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Sunday, Aug 31, 2008
Palin is not a creationist
The evolutionists are already attacking Sarah Palin as a creationist. When asked about teaching alternatives to evolution, she said:
Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.

Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.

And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution.

It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

This does not make her a creationist. I am not a creationist, but she is right. Don't be afraid of information. Real scientists are not afraid of mentioning alternate theories.

She later clarified that she is not advocating teaching creationism in science classes.

Saturday, Aug 30, 2008
Artificial brains in the multiverse
Peter Woit writes:
A burning question in theoretical physics these days is that of whether Boltzmann Brains dominate the string theory anthropic landscape.
If this does not make any sense to you, don't worry. It doesn't make any sense to anyone. It is just another idiotic Physics fad that has no bearing on reality.

Thursday, Aug 28, 2008
Trial of Galileo back in the news
The WSJ has resurrect the trial of Galileo for a page 1 story:
Nearly 400 years after the Roman Inquisition condemned Galileo Galilei for insisting the Earth revolves around the sun, an anonymous donor to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences has offered to foot the bill for a statue of the Italian astronomer. ...

Today, the church insists it has no problem at all with modern science, and even science fiction. In May, for example, the Vatican's chief astronomer declared that Christian theology can accommodate the possible existence of extraterrestrials. The Bible, he said, "is not a science book."

Not just today, but the church has encouraged and accepted science for 100s of years. It was the Protestant Reformation, not the Catholic Church, that advocated a more literal reading of the Bible.

Here is the WSJ account of the trial:

Galileo and the church initially got on well. Celebrated across Europe for his scientific writings, his development of an early telescope and other achievements, Galileo had many friends in the church, which, when not pursuing heretics, played a big role in nurturing intellectual talent.

Even Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who would later, as Pope Urban VIII, condemn him, once dedicated a poem to Galileo.

The Inquisition, a network of ecclesiastical tribunals charged with enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy, took issue with some of Galileo's early writings but let him off with a slap on the wrist. But things got more serious following his publication in 1632 of "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems."

The text defended the then novel notion of a sun-centered universe -- known as heliocentrism -- that had been developed by Poland's Nicolaus Copernicus. This view, according to Vatican doctrine at the time, was "false and altogether contrary to scripture." Galileo's book presented what he considered incontrovertible proof that Copernicus, not the church, was correct.

The Church did not really say that the Copernicus theory was false. It said that nine sentences in Copernicus's book had to be correct in order to retain its Church approval.

The Church's position was that heliocentrism might be a valid computational device, but it is not necessarily more correct than an Earth-based frame of reference. That view did not become accepted until the 20th century, when relativity showed that the laws of gravity can be applied in any coordinate system.

Then the WSJ gets to the meat of the matter:

Galileo became a global icon, the Che Guevara of secular science. ... "More than Darwin or any other figure, he represents the idea that there is a conflict between science and the church," says Monsignor Sánchez.
Che Guevara was a commie and a killer.

Yes, Galileo will represent that idea for the foreseeable future. His story is just not the conflict that most people think it is.

Tuesday, Aug 26, 2008
New Evidence Debunks 'Stupid' Neanderthal Myth
Research news:
ScienceDaily (Aug. 26, 2008) — Research by UK and American scientists has struck another blow to the theory that Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) became extinct because they were less intelligent than our ancestors (Homo sapiens). The research team has shown that early stone tool technologies developed by our species, Homo sapiens, were no more efficient than those used by Neanderthals.

Published in the Journal of Human Evolution, their discovery debunks a textbook belief held by archaeologists for more than 60 years.

Neanderthal had big brains, as large as those of rival humans. Contrary to writings of evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould, there is solid evidence that brain size is correlated with intelligence.

I think that there has been a prejudice against Neanderthals because they were European. Politically correct anthropologists and evolutionists were all to eager to say that they were outsmarted by Africans.

Monday, Aug 25, 2008
Biden's record is bad on copyrights and encryption
C-Net reports on how Sen. Biden has made a lot of enemies in the tech community:
He sponsored a bill in 2002 that would have make it a federal felony to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs. ... A few months later, Biden signed a letter that urged the Justice Department "to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks." ...

Biden's bill -- and the threat of encryption being outlawed -- is what spurred Phil Zimmermann to write PGP, thereby kicking off a historic debate about export controls, national security, and privacy. Zimmermann, who's now busy developing Zfone, says it was Biden's legislation "that led me to publish PGP electronically for free that year, shortly before the measure was defeated after vigorous protest by civil libertarians and industry groups."

Biden has also been a big supporter of intrusive federal feminist laws like VAWA. Until today, his web site said:
What I'm most proud of in my entire career is the Violence Against Women Act. It showed we can change people's lives, but the change is always one person at a time. There are many more laws and attitudes that need changing so women are treated with equal opportunities at work, in the classroom, and in our health care system.
Part of VAWA was found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The rest of it has caused much more harm than good.

Another site explains:

Obama picks Hollywood sock-puppet for running mate ...

He ranks toward the bottom of CNET's Technology Voters' Guide, and has come up with some of the worst anti-privacy legislation.

Evolution consensus
The NY Times reports, in a story on teaching evolution in Florida:
Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.
The NY Times writes on this subject a lot, and it nearly always has some sort of statement that there is a scientific consensus in favor of evolution. Eg, see here. But usually the consensus view is described in terms of meaningless generalities with no real scientific content.

This is the first time, that I have noticed, that the claimed consensus says that all life on Earth descended from a single common ancestor. It also says that this has been the consensus for a "long" time.

I deny that there is any such scientific consensus. If it were, then there would be some scientific paper establishing the fact, and maybe some Nobel Prize or something equivalent for whoever proved it. There is not. The Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) theory is just a hypothesis that some scientists believe and some don't. It might be true, but usually even hard-core evolutionists do not make such a strong statement. Eg, the evolutionist site National Center for Science Education has an essay that makes this weaker claim:

Briefly, the theory of organic evolution holds that all organisms are related by common ancestry to one or a very few original cells.
I am all in favor of teaching scientific consensus views, but there should be some documentation to show that the view is really a consensus.

Evolutionists are always complaining about how evolution is taught in the schools, but they do not explain just what the scientific consensus is, and what the support is for that consensus.

Friday, Aug 22, 2008
String Theory is still a failure
Peter Woit reports on the latest String Theory conference, and finds that the theory still fails to explain any aspect of Physics. The new Swiss LHC particle accelerator is unlikely to produce any evidence for string theory. The leaders in the field have moved on to goofy side topics, while still maintaining a religious belief that String Theory is the one true path to salvation.

Jonathan writes:

I've read that upcoming tests with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN may conceivably provide some tentative evidence in favor of String Theory (or at least one variant thereof), but that "negative" results won't necessarily disprove ST. Also, one source indicates that even at the high energies achieved, the energies needed to truly vet ST are way way beyond what they're doing at the LHC, while another source claims that the LHC will in fact be energetic enough to give ST a fair shake. I've also read some stuff about a lawsuit to shut down the LHC because some folks think it will create a black hole or something similar which could end all life as we know it; a scientist was quoted as saying that the folks behind the lawsuit weren't crackpots, but distinguished physicists. Do you have a definitive take on whether we'll still be alive when they start taking data, and, if the LHC doesn't obliterate us, what sort of robust test it will be for ST?
No, there is no known experiment at any energy level that will give any evidence for or against ST. ST has no known relationship to the real world.

The LHC is not going to end the world. That lawsuit was based on some silly papers by physicists who got a little too excited by the LHC.

Thursday, Aug 21, 2008
Scientists still denying that race exists
NewScientist reports:
When they weren't competing to map the human genome, it often seemed like James Watson and Craig Venter were vying for the title of world's most candid scientist. Now their genomes are doing battle, and the loser seems to be the biological concept of race. ...

Watson's genome hosts a mutation in a drug-metabolising gene rarely found in Caucasians. "It shows that James Watson has some Korean blood in him, or some Asian blood anyway," says Howard McLeod, a pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "He wouldn't get good pain relief from codeine." ...

Venter used the analysis to make a simple point:

"Race-based medicine doesn't have any real basis in science," he told New Scientist. "You can look at somebody's skin colour, but it doesn't necessarily tell you much about the rest of their genome or how they'll respond to drugs or which drugs they'll respond to."

Huhh? It sure appears to me that race is telling you something in this example. Apparently the big majority of caucasians get good pain relief from codeine, and Koreans do not.

This argument is like saying that you cannot look at a sprinter's race and tell how good he is, because in the 100m Olympics, a Japanese runner was 16th and a white guy was 17th. (All the good ones were of West African black descent.)

Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008
HPV vaccine may not be worthwhile
The NY Times reports:
Two vaccines against cervical cancer are being widely used without sufficient evidence about whether they are worth their high cost or even whether they will effectively stop women from getting the disease, two articles in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine conclude.

Both vaccines target the human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted virus that usually causes no symptoms and is cleared by the immune system, but which can in very rare cases become chronic and cause cervical cancer.

Another article said:
Dr. Abramson said he thought his C.D.C. advisory committee did the right thing in recommending Gardasil. ... Still, he said he was shocked to hear of proposals to mandate the vaccine for students. “Are you really going to say a girl can’t start school because she hasn’t had this vaccine?” he said. ...

Said Dr. Raffle, the British cervical cancer specialist: “Oh, dear. If we give it to boys, then all pretense of scientific worth and cost analysis goes out the window.”

The science behind these new vaccines is really weak, and there is no justification for school mandates. The right-wing skeptics were right about this vaccine.
The audacity of resume-padding
The Jerusalem Post reports:
It seems that Obama recognizes that while his résumé titles are impressive, his actual accomplishments are weak. ...

A few examples? Take Obama's first general election ad. We are told that Obama "passed laws" that "extended healthcare for wounded troops who'd been neglected," with a citation at the bottom to only one Senate bill: The 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, which passed the Senate by a 91-3 vote. Six Senators did not vote-including Obama. Nor is there evidence that he contributed to its passage in any material way. So, his claim to have "passed laws" amounts to citing a bill that was largely unopposed, that he didn't vote for, and whose passage he didn't impact. Even his hometown Chicago Tribune caught this false claim. It's classic résumé-padding--falsely taking credit for the work of others.

Obama's record of accomplishment is thin not because of lack of opportunity, but in spite of it. For twenty years, Obama has walked the floors of the most prestigious institutions in the nation, but has left no footprints other than those from his runs for whatever office came next.

It's been said that some people want to be President so they can do something; and some want to be President so they can be something. Obama has accomplished nothing noteworthy despite the golden opportunities and positions he's had; why should we believe he'd be a different man in the White House?

No company would hire anyone with Obama's empty track record, pattern of underachievement and padded résumé to be CEO. Is America really ready to hire him as President?

I don't know why I have to look to some foreign newspaper to get the straight dope on Barack Obama. The guy is all talk and no action. The emperor has no clothes.

Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008
Does the ether exist?
To many Albert Einstein fans, his greatest accomplishment was banishing the ether from Physics. But what was it, and is it really gone?

In the 1800s, physicists discovered that light was a wave, and that it obeyed Maxwell's equations just like radio waves. Waves were understood to be disturbances in some medium, and the ether, or luminiferous aether, was defined to be whatever medium transmitted light and radio waves. The emptiness of outer space included the ether, whatever it was.

Then theorists discovered that while Maxwell's equations had translational and rotational symmetry, it did not have a symmetry for transforming to a constant velocity frame of reference. This meant that, if the equations were correct, there must be some way to determine whether an object is truly at rest. This was not too surprising, as it was thought that the Sun and the stars were all at rest, so Maxwell's equations must be formulated for the frame of reference of the fixed stars. The ether was also at rest with respect to the fixed stars.

But the Earth is not at rest in that frame, and so light experiments should be able to detect the motion of the Earth. The Michelson-Morley experiment was supposed to detect the motion, and failed. Separately, it was discovered that Maxwell's equations really did have a symmetry for a change of velocity frame, using what is now known as a Lorentz transformation.

Lorentz and Poincare put all this together, and discovered Special Relativity to explain it. Poincare said that the ether was unobservable, and that its existence was a philosophical question. He occasionally called it a convenient hypothesis, but predicted that it would ultimately be regarded as useless.

In 1905, Einstein published an alternate explanation of Poincare's theory. The main difference is that he said that the ether was "superfluous", and he explained how to apply Lorentz transformations without explicit reference to the ether. Years later, Einstein reversed himself a couple of times over whether the ether was necessary to understand gravity.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a quantum theory of light (QED) was developed to supersede Maxwell's equation. In it, light does not travel in empty space, but in a quantum mechanical vacuum state that has various electromagnetic properties. The theory has been expanded to include strong and weak forces, and a nontrivial vacuum state is an essential part of the theory.

In 1998, cosmologists discovered that dark energy is everywhere and is accelerating the expansion of the universe. It may or may not be related to the quantum vacuum state, and it may or may not be gravitational in origin. It is not understood. Nobody calls it the ether, but it is really just another ether theory.

So is there an ether or not? It is safe to say that there is no ether that is tied to the frame of the fixed stars, as was thought in the 1800s, as there aren't even any fixed stars. But it is also safe to say that empty space is not really empty, and it has quantum properties that are essential to the transmission of light. Whether you want to call it the ether or not is still a metaphysical question, just as Poincare said over 100 years ago.

For sources on the history of special relativity, see the Wikipedia article on Relativity priority dispute.

So why is Einstein given so much credit for an unoriginal idea that may not even be true? I am not sure, but there are a lot of Einstein worshippers who desperately give him credit for anything they can. Also, Poincare was a mathematician, and not everyone understands that his theory of special relativity was mathematically equivalent to the one that Einstein published later. Perhaps also it is misguided attempt to support the silly Copernican-Freudian-Gouldian principle that the essence of science is knocking Man off his pedestal.

Law school students drink the Kool-Aid
Ever wonder how lawyers get such a warped view of life? It is because they drink the Kool-Aid in law school.
6) Drink the Kool-Aid. Joining a profession is a little like learning a new language, and a lot like joining a cult. (Or "new religious movement," for the scholars.) Don't resist it. There's a wonderfully awful book called Anarchy and Elegance, about a year spent by a journalist as a Yale 1L. He writes quite accurately about how law school changes your mindset, but by standing outside the process and resisting it almost entirely, he fails to learn half of what he could and to understand most of the other half.
The Phelps conspiracy
Not everyone believes Michael Phelps won all those gold medals fair and square. See the conspiracy theory.

Update: I thought that this was a fringe theory, but now a NY Times article has joined in the conspiracy theorizing.

Monday, Aug 18, 2008
Be careful recording a cop in Massachusetts
Here is an evil law:
On October 26, 1998, Michael Hyde was pulled over by Abington, Massachusetts police for an excessively loud exhaust system and unlit license plate on his white Porsche. The stop should have ended in a fix-it ticket at worst, but escalated when Hyde accused the cop of pulling him over for his hippie hair. That was just the beginning: Apparently, Hyde was secretly recording the show and filed a complaint over the incident...which is unfortunate, since secretly recording a traffic stop is illegal in Massachusetts. The cops pressed charges and Hyde was sent up the river. His conviction was confirmed by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court on appeal.
I do not believe that this has happened in any other state. Usually you have a right to record confrontations with govt agents.

Friday, Aug 15, 2008
Fully informed juror
A federal judge presiding over a cocaine trial did not like jurors thinking for themselves:
The jury sent a note to the trial judge with the following query: Since the Constitution needed to be amended in 1919 to authorize federal criminal prosecutions for manufacturing and smuggling alcohol, a juror wanted to know from the judge where “is the constitutional grant of authority to ban mere possession of cocaine today?”
The judge then proceeded to smoke out whoever was trying to follow the Constitution. The juror, Thomas R. Eddlem, was dismissed as a rogue juror after being asked this question:
Would you be able to set aside your own reading of the Constitution, the judge’s past instructions, and judge the facts based solely upon the judge’s explanation of the law?
I think that the next time that federal prosecutor tries a case, he will check the blogs of the prospective jurors.

Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008
Israel proposes West Bank deal
The UK BBC reports:
Israel has offered a peace deal to the Palestinians which would annex 7.3% of the West Bank and keep the largest settlements, Israeli reports say.

In return the Palestinians would be given land equivalent to 5.4% of the West Bank in the Negev desert, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Palestinian officials confirmed that such a plan had been put forward, but called it totally unacceptable.

Why is this news? Israel has been trying to give the West Bank to the Palestinian arabs ever since Israel was created in 1948. The arabs have always refused, and made absurd counter-demands.

I just hope that the West Bank arabs never get a better deal than they have been offered in the past, because I would not want them to gain by terrorism.

Anti-gun judge attacks court
The US Constitution says, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." The US Supreme Court says, in DC v Heller, than DC citizens have a constitutional right to own guns. So Judge Richard Posner argues that this proves that the Supreme Court rulings are just politcal:
The true springs of the Heller decision must be sought elsewhere than in the majority's declared commitment to originalism. ... I cannot discern any principles in the pattern of the Supreme Court's constitutional interpretations.
Posner is the most widely cited legal scholar alive, but he not a conservative and not one to follow the actual text of the law.

Monday, Aug 11, 2008
California approves homeschooling after all
The California courts have succumbed to public pressure, as reported here:
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Home-schoolers across California won't need to rush back to class themselves to continue educating their children.

In a highly unusual move, a state appeals court on Friday reversed its earlier decision and declared that home-school parents don't need teaching credentials.

The decision by the Los Angeles-based second district court of appeals had home-schooling advocates rejoicing in California — home of more than 160,000 home-schooled students — and across the nation.

Here is what the actual opinion says:
As the trial court’s ruling was based in part on its understanding that parents’ home schooling in this case was largely in compliance with the law, we first consider whether home schooling is permitted under California statutes. We conclude that it is. ...

We close with an observation that the fact that home schooling is permitted in California as the result of implicit legislative recognition rather than explicit legislative action has resulted in a near absence of objective criteria and oversight for home schooling. ...

A few states have comprehensive regulations ... In contrast, California impliedly allows parents to home school as a private school, but has provided no enforcement mechanism. As long as the local school district verifies that a private school affidavit has been filed, there is no provision for further oversight of a home school.

The reasoning is a little strange, but the result is good. The fact is that it is not just the homeschoolers who are unregulated. The regular private schools are also unregulated. They have to keep an attendance log and check out employees, but there are no curriculum or testing requirements.

The only thing that seems odd about the California law is that private tutors have to be certified teachers. But my guess is that the ones using private tutors are rich Hollywood child stars and people like that, and they probably ought to be using certified teachers. Their parents and business managers are apt to neglect their educations otherwise.

Many homeschoolers have amazingly good results. Here is an example of a homeschooled kid who should probably goto regular school.

Sunday, Aug 10, 2008
Einstein's mistakes
A new book, titled Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius, says that Einstein published seven different derivations of E = m c2, and all of them have mistakes. I guess it is supposed to prove that even geniuses can make errors.

Robert A. Herrmann explains the early history of this equation, and why it is more correct to credit Poincare, Planck, and others.

Sometimes Einstein's defenders say that he should get all the credit for relativity theory because he was the only one who truly understood it. They try to prove that by pointing to minor errors in the papers of others. It is worth noting that Einstein's papers also had errors and deficiencies.

Wikipedia has more info on Relativity priority dispute.

Olivier Darrigol wrote on The Genesis of the theory of relativity pdf, and explains that what Einstein did on mass-energy is not much different from what Poincare published in 1900. He concludes:

Thus, Einstein was neither the first nor the last contributor to relativity theory. He learned much by reading the best authors of his time, and he partly duplicated results already obtained by Lorentz and Poincare.
He ends up giving Einstein most of th credit for special relativity, but if you read the article for who did what, it turns out that Einstein's original contributions were very small. The main argument in favor of Einstein is that he "eliminated the ether" and that Poincare had not "fully understood the physical implications of these [Lorentz] transformations. It all was Einstein's unique feat."

But these claims are ludicrous. Darrigol quotes Poincare as publishing in 1889:

It matters little whether the ether really exists: that is the affair of the metaphysicians. ..., whereas, no doubt, some day the ether will be thrown aside as useless.
There is no significant difference between this and Einstein's 1905 statement that the ether was superfluous. Einstein returned to the ether in 1920. To this day, there is no general agreement as to whether the ether exists. Quantum theory teaches that there is no such thing as a vacuum that is truly empty, and cosmologists say that there is some ether-like medium called dark energy.

One big difference between Poincare and Einstein was that Poincare was a mathematician. If a mathematician says a precise and true mathematical statement like 2+2=4, then there is no need to give a physical argument in favor of its truth. On the other hand, physicists often do not understand or believe mathematical proofs, and prefer physical arguments.

Another difference was that Einstein was a dishonest egomaniac who concealed his sources and aggressively argued for credit.

Friday, Aug 08, 2008
Mindreading leftists
The leftist-evolutionists are frequently complaining that right-wingers do not really believe what they say. It is funny how they claim mindreading abilities. Here is a recent example:
Are right wing legislators acting as agents for the religious right or are they acting of their own will?

I think some of the leaders behind these antiscience arguments really do believe these things. I think the vast majority are really making a political calculation, ...

I can't think of any other explanation why they would so thoroughly politicize every aspect of sex and reproduction. I think they want to have a society where it's really God's will whatever happens.

The speaker is a big advocate of cloning research, and was pushing a book on the subject. It is really not that hard to understand why people would be against human cloning. She is the one who is antiscience.

Saturday, Aug 02, 2008
Analogizing judging to baseball umpiring
The year before Chief Justice John Roberts testified before the US Senate with an analogy between judges and baseball umpires, Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book on the Supreme Court that said this in the preface:
We need judges for the same reason that baseball needs umpires. Someone has to call the balls and strikes and resolve close plays. But umpires are never allowed to change the rules of the game.
Ilya Somin found an earlier reference to the analogy.

I am sure that many people have thought of the analogy for many years.