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Sunday, Dec 31, 2006
Copernican Principle is wrong
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Copernican Principle:
The Copernican Principle is a basic statement in physics that there should be no ``special'' observers. For example, the Aristotelian model of the solar system in the Middle Ages placed the Earth at the center of the solar system, a unique place since it ``appears'' that everything revolved around the Earth. Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated that this view was incorrect and that the Sun was at the center of the solar system with the Earth in orbit around the Sun.

The implications of Copernicus' work can not be exaggerated. His views challenged the literal interpretation of Scripture, the philosophical and metaphysical foundations of moral theory, and even common sense itself. The result was a massive opposition to his reported ideas. It was the slow, sure acceptance of the heliocentric theory by natural philosophers that ultimately quieted the general clamor, however the name of Copernicus is still a battle cry against the establishment in religion, philosophy and science. In later years with Freud, man lost his Godlike mind; with Darwin his exalted place among the creatures of the Earth; with Copernicus man had lost his privileged position in the Universe.

The lesson learned by future scientists is that if a theory requires a special origin or viewpoint, then it is not plausible

This is nonsense from beginning to end. The geocentric model is called the Ptolemaic model, not the Aristotelian model, and it originated at least 1000 years before the Middle Ages. Copernicus never demonstrated that the geocentric view was incorrect. His model put the Sun near the center of the solar system, but not at the center.

Copernicus did not challenge the "foundations of moral theory" or anything like that. There was no massive opposition to his idea that the solar system could be modeled with the Sun near the center. His famous book had the explicit imprimatur of the Roman Catholic Church, altho its approval was later conditioned on nine minor corrections being made.

Today, the name of Copernicus is the battle cry of crackpots. The article endorses a view of Freud, who really was a crackpot.

The Big Bang theory requires a special point of origin for the universe. If all such theories are necessarily implausible, then I guess that we should reject the Big Bang theory. But the Big Bang theory is the most plausible theory we have for the expansion of the universe. Without it, scientists cannot explain why it gets dark at night. (Olber's Paradox)

Senile slug research
Sci. American reports:
The ancestors of humans and sea slugs diverged more than a half billion years ago, but scientists have now unexpectedly found genes that are remarkably similar in the brains of both. These findings could help shed light on the evolution of the brain in the animal kingdom and the mechanisms of human disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

The sea slug Aplysia californica, a red, green or brown hermaphrodite that can grow up to 16 inches long, has the biggest brain cells, or neurons, in the animal kingdom, at up to a millimeter long. These marine snails also have just 20,000 or so neurons, compared with the 100 billion in people.

I'll be updating this if anyone ever learns anything about Alzheimers, from humans having common ancestry with sea slugs.

Wednesday, Dec 27, 2006
Cause of global warming is irrelevant
I am suspicious of the global warming activists for these reasons:

1. The so-called science matches the leftist ideology too conveniently. If someone wanted to shut down global development and economic growth, there is no surer way than to impose an international carbon tax or otherwise reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It reminds me of those who want to stop some power plant or logging operation because of some supposed endangered species that no one had heard of. For the most part, they are just leftist ideologues masquerading as environmentalists.

2. They rarely mention nuclear power. If the greenhouses gases are really a harmful form of pollution, then nuclear power is by far the cleanest and cheapest form of energy available. Anyone who is really concerned about greenhouse gases should be promoting nuclear power plants.

3. They emphasize human causes. The climate scientists have made a convincing case that industrialization has caused big CO2 increases in the atmosphere, that greenhouse gases can cause global warming, and that some parts of the world have already seen a noticeable warming. But they are hung up trying to demonstrate that Man caused the warming.

Why do they even care? When Yellowstone Park burned in 1988, the authorities let it burn because the fire had been started by lightning rather than Man. There are even those who think that the ethics of cloning Neanderthals should depend on whether humans wiped them out 35kyrs ago.

So it appears to me that these folks think that we should try to do something about global warming if Man is the cause, and not otherwise. That is why they believe that it is so crucial to show that Man is the cause.

This is crazy. It sounds like some sort of pagan nature-worship, not science. If fire in Yellowstone is really a good thing, then we should deliberately set that fire, and not wait for the lightning. If global warming is really a bad thing and we really have the technology to economically reverse it, then we should do that regardless of whether Man originally caused the warming.

I think that scientists should work on telling us the cost-benefit ratios of feasible climate interventions, and forget about whether Man is the cause of global warming.

The risks of being Homo Urbanus
Jeremy Rifkin writes that human civilization is unsustainable:
Large populations living in mega- cities consume massive amounts of Earth's energy to maintain their infrastructures and daily flow of human activity. The Sears Tower alone uses more electricity in a single day than the city of Rockford, Ill., with 152,000 people. Even more amazing, our species now consumes nearly 40 percent of the net primary production on Earth -- the amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis -- even though we make up only one-half of 1 percent of the animal biomass of the planet. ...

In the next phase of human history, we will need to find a way to reintegrate ourselves into the rest of the living Earth if we are to preserve our own species and conserve the planet for our fellow creatures.

When he expresses concern for "our fellow creatures", is he talking about humans or animals? Normally I'd assume humans, but when he complains about extinctions and about our species using more than our fair share of sunlight, I'm not so sure.

Ronald Bailey attacks Rifkin for other reasons.

Tuesday, Dec 26, 2006
Evolution of dishonest frogs
NY Science Times reports:
If you happen across a pond full of croaking green frogs, listen carefully. Some of them may be lying.

A croak is how male green frogs tell other frogs how big they are. The bigger the male, the deeper the croak. The sound of a big male is enough to scare off other males from challenging him for his territory.

While most croaks are honest, some are not. Some small males lower their voices to make themselves sound bigger. Their big-bodied croaks intimidate frogs that would beat them in a fair fight.

Green frogs are only one deceptive species among many. Dishonesty has been documented in creatures ranging from birds to crustaceans to primates, including, of course, Homo sapiens.

The NY Times treats this as some big breakthru in evolutionary theory. It supposedly explains how dishonesty evolved in humans. Here is the theory, as I understand it.

Any time one animal has some behavioral response to another, we could regard this as a communication signal. A growl, a sharp claw, or a peacock's tail might be considered a signal.

The next step is to regard the signal as being correct or false. You have to use your imagination to say whether a peacock is telling the truth or not when it shows its tail, but assume that.

Furthermore, assume that there are advantages and disadvantages of animals telling the truth with these signals, and of lying.

The new research shows that if the advantages can be quantified in a computer model, then the optimal behavior for the animal will be to sometimes tell the truth, and sometimes lie.

The NY Times explains:

Tales of animal deception reach back at least as far as Aesop’s fables. In the late 19th century, the naturalist George Romanes made a semi-scientific study of deceptive animals. In his 1883 book, "Mental Evolution in Animals," Romanes wrote about how one of his correspondents had sent him "several examples of the display of hypocrisy of a King Charles spaniel." ...

A signaler may have different relationships with different listeners. In some cases, honest signals are best. But eavesdroppers may be able to use honest signals for their own advantage.

To capture this extra layer of complexity, Dr. Rowell built a mathematical model with two receivers instead of one. The signaling animal could choose to be honest or dishonest. The receivers could respond to the signal as an honest one or a dishonest one.

Working with Dr. Ellner and Dr. Reeve, Dr. Rowell discovered that honesty and deception could reach a stable coexistence in the model. The signalers could sometimes be dishonest, and yet the receivers continued to believe the signals despite the deception.

Dr. Rowell and his colleagues published the details of their model in the December issue of The American Naturalist. ...

Dr. Reeve cautioned that the model was only the first step in understanding how networks of listeners can drive the evolution of deception. "Right now it needs to be tested in detail, experimentally," he said.

I am wondering what it new or scientific about this. Why is that 1883 book only "semi-scientific", while some untested model is considered a hot new evolutionary result. Who would be surprised that there might be an equilibrium between honesty and deception under the above assumptions?

Every kindergarten teacher understands that if she rewards honesty, she'll get more honesty, and if there are rewards for deception, there will be more deception. Depends on the rewards, there will be a balance. The whole thing seems trivial.

Judge denounces femifascists
St. Louis judge Robert H. Dierker Jr. has written a book titled, The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault. It says:
Just as we saw with the femifascists, illiberal liberals don't want equality; they want to make some people more equal than others. And they've made it happen through their dominance of the courts over the past seventy-five years. Liberals have converted the courts from the 'least dangerous' branch of government envisioned by the Founding Fathers to the most dangerous. ...

This is liberal law in a nutshell. History and tradition count for nothing; the language of the Constitution itself counts for little; the only criterion is whether a ruling will advance the liberal agenda.

A female lawyer complains here. I think that she is concerned that he might be prejudiced against femifascist lawyers in his court.

Sunday, Dec 24, 2006
Imported workers depress wages
BatesLine denies that foreign workers with H-1B workers are depressing American wages:
H-1B visa holders must, by law, be paid comparably to or better than American workers. Companies have to post notices listing the salary, job title, and experience of H-1B employees to allow other employees to verify that the visa holders aren't driving out American workers by accepting a low wage. The companies I have worked for have complied with this requirement.
I think that he needs some lessons in supply and demand. Increasing the supply of workers always lowers wages. That is the way economics works. It is the whole purpose of the H-1B program.

Maybe some 1% of the H-1B workers have some unique skill that some employers especially needs. But the vast majority of them are computer programmers, engineers, nurses, and others coming into a job market where there are millions of American workers already available. They have no special skill, and they are just being hired because they will work more hours for less money.

BatesLine goes on:

Most H-1B visa holders I've known are using it as a first step to qualify for permanent residency and eventual citizenship. ... They are not tethered to the first employer that hires them.
This is misleading. They are not "tethered" in the sense that they can leave the USA at any time. But they need that employer sponsorship if they want to get on the waiting list for permanent residency. If an H-1B worker changes jobs, then he must get another H-1B sponsor and forfeit his application for permanent residency. As a result, the employer gets an indentured servant, and won't have to give him pay raises to keep him from jumping to another employer.
This statement of Schlafly's just floored me:
Much of the Compete America discussion involved blaming the U.S. educational system and the fact that fewer U.S. students are going into math and computer sciences. Yes, U.S. students have figured out that our engineers have a bleak employment future because of insourcing foreigners and outsourcing manufacturing.
Isn't this the same Phyllis Schlafly who has been telling us what a bad job our schools are doing of educating our children in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic?
Yes, she does complain about our schools, but she wants to improve our schools, not import foreign guest workers to make our schools irrelevant.

Thursday, Dec 21, 2006
No more evolution stickers
The LA Times reports:
ATLANTA — A suburban school board has abandoned its four-year legal fight to place stickers in high school biology textbooks that say "evolution is a theory, not a fact."

In a settlement announced Tuesday in federal court, the Cobb County Board of Education agreed never to use any similar "stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions or other warnings," or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes.

In turn, the parents who sued over the stickers — charging that they promoted religion in science classrooms and violated the separation of church and state — agreed to end all legal action.

The Cobb school board says:
"Appealing the lower court ruling was the right decision by the school board because that ruling was incorrect," said Dr. Plenge. "The Board maintains that the stickers were constitutional, but, at the same time, the Board clearly sees the need to put this divisive issue behind us. There will be no stickers in textbooks, and, as always, we will continue to provide Cobb County students a curriculum that follows national and state standards in teaching science and the theory of evolution."
The lower court had said that the stickers were unconstitutional, and the appellate court vacated (reversed) that ruling. Apparently the school will continue to take the position that evolution is a theory.

Sunday, Dec 17, 2006
Weinberg on ST
The eminent physicist Steven Weinberg said:
The critics are right. We have no single prediction of string theory that is verified by observation. Even worse, we don’t know how to use string theory to make predictions. Even worse than that, we don’t really know what string theory is.
And he is someone who likes String Theory! He says that it is the only game in town:
I don't see any alternative to string theory. I don't see any other way of bringing gravity into the same general theoretical framework as all the other forces of nature. Yes, it could be entirely wrong. I don't think it's likely at all. I think it's best to assume it's not and take it very seriously and work on it.
The string theorists idolize Weinberg, but they do wish that he'd retract this statement:
The geometric interpretation of gravitation has dwindled to a mere analogy, which lingers in our language in terms like "metric", "affine connection", and "curvature", but is not otherwise very useful.
The string theorist love their geometrical interpretations because that's all they have.

Friday, Dec 15, 2006
Why Truth Matters
A new book on Why Truth Matters gives this as its prime example:
In the David Irving libel trial held two years ago, in which I served as an expert witness for the High Court in London , Irving was suing Penguin Books and their author Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history. ...

Just as important as this was the fact that it was possible to demonstrate that Irving 's historical works deliberately falsified the documentary evidence in order to lend plausibility to his preconceived arguments, ...

If it is Truth that really matters, then why aren't they satisfied with just proving Irving wrong? Why is it so important to argue that Irving had bad motives, and to ruin him?

Irving apparently has some sort of theory that the Jews at Auschwitz were killed by means other than gas chambers. He cites publicly documents and evidence. Other historians say that he is wrong. Irving has been bankrupted and jailed by Europeans and Jews who are offended by what he says.

Praising the punishment of Irving is not a good example for the search for Truth. It is a sad day when Iran is the only country that can have a conference dedicated to telling the truth about the German Holocaust.

George writes:

What is going on in Iran is not the Truth, but just hate speech. They are just doing that to generate support for anti-Israel terrorism.
I am not a mindreader, so I don't know about anyone's motives. Certainly most of the Mohammedan world is anti-Israel. I think that the only way that we'll get at the truth is to allow historians to have free speech to present their theories. I don't see how anything Irving could say would be worse than what the Mohammedans say all the time about Jews and Israel.
ST patents
Lumo Motl's latest evidence for String Theory is the nine US patents involving string theory, and the lack of patents on other quantum gravity theories.

Maybe he is making a joke, because some of the patents aren't really String Theory. Those that are just give more evidence that ST is just another wacky physics fad with no relation to reality.

Wednesday, Dec 13, 2006
Rushing math to publication
A respected mathematician Joan Birman wrotes that the Math community has too much tolerance for bad behavior:
I focus on one small part of the complex array of matters discussed in the Nasar-Gruber article, namely the manner in which the normal peer review process, essential to the integrity of the profession, was tossed out the window when the paper of Cao and Zhu was accepted for publication in the Asian Journal of Mathematics (AJM). The submitted paper appears to be mainly an exposition of Perelman’s work on the Geometrization Conjecture, however it asserted that there were gaps in Perelman’s proof, which the authors filled. That was a serious assertion. The decision to publish the Cao-Zhu paper was made by the two editors-in-chief of the AJM, without consultation with the journal’s twenty-six member editorial board, even though it was known that the authors had deep personal attachments to the editors-in-chief. The members of the editorial board of the AJM were notified of the pending publication a few days before the journal issue appeared, but were not shown the paper, an abstract, or reports by independent referees.
There must not be very much bad behavior in the Mathematics community for Birman to complain about this. Here is what happened.

Perelman published what he claimed was a proof of the Poincare and Geometrization Conjectures in some papers around 2003. The papers appeared to have some gaps, and most mathematicians were still unsure in 2006 as to whether Perelman had a complete proof or not. If correct, it would be the biggest result in ten years. The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) meets every four years, and the August 2006 meeting would surely want to make an announcement as to whether the proof is correct.

Several groups of mathematicians worked thru Perelman's details, and wrote up more complete proofs. The new papers convinced everyone that Perelman's theorem was correct. According to the New Yorker article, S.-T. Yau rushed one of them into print in time for the ICM to award a Fields Medal to Perelman for the proof.

I am still baffled as to how anyone could find fault with this. Three years is a long time to wait for a resolution of this issue. If Yau sped up the process by a couple of months, so much the better. The Math community needed to know whether the theorem was correct or not.

Perhaps someone might think that the new papers complicate the process of assigning credit for the proof the conjectures. How much credit should goto Richard Hamilton and other who did the work leading up to Perelman's papers, how much to Perelman, and how much to the later mathematicians who filled in the details?

These credit issues are secondary, at best. The really important thing was to determine correctness of the theorems, and to make a readable proof available. That has now happened, and Yau contributed to it.

People can debate the credit if they want, but there are no facts in dispute. Perelman published his papers promptly on a public web server. If anyone wants to form an opinion about the completeness of his arguments, then he can just download the papers and read them for himself. Nothing Yau or anyone else can do will change that.

Other academic fields have endless squabbling about who deserves credit for what. In many cases, big-shot scientists take credit for what a grad student did, and no one outside the lab knows for sure. In spite of attempts by Sylvia Nasar and the New Yorker magazine to artificially create controversy, the Math community has very few such disputes.

Maxwell pioneered relativity
PhysicsWorld magazine says:
James Clerk Maxwell – unlike Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, the two giants of physics with whom he stands – made that mistake, dying in 1879 at the age of just 48. ...

Or consider relativity: mention it and everyone thinks of Einstein. Yet it was Maxwell in 1877 who introduced the term into physics, and had noticed well before then how the interpretation of electromagnetic induction was different depending on whether one considers a magnet approaching a wire loop or a loop approaching a magnet. It was from these "asymmetries that do not appear to be inherent in the phenomena" that Einstein began his work on special relativity.

Had he not died so young, Maxwell would almost certainly have developed special relativity a decade or more before Einstein. Moreover, it was through reading Maxwell's article "Ether" in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that Albert Michelson came to invent the interferometer – a new kind of instrument that he and Edward Morley used in 1887 to discover that the speed of light is the same in all directions.

Lorentz and Poincare did discover special relativity before Einstein.

Tuesday, Dec 12, 2006
Pinochet died
The great Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet has died. He was hated for proving that free-market economic policies work much better than Marxist ones. Leftists complain that about 2k Chileans died under his rule, but AFAIK they are all commie revolutionaries who were out to destroy Chile.

People commonly claim that the USA had something to do with the 1973 Chile coup. No connection was ever proved. Wash Post editorial says:

It's hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile's economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It's leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired. It also has a vibrant democracy. Earlier this year it elected another socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, who suffered persecution during the Pinochet years.

Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. ...

The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.

Thanks to Alex Forshaw.

Monday, Dec 11, 2006
Anti-Zionists speak up
USA Today reports:
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Monday hosted a conference gathering prominent Holocaust deniers that it said would examine whether the World War II genocide of Jews took place, drawing condemnation from Israel and Germany.

The conference was initiated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an apparent attempt to burnish his status at home and abroad as a tough opponent of Israel. The hard-liner president has described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Organizers touted the conference as a scholarly gathering aimed at discussing the Holocaust away from Western taboos, but the 67 participants from 30 countries were predominantly Holocaust deniers. They included David Duke — the former Louisiana state representative and Ku Klux Klan leader — and France's Robert Faurisson and Australian Frederick Toben, who was jailed in Germany in 1999 for questioning the Holocaust.

The conference opened with a declaration that "Anti-Semitism has never existed in the Muslim territories".

This doesn't bother me. They are not literally anti-semites because they are not opposed to Semites. They oppose the Jewish religion. Germany is in no position to complain as it has no free speech on the subject. If it wants an open examination of the truth, it should host its own conference and allow people to express their opinions.

No, what offends me today is Jimmy Carter complaining about how public discussion of his latest Mideast peace plan is being suppressed:

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that ``he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.''
Carter has new book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid that blames Israel and is sympathetic to Palestinian Arab terrorists. He thinks that if he were President, he could talk Israel into trading land for peace.

Israel has being trying to trade land for peace for decades. The Palestinian arabs have been offered an independent state many times, and every single time they've turned it down and repeated a vow to destroy Israel.

Jimmy Carter is an embarrassment to the USA. Pelosi was just stating the obvious -- Carter's kooky views are out of the mainstream and he does not speak for anyone.

Recent Instance of Human Evolution
another article claiming that humans are still evolving:
A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found. ... Throughout most of human history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart. But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on.

Such a mutation is known to have arisen among an early cattle-raising people, the Funnel Beaker culture, which flourished some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in north-central Europe. People with a persistently active lactase gene have no problem digesting milk and are said to be lactose tolerant.

Almost all Dutch people and 99 percent of Swedes are lactose-tolerant, but the mutation becomes progressively less common in Europeans who live at increasing distance from the ancient Funnel Beaker region.

It is funny how all scientists say they believe in evolution, and yet it is always surprising when someone finds some actual evidence of humans evolving.
Science casts doubt on arson convictions
Apparently a lot of innocent people have gone to prison as arsonists, based on bogus expert testimony. AP reports:
Up until the 1990s, this is what fire investigators were taught:
  • Fires always burn up, not down.
  • Fires that burn very fast are fueled by accelerants; "normal" fires burn slowly.
  • Arsons fueled by accelerants burn hotter than "normal" fires.
  • The clues to arson are clear. Burn holes on the floor indicate multiple points of origin. Finely cracked glass (called "crazed glass") proves a hotter-than-normal fire. So does the collapse of the springs in bedding or furniture, and the appearance of large blisters on charred wood, known as "alligatoring."

    Firefighters and investigators arrived at these conclusions through decades of observation. But those beliefs had never been given close scientific scrutiny, until an effort that began in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s.

    "There were a lot of rules of thumb, but very little scientific understanding," said Jonathan Barnett, a professor of fire protection engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a leader in the investigation of the World Trade Center collapse.

    Once researchers began to apply the scientific method to beliefs about fire, they fell apart.

    A major revelation came from greater understanding of a phenomenon known as "flashover." When a fire burns inside a structure, it sends heat and gases to the ceiling until it reaches a certain temperature — and then in a critical transition, everything combustible in that space will catch fire. Instead of a fire in a room, now there is a room on fire.

    When that happens, it can leave any number of signs that investigators earlier thought meant arson — like the burn holes on the floor that used to prove multiple starting points. And it can cause a fire to burn down from the ceiling — not up as investigators had been taught.

    Significantly, flashover can create very hot and very fast-moving fires. And it can occur within just a few minutes, dashing the concept that only arson fires fueled by accelerants can quickly rage out of control.

    And the crazed glass? It comes from water being sprayed on hot glass, not a hot fire. The collapse of bed springs and the "alligatoring" — they can't say anything definitive about a fire's cause.

    The studies began to chip away at the old beliefs — critics call them myths — but it took years. Through the 1980s, texts at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., still taught the traditional techniques.

    It wasn't until 1992, when a guide to fire investigations by the National Fire Protection Association — "NFPA921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations" — clearly laid out, in a document relied upon by authorities nationwide, that the earlier beliefs were wrong.

  • More discussion on Slashdot. Judges and lawyers usually know nothing about science, and have a long history of allowing junk science in court.

    Saturday, Dec 09, 2006
    Reconsidering Brown v Board of Education
    Adam Liptak writes:
    IF there is a sacred text in the American legal canon, it is the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It is the court’s one undisputed triumph, and no Supreme Court nominee who expressed doubt about the decision would ever be confirmed. Who can argue, after all, with the wisdom of putting an end to state-sanctioned racial segregation in the public schools?

    But, as an extraordinary two-hour Supreme Court argument last week demonstrated, the meaning and legacy of Brown remain up for grabs. The court was considering whether school systems in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., could take account of students’ races to ensure racial balance.

    During the argument, two sets of justices managed, with equal vehemence, to invoke Brown -- while understanding it to require precisely opposite things.

    Brown v Board was actually a terrible decision. It was an attempt to make social policy based on some dubious assumptions and incoherent arguments. The proof that it is overrated is here -- everyone agrees that it was a great decision, but no one can agree on what it means.

    Friday, Dec 08, 2006
    String Theory reviews
    (Duplicate post deleted.)
    String Theory reviews
    String theorist Joe Polchinski reviews a couple of books critical of String Theory, with footnotes here.
    But what about the lack of predictions? This is the key question, for Woit, for Smolin and for string theory. Why have the last 20 years been a time of unusually little contact between theory and experiment? The problem is partly on the experimental side: The Standard Model works too well. It takes great time, ingenuity and resources to try to look beyond it, and often what is found is still the Standard Model.
    Polchinski admits that ST cannot make any predictions, and furthermore says no one can even predict how long it will take ST to make any predictions.
    A major point for Woit is that no one knows exactly what string theory is, because it is specified only through an infinite mathematical series whose sum is ill-defined. This assertion is partly true: With new physical theories there is often a long period between the first insight and the final mathematical form. For quantum field theory, the state of affairs that Woit describes lasted for half a century [5].

    [5] I am counting from the mid-20’s, when the commutation relations for the electromagnetic field were first written down, to the mid-70’s when lattice gauge theory gave the first reasonably complete definition of a QFT, and when nonperturbative effects began to be understood systematically.

    This is nonsense. Throughout those 50 years, QFT had enough theory to make numerical predictions that could be tested experimentally.

    His defense of ST is quite weak. You would think that he would be able to point to some hypothesis or prediction or argument to persuade that ST is on to something worthwhile.

    It is also odd the way the ST crowd castigate the Standard Model. They all have some sort of ideological belief that the SM theory is incorrect, and express bewilderment every time it is confirmed by experiment.

    Wednesday, Dec 06, 2006
    Speaking truth to power
    Jonathan writes about this phrase:
    The phrase has been on my own mind recently, but I disagree with what Joe has to say. I don't think the phrase "speaking truth to power" is in any way a special province of leftists, liberals, feminists, etc. And I don't think that "Allahu Akhbar" is in any way commensurate with it.

    "Speaking truth to power" is a situation that obtains in a classic David and Goliath scenario, the underdog against the powerful established seat of power (As in, "What did David, representing Truth, say to Goliath, representing Power, just before Truth clobbered Power?" I think of it in terms of the American philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce, and the way he broke down "fixation of belief" (based on our innate urge to remove doubt) into three methods: (a) Tenacity, (b) Authority, and (c) Science. Fixating belief by tenacity is demonstrated by the case of the ostrich hiding its head in the sand: if only I believe the problem will go away, it will go away. Obviously, that is not a good way to fixate belief. History can be seen, in part, as a struggle between Authoritarian belief-fixaters and Science belief-fixaters. The classic "speak truth to power" play comes in when (let's call him) "the little guy", armed only with (what he perceives as) the "truth", confronts Mr. Power and says: "You've got it all wrong." In the case of bureaucracies, it's been said the the first and foremost cardinal rule of the tribe is to ensure survival of the bureacratic entity, expand its power base and budget, etc. Sometimes, it's said, an "inconvenient truth" (sorry to quote as dismal a person as Al Gore) will come to the attention of such bureacracy, and, rather than turning to science to verify (or dispel) the alleged truth, or even turning to sympathetic, status-quo leaning authority for that matter, the bureacracy will try to ignore the alleged truth in the hopes that the threat to its interests will just go away (fixating belief by tenacity -- some would say that President Bush's repeated mantra of "Stay The Course" reveals an effort to fixate belief by tenacity). If tenacity starts to fail, a bureaucratic administrator may seek a ruling from a higher-level bureaucrat (e.g. an administrative law judge), say, in an effort to dispel the threat to the cherished bureacracy. A quickie example of "speaking truth to power" is the time I got my eyes checked out for flight lessons, the FAA eye doc said "You're good to go", and then a week later I get a bureaucratic computer-generated letter from FAA saying I couldn't continue my lessons due to bad eyesight -- I had to call the FAA, tell them I'd passed the test, check your records, etc., and finally they said "Okay, we were wrong, you're right, go ahead and fly, etc." (Although I had the truth on my side, I was dealing with a big )i.e. powerful) government bureaucracy, so I thought "If their computers say I have bad eyesight, they might, as government officials, just throw up their hands and say "Sorry, we can only do what the computer tells us to.")

    That's a personal example on a very small scale -- but, something else I disagree with, is that I certainly don't think the phenomenon is limited to liberals or leftists or feminists. Those groups may have tried to co-opt "speaking truth to power" as a code-phrase, but that is only because they are perceiving themselves as the underdog valiantly fighting powerful, established authorities whose interests, they perceive, run counter to their own. Recently, I ran across the phrase a few times, once was the other night when I heard Charles Krauthammer use it in a roundtable discussion of fellow journalists. Also, several months ago, conservative blogger Pam Geller (Atlas Shrugs) used the phrase to describe the tactics of Italian author Oriana Fallaci, who was on trial in Italy for writing her book which is highly critical of the Muslim religion as practiced in Europe. In fact, Italy ("Power") passed a law stating it is illegal to criticize Islam, to do so is now considered a hate crime -- Islam has expressed power in the form of Italian legislation (and in fact, such power takes the form of suppression of truth-seeking via criticism). Fallaci chose to speak truth to that power (truth being "criticism of Islam"), and, as a result of speaking truth to power, she was placed on trial (before she died). Finally, I also think of this phrase in terms of "biting the hand that feeds you". Generally speaking, you're not supposed to do that, but OTOH if Mr. Power starts to get out of control, in that situation sometimes the lower folks on the totem pole need to step up to the plate, blow whistles, risk alienating authority, etc. As Colin Powell puts it, "Being responsible means sometimes pissing people off." I believe he may have stated that in the context of a speech on leadership, where he was talking about the fact that, as a supervisor of others, you aren't in a popularity contest and that sometimes your decisions will piss off some subordinates. I believe it also cuts the other way, and, as is the case with me suing a racist ex-employer, sometimes the subordinates must stand up and tell Power it's doing something wrong, and thus risk pissing off The Folks Who Are Currently In Charge.

    So, "speaking truth to power" should be no big mystery. It often rears its head when The Old Guard doesn't want to hand over power to The New Sheriff In Town, instead they want to go out kicking and screaming, and you have to stand up to them, armed only with the truth, and say:" Hey. Mellow Out. Act Your Age. It's High Time To Step Down In Favor Of A Younger Man (or Woman)" In a very real sense, the American Revolution was an object lesson in Speaking The Truth to the British Redcoats In Power.

    Joe responds:
    Lordy!!! Look, "speaking truth to power" came from people like Toni, Maya and Jesse, and was probably rooted in left wing lit crit twenty years ago. It's one of those code phrases like "viewing such and such through the LENS of such and such." It's just standard-issue street cred lingo that has gone mainstream. It's just a PC way of stating the concept that shows your left-wing bona fides. That Krauthammer is using it just shows that it has gone mainstream. You know, like rap. Ugh.
    Jonathan responds:
    "Speaking Truth To Power" is NOT leftist in origin. Apparently this phrase was born in the efforts of German Quakers to resist Nazi tyrrany. A simple Google search gave some intersting results. If this source is accurate, as it would appear to be, it shows that your friend Joe is all wet and may require a large "beach" towel to get dry. From: Living The Truth, Speaking To Power:
    The phrase "speaking truth to power" goes back to 1955, when the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power, a pamphlet ii at [sic] proposed a new approach to the Cold War. Its title, which came to Friend Milton Mayer toward the end of the week in summer 1954 when the composing committee finished work on the document, has become almost a cliche; it has become common far beyond Quaker circles, often used by people who have no idea of its origins. (One current example: Anita Hill entitled her memoir of her sensational charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Speaking Truth to Power.)

    To speak truth to power sounds so much like an integral part of Quakerism that some modem Friends have simply assumed the phrase goes back to the seventeenth century rather than arriving late in the middle of ours. It reflects what many contemporary Friends would like to believe is the characteristic Quaker stance toward political authority, hallowed in practice if not the exact words. Yet in its origins it was a political statement, entitling an explicitly political document.

    Our confusion about this phrase and what we think it represents is what makes Hans A. Schmitt’s book, Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness such relevant reading for Friends. A Frankfurt-born historian, who retired at the beginning of this decade from a productive career at the University of Virginia, Schmitt has told a compelling story about how the tiny German Yearly Meeting responded to monstrous evil. ...

    The Quaker band of believers in Germany was "lucky" in this sense, even though some fell victim to the regime they had to endure, as Schmitt’s non-Quaker father did. They happened to live in an extraordinary period, times demanding more than simply surviving in a specific time and a specific place; most felt compelled to do what their religious faith required. They did not so much speak truth as they did live the truth, allowing their scattered and mostly uncoordinated examples of faithfulness to speak to power.

    Enough of them defied convention sufficiently to merit our admiration and attention. By their very existence and their growth during the dozen dark years of the Third Reich, these Quakers demonstrated that ordinary middle-class people could remain faithful to their testimonies and accept the drastic consequences of radical faith. In now having their history told, they continue to inspire by their example.

    Ergo, the origin of the phrase is not leftist. Its original meaning was to describe the actions of the sort of person who was the exact opposite of the proverbial "Good Germans" who did whatever the goose-steppers ("Power") told them to.
    Trying to disprove Intelligent Design
    Evolutionist Jack Woodall writes:
    What can we make of the further complications that led the Large Blue butterfly (Maculinea arion) to extinction in Britain? It entrusts a critical stage in its life cycle to the tender care of a single species of red ant that is particularly finicky about where it nests. ...

    So here you have an insect that depends for its very existence on a fragile chain of circumstances that is easily broken by bad weather, changes in exposure to grazing due to human intervention and disease, loss of its unique food plant, and loss of its protector ant species. If I were to design such a silly system I'd at least choose the most abundant, hardy species of ant to host my caterpillars, and ensure that they could feed on other plants beside thyme, and at other stages than the bud. To me, the case of the Large Blue is conclusive disproof of the theory of intelligent design.

    Evolutionists are split between those who say that Intelligent Design (ID) is a non-scientific hypothesis (because it is untestable), and those who say that it is a testable hypothesis that has been disproven. Woodall is in the latter camp. And his best argument is the extinction of the Large Blue butterfly?!

    This is weird. If the blue butterfly had not gone extinct, would that have disproved survival of the fittest? Certainly not.

    Tuesday, Dec 05, 2006
    Is Richard Dawkins endorsing eugenics?
    Evolutionist Richard Dawkins causes more controversy:
    Dawkins holds the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, but is best known as one of the world's most outspoken current opponents of religious belief, giving lectures and interviews and writing articles in which "fundamentalist" Christianity is among his favourite targets.

    "I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them," Dawkins wrote Sunday.

    Sunday, Dec 03, 2006
    Speak Truth To Power
    On NBC Meet The Press, I just heard the new US Senate Armed Service chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) say:
    We’ve got to have a change in Iraq policy. We have to have someone who will speak truth to power and not just tell the president what he wants to hear.
    He was defending his support for Robert Gates as the new Secy of Defense. I was puzzled by what he meant by "speak truth to power".

    Some brief research indicates that "speak truth to power" is a Quaker code-phrase for a pacifist agenda. According to the Quakers, it dates back to the 18th century. It is the title of this 1955 Quaker essay against the use of military power.

    The title "Speaking Truth To Power" was used by Anita Hill in her 1997 memoir about her attempt to sabotage the career of her mentor, Clarence Thomas. She promoted her book by saying things like, "My reality did not comport with his reality".

    I don't know what to make of this, except that it is very strange for Carl Levin to be using this jargon in this context.

    Joe writes:

    "Speak truth to power" is a phrase very commonly used by feminists and leftists in general. It's like muslims yelling "Allahu Akbar". It's basically a left-wing cliche.
    The phrase must mean something, and there must be some reason those people use it.

    The phrase Allahu Akbar is arabic for Allah is Greater. Literally, it boasts of the superiority of the Mohammedan god. Sometimes it is just a routine prayer beginning. It is supposed to be recited whenever animals are slaughtered. It is also commonly said by Mohammedans when they want to cheer the terrorist murder of infidels.

    Saturday, Dec 02, 2006
    New immigration exam
    The Si Valley paper reports:
    Some immigrants who want to become Americans will be given a new, more detailed test next year, one designed to gauge not just their memorization skills, but also a broader sense of their knowledge of government and history. ...

    The Mercury News asked five experts in immigration, law and government to take a swipe at a few of the new questions ...

    Just about everyone knew the U.S. Constitution was the supreme law of the land, although Davis and Peerally quibbled that the U.S. Supreme Court could be the correct answer, because it has the final say on what the Constitution means.

    No, U.S. Supreme Court does not have the final say on what the Constitution means. The newly-elected Congressmen will be taking an oath to the Constitution, not to the the Supreme Court's interpretation.

    The article makes it sound as tho the new test is a difficult test. In fact, a new citizen just has to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly, and the 10 questions are selected from a list of just 144 question. All 144 questions with answers are posted on www.uscis.gov. Many of the questions are quite easy, like "Who is the President now?" and "What country is on the southern border of the United States?".

    The newspaper had to print a correction the next day over whether Mississippi or Missouri river was the longest in the USA.

    Here are the old INS questions

    Atheist scientists
    NY Times reports on a science and religion conference:
    Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that "the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief" ... ...

    "Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization." [also Weinberg]