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Friday, Jul 27, 2007
E-mail Threatening to Destroy Career of Climate Skeptic
Free Republic reports:
EPA Chief Vows to Probe E-mail Threatening to "Destroy" Career of Climate Skeptic

During today's hearing, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, confronted Stephen Johnson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with a threatening e-mail from a group of which EPA is currently a member. The e-mail threatens to "destroy" the career of a climate skeptic. Michael T. Eckhart, president of the environmental group the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), wrote in an email on July 13, 2007 to Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI):

"It is my intention to destroy your career as a liar. If you produce one more editorial against climate change, I will launch a campaign against your professional integrity. I will call you a liar and charlatan to the Harvard community of which you and I are members. I will call you out as a man who has been bought by Corporate America. Go ahead, guy. Take me on."

In a July 16, Washington Times article, Eckhart confirmed that he did indeed write the email.

Here is Eckhart's response. He justifies his threat against Lewis based on suspicions about Lewis's motives. Eckhart says that Lewis's argument against global warming is just a tactic in a larger battle you are waging against big government.

Without even reading Lewis, I think that I can conclude that Eckhart is a leftist ideological nut-case. Eckhart seems to be arguing against editorials containing false statements. And yet his defense of himself does not list any of these alleged falsehoods. Instead he argues:

It is time to end CEI's disingenuous undermining of worldwide concern about global warming. ... We must begin a nonpartisan, bi-partisan, and universal move forward to manage carbon in society and implement solutions ...
The last thing we need is some sort of unchallenged authority that manages the Earth's carbon. I don't know what Lewis's arguments are, but Eckhart is a menace who needs to be rebutted at every opportunity.
Why some logic puzzles are hard
I was looking at other writings by evolutionary psychologist David P. Barash, and I found this 2003 esssy on how the human mind evolved to be illogical:
In short, the evolutionary design features of the human brain may well hold the key to our penchant for logic as well as illogic. Following is a particularly revealing example, known as the Wason Test.

Imagine that you are confronted with four cards. Each has a letter of the alphabet on one side and a number on the other. You are also told this rule: If there is a vowel on one side, there must be an even number on the other. Your job is to determine which (if any) of the cards must be turned over in order to determine whether the rule is being followed. However, you must only turn over those cards that require turning over. Let's say that the four cards are as follows:

     T   6   E   9

Which ones should you turn over? ...

Next, consider this puzzle. You are a bartender at a nightclub where the legal drinking age is 21. Your job is to make sure that this rule is followed: People younger than 21 must not be drinking alcohol. Toward that end, you can ask individuals their age, or check what they are drinking, but you are required not to be any more intrusive than is absolutely necessary. You are confronted with four different situations, as shown below. In which case (if any) should you ask a patron his or her age, or find out what beverage is being consumed?

1. Drinking Water
2. Over 21
3. Drinking Beer
4. Under 21 ...

Why is the second problem set so easy, and the first so difficult? This question has been intensively studied by the evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides. Her answer is that the key isn't logic itself -- after all, the two problems are logically equivalent -- but how they are positioned in a world of social and biological reality. Thus, whereas the first is a matter of pure reason, disconnected from reality, the second plays into issues of truth telling and the detection of social cheaters. The human mind, Cosmides points out, is not adapted to solve rarified problems of logic, but is quite refined and powerful when it comes to dealing with matters of cheating and deception. In short, our rationality is bounded by what our brains were constructed -- that is, evolved -- to do.

I have a different theory. I believe that the second problem is easier because it is more clearly explained.

First, the first problem describes the rule as an implication that must be negated to give the conjunction that is the actual test to be used. The second describes the rule in a form that can be more directly applied.

Second, the first problem uses the ambiguous phrase "whether the rule is being followed", without any explanation of what that means. The second problem explains the purpose of the rule, and makes it much more clear what the bartender is supposed to do. The bartender's job is also familiar, so there is unlikely to be any confusion.

I tried these problems on my kids. Sure enough, they were confused by the instructions on the first problem. They thought that flipping over the "6" to find a vowel might show that the card was an example of the rule being followed. I was unable to explain what was wrong with this, without adding additional info to the problem that was not actually given.

Once I explained the first problem in greater detail, the kids had no problem. I had to explain, for example, that the problem only seeks cards that violate the rule, and not card that follow the rule.

It seems plausible that logic problems are easier if they can be related to personal observation. The evolutionary psychologists go further with this example, and claim that it shows that the human mind has evolved to solve problems only insofar as they relate to policing social interactions, rather than the mind just evolving general intelligence.

The example proves nothing. Evolutionary psychology must really be in a sorry state that such silly arguments are taken seriously.

Thursday, Jul 26, 2007
Texas Board gets independent thinker
The Bad Astronomer is all upset that the Texas State Board of Education is now headed by Don McLeroy, who once said, "It is wrong to teach opinion as fact", and also:
I don't think I share a common ancestor with a tree. However, most of the books we are considering adopting, claim as a fact that we all share a common ancestor with a tree.
No, it is not a generally accepted fact that we share a common ancestor with a tree. If it were, then there would be some scientific paper with the proof.

Humans and tree all use DNA, the genetic code, and even some of the same genes. The obvious explanations are common ancestry, independent evolution, and horizontal gene transfer. All three possibilities are known to occur in nature, and no one knows how we might be related to trees. McLeroy is correct.

Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007
Evolutionary psychologist gets his science wrong
David P. Barash is an evolutionary psychologist, who calls himself an evolutionary biologist, writes in the LA Times and the Si Valley paper:
Truthiness trumps dry logic, dull evidence and mere facts. It disdains or simply bypasses laborious intellectual examination in favor of what feels right. ... But such gut thinking poses another set of dangers to science. All too often, it bumps into scientific truth, and when it does, it tends to win - at least in the short term. Ironically, much of the time, scientific findings don't seem immediately logical; if they were, we probably wouldn't need its laborious "method" of theory building and empirical hypothesis testing for confirmation. We simply would know.
He is a leftist-atheist-evolutionist Bush-hater with a silly straw man attack on the supposedly scientifically illiterate troglodytes. But you would think that he would draw empirical truths for his examples. He says:
After all, the sun moves through our sky, but it is the Earth that is going around the sun. ... Nor is the battle over. Indeed, there is a constant tension between science and its truthy alternatives, from "quantum weirdness" to the irrefutable (but readily resisted) reality that a brick wall consists of far more empty space than solid matter.
A brick wall does not have more empty space than solid matter. Quantum field theory, as it has been generally accepted for over 50 years, teaches that the space is filled with electromagnetic fields, and those fields create and destroy zillions of particles all the time. There is no such thing as empty space. A brick feels solid because particles are not really point particles, but wave functions that bump into each other.

There is a point of view that says that the particles are more fundamental than the fields, and that when electrons are observed they appear to be point particles, and that electrons don't really take up as much space as their wave functions indicate. I guess that this is Barash's view. It is not really wrong, but it is about 80 years out of date. Barash certainly is wrong when he says that the empty space is an irrefutable reality.

Likewise, his comments about the relative motions of the Sun and Earth are about 90 years out of date.

I think that it is funny that these guys who lecture us troglodytes on scientific truth seem to be ignorant of the basics of 20th century Physics. They babble about the scientific method and empirical hypothesis testing, and yet their examples of scientific truths are not things that can be tested at all. And then they have the nerve to attack those who refuse to accept their outdated philosophical precepts.

Barash hates the late Stephen Jay Gould, but subscribes to this Copernican-Freudian-Gouldian nonsense:

Sigmund Freud was not a humble man. So it will probably come as no surprise that when he chose to identify three great intellectual earthquakes, each of them body blows to humanity's narcissism, his own contribution figured prominently: Freud listed, first, replacement of the Ptolemaic, earth-centered universe by its Copernican rival; second, Darwin's insights into the natural, biological origin of all living things, Homo sapiens included; and third, Freud's own suggestion that much -- indeed, most -- of our mental activity goes on "underground," in the unconscious.
This is all supposed to prove:
The truth, I submit, is more daunting. The natural world evolved as a result of mindless, purposeless, material events, and human beings -- not just as a species but each of us, as individuals -- are equally without intrinsic meaning or purpose.
This is philosophy, not science. There is no empirical test that can prove him right or wrong, and he doesn't propose any.

Let me address some science. Elsewhere in the essay, Barash launches an attach on Tycho Brahe:

Next, consider the strange case of Tycho Brahe, ... In his own right, Brahe achieved remarkable accuracy in measuring the positions of planets as well as stars. But his greatest contribution (at least for my purpose) was one that he would doubtless prefer to leave forgotten because Brahe's Blunder is one of those errors whose very wrongness can teach us quite a lot about ourselves, and about the seduction of specieswide centrality.

Brahe was also a careful scientist whose observations were undeniable, ... came up with a solution, ... It was ingenious, ... Brahe proposed that whereas the five planets indeed circled the Sun, that same Sun and its planetary retinue obediently revolved around an immobile and central Earth!

It is just amazing that Barash thinks that there was something wrong or unscientific about Tycho for doing this. Tycho was one of the greatest astronomers of all time. Tycho brilliantly and painstakingly collected much better astronomical data that had ever been done before, and he devised a model of the system to match his data. He was an outstanding example of the scientific method at its finest. He proposed original hypotheses and tested them. Copernicus, by contrast, never did any experiment or observation that showed that his system was any more correct that Ptolemy's.

If I were rating astronomers, I would rate Tycho as far more important than Copernicus. Tycho's work was critical for Kepler and Newton. Copernicus did improve Aristarchus's heliocentric model and brought attention to it, but he did not prove that was correct.

I don't know what kind of scientific work Barash does. Much of his writings are on Peace Studies, whatever that is. Evolutionary psychology theories can be fascinating to read, but it rare that researchers actually propose some way of testing their hypotheses. He is not the one to be telling us what is or is not science.

Monday, Jul 23, 2007
Why we quit aping around, began walking
MSNBC reports on some evolution research:
Humans walking on two legs consume only a quarter of the energy that chimpanzees use while "knuckle-walking" on all fours, according to a new study.

The finding, detailed in the July 17 issue of the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports the idea that early humans became bipedal as a way to reduce energy costs associated with moving about.

"Walking upright on two legs is a defining feature that makes us human,” said study leader Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It distinguishes our entire lineage from all other apes."

According to this theory, the energy saved by walking upright gave our ancient ancestors an evolutionary advantage over other apes by reducing the costs of foraging for food.

The idea is just one of many scientists have entertained as reasons for why humans walk on two legs. Recent studies have also suggested that, rather than taking millions of years to evolve from a hunched position as is commonly believed, our early ancestors were already capable of standing and walking upright the moment they descended from the trees.

These theories don't really explain anything. If walking upright were advantageous, then why didn't other apes walk upright?

Other apes nearly walk upright, and can do some limited upright walking if they have to. And yet true upright walking distinguishes humans. Why? To answer the question, we need some explanation as to why walking upright would be advantageous for humans, but not for apes.

Sunday, Jul 22, 2007
Amazon piranha fish not so scary
Joe writes:
There are two scientific facts that everyone of my age knows.

The first is that a lone genius named Albert Einstein single-handedly thought up something called "relativity" while working as a patent clerk. Alas, you have gone a long way toward debunking that cherished belief.

The second concerns the Amazon River. No, this has nothing to do with rainforests - this one has a lot more bite than that. Apparently, all that we know about the dreaded piranha fish is...... pretty overblown.

This site claims that our impression of piranha was largely created by Theodore Roosevelt's experience in Brazil around a hundred years ago - when the natives played a trick on him!

The lonely search for certainty continues.

I am happy to debunk myths with cold facts.

Friday, Jul 20, 2007
Comparing Poincare to Einstein
Olivier Darrigol wrote an excellent 2004 paper on Poincare's and Einstein's contributions to special relativity:
By 1905 Poincare's and Einstein’s reflections on the electrodynamics of moving bodies led them to postulate the universal validity of the relativity principle, according to which the outcome of any conceivable experiment is independent of the inertial frame of reference in which it is performed. In particular, they both assumed that the velocity of light measured in different inertial frames was the same. They further argued that the space and time measured by observers belonging to different inertial systems were related to each other through the Lorentz transformations. They both recognized that the Maxwell-Lorentz equations of electrodynamics were left invariant by these transformations. They both required that every law of physics should be invariant under these transformations. They both gave the relativistic laws of motion. They both recognized that the relativity principle and the energy principle led to paradoxes when conjointly applied to radiation processes. ...

To sum up, Einstein's and Poincare's versions of relativity theory differed in their basic concepts and in the accompanying heuristics. These differences should not hide the following facts: the two theories had the same observable consequences in the domain of classical electromagnetism; they both postulated the relativity principle; they both required the Lorentz-group symmetry of the laws of physics; and they both provided a physical interpretation of the Lorentz transformations in terms of measured space and time in moving frames. Despite this strong overlap, many commentators have anointed Einstein the true discoverer of relativity theory and others have bestowed this honor on Poincare´.

So they published more or less the same theory. In some ways Poincare's exposition was better, and in some ways Einstein's was better, and Darrigol details the differences.

The paper also explains that Poincare published his works first; that Einstein is known to have read (at least) some of Poincare's works; that Einstein surely got some of the main ideas for relativity from Poincare; and that Einstein stubbornly refused to cite or credit Poincare for anything. The paper then tries to explain Einstein's refusal to credit Poincare:

One can imagine many reasons for his silence. First, and least plausible, is the possibility that the ambitious Einstein deliberately occulted Poincare's role in order to get full credit for the new theory. This hardly fits what we know of Einstein's personality.
Actually, it does fit with Einstein's personality. Einstein was a vain egomaniac who repeatedly schemed to get more credit for himself than he deserved, and to avoid crediting others. His famous 1905 special relativity didn't just fail to credit Poincare, it didn't have any references at all! We now know from publication of Einstein's letters that he failed to credit his first wife for help with special relativity, and refused to credit many others. His first wife was a physicist who collaborated with him on relativity.

For general relativity, Einstein directly collaborated with David Hilbert and Marcel Grossman. He corresponded with Tullio Levi-Civita, Hermann Weyl, Felix Klein, Emmy Noether, and a number of other mathematicians. Einstein wrote a lot of wrong stuff in his general relativity work, and we now know that he got most of his best ideas from these mathematicians. And yet Einstein always claimed that general relativity was entirely his own invention.

Darrigol stops short of trying to explain Einstein's motives. Maybe he independently rediscovered part of special relativity, and honestly thought that Poincare did not deserve credit. Whether he did or not, we can be sure that Poincare invented and published the theory of special relativity first, and should be credited for it.

Joe writes that maybe Einstein got mellower with age:

As it turned out, Einstein can hardly have been dissatisfied with the amount of popular credit he received for the theories of relativity, both special and general. Nevertheless, one senses a bit of annoyance when Max Born mentioned to Einstein in 1953 (two years before Einstein's death) that the second volume of Edmund Whittaker's book “A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity” had just appeared, in which special relativity is attributed to Lorentz and Poincare, with barely a mention of Einstein except to say that "in the autumn of [1905] Einstein published a paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincare and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention". ... On the other hand, in the same year (1953), Einstein wrote to the organizers of a celebration honoring the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of his paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies, saying:
I hope that one will also take care on that occasion to suitably honor the merits of Lorentz and Poincare.
Maybe Einstein mellowed a bit, but he still wouldn't directly credit Lorentz and Poincare for what they did.

My interest in this issue is not in analyzing Einstein's character defects. I am just giving credit where credit is due. Einstein is credited with being the greatest genius of all time, but his accomplishments are much less than those of Poincare, Hilbert, Weyl, and others.

It does appear that everyone who has looked into this matter acknowledges that Poincare published the essence of special relativity before Einstein. Then they end up concluding either that Einstein was the incorrigible plagiarist of the century, or they give wacky reasons for crediting Einstein anyway. The reasons include:

  • Poincare didn't fully understand what he was saying.
  • Einstein didn't credit Poincare, so Poincare doesn't deserve credit.
  • Poincare generously credited Lorentz, and Lorentz generously credited Einstein.
  • Poincare suggested ways of experimentally testing the theory, indicating that he didn't believe it as strongly as Einstein.
  • Poincare used the aether as a mathematical construct and merely said that it was superfluous, while Einstein more vigorously rejected it. (In fact, Einstein wrote papers saying that general relativity requires reinstating the aether.)
  • Lorentz and Poincare were pure mathematicians, not physicists. (Lorentz got a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1902.)
  • Einstein would have been exposed long ago, and would not have gotten the Nobel Prize. (A lot of Einstein's contemporaries did say that he didn't deserve a Nobel Prize for relativity, and his prize citation did not mention relativity.)

    These arguments are just nutty. All of the evidence is published, so there should be no argument about who did what first.

    You often hear people wonder: Why wasn't Einstein recognized as a great genius at an early age? How is it that he did such brilliant work on relativity, but never accomplished much else afterwards? How could he be so smart and humble at the same time? How could his first wife be smart enough to be a coauthor to the special relativity (as indicated by pre-publication drafts), and yet not be recognized also as a great genius? The answer is real simple -- Einstein's contributions to relativity theory are vastly overrated, and secondary to those of others.

  • Monday, Jul 16, 2007
    Atheists come out of the closet
    The Si Valley paper reports on local atheists:
    Broadly stated, atheists believe in natural laws instead of supernatural forces like a divine creator. The number of people open to such beliefs is growing and has created sub-groups, each with its own distinctive twist: humanists, secularists, freethinkers, atheists, rationalists, skeptics, agnostics, non-theists and -- a new addition to the lexicon preferred by many atheists -- "brights." Atheists say this sprouting visibility is partly a response to the Advertisement country's growing religiosity -- especially under President Bush. ...
    Under Bush? Lots of other presidents have talked about God more, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Bush is as openly tolerant of atheists as any president in a long time.
    At an Atheists of Silicon Valley meeting, Godfrey (Ben) Baumgartner, sporting a "Born Again Skeptic" shirt, recounted how he questioned his niece's Christianity so much during her last visit, her husband half-jokingly said he wasn't sure she should stay over again. He wasn't trying to convert her, Baumgartner said, just set her free.

    "I don't care what she believes," he said, "as long as what she believes is true."

    Funny. They want to do their own proselytizing!

    They also have their own idol worship:

    An image makeover is also a priority for Chuck Cannon, a member of San Francisco Atheists who organized a scholarship at City College of San Francisco for the student who writes the best essay on Darwin.
    Now it is really wacky to try to promote Atheism by getting students to write essays on Darwin. It would be one thing to promote science by encouraging students to go on a field trip and write an essay on their observations, or to write about DNA research or something like that. But no, they want to idolize Darwin as the man who proved that there is no God.

    This is just another example how there are leftist-atheist-evolutionists who want to turn Evolutionism into its own belief system similar to religion.

    German teens scared ostrich
    Germany also has wacky lawsuits:
    BAUTZEN, Germany, June 5 (UPI) -- Three German teenagers are off the hook for allegedly scaring an ostrich so badly its owner said his big bird became temporarily impotent.

    A judge in Bautzen recently ruled against the ostrich's owner, who sued the boys for about $6,700, claiming the firecrackers they set off left the bird unable to perform its breeding duties, Deutsche Welle reported Tuesday.

    German ostrich breeder Rico Gabel went to court in March, contending the loud noises left his stud ostrich, Gustav, depressed, apathetic and impotent for about six months. He said he was owed damages for 14 ostrich chickens he says Gustav otherwise would have sired.

    But the court sided with the youths after a bird expert testified there was no reason to tie the loud noises with Gustav's lethargy. The teens were, however, ordered to pay about $200 in veterinary fees.

    And, the German newspaper reported, Gustav is back to his frisky self.

    Friday, Jul 13, 2007
    The Libby commutation was consistent with Bush policy
    On the Volokh blog, I explain why Pres. Bush's Libby commutation was consistent with previous Bush policy.

    It is amusing to see attempted mindreading by Bush-haters. Someone calling himself "Justin" had to be censored for making ad hominem attacks against my family. He argued:

    Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to have a general policy of at least requiring applicants for clemency to at least go through the required procedures?
    No, there is no required procedure. Richard Nixon did not apply for clemency from Pres. Ford, and no application is required.

    There was no need to get the DoJ opinion on clemency for Libby -- the DoJ was already committed to advocating a stiff sentence for him. Bush presumably had all the facts he needed for his action.

    Monday, Jul 09, 2007
    Obama's reason for opposing the war
    Barack Obama's fans say that he is the only serious candidate who opposed Here is an Oct 2002 Oct speech at a Chicago anti-war rally:
    Now let me be clear -- I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

    But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

    I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

    I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

    Okay, that is a reasonable statement. But two years later, he changed his story:
    Six months before the war was launched, I questioned the evidence that would lead to us being there. Now, us having gone in there, we have a deep national security interest in making certain that Iraq is stable.
    No, he didn't question the evidence that led us to the Iraq War. He accepted the evidence, and said that it was a dumb war anyway.

    I think that Obama is really running for VP, and is just saying whatever he thinks that people want to hear. He is like John Edwards in 2004 -- far too inexperienced to be taken seriously as a serious presidential candidate, but maybe a good speaker and campaign that might enhance the Democrat ticket.

    Here is Glenn Sacks attacking Obama for introducing a Senate bill that blames fathers for not seeing their kids, even when they are blocked by the custodial parents.

    Sunday, Jul 08, 2007
    Our centrist Supreme Court
    Leftists are repeating their usual complaints about a right-wing shift on the Supreme Court. Linda Greenhouse writes:
    Two years ago, Professor Tribe suspended work on the third edition of his monumental treatise on constitutional law, declaring that the moment had passed for propounding a "Grand Unified Theory." His current ambition, he says now, is to "teach to the future," in ways that will challenge the current climate and "make a difference 20, 30 or 40 years from now."
    Good. We don't need that theory anyway. Barack Obama once helped Tribe write a paper titled, "The Curvature of Constitutional Space". It was pretty nutty.

    The Philly paper says:

    With Bush's two appointees playing pivotal roles, the court for the first time banned an abortion practice (the late-term method), with no exceptions to protect a woman's health; chipped away at the wall between church and state, by making it tougher for taxpayers to challenge Bush's money grants to religious groups; curbed the ability of school districts to use race as a factor to promote integration; made it tougher for women to sue their employers for wage and pay discrimination . . . the list goes on.
    Then it complains that these issues will not excite the voters enough to vote for a Democrat in 2008.

    I say that only radical leftists are offended by these decisions. The abortion decision did not ban late-term abortions; they are still legal under all circumstances. It only upheld a ban on a particular method, based on reasoning that another method was available and safer.

    Only Justices Scalia and Thomas voted to make it tougher for taxpayer lawsuits challenge church-state issues. The four liberals voted to extend court jurisdiction to cases that had never been permitted before. The Bush appointees took a middle ground.

    The conservatives did rule against public schools using racial discrimination to choose students. I think that most people are fed up with forced racial busing, and are happy with this decision.

    The lawsuit for back wages was based on a statute of limitations set by Congress. The Democrats control Congress, and can change the limit any time they want.

    There were also some liberal decisions this year. The court ruled that the EPA had to do something about global warming, and it continued to make death penalties more difficult. On balance, there has been a slight shift to the right, but not one that will offend any swing voters.

    Saturday, Jul 07, 2007
    Supremacist Update
    John sends these updates on judicial supremacy. Here, here, and here.
    Now back to Professor Epstein. Not a word about the separation of powers from him. Epstein argues that Flast should be converted from an exception into a universal principle of taxpayer standing, which would anoint us all as private attorneys general to make a federal case out of any complaint we might cook up that this or that act of Congress or action of the executive branch was unconstitutional. "The proper rule should allow all taxpayers free rein to challenge either Congress or the executive branch for overstepping their constitutional authority." Frothingham, therefore, was the real innovation, and a mistaken one, in Epstein's view.

    This is a breathtaking argument for judicial supremacy. (And Epstein has the nerve to accuse Justice Scalia of "judicial activism"!) For Epstein, it is evidently hard to think of any way to uphold the Constitution that doesn't involve lawyers and judges ...

    A lot of law profs are judicial supremacists, but the US Constitution treats the three federal branches as equally responsible to uphold the Constitution.
    The greatest imaginable tragedy
    NY Science Times reports:
    "Nothing," the report concluded, "would be more tragic in the American exploration of space than to encounter alien life and fail to recognize it."
    The report is referring to some sort of primordial pre-life that wouldn't even be recognized on Earth.

    Friday, Jul 06, 2007
    Lawyer price-fixing
    Someone just told me that price-fixing is the reason people want to avoid probate. There is a law that says that a lawyer gets to pocket a percentage of the value of a dead man's estate, regardless of how little work is involved. That is one reason people put money into trusts -- just to avoid greedy lawyers stealing their money when they are dead.

    Thursday, Jul 05, 2007
    Catastrophic global warming is a hoax
    The Bad Astronomer writes:
    Global warming is a very contentious issue. A lot of this is because some people with partisan views have purposely tried to confuse the issue. It's a fact of life that corporations put a lot of money in some politicians' pockets, and it's another fact that a lot of politicians -- I'm looking at you, Senator Inhofe (R-19th Century) -- have made baldly incorrect statements and have obstructed real debate about the issue.

    It's also a fact that this issue was at first denied by such politicians; they said global warming didn't exist (Inhofe called it a "hoax").

    No, it is not a fact.

    Sen. Inhofe's famous 2003 Senate speech actually said:

    It is my fervent hope that Congress will reject prophets of doom who peddle propaganda masquerading as science in the name of saving the planet from catastrophic disaster. I urge my colleagues to put stock in scientists who rely on the best, most objective scientific data and reject fear as a motivating basis for making public policy decisions.

    Let me be very clear: alarmists are attempting to enact an agenda of energy suppression that is inconsistent with American values of freedom, prosperity, and environmental progress.

    Over the past 2 hours, I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax. That conclusion is supported by the painstaking work of the nation's top climate scientists.

    He didn't call global warming a hoax; he offered scientific evidence that catastrophic global warming was a hoax.

    It is really pathetic when the leftist science bloggers have to misquote politicians in order to criticize them. Just quote them correctly, and give the contrary evidence!

    Tuesday, Jul 03, 2007
    Dawkins attacks Behe
    R. Dawkins reviews Behe's book, and repeats some silly points from Coyne's review:
    And real science, in the shape of his own department of biological sciences at Lehigh University, has publicly disowned him, via a remarkable disclaimer on its Web site ... Incidentally, further research usually reveals that A can explain the phenomenon after all: thus the biologist Kenneth R. Miller (a believing Christian who testified for the other side in the Dover trial) beautifully showed how the bacterial flagellar motor could evolve via known functional intermediates.
    Why is it so important to say that a Behe hypothesis was rebutted by a "believing Christian"? Dawkins is a hard-core atheist, and the validity of a scientific paper should not depend on the author's religious beliefs.

    But what really upsets Dawkins is that Behe says that random mutation is more important than natural selection:

    Behe correctly dissects the Darwinian theory into three parts: descent with modification, natural selection and mutation. Descent with modification gives him no problems, nor does natural selection. They are "trivial" and "modest" notions, respectively. ...

    The crucial passage in "The Edge of Evolution" is this: "By far the most critical aspect of Darwin's multifaceted theory is the role of random mutation. Almost all of what is novel and important in Darwinian thought is concentrated in this third concept."

    Most of the other evolutionists describe evolution in terms of random mutations, but any emphasis on randomness drives Dawkins nuts. He says:
    generations of mathematical geneticists ... have repeatedly shown that evolutionary rates are not limited by mutation.
    This is nutty. Of course evolution is limited by mutation. You can breed new dogs by taking advantage of existing genetic diversity in dogs, but you cannot make a new species that way, as far as anyone knows. Major biological changes can take millions of years of mutations and selection, according to the theory.

    The statement "the rate A is not limited by the rate B", means that the rate A can be arbitrarily large even as the rate B tends to zero. But in fact evolution teaches that the evolution rate tends to zero as the mutation rate tends to zero. Mutation is what introduces change into nature. Without mutation, there is no change, and no evolution. Selection cannot produce change unless mutation put it there.

    The NY Times had another silly essay last week about whether mutation or selection is more important. Behe seems to be saying that mutation is more important, and Dawkins says selection is more important:

    Natural selection is arguably the most momentous idea ever to occur to a human mind, because it -- alone as far as we know -- explains the elegant illusion of design that pervades the living kingdoms and explains, in passing, us. Whatever else it is, natural selection is not a "modest" idea, nor is descent with modification.
    This is kooky. Natural selection is the most trivial part of evolutionism, and was never disputed by anyone either before or after Darwin. Karl Popper once claimed that "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program". (It is quoted in this recent video blog.) He later conceded that biologists can sometimes predict what features might increase the survivability of an organism, but there are no observable consequences of natural selection itself that anyone has ever tested against an alternate theory. They've successfully tested descent with modification, mutation rates, existence of common ancestors, and other aspects of evolutionism, but when it comes to natural selection theory, there is nothing to test.

    Dawkins' parting shot is that Behe did not publish his ideas in a peer-reviewed evolution journal, and instead writes for the general public that "is not qualified to rumble him". But Dawkins does not publish his rebuttal in one either.

    Maybe Behe's hypotheses have been proved wrong, I don't know. His notion of irreducible complexity certainly does not disprove evolution. But the animosity against him from Coyne, Dawkins, and his own Lehigh U. dept. is bizarre. They treat him like a heretic who should be burned at the stake. They babble unscientific nonsense. Behe appears to have really touched a nerve with the evolutionists.

    Here is Behe's rebuttal to negative book reviews.

    Monday, Jul 02, 2007
    Joe and Valerie Wilson are still lying
    They had their lawyer issue this statement:
    First, President Bush said any person who leaked would no longer work in his administration. Nonetheless, Scooter Libby didn't leave office until he was indicted and Karl Rove works in the White House even today. ... Clearly, this is an administration that believes leaking classified information for political ends is justified and that the law is what applies to other people."
    No, Bush did not make that promise, as explained here. At most, Bush implied that he would fire someone if a US Attorney made a finding that he violated the law. And Libby was indeed fired as soon as he was accused of violating a law.

    It is too this administration's credit that it has declassified info so that the American public can know the pros and cons of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Wilson and Plame come from a CIA mindset that wants to keep its incompetence classified.

    I know really agree with any of the other Republican and Democrat comments at the above link. Sen. Barack Obama said:

    This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, ...
    Libby was not even accused of compromising our national security. Obama's idiotic comment can only be interpreted as cynical and divisive.

    Bush's statement says that Libby deserves to get punished. The obvious explanation is that Bush wanted to make Libby a scapegoat because Libby bungled the White House response to Joe Wilson, and Libby absorbs blame that might have been directed at others.

    Sunday, Jul 01, 2007
    What was Darwin's contribution?
    I am looking for a clear statement of just what Darwin's main scientific contributions were. It appears that many others had previous asserted that species had evolved over time, and that different species may have had common ancestorys.

    In the Preface to the 6th edition of his Origin of Species, Darwin credits an assortment of others for earlier publication of similar ideas. Eg, on page xvii Darwin says:

    In 1846 the veteran geologist M. J. d'Omalius d'Halloy published in an excellent though short paper ('Bulletins de l'Acad. Roy. Bruxelles', tom. xiii. p. 581) his opinion that it is more probable that new species have been produced by descent with modification than that they have been separately created: the author first promulgated this opinion in 1831.
    Darwin also says that he was spurred to publication by Alfred Russel Wallace presenting a manuscript with theories essentially the same as his own.

    Darwin considered his theory of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, to be his main contribution. The word "natural" means plants and animal living, mating, and dying from natural causes, as opposed to farmers breeding domesticated animals, or something like that.

    Darwin knew nothing about discrete genes, or genetic mutation, or the age of the Earth, or anything like that. Darwin does have an assortment of examples from his personal observations on Galapagos and elsewhere, and he has some interesting theorizing about how evolution could have taken place. Darwin's book may well have been the most persuasive argument at the time for the idea that different species might be related, but I wonder how much was really scientifically novel.

    Do flu vaccines really protect the elderly?
    NewScientist magazine reports:
    Do flu vaccines really protect the elderly? It's been a point of bitter dispute among flu experts. ...

    Veteran flu researcher Tom Reichert of Entropy Limited thinks he knows why. "What I didn't realise till I looked again at the raw data is that deaths from flu have been dropping like a stone in industrialised countries for the past thirty years."

    In a new analysis he found that excess winter deaths have been declining steeply in the US, Canada, France and Australia since the last, mild flu pandemic of 1968, regardless of the predominant flu strain and whether vaccination programmes were in place. "People under 75 just don't die of flu any more," he told New Scientist. That means the virus is becoming less virulent, or we are doing something to make ourselves less susceptible to it.

    People over 80 still die of flu, probably because they respond least well to vaccination.

    Flu vaccines are based on researchers predicting (months in advance) what flu strain will be dominant that winter. Sometimes they predict well and sometimes they don't. I would have expected some clear-cut evidence of fewer flu deaths in the years that the researchers made good predictions. Apparently there is no such solid evidence of benefit.