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Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters


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Thursday, May 31, 2007
TB Patient ID'd As Atlanta Lawyer
Forbes reports:
The honeymooner quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis was identified Thursday as a 31-year-old Atlanta personal injury lawyer whose new father-in-law is a CDC microbiologist specializing in the spread of TB.

Bob Cooksey would not comment on whether he reported his son-in-law, 31-year-old Andrew Speaker, to federal health authorities. ...

He was quarantined May 25, after his return from his honeymoon, in the first such action taken by the federal government since 1963. ...

His wife, Sarah, is a third-law law student at Atlanta's Emory University.

That figures. Only a personal injury lawyer with a law-student wife would think that he has a right to ignore official CDC advice and spread TB on airplanes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Moths taste like shrimp
Nicholas Wade writes:
The gaudy swirls of color on a butterfly’s wing, the rococo curlicues on its riotously dressed caterpillars, may seem to be delightful examples of nature’s artistry. But that is to miss nature’s point. ...

Many butterflies have gashes of iridescent color splashed across their wings. Why risk such a conspicuous display? The flashes of color accentuate the speed of flight. Their message to birds, Dr. Janzen suggests, is, "Don’t even try to catch me." ...

Why do birds and monkeys go to such lengths to consume these insects, stimulating such a rich array of evolutionary strategies to evade capture? The answer is simple. Moths taste "like raw shrimp, if one should care to try," Dr. Janzen assures the reader.

Accentuate the speed of flight? Taste like raw shrimp? Is there any actual experimental science to back this up?

Thursday, May 24, 2007
Microsoft claims patents on Linux
Slashdot reports:
Microsoft's Patent Attorney Jim Markwith told the Open Source Business Conference that the reason they hadn't named the [235] supposedly infringing patents was that it would be 'administratively impossible to keep up' with the list.'
If Microsoft really wanted its legitimate monopoly patent rights to those 235 inventions, then it would reveal the patent claims and infringing features so users wanting to respect Msft IP could remove those features.

The only way to interpret those Msft comments is to figure that Msft wants those infringing features to stay in Linux so that Msft can extract royalties from companies like Novell and deter others from making OS products that compete with Msft.

For now, I'd say that Linux users have official permission to use the Msft patents. If Msft cannot even be bothered to list its 235 patents that allegedly cover Linux, then no one else can be expected to either.

Quantum gravity is not a scientific problem
String theorist Joseph Polchinski is continuing his lame defense of ST. He concentrates on minor nitpicks about Smolin's book, and fails to cite any substantial success of ST. An anonymous reader of that blog writes:
"I'd like to step back and ask: what non-string alternative ideas are there that are being seriously considered to explain what the Standard Model doesn't explain (which, I assume, is primarily having gravity finally get along with everybody else)?"

I have two comments in response to your question:

-First: At any energy that we have direct experimental or observational information about [up to the energy scale of inflation], gravity gets along with everybody else just fine. In fact, at laboratory energies quantum gravity is the most precisely calculable piece of the standard model. This is because it can be treated by Wilson's methods of effective field theory; for a general review of the ideas of effective field theory see the first half of the review:

- Effective field theory and the Fermi surface. Joseph Polchinski (Santa Barbara, KITP & Texas U.) . NSF-ITP-92-132, UTTG-20-92, Jun 1992. 40pp. Lectures presented at TASI 92, Boulder, CO, Jun 3-28, 1992. Published in Boulder TASI 92:0235-276 (QCD161:T45:1992) e-Print: hep-th/9210046

For the explicit discussion of the effective field theory treatment of quantum gravity see the reviews:

- Introduction to the effective field theory description of gravity. John F. Donoghue (Massachusetts U., Amherst) . UMHEP-424, Jun 1995. 26pp. Talk given at Advanced School on Effective Theories, Almunecar, Spain, 25 Jun - 1 Jul 1995. e-Print: gr-qc/9512024

- Quantum gravity in everyday life: General relativity as an effective field theory. C.P. Burgess (McGill U.) . Nov 2003. 57pp. Published in Living Rev.Rel.7:5,2004. e-Print: gr-qc/0311082

What string theory does is to provide a consistent quantum description of gravity at arbitrarily large energies [the Planck scale and beyond], where the effective field theory methods would no longer be applicable. It should be noted that there are also aspects of the particle physics of the standard model which break down at very large energy [Landau poles in scalar self- interactions, fermion mass Yukawas, and the U(1) gauge couplings], ...

Second: Within the standard model of particle physics there is a lot that is not understood. We have no understanding of why the quarks and leptons get the precise masses that they do; we have no prediction for the mass of the Higgs particle; we have no prediction of the values of the gauge coupling constants; we have no idea why the vacuum energy is so ridiculously small [cosmological constant problem]; we have no idea why the electroweak scale is so much smaller than the Planck scale [hierarchy problem]; we have no idea why there is no observable CP violation in the strong interactions; we have no idea why neutrinos have the masses they do; we have no idea why the mixing matrices in weak decays are what they are, both in the lepton sector and in the quark sector; we have no idea what composes the cosmological dark matter; we have no idea how the asymmetry between matter and antimatter, which we see in the universe today, was generated after inflation;... There is a lot that we don't understand; ...
This debunks the popular notion that we have solid theories for gravity and quantum fields, that they are incompatible, and that the big problem in physics today to reconcile them with a unified field theory.

The above papers show that there is no incompatibility between quantum theory and gravity (relativity) at any energy level that we could observe in the foreseeable future. The need for quantum gravity is just a mathematical or philosophical problem, and not a scientific problem.

Where I disagree with the above is where it says that ST provides a "consistent quantum description of gravity at arbitrarily large energies". ST has not been shown to be consistent, and it has not been shown to describe gravity at any energy levels. You'll note that there is no citation for this ST claim.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Hanson on global warming
NASA scientist Jim Hansen attacks the Bush administration, but I didn't know that Kerry paid him to do it:
A prominent scientist in the pay of the federal government attacks the President in a crucial state (Iowa) one week before the election. Not just any prominent scientist, either, but James Hansen, recipient of $250,000 in pocket change from the Heinz Foundation, run by Mrs. John Kerry. Don't worry, though, he said he was speaking as a private citizen because he paid his own way. With Mrs. Kerry's money, we might add, in his family nest egg.
Hansen also attacks oil companies:
Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, addressed the state of climate science and the disruptive role industry-backed skeptics have played in clouding the near-unanimous findings of global warming scientists.
But Hansen himself is now clouding the near-unanimous findings of the IPCC:
Rises in sea levels from global warming could be much greater than the recent forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a noted climate change scientist claims. Dr James Hansen, a senior NASA climatologist who last year claimed his research findings were being suppressed by the Bush Administration, says the most recent evidence on climatic impacts on sea levels shows they could rise five metres this century. ... The first volume of the IPCC's fourth assessment report released last month lowered its forecasts for sea level rises, stating a range of 28 to 58 cm. This is a reduction of the range issued in the 2001 report which predicted a rise of 9 to 88cm.
I think that funding scientific research that may give contrary results is a good thing. The research can stand or fall on its own. But don't take Hansen too seriously.

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Evolutionists attack school board officer
The NY Times reports:
The National Association of State Boards of Education will elect officers in July, and for one office, president-elect, there is only one candidate: a member of the Kansas school board who supported its efforts against the teaching of evolution.

The candidate is Kenneth R. Willard, a Kansas Republican who voted with the conservative majority in 2005 when the school board changed the state's science standards to allow inclusion of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism.

What those 2005 Kansas standards actually said were:
Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory. ... We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, ...
So how is Willard against the teaching of evolution? Where did he include intelligent design (ID)? The NY Times goes on:
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Courts have repeatedly ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines, not scientific theories.
Willard voted for students learning about "scientific criticisms" of evolution. If ID is not scientific, then it would not qualify as a scientific criticism.

The NY Times is trying to paint Willard as a kook for supporting some position that the scientific authorities say is not credible. But just what is that position?

The statement that the theory of evolution explains the complexity and diversity of life on earth has no scientific content. That is just a fancy way of saying that change occurs in gene populations. It is obvious, and non-falsifiable. If the NY Times evolutionists want to portray Willard as someone who rejects this obvious statement, then it should provide some quote to substantiate it.

The statement that evolution explains the "diversity of life" is not even a good description of the dispute between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists. If all life on Earth has a common ancestor, as in the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) hypothesis of evolution, then evolution explains the lack of diversity in life on Earth. Living beings being share a common genetic code and similar DNA because of that common ancestor. If there were not a common ancestor, then we would expect greater diversity.

The whole NY Times article is just evolutionist propaganda. If someone has an anti-science position, then it should be possible to find where he has made some statement that is contrary to some scientific observation or experiment. I assume that they would do that about Willard if they could. Apparently they cannot, and just have some political or philosophical differences, not scientific differences.

Friday, May 18, 2007
Feds ban contingency fees
David Kopel writes on a legal blog:
Yesterday President Bush issued an Executive Order banning contingent fee arrangements for private attorneys who are hired to represent the government. The order is long overdue.
Contingency fees can make sense for poor people who cannot afford or manage lawyers. The US govt can afford lawyers. I do not want private lawyers deciding to pocket taxpayers' money based on their own private deals. Good decision.

A defender of contingency fees replies:

How many think the huge settlements from big tobacco would have ever occurred without contingent fee lawyers?
Now that convinces me. The tobacco settlements were completely corrupt, and primarily benefited crooked lawyers. The states could have chosen to tax the tobacco companies as much as they wanted, if they had wanted to. But it was wrong to use to courts to create a tobacco tax, and to enrich crooked lawyers with money that rightfully belongs to the taxpayers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007
Romney believes in God and evolution
Evolutionist blogger PZ Myers is upset that Mitt Romney endorsed theistic evolution and opposed the teaching of intelligent design. He finds it confusing to have a right-winger express opinions that have been supported by leftist evolutionists. I get the impression that he thinks that all leftist evolutionists should stick to being hard-core atheists. He is worried that it will be hard to prove that Romney's views are unscientific if Romney doesn't actually contradict any scientific knowledge. Weird. Read it yourself.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The evils of school testing
I just listened to David Berliner plugging on CSPAN2 his new book, Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools. He gave a long diatribe against the evils of NCLB and standardized testing in the schools. He told anecdotes of people driven to suicide, and other outrageous scare stories.

His type of argument proves too much, of course, and never addresses why most people want school testing. Finally a man asked the obvious:

But who benefitting from that?

Those who would like to privatize American education are certainly a culprit here. If you can embarrass the public schools and show that they are failing, you will get vouchers and charter schools in great proportion.

Aha! He is essentially saying that the public schools have have deep structural problems, and he does not want them exposed or else they might be fixed.

Friday, May 11, 2007
Global warming is beneficial
The big German magazine Spiegel says:
Svante Arrhenius, the father of the greenhouse effect, would be called a heretic today. Far from issuing the sort of dire predictions about climate change which are common nowadays, the Swedish physicist dared to predict a paradise on earth for humans when he announced, in April 1896, that temperatures were rising -- and that it would be a blessing for all.

Arrhenius, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, calculated that the release of carbon dioxide -- or carbonic acid as it was then known -- through burning coal, oil and natural gas would lead to a significant rise in temperatures worldwide. But, he argued, "by the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates," potentially making poor harvests and famine a thing of the past.

Arrhenius was merely expressing a view that was firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness of the day: warm times are good times; cold times are bad.

The article goes on to explain that current research indicates that global warming might make life on Earth better, not just for humans, but all species. The fear that it will cause super-storms appears to be unfounded.

Frits writes from Holland:

I don’t think you understand at all what you write about. How can you just pick a text from the internet and say it is true? I guess you are religious as you oppose the evolutionary theory. So if life was created, then are you going to allow man made global warming to eradicate one third of it? Because that is what real scientists expect will happen. In the US 43% of them are creationist. Please write about something you understand.
His guesses are wrong. I follow hard science here.

He sent me another message with a number of responses to the Spiegel article, such as "Moderate warming of 2 degrees is said to mean extinction of one third of the worlds spiecies. So what is moderate about it?"

He is just reciting scare stories. There are no real scientists who say that two degree warming will wipe out so many species. It may even be beneficial to the vast majority of species. I suppose that there are a few people in Holland who will have to build their dykes a foot higher sometime in the next hundred years, but global warming should even be a net benefit to Holland.

Thursday, May 10, 2007
Research questions worth of vaccine
The LA Times reports:
New data on the controversial HPV vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer has raised serious questions about its efficacy, researchers are to report today, undercutting the efforts in many states, including California, to make vaccination mandatory.

Although the Merck vaccine, called Gardasil, blocked nearly 100 percent of infections by the two HPV strains it targets, it reduced the incidence of cancer precursors by only 17 percent overall.

Part of the reason was that many of the teenage girls and young women in the three-year study had already been exposed to the virus, according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But the data also hinted that blocking the targeted strains may have opened an ecological niche that allows the flourishing of HPV strains previously considered to be minor players, partially offsetting the vaccine's protection.

In an editorial in the same issue of the journal, Dr. George F. Sawaya and Dr. Karen Smith-Carter of the University of California-San Francisco, called the benefits of the vaccine "modest" and said young women and their parents should take "a cautious approach" to vaccination because of the many unanswered questions about its efficacy.

"The effect is fairly small," Sawaya said in a telephone interview.

There was a huge PR campaign to make this vaccine mandatory, and all the official experts touted its efficacy. Apparently it is not so great. Texas is now repealing the governor's attempt to mandate the vaccine, and the governor is not going to veto it.

The obvious lesson is to just let the market decide. Let people buy the vaccine if they want it, and avoid it if they don't.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Leftist arguments against medical progress
Harvard prof Michael J. Sandel is plugging a new book called The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. It is an expansion of this Atlantic Monthly Magazine essay on what’s wrong with designer children, bionic athletes, and genetic engineering.

The gist of his argument is that using modern medicine is unethical unless it is used to promote leftist egalitarian ideals. Eg, he objects to using cosmetic surgery to make rich people more beautiful, but thinks that cosmetic surgery for poor people is just fine.

He is a good example of what is wrong with professional bioethicists. He attacks genetic engineering as the new eugenics:

Thirty-five years ago Robert L. Sinsheimer, a molecular biologist at the California Institute of Technology, glimpsed the shape of things to come. In an article titled "The Prospect of Designed Genetic Change" he argued that freedom of choice would vindicate the new genetics, and set it apart from the discredited eugenics of old. ...

Copernicus and Darwin had "demoted man from his bright glory at the focal point of the universe," but the new biology would restore his central role. In the mirror of our genetic knowledge we would see ourselves as more than a link in the chain of evolution: "We can be the agent of transition to a whole new pitch of evolution. This is a cosmic event." ...

It is more plausible to view genetic engineering as the ultimate _expression of our resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature. But that promise of mastery is flawed. It threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift, and to leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will.

Monday, May 07, 2007
Explaining String Theory
Discover Magazine has 6 videos that each claim to explain String Theory in two minutes.

One video says that ST makes no testable predictions, but that the Swiss CERN LHC may find evidence for it anyway. A couple of videos say that ST combines gravity with other forces. Several say how beautiful ST is, but none say what is supposed to be so beautiful. All sound like just BS. There is no real content in any of them.

Sunday, May 06, 2007
Faith in space aliens undeterred
NY Times blogger John Tierney writes:
Gliese 581c, the Goldilocks planet (not too hot, not too cold) [is] the best prospect yet for extraterrestrial life. ...

I consulted Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. He told me the institute has twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581 — first in 1995 with a telescope in Australia, and then two years later from West Virginia. Neither search turned up anything. But Dr. Shostak isn’t losing hope. "The extraterrestrials might have been off the air when we were listening", he says. "Maybe their transmitter power was insufficient for our receivers, or perhaps we were tuned to the wrong part of the dial. There are many ways not to find an alien broadcast."

This isn't Science, this is a religious faith. The SETI folks want to believe that space aliens are talking to us, no amount of evidence will deter them. Even if space aliens were talking to us, they would be far more likely to be using laser pulses than radio signals.
Making the case for gun rights
The NY Times reports:
A Liberal Case for Gun Rights Helps Sway Judiciary

In March, for the first time in the nation’s history, a federal appeals court struck down a gun control law on Second Amendment grounds. Only a few decades ago, the decision would have been unimaginable.

There used to be an almost complete scholarly and judicial consensus that the Second Amendment protects only a collective right of the states to maintain militias. That consensus no longer exists — thanks largely to the work over the last 20 years of several leading liberal law professors, who have come to embrace the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns.

Weird. The article doesn't even mention the NRA. There was an anti-2A consensus among liberal law profs and lower federal courts. That consensus was upset the NRA relentlessly hammering the facts for 50 years. Once you look at the text of the 2A, the history of the 2A, the intent of the 2A, the long-understood meaning of the 2A, the history and law of the militia, the history and usefulness of guns in our society, the court decisions before about 1960, etc, the only tenable interpretation of the 2A is the individual rights one.