Tuesday, June 30, 2009

12 or 13? How it works

Check out this little puzzle where the number of people in the picture changes from 12 to 13 depending on the arrangement of the pieces. Where does the extra man come from/go to?

The secret is that the men do not stay the same size. Each is larger when there are only 12 men than they are when there are 13. It is especially noticeable with the man standing at the far left, whose head is neatly chopped off when 13 men are showing. Look carefully at their feet as well. They get noticeable smaller for the 13 man version. The picture is drawn very skillfully so that when the pieces move, each man changes size, by 1/13th of a man, but the black and white sections match in plausible ways.

There are many puzzles like this. I recall one when I was a child that had China men (I know, so un-pc) running around the world and their number changed (I think from 11-12) depending on how an inner circle of the picture was turned. I found the solution by looking closely at their beards and swords, both drawn about the same width, length, and black color. They all got longer when the smaller number of men were showing. Their faces got larger too.

If you are unconvinced, imagine laying out 12 dollar bills, side-by-side, each 1/13th of a bill lower than the previous one, cutting them across the middle, and then shifting the lower half one bill to the left. What you'll get is 13 bills that are 12/13th of a bill in length, with a missing piece at the cut*. The puzzles are just more complicated versions of the same principle.

And personally, I've found this solution fabulous in it's subtlety and simplicity, and a good proof that the solution to a mystery need not diminish the wonder of it.


*Yes, people have tried to counterfeit money this way. I do not recommend it, as it is easy to spot, highly felonious, and the only way the communists really could win.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Terry Eagleton, by Paul Kirby

Terry Eagleton is interviewed on God, religion, and the new atheists, dances around practically every question he's asked, even something as simple as "do you pray?". I know, it's so rude and arrogant of we atheists to expect defenders of religion to be able to answer such things. And it's so convenient of them to criticize us for not being up all all the nuances of their arguments while they simultaneously refuse to give them to us.

The best summary was by one of PZ Myers' commenters, Paula Kirby:

'You don't know what I believe, and that makes you ignorant and bigoted. I don't know what I believe, and that makes me sophisticated.'

Hat Tip: PZ Myers

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Betelgeuse Shrinking

No, not the Michael Keeton character, but the star, the massive star (5.5 AUs wide) in Orion. Betelgeuse has shrunk 15% since 1993, and astronomers are puzzled as to why:

"To see this change is very striking," said Charles Townes, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of physics. "We will be watching it carefully over the next few years to see if it will keep contracting or will go back up in size." (Townes won the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics for inventing the laser and the maser, a microwave laser.)

Though the star is shrinking, its visible brightness has not dimmed significantly over the past 15 years, the researchers say.

"But we do not know why the star is shrinking," said Edward Wishnow, a research physicist at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory. "Considering all that we know about galaxies and the distant universe, there are still lots of things we don't know about stars, including what happens as red giants near the ends of their lives."

The really sad part of studying such items for an astronomer is the massive timescales involved. Stars live billions of years, so the amount of time we have in our lifetimes to study them is a microscopic portion of the total.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Putting Down the Dying Argument for a Biblically Based Nation

We hear it every day: "The Bible was the basis for our constitution", a statement so obviously wrong it is a testimony to right wingers refusal to read either document carefully, right up there with the claim that the 10 Commandments forms the basis of our law, despite the clear unconstitutionality of over half of them.

For some good detailed refutations of this claim, Gregg Frazier had some interesting input in a now defunct (what else is new) discussion on a blog called "Evangelical Outpost". It's a quite remarkable bit or irony that so many Christians intent on spreading The Truth (tm) erase entire discussion threads when the discussion ceases to go their way. Here are Dr. Frazer's comments:

Correlation does not demonstrate causation. Leaves do not turn brown because squirrels gather nuts (or vice versa). The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!

This is a common problem when debating fundies. They presume that the Bible came from the gods, and the gods are the source for everything, so naturally anything consistent with the Bible came from the Bible. The notion that something Biblical, say the golden rule (which appeared in many cultures predating the Bible), or the rules against murder and theft, originated elsewhere is anathema to them.

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.

Very true, and very contrary to documents like The Mayflower Compact, which were very explicit in their Christianity.

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

As for freedom and liberty in the Bible, it is always SPIRITUAL freedom/liberty — as a look at the verses you’ve listed IN CONTEXT shows. That is NOT to say that political liberty is an anti-biblical concept — it’s just not a biblical one. Arguing that it is a “Calvinist” concept does not make it a biblical one, either. The “disciples” of Calvin did not write inspired revelation.

The key Founders (J. Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, & G. Morris) — those most responsible for the founding documents — were religious, but not Christians. They believed that religion was essential to produce the morality that a free society required, but that any religion would suffice. Their religious belief was a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism — with rationalism as the trump card and decisive factor. They retained elements of Christianity, but rejected the elements of Christianity (and of natural religion) that they considered irrational. However: of the ten CORE beliefs of Christianity (those shared by all of the major Protestant denominations of the day (and by the Catholics), they held to only one (or two, in some cases). Their belief system was, as I have termed it, theistic rationalism.

Hat Tip: Ed Brayton

Friday, June 26, 2009

Myers Challenges Ham

Apparently PZ Myers has really ticked off Ken Ham, who's dedicated a blog to rebutting Myers' various comments about Ham's comedy museum. Myer's retort was typical:

Since Mr Ham is so concerned about my accuracy or lack thereof, and is obviously stressed at the poor publicity I'm giving his little monument to ignorance, I'll make him an offer. I'll give him a whole day of my time if he'll fly me in and give me a personal tour, during which he can point out all the things I've gotten wrong about Creation, and I will dutifully write them down and post a complete report of his various rebuttals. Thorough coverage for the price of a plane ticket. How can he possibly turn down such an offer?

If he was really confident of the legitimacy of his museum, I could probably even gather a small group of mouthy, obnoxious, and culturally prominent godless scientists who'd also take advantage of such an offer, and he could shepherd us all through at once, evangelizing as much as he wanted. It would be great! Come on, Mr Ham, put a little bit of your money where your mouth is.

Be sure to read Ham's rebuttals. They are really unintentionally hilarious:

"Nowhere is this stated in the museum or on our website. Only land-dwelling, air-breathing animals were on board Noah’s Ark (according to the scriptural account)."

Yeah, like that solves anything.

I suspect Ham won't accept - exposure to honest criticism is something his behemoth of Bible babble can't withstand. But we can only hope. After all, its not like there were many potential customers among PZ's readers who are going to be persuaded not to go by the report.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Afternoon Teaching Evolution on Townhall: Part II

Chris said: 'Science Avenger, if you can say "matter has always been", then I can say "God has always been" with equal certainty.'

Uh, no you can't, for the simple reason that you can't say with certainty that God has been just now, where I can do so for matter. You've got an epistemological burden I lack, and a big one.

"Where did the original pre-big bang matter come from? For that matter where did space-time come from? These questions are un-knowable."

Unknown perhaps, but unknowable? I'm not sure how that can be known, especially with questions so poorly defined (through no fault of yours). For instance, how do you even know any of these things came from anywhere? What does that even mean? It borders on gibberish.

"Evolution, on the other hand, requires unlikely things to happen routinely - and THAT violates the laws of statistics."

No, it does not. In the first place, there are no laws of statistics to violate. Second, there has never been a rigorous peer-reviewed mathematical proof of this claim, and indeed, the vast majority of those known (ie Hoyle's junkyard 747) make fundamental errors that would have made my intro-to-statistics prof cringe, like presuming all events are independent, or simply wallow in meaningless sciency-looking jargon (Dembski's CSI). None gained any traction with those experts, and for good reason.

And step back a moment. Mathematicians and physicists are smarter than biologists (just ask them). If there were a problem with evolution in their fields, no force on earth could shut them up about it. Yet no physics or math journal has ever come out against the theory of evolution. In short, all those arguments are bunk.

I rarely bother responding to anything Fabius Cunctator writes because he is obviously living in an alternate universe, but I thought this comment was worth examining:

FC: "The flaw of Evolution theory is that it cannot explain the origin of atoms or matter."

This is like saying the Pythagorean theorem is flawed because it cannot explain particle physics. It reveals a profound lack of understanding of the limitations of scientific theories, and how we much evaluate them within those limitations. Of course evolution can't explain the origin of atoms or matter. It was never intended to. Neither can the theories of relativity, Keynesian economics, or euclidean geometry. So what? For someone to condemn a theory for failing to explain everything is a daftness beyond redemption.

His other posts are loaded with similar, gargantuan mistakes. Read them only as a lesson for how out of touch with modern scientific thought a person can get.

Joel-de said: "DNA in humans is similar to DNA in animals because they serve a similar purpose. Once The Creator had designed the code for hair, would he re-do the code for each new creation?"

But "he" did redo it, many times, for many traits. Human eyes are not designed like octopus eyes, and in fact are inferior in some ways. Wings are designed differently in bats and birds. Worse yet, there are mistakes that were used in more than one place. Most mammals have a gene that synthesizes vitamin C, but in chimps and humans it is broken. Not different, not used for something else, busted, no bueno. Countless other examples abound. Further, as Ken Miller demonstrates here:

Humans have a gene that is the fusion of two ape genes. There is no way to describe this as anything but a natural screw up, not the work of a divine designer.

Your logic is sound Joel. IF we found every design of all parts in nature across all species to be the same, your argument would be plausible. But the facts betray you. There is nothing remotely resembling the common design you assert.

JD: "The objection is this: That the THEORY of evolution is taught as SCIENTIFIC FACT, and that there can be NO debate on the matter. If a child asks questions about the mathematical probability of life occurring because lightning zapped some chemicals in a puddle, he is told to shut up. If he tries to question the gaps in the 'evolutionary chain' he is told to shut up."

This sounds like urban myth to me. Show me a documented case of a child asking these questions being told to "shut up". If they were, the teacher ought to be fired, because the questions are legitimate and fairly easy to answer:

1) Evolution is a scientific theory, which means a great deal more than "theory" as you and your friends use it. It means it has been subjected to many falsifiable tests without failure and explains many facts. Theories stay theories. They never graduate to be called "facts".

2) No one is able to make very good estimates of the probability of life arising on ancient earth because we lack the necessary knowledge of the exact conditions on the planet at the time to do so. Anyone who claims they can is making claims beyond the facts and evidence, and are probably making many mistakes.

3) The notion that leading scientists think life began by lightning striking chemicals in a puddle is urban myth at best and an outright lie at worst. We really don't know how it all began, and you should be skeptical of anyone who pretends they do.

4) From what we know of the history of life, with it's slow genetic motion, motion of landmasses and water, changes in the environment, and the extraordinarily rare circumstances necessary for fossilization to occur, we can expect large gaps in what we are able to find. This is not a game where some giant adult placed all the puzzle pieces for us to find. Science is not that easy.

JD said: "If evolution was taught as a THEORY, and the teacher and textbook would be honest, and admit that it cannot be proven, and does not have answers for all questions, few if any parents would have an issue with it. We object to the INDOCTRINATION of our children into the false religion of Darwinism, which requires AT LEAST as much faith to believe in as Christianity."

Then none of you have any business ranting as you seem to be doing. Every textbook on the subject I've ever seen or heard about from a reliable source says all those things you demand. Evolution is a scientific theory. It cannot be proven because science does not deal in proofs. That's for the mathematicians and philosophers to worry about. Science deals in evidence, and evolution is the best explanation we've found for the evidence of biology. It does not have all the answers for all the questions and, in fact, as some of us are more than willing to show, it is downright silly to expect it to. It explains what it explains, nothing more. There is no such thing as a religion of Darwinism (if there is I'm a little pissed, cause I never get invited to the meetings), nor does evolutionary theory require any faith, certainly not on par with believing that the supreme being of the universe had himself killed to absolve us of a punishment he himself created (don't get me started).

It sounds to me like you've all been whipped into a frenzy over a myth, and no, I don't mean the gods. No textbook that I've ever seen says anything about evolution being "proven", nor that it is anything but scientific theory

JD said: "Life did not come from non life. Life has ALWAYS existed, and will always exist. The universes have always existed, and always will."

That is an article of faith, not science. The best scientific evidence suggests the universe is ~14 billion years old, the earth ~4.5 BYO and life ~2-3 BYO, and that is what should be taught in science class.

JD said: "God did not create this world 'out of nothing'. He organized the raw, chaotic matter that was in this part of the galaxy into our solar system. He then transplanted plants, animals, and Adam and Eve from another world onto this one."

Interesting religious faiths, and ones you have every right to believe. But you do not have the right to expect a public school teaching children of various (and no) faiths to teach such a thing, nor to alter their science curriculum because it runs afoul of it.

JD said: "Humans should not be classified as 'primates'. The various types of apes are one 'kind'. Humans are unique. We are not part of any other 'kind'."

This is rhetoric with no science to back it, and as such does not belong in a public school science class. Humans are 99% chimp, we are not unique.

Chris said: "Sorry - I meant the laws of probability (LOP)."

I knew what you meant, I'm not keen on semantic games, but the answer is the same - there is no such thing as "the law of probability". It's just a fiction made up by someone looking for a sciency-sounding word to attack science with. Nonetheless, I'll try to address your comments that contain it.

Chris said: "The junkyard 747 is a good analogy for abiogenesis, but not evolution afterwards."

You have no way of knowing that. No one has nearly enough information to do so. And given that we already know about self-replicating nonorganics like crystals, I'd say it's a worse than 50/50 bet.

Chris said: "What DOES violate the LOP is when multiple unlikely things have to happen at the same time to cause a major re-design of an already fit system...

The odds of that many mutations, together with all the expression controls, all happening at the same time in the same animal are astronomically small."

But you have no way of knowing that such is required! Evolution doesn't occur by several major things happening all at once. It happens by gradual multiple changes over long periods of time. Your argument is just a more sophisticated version of "why doesn't a dog give birth to a cat?". No one said it should.

All the details you posed, and all the examples you, or anyone else gives, makes assumptions you can't possibly know, about function, time, cooption, everything. Evolution is not a unidirectional, step by step, constant function process. Parts are routinely coopted for different functions, some parts serve multiple purposes, amd a whole host of other possibilities I couldn't begin to list in such a small space. Pretending you can somehow retrace the exact path it took and make a probability calculation is sheer fantasy.

All you've done (at best) is pose a problem for evolutionary scientists to solve. At worst, you've composed a nonproblem that's already been solved in a way you never began to imagine (have you even looked at the scientific literature on the subject? My bet is you haven't).

I know it is frustrating to go to all that trouble typing all that out only to have me brush it aside, but I do not do so whimsically. I do so because this is the crucial problem most people doubting evolution have. Such problems, regardless of how they are presented, merely fall into the category of "what we don't know yet". And as I've mentioned previously, there are such questions in all sciences, not just evolution. That doesn't give anyone intellectual warrant to dismiss the theory, any more than it would give someone warrant to dismiss mathematics because for so long no one could solve Fermat's proof.

Now if you could show something in nature that is impossible to evolve, then your argument would have some mettle. Creationists have been trying this for years, the bombardier beetle, the bacterial flagellum, the clotting system, the human eye (which is a real laugh given how poorly designed our eyes truly are). All have failed to withstand the scrutiny of science, and the proof is out there for all to see.

Chris: "And that's just one example. I could give you thousands."

And they'd be just as impotent in saying anything about the reality of evolution.

AndifNot said: "No, [a documented case of a child asking these questions being told to shut up] IS true...a district judge [in Cobb County Georgia] prohibited ... a sticker on science textbooks which stated: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

My goodness, you think that's the same as telling a kid who asks a question to shut up? That's a reach Yao Ming would have a hard time making.

AIN said: "Why the fight by evolutionists to keep the sticker off the book?"

As Ken Miller (Biology instructor at Brown and devout Catholic) explains here:

Those stickers singled out evolution for special treatment for religious reasons. No such sticker was required for any other science. This also gave students the false impression that other sciences didn't require critical examination.

Miller's suggestion was for a sticker to be put on all books that said:

"This book contains information about science. Science is built around theories which are strongly supported by evidence. EVERYTHING in science should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

The creationists of course, didn't like that one bit.

AIN said: "Opposition or criticism to evolution is still silenced elsewhere in selected localities around the country."

I'm still waiting for evidence one that your claim is anything more than an urban myth

"BTW- Interesting handle. Why does science need an AVENGER?"

Because it is under attack by people who either don't understand it, or who desire its demise because it offends their religious sensibilities, and I figured scientists had enough to do without having to fight those battles we layman are capable of fighting. This thread is a perfect example.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fastest Bird by Size: You'd be Surprised

And who's the fastest bird of all, by size? Would you believe the hummingbird? Yep, they've been clocked at 60 mph, which converts to about 385x its own body length every second, as they flaps theirs wings 55 times a second all to, you guessed it, impress the females with their physical prowess at being able to execute the stunt and survive the g-forces that come with it. As always it seems, it's all about the hoo-ha!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No More Reindeer Games? Global Warming Claiming another Victim

Now it's the Caribou suffering because of global warming. They've experienced a 60% decline in the last 30 years, and the future looks even worse. The reasons:

Earlier spring green-ups now occur before migrating herds arrive north. This deprives mothers and calves of quality feeding.

Warmer summers cause more intense insect activity, harassing animals and affecting their feeding.

The impact of more freezing rain, in place of snow, has negatively impacted lichens that animals feed on during the colder months.

One can only wonder how many extinctions it will take before the denialists wake up to what is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone else.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Side-by-side Model of Selection Proper and Improper

Often when debating people who do not accept evolution, it is clear that they don't accept it because they don't understand it. The version of evolution they carry in their head is so warped and absurd, I'd reject it too. Typical are comments like this from Raymond at #67:

"The question, then, is if a new species were to result from some arbitrary genetic mutation, with what does that new species procreate? Even if the assumption is that a new species does not appear suddenly in one individual but rather evolves over a long period of time, problems remain. At some point the first of the new species which could not interbreed with its forebears most have appeared so with what did it then procreate? Also, if it happened over a long enough period of time for evolution to have worked its slow magic, then why do we not see more evidence of it in the fossil record?"

Raymond is working from a common misperception, that of the "hopeful monster", a creature that mutates so far from his parents that he cannot breed with them or any other members of his former species. This is the fiction of many a science fiction story (eg X-Men), big on shock and gore value, small on science. It is represented on the right in the exhibit below. The way speciation actually works is shown on the left:

As we can see, there is no point where the group on the left cannot breed with the previous generation, because the change from one generation to the next is very small. It is only the accumulation of many such changes over time that eventually produces a new species. One wonders how many people would still reject evolution if they actually had an accurate picture of what it is.

Hat Tip: PZ Myers

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Discussion about Marijuana Myths and Facts

Ed Brayton's post on the Mark Kirk marijuana proposals prompted a discussion between me and a poster named Duwayne, which I thought worthy of a post of it's own:

Dunc: "Steady on there - I like a toke as much as the next hippy, but let's not pretend it's all puppies and rainbows. That would make us as deluded as the other side (and cause DrugMonkey to throw a fit). It carries a number of risks, some quite serious, and further research is required.

The far stronger argument is that criminalisation is, at best, ineffective in managing those risks, and in many cases is actively counter-productive."

SA: "Hypothetical Drugmonkey fits notwithstanding, there's no good data I've ever seen that shows even remotely serious risks of marijuana use. There have been tons of greatly hyped studies using laughable methods and measures, but nothing that you'd hold up as an example of how you do science. To what risks are you referring?

Granted, I wouldn't want someone very stoned operating heavy equipment, or doing any of the other activities marked "for sober people only". The intoxication levels can be very potent and should be treated with respect, and I think use by children should remain illegal and be strongly discouraged, even more so than alcohol. Too much maturity needed.

But compared to the benefits it seems a giant slam dunk."

Duwayne: "You know, for someone who claims to be into science, at least given your chosen title, you seem to be pretty good at denying it sometimes.

Cannabis is addictive. No question and no fucking bullshit in the studies that have shown that it is. Not everyone gets addicted - indeed most people probably don't. But that doesn't change the fact that it causes significant harm to people who are addicts.

Cannabis also causes fairly significant damage to the lungs of those who smoke a lot of it. Smoking anything is bad for your lungs - period. That can be mitigated considerably by vaporizing it, but there is nothing that would show that it does anything but reduce carcinogen intake and the mount of crap that gets deposited on the lungs. As yet, I have never seen a reasonable study of vaporizing that would claim otherwise. Ingesting it is the only way to know you are avoiding deposits on the lungs.

And finally, like many drugs, it has deleterious effects on the neural networks. No different than many other drugs - including many prescription drugs, but it causes problems nonetheless.

Pretending that cannabis is some benevolent, wonderfuckingdrug, is fucking denialist bullshit and will do absolutely nothing to help actually get it legalized. Let fucking morons like Kirk own the motherfucking hyperbole and sink themselves in it.

Bullshit is so fucking deep on his side of things, that we are moving inexorably closer to legalized weed. All your fucking denialist bullshit does is cross cut a fucking trench of bullshit for theirs to flow into."

SA: "Odd, I normally admire your postings, but this latest one sounds like mere regurgitation of drug-war propaganda. You accuse me of ignoring science and then repeat the same old anti-marijuana propaganda I've seen for years, and with nary a site in the literature for all these supposed nonbullshit studies. How droll, and typical.

Where are the studies that show cannabis is addictive? Cite them. You give yourself away when you claim it is addictive, but then say most people don't get addicted. Well how addictive can it be then? Nothing has a nonzero rate, not even chocolate. Personally I'm addicted to caffeine. Where are the studies that show neural and lung damage?

What's the definition of a lot? Let me guess, an amount that less than 1% of users smoke, which would make it intellectually dishonest to present as if that were remotely near the norm.

One doesn't have to think marijuana is a wonder drug (I certainly don't), or be any kind of denier to recognize all these scare claims for what they are. There are something like 40 million marijuana users in this country, and most of the are completely anonymous to those around them because there are virtually no effects of their use. If it were as damaging as the drug war loons like Kirk claimed, and how some of your claims could be interpreted, we wouldn't need drug tests, we could just go pick up the poor bastards by the truckload just from casual visual inspection. The reality is light yeas away.

Don't be so fixated on the exceptions to the norm that you give ammunition to those who deny it."

Duwayne: "When I am done playing with my boys, I will be happy to link evidence and the evidence shows far more than a one percent rate of addiction. And there is also plenty of evidence that marijuana causes memory loss with sustained use - which puts it in great company with most benzoes and antipsychotics. And yes, when smoked, it causes lung problems. Anything a person smokes causes lung problems - it's the nature of smoke inhalation.

I'll write a post on my blog tomorrow, when I get home from TN that will link plenty of evidence. However, if you can't wait, there are plenty of links in my sidebar that discuss marijuana addiction. Harm reduction coalition and Tatarsky's harm reduction web site both will provide you with discussions about cannabis addiction. The MAPS database links to evidence of addiction and neurological and lung damage - Lycaeum and Erowid will as well.

And I should note that all of the aforementioned links are to organizations and people who support legalization."

SA: "I will check out your sidebars, thanks for the references. Perhaps the review will make a good blog post of its own. Please forgive my extreme skepticism. In the past, every study I've been similarly directed to had horrific methodological flaws: poor/no controls, ridiculously expansive definitions of "addicted" (See demmiecommie's post above as a perfect example. Addicted > a hard-to-break habit), and correlation=causality errors of reasoning (all that "gateway drug" nonsense). I've also seen several studies over the years (thus no links, sorry) that showed no harm to lungs or memory from marijuana use, and you guessed it, that is all consistent with extensive personal experience.

But far more influential on my view is that I have considerable experience helping methamphetamine addicts break the habit. Now THAT'S as addictive and destructive a substance as I have ever seen, and compared to that, marijuana is chocolate.

I've always found you to be a substantive intelligent poster, so I'll go through your links, and perhaps common ground can be established. And if you ever see something that qualifies as "you seem to be pretty good at denying [science] sometimes", do bring it to my attention. I may be unaware of the science, but I'll never deny it. Ask Zuska.

Duwayne, I've spent the hour I have for this today on your sight, and granted I'm not the best site navigator, but I went to 4 or 5 of them and the only reference to the effects of Marijuana I could find was this from Drugpolicy.org, which had the following to say:

"Over the past century, numerous reports from independent, government-sponsored commissions have documented the drug's relative harmlessness..."

...and this from their "myths and facts" section:

"Myth: Marijuana Can Cause Permanent Mental Illness. Among adolescents, even occasional marijuana use may cause psychological damage. During intoxication, marijuana users become irrational and often behave erratically.

"Fact: There is no convincing scientific evidence that marijuana causes psychological damage or mental illness in either teenagers or adults."

""Myth: Marijuana is Highly Addictive. Long term marijuana users experience physical dependence and withdrawal, and often need professional drug treatment to break their marijuana habits."

"Fact: Most people who smoke marijuana smoke it only occasionally. A small minority of Americans - less than 1 percent - smoke marijuana on a daily basis. An even smaller minority develop a dependence on marijuana. Some people who smoke marijuana heavily and frequently stop without difficulty. Others seek help from drug treatment professionals. Marijuana does not cause physical dependence. If people experience withdrawal symptoms at all, they are remarkably mild."

I have seen personally at least three heavy, daily, smokers of the kind of potency marijuana Mr. Kirk worries about, find themselves in life situations where they had great motivation to stop (pending drug tests, and family issues), and did so, cold turkey, with no apparent difficulty or any withdrawal signs of any kind that anyone around them could notice aside from a little less patience with boring social functions. Run with that if you like.

And finally, from the same site:

Myth: Marijuana is More Damaging to the Lungs Than Tobacco. Marijuana smokers are at a high risk of developing lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema."

"Fact: Moderate smoking of marijuana appears to pose minimal danger to the lungs. Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains a number of irritants and carcinogens. But marijuana users typically smoke much less often than tobacco smokers, and over time, inhale much less smoke. As a result, the risk of serious lung damage should be lower in marijuana smokers. There have been no reports of lung cancer related solely to marijuana, and in a large study presented to the American Thoracic Society in 2006, even heavy users of smoked marijuana were found not to have any increased risk of lung cancer. Unlike heavy tobacco smokers, heavy marijuana smokers exhibit no obstruction of the lung's small airway. That indicates that people will not develop emphysema from smoking marijuana.

One of the problems most marijuana studies have that gets them tossed into file 13 pretty quickly is lack of control for people also smoke cigarettes. This covers many, possibly most, people who smoke marijuana, and they invariably give marijuana the blame for nicotine's sins. It's no small coincidence to me that of the three cold turkeys I mentioned above, two used no tobacco products of any kind, and the other used snuff. I've seen heavy marijuana smokers keep up intense cardiovascular exercise regimes that would kill your average cigarette smoker. It's going to take a lot of science to tell me their lungs are damaged.

These are the sights that were intended to persuade me that there is a ton of science out there showing marijuana is way more dangerous than I thought? Please direct me to the ones that do.

Idiot of the Week: U.S. Representative Mark Kirk

We haven't had anyone jump way out ahead of the pack in a while in sheer, mind numbing stupidity (at least no one new). So let me introduce you to U.S. Representative Mark Kirk, who thinks in these times of economic crisis, strained resources, inflamed international tensions, a nation in a foul mood, and a prison population at an embarrassing 25% of the world's total (that's the whole world, and nothing but the world), that action urgently needed now is...

tougher marijuana laws.

Yeah, really.

Ed Brayton has a fabulous summary. Here are some of the high points from it and other reports:

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk will call for legislation Monday that would toughen drug trafficking laws regarding a highly-potent form of marijuana (THC content > 15%, about double average), with penalties of up to 25 years in prison for a 1st-time offense.

Yeah, because people can't just smoke the average stuff twice as much to get the same effect. Oh wait, they can, but that means twice as much smoke inhalation, which means twice as much risk of health problems (which luckily in many cases means twice zero is zero). But the real killer is how this compare to European weed:

To put this in perspective, the average potency of marijuana that has fueled this fire is seven percent THC. This is the marijuana that White House Drug Czar John Walters warns is horribly dangerous because of its super-strength. In contrast, Dutch government standards require medical marijuana sold in pharmacies in the Netherlands to be more than twice that strong. So a country where teens are actually less likely to use cocaine and heroin than in the U.S. wouldn't even use our marijuana to heal their sick. A recent report from the European Union noted that "a slight upward trend" in potency means little because the potency of U.S. marijuana "was very low by European standards."

I think the speaker in the second quote confused current potency with potency relevant in the proposed law, but the implication is that the potency Mr. Kirk thinks is so dangerous is at the same level as minimum required in the Netherlands. Either way, America, we're pot pussies, and totally irrational about it.

Science doesn't support this in any way.

...peer-reviewed scientific data show that higher potency marijuana reduces health risks. Just as with alcohol, people who smoke marijuana generally consume until they reach the desired effect, then stop. So people who smoke more potent marijuana smoke less - the same way most drinkers consume a smaller amount of vodka than they would of beer - and incur less chance of smoking-related damage to their lungs.

And all the talk about kids in rehab for marijuana is based on completely distorted, predetermined ways of interpreting the information:

According to the U.S. government's own statistics, most teens in marijuana treatment are there because they were arrested, not because of actual evidence of abuse or dependence. Virtually all of the vaunted increase in marijuana treatment admissions stems from these arrests. So, we arrest kids for smoking marijuana, force them into treatment and then use those treatment admissions as "proof" that marijuana is addictive. Somewhere, George Orwell is smiling. This wave of marijuana treatment has nothing to do with actual dependence...more than half of marijuana "abusers" used marijuana three times or less in the month prior to entering treatment - and this, we are told, is proof that we must be fearful of highly addictive "super pot"!

There has never been a time where legalizing, regulating, taxing, and thereby controlling marijuana in the country has made more sense than it does now. Billions saved in law enforcement that protects no one. Billions saved on prisons that remove productive people from the workforce. No more millions of hours of official work time wasted. No more lying to the children, only to have them get involved in real serious drugs because they caught onto the lies. And Mark Kirk wants to go in the opposite direction? You, Mark Kirk, are my Idiot of the Week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cornelius Hunter, DI Propogandist, the Dogma is Yours

In yet another atomic bomb of irony, Cornelius Hunter of the [no]Discovery [not an] Institute has claimed that it is the science of evolution, not creationism, that is guilty of dogma. His reasoning, if I may elevate it by calling it that, is based entirely on the equivocation f a clearly sarcastic remark made by Eugenie Scott. Some background is in order.

The creationists have claimed for years to have what they call "evidence against evolution". However, when they say "evidence", they don't mean, as scientists do, "experimental data confirming a preconceived hypothesis within a falsifiable context". When creationists say "evidence" they mean "anything that seems consistent with what I believe", which in the case of evolution denial amounts to "I don't see how evolution could do that". Their arguments are moldy oldies, well covered and rebutted in the scientific literature time and again. The trivial details change over time, but the essence of the arguments is the same "I don't see how the bombardier beetle/human eye/bacterial flagellum/etc. could have arisen through purely evolutionary means". Scientific evidence, it is not.

Second, since the creationists long lost the scientific battle in the peer-reviewed literature and at scientific conferences, they've turned to politics and tried to create a form of creationism that would pass muster with the courts whenever they were challenged. First, they just called it "creation science", as if the label made the object. The courts were unimpressed, and "creation science" was rightfully rejected in Edwards v. Aguillar as just religion by another name. This led to the infamous Wedge Document, where "creationism" became "intelligent design", leaving behind unmistakable evidence via sloppy search and replacements in the form of the now well-known "cdesign proponentsists". After Dover, ID became "teach the controversy", then "academic freedom", and "evidence against evolution". Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Now that you have the proper context in hand, here is the comment made by Eugenie Scott that got Cornelius Hunter into such a equivocating tizzy:

The enemy has become more diverse. When I started, it was just creation science. Now we have creation science, intelligent design [ID], and straight-up antievolution in the form of "evidence against evolution."

Scott is merely briefly summarizing in two sentences what I spent the two paragraphs above explaining in detail. Hunter dishonestly feigns ignorance of all this in the hopes that his audience is truly ignorant, and let's loose with this twaddle:

Evidence against evolution? Is there something wrong with that? Yes, there is for evolutionists. Science, in the hands of evolutionists, is something to be manipulated. Scientists who want to examine the evidence are ridiculed and marginalized. If you doubt evolution you are considered to be the enemy. Motives are assigned to you, and you are stereotyped. This is pure dogma. Religion drives science, and it matters.

Can you just hear the shrillness, the desperation to force reality to be something it isn't? Sorry Cornelius, it is because you claim to have evidence where you do not, and change the labels of what you are doing in an effort to deceive, that gets you ridiculed and marginalized. There is very much wrong with that, and exactly that sort of deception and manipulation that earns one consideration as the enemy on scientific matters. Yes, motives are assigned to you as evidence of them surfaces and you will indeed be stereotyped Mr. Cdesign Proponentsist. To claim that you are treated this way because religion drives science is itself dogma, and dogma in contradiction of all known evidence.

Ah evidence, it always comes back to that doesn't it? Get some, and watch how quickly the scientific establishment changes their tune. But it has to be real, not the same old phony baloney dressed in a cheap tuxedo.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama, the Fly, and Alternative Universes

Ah, the differences we could imagine in all the alternative universes where the previous president and VP candidates found themselves sitting in that chair:

Obama smacks the fly smartly.

McCain missed, and is still finishing his windup.

Palin ran screaming out of the studio accusing the MSM of "planting a wasp to make me look bad".

Biden wouldn't have noticed the fly.

Bush shot the fly with a bazooka.

Cheney shot at the fly and missed, hittinh the interviewer in the face.

I know, that last one was too easy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time Tree - the Ultimate Family Tree

Now here's a geneological tree I can get into: the entire living world.

So when did humans split from:

Chimps - 6.3 million years ago
Baboons - 30 mya
Dogs - 98 mya
Rabbit - 103 mya
Crocodiles - 324 mya
Ants - 2,500 mya

Hat tip: ERV.

The Culture War: It's the Congestion Stupid Part II

In the previous post on this subject, I noted the political pattern apparent in this well-known graph of the 2008 election results:

and developed a thesis that our political wars right now are all about country vs city, people who live surrounded with a lot of space, and people who live surrounded by a lot of people.

There is a simple fact of life that conservatives are loath to accept: with large groups, collective action is superior to individualist action. In case anyone thinks this analysis is born of some sort of political bias, consider 1) I am a libertarian-leaning former Republican, 2) the animal kingdom, and 3) the military.

Let's start at the end. If we compare the functioning of the old Soviet economy (one that truly deserves the "socialist" label, and would scoff at that being applied to Obama's actions) to ours at the time, and then do the same thing with our two militaries, is there any doubt where the greater similarities lie? Efficient military options are decidedly NOT individualistic. They are top-down authoritarian regimes, due to nothing but raw pragmatism. Military ventures allow little room for romantic idealism, where the penalty for error is death. The collective will destroy the individuals. Terrorists might be able to hurt us, but they could never conquer us. We could conquer them.

For more evidence, observe the animal kingdom. We rule the world (if we may think in such terms) due to collective, not individualist behavior. Individually, we cannot compete with even the weakest of other species. Likewise, prior to our arrival, the apex predator of the world was wolves, working in packs, in a decidedly collective venture. Regardless of who made the kill, all get to fill their bellies. Who were the analogous rugged individualists? The cats, who, by any individual measure, are superior to dogs. Put a 150 pound mountain lion in a pit with a 150 pound wolf, and the cat will win every time. Yet the wolves ruled because of their collectivism. Go to the sea world, and we see the same thing: the apex predator is the orca, hunting in packs, not the rugged individualist, the great white sharks. In the insect world, the ants overwhelm everyone else, where sacrifice of self for the whole is a normal part of everyday life. Resistance is futile.

Back to us, observe the great human endeavors, and every one of them required collectivist behavior. No rugged individualist venture would have gotten us to the moon, or built the interstate highway system, or won WWII. That required collectivism.

The battle is raging now in America because we have reached a tipping point where the people living the relatively new lifestyle of collectivist city life are beginning to outnumber those living the more traditional, individualist, country lives. Each appears insane when viewed from the perspective of the other. City dwellers have seen first hand what can be accomplished with the sacrifice of some individual liberties (say driving anywhere you want) for a collective enterprise (mass transit), and want more of it. Country folk have no need for such a thing, and are perfectly content with their slower, simpler life (I once had a woman who worked in a town of 100,000 people explain that the reason she commuted 80 miles from the tiny town where she lived was because she couldn't handle the big city). They mostly have family bonds and the power of social ostracism to keep the order, and really don't need all that. City people see country values as outdated. Country people see city values as socialism.

This is where America stands now politically. This is why a character like Sarah Palin can elicit such a rabid following from people in the country. It's no coincidence that she comes from the least congested state in the nation, and Obama from one of the most congested. The country folk see their way of life, that stretches back generations, unchanged, solid, predictable, and cheap, being taken away from them, and they don't like it one bit. They've always been able to rely on tradition before, so why shouldn't they now? Can they now?

I suspect not, which is why they are in such a panicked frenzy, and why they speak of certain groups "taking over". They've lived a life for so long that required little adjustment to new things that the notion of rapid change is an impossibility to them. They see their lives being taken away. So they watch Glenn Beck cry, and listen to Rush Limbaugh scream, and pretend it is all going to go back to the way it was. Only it won't, and they can't change, which means we in America simply have to ride out these visceral election cycles until 2032 or so, when sadly, most of those that knew nothing of collective living are gone. The challenge for the rest of us is to remember to keep our rugged individualist spirits alive, for there will always be new frontiers to be explored and conquered, while recognizing the pragmatic benefits of giving them up once the battles are won and congested civilization takes over. If anything from evolutionary theory should be applied to civilized life, it is that heterogeneity is good. We need different approaches to different problems. There is a place for both the rugged individualist, and the community organizer. All of us in our place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bang your Bird Head

Nice to see it's not only we primates that can appreciate a little headbanging:

The Culture War: It's the Congestion Stupid Part 1

Never in my lifetime has the political rhetoric so often questioned the sanity of the opposition. "Socialism!", the conservatives say. "You want to put the government in charge of everything! That's crazy!" Likewise, the liberals hear about conservative wistfulness for the good old days of close-knit neighborhoods, tons of freedom, and a church in the middle of every town and social event, and think "That's crazy! The world isn't like that any more". The problem here isn't that anyone is crazy. The problem is that many voters assume the entire country is like the place they live, and don't understand just how different other environments are, and how different expectations can be.

There is a culture war in America all right, but it is not between rich and poor, black and white, men and women, or even liberals vs conservatives. The battle is between city dwellers and country folk, between those who live in wide open spaces and those who live with the constant presence of other human beings. It's all about how congested your world is.

Just look at the county vote map from the 2008 election:

The pattern is near total. If where you lived was full of people, you voted Democratic. If you lived with a lot of fresh air, open spaces, and more animals than humans, you voted Republican. Want to find the cities in otherwise sparsely populated states, just look for the blue. Take Texas for example. Those 5 isolated blue spots are, clockwise from the northwest, Abeline, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, with Austin in the middle. Try it for the rest of the country, the correlation is very strong.

This pattern persists because what government system works best depends on the factors mentioned above. If you live out in the country with no one within half a mile of you, and little need for recreation or services other than a working well, and a porch to sit on to enjoy the peaceful view, then a system emphasizing rugged individualism works just fine. You can let your dogs run loose, go hunting in the woods, play your TV or radio as loud as you like at 4 in the morning, start a bonfire with gasoline, and stay up all night hooting and hollering and shooting up beer bottles til the wee morning hours. You can drive off road, pick any flowers you see, even litter a little bit. No real harm done to anyone. And if you accidentally use too much gasoline and blow up everything within a hundred yards of the fire, no harm to anyone that wasn't accepting the risk themselves (at least if all your guests were adults). Also, if you've ever had dealings with small town sheriffs and mayors, it is small wonder that those who live among them want their power limited.

However, in a city neighborhood or apartment complex with 500 people within 100 yards, the situation completely changes. Everything you do effects everyone around you, and some of them might not like it. Exercising your rights violates theirs. Play your stereo loud at 4 am, and your neighbors around you have their right to get some sleep violated. Blow up your fire and innocent unwary people get killed. Litter, let your dogs run loose, and shoot whatever bird or squirrel you fancy, and the neighborhood quickly becomes one full of garbage and dog shit, but no birds or squirrels.

Limited resources require more rules to insure everyone gets their fair share. In many ways it's identical to parenting. When you have three kids and 20 cookies, there's not much need for rules. Each child can eat his fill, regardless of what the others do. But a situation with 20 children and 3 cookies, absent some common bond to guide them (like familial bonds) requires rules to insure equity all around. The same applies to adults, except instead of a parent, the rule maker and enforcer is government.

That's the bottom line: more congestion means more conflicts of interests and rights, which means more government to sort it all out. It's unavoidable. That's why all over the world, congested areas have more collective approaches to government and rights. Contrarily, the darling examples of rugged individualist governments, like Switzerland, are always open-spaced, sparsely populated areas. Apply Switzerland's rules to Japan, or New York City, and chaos would ensue. Apply New York's rules to Montana, and the inefficiency would be immense.

In part II I'll get to the implications of all this politically.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Afternoon Teaching Science on Townhall: Answers to Common Misconceptions about Evolution

Over at Townhall I actually got into a discussion on evolution that just might open some eyes, and in a cockeyed sort of way, I've got Don "I ain't come from no monkey" McLeroy to thank for it. Here are the more interesting excerpts:


There are two common misunderstandings several of you are operating under with regard to evolution that is leading to poor conclusions. The first is that, if evolutionary theory is true, then we should have detailed explanations of each and every aspect of all of biology. This is not true of any science. Astronomy cannot yet explain 100% of what we see in the sky, geology cannot yet explain every formation, and evolution cannot yet explain every tidbit of every creature. What do you think research scientists are doing in all these fields? They are looking for the answers we don't yet have.

The key point is that there is nothing known in biology or any other area that looks as though it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain via evolutionary theory. If there were, that would be a serious problem, and a legitimate issue for evolution doubters. The irreducible complexity arguments are somewhat on the right track, but so far all have failed scientific scrutiny. But find something like a Pegasus, with a completely unique body structure unlike anything else alive, or a creature with an internal structure nothing like the DNA everything else has, and you'd have your evolution killer. Until then, having unanswered questions doesn't mean evolution is in trouble. It just means mankind has a long way to go before it knows everything

The interesting question of abiogenesis is not untouched, it is just 1) a different field of study and 2) is very immature as a science, due to the immense difficulty of gathering evidence.

To illustrate why abiogenesis is so different from evolution, think of a row of dominoes falling. One can think of evolution as the theory of how one domino is caused to fall once previous dominoes are in motion. Contrarily, think of the theory of how the very first domino fell (akin to abiogenesis). Is it not clear this is a much more difficult question, with many possible solutions which might bear little resemblance to the already-falling theory?

Evolution deals with how life changes ONCE THERE IS ALREADY LIFE. Getting the first life: much different question.

As for whether humans differ from apes in kind or degree, neither. Anatomically speaking, humans ARE apes. Genetically, there is more difference between a rat and a mouse than there is between a human and a chimp.

Another common misconception I've noticed in many of these comments goes something like this:

"We interpret what we see through our philosophical blinders. An atheistic scientist sees commonality among species and says 'evolution did it'. A christian sees the same information and says 'God did it'. Both are merely reporting their biases, neither righter than the other."

Unfortunately, this is not how scientists operate. They don't stop at a hypothesis based on observation. They then infer a conclusion based on that first observation, and then gather evidence to test that conclusion. For example, as Ken Miller (Catholic) finely explains here:

Humans supposedly descended from the apes, yet we have 23 pairs of chromosomes, whereas all the great the apes have 24. Now for a creationist this is no big deal, God just chose to make us that way (this is also why creationism is not science, because that's the answer no matter what we find). But for evolution it posed a real problem - where did the other chromosome go? Well, the only nonlethal solution was that two ape chromosomes must have fused into one, and so if we compare our chromosomes with the apes, we should find that one of ours is two of theirs fused together. Watch the video above for the details of how they found that this was indeed the case.

The key point is to note the difference in methodology. Science did not simply look at something and say "well, it must have evolved". It said "if it evolved, certain things must be true, let's go see if they are". No ideological blinders necessary. A scientists presumptions may effect how he sets up a test, but it can't make evolution pass the test. Yet evolution has been passing tests like this for 150 years, and that is why it is held in such high esteem in the scientific community. It's earned it.

Rich D. said: "[The interesting question of abiogenesis] is untouched here, which is what the context is. It's also why people are talking past each other - one side is dealing with origins, and the other change."

Exactly, but here is the crucial point. The subject here was evolution, not abiogenesis. The Texas BOE Chairman was booted because of his views on evolution, not abiogenesis, and it was those views I was addressing. Yet the creationists here on TH introduced abiogenesis into the discussion, which consistently does nothing but muddy the waters and, as you correctly point out, cause people to talk past each other. In fact, if you pay close attention to evolution/creation debates all over the web, the pattern is the same. Those desiring to talk about evolution always find themselves in waters muddied by creationists who try to change the subject to abiogenesis. Why do you suppose that is? I say its because 1) it's a common tactic when losing an argument to chance the subject, and 2) to creationists, the appearance of man and the appearance of the first life have the same source and are therefore the same topic. They have great difficulty separating the two. But if they are going to have intelligent conversations about the subjects with scientists they are going to have to learn to.

Rich D. again: "[in reference to my domino analogy] Not a good analogy - where did the dominoes and gravity come from?"

It's irrelevant, because it's beyond the scope of the analogy, which was to demonstrate that the explanation of a process in motion can be very different from an explanation of how that motion got started, and that one can easily have one without the other. Choose any source for the dominoes and gravity you like, the analogy still holds.

Incidentally, the video explaining the 23/24 chromosome pair problem I referred to earlier is here:

I highly recommend it as a look into how scientists test evolution.

As for Chris, he said: 'Science Avenger, if you can say "matter has always been", then I can say "God has always been" with equal assurity.'

Uh, no you can't, for the simple reason that you can't say with certainty that God has been just now, where I can do so for matter. You've got an epistemological burdon I lack, and a big one.

"Where did the original pre-big bang matter come from? For that matter where did space-time come from? These questions are un-knowable."

Unknown perhaps, but unknowable? I'm not sure how that can be known, especially with questions so poorly defined (through no fault of yours). For instance, how do you even know any of these things came from anywhere? What does that even mean? It borders on gibberish.

"Evolution, on the other hand, requires unlikely things to happen routinely - and THAT violates the laws of statistics."

No, it does not. In the first place, there are no laws of statistics to violate. Second, there has never been a rigorous peer-reviewed mathematical proof of this claim, and indeed, the vast majority of those known (ie Hoyle's junkyard 747) make fundamental errors that would have made my intro-to-statistics prof cringe, like assuming all events are independent, or simply wallow in meaningless jargon (Dembski's CSI). None gained any traction with those experts, and for good reason.

And step back a moment. Mathematicians and physicists are smarter than biologists (just ask them). If there were a problem with evolution in their fields, no force on earth could shut them up about it. Yet no physics or math journal has ever come out against the theory of evolution. In short, all those arguments are bunk.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Intelligent Designer Misses the Point on Simulations...Again

I don't read much from the ID crowd any more. Frankly, they've gotten a little pathetic, yammering on about seemingly anything that has the word "design" in it, and avoiding the really substantive discoveries that have destroyed their position.
The most devastating of these are genetic algorithms, which operate as mutate-and-select processes, and produce results which flat disprove the ID dogma that order cannot arise from disorder. It can, and it has, over and over again. Engineers sick GA's on real world problems, like circuit board or antenna design, and find the machines deriving solutions that none of the engineers would have. Robots armed with GAs learn to lie to achieve their goals. Even given a chance to display their superior reasoning skills to a GA, and challenged to identify the "front-loading" they knee-jerkingly claim is there, they fail miserably.

But instead of revising their position in light of new evidence, as scientists are wont to do, they keep denying the evidence and displaying their ignorance of what GAs do, and generally what simulations do. The latest case in point is Gil Dodgen's call for a more realistic simulation of evolution. Of course, by "more realistic", Dodgen means "includes every variable I can think of", ignoring the reality of limited simulations making limited points. The classic example of this sort of argument is the repeated criticisms IDers make against Dawkins' WEASEL simulation in The Blind Watchmaker, which was only intended to demonstrate the power of cumulative choice over random ground-up choice. IDers however, criticize the simulation because it had a target and nature doesn't. True, but irrelevant, since that aspect of evolution was not intended to be included in the simulation.

The same exact response is appropriate for Dodgen's argument that a more realistic simulation of evolution done on a computer would require:

"...the program, OS, and hardware to be affected in a random fashion, just as a real organism’s ability to survive and reproduce would be affected randomly by mutational interference."

Some of the responses to this foolishness on the UD site are so appropriate, and so likely to get flushed down the infamous UD memory hole, that I feel compelled to reproduce them here:

Nakashima - How would you apply the same principles to simulations of airplanes flying in storms, or nuclear power plants?

Tajimas D - I don’t understand why you’d need for the program to reach outside itself and affect the OS or the hardware when the simulation is self-contained. Deleterious mutations in real biological organisms, for instance, don’t make the universe explode.

Reciprocating Bill - This makes *exactly* as much sense as requiring that a supercomputer simulating a hurricane blow over tables and chairs, drench the operator, and cause widespread power outages.

Karl Pfluger - ...allowing random errors anywhere in the simulation would be tantamount to allowing the laws of physics, geography, climate, etc., to change instantaneously, which of course does not happen in reality. The selective environment is not random, and so a realistic simulation of a selective environment cannot be random either.

Tom English - Teaching computer science students from the undergraduate to the doctoral level, I encountered quite a few who were excellent programmers, but who could not begin to comprehend the notion of a model. The concept is simply too abstract for some people. They never catch on to it.

A simulation model of evolution executes on a computer, but the computer, its operating system, and the run time system of the programming language in which the simulation was written are not part of the model. Their function is to execute precisely the evolutionary model specified by the programmer. Any environmental cataclysms are simulated by the program itself, and are not a matter of failure of the computer hardware or the software operating system. That is, the environment is simulated by a properly functioning computer. The computer itself is not the simulated environment.

I say categorically, as someone who has worked in evolutionary computation for 15 years, that Gil does not understand what he is talking about. This is not to say that he is trying to mislead anyone. It is simply clear that he has never grasped the nature of a simulation model. His comments reflect the sort of concrete thinking I have tried to help many students grow beyond, often without success.

Dave W. - It appears to me that Mr. Dodgen could answer his own objection…

A simulation can’t just arbitrarily ignore aspects of the reality it purports to simulate…

…if he were to ask himself one simple question: what do evolutionary simulations purport to simulate? What does Avida purport to simulate? What does WEASEL purport to simulate?

Take a hypothetical simulator which purports to simulate nothing more than genetic mutations and selection leading to an increase in information. To fault it because it fails to simulate broken ribosomes, broken bones or shotgun blasts to its simulated creatures’ heads is to criticize it for something that it does not purport to simulate.

In other words, to properly criticize evolutionary simulators, one must restrict one’s criticism to the claims made (what the simulators purport to simulate). One cannot, as Mr. Dodgen seems to want, make additional claims on behalf of the simulators for the purposes of knocking those claims down. That would be a classic straw man.

And of course Gil's response to these points is typical: ignore them, and repeat one's original assertions:

The forest is not being seen for the trees. The point of the example is that critical aspects of a real-world system cannot simply be ignored, and victory declared on the basis of simplifying assumptions chosen for the purpose of producing a desired outcome.

No, but aspects of the real-world that are not part of the scope of the simulation can certainly be omitted. That is what any simulation does. If I wish to see whether a strategy of playing "don't pass" in craps is a winning strategy, I need only simulate dice rolls, interpret them per the rules of the game, and tabulate the results. I don't have to include drunken misplays, cheating casinos, distracting girlfriends, or any of a host of realistic aspects of playing craps if they are not part of what I am investigating with the simulation.

This is such an obvious point it serves as a prime example of how blind and/or dishonest IDers are.

Idiot of the Week: Tim Goeglein

Tim Goeglein, chief lobbyist for Focus on the Family and a former aide to Karl Rove, in an interview with James Dobson, said of George Bush:

First, without peer, is that he saw the greatest external threat to our national security. And he saw it immediately. And he prosecuted the war in such a way that from 9/11 and the terror and terribleness of the day — and I was in the White House that day — until the last minute of the last hour of his presidency, George W. Bush kept us safe.

As Rush would remind these folks, "words mean things". "Immediately", in particular, means, right away, at the beginning, at time zero, not eight months later after we've been attacked, not eight minutes after it took you to put down "My Pet Goat". Saying George Bush has kept us safe since 9/11 is like saying Ray Nagin has kept New Orleans safe since Katrina.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's Homeopathy Week: Let's All Quack together!

It's that time of year again, Homeopathy Week where we gather together to celebrate that triumph over the laws of chemistry and physics, defier of consistently negative trial results, trailer only of chiropractic in its hype/effectiveness ratio, the king of less-is-more. Let's hear it for homeopathy!


I think James Randi said it best.

Civil War or Not?

I've been asked why I haven't been blogging much about politics lately, and the reason is I never intended to. Unless politicians do something extraordinary with regard to science, or blunder so stupidly that it transcends all boundaries (as a certain recent candidate made a short national career of), it doesn't interest me.

But if you want to know what I'm thinking these days, this article about a potential civil war pretty much summed it up:

Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war?

If your answer is yes, then stop this cowardly half-assed screwing around. You speak the language of war and honor; but the honor code of the warriors you pretend to revere demands that you declare your intentions. If you really believe that the only way to get the America you want is to negate a fair election, shred the Constitution, and violently cleanse the country of everyone who doesn't agree with you, then man up and get on with it. If it's a shooting war you want, do not doubt that there are plenty of progressives who will oblige you. If this goal is so important that you're really willing to kill for it, please don't forget that you will also need to be willing to die for it. Because, like martyrs Greg McKendry and Steven Johns proved, we are willing to do whatever is necessary to stop you.

If your answer is no, then you have just one other choice. Knock off the tantrums, grow up, rebuild your party, come back to the table, and sit down and govern with us. (We know this will be a stretch, but we think some of you are capable of it.) You will need to learn, many of you for the first time, to get your way as adults do -- without fear-based politics, polarizing rhetoric, on-air threats against those who disagree with you, and repeating outrageous lies in the face of stone facts and irrefutable evidence.

And most of all: you need to stop feeding the crazies. You need to disavow them in every way possible -- sincerely, emphatically, and with full awareness that every time one of these people acts, it destroys the credibility of "conservatives," "Republicans," and "the right wing" in the eyes of the country. You cannot assassinate your way back to power. And don't doubt for a moment that the majority of Americans -- even those who agree with your ideas -- will abandon your cause forever once it realizes that's what you're trying to do.

I've commented on the possibility of a modern civil war before, so this really doesn't come as much of a surprise to me.

Anyway, put up or shut up guys, all this macho talk is getting mighty old, and it's damaging this great country you supposedly love above all else.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Explaining the Fallacy of Consequences to the DI, Again

The vultures over at the Discovery Institute, never ones to miss a chance to try to smear Charles Darwin (because of course smearing the man negates the science), and apparently not getting enough mileage out of their Hitler-Darwin propaganda, are trying to assign blame for the recent museum shootings by a white supremacist at the feet of poor Charles. David Klinghoffer writes:

"Our culture is very comfortable reminding us often of atrocities committed in the name of religion -- whether it's the Crusades, the Inquisition, or 9/11. Ironically, the day of the Holocaust Museum shooting, an interesting new Jewish web magazine, Tablet, published a fascinating scholarly essay by Paula Fredriksen about how under the Nazis, some German theologians tried to fit Jesus into a Nazi mold. They drew on anti-Jewish writings widely available in Christian tradition.

Is it 'beyond the pale' to point this out? No, of course not. So what's the difference?"

Here's the difference David, real slow, so maybe you'll get it this time. Religious views are supposedly morally superior to other views, and belief in them is supposed to result in a morally superior person. Having followers of a religion commit horrible atrocities naturally calls into question that claim, and perhaps, the religion in general. Those involved in the crusades, or 9/11, call into question those religions because they were active followers of those religions.

Now if someone is not a follower of the religion, but simply mentions some of the religion's figures or symbols, this would not call the religion into question, but rather would suggest that the person in question is merely another nut in a long line of nuts who looked for any means to rationalize his behavior.

Evolution is a scientific theory about how species change over time. That is the the standard by which it is measured. It does not make moral prescriptions. Were someone to take evolution, use it to do science and found that it led to inaccurate predictions and results, then evolution would rightly be called into question. But someone committing an atrocity mentioning evolution in passing, or even as a supposed motivation for his acts, places no blame at the feet of evolution the scientific theory, any more than a murderous youth mentioning Ozzie Osborne makes Ozzie complicit in the murder.

Now that we've cleared up the abstract problem, let's not forget to mention the real-world issue here. The Discovery Institute is a propaganda organization dedicated to destroying evolution as a scientific theory, and will stoop to any means to do so: propaganda films like Expelled, wacko conspiracy theories linking Darwin to the Nazis (the Nazis, in supreme irony, expelled scientists working from Darwinian principles), to blaming any random murder on Darwin if he or his work is mentioned anywhere, in any capacity, near the act. This is as predictable as the rising sun, and as such, warrants zero credibility for their views. Their stories are written before the acts even occurred, waiting only for the details to be filled in. XXXXX commits atrocious act YYYYY, Darwin to blame. [yawn]

If you'd like to give Klinghoffer your opinion, you can make comments here.

NBA Coaches Need to Hire Mathematicians

Once again, a professional coach in a major game, ahead by plenty of points to win, and with little time left, blows the final game decision and loses as a result. In this latest of numerous cases, it was Orlando's Stan Van Gundy, ahead by three with ten seconds left (really 5 with 1:01 left, but I'll get to that in a minute), who chose not to foul the Lakers, allowing Lakers' guard Derek Fisher to make the game-tying 3-pointer that was their only chance to tie the game, and win in overtime. The need for NBA coaches (and really those for other sports as well) to have a mathematician on the sidelines for such situations screamed out in Gundy's post-game comments:

Van Gundy had his reasons for not fouling. He felt a foul too early would turn the game into a free-throw shooting contest and his team was hitting just 59 percent (22-for-37) of theirs. He philosophically doesn’t believe in doing it until “six or seven” seconds remain in the game.

“It was my decision with 11 seconds not to foul,” he said. “Yes I regret it now, but only in retrospect. I mean, normally to me 11 is too early. You foul, they make two free throws, [they] cut it to one [and] you’re still at six or seven seconds.”

Philosophically? PHILOSOPHICALLY? This isn't philosophy sir, it's basketball, and at these end-game situations it's really a mathematics problem. Further, it is not how many seconds left that dictates when one should start the foul-them-before-they-shoot-and-play-keep-away strategy. It is how many seconds are left relative to how many points ahead you are. The problem across all sports that I've seen for years is that coaches are not mathematically adept enough to be able to make such calculations, so the only time they use this strategy is when there is only one possession left. That's why they need a mathematician on the sideless to help them work out formulas like this:

Play keep away and foul when they cross half court (or when one of their crappy free throw shooters gets the ball) if: [Your Score - Their Score] / [minutes remaining] > 4, and you have possession.

After all, the surest way to insure victory when you have a sizeable lead in basketball is to take away their best hope - three-point shots, and emphasize yours - making free throws and handling the ball to avoid turnovers. The big implication of all this that Gundy (and the rest of the basketball world) is missing is that when you are way ahead, you WANT to turn it into a freethrow shooting contest and a keepaway contest, because you can put your best at both on the floor and you've got a big lead. Being way ahead makes certain skills, like rebunding, playing defense, and shot blocking, far less important than they are in the rest of the game. All that matters at this point is ball-handling and free throw shooting, and the players put out on the floor should be based on those skills and no others. Gundy's aversion to having a free throw contest based on the team's poor shooting throughout the game is irrelevant because many of the players that missed those shots aren't going to be in the game when it matters. Put in the guys that are good at it.

Allow me to illustrate. With 1:01 remaining, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers missed a shot and Orlando's Mickael Pietrus got the rebound with Orlando ahead 87-82. Orlando is now ahead by 5, with 61 seconds remaining and a 24 second shot clock. My rough formula for when the special strategy should be emplyed is when one's lead is greater than 4 points per minute remaining (assuming 24 seconds for your possessions and 6 seconds for your opponents) and one has possession of the ball. This situation qualifies. Now if Orlando just burns the full 24 seconds off the clock on their possessions, and fouls LA on theirs to prevent them from scoring more than 2 on any of their possessions, Orlando wins. Observe how it works even using outcomes as favorable to LA as can be expected:

O - 87 LA - 82 1:01 remaining
Orlando burns off all 24 seconds, doesn't score (they easily could have)
87-82 :35
LA dribbles to half court and is fouled
87-82 :32
LA makes both free throws (odds are they'd miss at least one)
87-84 :32
Orlando again just burns down the 24 second clock without attempting a shot
87-84 :08
LA gets fouled at half court
87-84 :05
LA makes both free throws
87-86 :05
Orlando runs out the clock to victory.

Now of course, it isn't a sure thing: LA could get a steal, or miss a free throw and get a rebound and score, or a whole host of highly improbable events. But then again, Orlanda could easily get a back door layup while killing the clock, or get fouled themselves. LA might even decide to foul back and turn it into a free throw shooting contest. But Orlando is ahead by 5, and has its best free throw shooters on the floor. The odds of them losing that contest are miniscule, far less than the odds of what happened: one guy hitting a three-pointer.

So wake up coaches, you're making it harder than it is. Get yourself a mathematician on your staff, we work cheap, and could mean the difference between winnning a title and not.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Casey Luskin's Dishonesty Exposed, DI attempts Censorship

Someone has taken Casey Luskin's one-way interview on Fox (aren't they supposed to be fair and balanced) and spliced in corrections to Luskin's distortions. The DI (or someone in the organization) has attempted to get these videos removed, so I'm posting them here so everyone can see them, and what a dishonest little toad Luskin is, before that happens. Enjoy:

Healthcare Data: It's not the Plural of Anecdote

If you are tired of anecdotes and horror stories and want actual data with regard to health care in the US and how it compares to other countries, then check out this post and others in the series. Some of the data is downright stunning, particularly this little tidbit represented by the graph in the middle of the article:

Striking, isn't it? Yet surveys on satisfaction with the system show Americans twice as likely as citizens of other nations to desire a complete rebuilding of their system. So we pay by far the most, but we are among the least happy with what we get. And what do we get by way of response from those who think our system is just fine? Anecdotes. You never see charts and graphs of actual data from them (just like you never see it from those who deny global warming either). As the wise keep reminding us, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kingsville Texas Determined to Maintain the Stupid Texan Stereotype

Some things are almost too stupid to believe. But there it is. At the urging of one Leonso Canales Jr., the Kleberg County commissioners have designated "heaven-o" as the county's official greeting, because "hello" contains the word "hell."

I'm not making this up

"When you go to school and church, they tell you 'hell' is negative and 'heaven' is positive,'" said the 56-year-old Canales, who owns the Kingsville Flea Market. "I think it's time that we set a new precedent, to tell our kids that we are positive adults."

Yeah, positively brick stupid. At least the article found an intelligent Texan to opine on the issue:

David Sabrio, a professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, noted that the Oxford English Dictionary says "hello" stems from an old German greeting for hailing a boat.

"Linguistically and historically, the word 'hello' has no connection at all with what we associate with the underworld," he said. "People may make that connection in their own mind. I certainly don't."

One wonders what they are going to do about helicopters, and helpers. And Hell, why stop with Hell? What about all the other dirty words that fall within other nondirty words. I have the urge to saunter on down to Kleberg country, order me some cocktails and kumquats, then sit down for a good rerun of that old James Bond classic "Octopussy", or a golf match featuring Dick Trickle and announced by Dick Shaft.

And while we're having fun here, let's not overlook the fact that this move by the county commissioners is blatantly unconstitutional. Why don't they just answer the phone "Praise JAYzus!" and lay all their cards on the table.

More Idiocy from NOhM

The National Organization for [heterosexual] Marriage has another ridiculous ad out, this time claiming children will be horribly confused if gays are allowed to marry.

It seems as usual that it is NOhM that is confused. One child in the video says that Adam and Eve are old fashioned, implying that somehow if gay marriage is allowed, heterosexual marriage will decline. This is absurd, but sadly, pretty much down to the level we've expected from NOhM

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ben Shapiro Invents Anti-Science Liberals, Commentors Reveal the Reality

In a pathetic attempt at "I know what you are but what am I" journalism, Ben Shapiro over at Townhall tries to paint liberals as the ones at war with science instead of conservatives by basically making shit up (I know, what else is new), and making arguments that are comically self-defeating. And a funny thing happened along the way, which I'll get to in a moment.

First, the self-defeating arguments. Shapiro claims liberals ignore the science in three areas: sex education, abortion, and gender differences. On sex education, he claims the science shows that "teens are biologically incapable of inhibiting risky behavior", which by his distorted logic means that we can't expect teens to use condoms, but we can expect them to abstain.

On abortion, Shapiro yammers on about the development of the fetus (cell differentiation in a matter of weeks, brain development within a couple of months), and somehow concludes that those who would allow abortions are less scientific than those who claim a fetus is a baby from the moment of conception, which isn't even a moment at all.

And finally, Shapiro invents out of whole cloth the idea that liberals "insist[] that men and women are identical, and that gender is merely a social construct, [and] that entirely false belief is the basis for the gay marriage movement". As usual, Shapiro gives no cite or backing of any kind for this claim, for the simple reason that he made it up, as usual. Even the most ardent liberal acknowledges that men and women have different naughty bits.

To be fair, sure, there are some people out there who believe what Shapiro describes, but they are nowhere near the mainstream of liberal thought. But if Shapiro had really wanted to talk about anti-science liberals, he had plenty of legitimate targets such as PETA, homeopaths, the genes-mean-nothing crowd, and some gun control advocates who play fast and loose with the data (didn't know suicides and rightful police shootings are included in "gun death" stats? You do now). Instead, in classic conservative style, he just made shit up for political purposes hoping no one would notice. Sorry Ben, we did.

However, the real laugh comes in the comments of his blog, where the creationists and global warming deniers come out of the woodwork in droves to demonstrate just how numerous and anti-science they really are. Even the most, ahem, liberal estimates would have these conservatives outnumbering anti-science liberals by an order of magnitude. Be sure to check it out, it is good for many laughs.

The crux of the issue is that the anti-science view so common among conservatives is not a random happenstance likely to be different in the future. It is a function of conservative philosophy, which discourages change, and values revelation, both concepts being antithetical to the hypothesize-experiment-revise method of science. Conservatives will always be more anti-science than liberals, even when they are right. It is inherent in their nature. They say things like "To say otherwise is counterintuitive and ridiculous - I don't care what study you cite". There's your anti-science attitude in a nutshell: my intuitions count more than your evidence.

Not in science they don't. In science, if the evidence is counter to one's intuitions (like it is in quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, heliocentrism, evolution, and many other areas), then its the evidence that must rule. If you can't handle that, it doesn't necessarily mean you are wrong, but it does mean you aren't being scientific. Until conservatives can learn to place evidence over revelation, intuition, and even reason, they will always be more anti-science than liberals, even when they happen to be right.