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Debunking the Paradigm Shifters


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Monday, Apr 30, 2007
No Nobel Prize for Relativity
Former TIME magazine managing editor Walter Isaacson (who helped make Albert Einstein Person of the Century) is out plugging his Einstein biography, and attempts to answer Why did it take so long for Einstein to get a Nobel Prize?

He correctly explains that by the time Einstein got the prize, he was more famous than the prize, and the prize committee would have been embarrassed to not give him a prize. What he doesn't explain is that there was a lot of legitimate opposition to giving Einstein a prize for special relativity. Einstein's contributions were a lot less significant that those of H. Lorentz and H. Poincare. It was the deflection of starlight that actually made Einstein famous, but the measurements at the time were actually inconclusive.

The Nobel committee also had a bias towards experimental science, as opposed to theory. That bias continues to this day.

Isaacson admits that Poincare discovered special relativity before Einstein, but tries to explain it away by claiming that Poincare did not truly understand what he was doing, and that he did not totally renounce the aether. As evidence for the latter, he quotes Poincare as speculating on whether or not the aether was observable. But in fact Einstein uses the same sort of terminology as Poincare (calling the aether "superfluous"), and may have even copied it Poincare. Furthermore, it was Einstein who eventually repudiated his position and wrote some paper in about 1920 saying that the aether exists after all.

The idea that Poincare didn't understand what he was doing is just nutty. Poincare was a brilliant mathematician, and worked on a much higher mathematical level than Einstein.

There seems to be no end to public fascination for Einstein, but Isaacson is going around attributing a lot of ideas to Einstein that were actually published before Einstein. When Isaacson gives an explanation of Relativity, almost every single word of it is not due to Einstein at all, but due to others. Einstein just gave a popular exposition of the ideas of others.

Sunday, Apr 29, 2007
Quantum cryptography is hacked
Nature reports
A team of researchers has, for the first time, hacked into a network protected by quantum encryption.

Quantum cryptography uses the laws of quantum mechanics to encode data securely. Most researchers consider such quantum networks to be nearly 100% uncrackable.

Usually they claim that it is provably 100% uncrackable according to the laws of physics. I have doubted the security here.

Thursday, Apr 26, 2007
Physicists hoping for failure
Science mag says:
Many particle physicists say their greatest fear is that their grand new machine—the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under construction at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland— will spot the Higgs boson and nothing else. If so, particle physics could grind to halt, they say. [SCIENCE VOL 315 23 MARCH 2007]
This shows how particle physicists are obsessed with unrealistic goals. The Higgs boson is unlike any particle ever seen before, and will be a spectacular confirmation of theory when (and if) it is found.

Particle physics will grind to a halt because theorists who proposed fanciful models might have to admit their lack of success. This must be the only field of science that has an extremely successful theory that correctly predicts experiments, but all the insiders hope that new experiments will prove that it doesn't work.

A physicist today who expresses the belief or wish that the Standard Model is wrong is about like a chemist a century ago saying that the Periodic Table is wrong. It is nutty.

Monday, Apr 23, 2007
Fen-phen scandal
Remember fen-phen? The drug company paid $200M in a class action settlement, and the lawyers could take $67M legally. But that wasn't enough, and they took about twice as much. Even the judge was in on the take. More here. They ought to be all in jail.
New Clarence Thomas biography
Yale law prof Kenji Yoshino writes in the Wash Post:
Justice Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court's most reclusive member, which is saying something.
He goes on to even goofier theorizing about Thomas. David Stras responds:
I am obviously quite biased, having clerked for Justice Thomas several Terms ago. But Prof. Yoshino, with all due respect, lost me in the first sentence of his Washington Post review when he said that Thomas is the most reclusive Justice. I know that Thomas has not visited Yale, but he does visit law schools more frequently than virtually any other Justice, and makes frequent public appearances, including one as the grand marshal of the Daytona 500 several years back. In stating that Justice Thomas is the most reclusive Justice, especially as compared to Justice Souter who never makes public appearances, Prof. Yoshino is just plain wrong.
Thomas is widely hated among law profs who don't appear to have bothered to read his opinions or find out the first things about him.

Tuesday, Apr 17, 2007
Arguing that a good defense attorney matters
Law prof Randy E. Barnett writes in the WSJ:
The crucial importance of defense lawyers was illustrated in reverse by the Duke rape prosecution, mercifully ended last week by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's highly unusual affirmation of the defendants' complete innocence. ... The next time you hear a lawyer joke, maybe you'll think of the lawyers who represented these three boys and it won't seem so funny. ... Without their lawyering skills, we would not today be speaking so confidently of their clients' innocence. These lawyers held the prosecutor's feet to the fire.
I don't buy it. I am not sure the defense lawyers ever gained anything by making legal arguments in court. They failed to stop the indictment, and they failed to get the case dismissed.

The Duke boys would have surely been acquitted with just about any lawyers. It didn't take clever lawyering to expose Nifong; he had exposed himself in his foolish public statements and there was plenty of public criticism of him. Perhaps the defense lawyers helped instigate the NC state Bar investigation of Nifong. If so, then they should get credit for doing that.

It is striking how badly big-shot million-dollar-fee defense lawyers have done in famous cases. Eg, the lawyers for Bill Clinton and Scooter Libby did terrible jobs. Clinton would have been better off if he had just defaulted on the case. Libby would have been better off if he had dropped the legalities and just told his own story directly.

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007
Duke lacrosse players exonerated
I am glad to see the Duke lacrosse players exonerated, but what took so long? It was almost one year ago that I said on this blog that they were innocent, and posted the name of the accuser.

The boys were saved by modern technology -- DNA tests, time-stamping digital cameras, cell-phones, ATM machines, and video surveillance cameras. And the resolve of some innocent boys, and a few others who were willing to tell their story.

George writes:

You didn't mention the fact that two of the boys had millionaire fathers, and they could afford high-priced lawyers.
I am just not sure those lawyers made much difference. They lost all of their court motions, as far as I know. They will probably claim to have generated million-dollar bills, but that is just funny money to justify a wrongful prosecution lawsuit against the state of North Carolina.

NC attorney general Roy Cooper is getting a lot of credit for dropping the case, but remember that he sat on the case for a year and did nothing. For the last three months, he alone was responsible for continuing the charges when even the major newspapers said that no conviction was possible. He deserves to be a defendant in that civil suit against the state.

Yesterday, the Wash. Post managed to write a whole article on the charges being dropped without using the word "innocent". Amazing. I thought that was the main story in Cooper's press conference.

Update: I just listened to Saturday morning's NPR news broadcast, and it had a segment explaining that it was still refusing to name the Duke accuser, even tho some major newspapers are publishing her name (Crystal Gail Mangum). NPR said that it has a policy of not naming victims of sexual assault. It acknowledged that there is now a consensus that she was not a victim, but suggested that naming her might deter other women from coming forward with false charges in the future. Amazing.

The Mooney war on Science
Matthew C. Nisbet1 and Chris Mooney wrote an editorial in the leftist AAAS Science magazine urging scientists to use propaganda tactics to promote political ideas:
Issues at the intersection of science and politics, such as climate change, evolution, and embryonic stem cell research, receive considerable public attention, ... scientists must learn to actively "frame" information to make it relevant to different audiences. ...

Frames organize central ideas, defining a controversy to resonate with core values and assumptions. Frames pare down complex issues by giving some aspects greater emphasis. They allow citizens to rapidly identify why an issue matters, who might be responsible, and what should be done. ...

Some readers may consider our proposals too Orwellian, preferring to safely stick to the facts. Yet scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making. In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.

(Science magazine restricts access to members only; you can find a link to the full text here.)

Their point is not to better convey scientific facts or knowledge, but to persuade the public to certain political conclusions.

Their main point is that education is not sufficient to bring the public around to their leftist political views. They say:

Consider global climate change. With its successive assessment reports summarizing the scientific literature, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has steadily increased its confidence that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. So if science alone drove public responses, we would expect increasing public confidence in the validity of the science, and decreasing political gridlock.

Despite recent media attention, however, many surveys show major partisan differences on the issue. A Pew survey conducted in January found that 23% of college-educated Republicans think global warming is attributable to human activity, compared with 75% of Democrats. Regardless of party affiliation, most Americans rank global warming as less important than over a dozen other issues.

The curious result is that the Democrat-Republican difference is greater for college graduates than for others. This implies that education alone is not sufficient to cause Republicans to panic over global warming. Hence the suggestion for non-factual persuasion tactics.

What the UN IPCC really said was that there is 90% likelihood that more than 50% of the observed Earth warming since 1950 was caused by increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations, and that the sea level could be expected to rise about a foot over the next century.

So the Democrat-Republican differences are not really as great as they appear. Scientists don't really know exactly how much of the recent warming is caused by CO2 and related gases.

In a sense, Nisbet1 and Mooney are correct that educating the public about scientific estimates that sea level may go up a foot in the next 100 years is not going to convince that global warming is any more importtant that more immediate political issues like terrorism, education, economy, immigration, Social Security, health care, military strength, crime, morality, Medicare, tax cuts, poverty, energy, health insurance, budget deficit, environment, jobs, and trade.

In the mean time, you can expect to get Leftist propaganda from Science magazine, because the folks there think that college-educated non-scientists are too stupid to draw the correct policy conclusions from scientific facts.

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007
Failure to find gravity waves
Physics news:
The fourth science run of the LIGO and GEO 600 gravitational-wave detectors, carried out in early 2005, collected data with significantly lower noise than previous science runs. ... No gravitational-wave signals are detected in 15.5 days of live observation time ...
The paper has a couple of hundred coauthors. IOW, they spent billions of dollars and found nothing. I am guessing that if they actually found a gravity wave, then somebody would be trying to hog the credit.

Monday, Apr 09, 2007
Democrats favoring the Iraq War
Here are Democrat quotes on the Iraq War, as confirmed here and here.
"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them." Sen. Carl Levin (d, MI), Sept. 19, 2002.

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power." Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.

"It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons." Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction." Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003.

Clinton and Kerry voted for the Iraq War, and Levin against. Gore was out of govt at the time, and claims that he was always against the war.

It is easy to be a critic, and make general statements that the war could have been handled better. But none of the Democrats has a coherent story as to how he (or she) would have done a better job.

Sunday, Apr 08, 2007
Defining the term evolutionist
Occasionally someone questions my usage of the word evolutionist, even tho it has been in dictionaries and common usage for a century without controversy. It simply means an evolutionary biologist, or someone who believes in the theory of evolution. (See also this definition of evolution.)

Many evolutionists are happy to call themselves evolutionists, but a few don't like the term because they say it implies a belief in evolutionism, and they dislike that term even more. Evolutionism has also been in common usage for a century without controversy. The problem is that the suffix "-ism" connotes a philosophical belief, like Marxism or pacifism, and it suggests that evolutionism is more than just a narrow scientific theory about how allele frequencies change from one generation to the next.

Most evolutionists do indeed embrace an evolution worldview that extends far beyond what is scientifically verifiable. For example, leading evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould spent much of their time promoting philosophical views which they claimed to be tightly coupled to the theory of evolution. When the term "evolutionist" is used for these folks, there can be no confusion because the it is accurate in each sense of the word.