Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Thursday, Jan 31, 2008
American bail bondsman
The NY Times reports:
Wayne Spath is a bail bondsman, which means he is an insurance salesman, a social worker, a lightly regulated law enforcement agent, a real estate appraiser — and a for-profit wing of the American justice system.The picture shows a young woman, with a baby in her arm, who owes her freedom to a low-life bail bondman. Only at the end of the article do we find out why she was in jail.
Kate Santana, a 20-year-old waitress, had spent eight days in jail when she found her way to Mr. Spath.Isn't America great? The disreputable private bail bondsmen have more common sense than the district attorneys and judges.
Consumer spending dominates the economy
I just heard the NPR morning radio news say:
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity.A lot of others say the same thing, as if it means something. It is typically used to argue that consumer confidence must be kept high to avoid recession, or something like that.
The factoid makes people think that consumer spending is more important than business spending. But business spending is not that other third. Consumer spending is two thirds of GDP because GDP is defined to exclude business spending.
Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008
The Si Valley paper reports:
Famed Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould ...Harvard has probably already deconstructed him. It's not that complicated. He was a Marxist kook who got academic praise only because he wrote politically correct leftist-atheist-evolutionist essays. He is more noted as a "science historian" than for any actual science he did.
Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008
The Preservation Predicament
Cornelia Dean writes:
Conservation organizations that work to preserve biologically rich landscapes are confronting a painful realization: In an era of climate change, many of their efforts may be insufficient or beside the point.It is funny to see these folks get all confused when they discover that two of their politically correct ideologies are in conflict.
Sunday, Jan 27, 2008
Questioning the health effects of cholesterol
Gary Taubes writes for the NY Times:
THE idea that cholesterol plays a key role in heart disease is so tightly woven into modern medical thinking that it is no longer considered open to question. This is the message that emerged all too clearly from the recent news that the drug Vytorin had fared no better in clinical trials than the statin therapy it was meant to supplant. ...Conventional wisdom has been that high dietary fat causing high blood cholesterol, which in turn causes heart attacks. But that is too simplistic as human cholesterol is divided between the bad LDL which seems to cause heart disease, and the good HDL which seems to prevent it. So then the story was that heart risks are raised by eating saturated fats that raise LDL, and lowered by taking LDL-lowering drugs. Some some of those drugs seem to help and some don't. The trans-fats that used to be in all the margarines are now seen as worse than the saturated fats in butter. In many people, blood cholesterol seems to have nothing to do with dietary cholesterol.
I've had people tell me all my life that I have an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats and that I will die young from a heart attack. And yet I have a low LDL and a high HDL. I would not be surprised at all if it turns out that most of the mainstream medical advice about diet has been wrong.
The best drugs for lowering cholesterol and preventing heart attacks are the statins like Lipitor, but the NY Times reports:
In studies of middle-aged men with cardiovascular disease, statin users were less likely to die than those who were given a placebo.Joe writes:
The funniest thing about cholesterol is "total cholesterol." I have never understood what that number is for. Is a total of 150 good or bad? It might be unbelievably good or unbelievably bad. Why would you ever add good and bad stuff together to get one number?As I understand it, total cholesterol is the easiest thing to measure. They don't measure LDL directly; they measure HDL and deduce LDL from the HDL and the total. And the total cholesterol is not just LDL+HDL. Close, but not exactly. I don't know whether that is because there is some other kind of cholesterol or what.
Saturday, Jan 26, 2008
Personal music went digital went digital long before iTunes store
Randall Stross reports for the NY Times:
The digitization of personal music collections began, however, only after the right combination of software and hardware — iTunes Music Store and the iPod — arrived.The iTunes Music Store arrived in 2003. Personal music went digital about 20 years earlier.
I don't know how reporters could write such nonsense. Hardly anyone under the age of 40 has ever even owned any non-digital music.
Digital music first got popular when compact discs hit the market in 1982. In a few years, people were using personal computers for digital music. The first portable mp3 players hit the market in 1998. In 1999, Diamond Rio won a big case against the RIAA (recording industry), annd Napster got wildly popular on college campuses. That combination was four years ahead of Apple in allowing people to have portable digital music collections.
Senate Looking at Endowments as Tuition Rises
If you are considering donating to your alma mater, read this NY Times article about how stingy colleges are with their endowments. They do not spend at the rate required by law for other tax-exempt foundations. They have more money than they know what to do with, and they can get away with charging huge tuitions whether they need them or not.
Using a symbol can be a hate crime
A Texas newspaper reports:
ALEXANDRIA, La. — A white man accused of driving past a group of black civil rights activists with two nooses dangling from the back of his pickup has been indicted on federal hate-crime and conspiracy charges, prosecutors said Thursday.Putting a symbol on your car seems like free speech to me.
Friday, Jan 25, 2008
Leftist climate change denier
The kooky leftist Alexander Cockburn writes:
While the world’s climate is on a warming trend, there is zero evidence that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. For daring to say this I have been treated as if I have committed intellectual blasphemy.His extreme leftist ideology clouds his judgment. In fact, there is conclusive proof that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. Atmospheric CO2 has grown steadily and in amounts directly attributable to the buring of fossil fuels. Furthermore, analysis of oxygen isotope has shown that the CO2 really did come from those fossil fuels. It is also a certainty that the extra CO2 has caused some warming, even if we don't know for sure how that warming compares with other warming and cooling factors.
The consequences of CO2 are subject to debate, of course. For several years the global warming nuts have told us that it causes more and worse hurricances. But a Florida newspaper reports:
Following in the footsteps of an earlier study, government scientists on Tuesday said warmer oceans should translate to fewer Atlantic hurricanes striking the United States.
Thursday, Jan 24, 2008
CD v digital music
Wired.com has this AP story:
LONDON (AP) -- Record companies' revenue from digital music sales rose 40 percent to $2.9 billion over the past year, but the growth is still failing to cover losses from collapse of international CD sales, the music industry's global trade body said Thursday. ...Somebody should tell these reporters that all CD music is digital!
The NY Times is just as bad:
LONDON — As consumers lose interest in compact discs and balk at paying for the digital alternatives, ...Every sale of a compact disc is a digital sale. The compact disc was invented about 25 years ago for the sole purpose of storing digital music.
Wednesday, Jan 23, 2008
Here is a really bad idea from Steven D. Levitt on his Freakonomics blog:
Aaron Zelinsky, a student at Yale Law School, recently proposed an interesting three-prong anti-steroid strategy for Major League Baseball:The Lance Armstrong example just illustrates the foolishness of the idea. Armstrong has rights to due process, and any attempt to punish him for 8-year-old blood samples will deny him those rights.
Do these same folks want to take away Gaylord Perry's pension if videotapes proves that he was throwing spitballs 30 years ago? The unfairness and maliciousness of these proposals is appalling. I say that sports authorities should try to catch petty cheaters if they can catch them in the act, but to forget about it otherwise.
Sunday, Jan 20, 2008
Culture Affects How Brains Operate
Here is some new research:
It’s no secret culture influences your food preferences and taste in music. But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain.I don't see where the research looked at cultural effects at all. Maybe Chinese brains work differently because of genes, or maybe culture. This study doesn't say.
Research claims to prove that evolution is not random
According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, individuals in a species pass successful traits onto their offspring through a process called “deterministic inheritance.” Over multiple generations, advantageous developmental trends – such as the lengthening of the giraffe’s neck – occur.This is just nonsense. Darwin didn't say anything about deterministic inheritance. He knew nothing of genes. These arguments about whether evolution is random are just gibberish. Mutation is random. Inheritance of genes in individuals is random. Natural selection is a tautology.
Evolutionist Richard B. Hoppe tries to make sense out of the story, says that it "is at best confusingly incoherent". I say that this is another example of bad science, and low standard in the field of evolutionism.
Saturday, Jan 19, 2008
String theorists win prize
The AAAS Science mag news reports:
Mathematician, Two Physicists Share Crafoord PrizeNo, not 1 mathematician and 2 physicists. The prize went to 2 mathematicians and 1 astronomer.
Witten is "the greatest theoretical physicist in the world." ...He is trying to say that he really wanted to win a Nobel Prize in Physics for string theory. But that is never going to happen. String theory has totally failed to say anything of significance about the physical world.
Crafoord prizes are only given to those who cannot win Nobel prizes.
Questioning the candidates on science
Here is another silly AAAS Science mag editorial:
Given this new focus on religious disclosure, what does this U.S. election have to do with science? Everything. The candidates should be asked hard questions about science policy, including questions about how those positions reflect belief. What is your view about stem cell research, and does it relate to a view of the time at which human life begins? Have you examined the scientific evidence regarding the age of Earth? Can the process of organic evolution lead to the production of new species, and how? Are you able to look at data on past climates in search of inferences about the future of climate change?Why not ask for evidence for black holes, quarks, dark matter, string theory, and extraterrestrial life? How about the efficacy of psychiatric meds, vitamin C, and cholesterol-lowering drugs?
Maybe one of these questions would illuminate whether a candidate is willing to reconsider his views based on scientific evidence. But why single out the age of the Earth? The obvious explanation is that it is a sneaky way of tricking politicians into repudiating the Bible.
I think that it would be better if politicians were asked scientific questions that actually had some bearing on what they might do in office.
Friday, Jan 18, 2008
More on the Pope
Here is more on the academics protesting the Pope:
The signatories of the letter said Benedict's presence would be "incongruous". They cited a speech he made at La Sapienza in 1990, while he was still a cardinal, in which he quoted the judgment of an Austrian philosopher of science who wrote that the church's trial of Galileo was "reasonable and fair".That Austrian philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend, had some very wacky anti-science views, and yet he was treated as a very distinguished philosopher by major universities throughout his life. For example:
Feyerabend described science as being essentially anarchistic, obsessed with its own mythology, and as making claims to truth well beyond its actual capacity. He was especially indignant about the condescending attitudes of many scientists towards alternative traditions. For example, he thought that negative opinions about astrology and the effectivity of rain dances were not justified by scientific research, and dismissed the predominantly negative attitudes of scientists towards such phenomena as elitist or racist. ...This is more more anti-science that anything the Pope has said. If the academic scientists are really so easily offended and humiliated, then they should complain about other academic profs like Feyerabend.
Wednesday, Jan 16, 2008
Cholesterol as a Danger Has Skeptics
The NY Times reports:
For decades, the theory that lowering cholesterol is always beneficial has been a core principle of cardiology. It has been accepted by doctors and used by drug makers to win quick approval for new medicines to reduce cholesterol.And dietary advice about cholesterol is often wrong also. Here is more on the subject.
Pope cannot speak at university
Some university scientists are censoring the Pope:
Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday cancelled a speech at Rome's La Sapienza university in the face of protests led by scientists opposed to a high-profile visit by the head of the Catholic Church to a secular setting. ...These scientists need to lighten up. The Pope is no threat to science, and never has been.
Motl, the Reference Frame blogger, compares Galileo to string theorists.
I don't really care whether Galileo's teaching was a new religion, new philosophy, or new science. I think it is much more important that he was right and his wisdom turned out to be essential for the development of our civilization. I happen to care about the fact that Galileo was infallible in the fundamental questions, unlike the religious authority. ...Galileo defied the Pope and made fun of him by creating a childish simpleton character named "Simplicio" in his book. The book's main argument was that the tides prove the motion of the Earth. Galileo may have thought that he was infallible and that only a fool would doubt the argument, but he turned out to be wrong.
I wonder why Motl even calls his blog the Reference Frame. It was the Catholic Church that correctly argued that maybe Earth-centered and Sun-centered coordinates might be valid reference frames for astronomical predictions. Galileo was the stubborn one.
Tuesday, Jan 15, 2008
Here is an article about wacky ideas from cosmologists:
In eternal inflation, the number of new bubbles being hatched at any given moment is always growing, Dr. Linde said, explaining one such counting scheme he likes. So the evolution of people in new bubbles far outstrips the creation of Boltzmann brains in old ones. The main way life emerges, he said, is not by reincarnation but by the creation of new parts of the universe.
Monday, Jan 14, 2008
The Moral Instinct
Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker puzzles over this moral dilemma:
You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge? Both dilemmas present you with the option of sacrificing one life to save five, and so, by the utilitarian standard of what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number, the two dilemmas are morally equivalent. But most people don’t see it that way: though they would pull the switch in the first dilemma, they would not heave the fat man in the second. When pressed for a reason, they can’t come up with anything coherent, though moral philosophers haven’t had an easy time coming up with a relevant difference, either.This story is sometimes given to prove that people are irrational about morals. But I don't think that it proves that at all. We cannot have a society where people go around committing murder because of some utilitarian theory of greater social good.
Sunday, Jan 13, 2008
Obama never truly opposed the Iraq War
People keep crediting Barack Obama with opposing the Iraq War, but here is Obama's 2002 speech:
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. ...Pres. Bush would agree with much of this. Everyone is against dumb wars. Obama fails to say that he is actually against the Iraq War, and in 2004, he said that he didn't know how he would have voted on the war. When he got to the US Senate, he voted to continue the war funding. I agree with Bill Clinton that Obama's war opposition is a "fairy tale".
I think that the Democrats could be making the same mistake that they made in 2004. They think that opposition to Pres. Bush's handling of the Iraq War is an electoral winner, but they don't have a candidate who has any credible story about how the war could have been handled any better.
The current Scientific American has an article on how adding fluoride to water has an assortment of health risks, and little benefit to those who brush their teeth. It essentially says that the John Birch Society was right after all!
Saturday, Jan 12, 2008
Ron Paul's fringe views
Some bloggers seem to be just discovering that Congressman Ron Paul has some fringe views. Paul ran for President in 1988 as the nominee of the Libertarian Party. Of course he has fringe views.
What is really slimy is digging out old quotes to try to portray Paul as racist, anti-semitic, or homophobic. It is just idiotic name-calling. Someone would have to be really afraid of Paul's message to stoop so low.
Monday, Jan 07, 2008
Silly evolution argument
The Si Valley paper published this letter:
Drug-resistant TB sign of evolutionThis is often given as a practical and easily verifiable proof for evolution. But it really proves nothing. My hunch is that creationists would readily believe that some drugs are more effective on some bacteria than other bacteria. That is all it takes to understand that drug-resistant bacteria could be a problem.
Here is a new anti-creationism book:
The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine have released Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom. NAS and IOM strongly maintain that only scientifically based explanations for life should be included in public school science class.The 70-page book argues that evolution is compatible with religion, and has various straw-man attacks on creationists. I wonder why they bother with such a silly book. Their main conclusion:
Nonscientific approaches do not belong in science classrooms.Nobody disagrees with that.
The paper did publish this response:
Evolution isn't a proven factIt is possible that bacteria has mutated in drug-resistant strains as a result of anti-biotic use. I don't know. If so, it would be a good example of evolution. But the argument for evolution as stated in the original letter is meaningless. It is just "survival of the fittest", which nobody doubts or disputes.
Here is another silly letter:
Time to reactivate flat-Earth theorySomehow the evolutionists often come around to talk about the Flat Earth theory. You never hear about the Flat Earth, except from evolutionists.
Wednesday, Jan 02, 2008
Christianity v Islam
Half Sigma debates this comment:
Islam is just at the same point Christianity was a couple of hundred years ago with crusades, martyrs, and converting anyone it can get its hands on to a strict dogmatic set of doctrines. I can see why Christians (and those in Christian nations) are scared. They are seeing a shadow of their former selves, and know that if they let it be, they will be replaced just as the pagans were.This is just too stupid for detailed comment. 200 years ago Christians were the most enlightened people on Earth, and the worst Christian country was better than the best Mohammedan country today.
Edge thinkers change their minds
Harvard philopher Rebecca Goldstein writes:
Another problem with the falsifiability criterion is that I have seen it become a blunt instrument, unthinkingly applied. Popper tried to use it to discredit not only Marxism and Freudianism as scientific theories but also Darwin’s theory of natural selection -- a position that only a creationist could hold today. I have seen scientists claim that major theories in contemporary cosmology and physics are not “science” because they can’t think of a simple test that would falsify them.It is not just that there is no simple test to refute string theory; there is no way to relate string theory to anything that is observable at all. Yes, string theory is not science, and some other popular theories aren't either.
I am not a creationist, but I agree with Popper's criticism of Darwin. There is no experiment or observation that can tell us whether the Darwin’s theory of natural selection is correct or not.
I am not denying evolutionary theory. There is much in evolutionary biology that can be tested. Mutation rates can be measured. The function and inheritance of individual genes can be observed. Evidence for common ancestors to different species can be found in fossils and in DNA. But natural selection is just a meaningless tautology.
Natural selection just means any form of animal or plant reproduction other than artificial selection. Artificial selection refers to human-directed breeding programs as carried out by farmers and dog lovers. Anything else is natural selection. Any observation of life in nature is an example of natural selection, and there is no way it could be anything else.
You often hear evolutionists rave about how the theory of natural selection was the greatest scientific discovery of all time. But the fact is that no one ever thought that nature worked in any other way.