Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
Rev. Wright and black paranoia
I just watched this exchange on Fox News:
Marc Lamont Hill, Prof of urban studies at Temple Univ: Bill what you have to look at is not just whether or not it is true or not -- altho that is important -- but you also have to look at the historical legacy of America doing these very things.This was the third TV news channel I've seen that showed some black scholar and Obama apologist claim that the govt infected blacks with syphilis, no one disputed it!
No one was deliberately infected. The Tuskegee study was a completely legitimate study when it began in 1932. There was no effective treatement for syphilis at the time. For more info, see The Truth About Tuskegee. The only complaint is that a few dozen of them might have been helped by penicillin when that became available in the late 1940s.
A reader argues that a syphilis treatment was described in the 1940 Hollywood movie, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet , reviewed here. It told how Paul Ehrlich (no relation to the population bomb guy) used an arsenic-based drug to treat syphilis, but went on trial when a lot of his patients died of poisoning.
Yes, there were treatments for syphilis before antibiotics, and the whole point of the Tuskegee experiment was to measure their effectiveness and side effects. I think that there was a group that got the drugs, a group that did not, and a group that did not even have syphilis. This type of scientific study is done on all new drugs today, and it is the main way in which we learn whether drugs really work.
The study should have been terminated earlier than it was, but otherwise it was a good study.
The movie does portray Ehrlich's treatment for syphilis as toxic and dangerous. Some of his patients died, and Ehrlich was accused of professional misconduct for exposing them to unreasonable risk of harm. After a trial (or perhaps it was a form of peer review) instigated by his jealous colleagues, my recollection is that Ehrlich was exonerated after demonstrating that the treatment was beneficial despite the risks. I think Ehrlich demonstrated his confidence by subjecting himself to his own experimental treatment and thereby injured himself.
The Manufacture of Uncertainty
Journalist ("war on science") Chris Mooney writes:
The sabotage of science is now a routine part of American politics. The same corporate strategy of bombarding the courts and regulatory agencies with a barrage of dubious scientific information has been tried on innumerable occasions -- and it has nearly always worked, at least for a time. Tobacco. Asbestos. Lead. Vinyl chloride. Chromium. Formaldehyde. Arsenic. Atrazine. Benzene. Beryllium. Mercury. Vioxx. And on and on. ...Mooney is conducting his own war on science. Real scientists are happy to release the raw data behind their studies, and do not mind at all when other re-examine the data.
If Mooney likes these science lawsuits so much, then he should love this one:
The lawsuit, filed March 21 in Federal District Court, in Honolulu, seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding with the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an environmental assessment.This lawsuit sounds wacky, but it is the direct consequence of string theorists and other physicists making outlandish claims, and people like Mooney wanting courts to hear those claims.
Friday, Mar 28, 2008
Newt Gingrich attacks judicial supremacy
A Big Win for Judicial Supremacy, a Big Loss for Government Language Lawyers and Another Example of Real ChangeGlad to see Gingrich has adopted terminology from The Supremacists.
Thursday, Mar 27, 2008
Have peacock tails lost their sexual allure?
Was Darwin wrong about the sexual allure of the peacock's tail? A controversial study has found no evidence for the traditional view – practically enshrined in evolutionary lore – that peahens choose their partners depending on the quality of the peacocks' tails.This does not disprove Darwin, but it is striking that no one has successfully demonstrated the theory for peacock tails.
Larry Niven suggests spreading rumors
Here are some science fiction writers, giving advice:
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.
Wednesday, Mar 26, 2008
Science and Unobservable Things
Cosmologist Sean Carroll writes that it is crazy to restrict science to observing things and making predictions:
If making predictions were all that mattered, we would have stopped doing particle physics some time around the early 1980’s. ...No, he has a crazy view of science. We do have a good theory that reconciles gravity and quantum mechanics at low-energies. All that is missing is predictions about very high energy events that we cannot observe anyway.
The history of science is filled with examples of multiple theories that fit the experimental data. The geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system. The wave and particle theories of light. The Copenhagen and many-worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics. The asteroid and volcano theories for dinosaur extinction. The big bang and inflation models of the early universe.
These guys want to believe in a one true theory the way others want to believe in a one true God. Science is all about observations and predictions. Once the scientists get away from that, then they are doing philosophy or mysticism or something else.
Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008
Informed vaccine skepticism
Michelle Malkin defends vaccine skepticism:
As I’ve said before, I am no anti-vaccine hysteric ... But I have refused to be coerced or bullied into anything regarding our kids’ health–and that includes vaccines.An ethical physician would not try to coerce a decision. He just recommends and the patient decides. If a physician tries to coerce you, you should fire him. The same goes for a lawyer, plumber, or any other professional.
There is a long history of people getting better vaccines because of informed vaccine skepticism among consumers. Eg, see my article, Is Vaccination Dissent Dangerous?. Do not let anyone convince you that you are acting against the public good somehow.
And it is not true that science has proved the vaccine skeptics wrong. I skipped most of the vaccines for my kids, and most of those vaccines have since been taken off the market because of safety concerns.
Klaatu barada nikto
Hollywood is giving us some new global warming propaganda:
With mankind’s first uncertain steps into the atomic age comes a warning from beyond the stars: cease your fighting and your wars or you will be destroyed. “The decision rests with you,” Klaatu says by way of farewell at the end of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a classic of Cold War science-fiction from 1951.Sounds like a bomb. In the original movie, the space alien brags about how they are all slaves to robots. Terminator robots have taken over their world, and the movie portrays that as a good thing!
Monday, Mar 17, 2008
Good science considers costs and benefits
The NY Times makes one of its usual claims that the Bush administration is anti-science:
In the Bush administration, contests between politics and science are usually resolved in favor of politics.No, it is crazy to think that air quality standards can be defined by science alone, without considering costs and benefits. And even if it were possible, it would be foolish.
Air is not perfectly clean, and it never will be. Getting cleaner air is a matter of costs and benefits. It is not anti-science to say that; science should help inform us of those costs and benefits.
DC gun case argued tomorrow
Dahlia Lithwick writes in Newsweek and Slate:
The Supreme Court determined in 1939, in United States v. Miller, that an individual right to a gun had no "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia," and thus the Second Amendment did not confer individual rights to gun ownership. The court followed with seven decades of constitutional radio silence on the subject, either reaffirming Miller in a whisper or declining to hear new cases. So much radio silence created an assumption that the debate was over: There was simply no individual right protected by the Second Amendment. This led former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold to insist: "[T]hat the Second Amendment poses no barrier to strong gun laws is perhaps the most well-settled proposition in American Constitutional law." Time and again the lower federal courts of appeals followed the Miller line until it appeared the question was settled there, as well.No, that is not what the Court said. Here is the full paragraph:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a "shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length" at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment, or that its use could contribute to the common defense.The constitutionality of a law taxing the interstate transfer of short-barrelled shotgun was being challenged. The law was justified based on such guns being gangster guns that Al Capone might use, but which had no legitimate purpose. The court could not find a legitimate military purpose, and remanded the case back to the lower court. (The defendant was not present to argue his case, or he might have pointed out that such guns were indeed used by the Army in World War I.)
The point here is that it is just not true that the court ruled against the 2A being an individual right. It only ruled that militarily-useless gangster guns could be taxed.
Update: Here is another criticism of Lithwick's account of this case. Volokh explains that she is just another goofy leftist who rants about conservatives being hypocrites, even when her accusations don't make any sense.
Friday, Mar 14, 2008
The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford
Science writer John Horgan writes:
Noting that World War I left Rutherford deeply suspicious about the morality and competence of political and military leaders, Reeves said he suspects that Rutherford actually recognized the potential of nuclear fission but was trying to discourage governments from pursuing it. Reeves suggested that Einstein and Bohr publicly expressed skepticism about nuclear power for similar reasons. In fact, the three men, who knew each other well, may have privately agreed to take this stance.This is crazy. None of those physicists had any idea in the 1930s that nuclear power was possible, except for Leo Szilard.
Thursday, Mar 13, 2008
I did not know that structuring federal crime. If you have ever written a check for $9k, you may have committed it.
Wednesday, Mar 12, 2008
More on California homeschooling
The recent homeschooling California court decision illustrates the folly of judicial supremacists. It takes one particular homeschooling case, and tries to generalize to ban most homeschooling. In doing so, it makes at least two major errors.
The opinion relies heavily on an obscure 1953 case, People v Turner:
In Turner, the court affirmed a judgment of conviction of parents who refused to send their children to public school and instead provided them with instruction that did not come within the exemptions to the compulsory public school education law. The appellant parents were convicted of violating former section 16601, a predecessor to current section 48200. Former sections 16624, and 16625 provided exemptions for children attending private full-time day school and children being educated by a person holding a valid teaching credential, but the parents did not make use of the exemptions.So the 1953 case differs from that of today's California homeschoolers, as most of them make use of the statutory exemptions.
Here is the second serious error:
The court stated that a simple reading of the statutes governing private schools and home instruction by private tutors shows the Legislature intended to distinguish the two, for if a private school includes a parent or private tutor instructing a child at home, there would be no purpose in writing separate legislation for private instruction at home.The flaw is that the tutor exemption does not specify "home instruction by private tutors", but rather instruction "for at least three hours a day for 175 days each calendar year" by a credentialed tutor.
California homeschoolers use one of three alternatives:
Thus the choice of a registered full-time home school or three hours a day of credentialed tutoring seems reasonable to me. These judges may not have even known anything about these alternatives. The actual case was a kid under the supervision of a private Christian school, and that is a different matter from most homeschoolers.
Tuesday, Mar 11, 2008
Identical twins have different DNA
The US NIH National Human Genome Research Institute says:
Most of any one person's DNA, some 99.9 percent, is exactly the same as any other person's DNA. (Identical twins are the exception, with 100 percent similarity). Differences in the sequence of DNA among individuals are called genetic variation.The NY Times says that this is wrong:
But according to new research, though identical twins share very similar genes, identical they are not. ...That 99.9% figure is not right either; according to Craig Venter, it is only about 98%.
Monday, Mar 10, 2008
The end of the Earth
The NY Times reports:
If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.This sounds like a joke. The idea that the Earth, and human life on it, will last for 7 billion more years is incredibly optimistic.
The great theorists
Science writer John Horgan writes:
But I have an admission to make. Although I give lip service to the importance of experiment, my knowledge of physics history is skewed toward theory, the work of Maxwell, Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Bethe, Feynman, Gell-Mann, Weinberg. I didn’t realize how ignorant I was of genuine, nitty-gritty, experimental physics until I read A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford. I was astounded by what Rutherford accomplished with his astonishingly simple, clever tabletop experiments, which confirmed the existence of atomic nuclei as well as illuminating phenomena such as radioactivity, fission, fusion and transmutation. Reeves argues persuasively that Rutherford contributed as much to the advance of physics in the early 20th century as Einstein did.Both theory and experiment are important, of course, but there were some more important theorists. I'd mention Gauss, Riemann, Poincare, Hilbert, Weyl, von Neumann, Dirac, and tHooft. Eg, it was tHooft who did the theory that underlies what Weinberg did.
Meanwhile Woit points out what is wrong with string theory:
According to Schellekens, the “string vacuum revolution” is on a par with the other string theory revolutions, but most people prefer to overlook it, since it has been a “slow revolution”, taking from 1986-2006. The earliest indications he finds is in Andy Strominger’s 1986 paper “Calabi-Yau manifolds with Torsion”, where he writes:I think that the Landscape is the proof of the failure of string theory, and I didn't know that the Landscape ideas go back to 1986.All predictive power seems to have been lost.and in one of his own papers from 1986 where the existence of 101500 different compactifications is pointed out.
Saturday, Mar 08, 2008
Lawyers refuse to save lives
If you want an example of how lawyers use contorted arguments to justify what any normal person would consider unethical, see this Volokh post.
Friday, Mar 07, 2008
California court tries to ban homeschooling
The homeschoolers are in a panic over this:
A three-member panel in Los Angeles ruled unanimously last week that parents who home-school their children must have such a credential. Although the ruling probably will be put on hold during an appeal to the state Supreme Court, it could put a damper on the increasingly popular phenomenon of parents keeping their kids out of schools to teach them themselves.WorldNetDaily has been covering this story:
A "breathtaking" ruling from a California appeals court that could subject the parents of 166,000 students in the state to criminal sanctions will be taken to the state Supreme Court.This case started as a minor spanking case in the juvenile dependency court, where judges are used to bullying poor parents. The spanking charge was dropped, but some court-appointed lawyer raised the school issue. But this opinion reads as if the judges did not know that homeschooling is legal and respectable in all 50 states.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger responded:
"Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," the governor said in a statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."I hope so.
I've tried to define Evolution before here, and I have cited other definitions here, here, and here. I am not trying to say how I think the term ought to be used, but just to note how prominent evolutionists use it.
Now the prominent science blogger and leftist-atheist-evolutionist PZ Myers gives his definition:
Evolution is a well-confirmed process of biological change that produces diversity and coherent functionality by a variety of natural mechanisms.This is an amazingly vacuous definition. It says nothing about genes, heredity, fitness, etc. It says "well-confirmed" just so he can say that it is a fact, not a theory. It says "natural" just to make sure no God is involved. Beyond that, it says nothing of substance. It is more or less equivalent to:
Evolution is whatever atheist scientists believe to be an explanation for life.Real scientists don't define scientific principles this way.
Thursday, Mar 06, 2008
Congress has passed another health insurance nondiscrimination law:
After more than a decade of struggle, the House on Wednesday passed a bill requiring most group health plans to provide more generous coverage for treatment of mental illnesses, comparable to what they provide for physical illnesses.There are also laws pending against DNA discrimination.
I think that these nondiscrimination laws are fundamentally misguided. Insurance works by gathering info and using it to spread risk across groups. When you tell an insurance company it cannot use info, then you make insurance less efficient and more expensive.
It is going to be worse when the govt takes over the health care industry. A socialized medicine system has to impose limits on health care, as it does not have infinite resources. Even if it did, not everyone could get the best physicians and hospitals. So it has to ration the care somehow. If it does not use prices, it will have to use waiting lists, lotteries, bureaucrat gate-keepers, etc to manage the care provided.
I think that it is very likely that a govt system will discriminate based on DNA. The British do it now, as in this 1999 story:
LONDON (CWNews.com) - A British hospital has refused to approve a heart transplant for a 9-year-old girl afflicted with Down's syndrome because her quality of life is not good enough, according The Times of London on Sunday.When you go in for your heart transplant or other major medical procedure, some bureau is going to decide whether it is warranted and justified under the regulations, and that decision is likely to consider your whole medical history, including your DNA.
Wednesday, Mar 05, 2008
Vatican gets Galileo statue
Four hundred years after it put Galileo on trial for heresy the Vatican is to complete its rehabilitation of the scientist by erecting a statue of him inside Vatican walls. The planned statue is to stand in the Vatican gardens near the apartment in which Galileo was incarcerated. He was held there while awaiting trial in 1633 for advocating heliocentrism, the Copernican doctrine that the Earth revolves around the Sun.Suprisingly, some of the comments there explain that Galileo's science wasn't really correct, and he wasn't really punished for his science.
If Vatican suppression of heliocentrism was really so bad, ask yourself this: Why doesn't anyone explain exactly what was wrong with the corrections that the Pope ordered? The famous Copernicus book wasn't banned; it was originally published with Church approval, and years later it was required to have nine sentences corrected to retain that approval. If the Church was really wrong about those nine corrections, then why don't you ever hear scientists explaining the error?
New Harvard Dean is a nut
String theorist, formerly on the Harvard junior faculty, Lubos Motl writes:
Evelynn Hammonds, a black postmodern feminist science-hater, was chosen to lead the Harvard College.He has links to her writings, and yes she is a racist sexist lesbian anti-science wacko.
She is a professor of the History of Science. Real scientists should be as offended by her as they are of young Earth creationists. Harvard is where Stephen Jay Gould used to be a History of Science professor. I wonder what other kooks they have there.
Tuesday, Mar 04, 2008
Birds like dirty worms
I should keep a list of evolutionists who don't really believe in evolution Today's example is from the NY Times
To the long list of the unintended effects of environmental contaminants, add one — eating polluted worms affects the songs of male starlings.No. The birds being chosen by the females are more fit, not less fit, in the Darwinian sense. The slogan "survival of the fittest" means survival of the ones that reproduce successfully, not survival of the ones in the best physical condition.