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.