Archive for December, 2008

What’s wrong with science

Real Climate claims it is “climate science from climate scientists” and that sort of claim alone should raise a skeptics eye (science is evident and not claim). The year in review provides an excellent illustration of why skepticism should be warranted.

The post is a list of negatives. It starts with “most clueless US Politician” and provides a quote that refutes its premise, but only if read with care and an open mind. Note that care and an open mind in assessing data are hallmarks of excellence in scientific inquiry and their lack here is indicative of something else.

What this post illustrates is hubris, which is not a quality that leads to good science. When someone knows better than others even to the point of not seeing their own ‘naked emperor‘ they can suffer as in that fair tale.

It is a significant contrast to its nemeses, those it ridicules and impugns. That contrast alone should cause one to wonder about the climate science, or any other science, being espoused at Real Climate.

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Irrational behavior illustrated

James Lewis discusses The psychopathology of Bush hatred and shows why worry might be appropriate.

But our media harbor such bitter hatred for him that they turned a potential bomb-throwing incident — by one of their own — into a joke, just another reason to sneer

Our public melodrama is therefore being driven, not by facts and reason, but by the most primitive emotions that prey on human minds. … Prosperity permits our primitive urges to flourish on the public stage.

The system, governance guided by the US Constitution, has resisted the control of the primal forces – so far. The mob has not let that fact go unnoticed and that is why lawfare is an issue.

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Politicizing Science

Physorg.com has a good example in An unconscionable conscience rule. The title alone bespeaks judgment of a personal sort and not measure that is misrepresented. Consider the lead:

Doctors take an oath to put their patients’ interests first. A new Bush administration rule will change that. The so-called “conscience rule” is one of a host of last-minute regulatory changes being made in the waning hours of President George W. Bush’s tenure in office.

This is loaded.

The “oath” is probably the Hippocratic and it reads quite differently than promoting a patients’ interests as their opinions and desires. Then there is the ad hominem where the President must be named and associated with negative factors.

The politics here are about abortion and patients rights and the opinion is loaded with unsupported a priori assumptions.

It is one thing to disagree about abortion, about the extent of patient rights in medical care, or even about a rule allowing medical personal to act on their conscience, but it is entirely another thing to present such an opinion as a factual judgment.

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The voice from Galilee

Remember and listen

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since (WSJ).

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Stuck with the teleological

The Berkeley Science Review reports on A Reason for Everything
Instinctively making sense of the world
by Hania Koever.

UC Berkeley psychologist Tania Lombrozo is interested in why people find certain kinds of explanations more or less compelling than others. Her research suggests that some theories, like evolution, may be difficult to accept because they are at odds with a human default for understanding the world in terms of design.

This gets into ideas similar to Piaget’s ideas about cognitive development. The idea of using a functional explanation as a model to help understand why things are as they are is just one dimension in the many ways people understand things.

findings from other studies that show more frequent use of teleological explanations in less educated adults and in educated adults making speeded judgments. … Interestingly, even among those who do accept evolution, many misunderstand it, reinterpreting it as a goal-directed process that occurs at the level of individuals rather than populations

This sort of effort to trying to understand how people understand is fraught with dangers in political correctness. Just ask the author of _The Bell Curve_ how that can inhibit research and efforts to learn and understand. But that phenomena has a name, too: cognitive dissonance.

In this case, the point made is that many modern science constructs require an effort to understand. That effort is an educational process. Where that effort is missing or set aside the many benefits of those constructs also get set aside.

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You never can tell what the courts will decide

Grunt Doc has a good rundown in More on the California Good Samaritan debacle. The decision was that a good Samaritan ended up being held liable for pulling a victim out of a car wreck despite a law that seems to say they should have been protected.

The Doc describes just how convoluted the logic supporting the majority decision really was.

The legislature wrote what it meant, in plain language. The California Supreme Court says the plain language isn’t correct, that their intent was clearly different than that written.

This case makes another good example of the courts inventing rationalizations for decisions that go counter to the plain text of the law and common sense. It is like what Mr. Brown is trying to do to overturn proposition 8 to amend the constitution by asserting it is unconstitutional.

Lawfare can be ugly.

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Definitions for a point of view

The Coyote is wondering if we are heading Back to the 1970’s. In the process, he notes some definitions that reflect a point of view.

post-modern science

where being fact-based and rigorous is far, far less important than coming to politically correct conclusions that are wrapped in just enough pseudoscience to wow science-illiterate media and most of the public.

science rationalized ideology

an “equation” makes it look like science. But in fact, it is not an equation at all. … It is merely a political point of view popular on the left – that growth and technology and wealth are all bad – made to look like there is some science behind it

Since the 70’s – the doom and gloom and crisis and catastrophe and big brother and corruption endemic and, and, …

Let us hope this ill wind does not cause an epidemic.

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Witch hunt: tortured

The witch hunt continues.

Nearly every element of this narrative is dishonest

The release of Carl Levin’s report on the Bush Administration’s alleged “torture” policies was a formality: The Senator’s conclusions were politically predetermined long ago. Still, the credulity and acclaim that has greeted this agitprop is embarrassing, even by Washington standards.

Torture and death counts are two of the major obsessions distorting the reality in some circles. They get many allegations – often proven without basis as the current one about Blackwater is providing yet another example – and they get repeated investigations and commissions. The technique is to keep trying to prove the false reality until somehow it can be supported in some way.

On this one “We know that the most aggressive tactic ever authorized was waterboarding, which was used in only three cases against hardened, high-ranking al Qaeda operatives” – There has been no allegation of any serious nature that the so called ‘torture’ is anything worse than college frat pranks or techniques we use on our own soldiers in training. Yet still there is the crowd that is trying to elevate themselves by criminalizing those they do not like.

The effort now is to criminalize the leadership of the USA and its defense efforts. That is a base political ploy that feeds directly to the hands of foreign enemies and their propagandists. They had vile words for this sort of behavior in the past but no one dares utter them these days, it seems.

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Deflation and inflation and why worry

The question is who is chasing whom, the money or the product, and the implications of the answer.

If there is more money than things to buy, the price of what is out there to buy goes up and the result is inflation.

If products and services and investments cannot find money to buy them, then their price goes down and the result is deflation.

A bias towards inflation is generally considered better for society as it means that there is pressure for innovation and growth. There is enough money to build things and create new ideas and technology. You just don’t want this bias and pressure to get out of hand by making sure the money supply from the government is matched to the production of goods and services.

Deflation is nice for some as it means you can buy more with what you have. Like now when gasoline is cheaper and houses are cheaper and even stocks are cheaper. But, for society as a whole, this means that there is less money to build things, to invent things, and to find new ways to spend money. That means new products and new efficiencies are set aside and the standard of living does not improve or may even degrade. That is why deflation is generally considered to be not a good thing.

That is why the governments of the world are pumping money. They see deflationary pressures in sympathy with the housing and oil bubble bursting and are trying to keep enough money in the system to limit the contagion. The question is whether these efforts will ameliorate the tenure and relieve the pressure.

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How some see things

T Sowell on Postponing Reality has an interesting observation about ways of looking at things.

Detroit and Michigan have followed classic liberal policies of treating businesses as prey, rather than as assets. They have helped kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. So have the unions. So have managements that have gone along to get along.

This is a time of change, a time to re-examine how we look at things and whether we see the glass half empty or half full and what that means. Change will happen. The question for us is where it will lead and how we get there.

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Smearing the line for political opportunities

NRO has a rundown on Torturing the Evidence that illustrates how obfuscating legal issues is being used as a political weapon. The issue at hand is the torture controversy.

The torture narrative is at odds with the facts. The U.S. does not have a policy of torturing captives, nor does it fail to abide by its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. When abuse has occurred, steps have been taken to punish the wrongdoers and rectify military practices. Those efforts will continue. A sober study would have made that clear. Congressional Democrats have instead found it expedient to smear the administration, the military, and the intelligence community for political purposes.

This is one topic about which there is near universal agreement: torture is bad. What is happening is that some think they can set themselves as morally superior with this sentiment by pretending that their political opponents do not share their views and are, therefore, evil. The problem is that such a process has no integrity and that serves no productive civil or social need.

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The disparity in legal practice: Where are our heroes?

It has been the mantra out of the 60’s about overwhelming government power to control the individual. The response to this is described in Gitmo Lawyers Are the Latest in Radical Chic.

Within the ranks of our leading law schools, law firms and legal centers, it would be hard to find a cause more popular than the detainees of Guantanamo Bay. Every lawyer wants his own detainee or detainee group. The result is that dozens of the world’s most dangerous men now have their own legal Dream Teams.

In this context, wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear the dean of some Ivy League law school, or a partner in a white-shoe law firm, stand up and say these words: “As part of our pro bono commitments, we hereby offer our services to the overworked men and women trying to keep our nation safe from terrorist attack.”

You can imagine the reaction.

Like the response to the reporter throwing his shoes at the President, we have a significant part of the society that needs to think about the ethical and moral implications of their angels.

The a priori presumption twists the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ ethic to an unhealthy level. The guilty are assumed to be the victims of government repression when they are caught and prosecuted.

Sides have been chosen. Heroes have been selected. These actions have meanings and will have impact.

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Gotta’ read this: Kurt responds to a Cease and Desist letter

Audioholics has the story: Blue Jeans Cable Strikes Back – Response to Monster Cable

Not long ago we reported that Monster Cable had issued a cease and desist letter to Blue Jeans Cable about their Tartan cables. Little did the lawyer drones over at Monster know that Kurt Denke, the president of Blue Jeans was, in a former life, a lawyer by trade. Oops! Someone pushed around the wrong “small” company! While we are no legal experts, we recognize humor when we see it. And this is funny. With Blue Jeans Cable’s permission, we’ve included their full response to Monster’s letter below. We even discussed it before its release on AV Rant. Kurt wants to keep this entire process completely open to the public and we’re more than happy to oblige. Enjoy.

The issue at hand is patent trolling and business ethics. As the response describes it:

“there is little doubt that making baseless claims of trade dress infringement and design patent infringement is an improper business tactic, which can give rise to unfair competition claims, and for a company of Monster’s size, potential antitrust violations with treble damages and attorneys’ fees.”

This kind of business behavior taints the purpose of patents and trademarks. That is why a ‘stand up to bully’ type response is heartening – and Kurt Denke’s sense of humor only helps its digestibility.

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About that attitude (on guns in parks)

It used to be that law enforcement welcomed an armed populace as a backup and reinforcement. The idea was that the citizens would aid and assist in law enforcement.

No longer. These days the citizenship is seen as a threat and menace.

An example is from Bert Gildart in Rangers Do Not Want Guns In Our National Parks. If you read this, you will see a point of view supported by the straw man argument

“Say someone comes into a park with a .32 caliber pistol, sees a bear in the campground, decides it’s a problem, and shoots it. Now you and I both know a small caliber pistol will do little more than irritate a grizzly. As you know, we use large caliber pistols and prefer to use an .870 shotgun in bear management.”

and then there is the vox populi argument “Rick is not alone in his beliefs” and there are more such logical fallacies to find.

It is interesting that this point of view is also accompanied by the usual indications of irrational judgment and bias: “Bush’s most recent ineptitude” or “I’m inclined to believe this new ruling is part of a major political maneuver on the part of the NRA” or “I’m afraid that in the long run …” This is anticipatory fear based on judgment without logical basis.

It is one thing to disagree with either the right of citizens to bear arms or with the proper role of the citizen in supporting law enforcement. It is entirely another to express one’s opinions as judgments and to support those judgments with fallacious and created scenarios.

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Another propaganda flick

Here are just a few examples of the movie’s attempt to humanize Saddam’s personality and minimize his crimes.

Powerline highlights comments about an HBO/BBC effort to whitewash Saddam Hussein in The House of Saddam: HBO’s disgrace.

This is underscored by all of the sympathy in the media for the reporter who threw his shoes at the President at a recent press conference in Iraq. As some have noted, can you imagine what would have happened to that reporter if he tried that stunt in Saddam’s Iraq? Instead of celebrating his new found freedoms, he instead chose to insult them. It should make one wonder about this ethic, the ethic that is also behind this HBO/BBC presentation.

If you took this film as a text on international history you would walk away thinking that Saddam based his foreign policy on defending his country. The movie sequences events in a way that frames each story in a very particular way.

Propaganda need not be obvious but is visible to the critical viewer. Things don’t add up, if you take the care to actually do the arithmetic.

There is much more that could be said. But let us sum up: HBO and the BBC want us to see Saddam as a family man, a tyrant at home, a dictator at work, who became this way because his stepfather beat him. He was, in this version, an ordinary kind of dictator and this was an ordinary kind of Middle Eastern authoritarian regime run as a family business. The trouble is it was not. Saddam was uniquely brutal in his rise through the Ba’athist Party. His regime sought to eliminate entire groups from the nation. He launched two aggressive wars against neighbouring states. This was not a normal authoritarian regime, nor even a bad one. Saddam was a genocidal dictator who terrorized his own people. This attempt to normalize him is a disgrace.

This sort of rationalization occurs not only at the extremes but also even in such things as discussion forums at the personal level. It is an illness in society that does not bode well.

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Rethinking classroom time

Lecturing was a need back a couple of hundred years ago when a book cost more than a personal computer today. It hangs around as an easy way (for the instructor) to spend class time. Dot Physics noted an example of a change.

The cool part is that they didn’t actually do away with the lecture, they just moved it to homework and moved homework to class.

The lecture part is constant so record it and then use class time for more intense problem solving with students. Better yet, instead of a straight lecture you could look for professionally done lectures and video presentations that could be adapted to the class needs. Or the instructor build your own ‘professional quality’ lecture videos over time.

A lot of the static part of the education process is going online from the homeschooling efforts to the university lecture series and textbook efforts.

There is change afoot.

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The basis of the argument is getting educated

Maggies Farm notes an important point in many popular arguments about science theories and ideas in God and Science.

My experience has been that scientists and mathematicians tend to be humble about their ability to find ultimate Truths. It’s non-scientists and those without scientific education who seem more likely to view science as a potential embodiment of Truth rather than as a collection of methods, data and theories – all of which change over time.

That is why these are often arguments rather than debates. Even some who should know better forget that science is very much aware of its limitations. That is why accuracy and precision and the difference between them is so important in laboratory science. Anyone with experience in science or even in human cognition is aware that ideas grow and change and become refined or adapted to new context or new findings. Science is about reality, not Truth. Getting those concepts distinct is a first necessity towards resolving arguments about such things as evolution, climate change, or other such politically or religiously charged topics.

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An example of bias

Dan K. Thomasson provides a good one with his commentary Guns in the parks:

As a parting shot from the Bush administration, courtesy of the gun lobby, those who seek the solitude and beauty of some national parks and wildlife refuges will face the fact that the visitor standing next to them just may be packing heat and is ready to use it at the first sign of any unfriendliness, such as an argument over a camping space.

in other words: everyone with a firearm is a raving lunatic that threatens you and it is all the President’s fault.

How long now before the cheerful sounds of the meadows and forests of the great American set-asides are drowned out by the sound of gunfire? Is that a bit hysterical? Probably, but it is just as hysterical to believe that it is necessary to carry a firearm wherever one goes. I eagerly await the cards and letters and vicious e-mails that will undoubtedly follow.

Oh those awful gun carrying whatevers; and anticipating how they will lambast me. Note the ‘tude, the hubris and the contempt for those who might disagree with him.

One should also note the complete absence of any mention about individual rights and responsibilities in this column.

There is another point of view. The bias is in not only ignoring that point of view but in misrepresenting it. That sort of bias does not have intellectual integrity and should be detected and dismissed as incompetent.

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Unintended consequences?

Make wonders if Consumer safety rules could drive crafters out of business citing Corey Doctorow.

Crafters are up in arms over a seemingly disastrous unintended consequence of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which will require lab certification that lead and phthalates are not present in toys or clothes — sounds good, but crafters warn that this means that “a toymaker… who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.”

As with most governmental licensing and certification regulation, the costs and the paperwork involved are fixed costs that need large volume to amortize effectively. What that means is that the attempt to fix everything with government tends to have a disproportionate impact on the small business and independent entrepreneur.

The unintended consequence is to place risk and hazard on the hobby entrepreneur and independent small operation. This is a cost of assigning the risk for safety and performance over to the government rather than the buyer.

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Know with too much certainty

Communicating the Truth about Climate Change points out the fact that some science blogs present knowing things a bit better than you as a reason to distort the truth.

A teaching fiction is one thing. Its purpose is to simplify and focus to facilitate learning and understanding. It is a starting point.

Framing and spinning have a different purpose. These techniques are those of propaganda whose goal is to sell a point of view. It is an ending point.

Science is a learning process and not a selling process.

Many scientists—I am one— believe that scientists have to tell the truth no matter how much it might confuse the general public. We believe that evidence-based conclusions are the one thing that separates science from pseudoscience and scientists should never compromise the truth.

Science is never at a capital ‘T’ Truth as it assumes there is always more to be learned. Those who know with certainty are talking about that capital ‘T’ Truth and, in doing so, proclaim they are about ideologies and religions – not science.

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