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?