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Friday, Sep 29, 2006
Professional Skeptic on creation and evolution
Michael Shermer writes:
In my opinion, the single best argument my debate opponents have is the apparently fine-tuned characteristics of nature. Indeed, they quote no less a personage than Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, who argues in his 2000 book, "Just Six Numbers," that "our emergence from a simple Big Bang was sensitive to six ‘cosmic numbers.' Had these numbers not been ‘well tuned,' the gradual unfolding of layer upon layer of complexity would have been quenched." These six numbers are:

Ω = 1, the amount of matter in the universe, such that if Ω were greater than one, it would have collapsed long ago, and if Ω were less than one, no galaxies would have formed.

e = .007, how firmly atomic nuclei bind together, such that if epsilon were .006 or .008, matter could not exist as it does.

D = 3, the number of dimensions in which we live, such that if D were 2 or 4, life could not exist.

N = 1036 , the ratio of the strength of gravity to that of electromagnetism, such that if it had just a few less zeros, the universe would be too young and too small for life to evolve.

Q,= 1/100,000, the fabric of the universe, such that if Q were smaller, the universe would be featureless, and if Q were larger, the universe would be dominated by giant black holes.

λ = 0.7, the cosmological constant, or "antigravity" force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate, such that if λ were larger, it would have prevented stars and galaxies from forming.

He goes on the explain that String Theory doesn't explain any of the major outstanding problems in Physics, and there is not much hope that it is going to, either.

Elsewhere, Shermer argues:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. ... What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here's how.
  1. Evolution fits well with good theology.
  2. Creationism is bad theology.
  3. Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature.
  4. Evolution explains family values.
  5. Evolution accounts for specific Christian moral precepts.
  6. Evolution explains conservative free-market economics.
Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced. The senseless conflict between science and religion must end now, or else, as the Book of Proverbs (11:29) warned: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."
He is selective with his arguments. He doesn't mention this New Scientist news:
The queens of bees, ants and wasps that indulge in the most promiscuous and lengthy sex marathons produce the healthiest colonies, a new study reveals.

Honeybee queens that mated with multiple drones were shown to foster bee hives with wider genetic variation. This variation meant they were much better able to fend off a debilitating disease, researchers found.

I am surprised that Shermer goes down this path. Evolution can be used to justify war, rape, euthanasia, eugenics, and all sorts of other things that people find objectionable.

Thursday, Sep 28, 2006
Missing links in social studies class
My daughter's fifth grade class just learned about Lucy and Selam, the supposed missing links, in her social studies class. She was taught that these were human ancestors, and marked the beginning of human history. I showed her this picture of the Lucy fossil, so she could see how meager it is.

It has been claimed that Lucy was the last common ancestor to humans and chimps, 3M years ago. But the DNA mutation extrapolators say that the last common ancestor would have lived 6M or so years ago. There are also other fossils, such as Kenyanthropus, that seem as likely as Lucy to have been a human ancestor.

Tuesday, Sep 26, 2006
Scientific Regress
Science writer John Horgan writes:
A few years ago, I bet the string advocate Michio Kaku (whom I’m debating at Stevens on October 18) $1,000 that no one will win a Nobel Prize for string theory or any other quantum-gravity theory by the year 2020. I have absolutely no doubt that I’ll win this bet.
Yes, Horgan will win the bet. Nearly all of the theoretical physicists at the top universities are string theorists, so I am predicting that they will be shut out of the Nobel prizes.

Horgan lists these examples of scientific regress: End of infectious disease, Origin of life, Space colonization, Supersonic commercial transport (SST), Commercial fusion power, Curing cancer, Unified theory of physics, Unified theory of mind. Yes, these are all good examples of where the confident predictions of leading scientific researchers have fizzled out.

Monday, Sep 25, 2006
Another false claim that conservatives are activists
David G. Savage writes in an LA Times op-ed quoted here:
One year ago, John G. Roberts Jr., at the time President Bush's nominee to be the chief justice of the United States, told senators that he aspired to be like an umpire, enforcing the rules of the game, not making them. "My job is to call the balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat," he said. "It is a limited role…. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire." ...
It was The Supremacists that has just popularized the baseball umpire analogy. We would indeed be disappointed if Roberts abandoned that role. Savage goes on:
But in several cases, he behaved differently, ...

When Bush made Ashcroft his attorney general in 2001, Ashcroft issued an order saying that doctors in Oregon could lose their licenses to prescribe medication if they gave dying patients lethal drugs. ...

Roberts joined Scalia's dissent, as did Justice Clarence Thomas. The three said the use of legal drugs for ending a life was not a "legitimate medical purpose" and could be banned by the attorney general.

Note how Savage alternates between using the term "medication" and "lethal drugs". He is obscuring the fact that they are the same thing. An Oregon physician who got caught using federal narcotics to kill patients would only risk losing his license to prescribe those same federal narcotics. He could still keep his Oregon medical license and prescribe everything else.

The feds license Oregon physicians to prescribe certain narcotic drugs for legitimate medical purposes. Recreational use of cocaine is not a legitimate medical purpose, but Congress did not explicitly say whether overdosing a patient with morphine was a legitimate medical purpose. So it was up to the US Supreme Court to interpret that phrase.

All Roberts did was to vote to uphold the statute, and limit the federal licensing of narcotics to medical purposes that do not include killing patients.

What is really strange here is that other liberal academics have called the conservative justices "activist" because of supposedly objective measures of their willingness to overturn federal law. Here, Roberts was voting to uphold federal law, and he gets called activist anyway.

Saturday, Sep 23, 2006
Survival of the non-obsessed prairie dogs
New Scientist reports:
Young, old and sick animals are usually the ones that end up as lunch - though not, it seems, if you're a prairie dog in Utah. Last year it was the turn of healthy, adult males.

"This has really made me rethink everything," says John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge.

Now his theory is when foxes are more accostomed to the presence of people, they eat more sex-obsessed male prairie dogs. This is not exactly Survival of the fittest.

Thursday, Sep 21, 2006
More on the new Lucy
The Chicago Tribune reports:
A 3.3 million-year-old skeleton of a young child curled into a ball no bigger than a cantaloupe--a unique fossil described as "a bright beam of light" on human evolution--was unveiled Wednesday by paleontologists working in the sun-baked badlands of Ethiopia.

The tiny bundle of bones may be the best fossil found of the primitive human ancestor Australopithecus afarensis. That is the same species as the superstar fossil dubbed Lucy, an adult female found nearby in 1974.

Note that it is reported with certainty that this species is a human ancestor.

Not only that, but it is supposed to be a true Missing Link -- a primate that was in the midst of evolving from ape to human:

"Clearly, we have a species in transition," said Lucy's discoverer, Donald Johanson, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. The species "sits at a critical point of human evolution."
Some parts of the skeleton are missing--the pelvis, the lowest part of the back and parts of the limbs--but what is preserved is remarkably complete. ... To him, what he has found suggests A. afarensis mainly moved around on two feet but also climbed trees when necessary, especially when young. The fossil's shoulder blades resemble a young gorilla's, suggesting the child could and did climb trees, but the angle of the femur from knee to hip is close to that of a modern human, implying she also walked efficiently on two legs.
How can they know the angle of the femur, if they don't even have the pelvis? They just have a tiny ball of fossil fragments.

The reason why they cling to the belief that this animal (nicknamed "Selam" in this article) walked on two feet is because that it their only basis for saying that it was a human ancestor. All of the other characteristics are apelike.

However, even Johanson now admits that Lucy was a tree-dweller:

Johanson said that in the years since he found Lucy he has come to agree that the species spent time in trees. "The females were only 3 1/2 feet and weighed about 60 to 65 pounds," he said.
Isn't it strange that every single fossil like this is declared to be a human ancestor, and never an ape ancestor? I don't doubt that humans had ape-like ancestors 3M years ago, but apes also had ancestors. Some day they'll have to admit that Lucy and Selam were big frauds, and the evolutionists will be discredited again.

Wednesday, Sep 20, 2006
String theory is like Freudian psychoanalysis
John Horgan writes:
Freudians cannot point to unambiguous evidence that psychoanalysis works, but neither can proponents of more modern treatments… The anti-Freudians argue, in effect, that psychoanalysis has no more scientific standing than phlogiston, the ethereal substance that 18th-century scientists thought gave rise to heat and fire. But the reason physicists do not still debate the phlogiston hypothesis is that advances in chemistry and thermodynamics have rendered it utterly obsolete. A century’s worth of research in psychology, neuroscience, pharmacology and other mind-related fields has not yielded a paradigm powerful enough to obviate Freud once and for all.

That is why string theory refuses to die, too. If string theory is phlogiston, so are all the other unified theories of physics.

He may be right about Freud, but the so-called Standard Model (SU3xSU2xU1 gauge theory over a spacetime manifold) works great. It agrees with experiment to many decimal places.
Pathologies within contemporary Islam
A reader recommends this essay:
The violent response to Pope Benedict's remarks is indicative of the pathologies within contemporary Islam. ...

But it seems the media would rather condemn the pope and thus place criticism of Islam off limits rather than focus on the pathologies in contemporary Islam. This Western response serves to undermine Muslim moderates and strengthen radicals. It undermines moderates because one of the strongest big-picture arguments the moderates have is that Muslims need to act like adults, that they can't go off burning churches and killing people at the slightest provocation. Yet the signal we're sending is that we're willing to look the other way and create a ridiculous double-standard: that we're unwilling to hold Muslims accountable for unacceptable behavior and unacceptable actions.

That's right. We must congratulate the Pope for reasoned dialog, and denounce the Mohammedans who promote a murderous jihad against infidels. Those who criticize the Pope are just helping the terrorists. The Pope properly issued just a non-apology apology.
New Missing Link
New Scientist reports:
The stunningly complete skeleton of a three-year-old girl who lived 3.3 million years ago has been uncovered in Ethiopia. The child belongs to the species Australopithecus afarensis like the famous "Lucy", who was discovered in 1974. The young age of the so-called Dikika child promises new insights into the growth of early humans. ...

The stunningly complete skeleton of a three-year-old girl who lived 3.3 million years ago has been uncovered in Ethiopia. The child belongs to the species Australopithecus afarensis like the famous "Lucy", who was discovered in 1974. The young age of the so-called Dikika child promises new insights into the growth of early humans. ...

The Dikika hyoid resembles an ape's, suggesting speech had not begun to evolve in A. afarensis.

Alemseged believes much information can be gained once the skeleton is freed from its stone casing. "A clear picture will emerge of how baby human ancestors were built, and how they grew up," he says.

IOW, this is a Missing Link. The evolutionists will say that it proves that man evolved traits in this order: walking erect, larger brain, speaking.

I say that Dikika is just another ape, and not a human ancestor.

Monday, Sep 18, 2006
Cutting legal fees
Baptist news:
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Some members of Congress want to make it harder for citizens to sue the government over religious-liberty abuses.

If a House panel has its way, groups that win federal cases against the government for violating church-state separation won't be able to reclaim the legal expenses they've incurred.

On a 12-5 vote Sept. 7, the House Judiciary Committee passed the "Public Expression of Religion Act of 2006." In cases involving the First Amendment's establishment clause, the bill would not allow federal courts to require government entities to reimburse the legal costs of the individual or group that filed the lawsuit. ...

The American Civil Liberties Union frequently sues government entities for violating the establishment clause. They issued a press release denouncing the House vote.

"[T]he ability to recover attorneys' fees in civil-rights and constitutional cases, including establishment-clause cases, is necessary to help protect the religious freedom of all Americans and to keep religion government-free," the statement said, noting the fees in such suits often total "tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars."

No, the law would not make it harder to sue. It would still be possible for an atheist to sue the govt because he claims that a public cross offends. The only limit would be that vultures like the ACLU would no longer be able to collect millions of dollars in attorney fees from the taxpayers.
Eugenie Scott on evolutionism
I just listened to a lecture evolutionist Eugenie C. Scott gave at U. Mich last winter on evolution in the classroom. She bragged about court wins for her cause, and spent most of her time denouncing Intelligent Design (ID).

She denied that evolution is random and said, "Don't ever let any ever tell you that natural selection is a chance process. It isn't. It is adaptive differential reproduction." (There are other evolutionists who argue just as vehemently that evolution is a random process.) Possibly she meant that mutation is random while natural selection was not. I'm not sure.

She attacked the ID folks for assuming that either evolution or ID must be true. They fallaciously try to prove ID by disproving evolution, she says. However it seemed like she made the same assumption, as she spent her whole lecture trying to disprove ID in order to validate evolution.

She really bragged about how subpoenas in the Dover PA lawsuit were used to get drafts of pro-ID manuscripts, and show how terminology had changed. They used the terms "creation", "intelligent design", and "sudden emergence" for the concept of life beginning abruptly, with distinctive features. Furthermore, they dropped the term "creation" around the same time that the US Supreme Court declared that creationism was unconstitional.

I'm not sure what this argument proves. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould described a similar concept, and called it "punctuated equilibrium". It does seem a little silly to have to change terminology to comply with a superficial Supreme Court decision, but she can hardly blame people for trying to comply with the law. If the Supreme Court declares that the phrase "under God" is unconstitional in the Pledge of Allegiance, then is she going to blame people who say the Pledge without that phrase?

She objected to the word "Darwinism" because it suggests an ideology, and ideologies are bad.

She spent about half of the lecture trying to associate ID with religion. She said that ID promoted by the Discovery Institute, and it has used terminology and imagery that suggests that it is not solely concerned with science. It has argued for "cultural renewal" and other nonscientific objectives.

Ok, fair enough, but then she wound up her talk by saying that the fight against ID is not just a scientific issue. Her cause needs a coalition of scientists, clergy, civil libertarians, teachers, and others. It surprised me to hear her admit this. If it is not just a scientific issue, then she is just another advocate pushing an ideology.

It seems clear to me that it is not just a scientific issue to her. Real scientists would not devote so much energy to suppressing alternative views and to investigating the motives of others.

Understanding gun rights
Joshua Kurlantzick writes:
In Brazil, the N.R.A. tried a new approach. Brazil has the most gun deaths annually of any country, and last October it held a referendum on a nationwide gun ban. In the run-up to the vote, polls suggested that more than 70 percent of Brazilians supported the ban. Then the Brazilian gun lobby, which previously had emphasized the desirability of gun ownership, began running advertisements that instead suggested that if the government could take away the right to own a weapon (though Brazilians have no constitutional right to bear arms), it could steal other civil liberties. This argument took gun-control advocates by surprise, and on voting day, 64 percent of Brazilians voted against the gun ban. “We gun-control groups failed to anticipate this idea of focusing on rights,” admits Denis Mizne of Sou da Paz, a Brazilian public-policy institute. As a report in Foreign Policy revealed, the National Rifle Association lobbyist Charles Cunningham had traveled to Brazil as early as 2003 to impart strategy to local gun advocates, teaching them to emphasize rights instead of weapons.

Around the world, the N.R.A. is finding that a rights-based approach translates into many languages. As the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, says: “They made the rights argument [in Brazil.] They made the argument that this was being taken away from the people.” He pauses. “It caught Iansa” — the International Action Network on Small Arms — “by surprise. They already had the Champagne on ice.”

Who would have thought that even non-Americans could understand the concept of individual rights?

Sunday, Sep 17, 2006
North American Union
John writes:
Well, whaddaya know? Wikipedia has restored the North American Union article which it had previously deleted (and blocked to prevent re-creation).
Weird. It looks like some sort of New World Order conspiracy is trying to use Mexicans to take over the USA, and even Wikipedia, which has articles about all sorts of wacky theories, was temporarily persuaded to participate in the cover-up.

Saturday, Sep 16, 2006
David Stove
Joe writes:
I think you don't like Kuhn or Darwinism, but do like Popper. Do you have an opinion on David Stove?
No opinion. He is dead now. It looks like he had some interesting things to say.

I am not opposed to Darwinism. Darwinism is the best scientific explanation of the history of life on Earth.

Wednesday, Sep 13, 2006
Uncertainty is a reason for inaction
Law profs Wendy Wagner and Rena Steinzor claim the Bush administration is anti-Science, and argue:
Fixing the problem requires, first and foremost, a new commitment from all players to quit treating uncertainties in scientific research as justification for inaction ...

Specific reforms are in order, too. They include the insulation of research from inappropriate pressure from interested parties, ...

But none of their examples involve any inappropriate pressure on scientific research. They mainly involve limiting the ability of scientists to make administration policy.

The authors are not scientists at all, and do not even have the doctoral degrees that most college profs have. They are just lawyers pushing their own political agenda.

If they were scientists, then they would not say anything so silly as to ask for a commitment to create policies based on ignorance. Yes, uncertainty is a reason for inaction. Scientists do research and experiments to reduce uncertainty, and to make informed and reasonable actions possible. Under this law prof argument, we wouldn't need scientists at all, except to make leftist policy recommendations.

Jonathan writes:

The way I read your post, and Wagner and Steinzor's article, is that they are making a broad-brushed claim that somehow, folks in the Bush Administration are (for any of the example issues) doing what is called "studying the problem to death". This can be a valid criticism, of course; I was once told by a teacher that my daughter, while still in grade school, was suddenly refusing to turn in her writing composition assignments; when they asked her why, she told them: "Because I can't make it 'perfect'."

But in the case of large-scale laws and public policies involving science, here's my two cents (couched in a way that maybe the law profs can understand). When a person is on trial for a crime, the court does not convict them (or set them free) while "the jury is still out". For certain issues of the day, our science just hasn't provided the requisite answers to a degree sufficient to support an informed policy decision. So, it sounds like these law profs are wont to be the type to "bite their nails while the jury's still out", and, when it looks like it's taking too long, they carp at the judge to prod the jury to make a hasty decision. In this analogy, of course, the jury is the scientists. In the "real world", the Bush Administration is the analogue of the judge, and folks like Wagner and Steinzor are one of the litigants -- so you're right, they seems like folks with political agendas who are trying to pressure the "judge" to in turn put pressure on the "jury". What Wagner and Steinzor seem to be claim, following the analogy, is that the judge needs to put pressure on the jury if it's taking too long. In general, I don't think it's a good idea to put political pressure on scientists (unless we're talking e.g. a Manhattan Project scenario, or some similar sui generis case, and even there such pressure or prodding could be extremely risky.).

It's hard to argue against deliberation; in a sense, that's much of the essence of science, i.e.peer review. It's also hard to argue against the notion that some folks do have a rather nasty habit of studying problems to death, and never putting knowledge into action. There may be cases (issues) where some provisional results are enough to support a fledgling policy, but it seems like, the larger the scope of the issue (impact factor), the less desirable it is to render policy while the jury's still out. So I agree with you here. I'm not convinced by Wagner and Steinzor's article, as far as the specific examples they cite, even though I would agree that the general type of problem they point out can exist. As one of my philosphy profs put it,"the case for philosophical conservatism demands that if it ain't broke, don't fix it." A medical analogy would be: Even if you're convinced there's a problem (there's some symptoms), it does you no good as the patient, or other layman, to try to somehow rush the exploratory surgery.

You make some good points. I am annoyed at those who confuse science with policy. The highest-profile science issue in politics today is global warming. There is now a majority scientific view that global warming is real, and that human activities have contributed to it. I don't think that there is a consensus yet, and that may take 5 or 10 years. There is no good science to show that there is any net harm to global warming, or that it is practical to do anything about it.

If we were to do something about global warming, then the most effective known method is to build more nuclear power plants. There is a scientific consensus that nuclear power is the safest, cleanest, and cheapest way to generate power, and that all the alternatives emit greenhouse gases. So if we listened to scientists, we'd build more nuclear power plants. If that is what the law profs want, then they should say so.

Tuesday, Sep 12, 2006
Measuring judicial activism
NY Times op-ed:
Lori Ringhand, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, examined the voting records of the Supreme Court justices from 1994 to 2005. ... The conservative justices were far more willing than the liberals to strike down federal laws ... When state laws were at issue, the liberals were more activist. Add up the two categories, and the conservatives and liberals turned out to be roughly equal. ...

By the third measure, overturning the court’s own precedents (for which data were available only up to 2000), the conservatives were far more activist.

This is an improvement over an earlier study that just looked at overturning federal laws. But I question whether overturning the court's own precedents can be objectively measured. Most Supreme Court cases result from disagreement between lower appellate courts over how to apply precedent. No matter how it rules, there are likely to be other judges who will say that precedent was overturned.

Next, it is not clear why activism means deferring to legislatures. Under this definition, deferring to the Executive branch may be activist while deferring to Congress is not.

The Kelo decision deferred to the legislature on the subject of eminent domain, but in the process it created a new interpretation of the Bill of Rights. Suddenly, after 200 years, "public use" became "public purpose". Ringhand would say that Kelo was not activist.

Monday, Sep 11, 2006
Wanting to save Pluto
String theorist Lubos Motl writes:
When the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Prague decided that Pluto was no longer a planet, I was feeling certain that it was a huge victory for astronomy on many fronts. ...

83 percent of the people who participated in a Discovery Channel poll wanted to save their Pluto. ...

Many scientists often complain that only 50% of Americans or so understand that evolutionary biology is more correct than creationism. But in this case we get numbers like 83% in the context of a question that is arguably much simpler than the validity of evolution. I thought this was the 21st century. ...

In the case of planets, you may face 83% of opposition. Many of these people are hysterical imbeciles and people who confuse cartoon heroes with rocks. When someone obtains a scientific result such as the fact that one can't consistently define planets to have 9 of them including Pluto, he or she is guaranteed to face more serious threats today than Copernicus had to face when he figured out that the Earth was orbitting around the Sun, not the other way around.

As usual, he blames it all on mathematician Peter Woit for pointing out how his string theory work is unscientific. Motl also displays chronological snobbery and ignorance. Copernicus never faced any serious threats for his ideas. His treatise was even endorsed by the Catholic Church.

Sunday, Sep 10, 2006
Plame not a covert agent
David Corn is a leftist anti-Bush conspiracy theorist, and been complaining about the Valerie Plame incident for years. Now he has written a book about it and claims to explain what Plame did at the CIA. He says:
Valerie Plame was recruited into the CIA in 1985, straight out of Pennsylvania State University. After two years of training to be a covert case officer, she served a stint on the Greece desk, according to Fred Rustmann, a former CIA official who supervised her then. Next she was posted to Athens and posed as a State Department employee. Her job was to spot and recruit agents for the agency. In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA. ...

When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator, ...

So she was really not an overseas covert agent at all. She did some work overseas, but not covertly. She is sometimes portrayed as some sort of WMD expert, but she really just did low-level personnel work with other Americans in the USA. Even special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has issued conflicting statements about whether she was a covert agent. This Wikipedia article gives both sides of the argument.

The LA Times reports:

But Fitzgerald, reading FBI reports just after taking charge, learned that federal investigators already knew Novak's primary source — a gossipy State Department official who seemed to have strained relations with the White House.

So if the mystery was already solved, why did Fitzgerald's investigation continue for almost 36 more months? Why does I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, still face criminal charges in connection with the Plame leak?

The article goes on to answer the question -- once Fitzgerald determined that no crime had been committed, he got permission to spend two years setting up perjury traps for White House officials instead:
In early February 2004, barely a month into his tenure, Fitzgerald sought and received a letter from his Justice Department boss stating that — in addition to probing the leaks — he was authorized to pursue possible obstruction of justice and related crimes.
The leaker now confesses:
This week, breaking a silence he said Fitzgerald imposed, Armitage told "CBS Evening News," "I feel terrible, every day. I think I let down the president, I let down the secretary of State, I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson."
His big mistake was that he let down the country by complying with Fitzgerald's sting operation. Armitage should have told the public that he was leaker back in 2003 when he told the FBI, and deny Fitzgerald the chance to sabotage Bush's reelection in 2004. If anyone here is a criminal, it is Fitzgerald, because he has abused his job, misled the public, brought phony charges, and attempted to manipulate a presidential election.

The leftist Bush-hating LA Times is so embarrassed by this that it that it editorialized that it wished that Armitage had not been unmasked as the leaker:

Still, the latest twists and turns in the Plame-Wilson affair make us wish that we had been right when we observed, almost exactly three years ago, that "no one should count on catching the leaker, at least in a legally airtight manner."
As long as Armitage's role could be kept secret, the leftist moonbats could continue to blame the White House with their goofy conspiracy theories. It is amazing to see the LA Times editorial writers admit that they prefer propagating false conspiracy theories to revealing the facts. They didn't want the public to find out that Armitage was the leaker, because they wanted the public to (falsely) suspect that it was an evil Karl Rove conspiracy.
Non-scientific philosophical interpretations
The evolutionist star witness on the conflict between evolution and alternative views has been Ken Miller because he wrote a book trying to reconcile his evolutionist and Catholic beliefs. He just gave a speech in Kansas:
Miller said creationists mistakenly take aim at Darwin's theory because they believe science to be anti-religious. Evolution isn't anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it's the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.
Okay, that clears it up. Science is not a threat to religion; the problem is just the nonscientific evolutionists who argue that the evidence disproves religion.

I actually agree with Miller. He is a Roman Catholic, and that Church has a proud record of accepting Science for 1000 years. If the evolutionists would stop making unscientific claims, then there would be no problem.

Saturday, Sep 09, 2006
Oliver, the Humanzee
Evolutionists continue to maintain that a 3 million year old partial ape fossil named Lucy was a human ancestor. I think that it is just another in a long chain of fraudulent missing links. Here is another one that I recently learned about, called Oliver, the Humanzee. It was a chimp that got a lot of publicity in the 1970s for walking upright and other human-like characteristics. Some people claimed that it was half-human and half-chimp. DNA tests eventually proved that it was a chimp, but no one ever explained its human-like behavior. It seems to me that it was as human-like as Lucy. I think that Lucy will eventually be proved to be just another ancient ape.

Friday, Sep 08, 2006
Improbability of life
David Berlinski has a essay On The Origins Of Life. The math is criticized by the goodmath blog and John Allen Paulos.

I don't find these calculations about the improbability of life to be persuasive but Berlinski is not a creationist, he states his assumptions, and he gives sources for his figures. I doubt that he is making math errors.

Similar arguments for the improbability of life are given by cosmologists and string theorists. They use arguments like this:

The synthesis of carbon -- the vital core of all organic molecules -- on a significant scale involves what scientists view as an astonishing coincidence in the ratio of the strong force to electromagnetism. This ratio makes it possible for carbon-12 to reach an excited state of exactly 7.65 MeV at the temperature typical of the centre of stars, which creates a resonance involving helium-4, beryllium-8, and carbon-12 -- allowing the necessary binding to take place during a tiny window of opportunity 10-17 seconds long.
The significance of these arguments is a philosophical question. Maybe greater scientific knowledge will show some of these concidences to be not so outrageous. But there are a lot of very smart physicists who take these arguments very seriously.

Thursday, Sep 07, 2006
A plea for empiricism
Jerry A. Coyne reviews Frederick Crews on Freud:
Laid out in the first four essays, Crews’s brief against Freud is hard to refute. Through Freud’s letters and documents, Crews reveals him to be not the compassionate healer of legend, but a cold and calculating megalomaniac, determined to go down in history as the Darwin of the psyche. Not only did he not care about patients (he sometimes napped or wrote letters while they were free-associating): there is no historical evidence that he effectively cured any of them. And the propositions of psychoanalysis have proven to be either untestable or falsified. How can we disprove the idea, for example, that we have a death drive? Or that dreams always represent wish fulfilments? When faced with counter-examples, Freudianism always proves malleable enough to incorporate them as evidence for the theory. Other key elements of Freudian theory have never been corroborated. There are no scientifically convincing experiments, for example, demonstrating the repression of traumatic memories. As Crews points out, work with survivors of the Holocaust and other traumatic episodes has shown not a single case in which such memories are quashed and then recovered. In four further essays, Crews documents the continuing pernicious influence of Freud in the “recovered memory” movement. The idea that childhood sexual abuse can be repressed and then recalled originated with Freud, and has been used by therapists to evoke false memories which have traumatized patients and shattered families.

Realizing the scientific weaknesses of Freud, many diehards have taken the fall-back position that he was nevertheless a thinker of the first rank. Didn’t Freud give us the idea of the unconscious, they argue? Well, not really, for there was a whole history of pre-Freudian thought about people’s buried motives, including the writings of Shakespeare and Nietzsche. The “unconscious” was a commonplace of Romantic psychology and philosophy. And those who champion Freud as a philosopher must realize that his package also includes less savoury items like penis envy, the amorality of women, and our Lamarckian inheritance of “racial memory”.

That's right. Freud was a scientific fraud and a kook.

He also addresses evolutionism:

In his essay, “Darwin goes to Sunday School”, Crews reviews several of these works, pointing out with brio the intellectual contortions and dishonesties involved in harmonizing religion and science. Assessing work by the evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, the philosopher Michael Ruse, the theologian John Haught and others, Crews concludes, “When coldly examined . . . these productions invariably prove to have adulterated scientific doctrine or to have emptied religious dogma of its commonly accepted meaning”. Rather than suggesting any solution (indeed, there is none save adopting a form of “religion” that makes no untenable empirical claims), Crews points out the dangers to the survival of our planet arising from a rejection of Darwinism. Such rejection promotes apathy towards overpopulation, pollution, deforestation and other environmental crimes: “So long as we regard ourselves as creatures apart who need only repent of our personal sins to retain heaven’s blessing, we won’t take the full measure of our species-wise responsibility for these calamities”.
He's right that many of the evolutionists who claim to harmonize religion and science are guilty of intellectual contortions and dishonesties. (Or were guilty, as Gould is dead now.) I don't know about the theologians.

I am not sure that religious rejection of Darwinism is a cause of pollution. The USA supposedly leads the world in religious rejection of Darwinism, and yet we also lead in protecting the environment. Communist countries that have rejected religion are much more polluted than the USA.

Michael Crichton said, in a 2003 speech:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

He's right. Modern environmentalism is a religion. It is the perfect religion for leftist-atheist-evolutionists who have rejected more traditional religion. That's okay with me if they want to maintain their religious beliefs, but I object when they want to pass them off as science, as they often do.

(Note: Occasionally an evolutionist questions my use of the word "evolutionist". Here, the term is being used by Jerry Coyne, who is himself a well-respected evolutionist at the Univ. of Chicago. We are using the term just as dictionaries have defined the term for 100 years. Coyne uses the term "evolutionist" in a positive way, such as when he compares proponents of the theory of evolution to creationists and others.)

Quattrone exonerated
Alykhan Velshi writes:
The last three years have not been kind to Conrad Black: his media empire and his reputation are in a shambles, his various properties are being auctioned off by court-order, and his assets and family jewelry are being confiscated – all this, and Black has yet to be convicted of a single crime. ...

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, that Patrick Fitzgerald) has also filed more than a dozen criminal charges against Black, including racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering, and tax evasion. ...

The trial by attrition of Conrad Black has exposed the dark underbelly of the legal system, where the government can ruin a man, take his property, his means of livelihood, and make him a social pariah – all without the hassle of securing a conviction. There is an insidious little worm that has crept into the legal system, an iconoclastic mentality that is distorting the rule of law. Focused less on securing justice than on bringing down the high and mighty, all the while pandering to the politics of envy, it affects the entire system of corporate governance.

Fitzgerald is the special prosecutor who is going after former White House advisor Scooter Libby. Everyone says that he has an impeccable record, is extremely competent, and goes by the book. I think that his prosecution of Libby shows that he is an incompetent idiot who has abused his powers. Now I find out that he may have unfairly tried to ruin others as well.

I'm glad to see that Si Valley banker and dealmaker Frank Quattrone is getting his name cleared. The feds were out to get him for about 5 years. When they couldn't get him for financial irregularities, they prosecuted him for the cover-up. He had a couple of trials, and courageously testified in his own defense. Now, he has finally won on all counts, and should even get $120M in back pay that was conditioned on his acquittal.

Judge attacks supremacists
Federal judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III writes in a Wash Post op-ed:
The chief casualty in the struggle over same-sex marriage has been the American constitutional tradition. ... Judges began the rush to constitutionalize. The Massachusetts Supreme Court concocted a state constitutional right to marry persons of the same sex. The court went on to say that opposing views lacked so much as a rational basis. In other words, centuries of common-law tradition, legislative sanction and human experience with marriage as a bond between one man and one woman were deemed by that court unworthy to the point of irrationality.

It would be altogether understandable for Congress and state legislatures to counter this constitutional excess with constitutional responses of their own. ...

Is it too much to ask that judges and legislatures acknowledge the difficulty of this debate by leaving it to normal democratic processes?

Yes, and the best way to leave it to the democratic process is for Congress to pass a law making it clear that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction on the subject, and for state judges to respect the popular votes of the people.

He defends the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as a way of keeping supremacist state judges from trying spread same-sex marriage to other states, but Congress may need to prevent supremacist federal judges from interfering with DOMA.

Update: Medis wrote:

Judge Wilkinson wants to leave the issue to "NORMAL democratic processes" (emphasis added), by which he means ordinary legislation. And as he points out, constitutionalizing the issue actually increases the role and power of the courts. ...

[Passing constitutional provisions is] simply changing the nature of the source material the courts are using ...

Yes. That is the normal democratic process. The people pass laws, and the courts use the given source material to resolve disputes.
it seems odd to say, "We don't want the courts using our constitution to set marital policy in this state, so what we are going to do is put something about marriage in our constitution!"
No, it is really saying, "We don't like the courts changing marital policy in this state, so we are going to use the normal democratic process to amend and clarify whatever law the courts are trying to use to change policy."

Tuesday, Sep 05, 2006
Falsifying the anthropic principle
Stanford string theorist Leonard Susskind claims that the anthropic principle is falsifiable with this argument:
Suppose an incredibly accurate measurement of the average temperature of the earth gave the answer (in centigrade) T=50.0000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000 degrees. In other words the temperature was found to be exactly midway between freezing and boiling, to an accuracy of one hundred decimal places. I think we would be justified in thinking that there is something beyond the anthropic principle at work. There is no reason, based on the existence of life, for the temperature to be so symmetrically located between boiling and freezing. So discovering such a temperature would pretty convincingly mean that the existence of life is not the real reason why the temperature is between 0 and 100 degrees.
This is goofy. He has taken a measurement that doesn't even make much sense beyond about 2 significant figures, and hypothesized measuring it to 100 figures. Nothing will ever be measurable to 100 figures. Furthermore, he doesn't really explain how this falsifies the anthropic principle. He seems to be saying that an observation that unusual would be so unexpected and remarkable that science would never explain it and it would be evidence for God. He doesn't say it that way, of course.

He goes on:

Throughout my long experience as a scientist I have heard un-falsifiability hurled at so many important ideas that I am inclined to think that no idea can have great merit unless it has drawn this criticism. I'll give some examples:

From psychology: You would think that everybody would agree that humans have a hidden emotional life. B.F. Skinner didn't. He was the guru of a scientific movement called behaviorism that dismissed anything that couldn't be directly observed as unscientific. The only valid subject for psychology according to the behaviorist is external behavior. Statements about the emotions or the state of mind of a patient were dismissed as un-falsifiable. Most of us, today, would say that this is a foolish extreme.

Oh boy. At the time, psychology was completely overrun with unscientific Freudians and mindreaders. It is very strange for him to pick on the behavorists.

He seems to be saying that the truly great ideas are those that appear to be scientific but cannot be tested. I am going to call this the Susskind principle. It can be compared to the Copernican-Freudian-Gouldian principle:

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.
For a couple of hundred years, Physics has been the Science that all other sciences emulated. I don't think that they'll be emulating the Susskind Principle.
Esoteric branch of algebraic geometry
Princeton solid state physicist Philip Anderson writes, in a review of Not Even Wrong:
What is Woit's argument? He is not accusing the string theorists of egregious mathematical error - of course they are superb mathematicians. Rather, he accuses them simply of doing pure mathematics in physics departments, of redefining "science". One could not possibly object to the existence of an active mathematical community pursuing such an exciting, original line of work. The objection is to the claim that this work is physics, that it possibly, or even probably, will tell us how the real world constructs itself. One may particularly cavil at the high level of hype around string theory, to the point of monopolising popular attention, and that the gigadollars of a number of philanthropists, as well as numerous physics department employment slots, are being farmed out to what is really an esoteric branch of algebraic geometry.
That is correct. String Theory is Mathematics, not Science. As long as mainstream physicists accept the hype about String Theory, as most of them do, the evolutionists are unconvincing with their goofy definitions of "science" and "theory". Their definitions do not match the usage of today's leading theoretical physicists at all.

Monday, Sep 04, 2006
Sock puppet caught
Here is a blogging scandal:
A senior editor at The New Republic was suspended and his blog was shut down on Friday after revelations that he was involved in anonymously attacking readers who criticized his posts.

Lee Siegel, creator of the Lee Siegel on Culture blog for tnr.com, was suspended indefinitely from the magazine after a reader accused him of using a “sock puppet,” or Internet alias, to attack his critics in the comments section of his blog.

Who cares? I can see where TNR might be a little embarrassed, but most online commenters are anonymous.
For religious intolerance
Sam Harris has written 2 books arguing for religious intolerance, and a current Newsweek article describes him as a major atheist spokesman, along with British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. Harris claims:
Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years.
I thought that I would be more sympathetic to his argument. It is fine with me if he scrutinizes and challenges the religious beliefs of others. But hardly any Americans really believe that the world is about to end. Maybe some Jehovah's Witnesses and a few others, but not mainstream Christians.

Harris's real targets are religious moderates and those who tolerate religious faiths. He attacks them for deviating from the Bible. Maybe his books are intended to be parodies.

Friday, Sep 01, 2006
CIA Leak Story Solved
NY Times now reveals:
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, knew the identity of the leaker from his very first day in the special counsel’s chair, but kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years ...

Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, first told the authorities in October 2003 that he had been the primary source for the July 14, 2003, column by Robert D. Novak that identified Valerie Wilson as a C.I.A. operative and set off the leak investigation. ...

Mr. Armitage cooperated voluntarily in the case, never hired a lawyer and testified several times to the grand jury, according to people who are familiar with his role and actions in the case. He turned over his calendars, datebooks and even his wife’s computer in the course of the inquiry, those associates said. But Mr. Armitage kept his actions secret, not even telling President Bush because the prosecutor asked him not to divulge it, the people said.

So Fitzgerald knew from day one that nothing illegal or improper happened. The story might have been slightly embarrassing for the White House if it could be proved that the leaker was in the White House and had bad motives for the leak. But the leaker wasn't even in the White House, he cooperated fully, and no bad motives have been found.

Fitzgerald conducted a two-year investigation not to find an unlawful leaker, but to entrap White House officials into some sort of slip-up that would allow them to be accused of a cover-up. He was counting on Watergate-mentality reporters who say that the cover-up is worse than the crime.

I was predicting all along that no one would get convicted in this so-called scandal. But Fitzgerald is even more irresponsible than I thought. He wasn't even investigating anything criminal. He only got one indictment, against Scooter Libby, and the only way he got that was to trick Libby into admitting that he lied to a reporter in order to protect possibly classified info, and then trick the grand jury into thinking that Libby reciting his lie to a reporter was really a lie to federal agents. Once the facts get sorted out, Libby will be acquitted.