Thursday, February 26, 2015

Christianity invented individualism

A new book on Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism credits Christianity.

From one review of a related book:
The discovery of the individual was one of the most important cultural developments in the years between 1050 and 1200. It was not confined to any one group of thinkers. Its central features may be found in different circles: a concern with self-discovery; an interest in the relations between people, and in the role of the individual within society; an assessment of people by their inner intentions rather than by their external acts. These concerns were, moreover, conscious and deliberate. ‘Know yourself’ was one of the most frequently quoted injunctions. The phenomenon which we have been studying was found in some measure in every part of urbane and intelligent society.
That review ties it into outbreeding v. nepotism, guilt v. shame, and rule of law v. feuding.

Boston Review is unpersuaded:
during the same Middle Ages when Christianity was supposedly becoming modern liberalism below the surface, its adherents dedicated themselves to crusading violence abroad and principled intolerance at home. When Siedentop alludes to the Crusades it is to remark on how they unified Europe and encouraged knights to put their petty feudalism aside in order to agree that Christians should never kill fellow Christians — as if the main problem were not how medieval Christians learned to tolerate other sorts of people or understand the rest of humanity to be on par with themselves. “Strikingly, in its first centuries Christianity spread by persuasion, not by force of arms — a contrast to the early spread of Islam,”
I guess the reviewer wants to blame Christianity for fighting Islam. I don't know why -- Islam certainly was not going to invent individualism or modern liberalism, and Christianity was not going to either unless it was willing to repel Islamic invaders.

I have not read the book, and there are other theories for modernity. Civilization more than two millennia ago was concentrated in the middle east, from Egypt to Babylonia to Persia to India, and in China. Then came the Greeks, Christianity, and the Romans. And Europe advanced very rapidly in the last 500 years or so.

There were also a bunch of changes in Europe 1000 years ago or so, such as banning cousin marriages and an economy based on individual families. These books probably explain it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wikipedia censors physics videos

I posted MIT fires its best professor. It cut all contact with him and his famous physics videos, but it turns out that the video lectures are essentially in the public domain and still hosted on YouTube.

Wikipedia claims to have a neutral point of view and to be not censored. So it has movie spoilers and Hilter's Mein Kampf. But it has now censored Lewin's videos. The links are currently on Conservapedia but not Wikipedia. I posted the matter on the BLP noticeboard to get the attention of senior editors, but no one helped.

The videos are straight physics lectures, and no one objects to the content. MIT has not fully explained why it took action against Lewin, but we do know the following.

The Obama administration has used Title IX to force colleges to change the way they handle complaints, and has punished Harvard and Princeton for not favoring the complainer enuf.

The Harvard law professors say that the new policies lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process for the accused.

Lewin is nearly 80 years old, and a retired MIT professor. He was MIT's most popular professor.

A 32-year-old French woman watched some of Lewin's videos online, and sent him naked selfies. She was also on medication for mental disorders.

A year later, MIT investigators persuaded her that "Lewin’s interest in her was not motivated by empathy, and that their first conversations included inappropriate language."

MIT alleges that Lewin violated college policy.

In case you think MIT would always be fair, read about how it destroyed Aaron Swartz.

I deduce from this that Lewin never got a fair hearing, that he is a victim of a modern witch-hunt, and that MIT scapegoated him in order to avoid action from the Obama administration. I realize that it sounds inappropriate for an 80yo physics professor to be getting a naked selfie from a woman on another continent, but we live in an age where it is common for millions of women to send naked selfies. Even big-shot Hollywood actresses do it.

Update: Now the IPCC is accused of sexually inappropriate emails. [6][7][8] As with Lewin, the allegations are serious enough that he is no longer on the job. To be consistent with Lewin, Wikipedia should remove all the links to the IPCC reports.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Neanderthals were ancestors to most people

The NY Times reports:
In 2010, scientists made a startling discovery about our past: About 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of living Europeans and Asians.

Now two teams of researchers have come to another intriguing conclusion: Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of Asians at a second point in history, giving them an extra infusion of Neanderthal DNA.
Neanderthals did not just interbreed with our ancestors, they are our ancestors.

The story is phrased in a way to suggest that the offspring of that interbreeding died out, or that African ancestors are somehow more worthy than European ones. It is like octaroons denying black ancestry.
Based on these differences, scientists estimate that the Neanderthals’ ancestors diverged from ours 600,000 years ago.
This only makes sense if "ours" refers to Africans. The author, Carl Zimmer, is white as in the photo, so those Neanderthal ancestors are also his ancestors.
Our own ancestors remained in Africa until about 60,000 years ago, then expanded across the rest of the Old World. Along the way, they encountered Neanderthals. And our DNA reveals that those encounters led to children.
Now he is talking like a white boy. Being white, his DNA reveals that his African ancestors mated with his Neanderthal ancestors.
Today, people who are not of African descent have stretches of genetic material almost identical to Neanderthal DNA, comprising about 2 percent of their entire genomes.
Wait a minute -- didn't he just say that we are all descended from Africans? So who are these people "not of African descent"?

This article is all about trying to explain the fact that Caucasians have 2% Neanderthal DNA, Orientals have 2.4%, and Negroes have 0%. These terms have fallen out of favor, and the article says "People in China, Japan and other East Asian countries" instead of Orientals. Maybe that is clear enuf, but "African descent" is a confusing word for Negro.

As far as I know, these racial terms are not considered offensive. People don't like the terms because they don't like the idea of dividing humans into racial groups. However, the reported research is all about genetic differences in the three major racial groups, so if you do not believe in the distinctions then none of this makes any sense.

Stranger is how stories about Neanderthal ancestry refuse to admit that Neanderthal were ancestors. Zimmer talks about them as if they are sub-human animals who were just not good enuf to be called ancestors. He writes:
People who inherited a Neanderthal version of any given gene would have had fewer children on average than people with the human version.
The human version? So he is saying that the Neanderthal genes are not human.

Neanderthals interbred with Africans, and all 6 billion non-Negroes today are the direct descendants. It seems crazy to call those Neanderthal genes non-human.

Zimmer has been writing on this topic for years, but even he gets confused by his own racial political correctness. An earlier article had this correction:
Correction: January 29, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the living groups in which Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair are very common. They are very common in non-Africans, not non-Asians.
He should have just said that the Neanderthal genes are common in Caucasians and Orientals. The article also said:
That suggests that male human-Neanderthal hybrids might have had lower fertility or were even sterile.

Overall, said Dr. Reich, “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good.”
That research is refuted by the current research. No one in the NY Times would ever say such a thing about a living racial group. People often slander Neanderthals.

Anthropologist John Hawks defends Neanderthals against various negative stereotypes. He notes a new book on The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. A lot of this is speculative, of course, as dogs were only domesticated 15kyrs ago, and Neanderthals went extinct 40kyrs ago.

Update: Another NY Times article discusses hostility to racial categories:
“Whiteness” as a concept is not new. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about it in the 1920s; James Baldwin addressed it in the 1960s. But it did not gain traction on college campuses until the 1980s, as an outgrowth of an interdisciplinary study of racial identity and racial superiority. It presumes that in the United States, race is a social construct that had its origins in colonial America when white plantation owners were seeking dominance and order.

Today “white privilege” studies center on the systemic nature of racism as well as the way it exposes minorities to daily moments of stress and unpleasantness — sometimes referred to as “micro-aggressions.” Freedom from such worries is a privilege in and of itself, the theory goes, one that many white people are not even aware they have.
No, racial is not just a social construct that was invented to grow cotton.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Walker was right to punt on evolution

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist professor Jerry Coyne responds to a news story:
But it was in London that a Brit, somehow overlooking the significance of cheese, asked the governor whether he believes in evolution. This is precisely no different than asking whether one believes in the theory of gravity or general relativity, but Walker would not answer. He said he had come to London to deal not with philosophical matters but, as cannot be emphasized enough, cheese. Good day, gentlemen!
It is in fact different from asking whether one believes (“accepts” is a better word because “believe” implies a religious-like faith) in theory of gravity or generality relativity, and the reason is obvious. The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation. It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology. It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration. It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.” It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence.
So Coyne was looking for this politician to affirm evolution because that would imply an endorsement of his materialistic view of humans, and in particular that they have no free will or moral instincts.

Humans do behave as if they have free will and moral instincts. Well, some behave that way more than others. Evolution teaches that all such traits developed from lower animals, and your ancestry determines how much you have inherited. So some people have the genes for good moral behavior, and some have the genes to be natural slaves. Maybe all politicians should be asked whether they believe this stuff, and branded anti-science if they do not. Walker was sensible not to take the bait.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Republicans refuse questions on evolution

The leftist site Salon posts on evolution politics:
From climate change to vaccines to the theory of evolution, much of the Republican Party has made clear that it’s not exactly enamored of modern science. ...

But Walker’s refusal to indicate whether he accepts a fundamental tenet of biology underscores the GOP’s tortured relationship with science, not least on evolution. With Walker and other GOP hopefuls gearing up to launch their 2016 campaigns, Salon now provides you with a comprehensive guide to where the Republican candidates stand on the origin of life.
No, it does not tell us where any of the candidates stand on the origin of life.

Evolution is not a theory about the origin of life.

Leftists like HBO TV's Bill Maher are always attacking Republicans for being anti-science, but look at his anti-science views. published an article:
How to Teach Evolution to Christians and Muslims
by Susan Corbett • 2 February 2015 ...

First, an interesting fact that I came across in Islamic teachings which was also generally acceptable to the Christian community was that Muslims are (for lack of better terms) “allowed” to believe in an evolutionary explanation for life on Earth, with the exception of humans. As long as the focus was on non-human species, there would be little-to-no objection from the Christian or Muslim communities within the school. ...

Second, the term “theory” can be defined as “an idea or set of ideas that is suggested or presented as possibly true, but that is not known or proven to be true to explain certain facts or events.” After giving the students this explanation of a theory, I was then able to present Darwin’s theories to them and allow them to postulate whether they believed Darwin’s thoughts followed this definition.
Strangely, this article has been retracted without any comment or notice. You can temporarily read it in Google's web cache.

I can only assume that either some leftist-atheist-evolutionists or Muslims were offended. (Maybe some Christians were offended, but they would not retract an article for that reason.)

So human evolution seems to be the sensitive issue. This has two parts: (1) humans evolved from lower animals and retain many similarities with them; and (2) human bio diversity is driven by the inheritance of many significant physical, cognitive, and behavioral traits.

Many leftist-atheist-evolutionists are eager to force everyone to accept (1) as true science, because that undermines religion and promotes their egalitarian politics. They rarely mention (2), even tho it is the flip side of the same reasoning.

If Salon or the press want to quiz politicians on evolution, then I wish they would ask Republicans and Democrats, and ask about both (1) and (2).

If the question is presented as just a disguised version of "Do you believe humans have souls, or do you believe in science?", then I would not blame a politician for refusing to answer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How the machines will enslave us

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
My too-clever point is that someday humans will be enslaved by their machines without realizing it. The machines will evolve to become more useful, more reliable, more credible, and far more fair than humans. You will do what machines tell you to do until there are no real decisions left for you to make. And we won’t see that day coming because it will creep up on us one line of code at a time. And the machines will not look like evil robots; they will look like the technology sprinkled throughout your day. Totally benign.
I agree with this. Movie artificial intelligence doomsday scenarios like Terminator usual portray the AI as an evil top-down secret military project out of control.

No, our new robot overlords will come from Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. These companies have a missionary zeal to connect everyone to their servers:
Zuckerberg delivered a zinger:

"Well, it matters to the kind of investors that we want to have," he said.

Facebook, Zuckerberg says, is a mission-focused company whose goals extend beyond making money. The goal of is to bring affordable internet access to parts of the world that don't have it.

"We wake up every day and make decisions because we want to help connect the world, and that's what we're doing here," Zuckerberg said on the call
Someday you will be afraid to trash popular products, or else Amazon might not offer you the best deals. You will be afraid to express unpopular views, or else Facebook might not connect you to a better class of people.

Taking orders from a stoplight might seem trivial, but someday that stoplight will be connected to your phone maps, and turn green based on which cars are going to the more worthwhile destinations. And if you are taking your self-driving car to the beach, it might go a long slow way in order to get out of the way of people going to work. Or it may decide to take you to the gym if it decides that you need more exercise.

While this seems invasive today, it is easy to imagine policies like this been justified for kids. As it is, they are locked into car-seats and supervised 24 hours a day. Millions of teenagers carry cellphones that track them at all times. Using the technology to control them is just another step.

For some reason, most people obediently tell the truth to their physicians. This is so widespread that such hearsay is admissible in court. Now Google is giving health advice as part of its regular Google search. Google has cell phone apps that use sensors to track fitness. Soon people will feel an obligation to tell Google the truth, and will accept the idea that Google knows what is good for you better than you know yourself.

Already, I get robotic commands on a daily basis, where I see no reason to comply. I just logged into Google, and a message from Google Wallet said "Your card has expired. Please update this card." After a few minutes, it said "Please re-enter your password". Why would I do those things? I do not even know what Google Wallet is good for.

My phone service is unreliable, and occasionally I get a recorded message saying "Your call did not go thru. Please try again." Maybe I don't want to try again. Maybe a second try will be a similar waste of time. Why is someone asking me to attempt a phone call?

Microsoft MS-DOS and most versions of Windows had a feature where if you issued a command to see what was in your A or D drive, it would then command you to put a disc in the drive. Again, why? I do not want a disc in my drive. I merely gave the computer the most innocuous possible query, and now it is ordering me to do something.

The remarkable thing is that apparently nobody complains about being ordered around by robots like this. It would be just as easy for the messages to say "Your call did not go thru. You may try again." or "Disc not found".

This may sound trivial, but my car recently ordered me to "Service engine". For what? Why? I had to borrow a special diagnostic device to tell a 3-digit code that I could look up on the web to find out whether it was serious or not. Why does anyone put up with that?

Aristotle believed that some people were natural slaves. Slavery is illegal, but many people are perfectly happy taking orders from robots.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent

The WSJ reports:
A new paper in the journal Science suggests an interesting answer. Sarah-Jane Leslie, a philosopher at Princeton University, Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, and colleagues studied more than 1,800 professors and students in 30 academic fields. The researchers asked the academics how much they thought success in their field was the result of innate, raw talent. They also asked how hard people in each field worked, and they recorded the GRE scores of graduate students.

Professors of philosophy, music, economics and math thought that “innate talent” was more important than did their peers in molecular biology, neuroscience and psychology. And they found this relationship: The more that people in a field believed success was due to intrinsic ability, the fewer women and African-Americans made it in that field. ...

But although scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent, it’s still a tremendously seductive idea in everyday life, and it influences what people do. ...

Why are there so few women in philosophy? It isn’t really because men are determined to keep them out or because women freely choose to go elsewhere. Instead, as science teaches us again and again, our actions are shaped by much more complicated and largely unconscious beliefs. I’m a woman who moved from philosophy to psychology, though I still do both. The new study may explain why—better than all the ingenious reasons I’ve invented over the years.
News to me that scientists have abandoned the idea of innate talent. So says a woman who switched from philosophy to psychology because of an unconscious belief that philosophy requires talent.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Attack on NSA dwells on 40yo DES

I responded to complaints about the NSA from mathematicians and scientists, and now there are more.

A letter to the AMS attacks the NSA:
This track record includes reducing the key length of the block cipher DES in the 1970s to make it breakable, blacklisting an inventor of DES from other cryptography jobs, advocating for control of cryptographic research in the 1980s, and, according to NSA's 2013 budget request, covertly influencing "commercial products' designs" and "policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies" for the purposes of exploitation. Indeed, the track record speaks for itself.
Most of this is dubious. An AMS history of DES only says that
There have been persistent rumors that NSA had pressed for the shorter key length.
While IBM originally proposed a 128-bit key cipher, NSA pointed out weaknesses, and the 56-bit DES was stronger than IBM's 128-bit cipher. At the time of its release, DES was stronger than any other civilian cipher, so I don't see how NSA could have weakened it.

The blacklisted inventor was supposedly Horst Feistel, but he seems to have had a successful cryptology career.

The NSA is a military spy agency, so I do not doubt that it budgets money for spy work.

Here is another response:
In a recent letter to the American Mathematical Society titled 'Encryption and the NSA Role in International Standards', Dr. Wertheimer, a former NSA Mathematician and Research Directer, works very hard to leave the impression that the NSA did not place a backdoor in the DUAL_EC_DRBG algorithm. He never directly says that though because the evidence is so overwhelming to the contrary. Instead he chooses to engage in what can only be called aggressive and willfully misleading
If the evidence is so overwhelming, then how is anyone misled?

I do think that it is silly to complain about NSA's influence over DES 40 years ago. Here is what I originally said in my letter to the NSA:
Back in the 1970s, attacks on the NSA were based on how it influenced the Data Encryption Standard (DES). The accusation was that NSA crippled it in order to spy on everyone.

In fact DES was a big advance over anything else in the public domain, and more secure than what IBM developed on its own. Years of analysis have not turned up any backdoors, and the most practical attack is a brute-force key space search. There is no known example of anyone ever losing a dime from a DES weakness.

The chief complaint about DES was that the key size was limited to 56 bits. However this was not even a material limitation as everyone quickly realized that DES could easily be augmented to Triple-DES or DES-X for larger keys.
It is likely that NSA had some ciphers that were better than DES at the time. However it would have surely been against policy to release a military cipher into the public domain. What it apparently did was to make sure that DES was exactly as good as it appears to be, so it could be used appropriately for unclassified purposes. As computers got faster, it later helped facilitate AES as an improved cipher.

These mathematicians are embarrassing themselves with their criticisms of NSA. If they are against spying, they could just say so, instead of all the silly complaints about how NSA has not always fully explained itself.

I am all in favor of public concern about computer security. We hear regular stories about naked selfies posted online, identity theft, stolen movies, email tampering, hacking credit card databases, etc. How many of these were caused by NSA choosing too few key bits or poorly seeding a pseudorandom number generator? Zero. These complaining mathematicians keep acting as if something bad has happened, but they cannot point to any ill effect anywhere.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Conservatives think more analytically

This study got a lot of attention:
Political conservatives in the United States are somewhat like East Asians in the way they think, categorize and perceive. Liberals in the U.S. could be categorized as extreme Americans in thought, categorization and perception. That is the gist of a new University of Virginia cultural psychology study, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. ...

"We found in our study that liberals and conservatives think as if they were from completely different cultures -- almost as different as East and West," ...

"On psychological tests, Westerners tend to view scenes, explain behavior and categorize objects analytically," Talhelm said. "But the vast majority of people around the world -- about 85 percent -- more often think intuitively -- what psychologists call holistic thought, and we found that's how conservative Americans tend to think."
The study paper is behind a paywall, but it appears that it uses very strange definitions. I see conservatives as supporting individualism, and liberals supporting collectivism. But this paper says the opposite, with "liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities."

The lead author says:
If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”
No, this is not analytic thinking. Saying that all people have the same worth is the most simplistic childish view possible. And individualism is not saying that all individuals are the same as a justification for welfare spending. It is closer to the opposite.

Merriam-Webster defines individualism:
a (1) : a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount; also : conduct guided by such a doctrine (2) : the conception that all values, rights, and duties originate in individuals
b : a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests; also : conduct or practice guided by such a theory
American Heritage defines:
1. a. Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.
b. Acts or an act based on this belief.
2. a. A doctrine advocating freedom from government regulation in the pursuit of a person's economic goals.
b. A doctrine holding that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of the state or social group.
3. a. The quality of being an individual; individuality.
b. An individual characteristic; a quirk.
These academic papers are nearly always written and published by liberals who do not understand conservativism. (In this case, one of the coauthors is a liberal professors who has published studies about how liberals do not understand conservativism.)

To show how conservatives like individualism, see this recent essay:
Self-Reliance Is the Bedrock of Parental Rights

We ought to ask ourselves how future generations can learn to be self-reliant if children are so protected from risks that they never learn self-regulation. At some point we have to understand that nanny states are in the business of killing the spirit of self-reliance. And since family autonomy is the primary source of learning self-reliance, parents are a companion target. ...

You will recall “The Life of Julia” infographic used in the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Julia was a poster child promoting life-long dependence on the government. Big Brother virtually led her through an entire life coasting down a path of least resistance. That’s the fate of us all if we don’t start teaching real self-reliance in our young.

Julia is ignorant and disinterested in the idea of self-reliance. She’s a rote conformist who has exactly the sort of docile temperament central planners have always hoped to instill in child and adult alike. They have a vested interest in a society filled with people unaware and unable to take care of themselves. In this context, CPS overreach in the case of the Meitiv family fits right in with the script.
The push for a nanny state that uses CPS to threaten parents with free-range kids is almost entirely from liberals.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Millionaires pushing for cheap labor

Sailer notes:
Venture capitalist and fine essayist Paul Graham writes in favor of Silicon Valley billionaires’ efforts to pass the Senate immigration bill, which increases H-1B visas from 85,000 new ones per year to 180,000.
We have the potential to ensure that the US remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year.
Okay, so let’s say “a few thousand” means 5,000. Then what do we need 85,000 H-1B grunts for, much less 180,000?
Yes, we could let in the great programmers, but that would only be about 5k a year.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The biggest fail of science

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
What’s is science’s biggest fail of all time?

I nominate everything about diet and fitness.

Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.

I could go on for an hour.
I agree with this. No other area of science has failed so badly. For decades, reputable authorities have been telling us what is supposedly scientifically correct about diet and fitness, and they have been wrong with most of what they say.

It is hard to explain how so much money could get such poor results. I think that the problem is that most of the bad advice has come from physicians. They are not the best source for 3 reasons.

1. Diet and fitness are out of their expertise. They take medical school classes in diagnosing disease and cutting up cadavers, but not in diet and fitness.

2. Physicians do not have a scientific mindset. Science is all about doing experiments, and physicians do not believe in experimenting on their patients.

3. Physicians are not independent thinkers. The medical world is extremely hierarchial, and physicians very much believe in following official policy and in having everyone follow orders as well.

Dilbert relates this to a more general public distrust in science on other issues like climate change.

Monday, February 02, 2015

More NSA complaints

I mentioned mathematicians attacking the NSA, and now AAAS Science magazine is getting into the act:
Science magazine this week has an article and a podcast about the NSA and the AMS. AMS president David Vogan is portrayed as outraged at the NSA’s misuse of mathematics, but without much support for doing anything about it
Supposedly the smoking gun here is a Snowden leak about a random number generator, but the same info has been public since 2007, as well as instructions how to re-seed the generator so that the NSA cannot spy on you. People are trying to stir up a controversy over nothing.

In spite of all this supposed spying, The NSA Is Viewed Favorably By Most Young People according to a poll. After all, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the ones spying on their naked selfies, not the NSA.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Vaccine propaganda about measles outbreak

The NY Times reports:
Measles anxiety rippled thousands of miles beyond its center on Friday as officials scrambled to try to contain a wider spread of the highly contagious disease — which America declared vanquished 15 years ago, before a statistically significant number of parents started refusing to vaccinate their children. ...

The anti-vaccine movement can largely be traced to a 1998 report in a medical journal that suggested a link between vaccines and autism but was later proved fraudulent and retracted.
No, that is false. I followed the anti-vaccine movement in 1998, and that report was just a minor conjecture based on a handful of cases.

Much bigger factors were:

* a rapid increase in vaccinations in the 1990s.
* giving a hepatitis B vaccine to all newborns at birth, when the population at risk was IV drug abusers, promiscuous women, and Chinese immigrants.
* vaccines that exceeded EPA guidelines for mercury consumption.
* a diarrhea vaccine that had to be pulled from the market for dangerous intestinal side-effects.
* pertussis vaccine with many worse side-effects than what other countries used.
* a lack of any public risk-benefit or cost-benefit analysis to vaccines.
* most of the experts on the FDA and CDC vaccine advisory panels had to get conflict-of-interest waivers because they worked for the drug companies making the vaccines.
* unexplained child health problems, such as autism and peanut allergy, seemed correlated with the increase in vaccines, and suitable study had been done.

I looked into the official CDC vaccine recommendation process myself, and found it very unscientific. Their meetings were closed to the public, and they openly stated that their main purposes were to promote vaccine use, and they would vote to require vaccines just because that made federal money available for poor kids to get them free.

The recent measles outbreak was caused by foreign tourists visiting Disneyland, and most of the cases have been unvaccinated adults. All the articles, such as the above NY Times article, try to blame the outbreak on parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids. Those parents have almost nothing to do with the outbreak. As long as measles is common in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and we allow thousands of unvaccinated foreigners in the USA every week, and adults are not required to be vaccinated, we will have measles outbreaks.

Update: The NY Times Retro Report has another article and video blaming the Disneyland measles outbreak on that 1998 report:
In the churning over the refusal of some parents to immunize their children against certain diseases, a venerable Latin phrase may prove useful: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. It means, “After this, therefore because of this.” In plainer language: Event B follows Event A, so B must be the direct result of A. It is a classic fallacy in logic. ...

An outbreak of measles several weeks ago at Disneyland in Southern California focused minds and deepened concerns. It was as if the amusement park had become the tragic kingdom. ...

While no one is known to have died in the new outbreaks, the lethal possibilities cannot be shrugged off. ...

This doctor, Andrew Wakefield, wrote that his study of 12 children showed that the three vaccines taken together could alter immune systems, causing intestinal woes that then reach, and damage, the brain. ... The British medical authorities stripped him of his license. ...

What motivates vaccine-averse parents? One factor may be the very success of the vaccines. Several generations of Americans lack their parents’ and grandparents’ visceral fear of polio, for example. For those people, “you might as well be protecting against aliens — these are things they’ve never seen,” ...
These are just irresponsible scare stories, because they do not address the actual risk. That is, foreign tourists at Disneyland could be infecting unvaccinated adults.

In the video, Wakefield expresses the opinion that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine should be split into 3 vaccines. If he were really so influential, then they could supply the separate vaccines for those concerned about it. If you are going to ask people to voluntarily vaccinate for the benefit of others, it seems reasonable to accommodate concerns that may not be well-justified.

Stripping dissenters of their medical licenses is not a great way to persuade conspiracy theorists.

The video also blames reporters for being too stupid to understand the scientific fact that "you cannot prove a negative." No, that is not a scientific fact.

Another NY Times column has similar pro-vaccine propaganda.

Update: I had forgotten that Barack Obama said in 2008:
We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.
Hillary Clinton said something similar. Surely they are to blame for the vaccine-autism association as much as Wakefield, but the NY Times does not mention them.

Update: I listened to this Science Friday broadcast mocking a mom who studied vaccine issues and came to her own conclusions that were contrary to the official schedule. She was portrayed and stupid and unreachable for being so anti-science.

Maybe some of her arguments showed an ignorance of some of the studies, but she did make some worthwhile points and was actually willing to give her child the vaccines on a slightly delayed schedule. I think that she should be allowed to do that without the nasty putdowns. That is her choice, and is no more harmful than a lot of other choices people make every day.

A reader says vaccines beneficial with very low risk. Okay, the great majority of the public accepts that, and there is no need to force 100% compliance with a rigid schedule.