Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
About these blogs
Powered by RogBlog
Thursday, Oct 30, 2008
PBS show on Mandelbrot
I just watched the PBS Nova special on fractals. It treated Benoit Mandelbrot as the creator of the field, and said:
NARRATOR: Designers and artists, the world over, have embraced the visual potential of fractals. But when the Mandelbrot set was first published, mathematicians, for the most part, reacted with scorn.I think that the scorn was just for Mandelbrot's exaggerated claims and lack of mathematical rigor. He really just popularized the Mandelbrot set as it had already been published by others before he even studied it.
Monday, Oct 27, 2008
Einstein did not discover the photon
I ran into some arguments that Einstein deserves the credit for discovering that light is quantized into particles (now called photons), even tho Planck published it first.
Einstein was trying to understand phenomena like the photoelectric effect, in which light shining on a metal can sometimes induce electricity. In 1900, Planck published the idea that the energy emitted or absorbed by a resonator could only take on discrete values or quanta. The energy for a resonator of frequency f is hf where h is a universal constant, now called Planck's constant. In 1902, Lenard showed that the energy of electrons in the photoelectric effect depended only on the frequency of the incident light. In 1905, Einstein showed that Planck's formula could be used to give a heuristic explanation of Lenard's results.
Here are the arguments that Einstein deserves all the credit.
Encyclopaedia Britannica says:
Planck did not mean to say that electromagnetic radiation itself is quantized, or as Einstein later put it, “The sale of beer in pint bottles does not imply that beer exists only in indivisible pint portions.”Light is just electromagnetic radiation that happens to be in the visible range of frequencies. Planck certainly did mean to say that electromagnetic radiation is quantized as it is emitted or absorbed, but may not have expressed an opinion about whether it is quantized while it propagates.
By the time he got the prize, Einstein was the most famous physicist in the world. The Nobel committee really wanted badly to give him a prize, but a prize for relativity theory would have been controversial because he did not really invent relativity.
Planck had already gotten a Nobel Prize for proposing that light emissions are quantized, and Lenard got a prize for demonstrating it with the photoelectric effect. So Einstein getting a prize does not show that he is more worthy of credit than Planck or Lenard.
Planck may have been generous with credit. A lot of older scientists give excess credit to younger scientists. Einstein is peculiar in that he was well known for being very jealous about crediting anyone but himself.
This argument is silly. Planck was one of the most distinguished physicists of the day. He contributed to special relativity and considered one of the early founders of quantum mechanics. He was a genius.
The only argument that has some merit is that Einstein said that light itself was quantized, not just the emission and absorption of light. His 1905 paper said:
The wave theory of light, which operates with continuous spatial functions, has worked well in the representation of purely optical phenomena and will probably never be replaced by another theory. It should be kept in mind, however, that the optical observations refer to time averages rather than instantaneous values. In spite of the complete experimental confirmation of the theory as applied to diffraction, reflection, refraction, dispersion, etc., it is still conceivable that the theory of light which operates with continuous spatial functions may lead to contradictions with experience when it is applied to the phenomena of emission and transformation of light.The debate over whether light is a wave or a particle is one that had gone on for centuries. Isaac Newton said that light was a particle. 19th century physics had conclusively proved that light was a wave, as Maxwell's equations described the quantitative properties of the waves. Now light is understood as a wave and a particle. It propagates as a wave and gets observed as a particle. Ditto for everything else. All particles exhibit wave-like properties and are best described by wave functions. All waves appears to be composed of particles. Waves and particles are just two different ways of looking at the same thing.
So was Einstein correct? His statement that light "can only be produced and absorbed as complete units" is more or less what Planck had already said, and is consistent with our modern view of photons. But Einstein goes further, and says that "the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space". I am not sure it makes any sense to say whether that is correct or not. Our best theory of light (quantum electrodynamics, or QED) uses wave functions that are continuously distributed in space. Every time we observe some light, we use some device to absorb some light, and it always looks like discrete photons. But whether the photons are discrete when nobody is looking is hard to say. You certainly cannot think of them as ordinary particles, unless you are willing to allow particles to be two places at the same time, and other quantum mechanical oddities. So I think that the difference between Planck's and Einstein's views is a philosophical one of no consequence.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Poincare played a part in convincing physicists of the photon theory:
In October 1911 [Einstein] was among the group of prominent physicists who attended the first Solvay conference in Brussels. The discussions there stimulated Henri Poincaré to provide a mathematical proof that Planck’s radiation law necessarily required the introduction of quanta -— a proof that converted James (later Sir James) Jeans and others into supporters of the quantum theory.Einstein must have been glad that Poincare died the next year.
Here is another article that credits Einstein, not Poincare, for relativity theory:
Marchal, contra Damour, asserts that Poincaré did grasp the relativity of time and space. ... and point out that he was the first to have introduced the mathematical structure of spacetime in July 1905.In other words, Poincare had the whole theory of special relativity before Einstein. But Einstein presented the info in a different order and Poincare was not an egotistical megalomaniac, so Einstein deserves the credit. I think that Einstein is vastly overrated.
Saturday, Oct 25, 2008
I think that the McCain-Palin campaign has not attacked Barack Obama aggressively enough. I would have directly attacked the reasons that Obama supporters give for his fitness to be US President. They are:
This might have some merit if he had published some scholarly papers, or if he demonstrated some expertise in the subject. The President does get to appoint federal judges, and Obama might have told us about his judicial philosophy, why he voted against Justices Roberts and Alito, and whether he disagrees with any of their opinions. But his campaign statements show no more expertise than Sarah Palin has. More here.
There is now overwhelming evidence by Jack Cashill that Obama's memoir was ghostwritten, and probably by 1970s terrorist Bill Ayers.
No. Bill Clinton was right to call this a big fairy tale. I wrote more here.
Obama's DNA and upbringing have nothing in common with American blacks. His books and his friends show some very divisive racial attitudes. George W. Bush and John McCain have track records of making deals with the opposite political party, but Obama does not.
Court favors homeschooling choice
A Penn court ruled that family court ought not to presume that public school is preferable to homeschooling.
I think that the decision is correct, but of little consequence. Usually family court judges and shrinks apply a prejudice against homeschoolers without making their reasoning explicit.
There is some discussion at the above blog from lawyers who seem to have real trouble understanding how divorced parents could ever rear kids without running to family court judges to resolve assorted disputes.
Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008
Some judges hate gun rights
A couple of gun-hating judges are complaining that the DC gun case was an activist decision because it created a novel right that had never existed before: the right to keep and bear arms. The NY Times gloats. Somebody should tell those jokers that those words are straight out of the US Constitution, and the majority of gun owners have considered the 2A to be a protection of their individual right to have a gun ever since.
I have more comments on Volokh's blog.
Monday, Oct 20, 2008
Most published research findings are false
Most research is wrong:
The assumption is that, as a result, such journals publish only the best scientific work. But Dr Ioannidis and his colleagues argue that the reputations of the journals are pumped up by an artificial scarcity of the kind that keeps diamonds expensive. And such a scarcity, they suggest, can make it more likely that the leading journals will publish dramatic, but what may ultimately turn out to be incorrect, research.The problem is mainly in the soft sciences.
Powell endorses Obama
Colin Powell mostly endorsed Barack Obama mostly for reasons of style and symbolism, not policy. Powell’s chief expertise is in military and foreign policy. It would have been better if he had compared the candidates in those areas where he is an expert.
This is just another example of experts pontificating outside their expertise. Economist Paul Krugman just won a Bank of Sweden Prize (sometimes erroneously called a Nobel Prize) for his work on international trade. Most people know him as a Bush-hating NY Times columnist. But all I ever see in his columns are standard Democrat talking points; I have never seen him criticize GW Bush on international trade where Krugman actually knows something.
Over on mathematician Terry Tao's blog, Wal wrote:
Some of the most distinguished mathematicians have taken political positions: Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Alexander Grothendieck to name three twentieth century examples.I answered:
You are joking, right? Those guys never did anything worthwhile again after polluting their minds with politics. Please don’t encourage Terry to go down that path.A couple of mathematicians there took offense.
Saturday, Oct 18, 2008
Obama does not understand economic incentives
Barack Obama said:
I haven’t looked at all the details of his capital gains proposal. I will tell you that nobody one really has capital gains right now – so if the idea is the cut capital gains taxes, when I don’t know anybody, even the smartest investors who right now are going to be experiencing a lot of capital gains. That probably is not going to be particularly useful in solving the financial crisis. But I will review the plan and I’m sure that Sen. McCain will have more to say about it tomorrow.Obama has a typical leftist mentality. He doesn't recognize that people create wealth when they have sufficient economic incentives. All he can think about is how to take money away from rich people.
People like free services, but don't want to pay
HONOLULU (AP) _ Hawaii is dropping the only state universal child health care program in the country just seven months after it launched.Sometimes you hear people call something like this a consequence of the law of unintended consequences. But any idiot could have predicted that people might want to stop paying for something, if they can get away with it.
Friday, Oct 17, 2008
What Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?
John Tierney writes:
If the United States really has a critical shortage of scientists and engineers, why didn’t this year’s graduates get showered with lucrative job offers and signing bonuses? That’s the question that comes to my mind after reading about Barack Obama’s plans to address the “shortage” we keep hearing about from blue-ribbon commissions of scientists and engineers.He is right. We have plenty of scientists and engineers. People only say we have a shortage when they lobby for importing more cheap labor from overseas.
Thursday, Oct 16, 2008
Obama's legal theory
Barack Obama's main field of expertise is the law, and he gave his legal theory in last night's debate:
I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through...I think that it's important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will.He disagreed with a Supreme Court case that applied a statute of limitations to say that employers did not have to go back 20 years to try to prove that they paid their employees fairly. Employees have to file a claim within the limits specified by the statute.
He is signalling that he will appoint judges who ignore the law and rule based on ideological allegiance to left-wing causes.
He also flip-flopped on abortion again. In July he said he was in favor of some limits on late-term abortions. Now he says that he is not.
Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008
Museum exhibit on race
The Science Museum of Minnesota recently developed an exhibit called "Race: Are we so different?" ... The exhibit was funded to the tune of some four million dollars by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, overseen by Mary Margaret Overbey of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and a committee consisting of a wide range of experts on race, racism, and related topics.It appears to be based on politics more than science.
Sunday, Oct 12, 2008
Humans are evolving faster than ever
Evolutionists frequently claim that all life is evolving, except for humans. Anthropologist John Hawks explains why this is wrong, and we are evolving faster than ever.
Saturday, Oct 11, 2008
Why Freud Still Isn’t Dead
Science writer John Horgan writes:
Ever since Freud invented psychoanalysis a century ago, critics have viciously attacked it as pseudo-science and pseudo-medicine–“the treatment of the id by the odd,” as one wag put it. But in spite of the current dominance of genetic, neural and pharmacological approaches to the mind and its disorders, psychoanalysis refuses to fade away. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine—the world’s premier medical journal—reports that psychoanalysis works as well as more modern talking cures, such as cognitive therapy, in treating common disorders such as anxiety and depression.He is correct. The modern treatments at least have the advantage that they are testable. Most Freudian concepts are not even scientifically testable.
Thursday, Oct 09, 2008
Court hears domestic violence case
The US Supreme Court is hearing United States v Hayes. It is about someone who lost his gun rights as a result of a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence. The case turns on how a comma is parsed in the Lautenburg Amendment. The US DoJ and ten federal circuits interpret it to more broadly extinguish gun rights, and only a 2-1 majority in one circuit take a narrower interpretation.
The trouble with the govt interpretation is that it is not only grammatically incorrect, but it endangers about five different constitutional rights. It is contrary to 2A gun rights, 5A due process, 6A jury trial, and limits on the Commerce Clause.
The US DoJ is probably expecting a 9-0 decision to bring the one oddball circuit into line with the others. I don't think so. That one circuit is correct. The law is a horrible law, and it ought to be interpreted narrowly.
Tuesday, Oct 07, 2008
Obama says some dumb things
From the second presidential debate:
Obama: And we can do it, but we're going to have to make an investment. The same way the computer was originally invented by a bunch of government scientists who were trying to figure out, for defense purposes, how to communicate, we've got to understand that this is a national security issue, as well.He is mixed up. The computer was not invented this way.
Obama: So we've got to deal with that right away. That's why I've called for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years. Our goal should be, in 10 year's time, we are free of dependence on Middle Eastern oil.No, we got to the Moon by throwing a lot of money at the problem. We can energy, such as ethanol, by spending a lot of govt money, but that will not make us free of Mideast oil.
Ayers ghosted Obama's "Dreams"
Jack Cashill makes a strong argument that Bill Ayers ghostwrote Barack Obama's autobiography.
Monday, Oct 06, 2008
Prize for HIV discovery
Two virologists who discovered HIV and a third who showed that a virus causes cervical cancer share this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.No, not exactly. The official announcement says:
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier discovered human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). ... Soon after the discovery of the virus, several groups contributed to the definitive demonstration of HIV as the cause of acquired human immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).The Frenchmen are not credited with proving that HIV causes AIDS. That was established by later groups, and now AIDS is defined in terms of HIV infection.
Obama-Biden have no experience
Harvard psychology prof Steven Pinker writes:
The impression fits with the overall theme that Ms. Palin and Senator John McCain have been trying to advance: that expertise is overrated, homespun sincerity is better than sophistication, conviction is more important than analysis.Huhh? McCain has already won the votes of those who value expertise. Obama's expertise is in teaching constitutional law, reading a teleprompter, and provoking racial animosity. McCain's political and military expertise is far more valuable.
Palin appeals to those who want change in Washington. To the extent that she draw attention to the issue of presidential expertise, I think that it helps McCain-Palin. I hope she keeps talking about her foreign policy expertise in particular, as it draws attention to Obama-Biden weaknesses.
Saturday, Oct 04, 2008
New pro-vaccine book
Paul Offit has a new book on Autism's False Prophets:
Dr. Offit notes two likely causes of the increase in autism diagnoses. One is that the definition of the disorder has broadened over time, so that children with mild symptoms are now being diagnosed when once they would have been regarded as merely quirky. ...He is on the warpath against those who say that vaccines cause autism, and laments that people don't always believe experts like him.
He may be right about autism, but I can tell him why people don't always believe him. He is a paid lobbyist for the vaccine makers. He has collected millions of dollars from them. All the while, he has sat on official govt advisory committees that are responsible for the vaccine mandates.
The official govt advisory committees consist mostly of vaccine researchers who are on the payrolls of the vaccine makers, and they have no one representing consumer interests. The mandates exist to further the interests of the vaccine makers. That is why I don't trust them.
Friday, Oct 03, 2008
Jon Roland says that Sarah Palin won the VP debate, when you consider Biden's erroneous or misleading statements:
1. Constitutional provisions on VP not in Art. I.It is amusing to see people try to claim that Biden proved that he was smarter than Palin. Biden just proved that he is doofus. Biden has been running for President or VP since 1987, and he really should have his facts a little better.
Here is a less obvious error:
BIDEN: Can I respond? Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie’s Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of time and you ask anybody ... Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it. They get it.Katie's Restaurant went out of business 20 years ago.
Quantum crypto broken again
Quantum cryptography is supposed to be unbreakable. But a flaw in a common type of equipment used makes it possible to intercept messages without detection.I have commented previously on quantum crypto vulnerabilities in Apr 2007, May 2008, and Nov 2006.
All of these insecurities result from the attempt to use quantum mechanics to achieve security properties. There are lots of secure systems that do not use quantum mechanics. Using quantum mechanics is technically much more difficult and limited in its applicability. The only reason to use quantum cryptography is the claims of provable security. But the claims are just not true.
Thursday, Oct 02, 2008
Biden makes a fool of himself again
Here is a video of Biden and Palin answering questions about the Supreme Court.
Could there be a better example of a comparison between (1) an impressive sounding answer that is absolutely full of nonsense (and dangerous nonsense at that) and (2) a pathetic-sounding answer that is absolutely correct?Biden's answer is shockingly bad. He is talking about stuff that he has discussed for decades, and yet he gets it completely wrong.
If the feds have jurisdiction over wife-beating under the interstate commerce clause, then the fedus have jurisdiction over anything. That is what the Supreme Court correctly said. Biden's view would wipe out 220 years of the Constitution creating a federal govt with limited powers. Ordinary criminal matters are under jurisdiction of the states.
Biden is also wrong when he says Roe v Wade is as "close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours." Hardly anyone agrees with what Roe v Wade actually says. It appears that Biden does not, and I noted here that Obama does not either.
Palin dodged the request to name other decisions with which she disagreed, but her answer had the virtue of being correct as far as it went. There were a couple of other decisions that she had previous criticized, and some people are assuming that she could not remember their names. My guess is that she did not want to attack a specific decision without checking with the McCain campaign.
It is possible that Palin has never actually read a Supreme Court decision, but Barack Obama has read hundreds of them. The constitutional law is Obama's main area of expertise. What is really strange is that Obama seems to be unable to criticize specific decisions. He voted against Roberts and Alito, and says that his disapproves of Thomas. It seems to me that if he is really an expert on this subject, and he wants to sustain a view that those justices have done a bad job, then he ought to be able to explain the errors in particular opinions that Roberts, Alito, and Thomas have written. He has not.
Update: Brian Kalt has some similar comments.
Wednesday, Oct 01, 2008
Stop the bailout
If there were really a strong case for the banking bailout, then there would be some hard numbers to back it up. But there isn't:
Where did the $700 billion figure come from, a figure that Paulson insisted on when members of Congress suggested that perhaps they could authorize some of the money right away, and then provide more later?Data show that current credit is at record levels:
I'm still skeptical we face a credit crunch requiring unprecedented government intrusion into the financial services industry. Today the Fed released the latest data. The weekly updates are current as of September 17 and they are instructive.If the bailout props up unsustainable borrowing levels, then we will just have a worse crash later.
The CAO issued a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday morning informing offices that it had placed a limit on the number of e-mails sent via the “Write Your Representative” function of the House website. It said the limit would be imposed during peak e-mail traffic hours.In case you are wondering how we got into this mortgage mess, consider this 1999 NY Times article:
In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.That's right, the feds had an affirmative action lending program for people who cannot repay their mortgages.
I agree with this comment:
The burden of proof is on the folks advocating the bailout. And they haven't met it.