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Sunday, May 31, 2009
No crime to taunt a zoo animal
San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold writes:

Did they taunt the tiger? Well, probably. Although they were never charged criminally, the father of a third buddy slain in the attack, Carlos Sousa Jr., said Paul Dhaliwal told him the three had yelled and waved at the animal from atop a railing.

All of these things entered into the settlement. If the Dhaliwals had been Boy Scouts in uniform, they would have gotten twice as muchTaunting

Did they taunt the tiger? Well, probably. Although they were never charged criminally, the father of a third buddy slain in the attack, Carlos Sousa Jr., said Paul Dhaliwal told him the three had yelled and waved at the animal from atop a railing.

All of these things entered into the settlement. If the Dhaliwals had been Boy Scouts in uniform, they would have gotten twice as much.

What? Is it a crime to yell and wave to a zoo animal? Does the zoo even have any rules against kids yelling and waving? The zoo had a wall that was shorter than the standard requirements for enclosing tigers. That is all you need to know. I don't see how Herhold can blame the kids for allegedly yelling and waving, when no one had any way of knowing that yelling and waving could be harmful.

Saturday, May 30, 2009
Explaining superconductors
NewScientist magazine claims that it has finally learned What string theory is really good for.
High-temperature superconductors behave as they do because of the way electrons organise themselves in the material, but 20 years and hundreds of thousands of research papers on from their discovery, we are no closer to knowing exactly how that is. "If someone genuinely knew the microscopic description of a high-temperature superconductor, they would already have a Nobel prize," says Joe Bhaseen, a condensed matter physicist at the University of Cambridge.
No, string theory doesn't tell us anything about particle physics or gravity, but maybe it will give us an alternate way of looking at condensed matter. This is not really string theory, and even if it turns out that there is some merit to the view, it does not say that particles are really strings.

String theory seems to be not so much a theory, but a buzz phrase used by theoretical physicists who leap from one fad to another. Peter Woit reports:

Strings 2009 is about three weeks away, and it will bring 450 or so string theorists to Rome. ...

One topic that is not hot is anything mathematical, with no research talks by mathematicians or Witten, and little about mathematically significant topics such as mirror symmetry. What also seems to no longer be hot is either string cosmology or the landscape. No cosmology, multiverse or Boltzmann Brains are to be found among the research talks, although Brian Greene will give a public lecture about the issue of possible multiple universes.

Friday, May 29, 2009
USA using resources
Rush Limbaugh recently said:
RUSH: I have been hearing this statistic my whole adult life, as evidence of the immorality and greed of the United States of America. We make up less than 5% of the world's population, but we use 25% of the world's resources. Now he's tailoring it specifically to oil. Well, the way to look at that is not to say that the United States is immoral and unjust and greedy and selfish. The way to look at it is how did that happen in the first place? Did we not create lifestyles and prosperity and wealth for all of our citizens that is the envy of the world? We have liberated billions of people from oppression, slavery, and bondage. We have developed with our wealth and our freedom the cure for lots of diseases, and we have shared our successes with people all over the world. We have used our success in utilizing energy to expand our economy, to feed the world. Our agriculture outproduces anyplace else in the world. We are the one nation on earth that can help rebuild entire nations after disasters or wars, and we have done it. Now, you don't do that on the cheap.

The idea that we are 5% of the world's population but using 25% of the world's resources, that statement is made specifically to convince you that we are, by that definition, evil, that, by that definition, we are wrong, by that definition, we alone are guilty. We were not entitled to these resources.

If you really believe that the USA is unfairly using up a disportionate share of world resources, then the obvious policy consequence would be to stop immigration. The more people we let in, the more resources will get used up.
The weak case against Roland Burris
Illinois Senator Roland Burris is being accused of lying to the Senate to cover up his dealings with Gov. Blagojevich, based on newly released wiretaps. You can find his Senate testimony here, and the wiretap transcript here.

I see two problems here. First, the US Attorney should never have kept the wiretaps secret. The people had a right to know whether they had a corrupt governor and a corrup senator.

Second, the Senate committee was too incompetent to cross-examine Burris properly. It failed to ask him the necessary questions, and now it does not have a good perjury case against him.

I think that cross-examination technique is a lost art. Most lawyers just don't know how to do it.

Monday, May 25, 2009
Explaining the motivations of others
The GNXP blog writes, about mindreading:
I think the reality is that most people misunderstand the motivations of others, and, importantly most people probably misunderstand their own motivations! When it comes to intellectual topics that deal with humanity we pretend as if it's like physics, with billiard balls following predictable paths. The reality is very different, human affairs, human motivation, and so forth, are much more complex. Not only is it important to move beyond our own projections derived from our own mental models, but we have to acknowledge that individuals themselves have a difficult time in teasing apart the variables which lead them to conclude what they do. We have such a tenuous grasp on our own motivations when it comes to religion and politics that it is folly to presume that we'd be any good at deconstructing others.
I think he is correct. People are ridiculously bad at explaining the motivations of others. Statistician By Andrew Gelman couple of examples of faulty explanations of political motivations.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist psychiatrist Andy Thomson gives a talktitled 'Why We Believe in Gods' at the American Atheist 2009 convention in Atlanta, Georgia. He cites some neuroscience and does some evolutionistic theorizing to try to explain why people believe in religion. The neuroscience is interesting, but does not relate directly to religion.

One of his premises is that any human tendency to believe in religion must be a byproduct of adaptations of our ancestors to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle 50K years ago. He appears to have fallen for the myth that humans stopped evolving 50K years ago.

He got his biggest applause when he attacked the Bush administration.

His real purpose was to eventually force the school science classes to teach that religious belief is explained by evolution. He wanted another Scopes trial so that the leftist-atheist-evolutionists could humiliate the religious believers in court again.

One of his arguments was that religion than natural selection is easier for our caveman minds to understand, so our poorly-evolved brains succumb to religion. I doubt that. No one has any trouble understanding natural selection. Natural selection is just survival of the fittest. No one ever expects anything else to happen. Religious theology is a whole lot more complex than that. Maybe people would rather believe in religion for various reasons, but I don't think that religion is any easier to believe.

Friday, May 22, 2009
Abortion polls
The New Republic magazine writes:
As Barack Obama ponders who to appoint to the Supreme Court, recent polls from Pew and Gallup are showing that Americans have become less supportive of abortion rights. In the Gallup poll, more Americans chose to call themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice"--by 51 to 42 percent. That's the first time pro-lifers have outpolled pro-choicers since Gallup began asking this in 1995. ...

The tilt toward pro-life sentiment doesn't necessarily imply a changed view of whether the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade. In fact, a recent CNN poll shows that Americans, by 68 to 30 percent, do not want to overturn it; the Gallup and Pew polls are thus gauging personal sentiment, not policy preferences. Americans can be expected to embrace a more conservative social ideology during this period without endorsing conservative social policies.

The CNN poll is misleading. It got 68% answering negative to this question:
The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?
If I weren't sure what Roe v Wade decided, I would take this question as asking whether I would make abortion illegal in the first 3 months, in all cases. If it was Roe v Wade that made abortion legal in the first 3 months, then a complete reversal would make it illegal.

The recent Gallup poll showed only 22% of the public said that abortion should be legal under any circumstances. That was the central holding of Roe v Wade -- making abortion a constitutional right during all 9 months as long as an abortionist was willing to do the operation. So it appears to me that only 22% agree with Roe v Wade.

When people talk about overturning Roe v Wade, they usually mean the Supreme Court allowing the states to regulate abortion. That would leave abortion readily available nearly everywhere in the USA, in the first 3 months at least.

No innocent person has been executed
The NY Times admits:
The decline in newsroom resources has also hampered efforts by death-penalty opponents to search for irrefutable DNA evidence that an innocent person has been executed in America. ...

Since 1992, 238 people in the United States, some who were sitting on death row, have been exonerated of crimes through DNA testing. But proving with scientific certitude that an innocent person has been executed is difficult.

Yes, that's right. There is no proof that anyone has been wrongly executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s.

I suspect that this number (238 people) includes all overturned convictions, and not just exonerations.

Our legal system has many flaws, and it seems likely that an innocent person will be executed someday. When that happens, the anti-death-penalty folks will make a big deal out of it. You will hear about it. It is remarkable that it has not happened yet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Rush doubts missing link
SciAm magazine anounces:
Ten researchers, politicians, business executives and philanthropists who have recently demonstrated outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity ...

Eugenie Scott ...

She headed a grassroots movement in Lexington to prevent creationism from being taught in the public schools there.

In 2005 she served as a pro bono consultant in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, in which Judge John Jones ruled that “intelligent design” was a form of creationism and was therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools.

Last year Scott and the NCSE faced an uphill battle over the Academic Freedom Act in Florida, which allows educators to teach about “controversies” related to evolution.

So Scott's "outstanding commitment" is to suppressing and censoring certain views about evolution. Surely SciAm could have found ten people who were actually contributing something positive to science or society.

Rush Limbaugh said this about the Ida fossil now on display.

RUSH: Drudge had as a lead item up there this morning on his page a story from the UK, Sky News: "Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution." It's all about how Darwin would be thrilled to be alive today. "Scientists have unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of a monkey hailed as the missing link in human evolution." It's a one-foot, nine-inch-tall monkey, and it's a lemur monkey described as the eighth wonder of the world. "The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years - but it was presented to the world today --" So I guess this is settled science. We now officially came from a monkey, 47 million years ago. Well, that's how it's being presented here. It's settled science. You know, this is all BS, as far as I'm concerned. Cross species evolution, I don't think anybody's ever proven that. They're going out of their way now to establish evolution as a mechanism for creation, which, of course, you can't do, but I'm more interested in some other missing link. And that is the missing link between our failing economy and prosperity.
First, this isn't settled science. There are others views about how monkeys and apes split. NewScientist mag says Ida is not a missing link.

The term "missing link" is more commonly used for the split between humans and apes. The settled science says that human and chimp ancestors split about 6 million years ago, but there is no 6 million year old fossil that anyone thinks is a common ancestor.

Monday, May 18, 2009
No risk benefit analysis
The NY Times reports:
With health authorities now gearing up for what could be a huge vaccination campaign against a new strain of swine flu, the experience of 1976 is raising a note of caution.

The feared swine flu epidemic of 1976 never materialized. And several hundred people, including Ms. Kinney, who is now 68 and lives in Gig Harbor, Wash., developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes temporary muscle weakness or paralysis. More than 30 of those people died. ...

Others say there are lessons to be learned ...

Another is that risks have to be weighed against benefits. Had there been a swine flu epidemic in 1976, the number of lives saved by a vaccine would have dwarfed the small number of cases of Guillain-Barré. But in 1976, the vaccine was given even though the epidemic did not materialize.

So who has learned the lesson? Childhood vaccines are still given today without risk-benefit analyses.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Natural selection not proved
Coyne cites this Richard Lewontin review of his book:
Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True is intended as a weapon in that struggle.

Coyne is an evolutionary biologist ...

Where he is less successful, as all other commentators have been, is in his insistence that the evidence for natural selection as the driving force of evolution is of the same inferential strength as the evidence that evolution has occurred. So, for example, he gives the game away by writing that when we examine a sequence of changes in the fossil record, we can “determine whether the sequences of changes at least conform to a step-by-step adaptive process. And in every case, we can find at least a feasible Darwinian explanation.”But to say that some example is not falsification of a theory because we can always “find” (invent) a feasible explanation says more about the flexibility of the theory and the ingenuity of its supporters than it says about physical nature.

Lewontin is a well-known Harvard Marxist evolutionist buddy of the late S.J. Gould.

The essence of Darwinism is that natural selection is the driving force of evolution. Nobody has ever doubted natural selection, but evolutionists argue endlessly about whether it is the driving force of evolution. It seems likely to me, but apparently there is no real proof.

Coyne has more on the subject here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009
Evolutionist refuses religion dialogue
Prominent evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
The organizers of the World Science Festival in New York invited me to participate on a panel that would discuss the relationship between faith and science. ...

What was more distressing was that one of the Festival’s sponsors was The Templeton Foundation, whose implicit mission is to reconcile science and religion (and in doing so, I think, blur the boundaries between them). ...

So, I ain’t going, which would have been fun, especially because E. O. Wilson will be there for an 80th birthday fete. But I just couldn’t see myself taking money from an organization that is devoted to promulgating a futile -— indeed, dangerous —- dialogue between science and religion.

He can do what he wants, of course. I am just noting the extreme hostility towards religion among prominent evolutionists. Scientists in other fields do not have such hostility. Other religions (eg, Catholics) do not have such hostility towards science.

Coyne brags that PZ Myers agrees with him, and also describes how his fellow leftist-atheist-evolutionists are upset with the National Academy of Sciences for "accommodationism" of religion for saying things like this:

Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history.
They believe that evolutionists should oppose religion on every front.

Thursday, May 07, 2009
Another goofy evolutionist theory
ScientificAmerican.com has announced that Evolutionary psychologists decipher the "Rosetta stone" of human sexuality.

The article reads like an April Fool's joke. I cannot tell whether there is an validity to any of it, but it is amusing to read.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Rebutting anecdotal evidence with more anecdotes
The Bad Astronomer writes:
If you think Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and the rest of the ignorant antiscience antivax people are right, then read this story. I dare you. David McCaffery writes about his daughter, Dana, who was four weeks old when she died.
So he tries to rebut anecdotal evidence with another anecdote. This is not science, and vaccination is way out of an astronomer's expertise.

He argues that parents should vaccinate babies for pertussis (whooping cough) in order to help protect other babies who are not yet vaccinated.

Why, I wonder. Did he or anyone else present evidence to those parents that pertussis vaccinations were needed to benefit other babies?

Before you say that it is obvious, it is not. Pertussis vaccination immunity wears off at about age 7, and pertussis is common in teenagers. It is not a disease that has been eradicated, even in communities that are 100% vaccinated according to the schedule. The baby in the story may have gotten pertussis from a teenager or adult.

Monday, May 04, 2009
The Google book deal
The federal court should kill the Google book deal.

The whole lawsuit against Google is based on the idea that book indexing should be opt-in, and not opt-out. After all, if an author wanted to opt-out, he would not need to join in a lawsuit. The copyright owner could just send a DMCA demand to Google, and Google would remove its copy of the book. The lawsuit is a class action supposedly representing authors who don't want to be bothered to opt-out.

The essence of the Google settlement is to pay the lawyers $30M and require authors to opt-out of Google copying! Once the lawyers agreed to opt-out, they were no longer representing the class of book authors that they were supposed to be representing. The judge should decertify the case as a class-action, and only make it binding on the actual parties who overtly signed on as plaintiffs in the case.

There is a good argument for Congress to enact some relaxed copyright rules for orphan books, but a judge should not be giving a monopoly on orphan works.

Sunday, May 03, 2009
Judge rules against evolutionist bigot
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist PZ Myers writes:
James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, was found guilty of referring to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

I am astounded that Corbett was found guilty of anything.

First of all, he told the truth: creationism is religious, it is a product of superstition, and it is nonsense — it doesn't fit any of the evidence we have about the history fo the world or life on it. We have to have the right to tell students not only that something is wrong, but that it is stupidly wrong.

Secondly, we are being told over and over again that Christianity is not equivalent to creationism. This teacher has specifically said that creationism is nonsense, and this judge has equated a dismissal of a weird anti-scientific belief with making a rude remark about Christianity. So…where are all the Christians rising in outrage at the slander of their faith?

The outrage is in the court decision. It was the teacher, not the judge, who equated creationism with religious nonsense, and it was the teacher who made a number of anti-Christian comments.

Another leftist-atheist-evolutionist makes similar comments.

I wouldn't mind if the teacher separated creationism from religion and said that creationism was nonsense from a scientific point of view. But there is no need for his attack on Christianity. This is just another example of how prominent evolutionists regard attacking religion as essential to their cause.

I am not saying that the courts ought to micromanage the teaching of evolution. But if the leftist-atheist-evolutionists are going to argue that the schools should never say anything positive about creationism because it is a religion, and if the courts are going to agree with that view and declare that it is unconstitutional to say anything about creationism, then the schools should not say anything negative about creationism either.