to be some experiments that are strong enough to imply his conclusions. I do not see any.

The LA Times reports:
Pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change.

Like many forms of sexual deviance, pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.

The best estimates are that between 1% and 5% of men are pedophiles, meaning that they have a dominant attraction to prepubescent children.

Not all pedophiles molest children. Nor are all child molesters pedophiles. Studies show that about half of all molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims. They often have personality disorders or violent streaks, and their victims are typically family members.

By contrast, pedophiles tend to think of children as romantic partners and look beyond immediate relatives. They include chronic abusers familiar from the headlines — Catholic priests, coaches and generations of Boy Scout leaders.
So do pedophiles really not have any free choice to do what they do? I do not believe it. I believe that people do have the free will to make choices, unless I see some very convincing evidence otherwise.

The UK BBC reports on a new study of mouse genes influencing behavior:
Researchers reporting in Nature crossed mouse breeds and measured the burrows the resulting mice made.

The study has behaivoural implications of many animals, including humans.

"Modular" genetic regions even relate to specific burrow parts, it suggests.

The findings bear out an idea first put forward by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, called "the extended phenotype".

It suggests that our view of genes as controlling only proteins in an individual is tremendously limited, and that genes "express" themselves in a rich variety of behaviours - or in this case, homes.
Human behavior is influenced by genes also, but this is nowhere close to denying free will.

Update: Coyne complains that no one should criticize him anonymously. Okay, I use my real name here. He banned me from his blog (that he does not like to call a blog), so I don't post there.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New vaccine study

Here is a medical news report:
The standard vaccine schedule for young children in the United States is safe and effective, a new review says.
Not exactly. The IOM report did not even consider whether the vaccines are effective. It says:
Vaccines are among the most safe and effective public health interventions to prevent serious disease and death. ...

Driven largely by concerns about potential side effects, there has been a shift in some parents’ attitudes toward the child immunization schedule. HHS asked the IOM to identify research approaches, methodologies, and study designs that could address questions about the safety of the current schedule.

This report is the most comprehensive examination of the immunization schedule to date.
The full report costs $47. The committee did not use a public process, and was controlled by vaccine industry insiders. The abstract says:
The charge to the Committee on the Assessment of Studies of Health Outcomes Related to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule was to (1) review scientific findings and stakeholders concerns related to the safety of the recommended childhood immunization schedule and (2) identify potential research approaches, methodologies and study designs that could inform this question, ... However, the committee concludes that it is not ethical to implement any study requiring thatsome children receive fewer vaccines than recommended as part of the childhood immunization schedule ...
So this is really "the most comprehensive examination of the immunization schedule to date"? They assume that the vaccines are safe and effective, and conclude that it unethical to do a scientific study.

Studying vaccine safety is meaningless unless it is part of a risk-benefit analysis. No such analysis was done. I don't see why anyone is going to be convinced by an unscientific closed-door pronouncement by vaccine insiders.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Detecting cheaters

What happens when cheating is nearly impossible to detect, and has a huge payoff? The popular method seems to be to accuse people years later based on hearsay and gossip, and then punish them as severely as possible as a deterrent to others. That is what is happening to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong, and others.

It seems much better to me to have objective standards for cheating, and to apply them in a timely manner or not at all. If that does not seem fair, then change the rules until you find rules that people accept as fair.

A recent chess scandal has occurred when a 2200-level Bulgarian played a tourneyment at a 2800 level. People think that he must have cheated, but no one can figure out how. Computer chess programs are now significantly better than humans, so maybe he secretly used a computer somehow. The best chess computer in the world is Rybka, but it has been banned from computer competition because of some obscure cheating allegation.

Another form of cheating is insider trading:
Juries in Federal District Court in Manhattan have convicted all 11 insider-trading defendants who have taken their cases to trial since 2009, the year that prosecutors began bringing charges arising out its multiyear investigation into criminal activity at hedge funds.

Of the 75 people charged with insider trading crimes — a collection of traders, corporate executives, consultants and lawyers — the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has secured 71 guilty pleas or convictions.
Some of this insider info does not really need to be secret. Maybe if the info is made public in a more open way, the opportunities for insider trading will be lessened.

If insider trading is easy and profitable, then people will do it.

Here is a game theory model of cheating:
The two-player Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a model for both sentient and evolutionary behaviors, especially including the emergence of cooperation. It is generally assumed that there exists no simple ultimatum strategy whereby one player can enforce a unilateral claim to an unfair share of rewards. Here, we show that such strategies unexpectedly do exist. ... Only a player with a theory of mind about his opponent can do better, in which case Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is an Ultimatum Game.
This shows that a mindreading manipulator can outdo a evolutionary best strategy.

Update: Wired magazine writes:
So here’s the thing you need to know: The USADA takedown of Armstrong matters, and it could effect everybody. Because it will enhance the power and reach of a private, non-profit business that has managed to harness the power of the federal government in what’s quickly becoming a brand new war on drugs … with all the same pitfalls brought to you by the first war on drugs.

The USADA is a private outfit. Yet it gets taxpayer money. ...

Nobody cared much about that treaty. And few care much now, really, because it was understood that anti-doping was about testing athletes, and mostly elite ones.

But the Armstrong case isn’t based on testing at all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New book denies human nature

Razib Khan writes:
Someone named Dan Slater recently wrote a book, Love in the Time of Algorithms, and has an op-ed out titled Darwin Was Wrong About Dating
. The piece is littered with generally unpersuasive refutations of the relevance of a Darwinian framework in understanding the evolutionary origins of human behavior.
Each of Slater's arguments have fallacies. He says that the assumption that men desired more partners is contradicted by having the same average number of partners. Of course they have the same average number of partners. That is a mathematical necessity and says nothing about what men desire.

James Taranto explains the point:
It turns out you can deny evolution and still get published on the New York Times op-ed page. Dan Slater did just that, in a piece yesterday called "Darwin Was Wrong About Dating."

Slater -- who has a new book out in which he claims that online dating, of all things, is revolutionizing the sexual marketplace--sets out to debunk a subspecialty known as evolutionary psychology, which seeks to explain differences between men and women in terms of Darwin's theory of sexual selection. ...

It is crucial to understand that these are only metaphorical "strategies" and that evolutionary "interests"--the interests of one's genes--are not the same as individual interests. Evolutionary psychology posits not that men decide to be promiscuous and women hypergamous because they want to have as many or as robust children as possible, but that these sexual and emotional instincts developed because they were conducive to reproduction over many generations in the ancestral environment.
The Slater article has other flaws. It says:
In 1972, Robert L. Trivers, ... argued that women are more selective about whom they mate with because they’re biologically obliged to invest more in offspring. ...

One of the earliest critics of this kind of thinking was Stephen Jay Gould. ...

In 2009, another long-assumed gender difference in mating — that women are choosier than men — also came under siege. ...

Recently, a third pillar appeared to fall. To back up the assumption that an enormous gap exists between men’s and women’s attitudes toward casual sex, evolutionary psychologists typically cite a classic study published in 1989.
No, these pillars are not falling. Women are more selective and men more interested in casual sex for the obvious evolutionary reasons. It is remarkable to see the NY Times deny basic human nature and evolution.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bonds and Clemens not proved guilty

There are many news stories explaining that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of steroid allegations. But no one explains that both of them were acquitted in court of all charges of steroid use and lying about steroids. Bonds was only convicted of one charge of giving an evasive answer. In the words of the jury foreman, "He gave a story rather than a yes-or-no answer." An appeal is pending. If the appeals court is honest, it will rule that the question was irrelevant and that the prosecutor should have insisted on a yes-or-no answer if he wanted a a yes-or-no answer. Maybe Bonds misunderstood the question.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Masculine fields of study

Steve Sailer reports:
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fun interactive graphic of the sexes of the authors of a couple of million academic papers going back to 1665. For the last 20 years, the most male dominated field studied is math, then operations research, then philosophy, and economics. In philosophy, the most masculine subfields include space and time and set theory, and the most feminine moral philosophy. 

In general, women researchers find living things more interesting, especially young living things.

Especially feminine subfields include sociology of gender, anthropology of dance ethnology, cognitive science of early childhood development, pollution and occupational health of cancer risk, and mycology of yeast.

The single most masculine subfield in the study is the mathematics of Riemannian manifolds.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Unsound recommendation on gun safety

The NY Times reports:
These are accidents, or worse, waiting to happen, and the pediatrics academy reiterated its earlier recommendations that pediatricians talk to parents about guns in the home and their safe storage, and follow up by distributing cable locks.

To limit unauthorized access to guns, the academy recommended the use of trigger locks, lockboxes, personalized safety mechanisms, and trigger pressures that are too high for young children.

Still, the academy emphasized, “the safest home for a child or adolescent is one without firearms.”
Here is the pediatric report:
The AAP supports efforts to reduce the destructive power of handguns and handgun ammunition via regulation of the manufacture and importation of classes of guns. ...

The AAP recommends restoration of the ban on the sale of assault weapons to the general public.
Millions of people have guns for personal protection. That includes AR-15 assault weapons, as they are widely available, customizable, and have standardized parts. Since the pediatric journal is pretending to have an expert opinion on this subject, I looked to see what the support is for the statement that “the safest home for a child or adolescent is one without firearms.” There is none.

Bans on assault weapons have been tried before, so there is empirical data on the effect of such a ban. None is mentioned in the report.

This AAP report is not a report that could be published in a real science journal. Pediatricians are not trained in either firearms safety or in scientific analysis.

The NY Times article shows that firearm deaths are a very small fraction of the accidental injury deaths.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Noncentral Fallacy

Less Wrong claims that the noncentral fallacy is the worst argument in the world:
I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member."

Call it the Noncentral Fallacy. ...

"Abortion is murder!"
"Genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics!"
"Evolutionary psychology is sexist!"
"Capital punishment is murder!"
"Taxation is theft!"
"Affirmative action is racist!"
He is right, but it is convenient to give an argument in 3 words.