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Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters


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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009
98% of public complies with policy
The LA Times has this alarmist story:
A rising number of California parents are choosing to send their children to kindergarten without routine vaccinations, putting hundreds of elementary schools in the state at risk for outbreaks of childhood diseases eradicated in the U.S. years ago.

Exemptions from vaccines -- which allow children to enroll in public and private schools without state-mandated shots -- have more than doubled since 1997, according to a Times analysis of state data obtained last week. ...

Statewide, only 2% of kindergartners had exemptions.

So 98% are complying with the official recommendations, and the authorities are complaining? Even a highly contagious disease like measles cannot spread if more than 90% of the kids have been vaccinated.

What seems to really infuriate the authorities is that many of those opting out are the more well-educated parents. The poor people get their free vaccines and the public school crowd does what they are told.

California makes it very easy to opt out of vaccines. The requirements are stricter in most other states, and compliance there is closer to 99%.

Saturday, Mar 28, 2009
Dyson is a global warming skeptic
The NY Times Magazine profiles Freeman Dyson:
Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus. ...

IT WAS FOUR YEARS AGO that Dyson began publicly stating his doubts about climate change. Speaking at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, Dyson announced that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” Since then he has only heated up his misgivings, declaring in a 2007 interview with Salon.com that “the fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn’t scare me at all” and writing in an essay for The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin, that climate change has become an “obsession” — the primary article of faith for “a worldwide secular religion” known as environmentalism. Among those he considers true believers, Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change’s “chief propagandist,” and James Hansen, ...

Dyson says it’s only principle that leads him to question global warming: “According to the global-warming people, I say what I say because I’m paid by the oil industry. Of course I’m not, but that’s part of their rhetoric. If you doubt it, you’re a bad person, a tool of the oil or coal industry.” Global warming, he added, “has become a party line.” ...

Climate-change specialists often speak of global warming as a matter of moral conscience. Dyson says he thinks they sound presumptuous. As he warned that day four years ago at Boston University, the history of science is filled with those “who make confident predictions about the future and end up believing their predictions,” and he cites examples of things people anticipated to the point of terrified certainty that never actually occurred, ranging from hellfire, to Hitler’s atomic bomb, to the Y2K millennium bug. “It’s always possible Hansen could turn out to be right,” he says of the climate scientist. “If what he says were obviously wrong, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has. But Hansen has turned his science into ideology.

Dyson is a genius on mathematical physics, but not a climate expert. Dyson is right about climate change having become more ideology than science.

On another science ideology front, the Houston paper reports:

The move represented something of a victory for pro-evolutionists, who wanted the State Board of Education to drop a 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught.

But the board's 13-2 vote also means students in public school will be encouraged to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories. That left some of the pro-evolution crowd upset.

I am all in favor of teaching scientific evolution in the schools, but these pro-evolutionists are pushing some sort of worldwide secular religion or ideology, just like the global warming crowd. No real scientist would get so upset at the mere possibility of some public scrutiny.

The Bad Astronomer says that Texas is doomed because "They put in language to weaken the Big Bang theory".

Here is a leftist-evolutionist Salon rant on the subject. It objects to this:

Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute lawyer, and its guy on the Austin scene, was psyched by the outcome. "These are the strongest standards in the country now," he says. "The language adapted requires students to have critical thinking about all of science, including evolution, and it urges them to look at all sides of the issue."

One amendment calls for students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record."

I don't know how anyone could get so excited by such innocuous language.

Friday, Mar 27, 2009
Libby's crime
I keep seeing people misstate the Scooter Libby conviction, such as .

Libby told the grand jury that he learned about Valerie Plame from VP Cheney, and then she was alluded to in discussions with Judy Miller, Tim Russert, and Matt Cooper. Libby was indicted for lying about all three discussions. He was acquitted on the Miller and Cooper charges. Libby said that Russert told him about Plame, and Russert said that she was not mentioned. The jury believed Russert. You can find more details here.

Nobody has explained what Libby had to gain by lying about Russert. Russert, tho, had an obvious possible incentive to lie. Russert could have heard about Plame before talking to Libby, and could be lying to protect that source.

The trial never determined whether Plame was a covert agent.

Wednesday, Mar 25, 2009
Skepticism called a disorder
A UK mag essay writes:
University departments, serious authors, think-tanks and radical activists are embracing the ‘psychological disorder’ view of climate change scepticism. At Columbia University in New York, the Global Roundtable on Public Attitudes to Climate Change studies the ‘completely baffling’ response of the public to the threat of climate change, exploring why the public has been ‘so slow to act’ despite the ‘extraordinary information’ provided by scientists. Apparently, our slack response is partly a result of our brain’s inability to assess ‘pallid statistical information’ in the face of fear.

Sunday, Mar 22, 2009
The Obama war on science
President Barack Obama has the scientists all excited. He said that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values", and pledged that his administration will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology”.

His science advisor, John P. Holdren, is more of a leftist policy advocate than a scientist.\ He is sometimes described as a Harvard physicist, but he actually worked in the Kennedy School of Government. He is known for making apocalyptic predictions about future environmental disasters that never happened.

Supposedly Obama is going to do something about global warming, but it does not look good so far. He got elected by promising farmers in Iowa and elsewhere that he would continue to subsidize ethanol. Most solar power is also inefficient, and has to be subsidized:

If you count the full-interest cost without the tax subsidy, residential solar panels never pay for themselves.
There is only one technology that can produce large-scale nuclear power without carbon emission, and that is nuclear. Obama wants to kill it because the waste problem has not been solved, but the waste problem was solved decades ago. We spent billions to build a waste storage facility in Yucca Mountain Nevada, but Obama wants to shut it down.

People claim that nuclear power is subsidized, but I don't believe. Every other energy techology is subsidized more. The ethanol and solar power industries would not even exist without govt subsidies. Mideast oil is supported our army to protect the arabs, and our navy keeping those shipping lanes open. The nuclear power industry has paid the USA about $44B in special fees to create a waste storage facility, and the industry is not going to get the benefit of it if Yucca Mountain gets shut down.

If it weren't for the anti-science leftists who are allied with Obama, we wouldn't even have much nuclear waste to store. Most of that waste can be reprocessed into nuclear fuel for other nuclear power plants. France and Japan do it, and I am sure we can do it also. Supposedly we are not doing it because of proliferation concerns, but that argument is bogus. We are worried that Iran and N. Korea might get a nuclear bombs, but nuclear reprocessing doesn't seem to have much to do with the risk.

Now Obama wants to subject us to a carbon tax, and to sign international treaties that China and India emit as much carbon as they want. If carbon is really causing harmful climate change, then China is the biggest offender and India may soon be number two. Any treaty that fails to limit China and India will cause a lot more harm than good.

Even the new stem cell policy does not seem to be based on science, as Charles Krauthammer points out. Obama favors one type of cloning and opposes another type of cloning.

The new Obama stem cell policy is unlikely to even make much difference, as the NY Times explains. It expands somewhat the available embryonic stem cell lines available for federal research money, but by now the researchers have obtained non-federal funding for the more promising research. And the real action is in adult stem cells, and there was never any funding restriction on those.

I am still waiting for Obama to make some science-based decisions.

Friday, Mar 20, 2009
The Lucy fossil expains nothing
I mentioned below that the Seattle Lucy (missing link) exhibit has been a flop. The NY Times explains:
Attendance had been less than half of what was projected. ...

But the sour economy does not seem to explain all of Lucy’s troubles. A rare December snowstorm played a role, and Bryce Seidl, the center’s president and chief executive, has suggested less intuitive reasons like the feverish focus this liberal city had on the election of President Obama and his transition to office. ...

Yet Donald C. Johanson, the paleoanthropologist who plucked Lucy out of an Ethiopian ravine 35 years ago ... noted a lighter feature he liked, a display that used soda bottles, filled with varying amounts of fluid, to show the difference in brain capacity between humans and Lucy.

Johanson is interviewed here, and he continues with his false claims that Lucy was a human ancestor, and that Lucy proves that the essence of humanity is walking upright. Lucy may have been just a chimp.

When asked about the aquatic ape hypothesis, Johanson got very negative. I guess he does not like the hypothesis because it would make his whole life's work irrelevant, but the hypothesis explains a whole lot more than Lucy ever did. The hypothesis hasn't been proved, and it may be wrong, but it sure hasn't been disproved either.

Wednesday, Mar 18, 2009
Alchemy compared to String Theory
The Boston Globe reports on alchemy:
Alchemists might have been colossally wrong in their goals, but they were, in some fundamental way, part of the story of science, these scholars say. Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton, fathers of modern chemistry and physics, were also serious students of alchemy. ...

What they all shared was a belief that one natural substance could be transmuted into another. ...

It is alchemists who gave Europe some of its key discoveries. Alchemists discovered zinc and metallic arsenic. A German alchemist named Hennig Brand isolated phosphorus in 1669. The alchemist Johann Bottger, working for the Dresden court, stumbled on a material that allowed German workshops to make their own porcelain and break China's monopoly on one of the world's most lucrative industries. ...

Albert Einstein tried, and failed, to cap his career by formulating a single theory that explained all the universe's forces. And at the cutting edge of modern physics, string theory purports to offer a complete but possibly unprovable explanation of the universe based on 11 dimensions and imperceptibly tiny strings.

Alchemy was a whole lot more scientific than string theory. It wasn't wrong to think that all matter may be made of the same stuff; we now know that all matter is made of quarks and leptons. On the other hand, string theory tells us nothing about the observable universe, and there is no hope that it ever will.

Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009
Gun right decision was no big change
The NY Times reports:
About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. ...

“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, ...

Maybe that is because the Supreme Court just affirmed what had been the position of previous high court decisions, the US DoJ, most legal scholars, most people, most state courts, most legislators, etc. It only reversed the kooky positions that some federal judges adopted several decades ago. Before that, respect for 2A gun rights was universal.

Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009
Science based on facts
The NY Times reports on Obama:
Pledging that his administration will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” President Obama on Monday lifted the Bush administration’s strict limits on human embryonic stem cell research.
More precisely, Bush expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research by allowing federal research to use a couple of dozen embryonic stem cell lines. Obama's new order does not fund creation of new lines, nor specify which existing lines can be used. The expectation is that a few hundred lines will be available for federal research.

Private researchers can clone embryoes all they want, just as they could under Bush. No doubt Obama will allow federal funds to use lines created from leftover embryoes at test tube baby clinics. It remains to be seen whether he will allow federal funds to buy lines from embryoes that were created solely for the purpose of stem cell research.

The biggest stem cell promises are in adult stem cells, and there have never been any funding restrictions on those.

Did biologists really think that human evolution stopped?
Yes, says John Hawks. Responding to criticism, he quotes Stephen Jay Gould:
Since modern Homo sapiens emerged 50,000 years ago, “natural selection has almost become irrelevant” to us, the influential Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould proclaimed. “There have been no biological changes. Everything we’ve called culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain.”
He quotes other bigshots also. Human evolution is actually accelerating, and no one was saying that.

Scientists often complain that a low percentage of Americans believe in evolution. I think that the best explanation is that the leading evolutionists have been kooks spouting misinformation.

Monday, Mar 09, 2009
Darwin set the standard
Peter Woit reports:
The central tenet of Susskind’s talk was that string theorists should look to Darwin because he “set the standard for what an explanation should be like”.
This is pathetic. Darwin knew nothing about genes and did not produce the sort of quantitative and testable hypotheses that physicists are accustomed to looking for to explain nature. He is mainly credited with the theory of natural selection, but that is just a tautology that no one has been able to test.

I guess that is Susskind's point. He is conceding that string theory is not testable but it might somehow gain credence as a universal explanation for everything if the public is somehow suckered into following Darwin's example.

Physics World writes:

“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

That is the definition of ‘science’ according to Britain’s Science Council, an organisation representing over 30 learned and professional bodies in the UK ranging from the Royal Astronomical Society to the Association of Clinical Biochemistry.

Apparently the council has spent a whole year deciding on this new meaning to provide a distinction between genuine science and psuedoscience.

So let us look at the alternatives. According to my Chambers dictionary, ‘science’ means the “knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematised and brought under general principles, esp in relation to the physical world.”

One notices in the council’s definition that science is the ‘pursuit’ of knowledge rather than that ‘ascertained’, as well as the inclusion of the ‘social’ world.

It appears that the new definition is meant to include things like string theory and extraterrestial life, where knowledge is pursued but is not ascertained by any observation and experiment.